Apply to court about child arrangements

Ministry of Justice

Image of screenshots from the delivered service

Problem

After leading the design of the service in discovery phase, the court application (“C100”) form was identified and prioritised to develop further.

The existing solution was a lengthy, complicated, paper-only form, full of legal jargon. In order to attend court, applicants have to show evidence in their application that they have attempted mediation, which had come to be perceived as a hurdle in which the other parent wasn’t engaged in the process - contrary to the intent of the policy initiative.

Due to the paper-only form, the Family Court was slow to process applications, maintaining a high error rate through manual data entry. This caused delays for vulnerable families who really need to attend court, along with costs due to intensive data entry.

The court entry point presented an opportunity to set realistic expectations and educate parents about their appropriate out-of-court options (including mediation) - while fast-tracking parents with concerns of abduction, domestic or child abuse.

Image of application bundle storage at Luton Family Court

Application bundle storage at Luton Family Court

Approach

I led the design as part of a multidisciplinary team with embedded policy and legal team members, partnering with representatives from Cafcass.

I conducted workshops, such as design sprints, with the team in order to rapidly develop ideas for different touchpoints (digital and physical) to form a coherent experience that is useful to citizens, technically feasible, and viable to the policy initiative.

I partnered with the researcher to plan and prepare research activities each sprint, to ensure that the experience was meeting the needs of parents and achieving the policy objectives. Each iteration addressed problems identified by qualitative feedback from parents participating in research, partners and stakeholders.

We formed a working group at a national level for the Family Law community to provide feedback throughout development, including stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. This group included legal professionals, mediation practitioners, experts from charities (such as Women’s Aid) and Family Judges.

We drove collaboration with other Government departments, including the HMCTS team working on the divorce service, GDS for GOV.UK content for separating parents, and the Legal Aid Agency team working on the ‘check legal aid’ tool.

Image of design iteration annotated with issues identified in research along with proposed updates

Design iteration annotated with issues identified in research along with proposed updates

A shared understanding of needs and requirements

In order to understand the process of applying to court, members of the team followed the user journey from start to finish. We extended the journey of parents (from the discovery phase) to include backstage tasks carried out by HMCTS and Cafcass staff.

We visited Family Courts across the country and the Cafcass National Intake Centre in Coventry - job-shadowing staff members and mapping the journey at each level. After each visit, I would facilitate a story mapping workshop for the team to bring the process to life and promote a shared understanding of the journey.

Image of a story map of the process of applying to court

Story map of the process of applying to court

Choice architecture (‘nudges’)

We explored choice architecture (‘nudges’) to encourage parents without safety concerns to explore suitable out-of-court options, while also respecting their freedom of choice.

There is a lot of debate around choice architecture - supporters argue that it is legitimate to influence people’s behaviour if it’s in their best interest; those against argue that it is a form of coercion. To maintain balance we followed the principles that ‘nudges’ should be transparent, retain choice, and provide a reason to believe.

I conducted a workshop with the team to generate ideas using a wide variety of ‘nudge’ strategies for inspiration. Ideas were appraised against our principles, and dot voting provided clear consensus on the ideas research further with parents.

Image of the output from the 'nudge' workshop

Output from the 'nudge' workshop

Simplifying complex touchpoints

The application journey contains complicated touchpoints between parents, along with private and public services, physical and digital channels, and over durations of time.

To understand and innovate on the complex journey, I created a detailed service blueprint with the team to outline our vision for the service, and detail complex touchpoints with the required back-end support to realise this vision.

Image of service blueprint detailing mediation attendance (offline) and verification (online)

Service blueprint detail - mediation attendance (offline) and verification (online)

Outcomes

Launched initially as a pilot, the service quickly scaled to be live nationally - receiving between 500 and 2000 applications a month as of 2020 (applications fluctuate heavily over the year).

The digital application offers a vastly improved user experience - receiving a consistently high satisfaction rating of around 95% - while providing contextual information and expediting the process for parents at risk of domestic and / or child abuse. 'Nudges' were placed strategically throughout the application to increase referral rates to out-of-court options and support services - delivering the first step towards the vision of the Family Justice service.

As of 2020, concerns of abuse were expressed in 65% of applications (therefore bypassing all ‘nudges’ and experiencing a shortened journey), demonstrating that more cases should be handled in court in order to ensure the protection of families.

The highest referral rates from the digital application were to sources providing information about out-of-court options, while pages with content focused on out-of-court options demonstrated the highest drop-off rates. This quantitative data suggests that the service (and application) has had a positive impact on the policy initiative by increasing interest in out-of-court options - however further analysis is required to understand conversion levels.

Additionally, the digital application improved the application processing for HMCTS and Cafcass staff, with a vast reduction of error rates, remissions and time to process the application.

From the outset I was impressed by Andy's relentless attention to detail while always keeping his eye on the wider user needs and buisiness goals. That's not easy in a very changeable and stressful environment.

Andy built enduring relationships and brought the most stubborn of people with him on the long-haul of the project. Looking back, the success story that the project turned out to be was largely down to Andy's talent as a designer and the confidence he instilled in everyone.

Fraser Hamilton
Research Consultant

A ground-breaking pilot, working collaboratively across and outside the Ministry of Justice to allow people to apply for a child arrangement, specific issue or non-molestation order online, and exploring how people can resolve disputes without going to court.

Mark Sweeney
Director General at Ministry of Justice

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