Government seeks consultation on change in parenting laws

19 Jun 2012

In February 2012, the Government issued its response to the Family Justice Review’s recommendations with reference to the review of the family justice system.  That response confirmed that the Government intended to implement many of the recommendations made by the Review and that it intended to concentrate on assisting parents to reach agreement between themselves as to the arrangements for their children on separation or divorce without the need to involve the Court.

Despite the recommendation of the Family Justice Review, the Government confirmed its intention to promote shared parenting, although has not gone so far as to promote equal parenting rights. 

The Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, seems to accept that the Court’s paramount consideration is and will continue to be the welfare of the child.  When determining any application before it, the Courts already do what they can to ensure that children continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents where it is considered to be in the best interests of the child’s welfare to do so.

It is very rare that the Court makes an Order that there should be no contact or relationship between a child and the father and practicably, it is often just not possible for there to be an Order that provides for “shared care”.  In its consultation document, the Government accepts that it is the quality rather than the quantity of time that a child spends with each parent and the need for stability that are the most important factors.

Whilst the press and pressure groups such as Families Need Fathers and Fathers 4 Justice welcome the Government’s consultation on existing legislation, most family law practitioners fail to see the need for any amendment that provides for the concept of shared parenting.  What is accepted is that further consideration needs to be given to educating parents that maintaining a meaningful relationship with both parents is, in the vast majority of cases, in the best interests of their children’s welfare and that this should be allowed to continue following separation or divorce.  This can be achieved by getting sound, professional advice as to how to settle a dispute without involving the Courts and, preferably by entering into a Parenting Agreement setting out the agreed arrangements for the children.

Residence and Contact Orders are likely to be replaced with a “Child Arrangements Order” that focuses on the child’s needs rather than creating a sense of power in favour of one parent over the other.

Most family law practitioners also recognise the need and welcome the Government’s intention to consider stronger measures for enforcing Orders when either parent disregards or chooses to disobey those made by the Court.  It is intended that those cases involving a breach of an Order will be returned to Court within a matter of weeks, although the proposed methods of enforcement are still being explored by the Government.  Withholding of passports and driving licences or the imposition of a curfew Order are among those sanctions being considered.  The Court already has the power and has been prepared to Order the transfer of a child’s residence from one parent to the other where there has been a wilful obstruction of contact and such a change is in the best interests of the child’s welfare.

The Government’s consultation on its proposed reforms was issued on 13 June 2012 and responses are to be made by 5 September with the results being published by no later than October 2012.