There has been much debate about the Government’s plans to introduce a new clause to the Children Act 1989 to provide a presumption in statute for shared parenting. The explanatory notes to the proposed change in the law states that the amendment is intended to reinforce the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after their separation subject to
- it being safe and
- in the child’s best interests.
Those groups supporting the change believe that it is long over due and that a change in the law will secure equal rights for both parents when the Court considers applications under the Children Act .
However there is grave concern from other groups that the change in law will lead to more litigation with separating parents becoming concerned about their own rights under the proposed new terms as opposed to what arrangements will best serve their children’s needs.
Currently, the main focus is on the welfare of the child. The key concern with the proposed amendment is that separating couples will have competing claims under the Children Act about their right to shared parenting verses the welfare of the child, which should be paramount.
Having practiced as a family solicitor for over 20 years, my experience has been that the starting point for most professionals involved in family break down, including the Judiciary, is to strive for arrangements that will allow the children to spend quality time with both parents and to allow for an ongoing, meaningful relationship with them. This has always been subject to the two proviso’s as set out above.
Usually the parents agree to this unwritten principle except they do not always agree on how to share the time with their child/children, which has then lead to Court applications for Contact and Residence Orders under the Children Act .
It seems to me that by adding the wording proposed to the existing statute that is already implicit, is not going to reinforce equal parenting rights but will unwittingly lead to more conflict and confusion, thus more cases in Court as opposed to settling out of Court, which was supposed to be the Government’s main aim with the pre action protocol on family mediation issued in April 2011.
I hope that those of you facing family breakdown do not get caught up in the drama of competing rights to shared parenting and that instead, you focus on agreeing arrangements for your children with your ex partner that will best serve the children’s needs and in turn, will allow for ongoing communication between you and your ex partner and a better working parenting relationship.
If you are unable to agree arrangements directly and you and your ex partner need help with communication, with the support of a family mediator, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you can achieve and agree on moving forwards. Why not give family mediation a go? For more information visit the Family Mediation pages on my website.