Presumption of Parental Involvement Now in the Children's Act
Changes are being made to the Children's Act 1989
from October 22
this year. The act will create a presumption in the law that the involvement of both parents in the child’s life is in their best interests, when court orders are made in respect of the arrangements for a child.
The aim behind the change is to reinforce the view that an on-going relationship with both parents after a separation
, where it is safe
, is best for the child.
There has been a mixed response to the new changes which will come in to force on Wednesday.
What Do Fathers Think?
Rightly or wrongly many fathers have felt that the courts have been biased to mothers. Families Need Fathers (FNF)
is just one group who have been campaigning for years for the presumption in favour of shared care. They believe that children should have a legal presumption of a significant relationship with both parents
Children are then able to benefit from relationships with both their parents.
FNF have urged the Government to replace the legal term 'contact
' with 'parenting time
' and to ensure that parenting time orders can be made and enforced by the courts, save where a child's safety would be at risk.
What Are The Concerns?
On 22 April 2014 Residence Orders
, governing with which parent a child will live, and Contact Orders
, which set out the time the child spends with the parent they do not live with, were replaced by 'Child Arrangements Orders' going someway to address the concerns of FNF and other groups and individuals.
The original draft of the legislation making these changes referred to the introduction of a presumption of “Shared Parenting” also. This was altered following concerns raised that this was too much of a focus on parent’s rights, whereas the Children Act stresses the paramount importance of the child’s welfare over all other factors.
Many were concerned that a statutory change to the idea of parental involvement risked a public perception of an entitlement to both parents having 50/50 time with the children.
Some also said that the real problem is not the wording of the legislation but the lack of tools available to the courts to enforce the orders they have made and enable them to deal with the problem of obstinate parents.
What About The Lawyers?
Most lawyers would say that the change to the Children Act will merely reflect the approach that the courts have been taking for a number of years when making decisions about what arrangements for care are in the child’s best interests
Emma Hopkins Jones, Associate Solicitor at national law firm Simpson Millar LLP shares her view on the upcoming changes:
“This is an important and long overdue statement of intent on the part of the Government to redress the imbalance that many fathers in particular have felt there has been when the courts are considering the arrangements for the children. It strikes the right balance between sending a clear message, and preserving the paramount of the child’s welfare. However, the court needs more teeth to enforce its own orders
“The real concern though is that this is being introduced at a time when Legal Aid has been largely removed from private family law cases, unless the applicant for legal aid has been the victim of domestic abuse. Recent statistics have shown that 60% of parents are now having to represent themselves
in such court proceedings."
"A significant change in the law, such as this, may undermine the prospect of parents being able to reach an agreement themselves, if they don’t fully understand the changes because they do not have the benefit of legal advice. At Simpson Millar LLP we believe everyone should have access to justice, not just those who can afford it
, which is why we continue to offer legal aid where it is available and we have developed innovative fixed fee and pay-as-you-go services at reduced rates
for those people who would have been eligible for legal aid under the old rules.”