Child Contact – proposed amendments

Child Contact – proposed amendments

The Government recently announced its intention to amend legislation regarding parental contact with children, following the Family Justice Review published in November 2011.

Many have raised concerns over the plans to amend the current legislation which aim to make it clearer to those going through separation/divorce that children must have an ongoing relationship with both parents following their separation; unless contact with either parent causes concerns over the safety and welfare of the child.

The current legislation in this area is covered by the Children Act 1989. Section 1 makes it particularly clear that “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration”.

In practice, some couples going through separation/divorce will find that they are able to finalise contact arrangements between themselves without the need to involve Solicitors or the Courts. Many will find they require a little assistance from Solicitors and others will need more help from Solicitors and will also need the involvement of the Court system to reach a suitable contact agreement.

Whichever route is taken, whether it includes the Courts or not, the child’s best interests will always be the overriding factor. 

The Government propose to amend section 1 of the Children Act 1989 to require the Court to ‘work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents – unless the evidence shows this is not to be safe or in the child’s best interests’.

Practically the amendments appear to make little difference to what happens within the Courts now. The current position adopted by the Courts is that ideally both parents should be involved in the child’s upbringing with contact being the most important way of achieving this.

The proposals clarify the need to be fair and reasonable when finalising contact arrangements with both parents.  The proposals do not attempt to verify the minimum amount of time each parent is to spend with their child, nor will they be suggesting an equal division of the child’s time between each parent. Realistically these suggestions would be impractical and are matters to be decided on a case by case basis.

It seems the proposals are to make it clear to parents who are or have separated that, in cases where there are no concerns for the child’s safety, consideration must be given to the importance of the child seeing both parents regularly in order to maintain a meaningful relationship with each of them.

The amendments will mean it is no longer acceptable for a parent to deny the other parent contact with their child where there are no concerns for safety or welfare because of the legal presumption of shared parenting.

The consultation on the above proposals closes on 5 September 2012.

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