The Government has recently undertaken a national consultation on whether the current family law should be changed to ensure that children are able to maintain a relationship with both of their parents following family breakdown. This consultation follows the Family Justice Review when senior civil servant David Norgrove conducted an independent review of the family justice system in England and Wales between 2010 and 2011.
The Family Justice Review recommended against introducing any new legislation to promote shared parenting, because of the risk of creating a perception of a parental right to equal time for childcare arrangements. However, on publishing the results of the recent consultation, the Government has set out proposed new law to promote "shared parenting" as part of a wider package of measures to help parents resolve disputes about their children following family separation.
The overall aim of this new law is to help parents focus clearly on their children's welfare and needs, rather than on a parents perceived "entitlement". Some organisations such as The Law Society criticise this plan as "seriously flawed", whilst other organisations such as Family's Need Fathers welcome the move and described it as "very positive".
The Government's decision to push ahead with this controversial new law is based upon the results of the recent consultation which did include:-
52% of those who took part in the consultation ("Respondents") supported the legal presumption that both parents should be involved in their child's upbringing.
57% of Respondents thought that a change in the law would change a courts final decision in children cases, but this did include both positive and negative changes.
56% of Respondents thought that a change in the law could present risks to a child, such as emotional or physical abuse, as well as an expectation that the child should share their time equally between parents.
48% of Respondents thought that the children's views could be taken into account more fully in court proceedings, but there is a significant concern that there are insufficient resources for properly trained people to speak to the children about their wishes and feelings. There is also concern that a child's view might be inappropriately influenced by one parent.
52% of Respondents thought that better education about parenting and relationships was a useful non-legal action the Government could take to encourage parents to remain involved in their children's lives after the family break-down.
The next step towards this new law will be for a draft Bill to be debated in the Houses of Parliament. The earliest that this might take place is 2013 with new law affecting children coming into force at the earliest in 2014.
If you would like legal advice on a family issue then please contact Emma Hamilton Cole on 01202 673011 or another member of the Family Law Team.