Parental Involvement emphasised in new provision

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“Following break up of relationships we are encouraging all parents to focus on the needs of the child rather than what they want for themselves.”
Justice Minister Simon Hughes.

Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force this week and will apply to all Children Act cases started on or after that date but will not apply to cases already going through the Courts prior to that date.

This new provision emphasise that children should be having relationships with each parent following family breakdown. However the Ministry of Justice has gone to great lengths to state that the parental involvement is not about giving parents new “rights” or that children will automatically spend an equal division of time with each parent. Instead it is about “achieving a culture change by making clearer the court’s approach to these issues”.

The introduction of the new provision is intended to encourage parents to be more focused on children’s needs following separation and the role they each play in the child’s life. The new law will require family courts to presume that each parent’s involvement in the child’s life will further their welfare – where it is safe. However the needs of the child will always remain the paramount priority of the courts.

I welcome the changes as will many parents who wish to continue being involved in their children’s lives. I hope it will provide reassurance to parents that the court will now properly recognise the importance and value of their parenting roles. Children have a right to a close and loving relationship with both parents especially after separation. No parent should be excluded from a child’s life without very good reason.

Here’s what my fellow FLP colleagues, had to say about the new law:

Linda Lamb

If there is talk about any rights it should be the rights of the child to have a loving relationship with both parents. Often keeping the child to yourself has the opposite effect in the longer term because the child later develops a relationship with the other parent then blames the one they lived with for not letting them see their parent when they were younger.

Always making sure that the child is safe physically and emotionally.

Robert Williams

Safety will be a major issue for the court. I’d still expect caution being exercised by judges at the first hearing (FHDRA) rather than robust interim orders being made. As always it will be fact specific, with the child’s welfare being paramount, as it should be, and as the Children Act provides. The court will want to understand the reasons if there is an objection to contact. Much will depend on this and particularly the safeguarding information from CAFCASS. Anything that helps move towards children seeing both parents as much as possible is movement in the right direction. However, a panacea it will not be.

Chris Maulkin

Whether this legislation will make any practical difference will depend upon the way that it is interpreted and implemented by the judiciary. Quite properly the welfare of the child(ren) will remain the primary consideration of the Court and so it could be said that nothing much has changed. However, it will be interesting to see whether this legislation encourages the Judiciary to use the enforcement powers that it has more readily when one parent prevents another parent from seeing their child without good reason.

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