Lawyers slam shared parenting plan
Lawyers have described government plans to introduce a legal presumption of shared parenting after relationship breakdown as ‘unnecessary political posturing’ that could detract from children’s wellbeing.
The children’s minister Tim Loughton set out plans to amend the Children Act 1989 to strengthen the relationship between parents and children in a consultation published last week. His proposal would enshrine in law the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents, unless the evidence shows this is safe or in the child’s best interests.
Law Society president John Wotton said it is in a child’s best interest to have a meaningful relationship with both parents where it is safe to do so, but that it is already a factor in the court’s decision-making process.
He said the change could lead to unrealistic expectations from fathers, with a huge rise in fathers asking the courts for ‘equal time’, which would undermine the government’s drive towards mediation and out-of-court settlements.
Wotton said the primary focus should be on the rights and welfare of the children, not those of parents, and warned that the proposals risked detracting from children’s wellbeing.
The chair of the Family Law Bar Association Nick Cusworth QC said the government’s ‘determination’ to make statutory changes, contrary to the Family Justice Review’s recommendations, is ‘little more than political posturing’.
He said: ‘Existing legislation prioritises the needs of the child, and courts have long recognised the importance, where appropriate, of contact with both parents. The very small minority of cases which end in litigation should remain focused on the child’s best interests, not the perceived rights of the aggrieved parents.’
A spokesman for family lawyers group Resolution said the proposal would not change the law much, but risked placing the demands of parents over those of children.
Agreeing, chair of the Law Society’s children law committee Denise Lester called the ‘unnecessary’ change a ‘populist idea’, and warned that, taken with other factors such as an increased focus on mediation, it could undermine the safety of children.
The consultation runs to 5 September.
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