Important legal changes proposed within Children and Families Bill - how these may affect separating parents and their children.
The Children and Families Bill will have its second reading in Parliament on 25th February – the bill contains proposals to change the law in several areas, including parental leave, care proceedings, and the adoption process. Of particular interest to users of the parentconnection.org.uk will be proposals that affect arrangements for children following divorce or separation.
These proposals are controversial as they involve inserting a new clause into the Children’s Act 1989 which states
“…to presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each of the child’s parents in his or her life, unless it can be shown that such involvement would not in fact further the child’s welfare.”
OnePlusOne developed theparentconnection.org.uk to help separating and separated parents manage their emotions better and help them with various issues associated with parenting after parting; as an organisation we have been involved in a number of projects aimed at raising awareness of both the research evidence and complexities that exist around this hotly debated Government proposal.
When parents separate, provided it is safe, children are more likely to thrive if they have a good quality relationship with both mum and dad. However, many academics and legal experts do not believe that it is in the best interests of children for this to be included in legislation.
Courts are currently required to give paramount consideration to the welfare of the child when they are making a decision concerning a child’s care arrangements. This legal principle ensures that decision-making focuses on the needs and interests of each ‘individual’ child, rather than on the expectations of parents. It also stops the courts from standardising decision-making, as it requires them to focus on each individual child's circumstances and needs.
A legislative change that ‘presumes’ that involvement of both parents is in the best interests of the child could undermine this fundamental principle. Only around 10% of separating couples currently go through the courts and in highly conflicted cases this change could have the effect of making conflict worse and could place the child at increased risk of harm. As countries like Australia found when similar proposals were introduced there is a mistaken belief that ‘shared’ parenting means ‘equal time’ with each parent. This mistaken belief often causes further battles for those parents who by definition of going through the courts are already struggling to resolve their difficulties.
The government has launched a new Public Reading initiative to give members of the public the opportunity to provide their views on Bills before they are made into law. This is the first Public Reading to be run by the House of Commons and is a pilot of the process. Comments on the Bill will be made available to the Committee of MPs responsible for examining the Bill in detail so that they can take them into account when deciding whether to make changes to the Bill.
A summary of comments left on the web forum will be made available to MPs on the Committee so that they can take them into account when considering the Bill.
You can find out more about the public reading and leave your comments on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk/public-reading/children-and-families-bill
The public reading closed on 26th February comments are being collated and made available to MPs on the Bill Committee as it begins its work.