A number of children’s charities, working together as The Shared Parenting Consortium, had a result last week.
It campaigned, successfully, for an amendment to a clause in the Children and Families Bill. The clause originally provided that the courts should ‘presume,’ unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of the (other) parent in the child’s life would ‘further the child’s welfare.’
The worry was that parents would assume this means that they are legally bound to equally share access to their child. It was felt, quite rightly in my view, that there should be clarity about the meaning of this clause. This is especially important in a world where ex-couples, due to the cuts in legal aid, are negotiating arrangements without legal advice.
So well done to the Consortium. Good work. It has clarified that s1. of The Children Act remains king. That is, that the ‘child’s welfare’ is the court’s top consideration when making any decision about that child’s upbringing.
I can see that some Father’s groups may’ve supported the clause in its original format. Without wanting to be stereotypical, the reality is that more men are likely to feel at a disadvantage when decisions are made about arrangements. It may be felt that sharing time equally should be a presumption in law.
But if that’s correct, all we are then doing is moving towards contact/access arrangements being made on the basis of parents ‘rights’ not the welfare of the child. And that, to me, is a very slippery slope.
The clause has now been amended to clarify that involvement in the child’s life can mean direct or indirect involvement and is not a division of a child’s time.
All good stuff.
But it doesn’t help in those sad and not infrequent cases where one parent is desperate for the other, post separation, to maintain contact with the child but that other parent just can’t be bothered. Many times, in practice, I had a parent asking if there was a court order he/she could apply for to make the other see the child. Sadly, that is just not out there. But maybe it should be.