Ministers have backed a ‘presumption of shared parenting’ between fathers and mothers following a relationship breakdown, flying in the face of the views of an independent review of family justice.
Ministers yesterday outlined their plans to reform the family justice system to ‘help strengthen parenting, reduce the time it takes cases to progress through the courts, and simplify the family justice system’. You can read the government’s response to the family justice report HERE.
- You can read Richard Adam’s article (Does promoting parents’ rights promote children’s rights?) HERE.
- Don’t dismiss fathers absent from their kids lives as ‘feckless’, argues OnlyDads’ Bob Greig HERE.
- You can read David Norgove, who chaired the Family Justice Review, HERE.
‘Shared parenting should be encouraged where this is in the child’s best interests, through education and parenting agreements focused on the involvement of both parents in the lives of their children. Parents and children – instead of the courts – must make decisions wherever possible. We are also clear that to use the law to drive shared parenting where there is entrenched conflict would have grave risks for children.’ David Norgrove
From the government’s response to the family justice review:
Shared parenting for the best interests of the child:
- The introduction of parenting agreements (which the review recommended) would ‘help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society’;
- The government accepted ‘the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting’.
- Ministers plans to make a statement ‘emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests’.
- Minsters are mindful of the Australian highlighted by the Norgrove review. ‘We will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.’
Speeding up care and adoption cases
- Ministers will introduce legislation ‘at the earliest opportunity to enable a six month time limit to be set and wherever possible we expect cases to be completed more quickly’ while ‘retaining the flexibility to extend complex cases where this is genuinely in the children’s interest’.
Simplifying the family justice system
- To help separating couples ‘reach lasting agreement speedily, if possible without going to court’. The government plans to make it ‘mandatory for separating parents who propose court action to resolve a dispute about their child to have an initial assessment to see if mediation is something which would be suitable instead, to help them agree on the arrangements for their child’. The government plans to spend an extra £10m a year on legal aid for family mediation taking the total to £25m per year (although we have placed no upper limit on this figure).
Other commitments include:
- considering ‘how parenting agreements could be used to emphasise the need for parents to consider how the child can maintain a relationship with other close family members, such as grandparents’;
- cutting ‘the excessive use of expert reports’;
- reducing time spent by judges ‘scrutinising care plans’ focusing ‘instead on the core or essential components when making care orders’;
- bringing court social work ‘closer to other court services by transferring Cafcass sponsorship to the Ministry of Justice’; and
- creating ‘a single family court across England and Wales, with a single point of entry’.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award