The Children and Families Bill - a presumption of shared parenting?

25 February 2013

Today, 25 February, the new Children and Families Bill has its second reading in Parliament.

Among a number of changes, the new Bill will provide statutory recognition that it's in the child's interests for both parents to remain involved in the child's life. As the wording of the proposed statute states ‘ the involvement of [each] parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare’ (unless the children will be at risk of harm).

However, this will not represent any change in the family courts’ approach as they have always considered it important for the child to sustain a relationship with both parents even though the child may spend less time with one parent. The Bill does not, contrary to some expectations, bring in the concept of equal division of time following separation (and even the term ‘shared parenting’ is absent from the Bill). The reference to 'involvement' (which must mean in all aspects of the children’s life) will, we are sure, nonetheless encourage the shared parenting approach.

The other big change in the Bill as regards family separation is the change in legal terminology from the current labels of 'residence’ and ‘contact’ orders, to be replaced with a single ‘child arrangements’ order, which will define where the children live and the time they spend with the other parent.

This is a welcome change as, in our experience, the current definitions can make the parent who does not live to day to day with the child (usually the father) feel that the mother has all the control, i.e. she is allowing the father to have contact with the child rather than it being something to which the child and he should be entitled. We’ve experienced many cases where the parents are arguing about whether the father should have the benefit of a shared residence order as against a contact order even though the division of time has been agreed. The removal of the current labels supports the idea that the child has two homes and the parents are co-parenting, albeit that the child may not spend equal times with each parent.

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