The Chair of the Justice Select Committee, the Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, has written to the Prime Minister in relation to the Government’s proposals to change the Children Act 1989 in an attempt to promote shared parenting.
In the letter, Sir Alan sets out the Committee’s opposition to the insertion in law of a legislative statement changing the present responsibility to safeguard the rights of the child in an attempt to promote shared parenting.
Sir Alan points out that the Committee had concluded that the idea of promoting shared parenting by changing the wording of the Children Act 1989 was seriously flawed for the following reasons:
- To promote shared parenting through legislation undermines the paramount principle of the welfare of the child;
- There was no evidence to suggest that Judges were not starting from a position in favour of contact being maintained with both parents;
- The majority of applications resulting in no contact were abandoned by the applicant parent;
- It would be wrong, by a change in the law, to imply that parents have rights over children rather than responsibilities for children;
- A legislative statement, however drafted, which inserts concepts for furthering “involvement”, will be equated in the minds of warring parents as a right to equality of time;
- The Australian evidence showed that cases where the child’s or parent’s safety was at risk were not being effectively filtered out of the shared parenting scheme by the courts;
- The proposal takes little account of the fact that 90% of separating parents do not use the courts, and that the remaining 10% of cases that do reach court are frequently those with multiple problems. Attempting to further parental involvement in this 10% of cases by changing legislation is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the issues in these cases;
- Contrary to the stated aim of reducing the number of Court cases, the Australian experience showed that the insertion of a legislative statement was likely to lead to some parents being less willing to negotiate and resolve arguments over child contact outside court; and
- Extensive litigation seems likely to result from parties litigating to reconcile two competing principles – the welfare of the child and the duty to promote shared parenting.
The full text of the letter is available here.
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