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Government consults on child access after separation

Ministers have put forward proposals to strengthen the law to ensure that children can continue to see both parents if they separate or divorce where it is safe and in the child’s best interest.

The consultation sets out four options for amending the Children Act 1989 to enshrine shared parenting in law. Ministers believe this will encourage more separated parents to resolve disputes out of court and agree care arrangements that fully involve them both.

The proposals make clear that any change is categorically not about equality in time that a child spends with each parent after separation. They state explicitly, there is no intention that equal time, or indeed, any prescribed notion of an ‘appropriate’ division of time, should be the starting point of a court’s consideration.

The consultation also asks how to toughen sanctions to enforce breaches of court orders regarding care arrangements – including, where there is a wilful refusal to comply with the court, short-term punitive action to protect the longer-term interests of the child.

The existing sanctions of a fine or imprisonment for contempt of court, or an order to undertake unpaid work, are not often used. The Government is considering extending these sanctions to reinforce the message that court orders are not the starting point in negotiations but are the court's considered decision about what is best for the child and must be abided by.

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