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Life after family break-up

Government plans to amend the 1989 Children Act by introducing a presumption of shared parenting are well-intentioned but misguided, say the authors of new research into childhood experience of family break-ups.

Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Oxford claim that courts should retain their current discretion to put the needs and wishes of individual children first when considering contact disputes between parents. The findings are based on a survey of the opinions of hundreds of young adults with experience of family break-up.

The report’s findings include:

  • It was rare for respondents to blame the resident parent for contact not happening or being disrupted. Most respondents said that this had been the responsibility of the non-resident parent or that it had been their own decision.
  • Resident parents were much more likely to have actively encouraged contact than to have undermined it.
  • Key ingredients in successful contact include the absence of parental conflict; a good pre-separation relationship between the child and the (future) non-resident parent; the non-resident parent demonstrating his/her commitment to the child and the child being consulted about the arrangements.
  • The continuity of contact and its quality are more important to successful contact than its frequency and there is no optimal level of contact.
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