The Government’s plan to introduce a legal presumption of shared parenting has proved to be very controversial.
Criticism of proposals
The Government’s proposals mean that if parents were to separate or divorce, there would be a presumption that both of them would continue to be involved in their child’s life, when it is the child’s interests.
Critics have raised concerns with these proposals, arguing that the presumption may overshadow the principle that any decision made in the family courts regarding children should be always be taken with the child’s best interests in mind.
Despite this, the Government remains committed to the idea of shared parenting, and has now published legislation - the Children and Families Bill - to implement its proposals.
The controversy dates back to an independent review of the Family Justice System, which took place in 2010-11. The Government published its response to the review in February 2012, in which it accepted most of the review’s recommendations.
In its response, the Government committed to introducing new legislation which emphasises the importance of children having an on-going relationship with both of their parents following family separation, when it is in the child’s interests.
It argued that it was important to send a clear message to separated parents that they both continue to remain responsible for their children despite their separation.
Shared parenting presumption
The Government consulted over its proposed shared parenting provisions from June to September 2012.
After considering the responses received, it concluded that a clear ‘presumption’ that both parents should be involved in a child’s life was the most appropriate way to proceed. It has now published details of the Children and Families Bill, which will introduce a new clause into the Children Act 1989 to achieve this.
The Children Act already makes clear that the welfare of the child must be the court’s paramount consideration in making decisions about the child’s upbringing, but the Government intends to include stronger wording around safety, in recognition of concerns raised about the protection of children and vulnerable parents.
Response to the Bill
The Children's Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, has welcomed the Bill, but expressed concerns about some of the detail.
In particular, she is worried that some of the proposed measures could be interpreted as overriding the principle that all decisions are to be made in the best interests of the child. She also believes that there needs to be more emphasis on listening to children and young people's views in general.
The Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute has responded in a similar way. Anand Shukla, its Chief Executive, confirmed that they share a commitment to the principle of shared parental responsibility, but are not convinced that a legal presumption in favour of shared parenting is the right way to achieve this.
“We support a coalition of charities campaigning to improve these changes and to avoid some of the unintended consequences that have been observed in Australia where similar reforms were implemented,” she said.