Arrangements for children have historically been referred to as Custody or Residence for the primary carer and Visitation or Contact for the other parent. There was a shift in the law and this terminology was considered not to be in the best interests of the children and now the Courts will make what is known as a Child Arrangements Order which will define arrangements for the children.
On the face of it, it would seem this change has come at the right time to address stigma surrounding single parents who are not the primary carer. Fathers often feel they are being judged and blamed for not making the relationship work, which means they do not get to see their children as often as they should. Surely, this is not fair on the children who are often not part of their Father’s family.
The amendments to the 1989 Children’s Act aimed to give children from broken homes new rights to maintain relationships with both parents.
The move was designed to ensure that the parent who moved out of the family home could not be cut out of their children’s lives unless they were deemed likely to cause them harm.
Courts were also required to consider the role of grandparents after divorce or separation, although ministers had decided against giving them new access rights in law.
The question is how practically achievable this shift in law has been. The views of a top Judge Baroness Butler-Sloss were expressed in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme when she made it clear she was against the new laws. She stated that the introduction of the Shared Parenting Bill would not result in couples having a 50/50 split of time with offspring because that is not always practical or in the child’s best interest. She stated the:
“The problem about the phrase ‘shared parenting’ is the perception that parents have as to what it really means. I’ve heard one father who went into court saying, ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’. Well that’s ridiculous. The child has to live in one place, so the duty of the court is to do what is best for the child.
I think all parents should be sharing their children but that requires parents to be sensible, to co-operate and to look at what is best for the children.
But in about five per cent of cases that come through the courts the parents are unreasonable, or one parent is unreasonable – usually both – and the child suffers.”
Surprisingly, the move was criticised by fathers’ groups and by Nadine O’Connor, the campaign group Fathers4Justice, said: “The proposals are a fraud and no father should think this will give them any rights in law to see their children”.
Also, at the time, The Law Society described the Government’s proposals as “seriously flawed”.
Now that the laws have come into force, it is evident that orders are increasingly termed to ensure shared parenting.
If you are concerned and wish to discuss your circumstances, please do not hesitate in contacting our family law specialists on 0121-702-1580 who would be happy to assist.