Shared parenting consultation

Posted: 25th July 2012

In its response to the Family Justice Review, the Government announced its intention to make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation. This has now been followed by the opening of a consultation on co-operative parenting and the legislative change that the Government wishes to implement.

familyThe consultation considers how the Children Act 1989 should be amended to reinforce the principle of shared parenting post-separation. The consultation document once again states that emphasis will be put on promoting mediation to resolve disputes over a child's care and it is proposed that evidence of attendance at a 'Mediation Information and Assessment' meeting will be essential before a court application can be made. If cases proceed to court, then it is intended to replace existing contact and residence orders with a 'Child Arrangements Order'.

The Government states that the intention behind the proposed legislative change 'is to reinforce [society's] expectation...that both parents are jointly responsible for their children's upbringing', and it hopes that the changes will dispel any perception that the courts have an inbuilt bias towards either mothers or fathers. The consultation paper makes clear that the promotion of shared parenting is not meant to be about the amount of time spent with each parent but about the quality of that time.

The consultation paper puts forward four possible options for the legislative change for comment by interested parties and states that it is believed that the options proposed will avoid the difficulties that arose in Australia when a similar change was made. The Australian experience was the basis of much of the criticism that came from family law practitioners when the Government originally announced its intentions in its response to the Family Justice Review.

The publication of the consultation paper has brought these criticisms to the fore again with practitioners of the view that the proposed changes will lead to confusion, raise unrealistic expectations and possibly promote parents' rights over the best interests of the child.

Responses to the consultation need to be made by 5 September . It will be interesting to see whether practitioners support any of the four options put forward or whether the proposed change continues to be opposed in principle.