Shared parenting presumption not in child's best interests
Coram Children's Legal Centre's statement in light of the Justice Secretary's announcement that the government will consider how to amend the law around the presumption of 'shared parenting', as part of it's response to the Family Justice Review.
Carolyn Hamilton, Director of International Policy and Research at the charity Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said:
“Coram Children’s Legal Centre is very concerned about the government’s announcement today that it is considering introducing a ‘meaningful relationship’ presumption into law.
"We believe that by adding a presumption that each parent is entitled to a ‘meaningful’ or ‘ongoing’ relationship with their child, referred to by many as ‘shared parenting’, the welfare of children is likely be watered down in favour of parental rights.
“While children will generally benefit from a relationship with both parents post separation, where this is safe, legislation is not the way to achieve this. A legislative ‘meaningful relationship’ presumption will only serve to take the focus off what is in a child’s best interests.”
Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, announced today that the government will establish a working group to consider how to amend the law to include a legislative statement of the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both of their parents after family separation, where this is safe and in the child’s best interests. Currently, when making a decision on the care of a child following a relationship breakdown, courts are bound by law to give paramount consideration to the child’s welfare. The paramouncy principle is a fundamental component of our family law system.
Research from Australia has shown that a ‘meaningful relationship’ presumption leads to damaging consequences for some children. In 2006 Australia passed legislation requiring courts to have regard to ‘the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship’ with both parents in determining what is in a child’s best interests. Research from Australia, accepted by the Family Justice Review, found that this provision took the focus off children’s best interests and resulted in shared care time arrangements even where there were high levels of concern about safety of the children. The research has consistently shown that the legislation in Australia has resulted in mothers feeling that there is little to be achieved from disclosing family violence and abuse on separation, as the legal presumption is for shared time with both parents. Protecting children from violence and abuse relies heavily on parents, and most often mothers, disclosing it – any disincentive to doing this will likely have a very damaging impact on some children.
The introduction of these changes also resulted in an increased level of litigation and an increased focus on father’s rights over children’s best interests. The legislation has been so problematic that additional legislation has been presented to the Australian Parliament to amend the legislation.
The final report of the Family Justice Review, published in November 2011 found, after reviewing all of the evidence, that a ‘meaningful relationship’ provision should not be inserted into legislation. Such a provision, it concluded, brings with it “unnecessary risk for little gain.”
Coram Children’s Legal Centre finds it very concerning that the government is considering introducing a ‘meaningful relationship’ presumption into law, effectively ignoring the findings of this extensive review.
Download the Government's full report on the Family Justic review here