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Yesterday parents in England/Wales awaited the announcement from the Government regarding a new clause to be inserted in the Children Act 1989. It was hoped by many, both parents and campaigners alike that this new clause would give both parents the legal presumption of shared parenting after family break-up.  What was actually proposed is this:

1A Shared parenting
(1) Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 (welfare of the child) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert –
“(2A) A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is
as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the
contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child
concerned will further the child’s welfare.”
(3) After subsection (5) insert –
“(6) In subsection (2A) “parent” means parent of the child concerned; and, for
the purposes of that subsection, a parent of the child concerned –
(a) is within this paragraph if that parent can be involved in the
child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering
harm; and
(b) is to be treated as being within paragraph (a) unless there is
some evidence before the court in the particular proceedings to
suggest that involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put
the child at risk of suffering harm whatever the form of the
involvement.

(7) The circumstances referred to are that the court is considering whether to make
an order under section 4(1)(c) or (2A) or 4ZA(1)(c) or (5) (parental responsibility of
parent other than mother).

So, no legal presumption of shared parenting ( did you really expect that there would be?)  instead there are now two extra hurdles for  parents seeking contact with their children (usually fathers) – and the insertion of the word “suggest” is both curious and concerning; hard or actual evidence of harm to the child is not required, merely the suggestion of harm. Any suggestion of harm would then prevent the parent from being involved in the child’s life and while courts are reluctant to order no contact, it could mean an increase in indirect or supervised contact (2 emails a month is contact, as far as the Courts are concerned) . I believe that the inclusion of this word “suggest” is an appeasement to the feminists, who after successfully getting the Government to change the  definition on Domestic Violence to include just about any type of behaviour, and thus allowing the continuing of false allegations against men/fathers – after all, it is only the suggestion of harm that is required, not evidence.

Families Need Fathers have welcomed the proposals, Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “The Government has rightly acknowledged that in the vast majority of cases a child’s welfare will be best served by ensuring that they can continue to benefit from the full involvement of both parents in their lives. This is a very positive move, and will help to ensure that as many children as possible can continue to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both parents following separation and divorce.” 

The shared parenting clause forms part of a wider package of reforms to the family justice system which the Government is publishing for pre legislative scrutiny. The public consultation on the proposed shared parenting provisions ran from 13 June – 5 September 2012. Four options for reform of the Children Act 1989 were presented, with Option 1 (the ‘presumption’ approach) being the one favoured by the majority of respondents and being taken forward by Government. The announcement today confirms that the Government intends to introduce legislation modelled on this approach to ensure that more children can maintain as full a relationship as possible with both parents unless it’s not safe for them to do so. (I have corrected FnF’s spelling errors in this press release).

Ken Sanderson is clearly the gullible emperor, with the Government Ministers the  swindling con-men posing as tailors – they have managed to convince him (and those at the top of FnF – I suspect that the grass-roots members are not quite so blinkered) that they have produced a shiny, new and wonderful clause that means shared parenting, yet everyone else can see it is nothing of the sort. Of course Mr Sanderson will support these changes – why would he bite the hands that feed FnF, and pay for his salary? Shame on you for not having the balls to stand up and say this i not good enough, we are being sold up the river. Shame on you indeed.  Those at the top of FNF should now seriously consider their positions  and reflect on how yet again, they have conned and let down their grass roots members.   The FnF Aims state:  A presumption of Shared Parenting is when children are brought up with the love and guidance of both parents after separation. This does not have to mean fifty-fifty, all families are different, but both parents must share responsibility for their children’s upbringing.  What do we mean? That the institutions and processes for deciding arrangements for parenting after separation and divorce should be even-handed, transparent and based on a full legal and policy presumption that children have a right to a significant relationship with both parents. FnF speak with forked tongue….. It is ironic to note that some time ago, FnF commissioned a report from The Cheltenham Group on the divorce process and it’s consequences called “The Emperor’s New Clothes  – http://www.c-g.org.uk/publics/tenc/report.htm

The Government seem to be trying to attach bits of Lego to a Meccano structure (the Children Act 1989). It would make far more sense to completely de-construct the Meccano structure, get rid of the Lego additions and re-build the Children Act, from the ground up.

While I support a legal presumption of shared parenting (which does not mean an equal spilt of time), I don’t think that as a stand-alone policy it will necessarily work. I believe that a wider, more holistic approach to supporting separated families post break-up is needed. In Norway, for example, where there is a legal presumption of shared parenting, there is also a compulsory national shared parenting support programme for all separating couples, called “Forever Parents”. There is [in Norway] a huge amount of community support for parents and significantly a massive amount of input to support fathers. Gender equality is at the heart of everything and there are men in childcare, men in the early years sector, men in caring roles, it seems to be generally accepted that men as well as women will care and women as well as men will work outside of the home.

Currently, in the UK, when parents are expecting a child, there is any amount of reading material available, support from Doctors, Midwives, ante-natal classes, visits to the Maternity Hospital prior to admittance, the option to have a home birth, a midwife-led birth or under the care of a Doctor, etc. But on separation there is none of that support available for parents, children or families – everyone tends to be in the position of running around in the dark with scissors and hoping that no-one gets hurt. But what if all that support and information that is available ante-natal is also available during separation and on-going afterwards? While this is what happens in Norway, I’m not sure that it would currently work in the UK (as much as I would like it to) because men are discriminated against and pushed out of society. There needs to be a huge change in cultural attitudes for such a move to work successfully. AS a society, we do need to accept that men are not just breadwinners, and women are not just baby-making and rearing machines, and that both parents are equally capable of raising happy, healthy, well-balanced children.

Courts are no place for families, they are places for criminals and those accused of criminality. In Australia, when a legal presumption of shared parental responsbility was introduced, alongside that were the introduction of the requirement of parents to attend family dispute resolution before filling out family court applications, (except where there were welfare or DV concerns), an increased emphasis on the need for both parents to remain involved in the children’s lives (inc a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility)a greater emphasis on the need to protect children from abuse and family violence and finally, legislative support for less adversarial court processes via the Less Adversarial Trial process (this is more closely directed by a Judge, unlike here,where the Judge is little more than an umpire).

So you can see, from the examples of both Norway and Australia, where is a legal presumption of shared parenting that other structures have been built to ensure that parents have the support and access to family-orientated services that they require upon family break-up. This simply isn’t the case here in the UK (and I will include Scotland in this because although mediation is the preferred option prior to court applications, it is yet to become mandatory). Simply having that legal presumption of shared parenting is not enough.

Change is long-over due, and I know that those who have campaigned for many years for this much-needed change do at times, feel despondent and as if they are banging their heads against a brick wall because it often appears that families, and children are not high on the priority list of those who do have the power to make change. Or is it perhaps, that they are simply scared of making such large and far-reaching changes?

We need to accept that when family break-up occurs, that all members of that family are considered when decisions are being made, currently it is only the child (or children) that is subject to proceedings that is considered – the impact on other children of the family (step or half siblings) are not considered, nor are the needs of the parents. I have yet to find a legal definition of what the “best interests of the children” actually means. Why should it not be “the best interests of the family” that are considered? To look so narrowly at a problem is myopic and creates far more problems than the one that is trying to be resolved.