‘Child Welfare Must Come First’ In Family Justice Review

Legal Specialist Comments On Latest Developments


Family law specialists at Irwin Mitchell have called on the government to ensure that the welfare of children caught up in divorce always comes first, as they revealed concerns that new rules on contact with children may only serve to increase the number of legal battles between parents.

The Department of Education is expected to confirm today (February 6th) that it is considering new regulations to ensure children spend time with both parents, after stating that more needs to be done to ensure loving mothers and fathers are able to continue to see their children.

However, Alison Hawes, a Partner and expert in divorce and children cases at Irwin Mitchell, has backed calls from David Norgrove – the man behind a government-backed review on the issue – that creating any legal right on the issue may lead to more court battles.

She explained: “Judges already emphasise the importance of both parents playing a full part in children’s lives, rather than contact with mothers or fathers restricted to only set days of the week. So the idea of encouraging equal access has always been an important view.

“It is vital to remember that each case should be viewed within in its own context, including issues such as where children live and the hours their parents work, and the welfare of children should remain the paramount consideration in all cases.

“There is a major concern that making changes to legislation may, rather than improve matters, make them worse. This is because it could lead to an increase in parents getting involved in legal battles to further their own interests, which could have a greater emotional impact on children and also detract from a youngster’s best interests.

“It has also been widely acknowledged that similar ‘shared parenting’ changes in Australia caused delays and disputes in courts – something that should not be ignored.

“A better way to approach this complex issue than a change in the law would be to offer more support to parents, through the increasing use of mediation and better education for parents on how they can best focus on the key issue of children welfare.”

Alison added that divorce and separation is an emotional time for everyone involved, including the children who are often caught up in the middle of disputes.

She outlined:  It is hard enough as an adult to understand your emotions and how they impact upon your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. As a child this is considerably harder as they don’t have the experiences that adults have had to measure things against and fully understand a situation.

“If one parent feels anger and resentment towards the other and wants to restrict their contact because of personal feelings then the child is more than likely to pick up on this whether consciously or unconsciously. Everything you do around your children can impact upon them and shape their life and their future.

“Ultimately, youngsters need to be able to live in an environment where they are able to express themselves fully and have an appreciation of their maternal and paternal family. Although adults may not agree in some circumstances, this can help lessen the impact of separation and divorce on their child.”