Government’s ‘Shared Parenting’ Plans May Not Put Children First

Concerns Over Plans To Create New ‘Legal Right’ For Fathers

06.11.2012

Family law experts at Irwin Mitchell have warned that Government plans to introduce a legal presumption of shared parenting may lead to more court battles between divorcing couples – and ultimately mean youngsters face more emotional turmoil then they do at present.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson has outlined in a letter to the House of Commons how the change would work. The change will not create any rights to equal time, The courts would, however, be required to presume that a child’s welfare is furthered by the involvement of both parents – unless that would put the child at risk of harm.

Under the ‘shared parenting’ plans, expected to be introduced next year, judges would determine the arrangements governing when fathers can see their children following separation if an agreement could not be made outside court or during mediation.

Timpson said the aim was to ensure the law recognises ‘the important role that both parents can play in a child’s life’.

Elizabeth Hicks, a Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell, said it was vital that the wellbeing of children remains a fundamental priority but warned that these plans could have the opposite effect.

She explained: “There has been a significant amount of concern raised about creating a legal right in this area, but it appears the Government remains convinced it is the best course of action.

“However, it must be remembered that judges already work to ensure that children spend quality time with both parents and this is the top priority, emphasising the huge benefits that access to both parents can have on youngsters’ lives.

“The introduction of legislation may lead to an increase in parents choosing to launch legal battles to further their own interests following a separation, a move which could only serve to put children through a significant level of emotional turmoil and ultimately impact on their best interests.

“In Australia, it is widely accepted that the introduction of ‘shared parenting’ led to these kinds of problems and this kind of trend cannot be ignored.”

Hicks added that there were other options that the Government could consider in terms of ensuring children come first.

She explained: “This legal right shifts the focus on to parents rather than the more important issue of what is best for children. A better approach would be to offer more support to parents, with the aim of increasing the use of mediation and educating parents on how they should maintain a focus on their youngsters.

“If parents come into conflict, then a child is likely to be exposed to it and could have an overall impact on their wellbeing. While divorcing parents may have suffered a significant relationship breakdown, they need to recognise that working together can play a huge role in shaping a child’s life for the better.”