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Parental Access Law Proposal ‘Could Have Adverse Effect’

Family Law Specialists Question Effectiveness Of Plans


New government plans to enshrine in law the rights of separated mothers and fathers to have contact with their children will make little difference to how courts already deal with cases and could have an effect opposite to that intended, according to family law experts at Irwin Mitchell.

A consultation paper is to be published in which the government will suggest  changes to the Children Act 1989 to include an presumption that children would benefit from having an involvement with both parents in the event of a divorce.

Ministers have revealed hopes that the move will guarantee the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with their parents is fully acknowledged in law.

However, concerns have been raised that warnings in the Norgrove review on family justice, which said that such a move could lead to similar custody delays seen in Australia following the introduction of such rights, have been ignored.

Alison Hawes, a Partner and family law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, said courts and family law specialists already operate on the basis of the proposed presumption.

She explained: “It is already a widely held view in the Family Courts that children benefit from having good relationships with both parents when a family separates. Child psychological studies back that up, and courts do their best to make sure that children see and spend time with both parents when it is safe for them to do so.  The exact arrangements will be unique to each family and depend on the children’s’ ages, geography and other factors.

“In the vast majority of cases – experts have quoted statistics such as 99% on one study – court orders made provide for children to have contact with both parents.

“There is a risk that these rather confused proposals will in fact make things worse for children rather than better.  There is a real possibility that changing the law will lead to more litigation, rather than less and that in turn will cause delay and expense for families that can ill afford it. 

“It also is not in the children’s interests for there not to be a final decision swiftly and the children’s’ welfare is and always should be the paramount concern for judges and parents.

“In other words, it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  These muddled proposals don’t put resources where they are needed – in funding the services that provide support and guidance to parents during the difficult process of family breakdown – specialist counsellors, specialist family lawyers and family mediation.

“This kind of education should hopefully help families come to the best conclusions about how to move forward with the best arrangements for their children without the time-consuming and emotional draining prospect of going to court.”