Ministry of Justice: Step In The Right Direction, or Lazy Politics?

Ministers have unveiled proposals to “strengthen” children’s rights to maintain contact with both parents following separation or divorce.

It is expected that the 1989 Children’s Act will be re-written to establish a legal right for both parents to have a meaningful relationship with their children following the breakdown of a relationship, moving toward the presumption of “shared parenting” being the norm and not the exception. 

In addition Ministers will also announce plans to enforce compliance with orders and penalties for those who deny contact between parent and child.

Sounds good; but what actually will change in practice? 

Here at OnlyDads we remain sceptical; we have long-held the belief that there is little wrong with The Children Act in itself – but lots of good old-fashioned sexism in the system that operates under it. 

It is perhaps noteworthy that the numerous emails we get every day looking for advice and support on contact issues very rarely concentrate on the law – almost all, ultimately, talk about a deeply flawed relationship between two parents. So flawed, that mum and dad cannot agree over this most central of issues – what is best for their children. 

So we have to ask – what will these proposed legislative changes do to improve matters. We turned to Chris Longbottom of Berg Solicitors to offer us his thoughts. 

“The current legislation allows for enforcement of orders where there is non-compliance by a parent. It should also be currently the case that the presumption be that children should have meaningful relationships with both parents and that shared parenting should be the starting point, unless there is good reason. We know all too well that this is not always what happens in practice and is not always achievable. Each case will still be considered “on it’s on merits” with the welfare of the children being the first and foremost consideration of the Court. So what need to change to do what the Government seeks; to put both parents on an “equal footing”.

In my view the current legislation does not need to be changed. The issue is the application of the current law (both in terms of presumptions of shared parenting and enforcement of non-compliance with orders) and also the entrenched social view that children are best placed with {usually} the Mother. 

I am sceptical to what “changes” will actually be made and regarding the timing of this announcement being close to Father’s day; but more so as to what impact they will have in our social approach to shared parenting. Although I cannot argue that it is a positive step in the right direction; I feel that more needs to be done to educate and develop the views and application of the current legislation rather than trying to re-invent an already shaped (albeit bumpy) wheel.”

OnlyDads takes note of Chris’s comment on timing. It is important that this announcement is seen in context. This time last year, David Cameron was suggesting that we need to stigmatise absent dads as if they were drunk drivers – and many reading this will understand that legal aid is being withdrawn in the future from many parents who need that legal representation to get family matters sorted out and settled. It is perhaps worth reading through just some of the questions put to our Panel of Experts – they illuminate a complex set of issues facing dads (and mums) and we are just not convinced that tinkering with legislation is going to improve matters.

Natasha Phillips, author of the influential website Researching Reform sums it up rather well… 

…”Whilst the sentiment is a noble one, enshrining it in law is unlikely to have any lasting effect on the system”. 

We agree with Natasha, but do question the use of the words “noble sentiment”. We would suggest that any Government that introduces legislative change before they have done the (rather boring) work of fully understanding the problems they wish to rectify, could be best described as deploying lazy politics.

Bob Greig, Founder

 www.onlydads.org

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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3 Responses to Ministry of Justice: Step In The Right Direction, or Lazy Politics?

  1. startingovershow says:

    So why don’t we on the ground create a set of clear guidelines for parents on HOW to be able to put the kid’s first? Sometimes an online shared diary, with an independent 3rd party mediating conflicts, can get a structure for spending time with the kids without warring parents having to sit in the same room or even speak on the phone. Main carers also need recognition that they need ‘quality time’ with the children too – so their parenting time is not 100% cooking, cleaning, shopping and homework. Initiatives need to come from us, not the Government.
    @suzymiller
    http://Www.sosdivorceinabox.com

  2. onlydads says:

    Quite agree Suzy – more “on the ground” initiatives do need to happen.

    …and your point about main carers needing quality time too is an issue often over-looked.

    Bob 🙂

  3. Pingback: Court of Appeal – Re W. Some reflections. | OnlyDads

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