New amendments have been put forward by The Department for Education in order to provide for a presumption of shared parenting within the Children Act 1989. A new section 1 (2A) will be inserted into the Act as follows:
“(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.”
The restrictions upon the presumption will be elaborated in new sub-sections (6) and (7) as follows: “(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).”
The purpose of the amendment is to highlight and reinforce the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation. However, there is of course consideration of safety and whether it is in the child’s best interests. The amendment will mean that the court, when considering contested Section 8 orders, will presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by parents having an involvement in their child’s lives, unless it can be demonstrated otherwise.
During the Governments consultation regarding option for reform of S.1 the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Alan Beith, wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting the opposition of the Committee in relation to the insertion in law of a legislative statement in changing the responsibility to safeguard the rights of the child in an attempt to promote shared parenting.
However, the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, wrote to Sir Alan, stating that over half of the respondents to the consultation supported the Government’s view that a presumption of shared parenting is the right approach.
The Law Society has described the proposal as ‘seriously flawed’.
On board are Families Need Fathers 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.”
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