Children are getting very excited about Christmas and how many more sleeps there are. For many children the fact that Christmas is coming means that the issues of access (now known as a children’s arrangement or contact) surface yet again. There may not be as much animosity as there was last year or will there be…? New parental involvement provisions came into force in children cases on 22 October this year and family courts now presume that each parent will play an equally active role in the life of their child!
The central idea behind this is to show that there is a cultural shift in family law. They set out the position the courts will adopt in the future regarding issues affecting children. Parents should, on a divorce or a relationship breakdown, be more focused on a child’s needs and the role they play in the child’s life. Family courts are now required to presume that each parent’s involvement in their children’s life will add to and enhance their welfare, where it is safe to do so. However, the needs of the child will remain the priority, at all times. Parents will have to focus on the needs of the child rather than their own, and parents should not be excluded from a child’s life without good reason.
According to the Government this new system will put the needs of the child first, protect families from harmful and stressful battles in court and gives children greater support.
As a family lawyer I have to confess, I am a little cynical about the changes. The welfare of the child has always been (or is supposed to be) the most important factor to be taken into account by a court when making a decision. My view has always been that the courts should operate on the basis that both parents will play an equal role in their child’s welfare and upbringing, unless there was good reason to exclude one parent. I am not convinced that the recent changes will make a huge difference in the way courts decide family cases. I am not sure how it will address the issue where one parent simply does not want to be involved in their child’s life. Asking some parents to focus on their child’s needs when they themselves are traumatised and completely overwhelmed by the divorce process can be a nigh on impossible. I am also conscious that we are nearing Christmas when most disputes are around access to children. Christmas is a time for children but sadly, in my experience, their needs are often not a priority.
However, if it takes statute to bring about a shift in the way courts make decisions about children, and for both parents to feel that their views are being taken into account, then it can only be a good thing. This in turn may encourage parents to think about the child’s needs and what role they play in the child’s life.
If you need advice about your rights when it comes to your children such as access over the festive season or any other family matter, please contact me, Shakeel Mir on 020 8899 6620 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.