A presumption of parental involvement came into effect from 22 October 2014. The purpose of the new legislation is to reinforce the importance of a child having a relationship with both parents. It is also hoped that the new provision will achieve a cultural shift in the approach of the Family Courts.
The new provision comes in the form of Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014. It applies to Children Act cases which are issued on or after the 22nd October 2014.
So to put the new law into context...
For example, if a father applied to a local Family Court on or after 22nd October 2014 for an order to spend time with his child who has their primary home with their mother, the Court would be required, on hearing the application, to presume that both the mother and father's involvement in that child's life would further the welfare of the child, as long as it is safe. Of course, notwithstanding the new law, the needs of the child remain paramount.
The new provision does not however go as far as to illustrate what such an arrangement would look like nor does it stipulate what would constitute a reasonable level of parental involvement. Something, which many separated parents who cannot agree on the arrangements for their child are seeking when applying to the Court. Although Resolution have welcomed the launch of the new clause they have expressed concerns that parents may misunderstand the provision as awarding them with new 'rights'.
So what is the new legislation trying to achieve?
Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, said "We have made bold reforms so that the welfare of the children is at the heart of the family justice system, and there can be no doubt that parents play a very important role in every child's life. Following break up of relationships we are encouraging all parents to focus on the needs of the child rather than what they want for themselves."
As a family mediator, I can see the potential benefit that the new legislation will have within the mediation arena. The presumption of parental involvement will act as an informative 'tool' for mediator's to help parents understand and reflect upon the important role that each of them play in a child's life which in turn may assist parents in working together to achieve a parenting plan for their child.
In my experience as a family solicitor, the local Family Courts are already sending a clear message to parents within family proceedings that it is important for a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents when considering the welfare of a child. The Ministry of Justice emphasised that the new law was not about giving parents new rights or looking at a 50/50 split of a child's time between parents. Some critics may therefore say that the new provision falls short in dealing with cases where parents cannot agree on the extent of a each parent's involvement in a child's life.
Over the next coming months, I, along with many other family practitioners, will be interested to see whether the new provision will result in a noticeable change in the Court's approach to family cases and whether or not this will have a knock on effect to the attitude of parents themselves, which is ultimately what will impact upon the child.