UK Family Law Reform

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Access law change means children will have legal right to see both parents after divorce
By James Chapman 5 November 2012

Children from broken homes are to get new legal rights to maintain relationships with both parents.

Ministers unveiled changes to access laws amid evidence that huge numbers of youngsters whose families break down lose contact for ever with one parent.

Courts will have a duty to ensure that unless their welfare is threatened by staying in touch with either their mother or father, children have an equal right to a proper relationship with both.

The move is designed to ensure that the parent who moves out of the family home – normally the father – cannot be cut out of their children’s lives unless they are deemed likely to cause them harm.

Courts will also be required to consider the role of grandparents after divorce or separation, although ministers have decided against giving them new access rights in law.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said the presumption of ‘shared parenting’ would come into force next year, despite opposition from some legal experts.

It will be for judges to determine access arrangements if they cannot be agreed between separating parents. Those who defy court orders to give access to ex-partners will face penalties including the removal of passports or driving licences, or the imposition of curfews on their movements.

In a letter to MPs setting out the changes, Mr Timpson said that at present the law does not ‘fully recognise the important role that both parents can play in a child’s life’.

‘We have concluded this is best achieved by introducing a presumption in law that a child’s welfare is furthered by the involvement of both parties where that is safe and in the child’s best interests,’ he added.

Currently, the 1989 Children Act states that the child comes first in law, but campaigners for fathers’ rights say the courts repeatedly pander to the notion that mothers are ‘more important’ than fathers.

Official figures show one child in five from a broken home loses touch with their absent parent within three years and never sees them again. Many more lose contact with a parent, most often with fathers when mothers are awarded custody, as they grow older.

But the Law Society described the Government’s proposals as ‘seriously flawed’.

Nadine O’Connor of the campaign group Fathers4Justice said: ‘The proposals are a fraud and no father should think this will give them any rights in law to see their children. This is licence for more litigation, not less.’

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