UK Family Law Reform

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Family Mediation: Government parenting plans condemned by contact experts
By Gordon Carson

Children Now - 25th January 2005

Experts have condemned the Government's parenting plans for use in contact disputes as ineffective. The critics include one of the developers of the UK's version of the acclaimed Florida Early Interventions project.

Oliver Cyriax, of New Approaches to Contact, said the plans, unveiled last week as part of the Government's response to its green paper on parental separation, failed to address the most important issue in disputes - the amount of contact time each parent gets with their children.

Under the proposals for the UK's Early Interventions project, submitted to the Government in October 2003, parents would have received guidance before a case on how much contact there would be, with the aim that they wouldn't go through a lengthy court battle if they knew the likely result.

Guidance would be based on parenting plans setting out the norms of contact.

However, the Government decided to go ahead instead with the Family Resolutions project, being piloted in three areas.

The Government's parenting plans consist of a booklet outlining eight typical cases, but without highlighting contact times, and a questionnaire that covers separating parents' responsibilities in all areas of a child's life.

Philip Moor QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, also questioned the effectiveness of the parenting plans.

"If they're going to work it's vital that parents know what the courts are going to do," he said.

Divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt told Children Now the parenting questionnaires would be a "nightmare for practitioners".

"It's bad enough trying to deal with the few issues parents are concerned about," she added. "If we're going to give them a range of other things to fight about they will do exactly that."

The Department for Education and Skills said the Early Interventions approach focused on the rights of the parent but the Government wanted to retain a child-centred approach.

Moor welcomed the Government's plans to strengthen powers to enforce contact orders. Measures, including community service for parents who breach orders, will be outlined in a draft Bill to be introduced imminently.

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