Parent’s legal rights – is new law the solution?
The Family Justice Review (FJR) came out last autumn (see my blog 07/11/11) and now the Government is warming up to publish it’s repsonse. However, early indications from the Children’s Minister Tim Loughton (The Telegraph, online – 05/01/12) suggest that the Government is missing the point when it comes to children sharing their time with both parents. If the Government believes that new law alone will help, then I say the Government is wrong!
The Family Law community (ie. judges and lawyers) recognises that the law is a blunt instrument. The law simply does not, and cannot, provide all the answers to the many problems that crop up when a relationship between parents breaksdown. That’s why I (and many other forward thinking family lawyers) frequently work with non-legal professionals who can provide essential non-legal help to couples, such as counselling, coaching and family therapy. I believe that this is very large part of the solution to resolving problems between parents and is already adequately supported by the legal powers of the court within the Children Act (as amended since 1989).
There must be both a carrot and a stick approach, not just a legal stick. You cannot simply dictate to parents what’s best for their kids. You need to help parents learn what ‘s best for their kids, which includes helping them work through their complex emtions, such as anger, fear, confusion and feelings of loss.
However, the underlying problem remains the question of funding – who’s going to pay for this? Legal aid remains at real risk of being cut, with the Legal Aid bill moving through Parliament, and I do not see any new cash being made available from anywhere else soon. But, failure to fund help for families at an early stage of their relationship breakdown will be a false ecomony in the long term, both in social and economic terms.
Finally, one point made by Mr Loughton, when he says that judges made the mistake of seeing shared parenting “as being about equality of time”, is plainly wrong. Case law since 2004 [starting with A v A (shared residence) (2004) 1 FLR 1195], has developed to recognise that “share residence” (and I suggest therefore, also “shared parenting”) does not only occur in exceptional cases, but is already more common and also is not based in kids spending equal time with their parents.
We await the Governments formal resply to the FJR, so what this space ……
Divorced mums and dads could get legal right to see their children http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/8995395/Divorced-mums-and-dads-could-get-legal-right-to-see-their-children.html
Legal right to access to children dropped from official review after Australian experience http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/8995866/Legal-right-to-access-to-children-dropped-from-official-review-after-Australian-experience.html