The Government's response to the Family Justice Review is to encourage parents to agree, to recognise the important role each parent plays in a child's life.
They state in a forward by Kenneth Clarke and Michael Gove:
"It means improving the enforcement options available where one parent fails to comply with decisions made either through mediation or by a judge. And it means going further than the previous recommendations and making it clearer that there is no in-built legal bias towards either the father or the mother. We believe that where there are no significant welfare issues, we should reinforce the principle through law, that it is in the best interests of the child to have a full and continuing relationship with both parents. We are aware of the debate on this issue, and the arguments are finely balanced. However, if we are to improve the effectiveness of private family law, we firmly believe that families' confidence in its fairness must be strengthened."
With regard to shared parenting:
- The changes in education and the introduction of parenting agreements which the review recommended will help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society.
- It also accepts the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting. It will therefore make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child's best interests. The government is mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the Review and led them to urge caution. It will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.
They are going to make a statement then. Very good. Not sure what difference that will make though. How do you legislate for a meaningful relationship? Will it be a contract like marriage? What if the mother is abusive to the father and his new wife? What if the father does not show up for contact? What if the father is, as David Cameron describes "a deadbeat dad"? Are these behaviours going to be punished?
As I see it, the vast majority of parents sort out their own arrangements upon separation and there does not appear to be a predominance of equal care being chosen. Is it that the majority of families simply do not want this? It therefore seems odd to attempt to legislate for everyone for what a minority want.
But what of that minority? What of the father who is genuine is his desire and ability to have an equal share in a child's day to day care? What of the child who wants to spend equal time with each parent? Perhaps, if an application for shared care were to be made, the arrangements should commence on shared care and then it would be for the parent arguing against it to show it was not in the child's best interest and seek a change- rather than the other way round as it is at present.