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Children should benefit from seeing both parents after separation, says Department for Education

Families Need Fathers welcomes prospect of legislation; Gingerbread says that legislation is not the solution

On Monday, 6th February, the Government will publish its response to the Norgrove review of the family justice system. It will set out reforms to tackle delays, streamline processes and rebuild trust in the system. 

For the ten per cent of cases that end up in court,  the Government intends to make it much clearer that it is vital for children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents after separation or divorce, unless the behaviour of one of the parents gives rise to concerns about the safety or welfare of the child.

Meanwhile, the Government has pledged to provide a further £10million for mediation services to encourage more couples to settle their disputes out of court.  The Department says that mediation offers a less confrontational and generally faster method of resolving arguments about assets and care of children after the breakdown of a relationship than the family courts.

The guiding principle in the Government's response to the Norgrove Review is that the interests of the child should always come first.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: 

"The courts are rarely the best place for resolving private disputes about the care of children. That's why we want to see greater use of mediation to solve parental disputes out of court. 

"Where cases do end up in court, we believe it is important that children don't lose contact with their parents, unless there are concerns about safety or welfare. But there is a familiar picture in the UK of parental separation leading to thousands of children losing meaningful contact with the 'non-resident parent' – usually the father. 

"It is right that we consider all the options to help ensure that children can continue to have an ongoing relationship with both their parents after separation. This issue affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and it would be negligent not to. It is also right that we continue to encourage fathers to take responsibility as equal parents and to be fully involved with their children from the outset.  

"The concept of "shared parenting" after a break-up often gets confused with the idea of equal time that a child spends with each parent. A change of law in Australia designed to promote shared parenting fell into this trap and caused delays to the resolution of custody disputes, which was manifestly not in the best interests of the child. 

"Quite clearly, ordinary living and working arrangements make an equal division impossible, and undesirable, in all but a small minority of cases. In all of this, the most important thing remains the principle that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration and this must not be diluted."

Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented:

"A move to introduce legislation enshrining a child's rights to an ongoing meaningful relationship with both parents would be a victory for children. For too long, we have seen children of many separating couples across the country lose out on the emotional and social benefits of a loving relationship with both parents following separation and divorce, and we are delighted that the government intends to address this situation. This is not a question of fathers' or mothers' rights; it is about protecting the rights of children to have two loving parents fully involved in their lives wherever possible, to the benefit of the children, their families, and wider society."

Fiona Weir, chief executive of Gingerbread, commented:

"Gingerbread recognises that, in the vast majority of cases, children in separated families benefit from good quality relationships with both parents after separation. However, it's vital that courts retain the principle of making decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child in each case. Any move to change the legislation would only result in confusion and risks more, rather than less, litigation. Instead we would like to see more practical support to help parents share caring responsibilities more equally, both within couples and after separation. Legislation is not the way to get more fathers engaged with their children."

Families Need Fathers and Gingerbread will each release a more detailed response on Monday, once the details of the Government proposals have been officially announced.

Responding to news that the government will not implement the full findings of the Norgrove Review, Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said:

"This is a woolly and weak response from the government, more interested in political grandstanding than in improving family relationships.

"What was the point of having an independent review from David Norgrove if the government are simply going to dismiss its findings, that the child's best interests should be at the heart of any court proceedings. Legislation already exists to safeguard access rights; it needs to be correctly applied."