Government to give both parents a right to contact?

Tim Loughton, cropped à la Legalweek

The Daily Telegraph appears to have obtained advance information regarding the Government's forthcoming response to the Family Justice Review.

In an article published last night the paper informs us that the Government has apparently rejected Norgrove's recommendation that no legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents. On the contrary, the Government is intending to introduce legislation under which "courts will be put under a legal duty to ensure that both fathers and mothers are given access to children in divorce settlements". We are also told that: "Parents who refuse to accept the orders will be in contempt of court and risk serious penalties or even jail", as if that were something new and far stricter than the enforcement powers that the courts already have.

The paper quotes Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families Tim Loughton as saying:
"Our vision is to establish that, under normal circumstances, a child will have relationship with both his or her parents, regardless of their relationship with each other.

"We must do everything we can to improve the system so that it gives children the best chance of growing up under the guidance of two loving parents."
The news will no doubt bring much joy amongst the ragged ranks of fathers' rights campaigners. However, I'll let them and Mr Loughton into a secret: the courts already try to ensure that children have contact with both parents, so don't expect such a change in the law to have a huge effect.

Otherwise, the article tells us that the Government apparently does agree with Norgrove's recommendations to encourage parenting agreements and for the establishment of an online information hub.

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UPDATE: According to the Telegraph today (7th January), the issue of a 'right of contact' is far from resolved within the Cabinet, with Ken Clarke apparently opposed to any change.


  1. I find the following quote to be particularly worrying:

    'Courts will be put under a legal duty to ensure that both fathers and mothers are given access to children in divorce settlements.'

    Is it really in a child's best interest to force a parent that wants nothing to do with them to engage in contact?

    It's a great shame that many parents decide not to see their children following a divorce or separation, but becoming estranged from one parent is going to be far less harmful than forcing them to see a parent that doesn't want to see them.

    It's possible that the Telegraph have merely used the word 'ensure' erroneously, though, and I sincerely hope that that is the case.

  2. I don't think anyone is intending to try to force parents to have contact.

  3. Actually, it all sounds a bit like the emperor's new clothes to me.
    What exactly is going to change?

  4. @ John, "ragged"?

    @ Quickie, "many parents decide not to see their children following a divorce or separation" - evidence?

    "but becoming estranged from one parent is going to be far less harmful than forcing them to see a parent that doesn't want to see them." - evidence?

    The government shares these prejudices and may be trying to save face by presenting improved contact between children and their non-resident parents as the enforcement of parental responsibilities (as Labour did with birth certificates). Note that the government hasn't actually announced anything - this is merely the result of one hack's investigation.

  5. Hi Nick,

    Yes, ragged - well, they can hardly be said to be a united front, and they do seem to have a habit of falling out with themselves!

    I agree with your last sentence, hence the question mark at the end of the post title.

  6. In many cases the Courts seem to take the line of least resistance. Hence the need for groups like F4J who at least attempt to speak up for beleagued fathers (and mothers when necessary).

    Children do thrive better when they have a close relationship with both mother and father, so why are so many fathers seemingly denied access to their children, or when they do have access, find that it can be easily thwarted by an unco-operative parent.

    False accusations made by one parent against the other don't help the situation and they should not be brushed under the carpet by the Courts. Again, is this the line of least resistance? In the best interests of the children, perhaps the Courts should take firmer action against parents who use this unsavoury tactic.

  7. Thanks for that, stepper. I agree with some of what you say, but I'm not sure that a legal 'right' to contact will have much bearing upon the issues that the court has to deal with.

  8. I know I go on about this John, but provided there is nothing untoward in the background of either parent, then shared residence should be automatic. It could be 50/50, but need not be so, depending on family circumstances. Divorcing parents should go straight to mediation to work out a parenting plan and the best way forward for their children. If this needs to be incorporated into a Court Order it should be relatively simple and relatively inexpensive to do.

    If either one of the parents continually breaches the court order, there should be a proviso that full residence be awarded to the other parent.

    In this way mothers (or fathers) need not face the prospect of being jailed or fined. Anyone who truly puts the interests of their children first will realise that they run a real risk of losing shared residence if they breach the Court Orders.


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