Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Co-operative Parenting consultation launched

It seems that consultations are like buses: you don't see any for ages, and then two come along at once.

Hard on the heels of the Consultation on Revised Safeguarding Statutory Guidance yesterday, the Department for Education has today launched its much-anticipated 'shared parenting' consultation, under the catchy title 'Co-operative Parenting Following Family Separation: Proposed Legislation on the Involvement of Both Parents in a Child's Life'. The consultation blurb reads:
"The majority of parents who separate reach their own agreements about the care arrangements for their children. However, when disputes about these arrangements arise there is a risk that children's needs are overlooked. In too many cases one parent is left in a position where it is very hard to retain a strong and influential relationship with his or her child. The Government firmly believes that parents who are able and willing to play a positive role in their child's care should have the opportunity to do so. The aim of the proposed legislative amendment is to ensure that this happens in court cases and to reinforce the expectation generally that both parents are jointly responsible for their children's upbringing. The Government also believes that a tougher approach is needed in cases where court orders are breached, and it intends to explore the scope for additional enforcement sanctions for the courts. This consultation includes options and questions on how court orders in private family cases regarding the care of children can be more effectively enforced."
On the main question of shared (or 'co-operative', to use the DfE's preferred form of words) parenting, the consultation offers 4 options:
  • Option 1 requires the court to work on the presumption that a child's welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents - unless the evidence shows this not to be safe or in the child's best interests. This is the Government's preferred option.
  • Option 2 would require the courts to have regard to a principle that a child's welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents.
  • Option 3 has the effect of a presumption by providing that the court's starting point in making decisions about children's care is that a child's welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents.
  • Option 4 inserts a new subsection immediately after the welfare checklist, setting out an additional factor which the court would need to consider.
These options are explained in paragraphs 10 to 13 of the consultation document.

On the question of enforcement, a 'new approach' is proposed, to include:
  • Arrangements will be put in place to return breach cases to the court "within a matter of weeks" (paragraph 7.1).
  • Possible extension of enforcement powers to mirror those already agreed by Parliament for enforcing payment of child maintenance, allowing the withholding of passports and driving licences as well as the imposition of a curfew order requiring the parent concerned to remain at a specified address between specified hours (paragraph 7.3).
  • Amending the warning notices on court forms and changing court information materials to emphasise to parents, from the outset of the court process, the potential consequences of breaching an order, including the possibility of ordering a change of residence (paragraph 8.2).
Consultation responses can be completed online here, by emailing or by downloading a response form which should be completed and sent to:
Department for Education,
Area 1C,
Castle View House,
East Lane,
WA7 2GJ.
The closing date for responses is Wednesday 5th September 2012.

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UPDATE: A DfE press notice can now be found here.


  1. This is a step in the right direction (towards assumed shared parenting).

    At the moment the court DOES NOT assume that it is in the interests of the child to see both children anyway. It DOES assume that the children's interests are paramount. Speaking from experience, this does mean that self appointed professionals, when faced with warring emotional couples prefer to keep them apart and contact down 'for the sake of the children'. That needs to change. Speaking from experience it has been a detrimental approach to my children and bad law, badly thoughtout that only benefits the lawyers I hear on the radio plying their trade on contact disputes.

    Well done on the Government. I rarely, if ever say that, but I say it here. This is an overdue step in the right direction. Thanks for the link John I will put my concurrance to them also.

    1. Hi David,

      Two things:

      1. You may not have felt it was so in your case but, as anyone involved in the family justice system will confirm, the courts do take the view in almost all cases that it is in the child's best interests to retain a relationship (including contact) with both parents.

      2. I wouldn't get your hopes up that any change in the law is going to have much, if any, effect upon outcomes, certainly in the vast majority of cases.

  2. Well, sorry to sound obtuse, but there is Contact and there is contact. I am thinking that a change in the law would move the standard between parents who can't agree from every other weekend to a couple of extra days and prevent as many international relocations and stop the abuse by resident parents of defying maintenance orders without regard.

    Indeed, the more I think about it the more I think you are being a little bit too negative. That's normally my job remember ;-).

    1. There is nothing in any of the options that says anything about the amount of time a child should spend with each parent.

      I'm not sure how a resident parent can defy a maintenance order, but in any event this consultation is not to do with maintenance.

      My views will only be considered negative by those wanting substantial change!

  3. I'm not sure how a resident parent can defy a maintenance order. erm, in my (considerable) experience, very easily, and without sanction, other than further contact reduction if it gets to court. Saying the child has a (non existent) cold is a common excuse used for instance. I suppose your criteria makes me a radical then, not that I really care what people think of me. I do believe the existing system is poor, ho hum.

  4. p.s. I note you chose to ignore the relocation point.

    1. What you are talking about is defying a contact order, not a maintenance order.

      I did not ignore your relocation point - I agree that any new co-parenting provision would have to be considered by the court, although whether that would make any difference from the system as at present is another matter.

  5. Northern Lights14 June 2012 at 19:10


    There is already a presumption in case law that children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, unless it is unsafe. Inasmuch as this proposal reinforces something that is already there but seems to sometimes get lost in translation in the lower courts, it won't go amiss but I can't see it making a great deal of difference. It is little more than posturing from politicians, trying to cover the fact that they are cutting the very resources needed to make any substantive reform work in practice.
    If any changes to legislation prevent one parent from excluding the other on unreasonable grounds or false allegations, then it is to be welcomed and if the new enforcement provisions are passed and applied (I'm dubious- the current ones are used rarely) they may teach some Resident parents that they cannot behave with impunity. That is also to be welcomed.
    There is no chance whatsoever of any equation relating to the division of time being inserted into legislation. It ain’t going to happen.
    I’ll address the issue of relocation cases (again) Hedley J ruled in Re.Y some years back on shared care and relocation. The entire issue was dealt with again in the COA last year in CK v MK but if you are wanting the courts to put a blanket ban on relocations, that ain’t going to happen either. Ever.If you want to read the case law, here is a link from this site with an excellent synopsis from John:

    I need to lie down now......

    1. Thanks for that, NL, and for the plug!

  6. cheers NL. Trying to find clarity and certainty in family law can be difficult, and that contributes to parents spending quite a lot of money going to court I think. Yes, that is a criticism, as seems people can buy results they want. I do disagree with you, I think the right to 2 parents doesn't exist and needs to be there. I have tried to talk common sense in a family law court facing a barrister and a judge with no-one listening or caring about the NRP!

  7. I'm off now, there's no point posting if you just delete them.

    1. I didn't deleted anything, but I see that for some reason your reply to NL was picked up as spam by Blogger - I've now marked it as not spam.


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