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.
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).
CYPFD Team,The closing date for responses is Wednesday 5th September 2012.
Department for Education,
Castle View House,
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UPDATE: A DfE press notice can now be found here.