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Friday, 9 November 2012

Family Law & Review of Contact Arrangements

The child’s best interest: a current review of contact arrangements

Family Law Solicitor Emma Peart discusses the recent review proposals of the Children Act 1989 regarding contact and residence arrangements for children in the event of a divorce or marriage breakdown.
Ministers are currently reviewing how to aid the Court in ensuring that a child’s best interests are met if it becomes involved in the child’s welfare when the parents cannot agree contact and residence arrangements.

family law and review of contact arrangements for children
Generally it is felt that a child will benefit greatly from regular contact with both parents. Proposals are being made to try and improve the non-resident parent’s contact with a child in the aftermath of a relationship breakdown to ensure this. Normally the non-resident parent is the father.

Under the Children Act 1989, the court is to focus on meeting the best interests of a child when considering contact and residence arrangements should it become involved in any dispute regarding this. This does of course allow a court to order contact with the non-resident parent. Children’s Minister Edward Timpson has highlighted proposals to take the current law further, hinting that at present the present legislation does not promote stable contact with the non-residential parent enough. It seems that the Minister has listened to various opinions that the Court is not allowing as much contact with both parents as the child could benefit from. He has therefore unveiled proposals that legislation should be amended to make it a presumption that regular contact is granted to the non-resident parent as this would be in the child’s best interest so long as it is safe. The Minister states that this would also be encouraged by tighter penalties on parents that do not conform to any court order for contact. Penalties being considered are the removal of passports or driving licences, or the imposition of curfews on their movements. At present the minister envisages that the proposal could be implemented within a year.

What is also of interest is that the review has taken the opportunity of considering what relationships may be in the child’s best interest outside of the relationship with the mother and father. It is hinted that the review of legislation will ensure that the Court are to consider the child’s contact with grandparents if it is felt this would be in the child’s best interests. This is quite a general guideline to the court with no presumption that grandparent’s will be entitled to contact. However it shows that Ministers feel it is something that now should be considered in more depth by the court without the onus being on a grandparent to raise the issue of contact.
Emma Peart is a Family Law Solicitor at MTA Solicitors LLP and runs drop in clinics at The LawStore, where you can take advantage of their free 30 minuite consultations regarding any legal issue.

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