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Liberal Democrat Party Conference:
Policy to guarantee contact for non-resident parents agreed
The policy is part of a package of measures for children and families, proposed by the party's children's spokeswoman Annette Brooke MP.
Under the policy, voted in overwhelming by activists at the party's annual conference in Brighton this week, parents who do not live with their children would be guaranteed a fixed amount of time with them. The aim is to ensure children don't lose contact with non-resident parents as often happens during protracted family court cases.
The default contact arrangement adopted by the party would mean children would always have reasonable contact with the non-resident parents from separation until the parents agree an alternative arrangement or the court makes an order.
The move was hotly contested by party members, who called for the whole legal basis of the contact system to be overhauled to give parents equal rights.
During the debate Serena Tierny, a party member from Mid-Sussex, said contact orders meant one parent was deciding whether to allow another parent contact. "One becomes a resident parent, another becomes a second class 'contact' parent," she said. "Sole residency orders have become one of the main obstacles for maintaining relationships with children because they give mothers powers that were never intended."
Party activists also backed the introduction of compulsory meetings to ensure parents considered mediation as an option before applying to the courts for custody.
And they supported a range of proposals for looked-after children, including compulsory registration for foster carers when private fostering has taken place to replace the current requirement to notify local authorities.
Despite concerns about its implications for existing programmes, the party also backed the idea of forming local support networks that would pull together state, private and voluntary services that help parents and their children.
Other proposals accepted by the party included making sex and relationships education and personal, social and health education compulsory.
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