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Dear Mr Mortimer
Thank you for your email of 28 November addressed to David Blunkett about child contact issues. Your letter has been forwarded to the Department for Education and Skills as Lord Filkin has Ministerial responsibility for this area of family law. I have been asked to reply on the Minister’s behalf.
In all court decisions concerning the upbringing of a child, the welfare of that child must be the paramount consideration. However, the Government, the law and the judiciary are all clear that the best interests of the child are served by contact with both parents, so long as it is safe. The assumption of the court, under case law, is that both parents should continue a meaningful relationship with their children after parental separation, whenever it is safe and in the child’s best interests. The Government strongly supports this. The position under current law is that both parents are equal.
Nevertheless, while the principles set out in the Children Act (1989) are correct, we recognise that the processes underpinning it need substantial improvement. That is why we published this summer the Green Paper Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parent’s Responsibilities. The Green Paper aims to achieve three outcomes. We want to encourage and support parents to co-operate in managing issues about contact and residence, enabling them to resolve disputes in the interests of their children without needing to go to court. We have consulted on major changes to the system to achieve this. Secondly, where cases do come before the court we want to put in place a number of measures to divert such cases from a full court hearing, including the use of in-court conciliation and the Family Resolutions Pilot Project. Finally, for those cases that go on to a full hearing we intend to speed up and improve court processes. Linked to this, we also want to provide a wider range of levers to ensure the proper implementation of court orders.
The Green Paper proposes a range of changes which, we hope, will achieve major improvements to the system. These measures include: access to quality information and advice material, made available through solicitors, mediators, by telephone and on websites to help parents to arrive at agreed and practicable contact and residence arrangements in the interests of the child; a telephone helpline, providing general legal advice on the implications of relationship breakdown; the development of Parenting Plans – a set of templates which seek to show in practice the sort of contact arrangements that work well for children of different ages and circumstances. These will be available at all points throughout the system – in solicitors’ offices as well as through advice and mediation services. They will make clear, in practical terms, arrangements that are generally beneficial for children. They are intended to be used as practical aids, both by parents themselves as well as by solicitors, conciliators and mediators, to assist parents to reach reasonable agreements. They will seek to illustrate what the courts might well decide if the case went to a full hearing. change family legal aid to promote conciliation in the interests of the child through the relevant professional bodies, improve accreditation for solicitors providing advice on family matters concerning children; pilot the use of collaborative law where both parents’ lawyers are committed to promoting settlements without going to court; provide greater encouragement for parents to participate in family mediation that can provide an alternative to court based resolution; promote in-court conciliation and mediation services throughout the courts develop a more intensive set of interventions for more difficult cases, which seek to shift the behaviour of parents who are in dispute through understanding that their child needs and benefits from a continuing relationship with both parents. This is called the Family Resolutions Pilot Project, which is currently being piloted in three areas. It uses a video, group discussions and parent planning sessions, spread across at least three separate sessions, undertaken under the direction and authority of the court, but seeking to avoid, as far as possible, a full formal court hearing. support CAFCASS to direct resources to out of court settlements and to help parents implement their agreements; improve case management by the courts, through the earlier listing of cases, with a rapid return to court where needed, with cases being considered throughout by the same judge; and provide courts with a more flexible range of levers to promote settlements and to enforce contact orders by, for example, referring parties to specialist parenting or community based programmes or through the awarding of financial compensation where the defaulting parent has caused loss to the other parent.
Rt Hon. Mr. David Blunkett
28th November 2004
Dear Mr. David Blunkett,
Please can you tell me if you are aware that parents in the UK have no legal right to contact with their children after separation or divorce?
I would also like to know where is the proof that sole residency is in the best interests of our children after family breakdown or divorce?
A change would be in the best interests of children.