UK Family Law Reform

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The Children Act 1989 in its current form provides for shared residence, although this is not equal residence but the Court has the facility to make orders for shared residence and does. There is resistence within the legal world to changing the Children Act as it is deemed as satisfactory because this facility exists.

Currently there is no legal presumption of equal residence. Back in 2005 when there was a major Government Consultation on Family Law the Judiciary stated we could not have it because there is only one presumption under the Children Act and that is that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. The Family Justice Review 'Norgrove Report' supports this. They stated that there is too much emphasis on time rather than quality of contact and refer to what happened in Australia when the legislation was changed, but the fact is time is a relevant factor as time is necessary to build and/or maintain a good father/child relationship and the current system allows a father's time to be easily eroded. Residence and contact are inextricably intertwined. Time is relevant. The Government have stated that they feel some sort of legislation is necessary but their proposals in the Co-Parenting Consultation will not make any practical difference at all and is a waste of an opportunity.

If the post standard separation order was for shared residence that would put parents on an equal footing/starting point and send out a clear message about the importance of both parents in a child's life. The existing caveats such as safety issues etc will still be in place etc. Those arguing against making this the standard post separation order will say that the danger with this is that this will cause more litigation as parents will be arguing how that residence is shared and it would not be practical, but the fact is parents who are acting in the best interests of their children will make things work. In any event it is impossible to introduce legislation that is the 'all cure' because a hostile parent who is determined to sabotage the arrangements will do it anyway, but that does not mean positive changes cannot be made.

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