Ministry of Justice
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Courts do not treat non-resident parents unfairly - report
An independent study published today shows that family courts are making great efforts with considerable success to secure child contact, following divorce or separation.
Most contact arrangements are settled without going to court as the majority of parents agree these for their children between themselves. But around 10% of parents who cannot agree seek a court order for contact.
The study found no evidence that courts are biased against non-resident parents as a group. The courts start from the principle there should always be contact unless there are very good reasons why not. In most cases the courts were successful in securing contact for the non-resident parent. Court proceedings often start with no contact at all yet most cases end up with face-to-face contact.
Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said:
"The well-being of children is at the heart of the family justice system. Courts should be the last resort for people involved in contact disputes, as mediation can be quicker and less stressful.
"Where contact cases do come to court, the child's welfare is always the paramount consideration. Clearly in some circumstances, such as where there is poor parenting or even abuse, contact can be very damaging.
"The Government firmly believes that children should not be denied meaningful contact with their other parent, where this is safe"
The study, by the Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy, looked at the perception that non-resident parents who go to court over contact arrangements following divorce or separation are awarded little or no contact for insubstantial reasons.
However, the Government has recognised that more needs to be done to help parents who cannot agree and who come to court to resolve their contact dispute. The Children and Adoption Act 2006, due to be implemented in the Autumn, amends the Children Act 1989 to give new powers to the courts to help parents overcome barriers to contact and will give the courts further flexible powers to enforce contact orders.
Notes to Editors
1) The Study: "Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce" and summary Briefing Note http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/outcomes-contact-orders.htm
2) Approximately a quarter of the 12 million children in the UK are affected by their parents' separation or divorce (DCA, DfES, DTI, 2004). Around 90% will reside mainly with one parent (the "resident parent"), typically the mother, (Peacey and Hunt, 2008). Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements. Fathers, who are usually the non-resident parent, make the majority of contact applications.
3) Parents who cannot agree can apply to the court for a contact order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, which is governed by the welfare principle: (section 1(1)). This means that the child's interests must be the paramount consideration.
4) In 2005, the Government announced a range of practical
measures to improve the handling of contact cases and the
information, help and advice available to separating parents.
Parental Separation: Children's needs and Parents'
responsibilities - Next Steps' 2005
5) A key measure was new legislation: the Children and Adoption
6) Family Mediation website: https://http://www.familymediationhelpline.co.uk/index.php