MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
News Release (118/08) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 25
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
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