Duncan Lewis

Family Law

know matters can be both

highly sensitive and confusing

According to a research shared parenting presumption was misguided.

Date: (23 November 2012)    |    

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The report has come in before governmental plans to amend the 1989 Children Act by introducing a presumption of shared parenting which the author of the new study has described as well intentioned but misguided. The research was conducted into childhood experience of family break ups.
The survey was conducted by interviewing hundreds of young adults who experienced family break ups. The researchers say that courts should retain their current discretion to put the needs and wishes of individual children first when considering contact disputes between parents as a part of divorce settlement. The research is said to be the reflections of young adults as they look back on post separation contact arrangements.
The research, a joint project between the Universities of Sussex and Oxford and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is the first major study in the UK where young adults who had experienced parental separation in their youth were asked about their opinion on what they thought about the contact they had with their non-resident parent.
The authors were Jane Fortin, Emeritus Professor at the Sussex Law School, Sussex University, Joan Hunt, Senior Research Fellow in the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, and Lesley Scanlan, a psychologist who during this study worked as a Research Associate at the University of Sussex.
The report is seen as a contribution of a unique dimension to knowledge about what makes contact a positive experience for children. By tracking their experiences of contact through their childhood and into adulthood, the study also highlights the long-term impact of contact arrangements on parent-child relationships which could serve as crucial information to policy makers and the family courts.
The researchers say that the report's findings, based on interviews with a national sample of nearly 400 young adults aged between 18 and 35, are timely, as they challenge government plans to alter the Children Act1989.
The research found that most of the young people interviewed opined that resident parent was seldom to be blamed for any disruption in contact not happening rather it was the responsibility of the nonresident parent. Resident parents were more likely encouraged contact rather than undermining it.
The child's pre-separation relationship with the non-resident parent predicts both the quality of contact and the child's relationship with the non-resident parent through childhood and into adulthood.
Children of separating parents develop a mature insight into their own needs and should be consulted far more routinely over arrangements for their future. Coercing them into arrangements during divorce settlements which they disliked was unlikely to be in their short or long-term best interests.
The Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons is currently considering a new draft clause that would promote a change in the way the family courts currently deal with cases of disputed contact arrangements by introducing a presumption of shared parenting.
Critics consider that this would undermine a fundamental principle of the Act: decision-making based on the needs of the individual child.
Jane Fortin, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Sussex, who led the study, says: The strongest theme from our study is the importance of tailoring contact arrangements to the needs and wishes of the individual child in their particular circumstances.