The Government has responded to a consultation about possible amendments to the Children Act 1989 and has confirmed that its preference is for the Act to introduce a “Shared Parenting Presumption”.
But what does this mean?
At the moment, separated parents are expected to try to resolve arrangements for a child between themselves but if that’s not possible, then an application to court will be necessary.
The most common applications are for either a Residence Order (which determines with whom a child should live) or a Contact Order (which determines if/when the child should see a parent).
The court also has the power to make what is known as a Shared Residence Order, which states that the child lives with both parents albeit in separate households. The child “lives” with one parent for set days and then “lives” with the other parent for set days. Shared Residence Orders don’t have to mean an exact 50/50 division of time and they are becoming increasingly common.
When making a decision about these issues, the Children Act 1989 states that the child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. In other words, the court focuses on what is best for the child, not what is best for the parents.
The Government is now suggesting that the Children Act be amended so that the court is required to work on the presumption that it is better for a child to have safe involvement with both parents unless there is evidence that it is not safe or in the child’s best interests. They call this the Shared Parenting Presumption”.
This is a step in the right direction in terms of making it clear that neither parent has any more ‘rights’ over a child than the other and they are both equal in the eyes of the law.
However, it could also lead to parents misinterpreting the “Presumption of Shared Parenting” as meaning the “Presumption Shared Residence” which isn’t what is intended.
The child’s best interests must always be the paramount consideration, as already set out on Section 1 (1) of the Children Act 1989. So will this proposed amendment really change anything?
Contact Katie Beer at Cunningtons on 01245 295511 for advice on how this may affect you.