Government publishes Children and Families Bill

The government has unveiled a package of family law reforms in a newly published draft bill.

The Children and Families Bill includes plans to allow parents to share leave from work following a birth. They will be able to ‘mix and match’ leave, taking it in turns or together, as long as they do not take more than 52 weeks in total.

This would, said the Department for Education, allow:

“…allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to go back to work at a time that’s right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce. It will also create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.”

Other plans include reforms to adoption law, allowing children to be adopted more quickly. This would be accomplished by changes to the Children Act 1989 and the Children And Adoption Act 2002.Changes to provisions for children in care would include a requirement that every council appoint an new ‘virtual school head’ to look after the educational interests of children in care.

In addition, changes to the family justice system are, says the Department, “designed to remove delays and ensure that the children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making”. A new limit of 26 weeks for care proceedings is proposed. Additional changes to the Children Act 1989 include, in section 11, the introduction of a presumption in favour of shared parenting.

Speaking ahead of the bill’s official launch, Edward Timpson, the Children and Families Minister, said:

“I am determined that every young person should be able to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For this to happen we must tackle the disadvantages faced by our most vulnerable children and families. Our measures in the Children and Families Bill do just that.

“In this Bill we will overhaul adoption – breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice – tackling appalling delays and focussing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people…and better protecting children’s rights.”

Business Minister Jo Swinson added:

“Current workplace arrangements are old-fashioned and rigid. The Children and Families Bill will bring the way mums and dads balance their lives at work and at home into the 21st century.”

Photo by Calotype46 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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6 comments

ObiterJ - February 5, 2013 at 9:17pm

“In addition, changes to the family justice system are, says the Department, “designed to remove delays and ensure that the children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making”. A new limit of 26 weeks for care proceedings is proposed.”

Tremendous emphasis is being placed on this time limit but I fear that some changes are being made which have serious potential to impact on getting the best result for the particular child as opposed to just an adequate result. For example, pressure is being applied with regard to funding of expert reports. In a child’s lifetime, delay (within reason) is sometimes acceptable if the difference between (e.g.) 26 weeks and 32 weeks is a decision taken with fuller and better particulars. This time limit was not needed – it ought to have been left to the eminent good sense of the care judges.

Local authorities are increasingly cash-strapped and one wonders whether there is going to be adequate funding for the work which has to be done. Government is imposing more cuts on their funding and, as a consequence, Local authorities are reducing social work numbers and they are the eyes and ears of the family courts. The risk of further Baby-P situations is, in my opinion, increasing.

For my part, I question the necessity for cuts in areas connected with child safety and care proceedings. This ought to be an area where things are sensibly funded rather than just being left to the whims of local authorities responding to the government’s latest percentage reduction in funding.

After all, there is plenty of money for some things when it suits government to spend it.

vob - February 5, 2013 at 10:53pm

”Forced adoptions” are akin to the total removal of the Jewish children in the 2nd world war. ”Obscene” The Guards like this Government, would have thought it the right thing to do at the time. The ‘backlash ‘ will happen’ in the future Social Networking will expose this ”inhumane”
degrading procedure. I

David Mortimer - February 6, 2013 at 1:36pm

Please can some one tell me why section 11 (7) says other than mother?

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0131/cbill_2012-20130131_en_2.htm#pt2-l1g10

Bruno D'Itri - February 6, 2013 at 10:16pm

I am very pleased that our Government is set to amend the Children Act in order to protect the Right of a child to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both its parents, post separation/divorce.

This was an original intention of the Children Act (1989), but has been relegated or misinterpreted by the judiciary (specifically by Lady Butler-Sloss).

I have campaigned vigorously over recent years for the acceptance of the principle that a child’s paramount interests are served by the Court giving due regard to maintaining its meaningful relationship with both its parents.

Sadly, to date, the judiciary has remained more focused upon the wishes and feelings of the so-called ‘primary carer’ (usually mum) and has relegated the importance of the involvement of the de-facto ‘secondary carer’ (usually dad).

There have been well-publicised cases in which the judiciary has recognised this shortcoming in the law, but has been unable or unwilling to act.

In the reserved judgment of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, for example, the former President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall broadcast (and later reiterated in a Family Affairs interview) his carefully considered view that Relocation Law – in the form of Payne v Payne – ascribed too great a weight to the wishes of the primary carer and relegated the harm done to a child due to the loss of its meaningful relationship with the left-behind parent.

Regardless of his concerns, however, he proceeded to apply the very legal principles in Payne v Payne which he had criticised! Wall was either unable or unwilling to challenge a legal precedent which failed to serve the best interests of the children.

With the forthcoming amendment to the Children Act, the judiciary will now be FORCED to give due and proper weight to maintaining meaningful relationships between children and both their parents.

It is very hard to see how the principles of Payne v Payne can now survive. Plainly, a child which has been removed thousands of miles from its home country cannot easily benefit from maintaining a meaningful relationship with the left-behind parent!

I expect this beastly law to be consigned to the history books before too long. A law which effectively permits a mother to cut out – like a cancer – a father from the life of his child is utterly barbaric and has no place in 21st Century Britain.

Regards
Bruno D’Itri

Bruno D'Itri - February 11, 2013 at 10:25pm

The Children Act of 1989 required the judiciary to serve the paramount interests of the child.

Surely no one can disagree with this fundamental principle.

The problem is that our senior judiciary has opted to interpret this paramountcy principle by adopting out-of-date suppositions which hark back to the 1960′s and 70′s. It has done so because of its rigid adherence to the system of ‘legal precedent’.

Above all, a child needs the love and nurturing of its mother and the financial support of its father. Women are the emotionally weaker sex: if their wishes are thwarted by the court, their ability to parent their child will be adversely affected. A child can be raised quite satisfactorily without the nurturing of its father. A father may be permitted to share in the parenting of his child, but only if the mother is in agreement. If she is not in agreement, the father should not be involved in the parenting because this would upset the mother, and the resulting animosity would be harmful to the child. If a mother is found to have lodged false or exaggerated accusations of physical or emotional violence against a father, she should not be punished because this would harm her child.

If these are the suppositions written into decades of legal precedent and indelibly ingrained in the minds of the senior judiciary – such as Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Thorpe and Sir Nicholas Wall – then it is quite obvious that these judges will opt to interpret the Paramountcy Principle of the CA1989 by adopting those suppositions.

A perfect example is Payne v Payne (2001). Butler-Sloss and Thorpe decided that the paramount interests of a child would best be served by ensuring that the child’s mother should not be upset by refusing her application to remove the child overseas. The unfortunate consequence – that the child would lose its meaningful relationship with its father – was not as important a factor as ensuring the happiness of the mother. In Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Nicholas Wall refused to permit any challenge to the ideology of Payne v Payne, despite having being presented with a plethora of powerful scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. Wall relegated the importance of that evidence.

Our senior judiciary has utterly misjudged the best interests of the child by remaining stubbornly wedded to an out-of-date ideology of parenthood.

The forthcoming amendment to the CA1989 – inserting a presumption of shared parenting – will hopefully rectify that serious judicial error.

Regards,
Bruno D’Itri

Bruno D'Itri - March 2, 2013 at 1:59pm

I’ve just been fiddling with the zoom function of the SatNav on my new Audi (yes ladies… a new Audi!).

I zoomed right out and managed to get the whole of Western Europe on the screen. This wasn’t particularly helpful in assisting me with my 1 mile journey to the local shops!

Incidently, as a man, I feel compelled to use the SatNav for each and every journey, even short, familiar routes I could probably drive blind-folded!

Anyway, while I was fiddling, it made me think about the Children and Families Bill, and about the need to ‘zoom out’ for perspective.

There has always been a direct link between societal norms and legislation.

Most significant shifts in societal norms have led to changes in legislation, but this has usually involved a tough struggle!

Anti-discrimination legislation for people of different race, gender and sexual orientation all eventually followed in the wake of changes in society.

However, in each case, the resistance from what I shall call ‘the forces of conservatism’ was powerful. There were significant vested interests in the status quo, and those who stood to lose out were not going to accept change without a fight!

In each case, honourable campaigners for justice and reform were discredited, undermined, attacked and even murdered.

Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from Birmingham Gaol touches my heart each and every time I read it. It is the quintessential call of any person facing discrimination and demanding justice.

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

Now, I perfectly accept that Matt O’Connor of ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ is NO Martin Luther King Jr!

However, his argument for justice for children is, in my view, Righteous. It is Good. It is Honourable.

A child surely deserves to enjoy the love, care and guidance of two good and responsible natural parents.

The ideology of parenthood of the 1960′s and 70′s saw the mother as the ‘natural’ carer and the father as the ‘natural’ financial provider. Family legislation reflected this ideology.

Of course, societal norms have now changed. In 21st century Britain, BOTH genders are now viewed as natural carers and financial providers.

Has legislation fully caught up with this societal change? No.

Do fathers face systematic gender discrimination? Yes.

Is this discrimination indirectly perpetrated via the legal constructs of ‘primary carer’ and ‘non-primary carer’? Yes.

I am a good, responsible and conscientious parent. I know I am, because a judge found me to be so!

And yet I was forced to endure two periods of separation from my beautiful children: firstly for 8 months and subsequently for 1.5 years.

I now see my children once a month in a motel room in Eastern Europe.

Any genuine ‘meaningful involvement’ in my children’s lives has been significantly undermined.

I am not alone in my experience.

There are thousands of perfectly good and caring British parents (mainly fathers) who face similar discrimination.

To the “discrimination deniers”, to those who seek to preserve their vested interests in the status quo, and to those who are simply unaware of the discrimination, I say, think of that child, think of what he is missing, think of what you might say to him if he asked you why he couldn’t see his dad.

Let us open our hearts and our minds.

Let family legislation reflect modern parenthood.

Let us support Tim Loughton MP and his shared parenting legislation in the Children and Families Bill.

Regards
Bruno D’Itri

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