In a previous website article reference was made to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Family Law meeting to consider the issue of shared parenting as a legal and practical notion – a meeting intended to create a platform for parents and practitioners inside the “system” who feel that shared parenting is an issue needing to be addressed.
This meeting took place on 15 February and so it seems prudent to consider the points of view put forward.
As previously stated, the guest speakers for the meeting were Dr Craig Pickering (CEO, Families Need Fathers), John Baker (Policy Officer, The Association of Shared Parenting), Dr Samantha Callan (Chairman in Residence, Centre for Social Justice), David Hodson (Chairman, Centre for Social Justice) with John Hemming MP chairing the meeting.
Transcripts of their respective speeches can be found on the APPG website together with a helpful summary of the meeting.
Dr Craig Pickering and John Baker spoke in favour of a legal presumption of shared parenting and David Hodson and Dr Samantha Callan spoke against it.
Dr Pickering raised a number of points in favour of shared parenting, including, raising the question about whether the sharing of Parental Responsibility (PR) is enough in practice for both parents to be able to play a significant role in the life / lives of their child / children – his experience with Families Need Fathers being that the acquisition of PR did not necessarily pave an easier route for a non-resident parent to play the role they desired in their child’s life.
John Baker proposed that there should be a rebuttable presumption in favour of both parents staying involved in the life / lives of their child / children i.e. shared parenting being the default position which can then be departed from if the circumstances dictate.
David Hodson referred to a number of cases that have set precedents as the Children Act 1989 has developed over the years but ultimately concluded that the 1989 legislation is “not past its sell by date”. He acknowledged that some of the reforms that have occurred since 1989 have been incredibly valuable, such as the no order principle, but argued that the reform that has taken place to date is the reform that is needed and that therefore no more reform is necessary.
Dr Samantha Callan, who recognised the need for the law to acknowledge twenty-first century parenting realities but took the view that major reform is not required, said that the evidence available suggests that it would be wrong to presume that the best interests of the child would be well served by the Shared Parenting Bill. It was her view that these interests would be better served by making minor modifications to the Children Act 1989 by establishing principles rather than additional presumptions – the latter of which she feared could undermine the presumption that the welfare of the child is paramount.
The audience addressed by the guest speakers would seem to have played an active role in the debate with reference being made to members clapping in agreement with certain points that were made and numerous questions being put to the guest speakers.
A meeting of minds – both professional and public – is undoubtedly a positive step for the development of family law in circumstances where it represents a “system” that can impact upon the lives of people from many different walks of life. As to whether the presumption of shared parenting becomes a reality, well, only time will tell but what is certain is that family law will continue to develop and respond to sociological changes so as to try and best serve the interests of children and families.
Chris Morse is a Legal Executive in the Stephens Scown Family team. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its family lawyers advises clients on a wide range of family law including matrimonial and partner issues including separation, divorce and civil partnerships, family finance and child access.