The new parental involvement clause in the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force today. It requires family courts to presume that each parent’s involvement in the child’s life will further their welfare where it is safe and appropriate. But what does this actually mean in reality?
I’ll tell you; nothing.
The clause in the Act has been so watered down as to render it practically meaningless: “‘involvement’ means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not a particular division of a child’s time”.
It’s hard to see how this clarifies anything at all. Nor what comfort this might give to any parent living apart longing to see their child again, but can’t, because the other parent won’t let them.
We all know this shouldn’t happen, but try telling that that to the thousands of parents out there who find themselves powerless to do anything about the situation without a battle in court.
No one is saying children and their safety shouldn’t come first, but surely there’s nothing wrong with the law stating a presumption that raising a child is best with two parents and leaving it at that? Why does it need to be further confused with words such as “direct” or “indirect”?
The welfare of the child will always remain the paramount priority of the courts, but the clause to give a crumb of comfort to a parent living apart who has suddenly discovered that he (or she) has no automatic right to contact with their child, clarifies nothing. We’re back to square one. They have no rights at all.
Jo Edwards, this year’s chair of family law organisation Resolution, has, I am sorry to say, gone further down the entirely child-centred line and issued a statement which reminded me of an Edwardian nanny.
It quotes her as saying:
“We do remain concerned that, even with the current language, there is the potential for a minority of parents to misunderstand the clause or have an expectation of new ‘rights’. So it is crucial that members of the public and professionals alike understand the implications of this clause – it’s not about equal time for each parent, it’s about making sure that, where it’s in the child’s interest, they should have an ongoing relationship with each of their parents.”
So that’s how she sees it. Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more.
How dare Resolution wag its finger at a parent desperate to see their child, having spent all their lives with them before the relationship broke down?
In case anyone forgot, the Act is called the Children and Families Act. Where are the needs of the whole family served by this definition of parental involvement?
It’s hard to see how the public is best served by meaningless amendments which the Family Court will doubtless interpret as flexibly as it chooses and in fact does right now. The reality is the measure will make no difference at all to where we currently are.
It is a wasted opportunity, driven by those who don’t see parents as I do: day in, day out, year after year. They are concerned for their children who are growing up without them but the parents are also bereft. I firmly believe they ought to be considered by the law, as part of a family.
Photo by Spirit-Fire via Flickr