Conservative MP Suella Fernandes has introduced a bill in the House of Commons which aims to reform the way child contact is decided following a divorce.
This legislation, called the Family Justice Bill 2016-17, would establish a presumption of shared parenting in child arrangement orders. Fernandes believes that the current system is failing non-resident parents and often leaving them with no option but to “spend huge amounts of money in the courts with little guarantee of a fair outcome”.
Writing in The Times, the MP for Fareham, Hampshire, claimed the law “needs urgent reform to prevent parents from acting with impunity”. Those who have their children for the majority of the time can unlawfully prevent the other parent from having contact with them without fear of punishment, Fernandes insisted.
“The criminal threshold for contempt is rarely met and judges are failing to assert their authority swiftly under the 1989 Children Act.”
She called the current family law system an “antiquated system [which] reflects norms of the 1950s and 1960s rather than relationships of today”. Her proposed bill was just one of a number of reforms the MP believed were necessary. These included the introduction of no fault divorce. This was “long overdue” she wrote, citing a recent controversial Court of Appeal decision to deny a woman’s divorce petition.
Fernandes called for spousal maintenance payments to be limited as they are in Scotland and North America. She also said cohabiting couples should have legal rights when they separate, prenuptial agreements should be made enforceable and the way ‘public law’ cases are dealt with should be examined. These involve children who are taken into care by local authorities.
The bill’s second reading is expected to take place on May 12.
For more information on the Family Justice Bill 2016-17, click here.