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Further changes to Children Act Proceedings: presumption of parental involvement

familyMore changes in the Family Court as from 22nd October, Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014 comes into force: the presumption of parental involvement will apply in Children Act matters.

The President’s announcement on the matter made it clear however, that the presumption will only apply to proceedings started after 22nd October 2014, and will not apply to those ongoing but not concluded at the time the section comes into operation.

The presumption is that it is beneficial for children that their parents are involved in their life either directly or indirectly, and does not presume that equal amounts of time should be spent with each parent. The operation of the presumption will not prevent a court from ruling that a parent should have no involvement in a child’s life if that is what is best for the child.

Resolution welcomes the presumption

Resolution, the organisation for family lawyers, welcomed the operation of the presumption but warned that the public and family law practitioners need to be clear about the meaning of the law in practice.

Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said in a statement:

“We believe that it’s important that children maintain a relationship with both of their parents where it’s appropriate.”

The organisation campaigned for further clarification of the presumption while the Children and Families Bill was progressing through parliament. It was feared that the presumption could be misconstrued as meaning parents would be entitled to equal contact with a child, giving false hope and causing further conflict.

“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.”

While the court should consider the presumption in all Children Act cases, the welfare principle will remain paramount.

What is the Welfare Principle?

Whenever a court is asked to make an order in relation to a child the Children Act 1989 states that the court’s paramount consideration must be the welfare of the child:

Children Act 1989, Section 1   Welfare of the child:

(1)  When a court determines any question with respect to—

      (a) the upbringing of a child; or

      (b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it,
           the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.

Welfare should be considered above all the other factors in the case when the court decides what order to make.

The Welfare Principle does not apply in relation to child maintenance cases.

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