It has been difficult to keep up with the debate swinging backwards and forward but I think the upshot is that there is still no legal obligation on shared parenting. I think that’s the case.
Much was made of this point in the Family Justice Review. The interim report suggested that, for the first time, it should be enshrined in law that children should be entitled to a meaningful relationship with both parents. Fathers and others out for justice across the land cheered at the thought. However, the cheers turned to groans when the final FJR report came out in November and the proposal had been dropped. It was argued that it would be impossible to be prescriptive over how much time the children should stay with each.
Then there was the suggestion a couple of months ago that it was being resurrected and I blogged about it at the time (Giving all divorced parents the right to see their children) as being a good thing. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Welfare Secretary, were understood to support the plans. The Conservatives also pledged to introduce the reforms while in opposition. Now though it seems it has gone again so the rule is that children don’t have a legal right to a relationship with both parents or, as some might see it fathers don’t have the right to a relationship with their children. There is a good analysis of the issue in Why the Government is wrong about shared parenting legislation in The Lawyer.
Of course, the reality is that in most cases, common sense prevails and the parents will try and ensure that the children have a good relationship with them both. It is the right thing and best for the children involved on many fronts. But it is those who are caught in a situation where their ex is being unreasonable on contact issues that the law needs to help. Currently, even if an order is in place granting certain access rights, if the parent with whom the child is resident, most of the time the mother, it is an uphill battle for the absent parent to force them to comply. Enshrining in law that children have the right to a relationship with both parents would surely help this situation.