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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Changing family law words will not help families

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So we have passed another milestone on the lengthy road of the Family Justice Review. Years after it started, last week we saw the draft legislation published, giving us a few more nuggets on exactly what is going to happen. There have been so many “ins and outs” during the course of this review – basically what is going to be covered and what isn’t – that it is hard to keep up. I therefore always have a look at the new information that comes out just to see what the latest change is!

This is by no means the full story as the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice means for these changes to form part of a larger package of children and families legislation in the “near” future. So it’s a case of “keep watching this space”.

However, the latest information to come out does give us certainty on some issues. It includes the fact that couples will be encouraged to settle children issues away from court and that the children should be entitled to an ongoing relationship with both parents. Finally, good news for many estranged parents desperate to be involved with their offspring but who are finding it difficult thanks to an obstructive ex. This may not solve the issue but does perhaps put discussions on a more even footing.

However part of the detail of that is a plan to change the language around contact. Again. People still routinely refer to access and custody, terms that were done away with years ago. More recently, we have had residence and contact and people – the general public – are still getting their heads around these terms. They are simply not sinking in. So why we now need to change again, to “Child Arrangement Order”, replacing Residence Orders and Contact Orders, it completely beyond me.

I do not feel this will help in any way. After waiting for so long for this review to take place, tinkering with wording does make you wonder if it has all really been worthwhile and offered value for money. Or am I missing something?

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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You make some good points Andrew but on the last point of the new label of Child Arrangement Order, I think this is a good move.  Labels (and no I don’t mean just the designer labels) matter to children and parents.  I have experience of judges making shared residence orders in order to avoid one parent becoming the “non-resident parent.”  The realities of how the child spent his or her time with each parent was not altered, but it was important for the child that neither parent be seen to have more decision making abilities or power and it was hoped that the shared residence order would encourage both parents to talk more. 

The avoidance of labels for parents other than MUm, Dad or parent is a good move.

However with the best will in the world, no amount of labelling or lack of labelling will help a child whose parents cannot communicate.  The role of the courts is to help the child and often that requires they act as referee for the parents. 

The area that really needs addressing is what consequence should a bad parent pay that will have a minimal effect on the child, and avoid bankrupting the family as they struggle with a legal system that still does not have the answer to this question….

By Karen Agnew-Griffith on Friday September 21, 2012

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