New shared parenting laws, expected to come into effect next year, could lead to more hostility between parents and as a result more pain for children, say a leading family lawyer.
Philip Barnsley, head of Higgs & Sons’ family law department, says that the controversial plans to allow fathers to share maternity leave and give them greater access to children after divorce, could lead to an increase in court action and tension in families across the region.
“The rights of fathers to spend time with their children will be legally recognised, in the new laws announced this week.
“On a positive note, this will be beneficial to those fathers who are unjustly denied access and in some cases contact with their children. They will be rightly recognised as an important part of the children’s lives and upbringing and it may also help to stabilise some families.
“However, there will also be an inevitable increase in court action on account of mothers trying to stop the fathers having contact. In addition there may also be court action with parties who cannot agree though mediation, or other means of dispute resolution, any ‘shared’ arrangements requiring a Judge to determine how such arrangements should work.“
“Twinned with the cuts to Legal Aid, the courts may become inundated with applications from frustrated fathers who may believe that the word “shared” should mean “equal”. This may not be the case.”
The new legislation states that judges should ensure that fathers are given the legal right to spend time to develop a meaningful relationship with their sons or daughters – providing a child’s wellbeing is not jeopardised by such a relationship.
Philip is chairman of Resolution in the West Midlands (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association) and also sits on the Birmingham Law Society Family Law Committee. He believes that shared parenting arrangements can work for many separating parents, but could also be seen to provide less stability for children and an inconsistent approach, as instead of having a permanent residence with one parent and contact with the other they may spend more time between two homes.
“There may be an automatic assumption that the children will live with each parent half of the time,” explains Philip.
“However, this may not necessarily be practical, for example if parents live far apart and the children’s schools are closer to one parent than the other and where there is more than one child of the family. Again, this could cause increased tension between the parents and also between the parents and the children. Also, from a practical point of view – how will the proposals work where there has been an abusive relationship between the parents?
“Ultimately, there could be increased hostility between parents who do not get along, where one parent does not want a shared parenting arrangement. This will impact upon the children as they will pick up on negativity between parents and it will be more emotionally damaging for them in the long term.”
Courts will also be required to consider the rights of grandparents after divorce or separation, although the Government has decided not to legislate to legally ensure they are offered access.
To find out how Higgs can support you contact Philip Barnsley on 0845 111 5050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.