The final report of the Family Justice review, carried out by former civil servant David Norgrove, rejects plans to give parents equal rights to share custody of their children if they separate.
The interim report, which was published in March, recommended that there be a legal presumption that children have a ‘meaningful relationship’ with both parents.
But the final report withdraws the recommendation as it claims it could do more harm than good.
It states, ‘Drawing on international and other evidence we opposed legislation to encourage ‘shared parenting’. The evidence showed that people place different interpretations on this term, and that it is interpreted in practice by counting hours spent with each parent, disregarding the quality of the time.
The thorough and detailed evidence from Australia showed the damaging consequences for many children. So we recommended that-no legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.’
The requirement for grandparents to seek leave of court before they can apply for contact with their grandchildren will also remain as the report’s authors believe it is not ‘overly burdensome.’
The report goes on to recommend that the Government find means of strengthening the importance of a good understanding or parental responsibility it gives to parents, as well as, emphasising the importance of grandparents.
But Ken Sanderson, chief executive of Families Need Father, said, ‘Sadly, I believe that the report’s focus on "making parental responsibility work" is far too optimistic when it comes to improving long-term outcomes for children and their families. The problem is not that parents are inadequately aware of what parental responsibility means; the crux of the matter is that it is all too easy for one parent to simply ignore this and omit the other from their child’s life, with a justice system which is unable and unwilling to take firm action to prevent this.
‘The reduction of shared parenting or a meaningful relationship to time alone in the report is a complete misunderstanding of the issues. Shared parenting is not about an equal share of time; it is about ensuring the full involvement of both parents in a child’s life, with both parents having an equal say in areas such as education and health, as well as routine and leisure time.
‘The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides children with the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents following family breakdown.
This is not a challenge to child welfare, but an enhancement of it to ensure that children are fully supported financially and emotionally. The denial of this by the Review is an opportunity lost, and we urge the Government to properly address this issue before proposing future legislation.’
Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said, 'A radical overhaul of the family justice system is long overdue. For too long, it has functioned as an incoherent, disjointed system that does not meet the best interests of the child.
'Delay in decision making, a lack of understanding of child development and a culture that often works against children rather than for children has led to poor outcomes. The government should not delay in moving to reform the system so that in every case the child's concerns are at the heart of the decision making process.'