Shake-up of child contact rules

Courts will be able to order parents to take parenting classes
before they can have contact with their children, under reforms
announced by the government.

Integrated domestic violence  courts are also to be piloted in
which one judge can deal with both the criminal and family aspects
of domestic violence.

The announcements forms part of a package of reforms on child
custody and contact after parental separation outlined in a new
White Paper. It includes compulsory parenting classes for some
parents before a contact order is made, and new legislation to
prevent one parent from obstructing the other parent from having
contact with a child despite the existence of a contact order.

The definition of “harm” under the 1989 children Act
has already been extended to include witnessing harm to another
– such as a child’s father assaulting the mother.

The government has rejected calls for a presumption of equal
contact after separation. The child’s welfare should always
be the court’s paramount consideration, says the White Paper.
“The problem is how to shift the attitudes of some parents
better to focus on the needs of the child”.

Where a parent – usually a mother – breaches a
contact order, she could be subject to a curfew, or a community
service order, or be ordered to make financial compensation to the
other parent. As a last resort, mothers could be fined or
imprisoned for breaching contact orders.

New templates – called Parenting Plans – showing examples
of contact arrangements that work well for children at different
ages and in different circumstances are to be published by the
government and distributed to parents and their advisors.

Parental separation: children’s needs and parents’
responsibilities: next steps. Cmd 6452

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