Two articles in the newspapers caught my attention in the last couple of weeks, both featured in The Sun. The first advised that there was a new guide to good practice in relationship breakdown from the esteemed advisers on etiquette: Debrett’s. Or as The Sun put it “posh guide urges couples to stay civil’.

The second reported that the government is to give a legal right for fathers to see their children after separation. Or as The Sun put it: “courts will have a duty to ensure kids can see BOTH parents after a break-up’.

The article in Debrett’s provides practical advice on what should happen in an ideal situation to enable separating parents remain on good terms with each other and to ensure that children have a good relationship with both parents. Whilst a bit posh, the Debrett’s guide might be a useful insight to any parent contemplating or experiencing relationship breakdown and as such, is certainly worth a read.

For example, Debrett’s advises that:
“both the partners should tell the children about the decision to divorce as soon as possible. Ideally the parents will explain to the children together, and in private. Reassurance about visiting and living arrangements should be given at this very difficult time to ensure that the children are not panicking or worrying needlessly’

and that parents should

“keep all references to your ex-partner respectful, bland and rage-free. When feelings are raw this can be overwhelmingly difficult, but do your best to concentrate on pragmatic arrangements (visits, transport, holidays)’.

Family law solicitors and the courts are, of course, only required to intervene when this approach has failed. My experience as a divorce solicitor is that both the court and committed family solicitors will seek to promote an on going relationship between parents for the benefit of their children, which brings with it a sensible plan for contact with the absent parent.

However, the government is stepping in with a legal presumption that contact should take place with the absent parent. The proposals, which will bring radical changes to the 1989 Children’s Act, will place an obligation on the Courts to ensure children have an ‘equal right to a proper relationship’ with both parents following a split.

When outlining their proposals, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke advised that the government wanted to “put back confidence that the courts will have proper regard to the position of fathers and the right of the child to have contact with the father’. Furthermore, in appropriate cases, the Court should raise at an early stage that it has the ability to place the children with the absent parent if contact is being blocked.

It is unclear whether these new rules will alter the Court’s approach but there is no doubt that the rights of absent parents are at the top of the governments agenda for families at the moment.

If you are worried about how the new laws will affect you or have any legal queries regarding divorce, separation or child contact, please do not hesitate to get in touch.