Monday, 5 November 2012

Presumption of Contact, Evidence and the Law Society

The Government, it seems, are to push ahead with their proposals for a presumption of contact with the usual caveats concerning safety. Hoorah... and so say... well not quite all of us.

Alan Beith,  the Liberal Democrat chairman of the Parliamentary Justice committee, wrote to the Prime Minister over the summer warning that the proposal would “simply lead to confusion” and risked “undermining the central principal that the welfare of the child is paramount.”

Neither statement is true, and nor is the Law Society's view that “...the case against a legislative presumption is underpinned by experience, expertise and evidence which are absent from the case for legislative change.1

The Government has had evidence from both sides. We ourselves have put forward a wealth of evidence confirming that children fare best when subject to shared care arrangements.

I see no evidence! The Law Society and Alan Beith must accept, as the Government has, that evidence points to child welfare being underpinned by a presumption of contact. Children's charities and academics have been as vocal on this point as any fathers' group. Most surprising was the Law Society's claim that evidence and expertise is absent from the case for legislative change... and this may be why the Government has ignored their opposition.

A thought for Alan Beith... and Gingerbread... and the Law Society... and bit of evidence (and not from us, but from the 'impartial' Children's Society... and where the sample size used is greater than woeful double figures which has historically shaped social policy!).

Based on the experiences of 30,000 children, the research found that 'a child's performance at secondary school, self-esteem and well being as an adult is linked especially to the father's input' and 'children are 40% more likely to suffer mental health problems when separated from their fathers' and 'on average, children are less likely to fail at school or suffer depression the more they see their separated father.' ‘A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age’. Richard Layard and Judy Dunn.The Children’s Society (2009)

So you see... there is evidence, and we've lots more.

Family law is in flux, and the industry is faced with the greatest changes in its lifetime. Legal aid cuts will leave many firms struggling for work, and we hear talk of up to half of firms ceasing to trade as the legal aid cuts bite. The Government estimates that 45,000 private family law cases will lose their legal aid funding.

Estimates are that only 10% of separating parents approach the court... and the charity Gingerbread have claimed that of the remaining 90%, a third fail to agree direct contact.2

A productive and member-centric approach for the Law Society might be to work on how its industry could engage with a staggering 75% of their potential untapped market. Something which would benefit both children and the legal profession. A presumption of contact might encourage more separated parents into mediation, and give them some confidence to approach the courts. Of course... there would need to be enforcement measures to ensure contact goes ahead... but the Government is proposing these too.

1. Absent fathers to get legal right to spend time with their children. Daily Telegraph. November 2012 

2. Family Justice Review Submission of evidence from Gingerbread