Sunday, 13 January 2013

Shared Parenting Legislation, the effects on Judicial Perceptions

Can a Presumption in Family Law alter judicial thinking?
Some have argued that a presumption of shared parenting in law won't change perceptions. Professor Parkinson (from the Sydney Law School) spoke at the Palace of Westminster last May, explaining the effects in Australia of similar legislative changes to those proposed by the Government:
"There is certainly evidence, from statements of the judges themselves, that the legislation has had an effect on the outcomes by changing the process of their decision making. There is also the evidence of outcomes of contested cases. In its evaluation of the 2006 reforms, the AIFS found that there had been a substantial increase in shared care in judicially determined cases, compared to cases decided prior to 2006. These were cases where the trial judge reached a decision concerning what was in the best interests of the children concerned, but the conclusion that a shared care arrangement was in the best interests of the child in so many cases was not one which, it seems, many judges had seriously considered before 2006."1
... if the UK does follow Australia, the evidence is that presumptions of a meaningful relationship have led to changed perceptions and approaches within the judiciary, and that 'child welfare' hasn't been compromised. A change in the law CAN change judicial perceptions, if our domestic judiciary are as open minded as their antipodean cousins. 

Dame Butler-Sloss, a previous President of the Family Division of the Court and now a member of the House of Lords, acknowledged in 2003 that '60% of fathers lose meaningful contact within 2 years of separation'.2

Will that piece of information (if one accepts such a senior judge would only cite accurate statistics) lead her to accept that our family law system is flawed and needs change, or will it be ignored in defense of a system over which she presided? It puzzles us as to how such appalling statistics do not demand change. We'll wait and see, but tonight's Channel 4 programme, 'Sharing Mum and Dad' at 8pm may be enlightening on this point.

Also see our blog post on Judicial Opposition to Shared Parenting
1. Paul Sieghart Memorial Lecture - Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss 'Are we failing children' - page 11 last paragraph - 2003
2.  Palace of Westminster - Professor Patrick Parkinson - 'Meaningful Reform to the Children Act 1989 - Learning from the Australian Experience' - May 2012