Are you likely to be the victim of a post-code lottery in respect of your child?
Family Law Group Resolution have warned that new legal powers to help courts maintain contact between separated parents and their children are unlikely to help those going through family breakdown without a properly funded national network of contact support services.
Contact was previously known as “access” and means when a child may have contact with another person. This may be direct or indirect. Direct contact is seeing the child face-to-face. This is the usual form of contact. Indirect contact can take a very wide variety of forms such as letters, cards and presents.
Implementation of section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act which, came into force on the 8th December, gives courts powers to order ‘contact activities’ where parents are repeatedly unable to agree contact arrangements themselves.
Fathers’ groups and Judges have often complained at the lack of effective powers available to the courts to deal with parents who block contact without good reason. The new Act will enable Judges to order that parents attend ‘contact activities’ such as a meeting to discuss the possible benefits of mediation or a parenting information group workshop or a domestic abuse prevention programme. Parents who breach contact orders can be sentenced up to 100 hours of unpaid work in the community, with the penalty doubling to 200 hours and a fine if they fail to abide by the punishment.
Chris Goulden, Chair of Resolution’s Children Committee said: “The principles behind these new powers are laudable but they are unlikely to bring about any meaningful improvement unless the new services are up and running, properly funded and readily available for the Courts to refer families to.
“At the present moment there is a disturbing lack of clarity as to what activities will be available, where, when and who will pay for them.”
The fees for attending some contact activities could range from £200 – £2500, unless they can prove that payment would cause them financial hardship. These costs would come at a time when families are already having to make significant financial adjustments as a result of the family break-up.
“It is vital that issues around contact are resolved as speedily as possible. The introduction of ‘means testing’ adds a layer of bureaucracy and delay to a process which already takes too long,” said Chris Goulden.
“Access to help and advice for parents struggling to handle the impact of family breakdown must not become another post-code lottery.”
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. (50587)