Kids, Courts and Caution: New Rules on Parental Contact and “Abuse” 

Published on 19 September, 2017 | Katie Dillon

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Breaking-up is never an easy process for adults in a relationship.

However, the potential for distress is magnified when there are children to take into account.

In the vast majority of cases, parents manage to handle their separation in the sort of reasonable fashion which minimises upset and provides arrangements in which both mothers and fathers can contribute to their children’s futures.

There are some instances, however, which are not so straightforward.

Sir James Munby, the judge who is President of the Family Division of the High Court, has drawn up new guidance in order to protect those children considered at risk of “psychological or physical abuse” by a parent (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/children-at-risk-of-psychogical-or-physical-abuse-must-not-have-contact-with-parent-judges-told-k752693wd?shareToken=0896653c8839597915d0ccca81014897).

The guidelines are, in part, a response to concerns by domestic violence groups about a number of cases in which parents harmed or even killed children with whom they were allowed contact.

They potentially amount to a stiffening of the powers available to family courts in these types of circumstances.

Cases involving allegations of possible risk have required parents to undergo assessment to determine whether their lifestyles, behaviour or mental health pose sufficient cause for alarm.

That analysis – and the opportunity to have suitable treatment in order to reduce or completely eradicate risk – is then taken into account when concluding if a non-resident parent should be allowed contact.

Although every case is decided on its own specific facts, those still thought to constitute some risk – particularly where that risk relates to parents coming into contact with each other – have been allowed to meet their children under strict supervision at a special contact centre.

Even so, Sir James’ has recommended that even that access should be removed if the risk is grave enough.

I agree.

It is quite right that all involved in every single circumstance in which parents part should focus on ensuring that the interests of children are put first.

That is true regardless of whether a father or mother is considered the most suitable resident parent or whether the child was born to parents who were cohabiting or married.

Whilst it might seem excessive to some, courts have a duty to strike a note of caution and provide children whose parents’ own relationships don’t stand the test of time having as good a chance as possible of avoiding the sort of lasting damage which can occasionally arise when problems are left unchecked.

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