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26 SEP 2008

Courts are not biased against non-resident parents, study finds

The Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy has published the results of a study which researched the outcomes of when parents go to court, how much contact they get, and how this compares to what they applied for. The study also addresses the perception that non-resident parents as a group are treated unfairly by the courts.

The study, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, found no evidence that courts are biased against non-resident parents as a group. Although it did find evidence that resident parents start off from a position of strength and it is easy for them to spin things out resulting in some applicants giving up because the process is too long and costly, both financially and emotionally. It also observed that some resident parents and children remain persistently opposed to contact and the court's abilities to deal with this are limited.

The study acknowledges that "at the end of the day the court has to act in the interests of the children and sometimes that means the non-resident parent may lose out".

Justice Minister, Bridget Prentice said: "Where contact cases do come to court, the child's welfare is always the paramount consideration. Clearly in some circumstances, such as where there is poor parenting or even abuse, contact can be very damaging.

"The Government firmly believes that children should not be denied meaningful contact with their other parent, where this is safe"

However, the Government has recognised that more needs to be done to help parents who cannot agree and who come to court to resolve their contact dispute. The Children and Adoption Act 2006, due to be implemented in the Autumn, amends the Children Act 1989 to give new powers to the courts to help parents overcome barriers to contact and will give the courts further flexible powers to enforce contact orders.

To download a copy of the study visit the Ministry of Justice website.

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