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DISTRICT JUDGE MARTIN DANCEY, Bournemouth Combined Court and RONI JONES, Chief Executive Officer of Relate Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch
The new ss 11A-P of the Children Act, introduced with effect from 8 December 2008 by Part 1 of the Children and Adoption Act 2006, are intended to expand the powers available to the court to promote, monitor and enforce contact. This article looks at the first of those purposes - the promotion, or facilitation, of contact, embodied in the provision of contact activity directions or conditions under ss 11A-G and, specifically, Parenting Information Programmes (PIPs) (or co-parenting programmes).
The Government's Green Paper Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities Cm 6273 (2004), the report of responses to the Green Paper Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities: Next Steps Cm 6452 (2005) and the Government's Response Cm 6583 (2005) recognised that court is not the ideal place to resolve children arrangements following separation. In fact only 10% of contact arrangements are underpinned by contact orders; 82% of resident parents and 88% of non-resident parents making their own arrangements reported satisfaction with those arrangements, while the satisfaction rate under court orders fell to 61% (resident parents) or 35% (non-resident parents). Unsurprisingly therefore, much of the consultation and recommendations were about ways of avoiding court proceedings including in particular mediation and better provision of information to separating parents. But for those cases that do go to court widespread concern was expressed by a number of groups, including the judiciary, that the court's powers to promote and enforce contact orders were too restricted.
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