Parental responsibility and shared residence orders: parliamentary intentions and judicial interpretations

08 JUN 2010

PETER HARRIS, Research Associate, Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, DSPSW, University of Oxford, and ROBERT GEORGE Lecturer in Law, Jesus College, University of Oxford.

The Children Act 1989 was built around the concept of parental responsibility, which was designed to promote parental decision-making about children, with the courts limited to making concrete orders about practical problems which parents were unable to resolve by themselves. However, in the 20 years since the Act was passed, the judges, led by the Court of Appeal, have systematically diluted the primacy and potency of parental responsibility, and increased the range of cases in which courts intervene in family life to make orders for purely symbolic or therapeutic reasons, with little bearing on the practical realities of children's lives. This article examines these changes, and questions the sustainability of the current ‘pragmatic' solutions being advanced by the courts at the expense of the principled approach of the Act itself.

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