Shared parenting: the Law, the Evidence and Guidance from Families Need Fathers

19 AUG 2009

Joan Hunt (University of Oxford), Judith Masson (University of Bristol) and Liz Trinder (University of Exeter)

Families Need Fathers (FNF) recently produced a series of four sets of guidance on Shared Parenting, including Guidance for Cafcass Case Officers, for Teachers and Schools, for Surestart and for Litigants in Person. According to the FNF webpages, the guidance was subsequently endorsed by Cafcass, the President of the Family Division and the Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families.

The reason that this matters is that the four sets of guidance, including the guidance for Cafcass officers, start from a presumption of a 50/50 division of the child?s time, including in litigated cases. As academics with considerable experience in this field we have grave concerns about the guidance, particularly but not exclusively, those for Cafcass. Our concerns are threefold:

(1) that the guidance, and the inclusion of a 50/50 presumption, does not reflect the current law;
(2) that the guidance is founded upon a distorted interpretation of the available research evidence;
(3) that the guidance was produced without consultation with any other stakeholders, apart from, it seems, Cafcass.

Consequently, in mid July 2009 Hunt and Trinder circulated a short note outlining these concerns to Cafcass, government departments, the President of the Family Division and individuals and organisations with an interest in the field. Cafcass responded immediately by withdrawing the guidance (on 17 July 2009) although there is the possibility of a revised version.

At the time of writing, however, all four sets of guidance remain on the FNF website. The ?official? status of the three other sets of guidance ? for Surestart, schools and teachers and for litigants in person ? is still unclear. In the light of this we decided to write this brief article with the purpose of:

(1) alerting readers to the fact that the Cafcass guidelines, at the very least, have been withdrawn although litigants unaware of this may seek to rely upon them in proceedings;
(2) to explain more fully our concerns about the guidance; and
(3) to suggest a possible way forward that reflects the current law and the best evidence on children?s needs and rights.

To read the rest of this article, see September [2009] Family Law journal.

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