Child Arrangements Following Divorce: How one MP is taking on antiquated Family Law


Whenever children are involved in divorce, it makes the entire situation far more upsetting. On the one hand, the person who initiates divorce proceedings feels guilty for splitting apart the family unit, and can worry that they will drift away from their children as they’re likely to blame them for the pain it caused the other parent.

On the other hand, the parent who does not initiate the divorce is understandably shocked, scared of the prospect of having to raise children single-handedly, and in a potentially far worse financial situation than they’re currently in, depending on the way assets are divided in the marriage.

As legal experts, we always try to guide our clients through the process calmly and carefully, so that the very best outcome for both parties is reached, and the health and wellbeing of any children is given due consideration. Where children are involved, they’re always a top priority within any courtroom, and within all mediation discussions.

However, the current family justice system has long been considered outdated and not in line with modern perspectives on family life. We’ve written before about the rise of “semi-splitters”, who separate whilst staying married until they have been so for five years, because there’s no fault to be identified.

We’ve also reported on cases such as Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who were a heterosexual couple that wanted a civil partnership, feeling that marriage was not the right social convention for their relationship and lifestyle. In today’s post, we’re talking about another area of controversy relating to child arrangement enforcement, and why one Conservative MP is campaigning tirelessly to support parents that have not been named the ‘Parent With Care’.

What’s the story?

There have been many groups set up over the years to try to change the legal system where custody battles and child arrangement orders are considered, but now we’re seeing MPs really start to take notice, and rigorously campaign in their defence. Recently, it has been the voice of Fareham MP Suella Fernandes, that has caught the attention of the media.

Just a few weeks ago, MP Fernandes presented a bill to the House of Commons, seeking to reform current family justice laws to make them fair for both parents. According to reports, the bill covers a number of long-standing controversial issues, such as the enforcement of child arrangement orders, and the need for a presumption of shared parenting.

MP Fernandes was previously a barrister, witnessing first-hand the damage that current laws are doing to families, and in particular to the parents who can be separated from their children for months, or even years. She told the press: “In the worst cases, a non-resident father might be denied access to his child for several years, with his only option being to spend huge amounts of money in the courts with little guarantee of a fair outcome.

“Children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents upon divorce, but the law does not currently enable this to happen, because of a failure to crackdown on parents who breach, and a criminal threshold for contempt which is rarely met and an inability to assert its authority.

“I would advocate a “three strikes” approach where residence (if safe) should be transferred so that a strong message is sent that Child Arrangement Orders are mandatory, not optional.”

The main focus of Fernandes’ campaign is on the fact that many parents frequently breach the child arrangement orders that have been put in place following the divorce, yet there is little to no prosecution for this behaviour. Whether out of malice or not, the new bill calls for tougher action to be taken against such parents who don’t allow their former partners see their children.

Not only does it consider automatic shared parenting, where it’s presumed both parents share a meaningful relationship with their children, but it also looks at the concepts of parent alienation, unfounded allegations and the cost of family justice to the public.

It also contains reference to reforms in other areas of family law, such as no-fault divorce, cohabitation rights, financial remedies, better mediation and out-of-court settlement options, as well as the enforceability of prenuptial agreements. The Family Justice Bill will be read again in the House of Commons Chamber on 12th May.

What’s been the reaction?

Understandably, the reaction of most within the legal field has been positive, and within the public, even more so. With so many controversial aspects and completely outdated elements of family law being heard, the bill appeals to a huge number of legal consultants up and down the country, who have long wished for reform. There is even data to support the bill; according to records from the Ministry of Justice, out of 4,654 enforcement applications that were made to court in 2015, only 1.2% were successful.

Groups such as Fathers4Justice (F4J) and Families Need Fathers (FNF), are particularly hopeful for the future. Speaking to the press, Founder of Fathers4Justice, Matt O’Connor, commented: “What Suella Fenandez has said is something F4J have been saying for 16 years, and campaigned relentlessly for. The Conservative led coalition of 2010 broke its election promise to Fathers4Justice to introduce these very commitments.”

“As far back as 2004 – in the middle of high profile Fathers4Justice protests – then Conservative family spokeswoman Theresa May said that within the ‘first month of a Tory government, a bill would be drawn up giving a presumption of co-parenting and a right for both parents to be involved in bringing up their children where couples separate.

“Since then, the system has degenerated into legalised cage fighting where a de facto presumption of ‘no contact’ exists between fathers and their children. The judiciary have the power to enforce their own court orders, and transfer residence when faced with a recalcitrant parent. They chose not to. It makes a mockery of the law and our idea of justice.”

“Courts will send mothers to jail for not sending their children to school, but won’t act when mothers don’t send their children to see their dads. We hope more MPs will support the efforts of Suella Fernandes and ensure shared parenting is adopted as the norm, as it is in many US states.”

“Not only is it responsible parenting, but it will lead to better outcomes for our children, our families and our country, and lift the burden on the taxpayer by removing the majority of cases from the family justice system, and cutting the £48 billion a year cost of family breakdown.”

As your go-to resource for the legal field, we’ll be sure to keep you updated as this Bill progresses within Parliament, but you shouldn’t wait to find out what your rights are as a parent. Whether you’re in the process of getting divorced, or you’re separated and want to know what would happen should you start proceedings, we can help. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

We would be interested in your comments, please leave them in the section below.