On the 25th February MPs passed the new Children and Families Bill which extends the statutory rights for parents in relation to their children’s upbringing. This has an impact in both employment and family law. One example is that maternity leave, available from two weeks to 12 months following birth can be used by the father instead of the mother, shared in blocks or taken together.
The bill also provides statutory recognition that it is in the child’s interest for both parents to remain involved in the child’s life (unless the child is at risk of harm) stating that “the involvement of [each] parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”. A very positive change is replacing the terms “residence” and “contact” orders with a single “child arrangements” order. This will set out where the children will live and how much time they spend with the other parent. This is a welcome change as the terms residence and contact always suggest that one parent has more of a role than the other.
In fact, as I have said often enough the family Court really does encourage parents to accept that the child should have a relationship with both of them, even though the child may spend less time with one parent than the other.
The bill is designed to encourage the involvement of both parents and in fact shared parenting on divorce but it does not insist on a shared parenting arrangement in all cases.
The bill also deals with the possibly unusual case of parents who have children through a surrogate. Mothers who carry a child and give birth naturally are currently treated more favourably than mothers who use a surrogate. Unlike adoptive parents who can take extended leave, the only entitlement the non-biological parent currently has is unpaid parental leave. Under the bill intended parents will be entitled to time off to attend two antenatal appointments, statutory adoption leave and pay and flexible shared parental leave and pay.
Apart from this rather unusual change the bill generally reflects the reality of the family courts – contrary to popular belief they really do try to promote the involvement of both parents as that reflects the child’s reality. Children have two parents and want to maintain contact with both parents even if they are separated or divorced.
It is such an important aspect for any parent contemplating or going through divorce and separation – to try and put the children’s needs first and accept that children will want to maintain contact and a proper relationship with both parents.