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The Norgrove Report (Family Justice Review) against shared parenting

Despite plans to give parents the legal right to see their children after divorce the Family Justice Review chaired by David Norgrove recommended:

No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.

Ken Sanderson, CEO of the charity 'Families Need Fathers', spoke for many fathers when he said,

Sadly, I believe that the report's focus on 'making parental responsibility work' is far too optimistic when it comes to improving long-term outcomes for children and their families. The problem is not that parents are inadequately aware of what parental responsibility means; the crux of the matter is that it is all too easy for one parent to simply ignore this and omit the other from their child's life, with a justice system which is unable and unwilling to take firm action to prevent this. The absence of any firm recommendations to strengthen children's rights to a meaningful relationship with both parents, and their wider family, represents a dereliction of duty on behalf of the review, and we implore the government to reconsider this before proposing legislation. In the view of FNF, the panel failed to appreciate that shared parenting and the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents is not a question of time, but of involvement in the child's physical, educational and emotional development.

In contrast the Bar Council and the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) welcomed the key proposals. Stephen Cobb QC, Chairman of the FLBA, said:

We are pleased with many of its recommendations which, if implemented, should reduce the scandalous delays which currently exist in the family justice system.
David Allison, Chair of Resolution, commented:

As an association committed to the constructive resolution of family problems, we welcome the Family Justice Review as a springboard for progressive reform that makes family law fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Law Society Chief Executive Desmond Hudson said:

The report's overall aims should attract wide ranging support. We share its recognition of the need for radical and lasting change within family justice.

The Chief Executive of CAFCASS Anthony Douglas, welcomed proposals for a more child-focused and faster family justice system;

We welcome the panel's emphasis on the needs of vulnerable children in these cases and on the focus it has given to tackling the corrosive effect of delay on their lives. In particular, we welcome proposals for a time limit in public law cases and the development of a child's arrangement order in private law cases, so that in both types of case the child's deadline takes precedence over bureaucratic processes.

The British Association of Social Workers welcomed the Family Justice Review but warned against budget-driven policy. Commenting on the report, BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said:

There are elements in the report that we welcome, but overall it takes a somewhat cautious approach. We would hope that the development of a unified family justice service will make the system easier to navigate for both children and families. We also support calls for a robust legal framework, designed to work in tandem with the reforms to child protection practice recommended by Professor Eileen Munro and with the work of the Social Work Reform Board.

National Family Mediation also welcomed the enhanced role of mediation in the Family Justice Review. Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation, said:

We welcome the Family Justice Review and the enhanced role for mediators. Our mediators receive the best training in the country and are experts in their field. We believe mediation provides the best outcomes for families and children and gives people the chance to make their own decisions about their future if they choose to mediate.

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, said:

A radical overhaul of the family justice system is long overdue. For too long, it has functioned as an incoherent, disjointed system that does not meet the best interests of the child. Delay in decision making, a lack of understanding of child development and a culture that often works against children rather than for children has led to poor outcomes. The government should not delay in moving to reform the system so that in every case the child's concerns are at the heart of the decision making process.

According to Kelly and Lamb (Using Child Development Research to Make Appropriate Custody and Access Decisions for Young Children, 2000) the development of attachments to parents and other caregivers constitutes one of the most critical achievements of the first year of life.

These enduring ties play essential formative roles in later social and emotional functioning. Infant-parent attachments promote a sense of security, the beginnings of self-confidence, and the development of trust in other human beings.

Considerable evidence now exists that documents that most infants form meaningful attachments to both of their parents at roughly the same age. This is true even though many fathers in our culture spend less time with their infants than mothers do. This indicates that time spent interacting is not the only factor in the development of attachments, although some threshold of interaction is crucial. Most infants come to "prefer" the parent who takes primary responsibility for their care (typically their mothers), but this does not mean that relationships with the other parent are unimportant. The preference for the primary caretaker appears to diminish with age, and by 18 months, this preference often has disappeared.

Shared Parenting legislation reinforces the positive lessons we have learnt about child development as subsequently demonstrated by the 'Australian experience'.

The need to 'redress the balance and promote a more equal sharing of responsibility for children between mothers and fathers' still remains yet it is the hardest thing in the world to overturn the status quo. Nevertheless despite the views of politicians and the judiciary alike, the voice of the public, in response to the Norgrove Report showed that there is a desire in society to embrace change not simply in the interests of justice but for the well-being of all our children.