Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts - January 2004
Child contact after parental separation or divorce has become a highly contentious issue. Many separating families, despite the difficulties, sort out contact arrangements themselves. For some it becomes problematic, either because regular reliable contact is not established because there is a high degree of conflict, or because there are serious concerns about the child’s safety and well-being.
UK social policy encourages the maintenance of contact as a presumed social good which promotes the interests of children and the wider society. There is substantial dissatisfaction in some quarters, however, with the operation of these policies and views are polarised. Some resident parents argue that their concerns about the non-resident parent, particularly about domestic violence, child abuse and abduction, are not sufficiently taken into account. Some non-resident parents claim they are marginalised by a biased legal system. Children’s organisations say that children are not adequately protected and their voices too faintly heard. Contact has been the subject of two governmentsponsored consultation exercises and there is pressure for a change in the law and its implementation and for the development of new approaches.
This paper aims to provide a dispassionate overview of this emotive topic as it concerns parent-child contact. (Contact with grandparents is covered in a forthcoming paper). It focuses on experience in England and Wales, drawing on other jurisdictions where relevant. The debates here echo those in many other countries and while no jurisdiction appears to have devised a generally acceptable solution to the dilemmas, several have developed approaches on particular issues from which useful lessons might be drawn.
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Last updated - 18 March 2004