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Children Seen but Not Heard?

View profile for Julie Bailey
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With the government poised to change the way the family court deals with cases of disputed contact by introducing a presumption of shared parenting a recent joint research project between the Universities of Sussex and Oxford may throw a spanner in the works.

The report’s findings are based on interviews with a sample of nearly 400 young adults.

The report’s findings in summary are as follows

  • It is rare for children to blame the resident parent for contact not happening or being disrupted.    Most of those who took part said that this had  been the responsibility of the non-resident parent or that it had been their own decision
  • Resident parents were much more likely to have actively encouraged contact than to have undermined it
  • Key ingredients for the successful contact include the absence of parental conflict, a good pre-separation relationship between the child and the parent with whom they no longer live, a demonstrated commitment to the child by the parent and the child being consulted about the arrangements
  • Continuity of contact and its quality are more important to successful contact than its frequency; there is no optimal level of contact
  • The child’s pre-separation relationship with the contact parent predicts both the quality of contact and the child’s relationship with that parent through childhood and into adulthood
  • Children of separating parents develop a mature insight into their own needs and should be consulted far more routinely over arrangements for their future.

The professor who led the study said “The strongest theme from our study is the importance of tailoring contact arrangements to the needs and wishes of the individual child in their particular circumstances.   This is best achieved by retaining the court’s discretion to determine whether or not the welfare of the particular child in question would be furthered by the involvement sought by the litigant parent.

To commit the court to presuming that such involvement will further the child’s welfare is to apply a simplistic, broad brush approach to the subtle complexities of the child/parent relationship.”

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