Family Courts

Ministry of Justice written question – answered at on 10 September 2021.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what guidance is in place for family courts to ensure meaningful contact for children and parents.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 sets out that the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration. This fundamental principle applies when the court is making a decision with respect to contact arrangements for children.

Section 1 also provides that in such cases, the court is to presume that involvement of each parent in the life of the child will further the child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to suggest that involvement of a parent would put the child at risk of suffering harm. Involvement can be direct or indirect. The Government is currently undertaking a review of the courts’ application of this presumption and its exception, and its impact on children.

Judges are also guided in their decision-making by the ‘Welfare Checklist’ set out in the Children Act 1989. This guidance is not exhaustive but requires the court to consider factors such as the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (considered in light of the age and understanding of the child), the range of powers available to the court, risk of harm, and the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.

‘Contact’ can mean direct or indirect contact between a child and a parent. The court will determine appropriate contact arrangements in the light of all of these provisions and in all the circumstances of the individual case.

Family Procedure Rules (FPR) and Practice Directions (PDs) also provide supplementary rules and direction to courts in their determination of contact questions between children and parents.

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