Proposed new penalties for obstructive parents

It is in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, according to the results of a recent public consultation. In an attempt to ensure that children are not denied a continuing relationship with either parent following separation or divorce, the Government is proposing stiff new penalties. Obstructive parents may face losing their passport or driving licence, undertaking unpaid work in the community and even imprisonment.

Whilst it seems self-evident that it is in a child’s interests to have a good relationship with both parents, hostility between a couple can sometimes deny a child this opportunity. The Courts have often been ineffective in enforcing orders where the parent with care has intentionally prevented a child continuing a relationship with the other parent, so the new proposals may well be beneficial in such situations.

It is important to recognise that the desirability of maintaining a relationship does not necessarily mean that parents should share the care of their children or that a child should spend an equal amount of time with each parent.

A conciliatory approach, supported by mediation, is the preferred route to parents agreeing on the arrangements for their children. The Courts should only become involved where agreement can’t be reached. In such situations, the Courts’ paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child, not the wishes of the parents. Bolstering the Courts’ powers to protect the child’s welfare is in my opinion a step in the right direction.