HC Deb 19 December 2003 vol 416 cc66-7W
Tim Loughton

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) whether it is his policy to establish a legal presumption of contact with children for non-resident parents; [141186]

(2) whether he plans to bring forward proposals to change the law to establish a legal presumption of contact with children for non-resident parents. [141187]

Margaret Hodge

The fundamental principle of the Children Act 1989 is that any court decision must be based on what is best for the child, There is no automatic "right" to contact for either fathers or mothers, but in practice the courts have taken the view that in most cases the child"s welfare is best served by contact with both parents. This was stated by the Court of Appeal in Re: O (Contac: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124 in the following termsWhere parents of a child are separated and the child is in the day-to-day care of one of them, it is almost always in the interests of the child that he or she should have contact with the other parent.

This judgment means that inherent in the courts" interpretation of the Children Act 1989, is a belief that there would normally be contact between children and both their parents.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 contains a provision that clarifies the definition of harm set out in the Children Act 1989. This makes clear that harm includes any harm a child may suffer or is at risk of suffering as a result of witnessing the ill-treatment of another person. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 received Royal Assent on 7 November 2002. When implemented, this new definition will apply to family proceedings relating to contact and residence applications.

There are currently no plans to establish a legal presumption of contact between children and their non-resident parents. The interest of the child should be the basis for any decision. However, the Government support the view that, in general, children benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents following parental separation, where it is in the best interests of the child and safe for all family members.

A recent study suggested that it was rare for courts to refuse a father all contact with his children and that of finalised contact cases initiated by fathers, only 10 per cent. resulted in an order for indirect contact. A copy of this research report has been placed in the House of Commons Library.


"Residence and Contact Disputes in Court, Volume V by Carol Smart, Vanessa May, Amanda Wade and Claire Furniss (September 2003: Centre for Research on Family, Kinship and Childhood, University of Leeds).