From “custody” to the 21st century

In April 2014, the terms which we use to denote how a child lives with a parent upon a couple’s separation changed. The shift emphasises a departure from the use of the labels such as “Residence” and “contact” all together, and now we speak about the general arrangements for a child as living with one parent and spending time with, or staying with, the other.  The aim of this is to highlight the importance of having both parents involved in a child’s life, and to ensure that responsibility for that child is shared.

In the 1970’s children were seen very much as being in  the “custody” of one parent following a separation or divorce and the Courts were reluctant to interfere with any decisions that were made by the parent who had custody of a child, even where the other parent objected. That other parent was considered to have “access” to the child and the focus was very much parent centred rather than child focused.

Since that time there has been a swing from the notion of parental rights to parental responsibilities; the consideration of a child’s welfare is now far broader than it was in the 1970’s and the concept that a child has rights is something with which we are ease as a population. In line with this, the way in which separated parents care for their children has changed dramatically.

In the 1990’s there was a move away from the notion of “custody”, and we looked to define the child’s “residence” and with which parent the child will reside. The child would then have a right to have “contact” with the parent with whom they did not reside, making the phrase “access” redundant and putting the notion of the benefit of maintaining the relationship firmly with the child.

Over the last 10 years there has also been legal recognition of the movement towards children being able to reside with both parents in a shared care arrangement. This does not have to mean that children spend an equal amount of time with each parent, but it encourages the sense that both parents are responsible for their children at all times, and creates a concept of equality, which may better reflect the way which the children were cared for during the parent’s relationship. It is also hoped that it will prevent the children from feeling that one parent has become more dominant or important in their life and promotes a stronger family connection for them.

At Warners we understand that a family breakdown is a very emotional and distressing time for not only the couples but also the whole family.  We are also all members of Resolution so are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Resolution members follow a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems and encourages solutions that consider the needs of the whole family.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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