A study by the Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy published on the Ministry of Justice website has concluded there is no evidence that non resident parents are unreasonably treated by the family courts in England & Wales.
During the parliamentary debates relating to the Children and Adoption Act 2006 (see this earlier post) introducing a statutory presumption of contact was resisted on the grounds that a) the courts already started from the point that contact was to be promoted unless there were good reasons to the contrary and b) that a statutory presumption would undermine the fundamental basis of the Children Act ie the child's interests are paramount. The research was commissioned to establish a proper evidence base.
• Outcomes were typically agreed. It was rare for the court to have to make a final ruling.
• Most cases ended with face to face contact. Where they did not this was usually because the applicant withdrew from proceedings.
• Contact typically involved overnight stays, at least fortnightly, with some children having additional visiting contact. Visiting contact was usually weekly or more and was almost always unsupervised.
• Non-resident parents were largely successful in getting direct contact where there had been none and in getting the type of contact sought.
• Those who achieved staying contact usually got the amount they sought, those with visiting contact mainly did not.
Applications to enforce previous orders were unusual and rarely wholly successful.
• Non-resident parents were almost twice as likely to succeed in getting the type of contact they wanted as resident parents who initially opposed staying, unsupervised contact or any contact.
• Four in five resident parents who opposed unsupervised contact raised serious welfare concerns.
• The initial position of the resident parent and whether they raised serious welfare issues were significantly related to outcome, as were the age of the child, whether there was any contact at the point the application was made and the interval since the child was last seen.
• There was no evidence that non resident parents as a group are systematically unreasonably treated by the family courts. On the contrary, the study shows that the courts start from the position that contact is generally in the interests of the child, they make great efforts to achieve this and in most instances they are successful. In a small minority of cases, however, it might be argued that the outcome was unfair to the non-resident parent