26 Nov12: Univ of Sussex Research - Young adults perspectives on parental separation
Children’s experience of parental separation: research challenges law change proposal
Shared parenting presumption is misguided, say authors of new study
Government plans to amend the 1989 Children Act by introducing a presumption of shared parenting are well-intentioned but misguided, say the authors of new research into childhood experience of family break-ups.
Courts should retain their current discretion to put the needs and wishes of individual children first when considering contact disputes between parents, say researchers, who have surveyed the opinions of hundreds of young adults with experience of family break-up.
The research report – 'Taking a longer view of contact: The perspectives of young adults who experienced parental separation in their youth' – documents the reflections of young adults as they look back on post-separation contact arrangements.
The research, a joint project between the Universities of Sussex and Oxford and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is the first major study in the UK to ask young adults who experienced parental separation in their youth what they thought about the contact they had with their non-resident parent. The authors were Jane Fortin, Emeritus Professor at the Sussex Law School, Sussex University, Joan Hunt, Senior Research Fellow in the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, and Lesley Scanlan, a psychologist who during this study worked as a Research Associate at the University of Sussex.
The report contributes a unique dimension to knowledge about what makes contact a positive experience for children. By tracking their experiences of contact through their childhood and into adulthood, the study also highlights the long-term impact of contact arrangements on parent-child relationships – information crucially important to policy makers and the family courts.
The report's findings, in summary, are as follows:
Jane Fortin, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Sussex, who led the study, says:
The report can be accessed via: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/law/research/centreforresponsibilities/takingalongerviewofcontact
Comment: These findings do contribute to the pool of growing knowledge in relation to the impact of parental separation on children as they grow up. However, it is important to note that as stated in the report (Summary p10 - http://www.sussex.ac.uk/law/documents/nuffield-foundation-research-summary-16nov2012.pdf), of the almost 400 young adults interviewed in this study, “...few respondents said that their parents had been involved in litigation”. Therefore the population evaluated in this study are unlikely to be those who have experienced the highest levels of parental conflict during parental separation. The proposed legislative change to the Children Act 1989 to further support shared parenting which will include robust safety caveats is particularly aimed at those cases that do go to Court where the conflict between parents is the greatest, which will as a consequence cause the greatest conflict to the affected children who deserve to have their relationship with both of their parents protected and encouraged where no proven parental safety concerns exist.
To further highlight the growing level of conflict particularly for children in acrimonious family breakdown cases that do present to court, this recent Guardian article (see below) highlights why those children should be better protected in ensuring they are able to maintain a loving, nurturing and fulfilling relationship with both of their parents after family breakdown.