Shared parenting amendment fails at final stage

Scotland lost the chance to amend family law in line with progressive countries such as Belgium during the Scottish Parliament Stage 3 debate on the Children (Scotland) Bill on 25th August.  Liam McArthur’s shared parenting amendment failed to get support from any party except for his Lib Dem colleagues.

The Children (Scotland) Act will be amended to include statements on the importance to children of the involvement of their parents parents after separation and the child’s important relationships with other people, but will not add early consideration of an application for equally shared residence to the list of factors to be considered by a court.

In presenting his amendment, Liam McArthur stressed that this amendment would not make shared parenting mandatory or dilute the primacy of the best interests of the child in the legislation.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham did not repeat her mistaken stage 2 comments that the amendment would propose equal residence as the answer in every case, but did not support the amendment, stating that parents can request shared care under the existing legislation.

It was encouraging, however, that she also restated the general principle is that it is normally in the best interests of children for both parents to be involved in their upbringing.

As the minister said, it is possible to make an application for equal shared parenting under the current legislation and will be possible in the new legislation. However, the reality is that some sheriffs refuse to consider it for reasons of their own.  The amendment would have made requesting shared parenting in court easier.

In Belgium and other countries this type of change has led to fewer cases being contested in court as well as more shared parenting orders being awarded where judges see that both parents are safe, competent and had a close relationship with their children prior to separation.

The Bill brings in a wide range of changes to the Children (Scotland) Act relating to children’s views and how they are obtained and also a boost to alternative dispute resolution.

Shared Parenting Scotland will continue to promote shared parenting and full involvement of both parents unless it is not in the interests of the child.  We will take an active part in the implementation of the new Act and the wider family justice modernisation and seek other ways to improve the working of family courts.  As the Minister commented in her closing speech, this Bill is only the start of reforming family courts – the work continues.