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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February, 2005, 21:59 GMT
Courts to get parent access power
Lord Falconer says ministers have the interests of children at heart
New powers intended to make it easier for judges to enforce contact orders between children and their parents after a separation have been unveiled.

A draft bill published by ministers also sets out the way inter-country adoptions can be halted if there are fears about child welfare.

The government says too often children suffer because they do not maintain a relationship with dads after a split.

Fathers' rights groups have said they are disappointed with the package.

Fathers 4 Justice in particular has mounted high profile campaigns on the issue during recent months.

But Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer has rejected suggestions that stunts such as the notorious flour bomb protest in the House of Commons and the demonstration at Buckingham Palace have forced the change.

"The best interests of the child are at the heart of our proposals," he said.

Electronically tagged mums?

One of the ideas being touted is that parents who refuse to allow former partners contact with their children could be electronically tagged.

Conservative family spokeswoman Theresa May said the proposals in the draft Adoption and Contact Bill were "ill thought out, expensive, unworkable and smacking of desperation".

"The idea of electronically tagging mothers who obstruct contact orders was an absurd and illogical reaction to the real problems within the justice system," she said.

"It begs the question what will happen to those mothers who pop down to the local shop for a bottle of milk or have to go out in a medical emergency?"

Ministers have said tagging might be going too far but argued it is worth considering the idea during pre-legislative scrutiny.

Other proposals include:

  • Powers to require parents in a contact case to attend information meetings with a counsellor or parenting programmes designed to deal with contact disputes

  • Where a contact order has been breached to impose enforcement orders for unpaid work or curfews

  • Powers to order financial compensation from one parent to another, for example where the cost of a holiday has been lost.

    Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: "The draft bill will give courts realistic and usable powers to ensure that, if a court determines that contact is in the best interests of a child, the contact that is ordered actually takes place.

    "I look forward to seeing a vigorous and open debate on the effectiveness and appropriateness of these proposed powers - requested by judges - and on how we ensure the very best of outcomes for children affected by parental separation."

    Between 15,000 and 20,000 couples go to court to resolve access disputes each year, although in nine out of 10 separations there is no court intervention.

    The Families Need Fathers group says the proposals "lack compulsion".

    The group's Jim Parton said when the broad plans were unveiled: "We would like to see couples develop a plan and then have it as a source of a court order - then you know where you stand, you know what the minimum access is.

    "Otherwise, you see people make agreements which then fall apart."

    Q&A: Child access reform
    18 Jan 05 |  Politics
    Child access law shake-up planned
    18 Jan 05 |  Politics

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