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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Family law 'reflects modern life'
The way family law operates has been updated in what the Scottish Executive has described as a radical new approach to tackle modern living.

In an article for the BBC Scotland news website, Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry explains how the legislation will work for parents and children.

Hugh Henry
Mr Henry has stressed clear legislation and support

Family law in Scotland is changing to keep up with the way we live our lives today.

In December 2005, the Scottish Parliament passed the Family Law (Scotland) Act and that act has become law.

Changes cover a range of issues, such as parental responsibilities and rights, marriage, divorce, domestic abuse and introducing legal safeguards for cohabiting couples and their children.

I want to be clear that these changes will not make divorce easy or undermine marriage.

But they will reduce the separation periods which must be served before a divorce can be granted.

One of the most important reforms serves to strengthen the bond between fathers and their children

Divorce is never easy and when a marriage breaks down it serves no-one's interests to postpone the point at which they can all move on with their lives.

Our guiding principle has been the best interests of Scotland's children.

One of the most important reforms serves to strengthen the bond between fathers and their children.

From Thursday a father whose name appears on his child's birth certificate will automatically have parental responsibilities and rights - whether he is married to the child's mother or not.

This is not about giving adults rights over children, but rather recognising that marital status is a decision made by parents not by children.

The legislation aims to put children at the heart of decisions

For cohabiting couples distribution of property following relationship breakdown, or the death of a partner, was previously left to the common law - with all its inherent variability.

But the absence of systematic regulation sat uncomfortably alongside the increasing number of cohabiting couples - leaving a significant number of Scotland's children living in cohabiting-couple families vulnerable.

The act therefore introduces a set of limited rights for cohabiting couples when their relationship ends.

But making changes to the law is not enough.

We have also worked with support services to develop a range of non-legislative measures to complement our law reforms.

Our work does not stop here

For example, we have launched an information campaign to advise people of the changes that are coming into force.

Information booklets are being distributed widely through Citizens Advice Bureaux, libraries and local support organisations and are available to view at www.scotland.gov.uk/familylaw.

We are also providing additional funding to the national Family Support Services to promote joined up working at both local and national level.

But perhaps most significantly, we have introduced Parenting Agreements for Scotland and a Charter for Grandchildren.

The Parenting Agreement pack is designed to help separating parents put aside their differences and focus on their children's needs when deciding the arrangements for their future care.

Restictions covering separation and divorce have been eased

The pack guides parents through some of the difficult decisions that will need to be made and highlights some of the issues that they might want to think about.

In addition the Charter for Grandchildren highlights the important role grandparents and the wider family can play in a child's life and how during difficult times, they may be a source of support and stability.

But our work does not stop here.

Next we will be commissioning research into post-separation contact arrangements to examine the effectiveness of contact orders.

Once we have a clear picture of the Scottish position we can start to design improvements.

We are also working with the courts to develop a project to pilot the appointment of Family Contact Facilitators who will contribute to the resolution of disputed contact cases and contribute to developing ideas for reducing the incidence of breaches.

Taken together I am confident that these measures will offer Scotland's families, and in particular Scotland's children, the framework needed to support strong and stable family units.

'Radical' overhaul of family law
03 May 06 |  Scotland


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