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Penny Booth: Meeting (whose) responsibilities?

Date:1 NOV 2011

Penny BoothOne could be forgiven for thinking the world's gone mad sometimes (just sometimes?) but reading the news and noting the preoccupations that people have where family law is concerned do occasionally jolt one's perceptions. There were two items in last week's papers that caught the eye.

One jolt to the cosy view of family law was the mention in the media of the PM's adviser on adoption and his comments on the intention to reduce barriers to adoption as ‘promised' by HM Government (I always put politicians' promises in inverted commas). Now that sounds like action we could all support. The one problem overshadowing this is that of political correctness and the influence of legal awareness. I am sad to say that we are all afraid of placing children in adoptive homes and then finding that it is a mistake - either the parents are not right or the child turns out to be ‘damaged' (yes, that is how those situations have been described) and the adoption is abortive. Thankfully, they appear to be few and far between, albeit extremely harmful for the family unit.

It isn't just about smoking or overweight adoptive parents, either. Goodness knows, nobody's perfect, but we now expect that designing parenthood and families (as opposed to the parenthood and family that comes naturally) has got to cover all the bases and provide for the perfection that never comes with families under usual circumstances. The approval by councils of potential adoptive parents and adoptions themselves seems to take an inordinately long period of time. Time in a child's life is crucial for the development of that child. I think we need to be meticulous in arranging adoptions, but I also think we need to be realistic because if there are so many children in need of a home and parents, then we need to balance harm in waiting and harm in trying to be perfect.

My second jolt was the revisiting of paternity deceit. Never was a phrase so true and so maligned (and, these days, so easily proved either way) - it really is a wise man who knows his own father. The ramifications of paternity fraud are immense and the harm immeasurable. Where do you go if a child you have brought up believing yourself to be that child's father is not actually your child - what should happen and what can be done about it? Your Boots paternity testing kit is a sad indictment of moral responsibility. What do you do with the truth?

As one character says in the wonderful Steve Martin film ‘Parenthood' - you don't need a licence to be a father. No you don't, and all you do need are the correct set of genitals making it happen somewhere, somehow. What we need to make happen really is a sense of responsibility and the right kind of love. The law cannot be used to achieve that.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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