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New Families and Relationship Green Paper

Date:20 JAN 2010

To download a copy of the Green Paper click here

The Government today announced a major review into the family justice system as part Families and Relationship Green Paper.

As the run-up to the general election begins to intensify, Ministers revealed that fathers and grandparents will have greater access to children after separation.

A new guide will be given to fathers before their child's birth to encourage them to play bigger role in their children's early lives.

Grandparents are also to be given extra recognition, with an automatic right to gain access to their grandchildren when contact is denied after divorce and family breakdowns. A new website will be launched - BeGrand - to provide advice and act as a contact point for grandparents.

The Green Paper also announces new measures on improving flexible working for parents, especially dads. This includes the possibly of doubling paternity leave from two weeks to four, and allowing parents to split parental leave between them.

The family justice review will look to offer separating parents more mediation support to prevent and reduce disputes. Currently between 5 to 10 per cent of separating parents currently seek help through the courts. The government will consult on whether mediation assessment sessions should be made compulsory for separating couples where there are unresolved conflicts over residence and contact with children.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: "We know that for many families the current family justice system is proving far too complicated, and its adversarial nature can lead to bitter, lengthy court hearings, prolonging what is already a stressful and emotionally draining experience.

"While the vast majority of separating parents settle their disputes privately, for those who do need to access to the system we need to find a better, fairer way to forge lasting agreements for the care of children. Research shows that children adjust to family breakdown better when a couple manages to maintain working relations following a separation - the review is about making sure the justice system helps parents to achieve this."

Family mediators are particularly pleased with the Green Paper proposals. National Family Mediation (NFM) chief executuve Jane Robey said: "Families are of course at the very heart of society and for too long government policy and practice has steadfastly ignored the consequences that are so evident when family or relationship breakdown is badly managed. The ripples affect us all, families, communities, health education and work.

"For 30 years NFM mediators have campaigned and pioneered for the benefits of family mediation and at last our voice has been heard.

"There is no doubt mediation is cheaper and quicker than the current adversarial system but most importantly it helps families to move forward it provides skills and strategies for working together while maintaining those most important relationships between parents and their children."

The Children's Society also welcomed many of the policies outlined in today's Green Paper. Its chief executive, Bob Reitemeier said: "The measures for fathers and grandparents are much-needed, as too often these key figures in children's lives have not received enough support to help them build positive relationships with their children and grandchildren".

Meanwhile the Conservatives today published their "Green Paper on the Family". The research, published by Iain Duncan Smith's think tank the Centrefor Social Justice, shows only 3 per cent of couples with children who stay together until the child is 16 are unmarried. In addition the dossier says about 40 per cent of children experience family breakdown, a far higher figure than previously thought.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Thirteen years of Labour misrule have inflicted grave damage on the family. All the evidence shows that children brought up in two-parent families do far better in life. Yet under Labour, rates of family breakdown have soared."