Shared Parenting Bill
The Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society considers the Shared Parenting Bill, due to be introduced into Parliament in May this year, is misconceived and fundamentally flawed.
Although recognising that the Bill appears to have struck a chord with some sections of the public, the Section regards the formulaic approach inherent in the draft to be altogether too simplistic and, crucially, adult-focused rather than child-focused.
The fundamental tenet of legislation affecting children in New Zealand is that the welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration, yet the Bill tends to place the status of adults ahead of such considerations.
The Section also expresses concern that the Bill remains attached to outmoded labels such as "custody" and "access" at a time when most family law practitioners agree that these terms have negative connotations for families endeavouring to resolve arrangements for the care of children upon family separation.
Furthermore, the Bill seems to ignore the fact that the vast majority of parents seem to be able to find sensible and pragmatic solutions to the problems posed by family separation without resort either to lawyers or the courts. The Section is concerned that substantive law changes are being promoted as a response to a relatively small number of difficult cases.
The current legislation and the way in which it has been implemented by the Family Court strongly supports the proposition that it is in the best interests of children to be able to maintain a meaningful and positive relationship with both parents.
It is noted that the current legislation, the Guardianship Act 1968, was passed over 30 years ago. While generally it has served children and families in New Zealand well, particularly since the advent of the specialist Family Court in 1980, the Section is of the view that the time has come for it to be reviewed. Such a review would necessarily be more comprehensive than the piecemeal approach reflected in the Shared Parenting Bill.