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Separated Parents

Volume 547: debated on Monday 25 June 2012

It is unacceptable that only 50% of children in separated families benefit from an effective child maintenance arrangement. That is why we are fundamentally reforming the child maintenance system, and it is also why we recently launched our consultation on shared parenting.

To turn to the issue of contact, does the Minister agree that it is a fundamental right of every child to know and have a relationship with both parents, and that parents who stand in the way of that right are abusing the rights of their children?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this area and for his private Member’s Bill. He is absolutely right that all the evidence shows that children who maintain contact with both parents have a much better outlook on life. We are considering not only shared parenting in our consultation, but how we can help more families to work together on child maintenance outside the statutory system in a way that will help them work together on all the issues around a child’s life.

Does the Minister think that making it more difficult and more expensive for parents to access their maintenance payments will make life easier or more difficult for children of separated parents?

The hon. Lady will know that today we have announced a £15 million scheme to put in place the sort of support that I know she would want for separated parents, so that they can work together more effectively. I do not agree with her that our proposals will do anything other than make life better for children in separated families by ensuring that more money is flowing to them, whether that is inside the statutory system or outside it.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), does the Minister agree that it is essential that children automatically have access to both their parents, and that should not be the case only when it is proven to be unsafe? Up until now, the Government’s wording has been that it should happen when it is safe, but it should be only when it is unsafe that it should not.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There should be a presumption of a meaningful relationship with both parents post-separation, and the proposals we are working on for child maintenance will underline that by helping parents to realise that it is their responsibility to work together to support their children, whether they are in a relationship together or whether they are living apart.

The Minister announced today that £14 million is being spent, partly on an app that can be downloaded by couples who are thinking of splitting up,

“to help them through the painful process of separation.”

Will she confirm that the first two people to download it were the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister?

My hon. Friend is potentially selling short our announcement today. Indeed, working with all the leading charitable and third sector organisations in the sector, we are looking for new ways to ensure that we have the appropriate support in place for families, whether through telephony, local face-to-face support or a web application. Perhaps Mrs Bone might like to take a look at that and give me her views, too.