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Children and Families Bill Cont.......

Following on from our blog of 12 February 2013 highlighting the publication of the new Children and Families Bill, we can now look in more depth at the practical effects on modern family life which may result from this legislation.

Under this Bill, maternity leave can be used by the father instead of the mother, shared between the two or actually taken by both parents together. Although fathers have, since AprilĀ  of last year, been technically able to share maternity leave from five months after the birth, there has not been a great take-up of this. However, now this shared leave can be taken from 2 weeks until 12 months following the birth, it may impact on the way in which today's joint income, working couples plan the first year of family life to benefit their children, their careers and their lifestyle.

The above aspects have been much-documented in the press, but it will be a question of seeing how this legislation both shapes family life and reflects the needs of modern families.

Whilst it has long been in the 'spirit' of the law to recognise a child's best interests in the event of family breakdown, the new Bill provides statutory recognition of the benefit to the child of both parents remaining involved in that child's life - with the usual exception being if that child is at any risk of harm in such a scenario.

A single 'child's arrangement order' will replace 'residence' and 'contact' orders - this is a document which will state where the children live and how much time will be spent with the other parent. This should be a beneficial development all round, as it avoids the need to use terms such as 'contact' or 'residence', which can be emotive terms for the parents involved.

Whilst there is no mention in the bill of actual 'shared parenting' - a term which has been bandied about of late - there can be no doubt as to the thinking behind it, that the increasingly hands-on role of fathers in our society should be maintained in the event of a separation.

There are several positive developments regarding flexible working - which will ensure employers must be careful to avoid discriminating against fathers when flexible hours are requested, for example. The rights of expectant parents having a child through surrogacy have also been considered, and brought into line as regards time off for ante-natal appointments and statutory adoption leave and pay, and of course the shared parental leave and pay outlined above.

The much-mentioned work/life balance is clearly an issue which has been addressed by this legislation, and it is reflected in the changes to both family and employment law in creating flexibility for modern-day families.

By Claire Clark on 20 Mar 2013, 14:38 PM

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