As the phrase goes, there is no instruction book for being a parent. There are some fairly obvious dos and don'ts but for the most part, you learn as you go along and you don't always get it right. So I am struggling to see why those behind the Family Justice Review think that issuing a leaflet to all new parents giving them pointers on what being a parent means is a good thing. At best, it seems a little desperate to conclude from a far-reaching review of how the legal system deals with families (usually in times of trouble) to suggest that some sort of public service leaflet like you might get about STDs or the switch to digital TV is going to help in any way at all. It's the 21st Century. A leaflet not only seems a little thin, but also a little bit 1970s. Is this the best the collective minds could come up with? I may be stretching the point a little, as the genesis of this genius idea came from a recognition that parents do not always understand their children's rights and their responsibilities as parents. I guess there is merit in helping them with this – but still, a leaflet?! They could just point people at our website section on parental responsibility. Perhaps something I would ally myself with more closely is the suggestion that we could have constructive parenting agreements. Essentially, I guess you could call these "pre-nups for parents", setting out how the two parties would handle issues surrounding the children if they were to split up at a later date. This goes to the heart of putting the children at the centre of the process. Could it or should it, therefore, be the next big thing in family law? I've said before that parents need to act like the adults in divorce. This goes a step further in terms of capturing a commitment from both sides about how they will behave post-relationship, covering residence, education, health finance etc. I think it is good idea, though how it would operate in practice is a bit more difficult to pin down. Would they carry any weight? It would help if they were made compulsory, thus avoiding any potential flashpoint when one partner asks for this to be drawn up – but compulsion seems a little heavy handed. There is also a suggestion that children should be involved in these agreements being drawn up as, ultimately, they are the ones affected. The proposal does include the proviso that this should be done "having regard to their age and understanding" but I perhaps think this is wishful thinking. If they are young enough to have to have one drawn up, surely they are too young to want to think about their parents splitting up? It is not an easy area but I am happy that it is one that the Family Justice Review is at least looking at. Andrew Woolley Family solicitor
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