Landmark reforms to family law came into effect on the 18 January 2016. Key provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 relating to guardianship, custody and access have commenced.
Some of the main reforms are:
- Unmarried fathers will automatically become guardians of their children if they meet a cohabitation requirement. An unmarried father who cohabits for 12 months with the child’s mother, including 3 months following the child’s birth, will automatically become the child’s guardian. This provision is not retrospective, so guardianship will only be acquired automatically where the parents live together for at least 12 months after the 18th January 2016.
- A person other than a parent may become the child’s guardian.
- A parent’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of not less than 3 years will be able to apply for custody where s/he has shared parenting of the child for 2 years. A grandparent or other relative will be able to apply to court for custody of a child where s/he is an adult who has undertaken the child’s day to day care for more than 12 months and the child has no parent or guardian willing or able to act as guardian.
- Relatives of a child such as grandparents or those acting in loco parentis will be able to apply to have access to children more easily in the context of relationship breakdown.
- A child’s best interests will be the paramount consideration for the court in proceedings on guardianship, custody or access.
- The court can impose enforcement orders where a parent or guardian has been denied custody or access.
- A child co-parented by civil partners will have the same protections as are enjoyed by a child of a family based on marriage.
- A maintenance responsibility may be imposed on a cohabiting partner for a partner’s child where the partner is a guardian of the child.