Reform of family and child care law

The Government has issued a white paper on reform of family and child care law.

A statement by the Ministry for Justice and the Ministry for Family, Youth and Community Affairs recalls that last year it was announced that a Family Law Working Group had been set up in order to put forward proposals for law reform, which were intended to help those undergoing parental separation better to resolve disputes.

"We said any proposals would focus strongly on what children need and how parents can be assisted better to meet those needs during and after relationship breakdown. We noted that there were 121 divorces in Gibraltar in 2006 and many more separations. These are significant numbers for a small community," they say.

And add: "The reality however is that whilst a marriage may end the family continues. The relationship as husband and wife or partners ends with divorce or separation, but the relationship as mother and father continues a lifetime. The biggest single factor in the children?s adjustment to their parents? divorce or separation is how well the parents restructure their relationship to continue to meet the needs of the child.

"Additionally, our consultation to date has revealed that the issue of parental alienation (usually involving fathers) vis-?-vis their children is a cause for concern and we are determined to do all we can to deal with it."

The Family Law Group has now completed the task and Parts 1 to VII of the Children Act deal with this aspect of our work. The Children?s Act, however, is much more and is intended to provide a comprehensive legislative framework to protect all children in Gibraltar and overhaul child care law in the process. The proposals are therefore wide ranging and they include:

? Providing better outcomes for children of separating or divorcing parents;

? Keeping parents who are separating or divorcing properly informed of the alternatives open to them and, indeed, helping those parents to help their children;

? Ensuring that parents are treated equally in respect of the children and that both parents accept responsibility for their children;

? Minimizing acrimony among parents;

? Giving grandparents rights (inter alia) in relation to children in care;

? Overhauling the powers to protect children from abuse or neglect and better protecting children;

? Overhauling child care law both by the state and by private individuals.

Whilst the draft Bill contains a number of provisions relating to the financial arrangements, in relation to children these issues will be dealt with in a separate modernized Matrimonial Causes Act which will deal with issues such as maintenance, property arrangements and other financial issues. There is now widespread support amongst child care social workers, lawyers and groups acting on behalf of children and parents for early reform. We therefore ask for people?s views on the proposed Bill which the Government will introduce as legislation as soon as we have considered those views and the Parliamentary timetable allows. The consultation process in relation to this White Paper will remain open for three months, said ministers Daniel feetham and Jaime Netto.