Key Facts

The Children and Families Bill – Queen’s speech 2012 by Mark Weber

The Children and Families Bill was announced in this months Queen’s speech. Below is a summary of the main proposals including those affecting parental separation and shared care.

Content of the Bill

The Bill intends to make it easier for parents to share caring responsibilities; give families of children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities more choice and control; and support some of the most vulnerable children, including those in care or whose parents have separated.

One of the key aims of the Bill is to provide a much simpler system of education, health and social care for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

Recognising that parents of children with additional needs face many challenges when their child needs extra support in their education, and even more so when their child has social care and health needs. The proposed legislation would ensure that education; health and social care services are jointly planned and commissioned by local authorities and health services working together.

It would also include proposals for local authorities to set out a local offer of all services available to support children or young people who are disabled or who have SEN, and their families across education, health and social care.

The adoption clauses in the Bill would seek to reduce the time children have to wait for an adoptive placement and see more children placed with families with less delay and disruption.

The Bill says that new legislation would prevent local authorities from delaying an adoption by searching for a “perfect match” for a child, particularly a perfect or partial match based on the child’s ethnicity.

With regard to family law, although going to court to resolve disputes about children should be the last resort, the proposed legislative changes in this Bill make clear that parents should work together to reach agreements about their child’s care when they separate. It would also set out that, where it is safe and in the best interests of the child, both parents should be involved with their child’s upbringing as fully as possible.

The Government will be consulting shortly on how the legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about an equal division of time but the quality of time that a child spends with each parent.  The changes being planned on public law will mean a care proceedings system in which delay is no longer acceptable and where there is a much clearer focus on the child and their needs.

Through proposals on flexible parental leave the Bill seeks to give parents more choice and flexibility about how they share the care of their child in the first year, enabling both parents to retain a strong link with the labour market. By extending the right to request flexible working it is hoped that all employees will have the confidence to ask their employer for flexible working without fear of detrimental treatment.

John Dunford’s review of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner stated that there was a continuing need for an independent advocate for children and young people, but that the existing legislative framework was limiting the Commissioner from fulfilling that role effectively. Therefore it is proposed that there be a change to the function of the Children’s Commissioner to one of “promoting and protecting children’s rights”, enabling the UK to meet better its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Timing

The Bill will be scheduled for introduction in the second session in the Commons, early in 2013. It would then be carried over into the third session for Royal Assent.

Consultation

All of the proposals in the Bill have already been informed by the views and experience of families and those who work with them.

Through the special educational needs and disability green paper, the consultation on theFamily Justice Reviewproposals and the Dunford Review.

There will be a full public consultation on the proposals on adoption, and calls for evidence as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process for the proposals in the Bill.

The Civil Partnership Act by Mark Weber

OnePlusOne exists to strengthen relationships and share knowledge and information about the changing nature of relationships. Over our 40 years we have seen many big cultural changes in both couple relationships and family formation.

Cohabiting, now the norm, used to be termed ‘living in sin’, divorce has lost much of its stigma, and step families are the largest growing family type.

As marriage rates have declined, people have found new ways to celebrate commitment and being a family – from publicly renewing their vows with friends to baby naming days rather than traditional christenings.

One of the most significant changes of the last decade has been the Civil Partnership Act.

The act came into effect on 5th December 2005, allowing same sex couples to have legal recognition of their relationship. Gay couples could have the new legal status of “Civil Partners”, instead of the traditional husband and wife status.

This move was met with some controversy; religious groups spoke out against civil partnerships, and some heterosexual couples in cohabiting relationships argued that they do not receive the same rights as ‘married’ same sex couples.

However the Civil Partnership Act proved very popular; over 18,000 couples took the plunge between December 2005 and the end of December 2006. A further 8,728 civil partnership ceremonies then took place during 2007.

The number of civil partnerships between same-sex couples has leveled off since these initial high levels of uptake with around 6,000 ceremonies now taking place year on year since 2007.

Why introduce Equal Civil Marriage?  Differences between Civil Partnerships and Civil Marriages

Although a civil partnership is essentially seen as a “gay marriage”, there are some key differences.

  • A civil marriage almost always contains religious aspects during the ceremony- the word marriage is a religious word in itself.
  • A member of the clergy can perform civil marriages, whereas only specified registrars can perform a civil partnership.

But there are also similarities between the two.

  • In both a civil partnership and a civil marriage, couples are required to give public notice of their intentions.
  • The records of both are kept as official and public documents with the registry offices.

The key facts on the equal civil marriage consultation.

In 2011 the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises was lifted. The government then went on to launch its consultation on Equal Civil Marriage this March looking at how to enable same sex couples to have a civil marriage.

This will run till June 14th and only look at civil marriage ceremonies that are held in either registry offices or other approved premises, not in churches.

The government states they are taking this move because they want to promote greater choice. Recognising that the commitment of same sex couples in a civil partnership is the same as the commitment made by heterosexual couples in a civil marriage hence it makes no sense to ban same sex couples from getting married through a civil ceremony.

Despite negative press and confusion, this is not about undermining or changing religious marriage – a religious ceremony on religious premises will continue only tobe legally possible between a man and a woman. Civil partnerships will remain as being for same sex couples only.

OnePlusOne would encourage as broad a range of parties as possible to respond to the consultation, so the debate is not one between the media, faith groups and gay community alone.

The equal civil marriage consultation has now concluded, but to read the official response and report click here.

Key Facts on Equal Marriage by Mark Weber

The equal marriage debate has been complex and heated; after a period of consultation new legislation has recently been announced. This will take effect in 2015.

Here are the key facts:

  • The government have proposed that the Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from performing equal marriage ceremonies.
  • Under new ruling other religious organisations will be able to “opt in” to holding wedding ceremonies.
  • Because the Church of England and Church in Wales have “explicitly stated” strong opposition to offering same-sex weddings, the government have said they will be excluded.
  • Minister for Equality Maria Miller has issued a statement saying: “I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which would allow that. European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.”
  • Plans to allow equal marriages are supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
  • Anglican Churches are excluded because Ministers had already stated that forthcoming legislation allowing equal marriages in England and Wales would not compel any religious organisation to perform such marriages.
  • The legal ban may protect the Church of England from legal claims that as England’s established church it is duty bound to marry anyone who requests it.
  • Gay marriage differs from a civil partnership in that civil partnerships are a legal relationship exclusively for same-sex couples, in this way they are distinct from marriage.
  • However civil partnerships offer the same legal rights as marriage across most matters, such as inheritance, pensions, life insurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights.
  • Opposite-sex couples can currently opt for a religious or civil marriage ceremony, whereas a same-sex partnership is an exclusively civil procedure.
  • Supporters cite a number of reasons for wanting gay marriage to be legalised, including that separate civil partnerships promote a view that same-sex relationships are not as valid as heterosexual ones and that legal rights are still not exactly the same as those offered by marriage.

International recognition for equal marriage is popular with campaigners because there is no universally-accepted recognition of civil partnerships and they differ widely from one country to the next.

Under new ruling no religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to marry same-sex couples or allow a ceremony to take place on their premises

By amending the 2010 Equality Act no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple

The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples.

Plans to legalise equal marriage have divided the Conservative Party and more than 100 Tory MPs are thought to be against the idea.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he believes equal marriages should be allowed in churches – but only if there is“100%” guarantee that no church, synagogue or mosque would be forced to hold one them should they be against.

If you would like to read the statement that OnePlusOne sent to all MPs on the second reading of the Equal Marriage Bill, click here.

Key Facts on Committed Relationships by Mark Weber

  • The number of marriages taking place in England and Wales per year has been in decline since the early 70s, decreasing from 404,734 in 1971 to just232,443in 2009. (Source: Office for National Statistics, 2012)
  • This decline is also reflected in the proportion of the population getting married. In England and Wales in 2010, only 21.8 men in every 1000 of the eligible population got married compared to 60.4 men in 1980.  For women, the proportion reduced from 48.1 women in every 1000 in 1980, to 19.8 women in every 1000 in 2010. (Source: ONS, 2012)
  • Despite this drop, marriage remains popular in England and Wales and it is still the most common form of partnership. About two thirds of people aged over 20 were thought to be living as a married couple in 2007. (Source: ONS, 2011)
  • People are waiting until later in life to get married. In 1970 in England and Wales, on average women married at the age of 22.0, and men at 24.1. This had risen to 30.8 for women and 33.4 for men by 2009. (Source: ONS, 2011)
  • This delay in marriage may be due to couples choosing to live together rather than marry. The number of couples cohabiting has nearly doubled over the past seven years. In 2004, there were approximately 142,300 cohabiting couples in England and Wales. This had risen to approximately 285,300 in 2011. (Source: ONS, 2011)
  • Many couples who cohabit still eventually marry in the long-term however.  After 10 years of living together, half have married, 40% have split up, and only 10% continue to cohabit.  (Source: Centre for Population Change, 2011)
  • The number of civil partnerships between same-sex couples have reduced and levelled off since the high levels of uptake that followed the 2005 legislative changes introducing it(ONS, 2010), though figures from last year indicated an increase of 6.4% from 2010 (6, 795 partnerships; ONS, 2012).
  • Attitudes towards cohabitation in the UK are becoming steadily more positive: in 1989, 71% of survey respondents thought that couples wanting children ought to get married.  By 2002 this had dropped to 51%. (Source: British Social Attitudes Survey, 1989-2002)
  • Stepfamilies are one of the fastest growing family forms: 40% of all marriages are remarriages for one or both partners. (Source: ONS, 2011)