The struggle by some parents to see their children post-separation has been well-documented for years... but the coalition is now doing something about it with the announcement of a government consultation to change the law.
As a family lawyer, I have seen and heard just about every possible excuse from mothers and fathers of why the other parent should or shouldn't be allowed to spend time with their children post-separation.
This applies equally to couples who have lived together, never lived together or who were once married to each other.
There is often depicted in the media a stereotype mother who uses the children to score points against her former partner and maintain control of a war between them post-separation.
Equally, there is a certain type of father who arranges to spend time with his children and then fails to show up time and time again, causing untold hurt and rejection to the children and a mother whose plans must change immediately to look after the children.
My point is that there exist out there both mothers and fathers who play the court system and each other as it suits them, to score points off the other and involve the children in a game of power psychology between parents.
Often this is perpetrated by the parent with whom the children spend the greater amount of time after the separation. They tend to believe that they have a greater say in the children's lives and minimise the importance of the other parent in the children's upbringing.
The Government has listened to the recommendations made in the Family Justice Review of November 2011 and announced various reforms as a result. One of these is in relation to time children spend with both parents after separation.
The reforms acknowledge: 'the changing social trend of more fathers being involved in the upbringing of children. With it being more socially acceptable for women to work full-time after having children and men being house-husbands, more men than ever are being the "full-time" parent, i.e. the one with whom the children spend the greater part of their time; and 'that children generally tend to do better in life if both parents are involved in their lives, regardless of whether those parents live together. This is not a new discovery by any means and is already applied by the courts but the principle has been heightened by the recommendations of the Family Justice Review.'
The reforms proposed are subtle indeed and do not make major changes to the existing law.
Any parent who makes an application to the Court regarding contact with their child will be familiar with the Children Act 1989, which provides that the welfare of the child is paramount.
The court then determines what is in the best interests of the child by applying various factors known as the 'welfare checklist', such as: the age of the child, their emotional, physical and educational needs, whether the child is at risk of any harm and how capable each parent is of meeting the child's needs.
The Family Justice Review has warned against a presumption of "shared parenting" and the government has listened to that. What it proposes is one of four options, the first being a presumption that the welfare of a child is furthered by the involvement of both parents in the child's upbringing unless there is evidence to the contrary; the second, a general principle that the welfare of a child is furthered by the involvement of both parents in the child's upbringing unless there is evidence to the contrary, third: a starting point that the welfare of a child is furthered by the involvement of both parents in the child's upbringing unless there is evidence to the contrary; or fourthly that the welfare checklist is added to so that the court must consider the involvement of both parents amongst all the other factors of the child's circumstances.
To my mind, the "presumption" proposed in the first option is the most sensible. It will then be enshrined in law that the best interests of a child are generally met by the involvement of both parents in the child's upbringing and sends a very clear signal to any parent who has thoughts of game-playing in this manner.
But that is not to say that the presumption cannot be displaced. I have read reports that such amendments will make it harder to focus on child welfare or that the human rights of parents now rank above the best interests of a child. That is most certainly not the case and is just scaremongering by the media.
The court will retain the "paramountcy" principle of the child's welfare and, if it is clear that it is not in the best interests of a child to have both parents involved in their upbringing, they won't be. It's as simple as that.
And it is absolutely not about the children spending equal time with each parent. In effect, it doesn't change the law at all in terms of outcome. What it does is send a clear message to parents who want to use their role as the parent with whom the child is living to exclude and manipulate. The effect is therefore almost exclusively psychological. It is subtle but most likely to be very effective.
Another reform proposed is in relation to penalties for parents not complying with court orders.
It is often the case that a parent (often but not exclusively the mother) won't make a child available for contact simply because they don't agree with the decision. Time and time again the other parent has to take the matter back to court while the court gives the mother another warning or a chance to comply.
Finally, the court may attach a "penal notice" to the order, warning her that she faces prison if she doesn't comply but rarely is this used.
Ultimately, the court can transfer residence of the children to the other parent in such circumstances. But the process is slow, expensive and stressful.
What the government proposes is a series of enforcement actions against the parent defying the court order to ensure the child gets what is in their best interests. These sanctions include withholding of passports and driving licences or a curfew order requiring the parent to be at a given address between specified hours.
The intention is to ensure that equal enforcement actions are used to enforce court contact orders as are available to enforce child maintenance orders.
For many years, breaching a contact order has been seen by some mothers as of no consequence, but it is right that the court takes back the power and enforces its decision otherwise the process has no "teeth" at all.
The enforcement of contact orders has been terribly weak for so long.
I'm impressed that the coalition is listening to the findings of the Family Justice Review. But as someone who uses the family courts daily, their next focus should undoubtedly be tackling the backlog of work at the courts... otherwise their best efforts will fail in the slow, shoddy administration of our family courts and parents will continue to play the system.
London divorce solicitor/divorce lawyer, Deborah Jeff, is the Founding Partner and Head of Family at Seddons solicitors, dealing with high-profile divorces. She has specialised as a Family Lawyer throughout her 17-year career, with the majority of her work concerning complex financial disputes within divorce.
Follow Deborah Jeff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SeddonsFamily