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Access and custody... or residence and contact?

View profile for Mike Devlin
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Regular viewers of the Manchester-based ‘soap’ Coronation Street will no doubt be aware of the recent story line involving Steve MacDonald, Tracy Barlow and their on-going disputes surrounding who gets ‘custody of’ and/ or ‘access to’ their daughter Amy. Given the difficulties faced by many separating couples these days with regard to arrangements for children a substantial number of viewers will be able to identify with this plot but, legally, how accurate is the soap’s portrayal of the subject?
 
Unfortunately, as far as legal terminology is concerned; not very!
 
The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of ‘residence and contact orders’ which replaced the previously used ‘access and custody’. This change was brought about in a bid to facilitate and encourage an on-going relationship between the child and both parents and with other important family members. In spite of this change, the terms ‘custody and access’ are still frequently used - and used interchangeably – particularly by the media and, subsequently, by the public at large which, from a legal point of view, is not accurate.
 
A relationship breakdown can be a stressful and distressing time for all concerned. Many of those who cannot agree upon arrangements for children following separation have little or no knowledge of the law relating to families save for the portrayals on popular programmes such as Coronation Street. Should you experience problems with ‘residence and contact’ (and not ‘custody and access!’) of children you need the assistance of straight-talking and experienced family law solicitors, like those at Stephensons. Our people will support you through every stage of your separation and will help you navigate your way through what can, sometimes, appear to be the family law minefield.
 
As for me - given that the terms ‘access and custody’ are seemingly more commonly known to ‘Joe Public’ than the more recently coined phrases I suspect that I will continue to groan at the television for some time to come as television producers and journalists continue to pull the old terminology out of the bag!
 
By family law solicitor, Rhian Friend
 

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