New Government proposals published will strengthen children's rights to maintain contact with both parents following separation or divorce.

Under the proposals, family courts in England and Wales will be required to work on the presumption that the child's welfare is best served by remaining involved with both parents, unless the evidence shows it would be unsafe or not in the child's best interest.

But children's minister Tim Loughton stressed that the change would not give parents a right to equal time with children or impose upon courts any prescribed notion of the appropriate division of time between father and mother.

The move comes in spite of a warning in last year's Norgrove Report on family justice that the creation of a legal presumption in favour of shared parenting would create an "unacceptable risk of damage to children".

Tougher fines and jail sentences could also be imposed on parents who breach court orders regarding care arrangements.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "Both parents have a responsibility and a role to play in their children's upbringing and we want to make sure that, when parents separate, the law recognises that.

"Children should have the benefit of contact with both of their parents through an ongoing relationship with them. This is why we are publishing proposals today setting out that, where it is safe and in the child's best interest, the law is clear that both parents share responsibility in their upbringing."

Launching a consultation on the proposals, Mr Loughton said that, in the majority of cases, separating parents should resolve disputes about their children without going to court at all.

But he added: "We must improve the system where court cannot be avoided - where disputes are intractable or complex or children's welfare is at risk.

"We need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts fully recognise the joint nature of parenting."