New laws governing the role that mums and dads play in their children’s lives in England & Wales following separation will not make a difference for dads, says Nick Langford.
—This is article #15 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
October 22nd 2014 marked the introduction into Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 of what for brevity we can call the presumption of parental involvement.
Judges are now advised that a parent’s involvement is likely to further their child’s welfare; “involvement” means any kind of involvement, direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time. Since the division of time is about the only thing a court can rule on, this doesn’t offer desperate parents much hope.
This reform represents the culmination of decades of family campaigning and the end of the road for the presumption of equally shared parenting.
Lest we are in any doubt why reform was necessary, let’s remind ourselves of a few facts. More than half of children will see their parents separate before their 16th birthday and more than half of those will lose contact with one parent. Absent parents are overwhelmingly fathers and residence is overwhelmingly awarded to mothers.
Campaigns for 50/50 shared parenting are doomed to fail
Most applications for contact are by fathers, and while a mother’s parental responsibility (the official recognition of parenthood) depends on her relationship to her child, a father’s depends on his with the mother, and can be taken away again by the court.
It isn’t surprising fathers wanted this situation to change.
While the effect of reform remains to be seen, it seems likely it will merely increase delay, while misinformed parents try to assert rights they do not have, and may hand the courts further justification to disenfranchise parents.
Many will continue to campaign for a 50/50 presumption, but they won’t succeed, for two reasons. First: as the progress of the Children and Families Bill proved, opposition is just too strong, too well-funded and too well-organised. Second: however desirable such a presumption might be, it is inseparably associated with the hectoring and intimidation of the less savoury fathers’ groups, and no government can afford to be seen to surrender to them.
Family breakdown costing UK £46bn
Sadly, there’s no simple legislative solution: no quick fix. The reality is that the courts have become increasingly irrelevant: applications have fallen by a quarter. Contrary to government intention, the take-up of mediation has also fallen by 45%.
The vast majority disputes were once settled by negotiation between lawyers, but since the loss of legal aid this option, too, has evaporated. Most parents will need to resolve disputes themselves.
Not all of the £46bn cost of family breakdown can be laid at the door of the courts. As a society we need to treat fathers better, to value them more; to learn that a couple of nights a fortnight isn’t parenting, that mothers have no place to “allow” fathers contact, that a father can care for a sick child as well as a mother, that staying overnight with Dad won’t cause a child any harm, that Mum’s level of child support is determined by her child’s need for contact, and not the other way around. Only then, only when this has been learnt, can we expect the courts to catch up, and by then perhaps, just perhaps, they won’t be needed quite so much.
—Picture credit: Flickr/Steven Depolo
You can buy Nick Langford’s new book, An Exercise in Absolute Futility: Whatever happened to family justice? from Amazon.
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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