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A victory for fathers’ rights?

The government’s recently announced changes to access laws are aimed at helping children maintain relationships with both parents following divorce. This comes on the back of evidence showing that large numbers of children involved in a family break-up lose contact with one parent for good.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson declared ‘shared parenting’ will come into force next year when courts will ensure that unless a child’s welfare is threatened, they will have the right to a proper relationship with both parents. Judges will decide access arrangements if these can’t be agreed. Stiff penalties e.g. removal of passports or driving licenses, even curfews can be imposed on those who defy a court order giving access rights.

these changes are headline grabbing

As campaigners for fathers’ rights have long argued that courts favour mothers’ contact rights over fathers, these changes are being seen by some as a victory for ‘fathers’ rights’.

But while these changes are headline grabbing, I question whether in reality, they will make much difference.

In my experience the courts are already very anxious to maintain relationships between children and both parents. It is very rare for a court to agree that contact be denied. A child’s welfare is always of paramount importance, so at present the court would only refuse contact where it is contrary to a child’s best interests.

Usually both parties have parental responsibility and therefore equal rights and responsibilities in the eyes of the law. Shared parenting doesn’t mean shared care – and certainly doesn’t mean that children should spend equal amounts of time with each parent. And while access rights are often unfair on one parent, enforcing contact can sometimes be impossible without having a harmful impact upon a child.

If the changes result in a change of attitude by parents who seek to deny their child a relationship with the other parent for no justifiable reason, then they are a good thing. But I don’t believe that they will result in any fundamental change in approach by the courts who already focus on a child’s welfare.