The Family Justice Review which was published today has rejected calls from campaigners for father’s rights. Those calls sought for the review to recommend legislation that made it clear that a child should have a meaningful relationship with both parents and that both parents should have equal contact rights.
The fact that the review has failed to do that, does not in my view mean that a child should not have a meaningful relationship with both parents, it means that it is not written in law. What is statutory is the Children Act which puts the welfare of the child first. That means that any court, hearing a dispute about where children should live or how much contact they should have with each parent has to look at the children’s needs first. It is the children’s rights which are being looked at, not the parents.
However, I completely understand Families need Fathers and Fathers for Justice responses to this review. They feel that their cause of wanting to have equal rights to their children has been set back. Fathers have successfully campaigned to put their name on the residence and contact map over the past few years. What campaigners understandably feel is that a child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents has not been supported by this review and that not to enforce it by statute means that many fathers will lose out when they want to spend more time with their children.
The fact is that neither parents rights are enshrined in law, only the child’s rights are and that is legislated for by the Court looking at what is in the best interests of the child. What fathers are saying is that the Courts seem to find in favour of the child spending more time with their mothers than with their fathers and that if a mother really is opposed to contact, then apart from the threat (sometimes carried out) of removing a child from the care of the mother into the care of the father, the father is out of the picture. Fathers feel that this Review will mean that they will go back to feeling marginalised.
The Review’s reasons for not enshrining in law parents rights is that the Court needs to look at the child’s needs and that is what they do. The Review also envisages that if there is a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, then there will be much more litigation as fathers will issue applications for contact or residence of their children quoting just that. It will also mean that there will be much litigation over what ‘a meaningful relationship actually means.’ The review is seeking to avoid more acrimonious litigation and wants parents to come to their own arrangements. Whilst that is clearly a good idea, people only resort to going to court when they are desperate. It is only in those cases that fathers feel that they need some support from the Law in order to play a real part in their children’s lives.