The Family Justice Review (“FJR”) came out at the end of last year, but due to its length it has taken some time for it to be digested and in February the Government proposed new laws to enshrine some of its principles. This caused some press activity because the recommendation or suggestion that children should have a meaningful relationship with both parents was taken as an indication that there should be some sort of automatic contact with both parents. This was then taken to mean a right for fathers to have contact with their children. So a fairly sensible and common sense approach – that children should, generally obviously, have a meaningful relationship with both parents – was somehow turned into a battle of “rights”. Louis de Bernieres wrote a very long article for the Daily Mail bemoaning the lack of fathers’ rights, as though they were in some way denied these by the court.
The situation is that the courts have to treat the childrens’ interests as paramount, not either of the parents’ interests. This generally means that both parents should in some way maintain a meaningful relationship with the children, but there is no automatic assumption that a child remains with their mother and has little contact with their father, or vice versa, unless there is some very unusual situation.
As with contact, so with finances – there is no automatic right for a mother to remain in the matrimonial home with the children while the father is forced to re-house in a small flat somewhere. The courts have always said that both parents need to be, if possible, adequately rehoused to enable both of them to provide proper accommodation for when they see their children. Why is it then that fathers claim a lack of rights and mothers fear a change in the law will reduce their contact with their children?
It is perhaps hard for parents caught in an emotive dispute about their children to see things dispassionately, but actually it is never a question of parent’s rights, but of their responsibilities and obligations towards the children and what the courts are trying to do in a difficult and emotional situation is to try and ensure that children see both parents. Obviously it is practically difficult to arrange the way a child lives so as to be “fair” to the mother, the father and the child. Someone has to lose out and yes, it is unfortunate that divorce often means a lack of contact with a child, but this is often the case for both parents because there is no other practical arrangement. It is not a bias on the part of the courts or a denial of fathers’ rights.
For more information and advice on any of these points please contact Cotswold Family Law at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01608 686590.