I was interested to read that there are now plans to introduce legislation to promote a child's ongoing relationship with both parents. We all know that what that really means is legislation to register that the father's relationship is just as important as the mother's relationship with their children. Not so long ago, there was a huge furore, rightly so, by father's rights groups because the Family Justice Review didn't think spelling it out was necessary. They stressed contact with both parents was a given, so there was no need to say anything specific about it.
My experience both when I was a family lawyer and now as a therapist is that it is so much harder for a father to maintain a close or sometimes any relationship with his children after divorce or separation. My experience is that if a mother alienates her children against the father or subverts contact, then the court really can do and does do very little about it. It is all very well, bringing a mother back to court for breaching a contact order, but if the only sanction is to have a Judge say that you must allow your child to have contact, then the situation will continue. Sometimes, very rarely, the court removes the children and places them with the father. That is because the Court will say that it is emotionally abusive to make your children not want to go for contact. However, if you balance, that emotional abuse against taking children away from their mother where apart from no contact, they are settled and happy, then 9 times out of 10, the court will decide its best to leave them where they are. There are many fathers up and down the country who would dearly love to see their children and have a full and meaningful relationship with them.
There are many children up and down the country who don't see their father because of how their parent's separation has been handled, normally by the resident parent. Those children will grow up feeling that their father has abandoned them or that their father is not a sufficiently good person for them to have a relationship with him. Given that every child is made up of half of each of his parents, thinking that your father is 'bad' is not a great way to foster self-esteem or encourage healthy adult relationships in later life. If we can't stop mothers alienating children or being implacably hostile to their ex-partner in front of the children, then at least we can provide some sanction which will release the children from that bind and enable them to have a good enough relationship with their father. Will legislation that simply promotes an ongoing relationship with both parents achieve that? I think not. Will it make any difference to what has been going on and silently sanctioned by our Courts for years?
Again, I think not.
Sadly, for all those fathers who suffer so much by being marginalized in their children's lives, this legislation when it comes, will be too little, too ineffective and just another example of wasted rhetoric. If the Government means business and truly believes that our society, present and future would be better if children had a good, loving unfettered relationship with both parents, then legislation needs to be introduced which reflects that. The evidence is there, it needs to be acted on.
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