Recent publicity of the government's proposals to enshrine in law the importance of children having a relationship with both parents post separation has resulted in controversy. This controversy has, in my view, deflected from a debate which is fundamentally important in relation to children's welfare after a divorce.
The proposals are supposed to make it clear that both parents are equally important in a child's life, however organisations and individuals against the proposals say that the courts recognise this and therefore people (read fathers) will take advantage of the law, by bringing more applications to court which will then delay clarity for children.
The most important aspect is that not only should the courts recognise that children need a relationship with both parents, but that they should do something about it, when one parent doesn't promote that relationship with the other parent. There are so many cases where fathers win a court order allowing them contact with their children only to find it is still impossible as courts do little to ensure that the other parent complies.
It is hugely difficult for a court which could, in theory, say that a mother thwarting a court order should spend a few days in prison or be fined. No-one wants to send mothers to prison or impose more financial constraints on a family. Nor do courts want to take children away from their mothers and place them with their fathers as an antidote to alienation. By the time children are alienated from their fathers, it may be more emotionally abusive to uproot them from their primary home and put them with a parent who they purport to be frightened of, or hostile to. Where children are lucky enough to have two parents, they should not be stopped from loving and seeing them. That has to be their inalienable right, with the exception of abusing and violent parents, where children need our protection.
Most parents across the country recognise that an on-going relationship with both parents is fundamental to the healthy development of a child. It is the few that don't recognise it who cause untold problems by barricading themselves in with the children or banishing the other to the gulag till the ends of time. Will a law change this? I don't think so. We need to change attitudes and the way the courts deal with non-compliance. After all, family courts primary consideration is the children, it is enshrined in the Children Act that the children's needs are of paramount importance. If that is really the case, then something needs to be done to recognise that, so that spending proper time with each parent, actually happens. That doesn't mean 50-50 necessarily, but it does mean enabling, supporting, and condoning a long term meaningful relationship with both. Divorce and separation is a given, and how we deal with it has enormous repercussions for immediate and extended family. The issue of children has been put on the map by Families Need Fathers and Fathers 4 Justice. It needs to stay on the map until we as a society recognise how important both parents actually are.
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