The rates of divorce and parental separation continue their relentless rise and around a quarter of all children in the UK are affected. After separation 90% of children will end up living with only one parent and in 97% of cases this will be their mother. According to the Office for National Statistics one in three children in the UK live without their father and 3.8 million children have no paternal involvement at all. Estimates predict that of the children born today half will be living in single parent households by the age of 16.
Research indicates that most children in separated families want to stay in touch with their non-resident parent and find the loss of contact painful. Even where there is contact a substantial minority want more. Contact also has many benefits for children such as: meeting a child’s needs for warmth, approval, feeling unique and special; extending experiences and developing or maintaining meaningful relationships; providing information and knowledge; and preventing distorted relationships or perceptions of the other parent. A close relationship with both parents also helps children’s adjustment after divorce. Despite this 40% of children lose contact with their fathers within 3 years of separation.
Family Services and the Family Justice System in the UK are broken. Attempts to change the law to ensure a child could not be denied a full and proper relationship with both its parents have failed. Court orders, to allow a child a relationship with both parents, are still being breached without sanction, 50% of all court orders for contact are broken and not enforced. and the making of false allegations remains an easy route for one parent to deny their child any relationship with their other parent. Court hearings for child contact are still held in secret and Cafcass admits no records have been kept on the outcomes for children in the family courts.
The State, Government and the Judiciary are still failing children in possibly the single most important area of their lives – their right to the loving care, support and guidance of both their parents. Every day we see the consequences of this, in the growth of social problems, such as anti-social behaviour, poor school performance, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, crime, and a host of other, less obvious, emotional and psychological problems.
Whilst social attitudes have changed significantly since the 1970s resulting in fathers spending almost as much time with their children as mothers (Equalities Commission 2008), those same children can expect their relationship with their non-resident parent to be cut by two thirds after separation. Yet the government Childcare strategy ignores the possibility that children could be looked after better by their own parent and the burden to the taxpayer of childcare provision could be reduced.
A better solution lies in prevention: ensuring that children and young people have more care from both parents. The research shows these social problems are related to two issues above all else – being brought up by one parent and economic disadvantage. The social problems, personal distress and child poverty could all be dramatically reduced by promoting shared parenting. This enables both parents to combine caring for their children and earning. It’s been shown that parents who see more of their children contribute more financially.
The vast majority of fathers are very good parents. All they ask is to be given the opportunity to show what they can do. It is time to value the role of fathers and shared parenting in securing a better future for our children and our society. What we ask is this:
- Children to be allowed a full and proper relationship with both parents after separation unless it has been shown that such a relationship is harmful to the child.
- Gender discrimination in Local Authority and service provision to be eliminated. Local Authority and Services to comply with the Gender Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010 and to put the best interest of the children first.
- Cease funding to agencies & charities that promote gender stereotypes and discriminate on grounds of gender.
- Denying a child a relationship with the other parent in breach of a court order to become legally and socially unacceptable, on a par with drink driving. This denial constitutes domestic abuse and should be regarded as such.
- Parental Alienation by one parent poisoning the child’s mind against the other parent should be recognised as child abuse and dealt with to protect the child.
- The ‘winner takes all’ nature of legal proceedings concerning children should end. The objective should become achieving the best outcome for children by involving both parents as much as possible.
The legal distinction between ‘lives with’ and ‘spends time with’ in Child Arrangement Orders is divisive and repeats the previous mistake of “Resident” and “Contact” parent. Both should be replaced by “parented by”.
- False allegations of violence and abuse in disputes over children ruin people’s lives and should be investigated thoroughly and rapidly. Action should be taken against those who make false or malicious allegations which reflects the seriousness of the offence.
- Both parents to have equal parenting opportunities after separation. A father’s involvement with children pre separation almost equals a mothers, but post separation the situation is drastically reduced with no good reason. The post separation arrangements should reflect the situation in intact families.
- Unmarried Fathers to be given the same Parental Responsibility as the mother and to be named on the birth certificate, after all he’s still responsible for the child financially.
- The importance of grandparents and the wider family to be properly supported and recognised. Children don’t just lose one parent after separation, they lose one half of their family.
- Benefits paid to support parenting of children – such as Child Benefit, Family Tax credits, etc. – to be shared between carers according to the care and costs that fall on each. Child Support Agency calculations should be changed to reflect these costs.
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (specifically Articles 9.3 & 10.2) to be incorporated into British domestic law.
The clause ‘equality between spouses’ in the European Convention on Human Rights to be ratified by the UK and included in the Human Rights Act.
Sign the petition at Change.org by following this link.