Ministers are drawing up new plans which could see divorced parents given a legal right to see their children.
Under the proposals, family courts will be obliged to ensure that both parents are given access to children as part of any divorce settlement. Parents who continue to refuse access would be held in contempt of court, and could face hefty fines or even jail.
Under the law as it stands, the family courts award custody rights to mothers in the vast majority of divorce cases. Access for fathers is often patchy, with mothers effectively holding all the cards.
In a study by the Office of National Statistics, it was revealed that one in three children lives without their father.
“Our vision is to establish that, under normal circumstances, a child will have a relationship with both parents, regardless of the relationship they have with each other,” said Tim Loughton, the children’s minister.
“All the evidence tells us that children genuinely benefit from a relationship with both parents, with the potential to make different contributions to their child’s development,” he added.
The decision to amend the law to protect the rights of fathers would overturn the major finding of a Family Justice Review which reported back in November. The review, run by businessman David Norgrove, decided against recommending equal access to both parents, saying it would place too much pressure on judges to calculate the exact time which children should spend with each parent.
“We know that we cannot carve up a child’s existence based on some spurious 50/50 split in terms of time,” said Mr Loughton.
At present it is unclear what form the legislative changes would take. Some suggest that the Children’s Act 1989 could be amended to include a presumption of shared parenting.
Other measures from the Norgrove Report such as creating Parenting Agreements, which set out how childcare will be provided after a divorce, and information hubs to allow parents to conduct do-it-yourself divorces look set to be implemented by the Government.
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