Equal rights over child custody
by Bonnie Gardiner in Editor's picks and Politics
Wed June 13, 2012 2:33 p.m. BST
84% say both parents deserve equal custody rights; 85% say fathers are instrumental to child's life
In response to the current shake-up of the family justice system, there is a strong consensus among Britons that both the mother and the father should be entitled to an equal share of child custody rights when getting divorced or separated, our poll shows.
- 84% believe that both parents should have equal rights over the custody of their children
- Almost one in ten Britons (9%) believe the mother should have the most rights over the custody of their children
- Only 2% think the father should have more rights over the custody of their children
A child's right to maintain contact with both parents following their separation or divorce are to be strengthened under government proposals to amend the Children Act 1989. Any changes will enforce family courts in England and Wales to assume the child's welfare is best served by remaining involved with both parents.
The role of a father
The new policy aims to quell the conflict arising within the current system when children, who are put in the care of their mothers, are barred from seeing their fathers. There is an overwhelming support by the British public that both a mother and a father must share the responsibility for bringing up children, with over four fifths agreeing that fathers are instrumental in a child's life.
- 95% agree that both parents should share responsibility for bringing up children, 2% disagree
- 85% agree that fathers are instrumental in bringing up children, 9% disagree
- 52% believe that a father's main role should be to provide for the family by working and earning money, while 42% disagree, thinking a father's role extends beyond being a breadwinner
- 86% agree that the role of fathers has changed drastically in the past 50 years, while 9% disagree and feel there has not been much change
The term 'shared responsibility' ensures only the presence of both a mother and a father in a child's upbringing, but not necessarily an equal amount of time with their children. Many parents, particularly fathers, have criticised the current legal system which they claim too often leads to unfair results and deprives them of a proper and meaningful relationship with their children.
Focusing on child welfare
Campaign groups have welcomed the proposed changes to ensure greater custody rights for fathers, as in 2011 men accounted for just 8% of the UK's lone parents. Ken Sanderson, of Families Need Fathers, said introducing legislation preserving a child's rights to an on-going relationship with both parents "would be a victory for children" as too many young people "lose out on the emotional and social benefits of a loving relationship with both parents."
However some see changes to legislation as unnecessary, with Family law expert Prof Liz Trinder warning the changes would focus more on parents rather than unique circumstances, which would make it harder for courts to focus on child welfare. Trinder told the BBC that in around 99.7% of custody cases, judges already rule that both parents should have contact with their children. She goes on to explain that in the few remaining cases, there were generally "extremely good reasons" why one parent should not have access, such as a danger to safety and welfare.
"The (Children Act) focuses on what's going to be right for this child, that's the only consideration for the court," said Trinder. "Once you start adding in other principles, then you're diminishing that focus."
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