Ministers to Tackle 'Gender Bias' over Child Custody Rights

By Pat Hurst, PA News.

Sat 10 Jul 2004

Divorced fathers are to get a better deal on custody and access rights to their children under new Government plans, it was reported today.

Senior ministers are even considering equal custody, a norm in some countries, to tackle the growing issue of fathers’ rights, it was claimed.

And mothers who flout court orders on giving ex-husbands access to their children could be forced to do community service, according to reports.

One senior Government source, quoted in The Observer said fathers had a, “very strong and I think very justified sense of grievance” about the family courts.

The Government has to tackle, “an absolute gender bias” in the courts which says a child’s place is with its mother, the minister told the paper.

The issue has been pushed up the political agenda as divorce rates continue to climb.

Divorced dad’s rights group, Fathers 4 Justice, hit the headlines in May with a purple powder bomb attack on Tony Blair in the Commons.

At present judges are only allowed to impose fines or prison sentences on mothers who fail to allow fathers access to their children.

But imposing fines or even prison is seen as damaging to the family so are rarely used even when mothers flout court orders to allow access.

Community service could now be introduced, according to The Sunday Times.

Ministers at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting last week agreed to introduce a green paper outlining the changes to current law, the paper reported.

According to the leaked Government paper seen by the Sunday Times, ministers want to improve the working of Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) which handles family breakdowns.

Tory leader Michael Howard is also due to stage a summit tomorrow on parents caught up in custody battles.

He is expected to tell the summit, “the best parent is both parents” even after divorce.

It will discuss shared parenting where mothers and fathers get equal access rights, which is routine in New Zealand, Australia and the US.