Call for 'fairer' child custody

11 July, 2004
Michael Howard
The summit will look at 'shared parenting' in custody battles
Michael Howard is expected to call for shared parenting rights as he stages a summit on custody battles.

The Sunday Times reports that ministers are considering law changes to give divorced fathers a better deal on custody and access rights.

Mothers who flout court orders by denying ex-husbands access could receive community service orders under the proposals, the paper adds.

Mr Howard is expected to argue that "the best parent is both parents".

The summit will consider the idea of shared parenting, where mothers and fathers get equal access rights, which is common practice in New Zealand, Australia and the US.

In the Observer, a government minister is quoted as saying that fathers have a "very strong and I think very justified sense of grievance" about the family courts.

The government must tackle "an absolute gender bias" in the courts which says a child's place is with its mother, the minister said.

Green paper

The Sunday Times said ministers at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting last week agreed to introduce a green paper outlining proposed changes to current law.

Members of Fathers 4 Justice
Fathers 4 Justice campaigners protest on a bridge
According to the leaked document seen by the paper, ministers want to improve the working of Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), which handles family breakdowns.

Judges are currently only allowed to impose fines or prison sentences on mothers who deny fathers access, but both are seen as damaging to the family and are rarely used.

Community service could now be introduced, according to the paper.

The issue of fathers' rights has been pushed up the political agenda as divorce rates continue to rise.

Campaign group Fathers 4 Justice hit the headlines in May with a purple powder bomb attack on Tony Blair in the House of Commons.