Plans for fairer parental access
Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
The government is planning to change the family court system to give both parents more access to their children after divorce, the BBC has learned.
The issue of child access has been in the headlines for months
A new green paper will propose giving both parents "frequent and continuous contact" with their children.
But fathers' rights campaigners have complained that the changes would not enshrine "shared parenting" in law.
There are currently no guidelines on how much time a non-resident parent should have with their children.
The proposed legislation due out next week is expected to introduce the idea of "parenting plans" to improve contact with children.
The BBC's Graham Satchell said that mediation would not be compulsory but would become standard practice, leaving courts to concentrate on the most difficult cases.
But Gary Birch, of campaign group Fathers 4 Justice, said: "They are not going to provide a legal presumption of shared parenting and unless you have got that balance, that equality within the system, then you can't mediate because there is a gun against your head as the non-resident parent."
He told BBC Radio Five Live: "What we want is what's best for each individual family, but you have got to start somewhere, you have got to have a basic sense of equality.
"You have got to have a system that says, 'children need their mum, children need their dad', and let's have that as our starting position."
Protests by angry fathers groups have pushed the family court system into the headlines in recent months.
Last week two Fathers 4 Justice members held a rooftop protest at York Minster and 12 protesters disrupted a service of the Church of England's General Synod.
The protests were over the church's "failure" to lobby the government over access to their children.
Also last week, Conservative party leader Michael Howard called for a change in the law which would give parents equal access to their children when their relationships break down.
There should be a "strong presumption" in favour of equal rights for parents to have an influence on the upbringing of their children, said Mr Howard.
But children's minister Margaret Hodge said it would be very dangerous to challenge the principle that the interests of the child should be paramount.
In May Prime Minister Tony Blair was hit by a condom filled with purple flour while speaking in the Commons, which prompted a security review.
Fathers' rights protester Guy Harrison, 36, of Ashurst, Sussex, was fined £600 for throwing the missile.
The proposals now being considered have the support of the leading family court judges, said Graham Satchell.