Estranged fathers to get more access to children
By Jonathan Thompson
18 July 2004
Estranged fathers will be allowed increased access to their children
under new legislation to be announced this week.
A Green Paper will propose changes to the family court system that
will include the suggestion that both parents are allowed "frequent
and continuous contact" with their children.
The proposed legislation is expected to include "parenting
plans", however it will not include compulsory mediation for
divorced couples over care of children, an omission that will anger
"We recognise that there are a number of real difficulties with
the current system," said a spokeswoman at the Department for
Constitutional Affairs. "[There are] too many cases where the
child's interests are not seen to be central, too many cases that go on
for too long, too many cases where there are problems enforcing court
decisions. The Government is looking at ways to help in cases of
But Matt O'Connor, founder of the militant rights group Fathers 4
Justice , said the proposals did not go far enough. "From what we
can gather, this is effectively a McDad's charter - only allowing dads
to meet their kids in McDonald's at weekends. It seems to be supporting
a 70/30 custody split. There is no talk of mandatory mediation. This is
basically a junk-food diet for families," he said.
The charity Fathers Direct welcomed the proposed reforms. Duncan
Fisher, the charity's director, said: "We have a good law that
requires the courts to act in the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately the family courts frequently fail to enact this law
because settlements often do not allow a child to enjoy plentiful time
with both parents. Changing procedures within the family courts would be
much simpler than changing the law and is most urgent."
Last week Michael Howard, the Tory leader, called for couples who
split up to get equal custody of their children. Speaking at the
Conservative Party's first family conference, Mr Howard said a change in
the law was vital to ensure parents did not lose touch with their
children after a divorce.
The issue has risen up the political agenda as divorce rates have
risen. In May, two activists fromFathers 4 Justice were arrested after
Tony Blair was hit by purple flour thrown in the Commons. The group last
Sunday interrupted a York Minster service to protest at the Church's
"failure" to lobby the Government over parental access.
Last night, Mr O'Connor vowed the group would continue its
"campaign of civil disobedience". He said of the Green Paper:
"It's a family law fudge ... it's going to be bad for the health of