Warring parents could face jail
Jul 20 2004
By Sam Lister, Daily Post
WARRING parents could be forced to attend group therapy or face jail if they fail to comply with custody orders under plans proposed by a Wirral MP.
Frank Field wants courts to have more power when it comes to resolving disputes between parents.
His plans also include introducing compulsory mediation and sending anyone who refuses to let their former partner have access to a psychologist, or group counselling.
The Birkenhead MP has devised the tough new penalties to curb the growing problem of parents who flout court orders.
And he wants to bring about a shift in the law so both parents are given proper access rights.
He said: "I don't think the law is particularly biased towards mothers or fathers. It is unfavourable against the children and that is the problem.
"I want there to be compulsory mediation and if that doesn't work there should be a whole range of penalties available to the court to sort out the problem.
"At the moment there is very little the court can do other than go straight to a jail sentence. What I want to see is a whole structure of penalties, with prison as a last resort when other means have failed." Under the plans, all parents would be forced to attend mediation before a custody order is issued. They would face a series of penalties if they refused to allow the non-custodial parent to see their child.
The sliding scale would start with information classes where the offender would be given advice on dealing with the situation.
If they still refused they could be given therapy, issued with fines and ultimately jailed.
Mr Field plans to table the proposals as a Private Member's Bill once parliament has reconvened after the summer recess.
Over the next few months campaigning groups and children's groups will be consulted.
But the plans have been praised by radical campaigners Fathers 4 Justice, which was behind the flour bombing incident at the House of Commons last month.
Founder Matt O'Connor said: "We welcome Frank Field's plans. This system is not working and anything that changes that is a good thing.
"It's a shame the government doesn't listen more to its MPs."