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‘Children’s law change is a single parent’s charter’

by Mark Oliphant

Thursday September 30, 2004

PRESSURE group Fathers 4 Justice has condemned proposed changes to custody of children law.

The legislation will, for the first time, recognise that a man can look after a child just as well as a woman.
But when a court decides on custody, it will place the child with the parent who has done most of the caring – which would be the mother in most cases.
‘That does not necessarily make them the best person to look after the child,’ said Dave Ellison, the group’s international coordinator.
He added that Guernsey’s attempt to get sexual equality under the law encouraged single parenting.
‘I do not welcome that change because men and women have different roles and therefore are not equal,’ said Mr Ellison, who shares parenting with his former partner.
‘That change is actually confusing the issue because it makes it seem as if one can do the other’s job but they cannot.
‘It actively encourages one-parent families when it is in the child’s best interests to have two.’
He welcomed the principle of an equal starting point but said that was then destroyed by the focus on who had cared most for the child.
‘Just because women give birth to children and look after them in the initial stages, it does not make necessarily them the better one to look after a child.
‘In fact, after she has given birth, a woman’s body goes through a number of changes and they need male support.
‘That principle applies all throughout childhood; they need both parents.’
Health and Social Services minister Peter Roffey, who will bring the proposals to the House next month, has defended the proposed changes.
He said that the gender equality clause was not accepting that there had been bias in the past but was simply a way of showing that there would be none in the future.
‘The underpinning principle of this legislation is equality in various forms, including gender,’ he said.
‘But it is not always possible to have joint residency and the professionals recognise that stability is a key aspect for a child and so the courts will take that into account.
‘They will look at every case on an individual basis. I am sure this will not satisfy the likes of Fathers 4 Justice but I am not setting out to do that.’
The legislation, if passed, will also mean that where there is shared parental responsibility, agreement must be reached on major decisions in a child’s life, such as change of name, adoption and moving from the Bailiwick.
‘If no agreement is reached, the case will go to court.
In other areas of a child’s life, the person looking after the child would be able to take decisions without consultation.
Deputy Roffey said that it was important not to become too prescriptive because the court had to take into account individual circumstances. For example, a mother might have to leave the island if her licence expired.
He added that by accepting reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions, it would be easier to track down parents who ran off with a child.

* Fathers 4 Justice Factfile:
The initial aim of the group was to get the UK law changed so that there was shared parenting.
Its high-profile stunts include Batman’s Buckingham Palace balcony protest two weeks ago, the purple powder bombing of Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons and Spiderman’s Tower Bridge sit-in during magician David Blaine’s fast while suspended in a glass box above the Thames.

  Published 28/9/2004