Family law reform – fathers may get more rights


For the last few years there has been a concerted campaign on the part of activist groups, such as Fathers 4 Justice, to reform family law.

They argue that the law is inherently unfair to separated or divorced men, and that they are often restricted from seeing their children. This month, the Government has indicated that it intends to reform family law in order to make child access easier for fathers.

Fathers 4 Justice

These reforms are not without controversy. Last year (2011), the Family Justice Review found that reforming the law to adjust the balance in favour of fathers would risk “unacceptable risk of damage to children.”

Fathers 4 Justice responded to this review accusing it of lacking impartiality and of rejecting the testimony they had submitted. The group has cautiously welcomed the Government’s proposed reforms.

It is not yet known what form the law will take. At present, the law focuses on the rights of the child rather than the parents; there is no legal right for a parent to see their child but there is a presumption in law that it is best for a child to see both their parents. Introducing a parental right to child access would be a dramatic change of emphasis.

Wider reforms

The proposed reform comes as part of a full overhaul of the family law system. Plans include reforming adoption legislation, to make it easier for couples to adopt children from different ethnic backgrounds, and creating a six-month time limit for a decision on care proceedings.

Current delays, it is argued, are disproportionately damaging to children and not in the interests of justice. However, with social services budgets being affected by austerity measures, some social workers express doubts that the reforms will be achieved.

Children’s Minister Sarah Tether said, “This bill will mean that children and families get the support they need when they need it most.” The Government has said it will consult on how the legislation can be framed in the coming months.

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