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Fatherhood charities launch new manifesto calling for family law reform

The charity Families Need Fathers and MBC member FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru have launched a new manifesto calling for key changes to family law. Here Paul Apreda, National Manager of FNF BPM Cymru and a Trustee of FNF, explains what lies behind the proposals.

Fathers have long complained about their treatment by the Family Courts. Now Women’s Aid tells us that it doesn’t work for women either. The Ministry of Justice isn’t even clear on how much it all costs, but in 2016:

  • 48,244 private family law applications were made – up by 11 per cent on 2015
  • 165,000 children involved in private law orders
  • £112 million still being spent on legal aid in private law
  • One million children with no real contact with their fathers
  • 37 per cent of women claiming they’ve been assaulted in the Family Court
  • and 33 per cent of private law cases neither side having a lawyer

But a new family law manifesto from the charities Families Need Fathers and FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru opens its discussion of family law issues with a single, bold claim: there is a better way.

There are four key themes in this short three page document:

  • The reduction and resolution of conflict
  • The promotion of responsible shared parenting
  • The encouragement of best outcomes for children and families
  • Reducing the financial burden on both the taxpayer and the families themselves

The centre piece of the proposal is the concept of standing temporary orders – suggested by FNF Patron Dr Hamish Cameron. This simple idea borrowed from some states in the USA fits well with the introduction of the new online family court heralded by the outgoing Tory administration in their Prisons and Courts Bill.

Individuals would seek an order – granted on application – to establish a ‘status quo’ of shared parenting.  The standing temporary order should be sufficiently flexible to provide a schedule of care across a spectrum, from the familiar ‘every other weekend and half the holidays’ to a full 50/50 division. It would also ban moving away to thwart child contact.

In short, we can’t keep on doing the same things that have failed for the past 40 years and expect that somehow the outcomes will be different. What we’re proposing will improve outcomes for children and families and cut the cost to the taxpayer. We’ve listened to what parents have told us. They don’t want more Court involvement – they just want to know where they stand when they split up.

The manifesto also calls for better information for parents and children on the thorny topics of parental responsibility and the ‘paramountcy principle’ (i.e. the principle that the best interests of the child rather than the parents will take precedence in the family court). Such education could help discourage separated couples from making unnecessary applications. Other proposals include compulsory joint birth registration – i.e. the automatic inclusion of the biological father. Legislation to do this actually passed in 2009 but has never been enacted. In addition we call for the incorporation into UK law of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

By Paul Apreda

Read the manifesto here