UK Family Law Reform

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Children 'must have equal access' to both parents after divorce

THE Government is to demand for the first time that the children of divorced or separated parents do not lose contact with their fathers.

The Home Office has funded a guide, to be issued to all separating or divorcing parents, which will explain that children need access to both parents equally. The booklet will be distributed to all parents who use the family courts.

Paul Boateng, the Home Office minister, has written the strongly worded preface for the guide in which he says: "The distress and damage done to children when parents separate can be reduced if they retain strong and loving bonds with both parents." The guide comes after Sir Bob Geldof, the Live Aid organiser and former rock star, personally lobbied Mr Boateng for a change in the law following his bitter custody battle with his late wife Paula Yates.

The guide will not change the law, but it will send out a signal that the Government believes that children must see their fathers. Critics claim that it is all "spin" and that the law must be altered to give male parents a legal right to see their offspring in almost every circumstance following a separation.

Families Need Fathers, a pressure group set up 26 years ago to campaign for fairer treatment for men, believes that for years courts have routinely given custody of children to their mothers while restricting access for fathers. Many men think that the entire judicial process is weighted against them. The situation has worsened since the introduction of the Child Support Agency. Many fathers have been outraged that they are funding their children's upbringing without any contact.

Sue Secker, the guide's author and a research associate attached to the Policy Research Group at University College, Northampton, said that it was aimed at bringing about "much needed changes to policies and practices". Miss Secker, added: "To put it bluntly, once the judges have left the courtrooms, the solicitors have cashed their cheques and the family court welfare officer assigned briefly to the case has gone, families still need help negotiating the minefield of family breakdown."

The Guide to Shared Parenting After Separation, funded by the Home Office's Family Policy Unit, makes it explicit for the first time that it is in the child's best interests to maintain contact with both parents, not just the mother. It also says that contact with grandparents and other members of the family is good for the child.

The guide tells fathers not to give up hope of making regular contact with their children and says quick action must be taken if the situation deteriorates. Miss Secker said: "In many respects the guide will suggest how parents can make the best of situations which should not exist in the first place.

"Families Need Fathers has a long history of supporting families as they try to make sense of life after divorce or relationship breakdown." Her study of the outcome for fathers and children after family breakdown led to her being chosen to compile the new guide.

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