Thursday, November 03, 2011

When did you last see your father ?

Shame on David Norgrove and the Family Justice Review which has rejected the right of children to a meaningful relationship with BOTH parents.

As Ken Sanderson, chief executive of Families Need Fathers said, the review's failure to recommend shared parenting legislation or a statement on the importance of both parents in law represents "an abdication of their responsibilities to children and their families". "The core failing of the current family justice system is that the rights of children to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are not adequately supported or enforced".

The review sets out the key principle of private family law that both parents have a responsibility to ensure their child has the emotional, financial and practical support to thrive (para 4.5) but fails to address how a non-resident parent can fulfil his or her responsibility if they have little or no contact with the child. The review declares (para 4.20) that “...courts start from the principle that contact with both parents will be in the interests of the child, unless there are very good reasons to the contrary” and quotes an assertion that the courts “… make great efforts to secure this; and in most cases they are successful. Nor are the amounts of contact that non-resident parents end up with negligible...”. I suppose this depends upon whether you think once a fortnight is negligible or not.

Children’s rights NOT parents’
The panel also make the empty claim that “...we of course believe strongly that most children benefit from a relationship with both parents post separation.” but much of the language in the report reveals that the panel saw shared parenting as a parental right NOT as a right for the child. For example, David Norgoves’ own foreword recognises the distress of parents who do not see their children but does not even mention the distress felt by the children who don’t see one parent. The panel think (para 4.27) that legislation might risk creating an impression of a parental ‘right’ to a particular amount of time with a child. This is a gross misconception of the nature of a legal presumption, one not shared by the promoters of shared parenting.

Who did they listen to ?
The panel has disregarded support for a shared parenting presumption from the Law Society and the British Association of Social Workers. They have ignored 49% of respondents who supported legislation to recognise more formally the importance of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents, as against 18% who opposed it. They have preferred the advice of one judge, one Australian academic and Gingerbread.

Why the change of heart ?
They have stepped back from recommendations on shared parenting in their own interim report. They say, “The law cannot state a presumption of any kind without incurring unacceptable risk of damage to children.” This bizarre conclusion rests mainly upon the evidence of Associate Professor Helen Rhoades of the Melbourne Law School, whose submission is set out in full (Annex G) unlike other contributors'. I do not find her arguments persuasive, particularly as the one legal case she cites was overturned on appeal.

The abuse argument
Both the panel and their favoured academic suggest that a presumption of shared parenting would expose children to abuse from a non-resident parent. Leaving aside the statistic that more abuse occurs with resident parents, the presumption would not and could not override the courts’ duty to protect children. This argument is not worthy of the panel.

Leaflets and encouragement ? You cannot be serious
So what did the panel call for instead of a presumption of shared parenting ? “Parental education and information”. They suggest that parents should be given a leaflet when they register a birth and should be encouraged to have a parenting agreement when separating. They have clearly never listened as I have to crying fathers who have been denied contact with their children for years on end. Their best hope that “Progress depends on a general social expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children before separation, not on changes in the law” displays astonishing naivety. Non-resident parents do not see their children because resident parents don’t want them to and the law offers no effective remedy. Do they really believe that leaflets and encouragement and changes in social expectation will provide that remedy ? As some might say, “They’re having a laugh” but it’s not funny, is it ?

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