Fathers to gain legal right to see children, says government


The Children's Minister Edward Timpson has written to MPs announcing that by 2013 separated fathers will have legal rights to see their children, despite the reservations of some legal experts.

Divorce - Family Law

The entitlement will be valid provided the estranged fathers remain unlikely to harm their children.

In his letter, Mr Timpson says the change to legislation is based on two principles: the importance of children's safety, and that their upbringing should involve both parents.

"I know from my own experience practising as a family lawyer that many separating couples feel the system is far too adversarial, with courts seen as creating 'winners' and 'losers'," Mr Timpson wrote.

"It is vital that both mothers and fathers feel confident that the court will consider fully the benefits of their involvement."

He added that because the Children Act 1989 did not explicitly refer to this situation, there is a "perception that the law does not fully recognise the important role that both parents can play in a child's life."

"We remain convinced that a change to the law is needed to help restore confidence in the family court system."

The chairman of the parliamentary Justice Committee, Sir Alan Beith, noted that the Committee has looked at the risks of altering a law which makes the interests of the child paramount.

"The committee is now going to look at the details of the clauses to assess what effect they may have," said Sir Alan. He added that while shared parenting is desirable, the current proposal could have "unintended consequences".

The Law Society said in a statement that the needs of children should always come before parents' rights. "No legislation should create or point to a perception that there is an assumed parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.

"While the government's intention to promote co-operative parenting is welcomed, legislation to promote shared parenting is not needed."

The Society added that the correct framework for protecting children's welfare was enshrined in present legislation.

The minister's letter says the change in access law does not imply the creation of rights to equal time, or how much is appropriate. "Courts will continue to make decisions based on children's best interests."

Welcoming Mr Timpson's initiative as a "positive move", the chief executive of the lobbying body Families Need Fathers, Ken Sanderson, said: "This will help to ensure that as many children as possible can continue to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both parents following separation and divorce."

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