Still Think Fathers Get A Bad Deal in the Family Courts?


Fathers have always felt hard done by when it comes to making initial contact or restarting contact with their children. For a father to seek contact and/or residence for their child, they need to make an application for a child arrangement order. To do so, they need parental responsibility (PR).

Children need fathers too

If they don’t have parental responsibility, and they don’t have the consent of others who do have PR, then an application can be made to the court to acquire PR for their child/children.

It seems like a lot of applications but, all parents have to go through this process, not just fathers.

Groups such as Fathers for Justice and Families Need Fathers are constantly campaigning to try to give fathers the equal access they believe they lack in the Family Courts. However, research conducted by the University of Warwick, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has found that in the 200 cases they analysed, there was no gender bias when it came to seeking contact in the Family Courts.

As well as this, the study found these conclusions:

  • Separated fathers were almost always granted contact
  • There was a similar acceptance rate between mothers and fathers who were applying for orders to have their children live with them
  • County Courts actively promoted as much contact as possible even where it was proven that there may have been domestic violence, welfare concerns and/or a strong opposition from older children
  • The Court played a vital and necessary role in private child law cases
The publishing and publicising of these facts will hopefully encourage more fathers to come forward and use the court where possible to make contact with their children and become a part of their life again.

56% of the parents surveyed tried to set up contact themselves to bypass the court process but these subsequently broke down requiring them to go to court. Some parents even tried to turn to mediation but the most common reason for rejecting mediation was that the respondent parent refused to participate. This just illustrates how instrumental the court is at putting parents and especially fathers, back in contact with their children despite deep cuts to legal aid in family law cases.

Concerns About the Child's Best Interests

One of the major concerns to come out of the study was that in an attempt to be balanced and fair between the mother and father, the best interests of the child may be overshadowed. This is a concern that may be overcome by remembering that the courts must work within the best interests of your child, whether that means being fair to you as a parent or not.

The myth that the mother will automatically obtain residence and/or will have supremacy of contact over the father is another misconception. The traditional view of justice when it comes to separate parents and children is balancing the concerns of both sides.

Jenine Abdo, our Cardiff solicitor commented on the situation:

"The courts view and benchmark is always about what is in the best interest of the child and having a balanced and good relationship with both parents where there are no safeguarding and/or welfare concerns is encouraged by the Courts."

If the court truly believes a child is at risk, contact will be restricted or denied. This doesn't mean, for fathers, that if there have been allegations of domestic abuse they will be denied contact. But, the court will take all information into consideration when deciding the frequency and location of the contact.

The results of this study may have put the myth of gender bias against fathers to bed when it comes to the Family Courts, but with cuts to legal aid, it may well take a while longer before children are put back into contact with their fathers.

The court route can be costly and is often one of the main motivators for fathers to shy away from taking their case any further. Simpson Millar LLP offer a range of fixed fees and payment plan packages to encourage both mothers and fathers to resolve their disputes amicably and as cost efficiently as possible.

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