Sunday, 17 June 2007

Happy Father's Day? Not for all, but there is hope.

According to a speech made by the President of the Family Court Division in 2003, after separation, some 60% of fathers have little or no contact with their children.[i]

To give meaning to these numbers, of the fathers who divorced in 2005, more than 45,000 will have little or no contact with their children by the end of this year. If you include the number of unmarried couples who separated in 2005, the numbers of those affected increase to more than 70,000 fathers and 126,000 children.

Politicians would have you believe that society’s ills are caused by ‘absent fathers’. What they fail to highlight is that many fathers aren’t absent by choice, and that non-resident mothers are similarly affected. Breaches to contact orders by resident parents and the Court’s inability to resolve such difficulties necessitated new legislation to combat this problem.[ii]

From October 2007 the first part of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 comes into force, the entire act assisting Judges to enforce contact order by the imposition of community service orders, fines, counselling and the involvement of Court Welfare Officers through a wider use of Family Assistance Orders. Warning notices will in future be automatically attached to new contact orders, explaining the potential penalties should a resident parent be found to be in breach.

The new legislation was introduced due to cases such as the one heard by The Honourable Mr Justice Munby in 2004, where a father left the Court in tears following a five year battle to see his daughter. When the Judge heard that the father felt let down by the system, he said:

‘He is entitled to. I can understand why he expresses that view. He has every right to express that view. In a sense it is shaming to have to say it, but I personally agree with his view. It is very, very disheartening. I am sorry there is nothing more I can do... The system has failed him.’[iii]

Hopefully fathers such as this will now find some justice, but while the Government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

Legal aid payments to solicitors are being changed in 2007 making many solicitors question whether it is commercially viable for them to carry out publicly funded work. While many have signed the new Legal Services Commission contract, the amount of work which they’ll do is another matter.

In one county, for family related matters, there are now only two firms of solicitors offering to take on clients who qualify for legal aid. For those lucky few who qualify for legal aid, finding a solicitor who will act for them may become a problem, and if they can, limits to the amount that solicitors can earn may affect the quality of service on offer.

A Member of Parliament on a salary of £60,277 may not understand that many parents, who fail to meet the financial criteria for legal aid, cannot afford legal costs which can run into five figures. The view that most fathers don’t go to court because they come to an agreement is farcical. Most believe they cannot afford to do otherwise, and when contact is unilaterally stopped by the resident parent, they feel powerless.

Fear stops many fathers from going to Court, but less than 1% of applications for contact orders are refused.

Many aren’t aware that they can reduce their legal costs by being better informed, or if they can’t afford a solicitor, can represent themselves in Court. Charities such as Families Need Fathers (08707 607 111) can provide them with support and advice, as can the book The Custody Minefield (

Michael Robinson is the author of The Custody Minefield and is a regular contributor to legal, parenting and psychotherapeutic magazines.

© Copyright Michael Robinson May 2007

[i] Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, DBE President of the Family Division, The Paul Sieghart Memorial Lecture at the British Institute of Human Rights, King's College London (3 April 2003) ‘60% of fathers have little or no continuing relationship with their children post-separation’ [Crown Copyright 2003]
[ii] The Children and Adoption Act 2006 [Crown Copyright 2006].
[iii] F vs M[2004] EWHC 727 (Fam) [Crown Copyright 2004]