Thursday, 11 October 2007

The law is still failing children

In 2006, the The Draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill was passed by Parliament in recognition of the significant problems posed by resident parents refusing and disrupting contact between their children and the 'contact' parent. This legislation was meant to widen the powers of the court in relation to enforcing Contact Orders but has again been delayed.Currently, the Court has limited powers to compel a resident parent to adhere to a Contact Order.

Penalties are restricted to committing the resident parent to jail, fining them, or amending the Residence Order in favour of the contact parent. A Judge is highly unlikely to fine a parent or jail them due to the adverse affect on the children of the family. Similarly, a change in residence could cause significant disruption to the children. For this reason, many children lose contact, normally with their fathers, and this affects the extent of their relationship with their grandparents and extended family.

In 2003 the President of the Family Division (the most senior Family Law Judge) said in a speech that after 2 years of separation, fathers who still have contact with their children are in a minority. The making of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 was meant to help address these difficulties. The new powers were due to come into force in October 2007.

In 2004, the Honourable Mr Justice Munby took the unusual step in making public his frustration at the Court’s inability to enforce its own orders in his summing up at the end of a case. A father had just left his 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, Munby 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.’

The negative effect on society of the 'fatherless family' is now widely recognised, and it must be stressed that mothers who are non-resident parents (NRPs) suffer many of the same difficulties as the majority of NRPs who are male.

In 2003, The Department for Education and Skills released a report entitled 'The Impact of Parental Involvement in Children’s Education' which conclusively found that children's development is impaired when both parents aren't involved.

How many parents and children are affected?

Of the fathers who divorced in 2005, more than 45,000 will have lost 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.

Earlier this year, the Government expressed a commitment to improve child wellbeing when the 2007 UNICEF Report showed the UK to have the unhappiest children in the developed world. It seems this objective has slipped down the political agenda.