Fathers should have ‘equal access’ to children, YouGov survey reports

The majority of Britons would support a change in the law so that children spend equal amounts of time with both parents by default, according to a new survey.

Welsh campaign group Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru commissioned polling firm YouGov to survey 2,000 adults in different parts of the country. More than 80 per cent agreed with the statement that the law should be changed so family courts start with the assumption that children should spend equal amounts of time with both parents following divorce or separation, unless the children would be at risk in such an arrangement.

A spokesman for Families Need Fathers noted that 70 per cent of the parents who apply to the family courts for access to their children following divorce or separation are fathers, insisting that the current regulations result in “tens of thousands of fathers and grandparents [being] effectively removed from the lives of the children they care about on the whim of a controlling parent”.

The spokesman added:

Others face false allegations designed simply to prevent a child from having a loving relationship with the other parent and their side of the family. Grandparents also suffer terribly when their son or daughter is not the main carer, but the real losers in all this are the children.

Fathers’ rights groups have campaigned for the introduction of such a presumption for a number of years. The idea was considered by the Family Review panel in 2010-11, but they eventually concluded that it could lead to a weakening of the key legal principle that the welfare of children involved in family disputes should take precedence. Section 11 of the subsequent Children and Families Act 2014 includes a presumption of “parental involvement” – that “unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent [the absent parent] in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

Section 11 stresses that “involvement” means “involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.”

The survey highlights an interesting public view. Here at Cambridge Family Law Practice, whilst we recognise that ‘equal access’ may feel “fair” to the parents involved, the focus should be what is right for that particular child. In many separated families, the child spending an equal amount of time with each parent can work for the child if there is a successful co-parenting relationship. For some families the needs of the child mean that strict equality does not meet that child’s best interests.

If this is an area which affects your relationship with your child, please feel free to contact Tricia, Gail, Jeremy, Simon, Adam or Sue on 01223 443333.