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September 21st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Almost 2 1/2 years after the coalition government of David Cameron and Nicholas Clegg was voted into office, its draft legislation on family justice has finally been published.  During all that time, plus the run-up to the election, both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats made noises about improving the pitiful lot of fathers in divorce and custody cases.  The infamous Family Justice Review, aka The Norgrove Report, made its recommendations which were summarily tossed into the nearest dumpster, and the government soldiered on to, advocates for fathers and children hoped, reform family law to ensure a meaningful relationship between children and both their parents post-divorce.  The government’s exact recommendations haven’t been known until now, but their publication reveals that fathers and their children are to get nothing.  That’s right, the closest thing the draft legislation contains that might be called father/child-friendly, is the admonition that, “…the arrangements for children following parental divorce or separation reflect the benefit to the child of maintaining the ongoing involvement of both parents in a child’s life…”

There’s no requirement that any court actually do anything at any time regarding paternal custody, paternal parenting time or enforcement of visitation orders.  There’s not a peep about the rights of children to keep Dad in their lives post-divorce.  What does a father’s “ongoing involvement” in his child’s life mean?  That’s not defined, so it can mean anything any individual judge wishes it to mean.  Perhaps a Christmas card once a year would suffice.  What about monthly “visits” via Skype with his child whose mother has been allowed to move with him/her to Australia?  Come to think of it, the latter has already been ruled to be sufficient father-child contact by one British court, and there’s nothing to suggest the draft legislation would change that ruling.

In fact, the Norgrove Report, that so many thought to be DOA at the time of its publication, has, like Nosferatu, come back to life in the form of the draft legislation.  Like the Norgrove Report, the draft legislation has nothing to do with fathers or their children’s welfare and everything to do with expediting the process of divorce and custody proceedings.  There’s mandatory mediation and time limits placed on temporary orders, etc., so it’s clear what the government deems important – lowering costs.

I’m all for efficiency, and mediation can be a good thing, but fathers and children will not benefit one whit from mandatory mediation.  That’s because, when one of them files for divorce, both Mom and Dad know that she is 90% likely to get custody, so when they go to mediation, Mom won’t agree to anything less.  Why would she?

The simple fact is that, after years of waiting and wondering, another government has kicked fathers to the curb.  Yet again, fathers have been deemed too unimportant to children to merit a single line in a statute assuring their full participation in their lives post-divorce.  Once again, the value of fathers in the eyes of elected officials has been made clear; fathers are wallets and little more.  The government has again looked at the continuing scandal of fatherless children in the country and shrugged its shoulders.

It’s a national disgrace, but of course it’s not confined to England.  The same scenario plays out in country after country, state after state.  It is long past time for it to end.

Fathers’ rights activists have for decades showed public officials and anyone who would listen the mountains of social science on the importance of fathers to children.  Anyone who wanted to could see the deleterious effects of fatherlessness in newspapers, magazines and the Internet every day of the week.  A few minutes’ thought would tell anyone that, as a simple matter of economics, keeping fathers and children connected makes sense.  How much money do we spend every year trying to address social problems – crime, drug and alcohol abuse, boy’s educational difficulties, teen pregnancy etc. – that fathers themselves could hugely ameliorate?  The reasons to keep fathers in children’s lives are many and there is no real counterargument.

The point is, we’ve been right all along, but have almost nothing to show for it.  Rightness, justice, morality, gender equality, children’s well-being should be enough, but they aren’t.  That means it is time to take the next step.  We have to stop asking and start demanding.  As a practical matter, that means that elected officials must not only respect us, they must fear our electoral clout.  They need to know to a certainty that they have to vote the right way or risk losing their seats in state legislatures, Congress, Parliament, etc.  I guarantee that once that message is delivered in only a few elections, the same officials who seem not to grasp the importance of fathers will begin to do exactly that, the right legislation will start to be passed and wrong legislation, like the draft legislation that’s just been made public, will start to fail.

Fathers’ rights to their children and children’s rights to their fathers transcend party politics.  Those who support those rights must vote solely on the basis of a candidate’s support or opposition irrespective of party.  We must become single-issue voters.  We’ve tried Mr. Nice Guy and he finished last.  It’s time for a change.

Here’s a summary of the draft legislation (Family Law Week).

Thanks to Yuri for the heads-up.

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