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July 20th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
“That was then; this is now.”  It’s by now a fairly tired saying, but only from overuse.  And why shouldn’t it be used frequently since, if nothing else, it accurately characterizes much political discourse.  When running for office, politicians promise A; once they’re elected based on that promise, what voters get turns out to be B.  The shorthand version of that is the old saying, “that was then, this is now.”

And so it should surprise no one that the Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party campaigned two years ago on, among other things, its promise to support shared parenting.  Back then it released a four-page position paper on the party’s approach to men.  Charmingly written in the first person by party leader Nicholas Clegg, when the paper turned to parental rights and responsibilities, it looked pretty good for fathers.  Here’s the nut of what he said:

Men are often a forgotten group in political debates. But the ongoing challenge of securing equality for women mustn’t blind us to the problems specifically faced by men, especially when it comes to juggling work and family.

I’m a working father with three young boys. I know how hard it can be to get the balance right. And I know that there are many men who want more flexibility at work so that they can play a more hands-on role at home. That’s not just good for men – it helps women and, most importantly, it’s good for children too.

Liberal Democrats want to build a society where men can share the responsibilities of family life if that’s what suits them and their partner. We will make parental leave interchangeable between mothers and fathers and introduce policies to help keep fathers involved in their children’s lives, even if they separate from their partner. We will promote flexible working so everyone has the opportunity to balance work with the other parts of their life.

Liberal Democrats will also help close the gap that sees too many boys fall behind girls at school, and we’ll make it easier for men to get the healthcare they need.

Here we outline our key policies to deliver a fairer Britain for men:

  •  Shared parenting
  •  Equal parenting
  •  Cutting Income tax
  •  More flexible working
  •  Better education for boys
  •  Better access to health services
That all sounded pretty good – not ideal, not nearly as pro-father as we might want, but all in all, a positive statement that shows some understanding of the problems facing men and fathers.  Britons voted for Clegg and he became the co-Prime Minister along with Conservative David Cameron.
But, that was then and this is now (The Guardian, 7/19/12).  If the article is any indication, Liberal Democrats want no part of shared parenting, much less equal parenting.  They’re so opposed to both that even the government’s quite tepid proposal to encourage courts to allow divorced dads some meaningful role in their children’s lives has caused fear and loathing in Lib Dem ranks.  To make sure no one misses their frank hypocrisy, Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith opposes the government’s proposal precisely because it might lead fathers to believe they have equal rights in family courts, a notion Beith demands be squelched.  Just so we’re clear, two years ago, the Liberal Democratic platform on men and fathers promised to work toward both shared parenting and equal parenting.  Two days ago Beith announced his opposition to even the mildest change in the law because fathers might mistakenly believe it meant the Lib Dem plank had become law.  Does it get more hypocritical than that?
Bleith’s frank contradiction of Liberal Democratic pre-election statements came in what The Guardian calls “a strongly worded letter to the prime minister.”  But Bleith didn’t stop at hypocrisy; he added both a profound ignorance of child welfare and clear support for family lawyers and government bureaucrats at the expense of fathers and children to his toxic brew.
For some weeks now, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has tried to explain what the government is proposing.
Unveiling the reforms last month, the children’s minister, Tim Loughton, explained: “We want the law to be far more explicit about the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after separation, where that is safe and in the child’s best interests.”

The minister also acknowledged: “This is categorically not about giving parents equal right to time with their children – it is about reinforcing society’s expectation that mothers and fathers should be jointly responsible for their children’s upbringing.” The prime minister has been seen as supportive of the changes.

In other words, the government wants to include a statement in the law that children should have an ongoing relationship with both parents when it’s safe to do so.  That’s far more modest a proposal than what was contained in Clegg’s statement on fathers two years ago, but Bleith “expressed strong opposition.”  Why?  Well, that’s where the ignorance comes in.  To Bleith, shared parenting and children’s welfare are opposing concepts.

“To promote shared parenting through legislation undermines the paramount principle of the welfare of the child …”

No, actually it doesn’t.  Actually as countless studies already show, the opposite is true; having a meaningful relationship with both parents is overwhelmingly beneficial to children.  Mountains of social science bear this out as even a casual glance at the large-scale meta-analyses of data involving thousands of children over decades would make clear if Bleith wanted to glance at it.  But of course he doesn’t.  My guess is he also hasn’t looked at the studies that show that children of divorce say they prefer not just shared parenting, but equally shared parenting to any other custody arrangement.  Bleith’s got his story, though, and he’s stickin’ to it.

The article suggests why.  As is always the case, the entrenched interests who like the system the way it is fear fathers’ rights to their children and children’s rights to their fathers.  Sooo…

[Bleith's] comments reflect widespread unease within the legal and family support services about the proposed changes…

Resolution, the association which represents family lawyers, backed Beith’s letter. A spokesperson said: “These proposals could result in more litigation, more conflict, and more confusion, regardless of the government’s intentions.

That’s a strange take on the government’s recommendation.  After all, what it could also do is result in more children having more time with their dads and all the many benefits that can bring.  But the august body of family lawyers made no mention of that, not one word.  That’s all the stranger for the fact that their supposed aim is the welfare of children.  So why didn’t they mention that?  Why the faux concerns about vague, amorphous consequences like “confusion” and “more litigation?”  Where’s the recognition that a child benefits from seeing his dad?  Answer: MIA.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  These people who so doggedly oppose fathers having even minimal contact with their children need to explain why the current system is so good that any change, even one so slight as that proposed by the Cameron/Clegg government, makes it worse.  Every single time a change to family law is suggested that would improve children’s relationships with their fathers, an army of anti-father zealots hurries to oppose it.  Like Bleith, they complain about a variety of things, few of which have even the slightest merit.  But what they never, ever do is explain why the current system is such a model of perfection that it doesn’t need to be improved.

The family law system in England results in one-third of all children of divorce having no contact whatsoever with their father.  In some 90% of cases, mothers get custody.  Maternal custody is the one abiding truth about family courts that doesn’t change from one decade to the next.  Amazingly, it’s all done under the banner of “the best interests of the child,” but, as Canadian researcher Paul Millar has discovered, there is literally no evidence for the proposition that maternal custody is in a child’s best interests.  Indeed, the data in Canada tends to support the opposite conclusion.

So what about it, Sir Alan?  Explain it to us.  How can you pretend, against all the evidence that the current system of child custody in England is the ideal one, that it’s good for kids, good for dads, good for mothers or good for society.  Let us know, because we don’t get it.

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