Mothers who deny fathers access to the couple’s children after a break-up could be jailed

By James Chapman

PUBLISHED:00:18 GMT, 13 June  2012| UPDATED:00:18 GMT,  13 June 2012

Separated parents who fail to allow their  partners to maintain a proper relationship with their children could be stripped  of driving licences or passports, hit with curfews, ordered to do a period of  unpaid work or even jailed.

Ministers will today propose a dramatic  extension of punishments for breaches of court orders regarding care  arrangements amid concern that millions of youngsters are losing contact with  absent fathers.

The move is part of the most radical shake-up  of the family courts for decades, with a new right to ‘shared parenting’ following family breakdown to be enshrined in law.

Argument: One in five children from a broken home loses touch with the parent that leaves the family home within just three years. (Picture posed by models)
Argument: One in five children from a broken home loses  touch with the parent that leaves the family home within just three years.  (Picture posed by models)

Ministers have decided reform is necessary in  the light of heartbreaking evidence that one in five children from a broken home  loses touch with the parent that leaves the family home within just three years  and never sees them again.

Many more lose contact with a parent, most  often with fathers when mothers are awarded custody, as they grow  older.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton will  announce that the Government is to rewrite the 1989 Children Act, which states  that the child comes first in law courts in the UK.


Campaigners for fathers’ rights complain that  the courts repeatedly pander to the notion that mothers are ‘more important’ than fathers.

The Government will consult on how the law  should be changed, but its preferred option is for courts to be required to ‘work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered  through safe involvement with both parents’.

Unless their welfare is threatened by staying  in touch with either their mother or father, children must have an equal right  to a proper relationship with both, ministers say.

The move is designed to ensure that the  parent who moves out of the family home – normally the father – cannot be cut  out of their children’s lives following an acrimonious separation.

Ministers say they also want to ‘put a rocket  under the courts’ to ensure that parents who flout court orders about access or  care arrangements are punished.

Courts are to be told to deploy existing but  rarely-used sanctions more often, including fines, unpaid work or imprisonment.

The Government is also considering giving  them new powers to withhold passports or driving licences and order curfews  requiring an offending parent to remain at a specified address between certain  hours.

‘We need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts fully  recognise the joint nature of parenting’

Tim Loughton, Children’s  Minister

‘Parents must understand that enforcement  action is available and will be used where necessary to ensure… contact  decided for the benefit of the child,’ the Education Department’s consultation  paper says.

Mr Loughton said: ‘Our starting point is that  we want most parents to resolve disputes out of court, wherever possible – that’s why we are investing in and promoting family mediation services and other  support to help parents reach agreements in their child’s best  interests.

‘But we must improve the system where court  cannot be avoided – where disputes are intractable or complex or children’s  welfare is at risk.

‘We need to clarify and restore public  confidence that the courts fully recognise the joint nature of parenting.

‘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.

'Both parents have a responsibility and a role to play in their children's upbringing': Deputy PM Nick Clegg
Both parents have a responsibility and a role to play  in their children’s upbringing’: Deputy PM Nick Clegg

‘Where parents are able and willing to play a  positive role in their child’s care, they should have the chance to do so. 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.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: ‘Both  parents have a responsibility and a role to play in their children’s upbringing  and we want to make sure that, when parents separate, the law recognises  that.’

The Government’s announcement overturns the  main finding of a family justice review, conducted for the Government by  businessman David Norgrove, which was published last November.

It concluded that giving fathers shared or  equal time, or even the right to maintain a meaningful relationship with their  children ‘would do more harm than good’.

The review for the Ministry of Justice was  branded a ‘sham’ that dramatically undermined David Cameron’s pledge to be the  most family friendly government in history.

The proposals sparked a Cabinet revolt, led  by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Mr Clegg, who insisted the  law must be amended to strengthen fathers’ rights.

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