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Mark Lancester MP
14th February 2013
Dear Mark Lancester,
Re: Shared Parenting reform
Almost 3 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. Articles in the media have waxed about the government's "shared parenting" proposal claiming it assures “meaningful” parent/child involvement post-divorce. It clearly does not. The words of the proposal are as starkly plain as can be and there is no requirement that parents (i.e. fathers) have a meaningful relationship with their children. Judges would be required to order that only if the words were in the family law legislation. They are not. Commentators should read the proposal.
What does a parent’s (i.e. father) “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 thousands of miles away?
Should it become law; the legislation will make not the least difference in the custody edicts of British family courts. Those rulings reflect judicial prejudice far more than they do the directives of applicable law. After all, no British law requires judges to give custody to mothers 90% of the time, but that’s what they do. No law requires those judges to refuse to enforce the meagre contact rights of children, but they do that too. There is nothing in the proposal that will change that mindset.
Against this backdrop, tens of thousands of children a year are losing contact with their fathers because of a failing family court system and disastrous custody arrangements. (The Telegraph 16 Nov 2009). This is a national disgrace. Anyone who wanted to could see the deleterious effects of fatherlessness in the streets almost 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.
As to Australia’s shared parenting experience anecdotes are not evidence of a rule, nor must they trump human rights. Far from the 2006 reforms being a failure misleadingly reported by the Norgrove review the Australian Institute of Family Studies evaluation concluded that "The philosophy of equal shared parental responsibility is overwhelmingly supported by parents, legal system professionals and service professionals." Litigation rates have fallen and the Equal Parental Responsibility presumption is beneficial and working well for children, including children under 3, according to parents. (Kaspiew, et al 2009) Opinion polls in Australia have confirmed those assessments.
The attached parliamentary speeches by your Australian conservative party counterparts confirm their continuing support for the 2006 legislation that they introduced. In sum, what we saw in Australia was not the failure of shared parenting but the latest round in an ideological struggle orchestrated by anti-shared parenting forces in the Gillard led Labor government that is analogous to a painful and unnecessary courtroom squabble between former spouses. Children’s rights to their mothers and fathers must transcend party politics.
In the light of your well known support of genuine shared parenting we respectfully request that you move the below highlighted revisions to the UK government‘s timid proposal. “As Emery (2007) points out, a legal presumption does not abandon children’s best interests, but provides a clear, evidence-based definition of children’s needs in the divorce transition.” (Kruk 2012)
(2A) A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection(4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that substantial, meaningful involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child's welfare.
The term, substantial, meaningful involvement in this part denotes a parenting arrangement in which both parents not only have equal rights and responsibilities for their children's welfare and upbringing, but also have an active role to play in the everyday routines of their children's care and development. Each remain as salient attachment figures in their children’s lives, the child spending substantial but not necessarily equal time with each parent.
Substantial meaningful involvement gives emphasis to maintaining or maximizing the child's emotional psychological and physical well-being as much as possible. The term substantial, meaningful involvement encompasses shared day-to-day care of children and equal authority regarding the children’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing.
For the purposes of subsection (2A), a child will be taken to spend substantial time with a parent only if:
a) The time the child spends with the parent includes both (i) Days and nights that fall on weekends and holidays; and (ii) Days and nights that do not fall on weekends or holidays; and
(b) The time the child spends with the parent allows the parent to be involved in:
(i) The child's daily and nightly routine; and
(ii) Occasions and events that are of particular significance to the child; and
(c) The time the child spends with the parent allows the child to be involved in occasions and events that are of special significance to the parent.
As a highly regarded family values parliamentarian your endorsement of the submitted amendments would be most persuasive and I have included recently published research recommending public policy in favour of shared residential parenting for your consideration. To paraphrase Professor Linda Nielsen (2013) ‘Misconceptions that are not grounded on a broad spectrum of up to date, methodologically sound and statistically important empirical data have an impact on custody decisions and custody laws. By empirical data I mean research studies where quantitative data has been statistically analyzed and published in peer reviewed academic journals – in contrast to articles where opinions or theories are being presented, often without benefit of peer review.’ In that spirit the attached studies present current research refuting erroneous common beliefs related to shared residential parenting.
Sent on behalf of Joint Parenting Association.
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