British Family Court Reforms Again Leave Dads Out in the Cold

April 27, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

With stupidity like this, it’s no wonder Britain’s custody laws are in such lousy shape (Daily Mail, 4/23/14).

The new amendments to its child custody laws went into effect just five days ago, so a government that all but totally reneged on its campaign promise to improve the lot of fathers in family courts had to do something to paper over its abject failure. That thankless task fell to the administration’s Invisible Man, Deputy Prime Minister, Nicholas Clegg. Unsurprisingly, he made a hash of it, not unlike the job the government did with the amendments themselves.

It’s taken the Cameron/Clegg government over three years to accomplish anything on family law reform, despite promising quick action prior to their election. But the Norgrove Commission proved a complete bust, so, over a year after assuming office, it was back to square one. Here at the National Parents Organization, we’ve been following the doings with considerable interest and dismay. The bill that was finally passed offers fathers essentially nothing.

A presumption of equal parenting? Not a chance. Specific enforcement mechanisms for violations of access orders? Those were suggested but rejected. Punishment for false allegations of abuse? Nope. Minimum parenting times for fit parents? No. Public proceedings in family courts? The rule against publicizing custody matters was relaxed a tad last year, and there was no further improvement in the amendments.

So, what do fathers have to show for all the promises, all the committees and testimony? Essentially nothing. It’s pretty much business as usual in the British family courts. Oh, it need not be. The new law has some encouraging words about shared parenting, but not a thing that would require any judge anywhere to give any father anywhere one second of parenting time. The new law can be described as good intentions, but that’s it. Put simply, no father in the country has an enforceable right to see or care for his children post-divorce. His relationship with his child is still subject to the whims of the trial judge. The sole difference being that the law now asks the judge very nicely to please consider allowing little Andy or Jenny to see their dad.

Of course judges there as in so many places exhibit a pro-mother bias that’s so strong and so obvious that such weak exhortations would seem to promise little, if any, change in either child custody or access.

Of course we’ll never know. As I mentioned, the proceedings of family courts take place all but completely outside of the public eye. Likewise, no one keeps statistics on what actually occurs there, so how many fit fathers are denied a role in their children’s lives is a great unknown. The same is true for access enforcement, false allegations, etc. So our chances of, one day in the future, comparing the data before and after the effective date of the amendments is close to nil.

But the fact that the new law requires nothing of judges in terms of custody or access seems to guarantee no change in the status quo.

So that’s what Clegg had to defend in his public appearances. Not an easy task. So he recruited his wife to make the job easier. She didn’t.

He was making a speech about the rights of working fathers to see their families.

So who better for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to call on for support than his wife Miriam…

Mrs Clegg, a lawyer who earns four times as much as her husband, then put her hand up and said: ‘This is the moment of truth. You have spoken a lot about measures, which is all well and good. But an awful lot is about attitudes.

‘There are many, many dinosaurs, not here but out there, that still think that a man who takes care of his own children, he is some kind of less of a man.

‘So if you and other modern working fathers could start saying not only loudly, but also proudly, that taking care of your own children and being responsible for those children does not affect your level of testosterone – and that men who actually treat women as equals are the ones with more cojones.’

Hmm. In how many ways can one person be so wrong in so short a span of time? Of course her remark about testosterone levels in parenting men is just false. Shortly after birth, a father whose partner allows him contact with his child, very definitely undergoes a drop in testosterone levels. Other hormone levels change as well. So the feisty Ms. Clegg might try reading an elementary book on parenting before she shoots off her mouth on the subject of the male response to pregnancy and children.

But far more important is her assertion that “an awful lot is about attitudes.” She’s right about that of course, but somehow neither she nor her husband managed to notice that the very bill his government worked so hard to pass will do absolutely nothing about those attitudes except leave them in place. Indeed, that’s perhaps the most glaring flaw in the whole bill; it requires nothing of judges, so their attitudes will be the deciding factor in custody cases. And we know what those attitudes are; mothers get custody, fathers get the bill.

And of course Ms. Clegg assumes the same nonsense those judges do – that fathers don’t want any part of their kids. Neither she nor her husband nor indeed anyone in the government wants to acknowledge that for decades now, fathers have been “saying not only loudly, but also proudly” that they’d like to see their children once in a while after their wives have filed for divorce. That’s true regardless of their testosterone levels or anything Ms. Deputy Prime Minister imagines about their “cojones.”

Needless to say, the Cameron/Clegg government wants that notion kept securely under wraps. After all, if they were to admit the truth – that divorced fathers want meaningful relationships with their children and the kids do far better if that happens – they might find themselves required to actually do something to further that end. And we can’t have that.

So it’s far better to, while they were trying to justify their failure to follow through on the reforms they promised three years ago, plant Miriam Clegg in the audience and give her a script that was sure to deflect attention from the real issue.

Spanish-born Mrs Clegg appeared to hijack her husband’s press conference with a colourful intervention, suggesting that men who treat women as equals have ‘more cojones’ than those who don’t…

It seemed to be a spontaneous interjection, but aides admitted it had been planned to generate publicity about an issue the couple believe needs debating.

Well, not too much debating. Again, the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife seemed to be present mostly to take attention away from the real issue. And if her slightly blue language wasn’t enough, surely a straw man would do the trick.

Mrs Clegg also hit out at ‘dinosaurs’ who believe childcare should be left to women and asked her husband to send out a message that caring for children ‘does not affect your level of testosterone’.

It’s like setting up a mobile over a baby’s crib in the hopes of diverting its attention. Having done nothing to improve the lot of fathers in family courts, the government figured it would be better if the public kept its eyes focused on those “dinosaurs” instead of the guy in the Batman outfit scaling the walls of yet another public building to highlight the plight of fathers in family courts. The real scandal is the refusal of family court judges to learn the first thing about what actually promotes the “best interests of children” and act accordingly. That’s broken up more families than any T-Rex Miriam Clegg imagines to be wandering the streets. That scandal was the thing the government promised to fix three years ago and that has now gone unaddressed. No wonder they want us to look elsewhere.

Clegg himself seconded his wife’s emotion.

‘The idea that it is not manly to care is as absurd as saying that it is not womanly to work.’

Oh, it’s manly alright. It’s also good for children whom study after study show to benefit from continuing real contact with their fathers post-divorce. So you’d think the government would have made it easier on dads to do the caring for children Clegg seems so intent on. But no. It’s more “judicial discretion” exercised in all but complete secrecy for the fathers of Great Britain. And we know what that means – mothers getting sole or primary custody in 90% of cases and judges winking at their violations of access orders.

Clegg of course knows this very well. If he didn’t, he’d have been able to be honest about just what his government has and hasn’t done. And he wouldn’t have had to plant his wife in the audience to divert attention from his government’s treachery.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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