May 10th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Everyone else repudiated the Norgrove Report, so why not the Queen herself? According to this article, that’s exactly what happened in the Queen’s address to Parliament yesterday (Telegraph, 5/9/12). The Queen it seems, thinks that greater contact between fathers and their children post-divorce is a good thing. Not so the Norgrove Report that infamously found the plight of fathers in the U.K. and the children who love them to be just fine, thank you.
Now, when it came to fathers and children, the Queen didn’t go out on any limbs. From what the article says, she basically approved of what’s already going on inside the coalition government of Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nicholas Clegg. As I’ve reported this year, that means a thorough rejection of the Norgrove Report in favor of legislation aimed at guaranteeing children a full relationship with both parents post-separation or divorce.
The government also wants to alter parental leave laws to allow fathers more time at home with a newborn. Currently, the leave law is radically anti-father, allowing mothers 12 months of leave and fathers only two weeks. Apparently the bill being worked out by the government will make parental leave “flexible,” but as yet no one seems to know what that means. My guess is that it’ll involve set amounts of leave time for mothers and fathers that can then be traded between partners as they see fit.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg promised “unprecedented support for parents” with a new Children and Families Bill, which also contained measures to make it easier to adopt, and more support for children with special needs.
Parents’ groups “cautiously welcomed” the proposals but business leaders warned that making parental leave more flexible would impose complex “burdens” on employers.
Officials said current rules on maternity and paternity leave were “outdated” because they presumed that women will do the “vast majority” of caring for infants.
A spokesman for the Department for Business said: “Parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves.”
Business groups don’t like the potential confusion open-ended parental leave laws may bring to their workforce decisions.
“The Government should be careful not to use this as an opportunity to increase levels of leave,” he said. “Sharing the allowance is fine, but putting heavier burdens on business in these tough times would not be a sensible move.”
However, Ken Sanderson, chief executive of the charity Families Need Fathers, said the plans would “send a clear message” that children need “the full involvement of two loving parents in their lives”. He also backed moves to allow fathers more access to their children after parents split up.
A government review of family law last year warned against introducing a legal presumption in favour of shared parenting, which would have given more rights to fathers after couples separate.
The review warned that enshrining fathers’ rights in law could pose an “unacceptable risk of damage to children”.
However, the Queen’s Speech included a consultation on legal options to change the law in England and Wales so that both parents can have a relationship with a child after divorce, “where it is safe”.
Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, said the consultation would begin “shortly”.
“We need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts properly recognise the joint nature of parenting,” he said. “We intend to legislate to stress 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.”
No actual bill is expected until next year. Until then, we’ll have to guess about what changes may be made to British family law. Advocates for fathers and children are rightfully wary of promises, but a new law that actually puts a child’s right to a real, ongoing relationship with both parents post-divorce would be a great leap forward in the continuing effort to drag family courts kicking and screaming into the 21st century.