UK Gov’t to Give Dads More Time With Kids After Birth, but Not After Divorce

September 11, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The hypocrisy of the Conservative/Liberal Democratic government in England was on display last week when Deputy Prime Minister Nicolas Clegg defended its position on parental leave. Reading his words, one could conclude that the government is really serious about giving fathers a chance at a relationship with their children. But of course what’s left unsaid often speaks louder than words spoken. Read about it here (The Telegraph, 9/2/13).

The Deputy Prime Minister said that fathers should be able to do more of the “heavy lifting” if mothers want to return to work after having a baby.

He said that current parental leave rules were “crazy” and that mothers and fathers should be able to “chop and change” – allowing men to use some of their wife’s maternity leave allowance.

Mr Clegg made the comments as he announced that the Government is extending free childcare to hundreds of thousands of toddlers from low-income families.

However, he was forced to deny that the childcare policy discriminates against stay-at-home mothers.

“We are revolutionising parental leave so it is not paternity leave anymore, it becomes parental leave,” Mr Clegg said.

“You and your wife or partner will be able to chop and change, and exchange the block of leave that presently is afforded to the mother through maternity leave, as you wish.

“I know plenty of women who feel that they want to go back to work earlier than their partners or their husbands do, that’s just the way families are, obviously that’s great.

“But we’ve got these Edwardian rules – I’ve experienced it myself three times.”

Mr Clegg added: “It’s crazy that when your child is born you’ve got just a couple of weeks, when in a sense you’re least relevant to the child, because they’re barely aware that you’re there.”

And the Daily Mail here quoted Clegg thus:

Mr Clegg added: ‘All the evidence is overwhelming that it has a very profound bonding effect not just but especially a powerful effect for boys as they grow up.’

Pretty impressive stuff, right? The government wants fathers and mothers to have a particular amount of parental leave after a child is born and the authority to use it as they see fit. If Mom wants to return to work after four weeks, Dad can use the rest of the leave himself. They can decide on their own how much time off each should take. Sounds reasonable.

And it’s not just the policy, but the words that back it up that are important. Clegg’s speech indicates at least some understanding of the importance of fathers to children. What person of good sense and good will isn’t pleased to hear the second most powerful elected official in the country say “All the evidence is overwhelming that it has a very profound bonding effect not just but especially a powerful effect for boys as they grow up?”

It would be even better if he meant it. To sum up, the government thinks fathers should be present for the first year (or less) of a child’s life, but never again. Clegg says the government wants fathers to have a greater opportunity to take parental leave, but neglected to mention that, when Mom decides to divorce, it’s ta-ta to Dada.

For the past three years, the Cameron/Clegg government has been wrestling with child custody reform post-divorce. The government lost, pinned to the canvas by family lawyers and feminists. It came into office on the wings of its vow to reform the divorce and custody process that featured lofty rhetoric about the importance of fathers to children. Then came the infamous Norgrove Commission and Report that barely survived long enough to find its permanent resting place in the ash bin. That gave some of us hope that the government was serious about keeping fathers and children connected after divorce or separation.

Of course the government disappointed us. The latest write-up of its divorce and custody reform legislation makes it clear that there will be no change in custody orders, nor in the enforcement of visitation orders for dads. As I’ve already reported here, the new law makes no pretense of equalizing the rights of fathers with those of mothers. Its high point is the somewhat wistful admonition that child custody orders reflect the value of ongoing involvement of both parents in the child’s life. Even if a judge were to take that seriously, which few British judges do, the legislation is riddled with loopholes that allow custody orders to continue as before. Indeed, assuming the bill is passed, it’ll take a reasonably determined judge to grant anything like meaningful parenting time to fathers. Most will be happy to continue as before.

Continuing as before means that some 90% of parents with primary or sole custody will be mothers. It also means that fathers’ visitation orders are for such a limited time, a meaningful parental relationship with their children fades slowly after divorce. And of course it means that, if Mom doesn’t want to honor even the meager time allotted to Dad, she’s free to do so without repercussions.

Child support? Astonishingly, even those few British fathers who do manage to get custody of their kids tend not to get an order of child support. Yes, only about 10% of fathers even get custody, but that looks pretty good compared to those who have custody but no child support from Mum. Here’s the latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions.

In 95.3% of assessed cases, the non-resident parent is male.

That means that a whopping 4.7% of divorced fathers have an order that their child’s mother pay child support. Amazing.

Now, that figure can mean several different things. It can mean that judges refuse to saddle mothers with child support. It can mean they think the mothers have “suffered enough” by not receiving custody. Most likely It means the mothers who lose custody are such basket cases that they can’t pay, i.e. they’re in prison or mentally/emotionally too impaired to do so.

And doesn’t that tell a tale? It’s fair to say that the only way a father can get custody of his child is if the mother is literally incapable of doing the job of parent. ‘If she’s got all her marbles and isn’t a criminal, she gets the children’ looks to be the rule in family court in the U.K. That doesn’t exactly set the bar very high for mothers. A father has to be more or less the Second Coming to even have a chance.

All of which of course, the Cameron/Clegg government is perfectly happy with. It wants dads to be able to bond with their kids post-partum, the better to damage all concerned when the courts wrench them apart post-divorce.

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

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