September 1, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In England, the Liberal Democrats have put forward an initiative to tweak parental leave law to allow fathers with a newborn to have six weeks of leave. Existing law will change next year. Read about it here (Huffington Post, 8/30/14). Current law permits mothers 52 weeks of leave, 39 of them paid, while fathers receive only two weeks. Next April, mothers and fathers will be able to split the weeks of leave.
The spokesperson for the LibDems made many of the right noises about the initiative.
"Outdated ideas" can prevent dads from getting involved in the crucial first months of a baby’s life, the party said as it announced plans to triple protected paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks in its manifesto for next year’s general election…
The "daddy-leave" would be on top of the coalition’s shared parental leave offer which will allow new parents to split 12 months of leave between them however they like, from April next year.
The move would encourage new dads to be more involved in the "vital" first few weeks and months of a baby’s life, said Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems business and equalities minister.
She said men taking more leave could tackle inequality at work, after previously claiming dads get "mocked" for wanting to juggle parenting and working.
"Most dads want to spend more time with their new baby, but can sometimes be discouraged by outdated ideas and cultural barriers in the workplace," Swinson said.
"When parents share caring responsibilities, more equality in the workplace will follow.
"It is a nonsense to think it is only the mother’s job to look after children. Parenting is a shared responsibility."
I’m not sure just how much “mocking” of new fathers occurs for wanting to spend time with their kids. My guess is that’s largely a hallucination from the fevered brain of whoever leads LibDem thinking on family law issues. But the rest is pretty sound.
Most importantly, some sort of real paternity leave makes a vital thing more likely than it currently is – the attachment of the infant to its father. Much science, both social and biomedical, demonstrates that children identify their fathers as distinct from their mothers in the first weeks of life. This important connection can only occur if newborns and fathers interact a great deal and on a regular basis. While current practices don’t make that impossible, uninterrupted time during those early days of a child’s life surely make it more likely and the father-child bonding stronger.
So kudos to the LibDems for putting forth an idea that corresponds to scientifically-known realities of father-child engagement.
Of course, we’d be more impressed by anything Liberal Democrats say if they hadn’t been quite so two-faced about reforming laws on child custody. Four years ago, they ran out a plank that, on paper looked promising. Like Ms. Swinson above, it said all the right things about paternal involvement with children and the need to change custody laws to support children’s relationships with their fathers. Of course, once Nick Clegg was ensconced in his new position as footman to David Cameron, all that was forgotten and the law that actually went into effect with the support of all, was every bit as anti-dad as what’s gone before.
So none of us is too impressed with what Liberal Democrats say when it comes to improving fathers’ rights and their relationships with their kids. And that of course raises another issue. If LibDems (or anyone else) truly believe that “parenting is a shared responsibility,” they’ll make real changes to parenting laws that promote equal parenting, or substantially equal parenting. Among other things, that’ll mean educating judges to not reflexively give sole or primary custody to mothers. It’ll also mean mostly doing away with the system of sole and primary custody. And it’ll mean that, when sole or primary custody is ordered, visitation rights are actually enforced. In short, it means a sea-change from the status quo.
After all, the message we’re now delivering to fathers runs something like this: “Take an active role in caring for your child. It’s good for the child and it’ll strengthen the bonds between the two of you. Then if Mom divorces you we’ll take your child away from you and treat you like a deadbeat and a criminal.”
The point is that exhortations to fathers to be more involved with their kids make no sense against a legal backdrop that depicts dads as stupid, brutal, incompetent and uncaring. Until parties and office holders demonstrate that they grasp those simple, basic concepts, no one will take the squeaks of LibDems too seriously.
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