Better Rights for Fathers
For many years now women have enjoyed equal rights in this country. Their rights of equality are recognised in the workplace; in the provision of goods and services; divorce and separation; and in all other areas of life, yet men who are separated from their partners and children continue to be treated as secondary parties in the family courts. Fathers play a very important role in the mental and emotional development of their children, yet there have been many documented cases in which a father is allowed a woefully inadequate amount of contact: an hour a month in a supervised environment, or merely a few letters a year. The courts, CAFCASS and others tend to be biased towards mothers and what they want, often prioritising the mother's emotional welfare over the child's needs. If a father is lucky enough to secure a decent amount of contact, mothers can flout the order without any particular fear of reprisals. Individuals who breach other types of court orders are vigorously and fiercely pursued - yet in the family courts not enough is done to ensure that enforcement of a breach is a sufficient deterrent. Whilst it is the child's welfare that is paramount in terms of contact with both parents, we believe that it is our children's rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (right to family life) that are systematically breached under the current system. We are an informal group of people who share a common aim - reform of treatment of fathers in the family courts. We are of no particular political persuasion, and come from all social, educational and financial circumstances. None of us formed our relationships or fathered our children thinking that we would ever be in this situation but we have, for various reasons, found ourselves in court fighting for the right to be fathers to our children. Given that men and women enjoy equal rights elsewhere in society, why is there no legal presumption that men and women should share contact with a child between both parents? Separated single sex couples would not, and do not, have this problem. Fathers who are separated do not become worse parents as a result, neither do single mothers automatically become better parents. Of course, as loving, committed parents we want to be as much a part of our children's lives as possible - but the effect of non-contact with our children, often determined by a stranger at CAFCASS with whom we have spent very little time, is detrimental to our children's growth and development as well as destroying many fathers' lives. Fathers are too often the last party that the courts consider. We, for our part, would rather not be going to court at all - but do what is necessary to enable us to maintain relationships with the people who are of paramount importance to us in our lives. We implore the new government to prioritise a wholesale review of the family courts system, and to address the continuing discrimination against fathers to favour equal rights for fathers and mothers.