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Equal Parenting

In contrast to the lenient treatment of mothers who disobey court contact orders, there appears to be no hesitation by courts to punish fathers who breach other types of court orders affecting their family.


An order prescribing shared residence has had fluctuating port from the judiciary since 1989, and it is still difficult for a father to obtain, especially when children are very young.


The 1989 and 2014 Acts

Although both Acts have many sensible provisions to protect the wellbeing of children, and now have neutral terms such as ‘arrangements’, their central premise, when there has been parental breakdown and separation, necessarily results in dividing separating parents into ‘resident’ and ‘contact’, with their consequent unequal status. Such outcome, if disproportionate, can aggravate and escalate family conflict when parents are faced with a ‘win or lose’ situation in adversarial family proceedings.


The perception also, amongst mothers generally, that they are bound to come off best in any family court decisions, is likely to encourage more of them to try this route if they are at all dissatisfied with their relationship.


Both these aspects could be reduced if the Acts were further amended to state clearly that the ‘default’ position following parental separation was of ‘equal parenting’, providing there were no aggravating factors to prevent this. Equal parenting in this context means equal legal status for both parents and not necessarily equal time sharing, which certainly might not be practicable for many parents or indeed their children.


The beneficial effect of this would be twofold. First, fewer cases would be contested and reach the family courts, since there would be a disincentive to many parents, especially mothers, to resort to family courts for trivial or specious reasons. Second, in those contested cases still reaching the courts, the courts would by law have to reconcile the best interests of the child with equal (or shared) parenting ‘as the norm’. Both these effects must be of benefit to children, and both would reduce the huge existing cost of family breakdown to society.


(1) Fractured Families – why stability matters (2013. Centre for Social Justice, London.


(2) McKenzie Briefing 2014 no.1. Families Need Fathers, London.


Forms of parental discrimination


See PARITY Briefing Papers



August 2017


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