The first radical shake-up of family courts in decades is under way in the U.K. Adramatic list of consequences will befall any breach of court orders that flout court-endorsed arrangements for the care of children of separated parents. Children’s Minister Tim Loughton will announce that the Children Act 19879, which states that the child comes first in law courts, will be rewritten.
Henceforth the preferred option for the courts will be “the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to furthered through safe involvement with both parents.” That is, in the absence of abuse, equal parenting, exactly the template we have been patiently awaiting in Canada, will be the default for splitting couples. Furthermore, mothers who refuse to permit access to the children may lose their passports, their driving licences or even their freedom of movement if they fail to comply.
This is a happy, but somewhat shocking, development for those in the global Fathers Rights community. For years objective observers in all western countries have hammered away at the double standards imposed in family court under the influence of feminist ideology, but it has been water dripping on a stone. The template has remained stubbornly pro-mother and anti-father. When custody disputes cannot be amicably resolved, courts routinely assign sole custody to mothers. Swift and often draconian penalties attend any failure to pay support by men, including jail time, but women who habitually and arbitrarily deny fathers court-ordered time with their children are rarely even threatened with repercussions, let alone punished. Here in Canada, the attitude of family courts was best summed up in 2003 by then Liberal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who said with regard fathers who were denied parenting status, “Men have no rights, only responsibilities.”
Why the sudden reversal in the U.K.? Well, about one in five children from a broken home in Britain loses touch with the non-custodial parent (almost always the father) within three years and never sees them again. The social costs of fatherlessness can no longer be borne. So the dramatic turnaround represents acknowledgement of a truth that has long been apparent to anyone not blinkered by ideology: the absence of fathers in children’s lives is producing very bad social effects that exhaustive research links with fatherlessness: loss of self-esteem, truancy, delinquency, promiscuity, risk of sexual abuse, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, poor intimacy abilities in later life – and many others.
There was once a time – “Mad Men” time – when mothers stayed home and looked after the kids and fathers went out to work. It made sense that courts should privilege mothers as the children’s main caregiver, while fathers bore the financial burden of their care. But those days are gone forever. Parenting roles today are almost equal in intact homes, and there is no reason why they should not be equal in dissolved unions.
A May 12 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Are Dads the New Moms?” examines the changed role of men in the lives of their children. Men are redefining themselves. They are taking their fatherly responsibilities very seriously, whether they are married or not. As the article notes, “The age of dads as full partners in parenting has arrived.”
Research confirms the prevalence of co-parenting. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report finds 32% of fathers with working lives playing the dominant role in child care. Other research finds that it is not the occasional outings or trips to Disneyland that bond children to their fathers, but “fathers’ steady emotional connection that makes the most substantial difference to their children.”
Canada’s own resident expert on custody and the influence of father absence in children’s lives, UBC Professor of sociology, Edward Kruk, has written extensively on the desperate need for children to maintain bonds with both parents after their separation. His findings show that a child’s needs cannot be met by a single parent, however loving. A child must spend at least 40% of his time with a parent to establish and maintain a beneficial attachment. Substantial time spent with both parents is also the only way to reduce or eliminate the nightmare of parental alienation, which is easily nurtured by a vengeful spouse who has near-fulltime control of children.
In his book Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn calls father absence “the most destructive trend of our generation.” A recent British report, Dad and Me, makes the same claim, suggesting that “father deficit” should be targeted as a pubic health issue.
That’s an excellent suggestion. For we are talking about what makes a society healthy – it all begins with happy, confident children – and what makes it sick – unhappy children with low self-esteem. Some pandemics must await a medical vaccine before they can be stopped. Here is a pandemic for which a proven vaccine is sitting on the shelf: a legal presumption of equal parenting after parents separate. Injection of the vaccine will only hurt for a second, and it will help to cure a diversity of social diseases.