Our response to David Cameron’s comments about ‘runaway dads’

20 June 2011

Here is the Fatherhood Institute’s response to David Cameron’s comments about the UK needing to stigmatise absent fathers:

“Fathers who deliberately walk away from their children are a small minority. In most cases the reasons why men lose contact with their children are more morally ambiguous and often have to do with multiple obstacles non-resident parents face in being involved with their children. We do need to expect more from fathers. David Cameron has lots of policy levers he can pull to make it clear that we expect just as much from fathers as from mothers – starting with requiring men to sign the birth certificates. Currently only mothers are required to register a child’s birth. It is the law itself that needs to raise our expectations of fatherhood.”

Read responses from the FI and others in Children & Young People Now.

Read Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee’s view.

Read others’ responses on BBC Online.

Read letters published in The Sunday Telegraph on 26 June 2011, in response to Mr Cameron’s comments in the previous week’s edition.

To find out more about fathers and the reality of family separation, read our research summary.

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9 Comments »

  • Gareth Johns says:

    Food for thought:
    I heard a story about a young man in prison who couldn’t be there when the child was registered.
    The mother registered the child without the fathers name on the birth certificate and as a result, when the man was released from prison, he had lost any legal rights to the child.

    I’m not sure if this story is true or the legalities/rights behind being the “biological father” of a child, but if this is the system we currently have in place why should this man be stigmatised for being failed by the same system stigmatising him?

    I don’t believe we can expect any more from our countries fathers until they are given equal rights to those of the mother.
    I have seen multiple mothers who are not fit to look after themselves, let alone a child, but in a court of law, they are given parental rights as the father works full time and it is “easier” for the unemployed mother to look after the child.

    Gareth Johns – Husband and Father of 2

  • Mr Bruno D'Itri says:

    Mr Cameron has consistently espoused his firm belief in the institution of marriage. Why?
    Because he recognises that children fare significantly better when they have the involvement of both of their parents in their lives, and, of course, marriage provides a platform on which children can have rich and meaningful relationships with both their parents. Indeed, there is a plethora of irrefragable scientific evidence which plainly demonstrates that children do better, psychologically, developmentally and educationally, when they are permitted to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents.
    Is marriage the ONLY platform which facilitates a child’s relationship with both its parents. The answer, plainly, is no.
    When partners live together, but are not married, their children receive exactly the same benefit.
    Equally, when parents are separated or divorced, children can STILL benefit if shared parenting arrangements are in place (ranging from a 50/50 to, say, a 70/30 split of time).
    Difficulties for the children arise when one parent acts to diminish or sever the child’s meaningful relationship with their other parent. In such cases, the child’s Right to be parented by both parents is effectively trampled on by society.
    How can society permit one parent to act in such a way?
    The answer is that the law ascribes the arbitrary status of ‘primary carer’ to one parent (in most cases, the mother).
    The law them bestows upon that particular parent a disporportionate amount of power over the children, and even the power effectively to exclude the de-facto ‘non-primary carer’ from the life of the child, for example, by flouting contact orders with impunity, or by relocating to another part of the country or even overseas (95% of ‘Leave to Remove’ applications are granted).
    I wrote to Mr Cameron, about a year ago, asking him whether he believed that children with separated parents ought ALSO to be permitted to benefit from having a meaningful relationship with both their parents, as do children with parents who are not separated (such as his own children, for example).
    Mr Cameron chose to ignore my question.
    Perhaps a louder and more influential voice should posit the same question to him.
    Bruno D’Itri

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bruno. You raise some complex issues, all of which are important and in some way relevant to our work. If you haven’t already, you might find it useful to subscribe to our regular emails, which will keep you up to date with our work and relevant changes in the field – for example the outcome of the Family Justice Review, due out in the autumn. You can sign up for the emails here.

  • Bruno D'itri says:

    Mr Cameron and his Government appear to have listened to our concerns.
    A ‘Children and Families’ Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech this week, seeks to strengthen the legal Right of a father to be involved in his children’s lives, post divorce, and the Right of a Child to enjoy the shared parenting of its father. This augurs well.
    However, it still remains to be seen whether the family legal ‘profession’ – whose vested interests lie in fathers bringing court cases for access to their children – will succeed in scuppering or diluting the Government’s aims.
    Bruno D’Itri

  • Bruno D'Itri says:

    Mr Cameron and his Government appear, finally, to have listened to our erstwhile concerns.
    The ‘Children and Families’ Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech this week, seeks to strengthen the legal Right of a father to share in the parenting of his children, post divorce, and the Right of a Child to benefit from the meaningful involvement of a good father. This augurs well.
    However, it still remains to be seen whether the family legal ‘profession’ – whose vested interests lie in fathers bringing court cases for access to their children – will succeed in scuppering or diluting the Government’s aims.
    The greatest pity is that our judiciary has failed to be proactive over recent years. For example, Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, acknowledged that their judge-made laws potentially relegated the harm done to children by effectively removing good fathers from their lives in relocation cases (see Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50) but failed to do anything about it.
    Bruno D’Itri

  • Bruno D'Itri says:

    With the announcement in the Queen’s Speech recently, Mr Cameron and his Government finally appear to have got the message.
    They plan to strengthen the legal right of a father to have meaningful access to his children, post separation/divorce.
    They finally recognise that family law, as it stands, fails to serve children’s best interests in this important respect.
    Let us hope that any resulting modification to the Children Act (1989) will be robust enough to effectively safeguard children’s rights to be parented by both parents.
    My personal interest concerns Relocation law, which, despite some slight improvement last July, still far too easily acts to separate children from one of their parents (in practice, usually their father) by thousands of miles.
    Plainly, a father cannot hope to enact any semblance of a Shared Parenting Plan when his children are residing on the other side of the planet!
    I, and many others, have campaigned vigorously. A significant turning-point was achieved in the case of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50 in 2010. In this particular case, the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, publicly conceded there was a significant risk that Relocation law – in the form of Payne v Payne (2001) – relegated the harm done to children by significantly and irrevocably damaging the child’s meaningful relationship with the left-behind parent. The case was widely reported in legal circles.
    Despite this concession, however, Sir Nicholas did nothing to rectify the problem, and, sadly, later resiled from his own criticism of Payne v Payne. We had expected more from the President. When there existed a significant risk of harm to hundreds of children, the Precautionary Principle appeared to mean nothing to him.
    My current hope is that, with the expected introduction of a legal presumption of shared parenting, Payne v Payne will finally be overturned.
    I have already made my views known to Mr Loughton, the Children’s Minister. Perhaps others will join in!
    Best wishes
    Bruno D’Itri

  • Bruno D'Itri says:

    An open letter to Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, 24 June 2012:

    The Government now recognises that the paramount interests of a child are served by facilitating and safeguarding its close and meaningful relationship with both its parents, post separation/divorce. In reaching this conclusion, the Government has taken into full and careful account the wishes of its electorate, the realities of 21st century family life, and a plethora of irrefragable psychological and sociological evidence and research, collated over the last decade or so, which plainly demonstrates the emotional, developmental and educational benefits for those children who are permitted to enjoy a shared parenting regime. In short, ‘paramount interests’ equates to ‘shared parenting’ (except, of course, in cases where there is a proven risk of harm).

    The will of our elected Government is clear. It considers that the Children Act (1989) – as well, perhaps, as some judge-made laws which followed in its wake – does not serve the paramount interests of the child in its current form and therefore requires modification and improvement.

    However, regardless of whatever modification the Government makes to the CA, it will be the eventual application of the law by the judiciary which will determine whether or not the will of the Government is enacted in practice.

    What, then, is the best way to ensure that the will of the Government is enacted in practice by the judiciary? In my view, the Government should tap unashamedly into the vast legal knowledge and experience of Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, and of his colleagues in the Family Division of the High Court. The Government should, I would suggest, posit the following very specific question to Sir Nicholas: “In order for the will of the Government to be enacted in practice, what modification to the CA can you suggest?”

    Of course, it may well be the case that the judiciary actually opposes the proposed change! Sir Nicholas has, in the past, voiced his personal objections to a number of Government proposals. Nevertheless, it is imperative that Sir Nicholas provides a comprehensive and constructive reply to the specific question above, rather than simply expressing his personal opinion as to whether or not the CA should be modified in order to promote Shared Parenting. Plainly, it is not for the judiciary to make that decision. That legislative power is for our democratically-elected Government. The duty of the judiciary, I would venture to suggest, is to apply the will of our elected Government – to obey Government – to the best of its ability. For it to do otherwise, either proactively or by omission, would be very wrong.

    Sir Nicholas is fully aware of the scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. He is fully aware of the benefits to a child of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship with both its parents. We know this because, in the case of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Sir Nicholas was presented with a plethora of contemporary scientific evidence and research, which demonstrated, beyond all reasonable doubt, the veritable benefits for children of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship with both their parents.

    To his credit, Sir Nicholas reserved judgment in Re D and gave himself three weeks in which to carefully read and digest this very extensive scientific evidence, running to several hundred pages.

    To his further credit, in his eventual written judgement Sir Nicholas accepted the argument put forward by the litigant-in-person that current family law potentially relegates the harm done to children by giving insufficient weight to the importance of maintaining a close and meaningful relationship between children and both their parents.

    In summary, the judiciary is very aware of the serious harm which can be inflicted upon children when they are denied the right to maintain an on-going, close and meaningful relationship with both their parents.

    However, as was shown in Re D, the judiciary was hand-tied and constrained to apply current law. It could not, itself, introduce the new legal principle of Shared Parenting into the CA. Sir Nicholas has made it very clear that only Parliament has the power to do so.

    Those of us who have lost meaningful contact with our children due to current family law – and who live, day by day, in the soul-destroying knowledge that, according to the science, our children’s futures will be significantly blighted as a direct consequence – very much welcome our Government’s initiative on Shared Parenting.

    However, crucially, the Government should do all that it can to ensure that any modification to the CA will be robust enough to be effective in practice. The best person who can advise the Government on this specific point is Sir Nicholas Wall.

    I respectfully request that you advise me whether or not the Government will be seeking the input of Sir Nicholas on this very specific point.

    Yours Sincerely
    Bruno D’Itri

  • Bruno D'Itri says:

    I am very pleased that our Government is set to amend the Children Act in order to protect the Right of a child to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both its parents, post separation/divorce.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/05/children-family-bill-panel-responds?fb=native

    This was an original intention of the Children Act (1989), but has been relegated or misinterpreted by the judiciary (specifically by Lady Butler-Sloss).

    I have campaigned vigorously over recent years for the acceptance of the principle that a child’s paramount interests are served by the Court giving due regard to maintaining its meaningful relationship with both its parents.

    Sadly, to date, the judiciary has remained more focused upon the wishes and feelings of the so-called ‘primary carer’ (usually mum) and has relegated the importance of the involvement of the de-facto ‘secondary carer’ (usually dad).

    There have been well-publicised cases in which the judiciary has recognised this shortcoming in the law, but has been unable or unwilling to act.

    In the reserved judgment of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, for example, the former President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall broadcast (and later reiterated in a Family Affairs interview) his carefully considered view that Relocation Law – in the form of Payne v Payne – ascribed too great a weight to the wishes of the primary carer and relegated the harm done to a child due to the loss of its meaningful relationship with the left-behind parent.

    Regardless of his concerns, however, he proceeded to apply the very legal principles in Payne v Payne which he had criticised! Wall was either unable or unwilling to challenge a legal precedent which failed to serve the best interests of the children.

    With the forthcoming amendment to the Children Act, the judiciary will now be FORCED to give due and proper weight to maintaining meaningful relationships between children and both their parents.

    It is very hard to see how the principles of Payne v Payne can now survive. Plainly, a child which has been removed thousands of miles from its home country cannot easily benefit from maintaining a meaningful relationship with the left-behind parent!

    I expect this beastly law to be consigned to the history books before too long. A law which effectively permits a mother to cut out – like a cancer – a father from the life of his child is utterly barbaric and has no place in 21st Century Britain.

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri

  • Bruno D'Itri says:

    The Children Act of 1989 required the judiciary to serve the paramount interests of the child.

    Surely no one can disagree with this fundamental principle.

    The problem is that our senior judiciary has opted to interpret this paramountcy principle by adopting out-of-date suppositions which hark back to the 1960′s and 70′s. It has done so because of its rigid adherence to the system of ‘legal precedent’.

    Above all, a child needs the love and nurturing of its mother and the financial support of its father. Women are the emotionally weaker sex: if their wishes are thwarted by the court, their ability to parent their child will be adversely affected. A child can be raised quite satisfactorily without the nurturing of its father. A father may be permitted to share in the parenting of his child, but only if the mother is in agreement. If she is not in agreement, the father should not be involved in the parenting because this would upset the mother, and the resulting animosity would be harmful to the child. If a mother is found to have lodged false or exaggerated accusations of physical or emotional violence against a father, she should not be punished because this would harm her child.

    If these are the suppositions written into decades of legal precedent and indelibly ingrained in the minds of the senior judiciary – such as Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Thorpe and Sir Nicholas Wall – then it is quite obvious that these judges will opt to interpret the Paramountcy Principle of the CA1989 by adopting those suppositions.

    A perfect example is Payne v Payne (2001). Butler-Sloss and Thorpe decided that the paramount interests of a child would best be served by ensuring that the child’s mother should not be upset by a refusal of her application to remove the child overseas. The unfortunate consequence – that the child would lose its meaningful relationship with its father – was not as important a factor as ensuring the happiness of the mother. In Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Nicholas Wall refused to permit any challenge to the ideology of Payne v Payne, despite having being presented with a plethora of powerful scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. Wall relegated the importance of that evidence.

    Our senior judiciary has utterly misjudged the best interests of the child by remaining stubbornly wedded to an out-of-date ideology of parenthood.

    The forthcoming amendment to the CA1989 – inserting a presumption of shared parenting – will hopefully rectify that serious judicial error.

    Regards,
    Bruno D’Itri

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