Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Fathers get stronger access rights

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said the state had to make sure decent fathers were not 'pushed out' of their children's lives

New rules will be "much clearer that it is vital for children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents", the Department for Education said.

However ministers looked set to disappoint fathers' rights campaigners by ruling out any legal guarantee of equal access.

A review led by former mandarin David Norgrove last year rejected the need for any legal statement of rights which it said risked "confusion, misinterpretation and false expectations".

But Children's Minister Tim Loughton said the state clearly had a duty to make sure decent, loving fathers were not "pushed out" of their offspring's lives and it would act to do so.

In its formal response to the report, to be published on Monday, the Government will pledge an extra £10 million for mediation services in a bid to reduce the number of cases going to law.

When disputes end up being settled by the courts - presently around one in 10 - it will promise to find ways to ensure no parent is excluded unless they pose a safety or welfare risk.

A working group will examine potential changes to the Children's Act 1989 to embed the rights.

Mr Loughton said: "There is a familiar picture in the UK of parental separation leading to thousands of children losing meaningful contact with the non-resident parent, usually the father. It is right that we consider all the options to help ensure that children can continue to have an ongoing relationship with both their parents after separation.

"This issue affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and it would be negligent not to. It is also right that we continue to encourage fathers to take responsibility as equal parents and to be fully involved with their children from the outset."

He rejected calls from groups such as Fathers 4 Justice however for equal access, arguing it was simply impractical in most cases and led to longer delays in resolving disputes.

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