Today, the day after Father’s Day, another study states what we already know. “A Tale of Two Fathers”, from the Pew Research Centre, reveals that although fathers who live with their children are likely to participate more fully in their children’s lives, the proportion of children who live apart from their fathers has soared over the past 50 years. We know. We really do.
Year in and year out, similar studies produce similar results. Often they are followed by the same hand-wringing, the same lectures and the same admonishments – but little in the way of action.
Across the Western world, children are increasingly being born into one-parent families. Increasing numbers of children are being raised by lone mothers in single parent units, and some of those children will never enjoy a meaningful parental relationship with their father. Neither will they enjoy the financial security provided by two parents.
On Father’s Day, David Cameron took the opportunity to criticise “runaway dads”, arguing that society should stigmatise “fathers who go AWOL” as it does drink-drivers. He is still mourning the loss of his own father, whom he clearly adored. What he says is understandable, given his own situation, but his words aren’t going to alter anything anytime soon.
I love and respect my own father. His relationships with others, his determination, courage and selflessness are qualities I try to emulate. My father keeps his word. If he says he will do something, he does it. If he shakes hands on a deal, it’s a deal. He has the discipline to run countless marathons, and cycled when he had shin splints and couldn’t run. I trail in his wake. Where would I have been without my dad?
So with the Sunday newspapers full of stories about fatherless children, what would I do about “runaway dads”, if I could?
I would change the law. I would begin by abolishing the utterly useless CMEC.
At a stroke, I would even up the playing field between unmarried couples who have a family together. I would introduce new family law, which provided for all families in non-marital situations. Recognise and compensating for economic imbalance caused by having children, it would include better financial provision for the partner – often the mother – whose ability to earn is limited because of childcare obligations. When you have children to care for, it becomes far tougher to earn a living and the cost of living is more expensive. For the parent with care, it is harder to keep up in the job market and progress along the career ladder. I would require the other partner to chip in more fully, and at a rate far higher than at present. So this new law would introduce a form of maintenance for such parents, alongside capital and housing provision, the amount and terms of which would be for a court to decide.
I don’t see why such provision should be limited to cohabiting couples only.
Why shouldn’t such law provide a requirement for fathers who have fathered a child, but have never been in a cohabiting relationship, to contribute far more equitably towards the mother of that child? The same arguments must apply. Why should financial provision be limited only to the child?
Why, in cases of economic imbalance caused by the birth of a child, shouldn’t the non-resident parent be required to pay up and provide fully for his family?
In short, I would remove “runaway dads’” present, uncurtailed ability to begin new relationships, fathering and then deserting children all over again, with barely any legal or moral obligations.
As an aside, I would also urge glossy magazines to stop selling us stories of unmarried women who have children by rich men, as though these couples’ glamorous lifestyles can be emulated in the real world. In reality, those women who do not move in such wealthy circles often discover that if their relationships break down, they and their children are left facing financial hardship.
If Mr Cameron wants to make a real difference, meaningful legislation should be his starting point.