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Catching up with “runaway dads”

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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.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Graham says:

    I certainly agree with your last sentence.

    To answer a couple of your questions, I think you are being a bit sexist and like the Lady who was with Byron (from your earlier article) with the women playing the victim.

    Thank you for writing this article. It is symbolic of the ‘broken Britain’ Cameron bemoans. Your and his simplistic solution of blaming the men is lazy and unhelpful though.

    Most absent men are not absent through choice, but because if they were present they would be arrested. Also a number are not present for financial (welfare) reasons. I know that if I moved in with my partner she would lose her widow’s benefit for example.

    To answer a couple of your questions, and the implicit one. It is not possible for women to have it all and blame the men when they do not achieve it. I do agree with you in that the press and tv do also promote this unrealistic idea. On a less sycophantic note though, women can take the pill and have the ability to control their own reproduction.

    Penalising men for illegitimate children will make the matter worse as it is the women who are not taking the pill and saying that they are, then living off the state and men and relatives that is the problem here. The ones who like babies but are having difficulty finding a man to support them, what to do with this issue? These girls are having children anyway; blaming the men is missing the point.

    I do agree with you on closing cmec and putting back to the courts. I believe the issue is in the taking away of blame and consequence from having children. I think if went back to court then good behaviour could be rewarded better than bad and encourage more families and we could all be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons as Bill Clinton said.

    Spelling it out more, where the woman has been married they get more child maintenance than if they were not is the type of policy I am talking about. But punitive taxation on sex I think will make the matter worse as men do not associate sex with fatherhood as you suggest, it is the women who need to be accountable for that, only then can we begin to turn around this problem which we all agree is not good, absent fathers, such as me, sat here by myself, when I could and should be raising well adjusted children, in a family setting, better for everyone, and the country as a whole, instead. Blimey, perhaps I should write for a living, enjoyed writing this. Regards, Graham.

  2. Graham says:

    p.s. Bit worried about Dave Cameron, I agree with Barak Obama’s first impressions of him when he said that he thought he was a bit simplistic and a bit of a lightweight. Certainly on this issue, perhaps his view is a bit clouded by his own judgement and he should consult the experts. Not sure who they are though, probably the Judiciary of the family courts who see how this is not a simplistic issue with simplistic legislation (such as the csa) to solve it. That has tended to make it worse instead. I do remain positive though. Things will improve for our children.

  3. Graham says:

    I meant perhaps his view is clouded by his own experiences and his recent loss and he is still in mourning as you suggest. It is hard losing a parent. I fortunately have not yet, but I have lost a grandparent and that was bad enough.

  4. JamesB says:

    This is the age old question of the welfare state and providing a safetynet. Does the net encourage risk taking or help people who are in unfortunate situation through no fault of their own. I think I tend towards the former conclusion and yourself the latter.

  5. Marilyn Stowe says:


    Thanks very much for your comments. I was quite careful in not making a distinction between men and women, more so primary carer and the non resident parent. I’m sorry if it didn’t come across.
    I do deal with cases where the man is the carer, and the wife goes out to work.

    The point I make is that in non marital situations, where children are involved, income and capital should be more equitably shared than it is at present.

    As for CMEC, I anticipated the argument you make. However, save for where the parents are both on state benefit, I cant see that it helps because it removes the discretion of the court. And where parents are on benefit, is it necessary at all?

    I wouldn’t worry too much however. There is too much money invested into CMEC to scrap it, even though it barely scratches the surface in terms of meeting needs and thats why I regard it as utterly useless.

    If legal aid were better managed, and family law were improved, we would have a much more efficient family court system that is beneficial to all.

    And to clarify once again: thats not self interest, I’m not a legal aid lawyer.



  6. Graham says:

    You missed the point I made. That I agree with you, that the problem is that the CSA has taken away the important element, which is the discretion of the court.

    That said, and to be less emotive. Who’d be a politician? It’s a bit like Ken Clarke recently, is difficult saying anything without upsetting someone. In this instance, because of his lack of care or thought, David Cameron lost my vote for his party.

    I suppose there will always be finite resources and infinite need, basic economics. I do think we agree though that the CSA is not the best use and would be better spent by the courts.

    Too important to fail? Didn’t they say that about the banks? I hope the similarity ends there and is scrapped shortly. That said, sadly i think they will keep going with it as they (select committee) don’t know what else to do and there is a lack of objectivity to the debate. FnF, F4J, etc. were not even asked for their views on the new proposals. Shame. Still, I believe one day they will fail, without that then marriage is a gonner, and neither you or I want that.

    So, despite it all, I think we actually agree on all the important points here. Let’s hope they move it back to Courts’ discretion asap.

  7. Graham says:

    Actually, I might vote Conservative, but it depends on what the DWP Select Committee does and the resultant legislation and if the Government come after me for more child maintenance or not. If they do, then I suppose I’ll have to vote for someone other than Conservative or Labour with their unfair communist ideas here. I am waiting to see if they continue to disenfranchise me and the millions of other nrps or not. I expect they will and I won’t vote for them. We will see. Hope not, is a close call, but seems NRP bashing is an easy target now, whereas it used to be single Mums. They would certainly lose my vote because of it. Makes me angry these guys shouting at me for no good reason.

    Then again, they may actually produce some considered legislation like putting it back to the courts. We shall see, Hope so.

  8. Graham says:

    Have conjunctivitis at the moment from young baby. Sorry if I am long winded.

  9. Graham says:

    Most PWCs have income from a new lover anyways, which does make a mockery of all these (invalid) experts moral highground (sic).

  10. Graham says:

    I don’t think I have a view on that.

    I know I got legal aid to get me off an unfair groundless criminal charge once (well twice actually) as you get it free from a Police station and was most appreciated. Kept my record clean. Wouldn’t like to be in that position again without that assistance, which was appreciated.

    I suppose I could chase to get my DNA removed from the DNA database, but lacking the resources of certain Tory MPs, think I’ll have to leave it. Yes, I do think the man (or woman) on the street should have access to the law. No, I do not think they do at the moment.

    I think we should be able to instruct barristers directly on family law matters if that helps as an opinion. Do that and some of the other closed pratices and you may just help your case.

  11. Marilyn Stowe says:

    OK. But unlikely anytime soon I reckon. Have you read the news today about the abolition of legal aid for the majority of civil cases? In family cases, the abolition will affect all but a very few indeed. The Government has today published the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which will be introduced into Parliament this afternoon.

  12. Former Court Welfare Officer says:

    I agree with all that Marilyn, but how do you get those feckless dads to face their moral & financial obligations? The CSA tried and failed, and its successor organisation is not doing much better.

    How is the law to deal with a father such as I met when as a Family Court Welfare Officer I met a ‘father’, applying for contact with a child, who boasted that he had twenty three children by about eighteen different women…and had never had a job in his adult life for longer than a few weeks?

    Some fathers put a huge amount of effort into hiding their assets from official agencies whether that is the Courts, the tax and welfare agencies and their former partners.

  13. Nick Langford says:

    Good to see ‘Former Court Welfare Officer’ living up to their reputation for sexism! 😉

    The reason all child support reforms fail and will continue to fail is this appalling gender stereotyping, and the use of bigoted assumptions instead of investigating objectively why fathers don’t pay. Most of us fathers do not have 23 children by 18 women, and taking an exceptional case out of context doesn’t prove a rule.

    There is no evidence I know of which shows the increasing rate of fatherlessness to be the result of irresponsible fathers abandoning their responsibilities. The existing research shows that absent fathers want very much to be involved in their children’s lives, but find the obstacles insurmountable.

    We should be trying to keep fathers involved in their children’s lives as a priority with Cameron’s penalties and stigmatising heaped on obstructive resident parents. We should also take the income of both parents into account. Putting fathers back into their children’s lives should make child support necessary in fewer cases, freeing up the CSA/CMEC to concentrate on the more intractable cases.

  14. Graham says:

    For the Former CWO, I’ll say it again in a different way, with fewer words and more slowly.

    Penalising men for illegitimate children will make the matter worse as it is the women who are having the babys and will do so even more with the more money you give them.

    For Nick, while I do agree with his sentiments, I am not sure the reforms he puts forwards would work. Wrt a broad brush formula approach, there will always be exceptions which break the rule. Thus why I say put it back to the courts. Two examples, 1. new boyfriend with money to support the children, do you include him? Even if they do not live together? Are they together if he has his own home? What constitutes living together? Someone with rich parents who keeps supporting their little princess, do they get accounted for? Etc.

    I think they should scrap the csa and put back to the courts and thus leave people to get on with it by themselves. Messing about with CWOs / CAFCASS / CSA, etc. makes the matter 100 times worse than it would otherwise have been.

  15. Graham says:

    I am someone who’s ex told me she was on the pill and wasn’t and now gets maintenance through a csa claim against me. Might explain a bit of where I am coming from. So much for your moral highground and feckless fathers, no fault separation nonsence.

  16. Judy Park says:

    I enjoyed Marilyn’s article immensely and the subsequent posts but would like to offer the other side of the coin. In my experience there are many men ( mostly very young men) who would dearly love the chance to be a dad but the mother does everything in her power to airbrush him out of her life, aided and abetted by maternal grandma. Considerable time is spent producing evidence to prove he is a feckless, alcoholic, drug taking near do well.This causes immense distress to the dad and because of his youth and lack of self esteem etc often reacts in a negative compounding the problem.

  17. Judy Park says:

    Technology stepped in to post to early. More resources should be put in to parent information programmes – in fact they should be mandated right at the beginning of the separation process- not when the clients have already reached court.

  18. Marilyn Stowe says:

    The point I make in this post relates solely to current deficiencies in the law regarding financial provision for a family where the parents aren’t married.
    If both parents had to fully contribute to the cost of raising their family, married or not, I suspect there would be fewer broken families and probably we would see an increase in couples with families, opting to marry.
    As for parents on benefits with no contribution to make, they will remain an insoluble problem unless social attitudes change. And I believe that would likely begin with a change in the law.

  19. Graham says:

    If both parents had to fully contribute to the cost of raising their family then there would be more broken families as women use their wombs more as licenses to print money, mixing my metaphors a little, but you get the point.

  20. Graham says:

    What you are proposing is “A Tax on having Sex”, crikey, what’s next, “A Tax on breathing Air”? A rhetorical question, please don’t.

  21. Graham says:

    Introduce Either tax.

  22. Graham says:

    I mean, please don’t introduce either of the two above taxes.

  23. Graham says:

    …And I haven’t even started to talk about the rights of second families and subsequent children, again all of which you seem to have overlooked. Or the rights of the children to a father, or the rights of the father to see his children (contact orders are unenforceable).

    I could go on and on, but I think I’ll just leave it with the comment of how sick I find this particular sexist brand of feminism that people here and Cameron are spouting.

  24. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Is it right that married men with a family have to make a substantial contribution to the family, unlike unmarried men with a family?

  25. Graham says:

    As I have said, I think there should be a degree of Judges discretion. I do know that the large settlements for women are putting men off marriage and divorce (such as me).

    Its all a question of degree and law of unintended consequences and encouragements. The approach you sanction of heavily penalising men once a relationship is in difficulties, which has been in place for the last 20 years has resulted in fewer and fewer successful relationships.

  26. Lukey says:

    “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? ”

    Marilyn, I will caveat this response by saying that to date – as you yourself mention, the vast majority of men will be the ones paying.

    The reason such a law shouldn’t exist is because what you are proposing is NOT equitable, I can scarcely believe what you are writing – you are suggesting that women should have the right to be paid indefinitely by a man not to work (on top of child support) based on the fact that they had sexual relations one or more times and she decided to have a child with or without his consent !

    Men already are legally obliged to pay child support and should not have to pay women a ‘salary’ whether they cohabited or not. The current law makes married men pay their ex-wives (regardless of fault) a ‘salary’ forever if that’s how she structures the divorce settlement – that too is ridiculous, there should be a time limit on this such as five years, and she shouldn’t have access to assets built up prior to the marriage.

    If a man is paying child support then the current law must be changed to force women to allow men to have frequent access to their children, and if she doesn’t she should lose primary custody.

    Maybe under your new idea if the man is financially obligated to the woman on top of child support just as when he was in the ‘relationship’ then the woman should be obligated to ‘put out’ occasionally, just as she must have done in the ‘relationship’. 😀

    Yes, that last paragraph is bonkers – just like the whole idea.

  27. Graham says:

    If you want a more simplistic answer, then, yes. In answer to your question. Demanding men support children they didn’t want isn’t fair. We do like to feel we are being fairly treated in this country else we’d rather not work and go to prison and war with the state. No fascist governments and legislation as you propose here please.

  28. Graham says:

    Your last point Lukey is brilliant, perhaps that would make things all square and the csa workable. I think you should write to Anne Begg MP (chair of special committeee of work and pensions on proposed reforms to the CSA) with it. [email protected]

  29. Ian says:

    I believe Camerons comments to be correct and appropiate. I feel your comments are also correct albeit I sense a tinge of anger in there as well, which maybe justified.

    The reality though is there are few good reasons whys dads are not on the scene and if one is to have legislation, then there needs to be a catergorisation and who sits in what catergory.

    The law is unbalanced at present; it discriminates against one party namely the father and ability to support emotionally, financially there own childres,as say the mother…..and yes I have heard each case is treated on its own merits. I have a few friends who are solicitors and even a couple of friends who are QC, in family law…..they all say the same, good income and a guaranteed result if we represent the mother……and thats before proceedings even start.

    Let me give you a true story; there was a guy who wanted a divorce from his wife; she had done nothing wrong, there was no other party involved…he felt bad as the children were 13,11 and 9 at the time. But he felt even worse about the other option of pretending the world is fine and carrying on for another 10 years as married….so he divorced her. It was amicable they had 800K in liquiidity; she was given 600K he 200K so she could buy a house outright. As per the consent order he also agree 3k per month mainteance for the next 7 years, paid the school fees for all three children for the next 5 years. His wife ( now exwife ) advised she wanted to do a three year degree at Uni; could he help with the children; he did on a daily basis, school runs, tea…drops offs….for Three years. His ex got her degree, finally met someone else who lived 100 miles away and within 6 months told her children they would have to move as she was remarrying and would have to move that summer; one half way through O levels the other halfway through A levels…….they did not want to go. So she contacted dad and made clear the kids would have to move, unless he was minded to take them on; he did so for the right reasons and they still live with him 4 years later. There mothers final parting shot, I have no money so dont expect any mainetance……..which was not the issue for the father, it was the fact she had no qualms not seeing her children on a day to day basis, or week to week basis ( as for money she had plenty )

    The father fell on hard times and asked his ex some 2 years later would she help as he was struggling with the mortgage and a repossion hearing with the first lender; he sought £3,000 to keep the mortgage company happy………her response NO.

    The solicitor for the Father at the outset made clear he did not have to give 600K but a 50% split of 800k, it was for the other party to justify if they needed more; he also advised as a standard under CSA guidleines mainteance was only £1100 and £3,000 was not required…..

    Three years on the children see their mother a few times a year……….maybe its not the legal profession or judges who have the right opion, maybe its the children, their eyes and ears are not deceived by the real world and the real family events.

    I think unless a child is old enough to determine for themselves who they want to live with………..the law is simple ( past breastfeeding stage) both parents have the child 50% of the time, whether thats weekly or monthy or however they wish to do it; thats the defacto….they both have the default costs of the childs upbringing. Guess what that does also kills maintenance for either side; mother does not have the child full time she can get a job just like father; maybe they could share a nanny or au pair; or Grandparents help out.

    Whats most important the child see’s both parents as do the grandparents week in, week out of the childs life.

    I accept that under these arrangements, there would be the normal considerations, housing, well being, local to each other etc….but is suspect that would be at least the case in over 50% of divorces… why not make that legislation?

    The CSA worload would halve, all those mums that see maintenace as a meal ticket for life would get a shock to the system and most important of all……..absent Fathers would substantially drop.

    On a final point when a judge decides residence is with mother and father is more than capable of residence meeting all the criteria……….why does it always go with the mother. Two reasons if it went with Father , the chances of mother obtaining a reasonable paid job is unlikely and she will sit on benefits. The second if Father was to resign his job and look after his child and mother sits on benefits, the fathjer would also need benefits…………..that’s a cost to the taxman that is more important than the wellbeing of a child and we all know that is reality.

    Hope that helps, equal residence, equal parenting……….watch the mothers faces drop…not because of the child(ren) because there is money coming their way for life.

    Hope that comes across balanced and fair

  30. Graham says:

    I have just read through all of that and agree with it all.

    The new bit, where I had a lucid moment (brilliantly exact on the hypocracy of the courts) with regards to the residency decisions being decided in reality based on money rather than the childs welfare.

    The Judges will justify their actions using whatever nonsense they think goes down the best. Look at Blair on Iraq, he was / is a lawyer. They make the decision, then make up the judgement based upon it.

    I have seen a Judge (Circuit court) make a Judgement which included proved false untruths in it, which I pointed out and got done for contempt of court.

    Your example was also interesting.

    I have another example for you (my own) which involves disabled children. They are unable to state their opinion so the Mum gets them and uses them to claim money when I would bring them up better. FUBAR as they say in Saving Private Ryan.

  31. Tulsa Divorce Attorneys says:

    The CMEC sounds sooo dysfunctional. While I agree with David that runaway-dads should be stigmatize, I disagree that they should be punished just like drunk drivers.

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