ITV This Morning: Legal Clinic & Father’s Rights

Children|June 12th 2013

Earlier today I returned to the ITV This Morning studios for my regular legal clinic. Today’s topic was one of the most contentious corners of family law – fathers’ rights.

Emotions always run high when father’s rights are raised and today’s questions from viewers were certainly no exception. It is important to bring calm and legal perspective to this difficult issue. I was at pains to emphasise that there are usually two sides to every story – as I put it on the show: “I hear complaints from Mums about Dads and I hear complaints from Dads about Mums. The reality is that it’s emotion on marital breakdown that causes all these problems.”

So often children are caught in the crossfire of bitter breakups – and used as pawns to extract money or some other advantage from the parent’s former partner. But the courts will always focus very clearly and firmly on the welfare of the child.

It is the job of the courts to cut through the often equally fraught claims of divorcing Mums and Dads and focus on the particular needs of each individual child within their own families. And I think for the most part that the family courts do a fine job.

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

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  1. Paul says:

    If the courts were doing such a fine job in furthering fatherhood and paternal contact generally, then why is it that single mothers get custody, separated fathers get alternate weekends only (if they’re lucky), millions of children only have a marginally involved father at best and the government through its hapless children’s minister trying to keep two mutually opposed vested interest groups happy at the same time? Introducing the specific concept of harm into the welfare principles will, predictably, push even higher numbers of fathers away. It now becomes even easier to make phony allegations work for a recalcitrant mother.

    A more accurate view is that the courts have not done such a fine job. Judges have caused the marginalisation of fathers through their Children Act interpretations, over a long period of time, backed by social policy which lauds “heroic” single mothers while deploring separated fathers as “feckless”. A separated father is today generally perceived as an “every other weekend” only parent and it takes an age in court to even reach that less-than-glorified status. The effect on society is now felt acutely. It is high time that family lawyers woke up, smelt the coffee and spoke more bluntly about the problem. And that means being realistic about the less-than-fine job the courts have done in bringing about this sorry state of affairs.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Paul
      I did mention this on LBC tonight. I spoke about the emphasis on children in family law and the marginalization of the parent who leaves (maybe not quite those words but that’s what I meant)
      I don’t know whether including the presumption of two parents playing a role in their children’s lives into the Children’s Act will make a difference. Perhaps also with a single Family court from April 2014 and faster turn rounds (if that happens) that may help.

  2. Paul says:

    The presumption is already there. Why doesn’t the Children Act say the sun will come up in the morning? It simply needs to be emphasised and restated in statutory guidance rather than law – to courts, to welfare officers, to parents and judges too (if indeed they are obliged to listen to guidance as opposed to precedents) and there does need to be some time guidelines in there too, so little Johnny’s dad has the time to teach him how to swim or throw a ball or read or write or count, all of which needs adequate time and shorter breaks in between. And why do the courts allow this ridiculous stability argument to creep in all the time so mum can defeat dad’s claim for time in the week? Children need stability all right but it is stability of relationships that matter more than geographical stability and in practice today children are shunted around from pillar to post anyway. So why not make dad’s place a regular haunt too rather than the unfamiliar, unloved frontier outpost it tends to become?

    I wish we had some proper pro-family, child development researchers contributing to this debate so we could get an objective hook on all of this. Perhaps they’re too scared of taking on shrill harridans and their fellow travellers.

  3. Fabrizio says:

    I’m a father myself and I battled through the courts to win custody of my 12 month old son, but the circumstances were very rare as my son was the victim of severe neglect and was hospitalized several times shortly after he was born. Social services noted that the threshold for significant harm had been met and before I stepped up to the plate, the option for adoption was talked about.

    During my court battle, the mother had the full support and services of legal aid since she was unemployed, and since I was working and earning from home, I wasn’t entitled to anything (unbelievable). However the court ruled out the option for adoption once I made my plans clear, and after 8 agonizing months of fight with the support of social services and CYPS and with medical reports, I was granted full custody of my son with mother having every other weekend visitation.

    So as I said, I think it takes a very rare case like mine for the courts to make the decision of granting fathers full rights, it can happen and I do believe we’ll see more of this in the future.

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