A former President of the Family Division has called for parents who defy contact orders to face “unpleasant” penalties.
Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said more should be done in order to enforce contact orders, claiming there were too many cases of one parent preventing the other from seeing their child following a separation.
In an interview with shared parenting charity Families Need Fathers, she said:
“I would like to see I must say, mothers who flout contact orders required to do all sorts of things that don’t actually send her inside … I should like to see her penalised in all sorts of inconvenient ways as long as it doesn’t have any impact on her care of the child.”
“[T]here is no reason why she shouldn’t be required to go and clean the streets, whatever it may be. I would make her do something really unpleasant so that she understands the consequences of this.”
She said that while mandatory community service for those who defy the orders would be appropriate, she would draw the line at sending them to prison.
She said prison time would be “counterproductive” in these cases as it could lead to the child becoming resentful of the father, being “the man who has sent [the child’s] mother to prison”.
The interview concerned the limitations of the Children and Families Act 2014.
Baroness Butler-Sloss discussed her objections to Section 11 of the Act, specifically the part which creates a ‘presumption of parental involvement’.
“I started as a lawyer by objecting to the word ‘presume’. Lawyers don’t like presumptions. There is one presumption: the welfare of the child is paramount. I didn’t want a second presumption.”
She argued that while judges and magistrates would have no problem understanding the law, people involved in the cases may mistakenly believe that it means a child’s time should be divided equally between parents.
She added that it was important it be made clear that the ‘presumption of parental involvement’ did not mean both parents had an automatic right to time with their child.
The government has since inserted an amendment stating that involvement simply means any degree of contact with the child, “either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.”
I take a different view, as I have written in previous posts. I don’t regard Section 11 as harmful or giving too much “say” to the parent involved.
I think parents who are currently ignored in legislation need to be included, perhaps because I have spent 30 odd years listening to them and learning of the defects in the legislation, which is at present entirely child centred.
So it is interesting that Baroness Butler Sloss has now made these remarks in such terms, acknowledging a real problem exists, considering that she was the principal mover in the House of Lords behind the decision to amend the Act and is known for her unconditional support of the child in any family dispute.
Furthermore, although it has received the Royal Assent, it has still to be brought into force and as yet there appear to be no plans to do so. Enquiries to the MOJ press office produce only a response to watch their web site.
So parents with apparently insoluble problems in seeing their own children, are no further forward than they ever were.
Is sending out mothers to “clean streets” the answer or is it simply more reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel than a serious proposal to end child contact problems in 21st Century Britain?