Recent surveys show overwhelming support (in the region of 84%) for some kind of shared parenting. I’d suggest that UKIP push this policy, which has the full backing of Matt O’Connor of Fathers 4 Justice. While a mention has been in the last two manifestos, it’s not something that has been pushed to the forefront. Happily, my own situation has improved and I have regular contact with my beautiful daughter, but there are hundreds of thousands of affected men out there. They need a voice. Should that voice be UKIP?
The 1989 Children’s Act gives the bulk of decision making on the residence to any child deemed “Gillick competent”, after the test case on child’s consent that went to the House of Lords. Whilst trying to make the child the priority in issues of residence dispute, the Act created as many problems as it solved. Such is the discrimination that fathers are not even called fathers, but “non-resident” parents. Between 2003 and 2015, 8,515 non-resident parents died early compared to 3,090 resident parents. Family breakdown is estimated to cost the state £44bn per year, more than the defence budget.
Younger children were subsequently judged to be better off with their mothers, setting a precedent for subsequent disputes. Older “Gillick competent” children are able to play one parent against the other, opting to take up residence with the one who most easily accedes to their wishes. This does not always benefit the child in the long run. It is also worth noting that children as young as eight or nine can be judged to be such, below the age of criminal responsibility.
Furthermore, Family Court orders are commonly ignored, leaving the non-resident parent powerless as breaching the orders is a civil offence rather than a criminal one. Finally, matters of custody and access were removed from the Legal Aid umbrella in 2011. The non-resident parent is currently liable for child maintenance, the full cost of child transfers between residences, bedroom tax if they keep a room for their offspring and all legal costs.
Primary considerations given here are:
The benefit to children of having a meaningful relationship with both parents.
The protection of children from psychological harm, abuse or violence.
Any tangible threat to the child should override all else.
This blueprint is designed to give all parents a right in law to have a meaningful parenting relationship with their children. There should be a legal presumption of equal rights and responsibilities, similar to Florida state legislation, with no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child. Since the introduction of this system in Australia during 2006, children in shared parenting arrangements have the lowest recorded incidence of child abuse there, lower than that of intact families. Conversely, children in Sole Custody arrangements have the highest. Over 70% of all familial child abuse occurs in single mother households.
In practice, a full 50:50 package may not be possible, with 60:40 and 70:30 arrangements found to be more prevalent and workable. This does not affect the rights of the parent with the lower percentage of care time.
In keeping with Australia, there is nothing mandatory about this right. It would be deemed to be in the child’s best interest for one parent to have sole custody if the second is reluctant. Any convictions for domestic violence will also be seen as detrimental to the child and arrangements for time-sharing would need to be agreed to protect the child or abused spouse from further harm.
Financially, there would not need to be many changes. Child maintenance would still be agreed, using the Child Maintenance Service’s formula, making allowance for the nights of staying contact. Benefits would be split pro-rata according to the percentage of care and any level of care over 30% would give a bedroom entitlement if the parent is in social housing. The shared care arrangement and split benefits would then be an incentive for both parents to work and contribute to the economy.
The cost of transfer can also be a burden, especially in cases when one parent has moved any distance from the previous family home. The rightful solution is for this cost to be shared, with each parent making their share of the journeys.
Once established, the shared care arrangement should be applied until the child is 18, or reaches the end of Year 13, whichever is the latter. This gives the child stability and security throughout his/her school years. Schools would be obligated to inform both parents equally of any progress, problems or special events in the child’s academic life. Both parents should be able to access medical records. Taking the shared parenting to 16 also gives both parents the security to set their own rules and discipline, without the threat of the child threatening to change their place of residence in protest.
Mediation would remain in place in an effort to keep cases from going to court, but with less scope for disagreement, it is hoped that there would be a significant reduction in the current 10% of custody cases that go to court. For those cases that do require a court order, enforcement needs to be effective, including the transfer of residence from a recalcitrant parent. Parents who deny contact and/or breach the above guidelines should not be able to act with impunity.