Every month, thousands of desperate Scottish dads turn to the courts as they battle for access to their children.
All too often, the court orders they secure are broken with impunity by mothers, who face little or no court sanction. As a result, around 50% of all court orders for contact between children and their fathers in the UK are broken.
As the recent Rebecca Minnock case demonstrated, a mother can make false allegations, break court orders, abduct a child and incredibly, still face no punishment. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/24/rebecca-minnock-voices-fears-of-emotional-impact-on-son-if-she-is-jailed
That’s why it was absolutely the right decision by Sheriff Fiona Tait to send former Apprentice contestant Sharon McAllister to prison for repeatedly failing to hand her son over for contact with his father.
Remarkably, in another case in Scotland this week, a mother and grandmother were jailed and given community service respectively, for attempting to pervert the course of justice by making false allegations against dad Paul Innes. He was cuffed by Police in front of his 8-year-old daughter before charges were dropped. http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/1457/PF-v-Gayle-Hunter-and-Elsie-Hunter
Yet, like a worrying army of militant mums, Minnock and McAllister believe their actions are perfectly reasonable. Their argument is that ‘mum knows best’ and that the maternal dieties are exempt from the rule of law on account of their biological abilities and innate parenting skills. http://www.sundaypost.com/news-views/apprentice-star-sharon-mcallister-insists-she-has-no-regrets-despite-jail-sentence-1.886998
The problem with this argument is two-fold. Firstly, no mother (or child) would exist without a father. Secondly, it’s a statistical probability that these mothers will have children and that they too will be touched by the cancer of family breakdown and contact denial at some point in their lives.
You see, in family law, as in life, we reap what we sow.
The reality is that contact denial, or ‘revenge parenting’, is a hate crime and constitutes emotional abuse of a child. It also makes a mockery of our idea of justice if the law is flouted with impunity and that is why the Scottish courts must continue to pursue tougher action when faced with recalcitrant parents.
But another solution is to introduce a presumption of shared parenting and take these cases out of an adversarial court system. After all, courts are for criminals, not families.
We need a family justice system that reflects contemporary Scottish society. One that seeks to heal fractured families, not lock them into years of legalised cage fighting.
That’s why I believe that shared parenting is responsible parenting. One that can only lead to better outcomes for our children, our families and for Scotland.
It is wholly unacceptable that 50% of the Scottish population are deemed unfit to share in the parenting of their children on the basis of their gender.
As Sharon McAllister’s ex-partner said, “Fathers are entitled equally to see their children, because they love their children equally.”
It’s about time we had equality for fathers in Scotland.
Matt O’Connor, Founder, Fathers4Justice