The Conservative MP for Fareham, Suella Fernandes has presented a ten minute rule bill in parliament calling for the robust enforcement of child arrangement orders.
She says the law needs urgent reform to prevent parents from acting with impunity. In the worst cases, a non-resident parent might be denied access to their child for several years, with their only option being to spend huge amounts of money in the courts with little guarantee of a fair outcome.
In an article in The Times, Fernandes says that children without a father in their life often struggle to reach their full potential, but that the law does not enable this to happen because of a failure to crack down on intransigent parents who defy court orders. The criminal threshold for contempt is rarely met and judges are failing to assert their authority swiftly under the 1989 Children Act.
Of the 4,654 enforcement applications made to court in 2015, a mere 1.2 per cent were successful, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.
Echoing the campaign objectives of Fathers4Justice, Fernandez says the law needs to send the message that child arrangement orders are mandatory, not optional. A “three strikes” approach — after which residence could be transferred — should be considered as a real consequence for those parents who fail to adhere to the agreements.
She also wants to see a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting and says that the starting point should be a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, as far as practicable, not the weaker form of “parental involvement…direct, or indirect”, which has been on the statute books since 2014.
Speaking to the Indigo Group, Fathers4Justice founder Matt O’Connor said, “What Suella Fenandez has said is something F4J have been saying for 16 years – and campaigned relentlessly for. The Conservative led coalition of 2010 broke it’s election promise to Fathers4Justice to introduce these very commitments.”
“As far back as 2004 – in the middle of high profile Fathers4Justice protests – then Conservative family spokeswoman Theresa May said* that within the ‘first month of a Tory government a bill would be drawn up giving a presumption of co-parenting and a right for both parents to be involved in bringing up their children where couples separate.’
“Since then, the system has degenerated into legalised cage fighting where a de facto presumption of ‘no contact’ exists between fathers and their children.”
“The judiciary have the power to enforce their own court orders, and transfer residence when faced with a recalcitrant parent. They chose not to. It makes a mockery of the law and our idea of justice.”
“Courts will send mothers to jail for not sending their children to school, but won’t act when mothers don’t send their children to see their dads.”
“We hope more MPs will support the efforts of Suella Fernandes and ensure shared parenting is adopted as the norm, as it is in many US states.”
“Not only is it responsible parenting, but it will lead to better outcomes for our children, our families and our country and lift the burden on the taxpayer by removing the majority of cases from the family justice system and cutting the £48 billion a year cost of family breakdown.”
Indigo Policy advisor Martin Day, said, “Though there are differences in approach, Miss Fernandes has grasped the essential principle of Indigo’s Family law policy in that breaches need to be made a criminal, rather than civil offence”.
“Where non-resident parents (usually fathers) are refused access, the offence must be punishable or there is no incentive to comply”.
“The Indigo Group are thinking through policies of common sense that the average working man or woman can relate to. We welcome contact from politicians of all persuasions regarding any of our proposals.
Download the Indigo Group’s Statement
In 2013, 104 MPs from all parties backed the Fathers4Justice Early Day Motion 210
*Theresa May’s comments from 2004 can be read here:
Read more about Suella Fernandes proposals here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/why-family-law-needs-reform-now-30h7pd7ld