‘This is a fiendish area for legislation’

Allison Pearson
Evening Standard, London, January 19

"[On Tuesday] the government announced plans to improve the way access to children after divorce is handled. Parents will be given more practical and emotional support. Community service orders and electronic tagging could be imposed on those who deny former partners contact with their kids.

"The plans, though well-meaning, sound both blundering and inadequate. How are kids going to feel towards their father if mum ends up wandering around like a convict with a shackled ankle? This is a fiendish area for legislation: how can you punish an uncooperative parent without hurting her child? ... Every child deserves a childhood: it's battling parents who need to grow up fast - not their innocent kids."

Editorial, January 19

“There has actually been a consensus for some years that family courts need to be reformed. Despite improvements, many continue to undervalue the role of a father in a child’s upbringing… The greatest flaw in the family courts system is their adversarial nature and the ‘winner takes all’ mentality that often infects them. Anything that keeps a separating couple and their children out of a courtroom is to be encouraged, which is why there must be a renewed emphasis on voluntary mediation.

“There are no easy solutions in such harrowing situations. And there are no real winners. It would help immeasurably if all parties involved could bring themselves to recognise that the grievances of both mothers and fathers must ultimately take second place to the interests of children.”

Jackie Kemp
Herald, Scotland, January 19

“The package amounts to little more than a restating of the existing position that the court must protect the rights of children. That is all very well, but it does nothing to address [Fathers4Justice’s] central
complaint, which is that they say [fathers] are being systematically discriminated against …

“People who feel they have been unfairly treated in the children’s hearings in Scotland or the family courts in England cannot seek a wider audience. This is one reason why Fathers4Justice disguise themselves in fancy dress … There is no redress for parents if they feel the panel has acted on the basis of sloppy evidence and defamatory allegations based on suspicion and hearsay … Family courts and our own children’s hearings have been shut in the dark cupboard of secrecy for too long. They should
open the door and let the daylight of open inquiry illuminate their work.”

Daily Mirror
Editorial, January 19

“There is no perfect way to decide custody disputes between parents. If one or both of them are determined to make trouble over access to children, trouble there will be. The present system is sometimes not fair to fathers, and occasionally mothers. But the main consideration should
always be the best interests of the child.

“The government’s plans to reform access laws are a step in the right direction. They will make it more likely that warring parents will try to sort out their squabbles. And could lead to action against unreasonable mothers. That won’t solve every dispute. But there isn’t a measure that would.”

Gloria Hunniford
Daily Express, January 20

“The lord chancellor … has come up with nothing that is concrete in dealing with the cause or providing a solution … Fathers’ rights groups are hugely disappointed by the proposals. They want to see more compulsion so that everyone knows where they stand and precisely what the minimum access is …

“A bill enshrining [the] proposals is due to be published in the next few weeks … Let’s hope the new proposals don’t miss out on the opportunity to establish clear ground rules and a truly effective framework. As Lord Falconer said himself: ‘This isn’t about what’s best for the parents, it’s what’s best for the children.'”

Special report
Child protection
Useful links
The Children’s Society
Social Exclusion Unit – young runaways
Children’s Express
Internet Watch Foundation


The Guardian
January 2nd 2005