Warring parents 'play the system' to deny access, minister says

children hugging Ministers say the changes put the interests of children foremost

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Divorced or separated parents who play the system to "freeze" their ex-partner out of a "meaningful relationship" with their children should face tougher penalties, a minister says.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said too many parents were "sticking two fingers up" to court rulings on access.

He told the Justice Committee children's rights to contact with both parents would be strengthened.

Plans for the family courts in England and Wales have divided opinion.

Family law expert Professor Liz Trinder warned that the changes would make it harder for courts to focus on child welfare.

But campaign group Fathers 4 Justice described the plans as "vacuous".

Under the plans, which have just gone out for public consultation, family courts in England and Wales would have to assume that it was in a child's best interest to see both parents.

Ministers say this would not mean both parents had the right to equal time with their children.

The consultation paper also proposes extending the powers to fine, jail, or require parents to carry out unpaid work, if they refuse to comply with care arrangements.

And it suggests parents who deny their ex-partner access to their children could be banned from travelling abroad, from driving or be made to abide by a curfew.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton told the BBC: "If parents decide to go all the way to the courtroom after they split to decide what happens to the future of their children... it should be made very, very clear, before they go into the courtroom in law, that playing the sort of winner takes all game that many parents have done in the past - where one parent can be completely excluded from the life of that child - is just not going to happen."


  • 1.9 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK
  • In 2011, women accounted for 92% of lone parents
  • A million lone parents have one child
  • 621,000 single parents have two children
  • 238,000 lone parents have more than two children

Later, he told the Justice Committee that parents have used delays in the system to "freeze out" the other parent, so that by the time judgements on access were being made, contact with the children had been broken.

He wanted tougher penalties for those "who go all the way to court but also stick two fingers up at the judgement".

Ministers say both parents have a responsibility and a role to play in their children's upbringing and the law should recognise that.


Critics of the proposed changes say they are unnecessary, because judges already take the view that children should have contact with both parents where this is in their best interest.

Prof Trinder, one of the contributors to a government review of access arrangements led by former senior servant David Norgrove, said that in around 99.7% of cases which went to court, judges ruled that both parents should have contact with their children.

In the remaining cases, there were almost always "extremely good reasons" why one parent should not have access, she added.

She said: "The beauty of the Children Act [current legislation governing access], is it is a very clear and simple piece of legislation and it just focuses on what's going to be right for this child, that's the only consideration for the court. Once you start adding in other principles, then you're diminishing that focus."

'Missing out'

Nick Woodall, from the Centre for Separated Families, welcomed the government's proposals.

"There is a problem in that far too many children are missing out on those vital relationships with both parents after separation," he said.

"The children who fare best and adjust the most easily to life after separation are those who are able to maintain meaningful relationships with both of their parents."

But the campaign group Fathers 4 Justice said the proposals did not go far enough and fathers had been insulted by the government's failure to ensure they had the same rights as mothers to see their children.

Nadine O'Connor from the group said: "There have been 10 years of consultations and the only thing that has been changed in that time is the courtroom furniture.

"These shallow, vacuous proposals are the cruellest type of political deceit, as they are deliberately designed to kick this issue into the long grass for another generation."

The Norgrove review of the family justice system, published last year, rejected the need for any legal enshrining of the rights of children to maintain contact with both parents, saying it risked "confusion, misinterpretation and false expectations".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    On the face of it, this seems a step forward. It is generally good for a child to maintain relationships with both parents.

    And, while the child's interests are more important in this context imo, both parents do have valid interests as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    57. Clare

    I would have to agree with you. 10 years ago my, now, step-son was born. His biological father walked out before he was born, didn't go to the birth, didn't go to the registration (and so isn't on the certificate), & didn't go to the christening despite numerous requests.

    To be honest after 10 years I would have no idea how I would feel if he were to show up and demand access.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.


    No Cameron jokes on here?
    See 3.fuzzy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    More effort must be made to keep familes together!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Fathers need rights and share responsibilty for a child. Children love having a dad and need to see them lots. Also what about nans they have rights too. Children need there family and its all part of the family structure and is very important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    "And just in case anyone is wondering it is really easy to get joint custody at court". If you a willing mother who is the 'resident parent' perhaps. But for a 'non-resident' father trying to get joint/shared residency when the mother has a gripe with him? Hmmm....

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I think this is a step in the right direction... but a lot more needs to be done! The pain of losing my boys is excruciation...

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    It is essential to keep contact with both parents, for the sake of all concerned. If the parent with most time is worried about things such as violence, then it should be through a well-run contact centre. I worked in one once - one overcrowded room, nothing for (mostly) dads and kids to do - soul destroying for all concerned. Invest in children - they are our future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @80 Fuzzy

    What "hurts the lads" is the state sanctioned prejudice that the creation of a childs life (and we are talking about a human life here) rests entirely with the woman as she carried it.

    Creating a child isn't a manufacturing process. It's providing support, love, teaching, guiding, sharing experiences and passing on what you have learned.

    Sad you think otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Reading this makes me wonder, if you get as far as going to ask a COURT to decide, is all lost already? My ex and i decided what was best for our kid (incredibly difficult conversations with lots of suspicion and ulterior-motive-imagining on each side!). We both always felt we would all lose if we let a stranger decide. Perhaps communication skills should be included in the antenatal classes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    Wife: I want a divorce talk to my lawyer.
    Lawyer: She wants £1m
    Husband: NO
    Judge: Give her £1m
    Husband NO
    Wife: Now cough up the £1m
    Husband: No here is £2m
    Wife: why?
    Husband: Because I valued you more than you did - goodbye!

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The default position in a divorce should be a 50:50 sharing of responsibility, both financial and pastoral, and living arrangements that fit in with the child's educational needs as well as allowing access for whoever they do not live with. If there is any deviation due to circumstances that the court rules on, the financial arrangements should be included in the revised ratio.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I've had the unfortunate experience of having to go through the mickey mouse family courts in the UK.Three visits to the judge in three week, met up with my solicitor maybe four times for no more than an hour and it cost me three grand!And the judge actually had the audacity to ask why I had left it so late!£175 per hour and £200 fee just to be in the court and the mum had it for free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Like Prof Trinder says, this is not a big deal, whatever ministers say. Still, if it makes things better for even just a few kids, it should be welcomed. Sadly, in my case, it was only 3 years of perseverance and, ultimately, the threat of arrest/imprisonment for persistently flouting orders re access that "persuaded" my ex-wife to comply with the court's directions and the children's/my wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    No Cameron jokes on here?

    Surely, if the Government wants to ensure that children stay in touch with both parents is a good thing??? Gotta be a boon to DC and SC !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Good at least the Tory are bringing to an end the injustist of the divorce
    Red ken said when the fathers for justice demonstrated on the roof of hariot harmans house . It goes to show some men shouldnt be fathers

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    67Chris Neville-Smith
    53. Trouble is, when you follow it up with "The truth hurts, doesn't it fellas", that insinuates that this gives mothers have a superior claim than fathers, and the amount of time spent after the child's birth doesn't matter.
    What hurts the lads is the insinuation they spend only 3min on the job
    But this shows poor communication - that's the main problem in separations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    While ever the Social Services and Family Courts are able to hide behind anonymity and secret trials, they will never be trusted.

    The Social Workers in the UK are more akin to the Child Snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, than people who actually give a damn!

    Over the last 10yrs the Children who have been killed by there carers were all under the "protection" of the SS enough said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Pathetic. Many 'non-resident' parents are treated appallingly by resident parents whose behaviour is endorsed by courts which make poor decisions based on non-evidence. Children suffer their whole lives. It's simple: like a number of other countries, there should be a presumption (in law) for shared parenting on an equal basis unless there is a good reason why this cannot happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    REF - 61.louisek
    6 Minutes ago
    "EQUAL JUSTICE should result in fines and imprisonment on both sides, when they do not comply with court access dates"

    What jail the mother and leave the kids in limbo?
    - that would never happen and therefore would only apply to the father.

    What EQUALITY are you talking about?


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