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 116.

    The first issue that I feel has been missed is where the parent with care, usually the mother, can exert their bias and influence on the child/ren, effectively to coach them to alienate the child/ren against the non-resident parent. Then, when the child/ren turn 12 they can hide behind the court system which takes on board the non biased views of the child/ren.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    For us it was most important to ask ourselves, at every turn, "What would our kid prefer?". Answer it honestly, take your negative emotions about the other parent out of the equation and things can be ok. The longer you do it the better you get, and one day you realise that you're friends, your kid is as happy as possible, and life is actually fun again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    I'd love my son to spend more time with his father. But not sitting in front of 8 hours of TV sport, being fed two packets of salted hoola hoops for breakfast and millionaire shortbread for lunch, and when he can't be bothered to fit the car seat properly.
    All fathers are not the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I worked with a married father once, who was out drinking with the single crew every night after work for several hours. Who claimed he wanted "rights for men" in divorce & I don't believe parental responsibilities should set men & women against one another the children matter neither should the stereotypical inconsiderate & absent husband/father get any sympathy or regard. A right forfeited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.


    What vindictive parents forget is that their little ones won't be little forever. They will become adults and draw their own opinions and conclusions

    I've seen a few that have had it come back to them and bite them big time. It doesn't bring back missing out on childhood tho.

    Good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @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.
    People use emotive language. That's no help. Stay honest. Focus on the kids need. You won't get all you want but your kids will think more of you and, even if not, you'll feel better for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    74. Clare - I am a dedicated father who HAS been through the courts. I also run a group that helps parents who have difficulty after separation, and I do not tar all mothers with the same brush. There are many who have it tough with no support and only wish dad was around more for their child. I commend you. Re: Shared Residence (not called Joint Custody anymore), it's not easy to get. Trust me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.


    > 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...

    I can well believe it. The law should not ignore your situation.


    > I've had the unfortunate experience of having to go through the mickey mouse family courts in the UK.

    I am sure you are far from alone. Can't be easy.

    Good luck to you both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    I was planning a small comment on here about this, but I started thinking a little more deeply.


    I have been thinking a lot today, would love your feedback

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Lost my house to false allegations, got minimum access to my child, but do courts really look at the best interests of the child? I raised my baby while psychopath mum went to work.Spend £30k in my divorce and still going on, when are these stupid ministers and courts going to realise that some mothers are just in for the money and not in the best interests of the child!Fathers 4 Justice-go go go

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    @ simonset: "The pain of losing my boys is excruciation...". That just about sums it up. The deep pain that so many (usually) fathers and children experience because of the impunity with which so many (usually) mothers) are given should be an incentive to change this hideous situation once and for all. Anyoe who has experienced this pain knows just how indescribable and unecessary it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I get so tired of hearing comments about more effort should be made to keep families together. I'd love to have kept mine together. Unfortunately another woman was already pregnant with my husband's child by the time i knew about it. Which of the two families he now has should be kept together?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    My 39 year son 1 of 4 children said to me not long ago it was great being a kid,we always went fishing and went up the park playing football . What he did not know me and his mother went through difficult periods but he his 2 brothers and sister were and still are the most important people in this world to us both and always will be. Me and his mother are still together and it will stay that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    "Where are all the 'true feminists' then?"

    Right here. All around you. If Harriet Harman is your benchmark for feminism, I feel bad for you. She's a politician. Her interests lie solely in superficial people-pleasing, not concrete ideology. But by all means, continue thinking all feminists hate men and are out to use children as collateral. That kind of thinking is so very helpful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I find it telling that the spokesperson for Father 4 Justice is female. Yet more evidence that the far-right feminists and political correctness pushers do not represent the majority in this country. Until the laws are rewritten to end the blatant discrimination against men in family courts, nothing will ever change for the better. The extreme feminists will simply scream 'chauvinism' to stop it.

  • Comment number 101.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The courts need to be forced to apply the law. If they applied the Children Act 1989 in spirit it would go a long way to protect children from self centered parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Gives me hope, My soon to be ex stopped all access to our kids 11 weeks ago. The courts are asking for reports to prove I'm a fit father, this is from a father who used to look after his children every night cause she was never there. All shes interested in is how much money she can get out of me and to hurt me as much as possible by withholding access. She refused to budge during mediation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I had no set agreement with the father of my children. He pays child support. He can have contact whenever he wants it. He has chosen not to. The word here is choice. How does the government intend to deal with this issue? Give fathers rights, by all means. But with rights comes responsibility and sadly, many think the level of responsibility is a choice in itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    What about the fathers/mothers that do not take any responsibility for their child unless they can be bothered? Its disgusting as they never get punished. There are reasons why a parent wouldn't let a child see another parent. E.g constantly letting the child down. When having the child not feeding them properly, basic hygeine. It is not fair at all.


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