The government has rejected reforming the controversial issue of whether divorced parents are entitled to equal access to their children.
The Green Paper published today is the start of government consultation on post-divorce parenting.
Pressure group Fathers 4 Justice, whose demonstrations have included flour bombing the Prime Minister in the Commons, say the Green Paper is a "cynical exercise in recycling".
According to Lord Falconer, between 15,000 and 20,000 couples go to court to resolve contact disputes each year in the UK.
Is the law unfair on fathers? Should they have equal rights of access? Or do you think the rights of the child should come first? Have you been affected by a parental split? Send us your experiences.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
After my divorce I made every effort to ensure that my daughter had contact with her father. He, however, was half-hearted about the whole thing and eventually moved without leaving a forwarding address. Whilst I believe that most fathers are good parents, we need to look at each case individually and ask the children what they want.
Debbie, Middlesex, UK
The child should be with the primary care giver, with access to the other parent.
Both parents have responsibilities - not rights.
As I was growing up, my parents divorced. Myself and my sister stayed with my mother, and my father did not get equal rights. As a result, we lost touch with my father and now, when I have grown up and realised the split was not entirely his fault, we have lost touch and I have not been able to find him yet. I also feel that growing up I would have liked to have a father figure.
The present system is very wrong. My wife walked out of the marital home and set up a new one immediately with her boyfriend, taking my nine year old son with her. So overnight, he had a new home, a new school and a new man in the house. Yet I was the one who was treated like a criminal, being allowed two hours contact every other Saturday, under supervision. This gradually changed to staying contact every other weekend, but that was removed from me as my ex-wife claimed that my son did not want to stay with me. That is not what my son said, however the CAFCASS officer sided with her, so now I see my son every other Saturday plus seven individual days in the summer holidays. He is not allowed to stay overnight so I am unable to take him on trips. On the other hand I am presently required to pay £475 every month. Maybe I am unlucky in that my ex is particularly unreasonable, but why doesn't anyone in authority tell her so?
Philip, Canterbury, England
It is generally in the child's best interest to be with it's mother. Despite women's advancement in the world of commerce they are, by nature of their sex more nurturing than men. Usually a mother's first priority is her children. Undoubtedly, there are women and men who do not conform to normal tendencies of their sex, but the importance of a mother and child link should not be underestimated.
Inga, London, England
Surely the distinction between the rights of the child and the right of the fathers is not the right question. A court should consider what contact with each parent is in the best interest of the child. However, if a court has decided that equal access is in the interest of a child (as they often do), and one parent denies the other this access (as they often do), then the interests of the child are not being met. The system needs to be able to enforce what is in the interest of the child - otherwise the legislation is not worth the paper it is written on.
Malcolm, London, UK
I am a single 38 year old male, and I would love to get married and have a family. But with the present laws being so anti-male, I have made a lifestyle choice to stay as a bachelor. I could not cope with the heartache of having my flesh & blood taken from me. I often hear women complaining there are no men available, this probably because many are simply choosing not to marry.
Its a pity that parents can not come to their own access arrangements sensibly& maturely, without anyone getting hurt & the professional bodies getting involved.
The problem is allowing divorce in the first place. People shouldn't be able to walk away from their solemnly-undertaken responsibilities to their spouses, children and wider family.
Paul, London, England
Here in Finland, it is presumed that the father will want to have equal parental rights and custody will remain with both parents after a divorce. It is up to the parent-if need be-to explain why this may not be so. I have many male acquaintances and friends who have the children for half the time, usually living equidistant from kindergarten or school. It is not uncommon for a man to gain full custody. This is also a country where many men take (paid)extended child care leave in the first couple of years of their little ones' lives, thus allowing mother to continue studying or to take up her career. The law requires a new father to take at least some paternity leave. We are after all living in a time when it has been realised that men are perfectly capable of taking care of even the smallest child, if given the chance.
Children need both parents - there are attributes which both parents bring to the children that the other one cannot. Just because man and wife don't get on and the relationship breaks down is no reason to deprive the children of the love and care of either of them. As long as there is not a specific child protection issue such as sexual or physical abuse then Fathers most definitely should have equal rights of access to their children - after all without dad there wouldn't be a child!
Strange how women have campaigned for equal rights in the workplace etc but women seem to want all the rights when it comes to children.
Paul, Winchester, England
10% is still 36 days per year. The child should choose how they want to spend the majority of their time (aunty, granddad whoever) with parents able to insist on no more than 10%.
No, not all fathers deserve 50-50 access to their children, as the villain (mother) in my case, I refused access to my daughter's father due to his complete disregard for her safety. His association with people who use drugs, and child molesters made my decision much easier. This so called "loving" father has made no attempts at seeing or talking to her in the 15 years I have kept him away.
Janice, Hamilton, Canada
Instead of debating the symptoms like this, perhaps we should be trying much harder to understand the causes - i.e. why does the UK suffer one of the worst divorce rates in the entire world? Doing that would fundamentally clear up an awful lot of our woes rather than this 'sticking plaster' approach.
Andrew, Leighton Buzzard, UK
The government position as expressed by Margaret Hodge is that all cases should be treated individually, which is a reasonable position. However, the courts should start from a position of equal access and only alter that if the case is made. This would at least give both parents a level playing field as a starting point.
Nick, Taunton, Somerset
This is the first time I have ever seen the 'Have Your Say' comments in such agreement! Let's hope the government takes notice. Children love and need both parents equally. Let's start from that point and move each unique case forward from there.
From discussions with divorced and divorcing people the question of access often only arises after solicitors get involved. A mutual agreement to divorce becomes adversarial once the lawyers push those involved to demand more and more. Whether the lawyers are simply advising clients of their rights or spinning the case out is another question. The result is often that both parties fight to obtain as many rights and as much money as possible and any chance of a civilised separation is lost.
My (then) wife and I divorced 6 years ago - and we have two sons. All four of us agreed, out of court, that our boys would spend an equal amount of time at both households. My ex-wife now lives locally enough for the boys to attend the same school as before, retain the same friends etc, so disruption was always minimised. Six years on, both boys have now gone to live with their mother - to minimise disruption during the critical stages of their education. But at all times, all four of us discussed what was going on, was it still working, how could we make things better etc. Adults need to be exactly that - adult - about the whole thing. And don't leave the kids out. Involve them in what's happening, get their views, answer their fears and reservations - care for them. Adults' inability to maintain their marriages mustn't mean that their children pay the price.
Steve, Warrington, UK
I left my daughter's father when she was very young, and I have never tried to stop him from seeing her. However, he has shown very little interest. I would welcome a law or policy that forced absent parents to take an interest in their children through compulsory contact orders. Not holding my breath though.
Common sense must prevail. A guaranteed 50:50 split could be disastrous - neither the mother nor the father should be guaranteed to have custody. The best parent for the child should have custody - with adequate rights for the other parent according to their commitment. The law is biased against fathers - people need to recognise that we do care about our children and their upbringing - you don't have to be a mother to be committed.
Of course fathers should have equal access to there children, how many times do we here of children going off the rails because of lack of parental control. Fathers play an important role in the up bringing of children not just to be seen as financial support only.
Theresa, Hampshire, England
My parents were divorced and whilst growing up I did not see my father for eight years due to the games played by my mother and the courts. I lost out on a very important part of my life with my father which can never be regained. Children first, parents second.
Surely it's a child's right to have both access to and a relationship with their father? My mother never let us meet our biological father and to this day I'll never forgive her for that. Just because she didn't want him in her life gave her no right to deny us our father. Years later she was able to take him to court and get back payment of child support. I agree with his decision not to pay it. I wouldn't pay support to a woman who took my children away and wouldn't let me see them in defiance of a court order. I fully support fathers in their struggle to attain what should have been made available all along. Mothers are not always the best parent for a child to be with.
Susan, London, UK
If the parents cannot act properly, and decide between themselves like responsible adults - the children should be handed to the grandparents or social care.
Sally, Southampton, Hampshire
My parents split when I was five. I barely saw my father after that and when I did it was usually because I had been naughty and needed to be smacked. My mother slandered him at every opportunity. I hardly knew him and as a result had very little experience of how to interact with members of the male sex. It has taken a long time for me to learn the things that I would have learnt naturally had my father been a bigger part of my life. My past is a relationship disaster-area and I think the lack of the father-daughter bond has been a major contributor to that. Now that I am older, I speak with my dad on a more regular basis but we will never have the closeness that comes with growing up and growing old together. We have no shared memories or experiences. No child should be deprived of that.
Most important thing is the rights of the child - they are stuck like piggy in the middle. Both parents should receive equal rights of access to their children, but each individual case does need looking at in its own right. I had friends in school whose parents separated because father had an affair with another woman. They stayed with their mother but there was so much tension when they visited their father and his new girlfriend/wife. Its like the parents continued to fight through their children and the whole situation was so upsetting and unfair on the children involved.
Sarah, Chester, UK
When my parents divorced 11 years ago, I was only allowed to see my dad six days a month. Being so young at the time (10 years old), my voice was not heard that I wanted to see my father more often. It was not until I was 13, my mother listened to me and what I wanted, to spend equal time with both my parents. But these three years had destroyed my relationship with my dad, we were not as close as we were, it took until I was about 18 to rebuild some sort of relationship with him. And still now at 21, we are not as close as we were when I was 9.
The courts are in too much favour of the mother, a father is just as important to a child as the mother. But all cases should also be viewed on their own merits, if the father is a danger to the child; the father should not have sole/joint custody of the child for the child's own welfare. I also believe that the child should have some sort of say in what he/she wants. If these measures were in place, I would have had a better relation with my dad and a happier childhood.
Matt, West Midlands
My wife has just walked out on myself and three children after 15 years marriage and I am still worried that the children will be taken away from me, even though I am the one looking after them at the moment
I think the law is as out of date as the concept of the housewife. Men do nappies these days and often form stronger bonds with their offspring compared with previous generations. Of course the rights of the child should come first, but the rights of each parent should be equal. One parent should never be allowed to prevent access by the other.
The law is unfair on fathers. It totally disregards the needs of the children to see their father more often and it disregards the fact that fathers need more access to their children. The law forgets that the only relationship that has broken down is that of the parents, not that of the relationship with children. Limited access rights eventually dissolve the relationship with the father. After being separated for four years and divorced for two, my children still find it hard that I only get one day a week with them.
Additionally, the divorce consent order is financially weighted in favour of the mother's needs and her life with the children, to the point that the father is left with next to nothing. This means that, even if the father and children wanted more access, the financial implications of doing so, make it near impossible without the father going in to financial difficulty. Furthermore, when the father does have access to the children, he is unable to take them anywhere exciting because, again, it would mean spending precious funds. Has anyone seen how much it is to take a family into a zoo these days? It costs more than a weekly shop! All in all, the child gets a raw deal, let alone the father.
Stephen, High Wycombe
Having been a father on the rough end of a dispute over child access I have to agree that the law is stacked in the woman's favour. In my case I wasted thousands to get contact only to have it withdrawn on the whim of the mother, who could act with impunity because of failings in the law. It's about time something was done to redress the balance and take the decision making in these cases away from the feeble minded anachronisms who have too much power in determining our fate.
M, United Kingdom
No, there should not be a guaranteed 50:50 split. Having been a child of separated parents myself, I understand that the children need stability, routine and the knowledge that their parents want what's best for them. Custody and access should be divided according to how well each parent can provide that. Children are not possessions that can simply be carved up equally on divorce. Just as a start, think about schooling. If the parents don't live in the same place, how on earth can 50:50 work? Spend half the week in a school near mum, then the remainder in one near dad? Fathers, if you love your children, be prepared to let go of them enough that they can have a stable life while they are growing up.
Julian, St Neots, UK
The promoted ideal family in this country is of two parents, a mother and a father. Suddenly due to a breakdown of their relationship the current law seems to oppose this ideal family. Fathers are unfairly treated and often not allowed to see their children by mothers who are flouting access rights. The law needs to state that any if a parent obstructs access to their children then the courts need to intervene and if necessary switch custody to the other parent. Mothers should have the same rights as fathers, not more and not less.
Scott, Leeds, UK
Coming from a divorced family I can say wholeheartedly that being able to see my dad if and when I choose has been of great benefit to my brothers and me. Divorce is always hard on the kids, especially when they are young and being able to have access to both parents makes the pain all lot easier to cope with. The whole process of whether fathers should be given access to their children does need to be looked at but I always worry when I see that it will be a government-sponsored discussion. There are far too many do-gooders out there that influence this government and my fear is they will do more harm than good, just as they have done with all the other sensitive areas of society.
Ray, London, England
Whilst I have every sympathy for those separated and divorced fathers who love their children very much and contribute towards their upkeep, I am very worried that some fathers who take no responsibility at all for their children will be able to demand the right to access whenever they like. My nephew's father is a lazy good-for-nothing who contributes the princely sum of £5 per week towards his son's upkeep. How can it be fair that he can now demand 50:50 access when he does not contribute either materially or emotionally to his son's welfare?
Anon, England, UK
I believe that both parents have the right to see their children equally. In most cases, the child(ren) stay with their mother and fathers are pushed away from their everyday lives and decisions are made by the mother without the father knowing. Fathers need to play an important role in their children's lives and I think that it is imperative that women should not be allowed to stop fathers seeing their children; what and who gives them this right? Just because a marriage or partnership has broken down between two people, does not mean that the relationship between father and child should too. Women forget that their partner left them and not their children.
Victoria, Kent, England
Both parents must be treated equally, children cannot be cut up but with an equality rule in operation, neither side can play games.
Paul, Banstead, Surrey
The government is absolutely correct in putting the welfare of the children first. It is never going to be ideal for all parties but equal access for both parents will only maximise disruption for the children.
Paul, Bournemouth, Dorset
It is the normally automatic assumption that the woman is better equipped to bring up the children that causes the imbalance in justice for a lot of fathers in divorce cases. Just because a woman gives birth to a child does not mean that she is the best person to have main custody of the child. Circumstances vary greatly in all families, and care must be taken when decisions of custody and access are made. I certainly wouldn't like the job of trying to decide what is best. The imbalance in the law does need addressing though.
At present the law gives custody to the mother, rather than the best parent. This is a sexist out of date idea, are we saying "women stay at home and look after the children"? It's time both parents were equally responsible.
Of course fathers should have equal access. As long as they are not abusive to the child it can only be a good thing. Children need and want to know both parents to be able to develop into balanced adults. The child's wishes and needs of course should come first over and above what the mother wants. My partner has a child and divorce papers. He sees her on a regular basis and they both get much out of it. Fortunately this was organised out of court, but if necessary he would have gone to court to fight for his daughter. It doesn't matter what the parents have been through they should be able to be civil enough to each other so that their child is not put at a disadvantage.
At one point the mother told him that he could not see her any more. Fortunately a quick letter from a lawyer sorted things out. But it broke his heart at the time and now I firmly believe that all fathers should have some sort of access to their children for both the parent's and the child's sake. Divorce has a devastating effect on any children involved. Even now when my partner and I have a discussion (not truly an argument) we are told by the daughter to stop it.
Whilst accepting that it is not always advisable, feasible or possible, the basic starting point when sorting out custody for children should be that they spend as much time with both parents. A 50:50 split would seem to be the obvious way to do this.
I've been through the courts for five years and have found it biased, unfair towards fathers and not child centred. Other countries are so much more advanced. Political motivation overrules what is best for a child.
Are children being used as a weapon? If a woman can get back at the husband by denying access (with a court's backing), it can be a great way inflict pain.
I am happily married with three children but I know that the law is biased toward the mother. With all due respect to good mothers everywhere not every woman makes a fit parent. Believe it or not there are men who take their responsibilities as fathers seriously. We too love and want to care for our children. Equal access would have been a good start. When is the government going to realise men can and want to parent.
John, Cambridge, UK
I think the current situation is unfair. The baseline should be 50/50 access unless one side or the other can prove that it would be detrimental to the children for that to happen.
Ian, Havant, Hants, UK