Government proposals on the best way of dealing with disputes involving the care of children when parents divorce will be published today.
Parents in England and Wales who refuse to obey court orders giving former partners contact with their children could be given a community service sentence, or forced to attend special parenting classes.
Ministers began consulting on the plans last year after rejecting calls to give parents 50-50 access to children.
Will the government's proposals improve parents' access rights? Are they in the child's best interests? Is it possible that the child and parents alike can benefit?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I could weep, reading these messages. When my ex left me and our children, I thought that one of the worst things to cope with would be seeing the children go to him for weekends, holidays etc. However, I was wrong. The worst thing was trying to explain to them why their father never, ever, asked to see them after he moved out. Not all parents are fighting for access, you know.
I think the main problem is that parenting is still largely seen as a 'female preserve', with men being incompetent at best. Until attitudes change that men can be as good a parents as women, we will still be stuck with these laws which make father's largely second class. Ideally, children need both a father and a mother, but men should have equally rights unless there is a risk to the child. This risk analysis should apply to all involved irrespective of gender. Finally, shouldn't the children have a say? Instead of being treated as a piece of property to be argued over by two rivalling parties?
As far as I can see, this 'proposal' is a step backwards. It makes things easier for someone to ignore a court order, only involves voluntary mediation (tried that), and has nothing new to offer. I don't believe 50/50 contact is the way to go, but I love my children and haven't seen them for over two years now. I would vote for any political party that is serious about this issue.
For the past 6 years, my ex-husband has taken me to court on numerous occasions to try and insist on seeing our children. Trouble is, he insists on seeing them only with a week's notice, regards weekends as 'his' time with the children and therefore refuses to see them unless they relinquish social times with their friends, birthday parties, school events, church events, etc. He still insists on this, even though they are 17 and 14! You cannot tell teenagers what to do - my ex should realise that family life is just not like that - he must accommodate their social lives otherwise he will risk losing any respect they have for him for ever. Under these proposals then I would have been given a community service sentence. Children are not possessions which can be split 50/50 or whatever, they are live human beings, who need love, respect and support by loving parent/parents.
I have fought for the last two years to get my ex to see his two little girls and have felt totally powerless. He says he can only see them once every 3 weeks due to working shifts then drops them for months on end when he is busy. Children need rights too. All parents need to face their responsibilities and put the children first.
The term 'parent' is used too loosely. Officially I have a step-daughter but as far as she and I are concerned, I am her father, she is my daughter. She is not interested in her biological father at all and yet this does not prevent him from attempting to disrupt our family.
My husband's ex-wife found a new partner and removed him from his home he worked for years to provide and began a campaign of alienating him from his children. After 5 years of this he has lost contact with all of four of them. We made a conscious decision not to pursue this through the courts as we knew it would be a futile exercise. She has had 2 children by her new partner and lives on benefits provided for by the state as they have been very clever and played the UK benefits and legal aid system game to the maximum .
Claire, Ruthin, Wales
After going through what I can only describe as hell, not seeing the kids I brought up and loved, I think it's about time something was done. The whole system as a whole was always biased in favour of the female, even if they were the cause of the marriage break-up. Go for it, equal rights for fathers are long over due.
Peter, Portsmouth England
A friend recently divorced. Her husband wanted a 50% split, not because he wanted the children but to reduce the maintenance cost. Now the case is over, he often cancels the visits at short notice.
I battled for 4 years to see my daughter. My ex obstructed the court every way she could until they threatened her with a custodial sentence. That was 6 years ago, the battling still continues. I despair for my daughter's well being at times as her mother snipes and criticises me openly to her at every opportunity. Whatever the issues the adults have the children should not be "infected" with the poison of the dead relationship. It's natural for a child to love both parents, and it takes a little bit of hope away from a child every time one parent criticises the other. This assumption that the mother is the "best" parent has to stop. Fathers can be just as good (and just as bad) as their female counterparts.
So long as a child grows up in a loving home it shouldn't matter whether both parents are around or not. Sometimes going back and forth between the two can do more harm than good. if a child is well cared for, given love and support and educated correctly by their parent, he or she should be emotionally balanced and prepared for life.
Kate Fairless, Stoke On Trent
When I split with my son's mother we always agreed that he would come first and his best interests would be the number one priority. Two years later and he moved in with me. It has to be the child who is the benefactor of access not the parents using it to get even.
Shared residence now only happens when the parents agree to it. Courts don't order it on the basis that it won't work without cooperation. On this basis an uncompromising parent (mother usually) can claim they can't communicate with the other parent, and of course cease communicating to demonstrate the premise. In this way current conventions and practices actually serve to alienate parents from one another.
Edward, Perth, Australia
Fatherlessness is the number one cause of just about every type of juvenile social problem there is, including anti-social behaviour, teenage pregnancy, crime, poor performance in school, suicide and depression. Both parents should be entitled to 50% time with the children because parenting is a fundamental human right. Custodial parents who block access are alienating the child from the other parent, which is extremely abusive. The only circumstances where 50% access should be denied is where one parent waives it, or where a parent has been proven to a jury, beyond reasonable doubt, to be unfit. Social workers, therapists and other officials should not be allowed to influence custody decisions because they are biased and frequently act merely to minimize their own workloads and because this is an improper delegation of judicial function.
Jon, London, UK
My parents are divorced. Both parents then re-married. My mum is now in divorce proceedings again. My sisters don't want to go and stay with "Daddy" or say "I don't want to talk to Daddy". No matter how much we try to get them to speak or see him they just don't want to. Why force it? They know he is there for them should they want him. But right now, they don't want anything to do with him. Everything has been extremely amicable.
There's been no bad mouthing on either side. Children are far more intelligent than we sometimes give credit for & they can pick up on many more things than we think. Listen to the children. If they want the access with both parents to be equal then give it to them. If however, like my little sisters, they don't want that access with their father, don't force them.
What happens if a child does not want contact with the parent he or she does not live with? Will the child forced into it? Surely that wouldn't be right, would it?
What about the people who can't afford to take their ex partner to court? My ex has stopped me from seeing my son for about 2 years now. I can't afford to take her to court, especially seeing I already pay her a large portion of my salary through the CSA! While I am expected to pay, she gets her legal bills paid for by the Tax payer! Where is the fairness in that? Any new law to help prevent people using children as weapon to get back at an ex partner is a welcome on. But there is still a long way to go!
WM, Sheffield, UK
Forget the softly, softly approach like "parenting clases". How about parents that block the other parents' access get a short detention at Her Majesty's pleasure. Either they hand over the child/children at the appointed time or they are held in "detention" and the kid/s go anyway. Time to stop punishing the kids. Shut up or lock up!
Sybil, Oxford, UK
This is not about the child spending 50% of its time with each parent, it's about each parent having equal rights to access to their children and their children the rights to access to their parents. Could I make a suggestion to those suffering because of unreasonable access caused by the other parent, catalogue it and when your child asks the 'where were you all of my life' question show them.
I am a post-grad student well on my way to my PhD. in child clinical psychology. Research shows there does not appear to be any negative affect on children growing up in a single parent home, provided that they are from well off background. Poorer families tend to have problems, presumably due the single parent's having jobs that are not tolerant of a single parent's needs. That being said, so long as the courts can be reasonable in assigning contact, and not allowing parents who have, say, a history of abusing the child to have contact, then any attempt by one parent to go against the court's wishes and prevent another parent from having legal contact should be viewed as kidnapping.
Jeff Bartlett, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
I think the debate goes further than what we are looking at. It's all very well to punish mothers who do not allow access to their children, but what about the fathers that refuse to pay maintenance, miss visits, use the children to get at their mothers or are plain reckless with their children? Who is going to tag those people?
If a mother does not want the father to see his children, then a simple false accusation of abuse or violence will do the trick. I predict these accusations will take off under the government's proposals. I had several disregarded contact orders; several bizarre and frightening accusations made against me, arrested several times, and had several visits to the police cells. My sanity was taken to the edge. But an unexpected twist has meant that for the last seven years I have been a single parent to my two school age daughters who I love dearly.
Why does not the government intervene before divorce? My British ex decided he did not want to be married anymore and left me without a house or any means of support except for low child maintenance. Should a man who so carelessly disregards commitment to wife and children be allowed access? Should a man who hates marriage and wife be allowed to share such ideas with young or even older children, who would grow up confused about the importance of marriage in society? All men are not created equal.
Crystal, Texas, US
Why do all these new laws just look to punish and not help? Don't "punish" a parent who is already struggling to cope. And that means all separated parents. This law will just add stress to an already fraught situation.
The law should be very clear. Unless there are extenuating reasons why the child should be allowed access to both parents, parents should have a 50 - 50 access. I wonder how many women whom currently believe the law to be just and fair, would be happy for a complete reversal? All mothers rights becoming fathers and all fathers rights ( or complete lack of ) becoming that of the mothers??
This is a step in the right direction but it doesn't go far enough. I see my children 4 times in a fortnight, my ex-wife sees them 13 times in the same period. The issue is not simple enforcing inadequate contact orders but giving both parents the legal presumption to meaningful parenting time
I can't help but wonder - does years of seeing Mom routinely ignore Court Orders contribute in any way to the rise of the Urban Savage who, as we know, has little regard for law & order?
OT, Sunderland, England
It is an emotional myth that children need both parents. It is my belief that access rights should depend on the individual case as some children could be put at risk of abuse.
Hyacinth Norman, Nottingham
Children need a solid home to grow up in, with both a mother and a father. I have several adult friends who still suffer the consequences of their parents' selfishness in divorcing when they were young. What is needed is encouragement for pre-marital and/or relationship counselling, and the realisation by couples that their responsibility is to their children - no matter how much work it takes to improve their communication, resolve their own issues and put others first.
Judah, Cambridge, UK
I don't see a Mothers 4 Justice campaign. I'm having to apply to the courts for a contact order so that my children can stay with me on alternate weekends. My ex-husband has already refused to attend mediation and has said that if the courts make an order then he will ignore it. I don't think tagging/community service sentences are the way forward but I'll be watching the progress of the Government's proposals with great interest.
Children need both parents, and it should be the norm for them to continue to have contact with both parents if they split up. In Norway there is legislation so that children visit their parents every other weekend. Mothers do not feel they have the right to deny their children contact with their fathers, and it would not be considered socially acceptable to do so unless there is a serious reason such as abuse. We should consider doing something similar here.
S. Shaw, London
Children are not property. And just because someone gave birth to a child does not mean they have a right to parent. The law must start with this. Some parents ignore court orders to protect their children from violent, uncaring and narcissistic spouses. Others ignore court orders to gain control over their former partner. I have seen cases where the partner attempting to gain access has a spotless community record but is a domestic tyrant. I think supervised access is the only way to resolve the issue. Most bullies don't like to be supervised and will give up their controlling desire for access.
I think it beggars belief that in these "liberated" times fathers are still so routinely discriminated against. Till that issue gets sorted out all this other stuff is just pretty pointless window dressing.
What about Justice for Children? What is planned for those fathers who refuse to have any contact with their children?
It infuriates me that so many assume that it is acceptable to deny a parent (male or female) access their child purely on the basis 'they were the one to break up the relationship'. This is simply a method of gaining retribution and is of no benefit to the child caught in the middle. Additionally, the fact that a very small minority of fathers are violent and/or abusive hardly seems a justification for retaining the current one-sided legal position which it seems acts in the best interests of the mother, and not necessarily the child.
Michael , Essex, England
My ex broke 4 contact orders with no valid reason to the court other than she did not wish me to see the children. Social Services supported me but she still broke the orders. All the Judge did was keep reinstating the order just for her to break it again. More women should be sent to jail for contempt of court over this issue, for that is what it is.
My partner is a wonderful father and no matter how bad things got between us I would never deny my son and daughter their father. I grew up without my real father as he didn't want to know us so I know how important a father figure is.
My Partner is in the situation where he has been through the courts to receive his unfair 4 hours a week with his son, which his ex wife then takes away from him at her discretion. Although she is not allowed to by law, there is nothing we can do in this case and to go back to court causes more financial strain and difficulty on his child and he doesn't want to put anyone through that. I would be interested to know how these new proposals will be implemented.
CB Maidstone UK
I am wholly behind the concept of equal rights for fathers. However, I have some difficulty with the notion of equal access as a legal right. Children need a place they call home, to split their time equally between two homes appears impractical. Parents are important in the development of a child but so are schools, friends, social activities. Would you like to live out of a suitcase? Best interests of the child...not best interests of both parents. Split the child down the middle...I seem to remember Solomon suggested this to test the resolve of the parents.
I agree in one respect that children do need two parents and that fathers have the right to see their children, but as with my situation... my ex-husband only wants to see his son when it suits him and often went up to 4/5 months without seeing his son (not even work related or where he lives - just his son at that time was not his priority!) I want for nothing more that my ex to be a good father to his son and spend quality time with him as it should be! With this in mind - I think all circumstances are different and each case should be individual and these new proposals are totally shocking.
J D, Northumberland
I am amazed that this is headline news now! I have been a single parent since my son was born 15 years ago and most of the other single mothers I have met over the years have always had tremendous problems with the ex partner. In my own experience I was keen to come to a reasonable arrangement but was forced to go to court by my ex partner's unreasonableness. Parents become enmeshed in their private battles and forget their children are witnesses. I think the Family Liason Service is very important and people need to be aware of the help they can get.
The Government rules all seem to be based around parents who refuse to obey court orders. The problem is not all parents are able to afford to take their ex-partner to court in the first place. I am allowed to have my son for one overnight stay per week (more than a lot of people get I know) but I want more. But his mother has decided that this is not to happen on the flimsiest of excuses. Is this right? Why is it that I have to take her to court to see my son, when the law should give me equal access in the first place?
M B, Leicester, England
Yes, it is right that the government wants to make things fairer when families break up, but prevention is better than cure: they should put more effort into supporting marriages in the first place.
I'm a mother of four. I am not against fathers seeing their children but when you have fathers who haven't been there for their children because they couldn't be bothered this does upset me. Some fathers are too quick to blame the mother for them not seeing their child.
In some cases that is very true but when the dad has every opportunity to see their children but chooses not to and then moan later when the child is old enough that they missed out on them growing up┐ then really and truly it's their own fault and they don't deserve to see their kids. Everyone has the right to see their children but the children have rights to and in many cases most of them don't want to see their dad and that is due to the dads not being there for them when they needed them.
Sam, Northolt, England
As a father who has not seen his son for two years, it makes sense to change the out-dated law regarding access to children so it is fairer on the parent who does not have residency of the child. The enforcement of Contact Orders is a must as these are easily and constantly broken and nothing is done about it even though you have to go to court to get one.
Paul, Romford, England
I have a 5-year-old that I co-parent with my ex. My relationship with my son is the most important thing in my life and to be separated from him would be one of the worst things that could ever happen. Every endeavour that encourages positive relationships between children and both their parents should be lauded.
The proposals put forward by the government look like a start to addressing some of the worst excesses of bad behaviour. However, more should be done to educate people on how to be good parents and the things they can do to create trust and rapport with their kids. That way hopefully parents will behave more responsibly if they happen to separate.
My sister and I grew up not knowing our father at all. But that was his choice. I would hardly say you need both parents, what you do need is an adult (mother, father, relative or otherwise) that loves you and wants to have you with them. The mother is not always the right choice in this respect. And if both parents want access to the child then it must be granted.
As a starting point, each parent should have equal access - unless there is good reason, otherwise on a case by case basis. Likewise, each parent should be responsible for 50% of the cost of raising the children, based on how much it costs, not how much either of them earns.
Megan, Cheshire, UK
It's not just the access that should be complied with. It is the full court order. Why should my sister (a single mum) who's struggling to make ends meet have to be out of pocket to enable his access? After all the father has never contributed a penny towards his son in any way, he moved away to another city, doesn't drive so she has to, at her cost, deliver and collect her son for all of these visits. And to top it off the father doesn't even bother to send his son a Xmas card! Where are the rights of the child?
Children need both parents and as a woman I feel that the law is currently very one sided towards women. All cases should be looked at individually. My husband has a 10 year old son with an ex-partner. Following numerous costly court battles, he has not seen his son for six years as he was refused access. He now pays through the nose to the CSA for a child he never sees through no fault of his own. Its about time this whole issue was looked at, along with the extremely unfair CSA rules.
I lost 12 years of my daughter's childhood, in spite of access orders. I won in court, but in reality we all lost. Now I have a real task to rebuild a relationship with my daughter, that should not have been risked in the first place. Without reform this is still a tightrope, even now. If both sides have something to lose, be it liberty or access, then that will help deter the bitterness of denial of access that often happens. This new Act I hope will lead to a fairer outcome for all sides.
I totally agree with equal access to children. At present I am fighting to get my ex-husband to look at our children as a responsibility rather than something he can fit into his life when he feels the need. Let the new legislation work both ways so they get access but have to use it.
S M, Dorset, England
The law needs to be brought up to date and into the 21st century. It is a step in the right direction, but still only a step! Parents should be given automatic 50% access to the child unless there are prevailing circumstances preventing this. Fathers for Justice amongst others have helped to raise the profile of the injustice that fathers receive and for this as a man with a child I shall always be grateful.
Simon, London, UK
Seven times, court orders were made against my ex-wife, not once was it complied with. The CSA is the biggest reason men fall apart/leave. You can't see your kids, you have to pay for the legal representatives and the former matrimonial home as well as your new one but none of this is taken into account as you struggle.
Kelvin, Canada. Ex UK
Community service or special classes for parents who refuse to obey the Court are definitely the way to go. There is no financial penalty and the children can only benefit.
Helen Jenkins, Grantham, UK
I had the indignity of the child court system and I was treated like a criminal, as though I would hurt my daughter. When the split happened my daughter (then 5) wanted to stay with me and not her mother, but due to the court system I was denied this even though the court system is suppose to act in the best interests of the child. Needless to say it took me 12 months to secure contact with my daughter. During this time I endured abuse from my ex and her new partner, through verbal abuse in front of my daughter. A child needs both parents in their life, something that I always wanted. But this decision is taken away from the father of any child. One day you are a good dad then next day you are not allowed to see your child. Even the hardest criminal is not treated in this manner!
Not all mothers deny the fathers access, some fathers choose not to have access or pay maintenance and run rings around the CSA. Some absent parents (male and female) choose to turn their back on their children but when challenged by family/friends of this choice imply that the other parent is denying them access. There is no black and white answer to this but maybe there should be better enforcement of access arrangements although the idea of tagging parents is laughable.
My first husband was a violent man who was very violent towards me and as such he had 6 Protection and Exclusion orders taken out against him, 3 of which had powers of arrest. I bent over backwards for my children to see their father initially, but he used them as a tool against me. Some men do not deserve equal access to their children. I am not against access to the majority of men but individual cases need to be looked at.
No way far enough. Yet again men are second class citizens when it comes to their children, except of course when it comes to the CSA.
Punishing parents for refusing access is definitely a step forward. Too many mothers that have walked out on good husbands/fathers have been allowed to cut these men out of their children's lives without any fear of punishment. In such cases, the children are the ones that suffer most.
So now you could get a criminal record for protecting your children. Not all absent parents are deserving, suitable or even safe to have contact access to a child. These court orders are used by some fathers to just provide further abuse to their former partners and have no interest in their child. And yes, I have seen this first hand!
Paul, Wales, UK
If men and women are equal why do these cases strongly favour women? Children need two parents - one to form their understanding of each sex. Cut out the male and the male children will either become effeminate or will become rowdy and the female children will have difficulties in finding a suitable male in later life. Cut out the female and the male will grow up not knowing how to treat women and the female will grow up not understanding themselves.
I understand that there are ways around this by introducing a role model to fill in for the absent parent but this will never be as successful as keeping both parents equally involved in the upbringing of the child. Parents are both equally important to the proper development of a child and should be treated as such. Equal time for equal parents.
Chris, Liverpool, UK
I walked out the court with agreements and before the ink was even wet the arrangements where flaunted. They wanted the family home and maintenance but don't want to share access. Lock them up!
Ian C, Reading, Berks
As a divorced father who looks after his son for 50% of the time, changes which encourage dual parenting must be welcomed. However there are anomalies which require consideration, namely to the distribution of the Tax Credits and Child Benefit.
As I understand it the former is paid to the same person who receives the Child Benefit as this person is arbitrarily considered to be primary carer. If the care is on a 50-50 basis this seems totally unjustified, yet the system makes no allowance for it. This aspect will need to be addressed if we are to move to a more egalitarian child support system.
If this law makes it harder for spiteful women to stop the father seeing their child despite a court ruling then yes. A child needs both parents to be present where possible.
Chris, London, England
The calls were not to give parents 50-50 access, clearly an unworkable situation. The suggestion was that neither parent would be assumed as more suitable on their gender alone. The playing field is clearly not level, and this does not benefit a child one bit. The idea that the mother should automatically have the child unless proved completely unfit to care is ridiculously sexist and outdated.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (ex UK)
Oh my goodness I have never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life. I was under the impression that those who were electronically tagged were criminals. So now mothers who are left to raise the children by themselves are now criminals? The government once again are going at this issue blindly. There is a lot more that they need to look into before they start proposing something as ludicrous as tagging mums who don't let the absent fathers see the children.
I do know fathers who have not been the one to break up the family, who support their children financially but who haven't seen much of them. But tagging is not the answer. What about the mother who got out of a violent relationship and the child/children witnessed that father's behaviour daily? Once again I say the government do not know what they are suggesting here.
Dionne, Reading, UK
For the majority of half-witted parents that I come into contact with at the supermarket - special parenting classes should be attended before conception.
Bob, Manchester, UK
As a parent struggling to get any access to his kids I think it is about time that the courts did more to help fathers who can't see their children as the ex-partner uses them as a weapon in the break up.
Nathan, St Mary Bourne, Hampshire
Both parents should have equal access. Of course there will be situations where it is feared that the father or mother will harm the children. However, the situation must become more even so that fathers have equal rights to mothers. If these proposals start to head us towards this then I welcome them. However, it is important that a parent is punished in some way if they do not comply with the order. A child needs both parents, not just one.
Rachel, Oxfordshire, UK
Compulsory access for all fathers? A criminal charge for mothers who will not comply? I don't think so. 25 years ago, I divorced my alcoholic husband. He went to therapy and then wanted access, I denied it. 10 years later, my daughter had a breakdown. We then discovered that my ex-husband had been sexually abusing her for the last four years of our marriage. My daughter had never told me. When will politicians realise that their constituents live in the real world that it can be an appalling place, and that black and white solutions almost never apply?
Elena, London, UK
If the split is because the parents just don't want to be together anymore, then the child/children should not be used as a weapon. Both parents should have equal rights to see them as agreed. No parent should ever stop a visit on a whim or to spite the other.