(If anyone in the UK knows more about this than us or understands it better, feel free to set us straight in the comments!)
David Norgrove, who was chair of the Family Court Review Panel in England and once fought to have grandparents be a part of a child’s life after a divorce, has come out in grand fashion today suggesting that parents not be given equal weight in family courts. Instead, it is the child’s best interest that will be considered – regardless of the “meaningful relationship” that Norgrove himself previously suggested.
One of the particularly odd zings is: “No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.”
Therefore, a divorced father will have no legal right to see his child, and will have to petition the court for the legal go-ahead.
Norgrove believes that family court cases are too expensive and lengthy, and that parents should settle their disputes and relationships with their children outside of court. You know, because that usually goes well. Previous studies in the UK had shown that 93% of custody battles were won by the mother – so fathers’ groups are a little miffed that Norgrove suggests that family court make quicker decisions in the interest of saving money.
Norgrove points divorcing parents to a central website containing forms and mediation resources – so that parents can DIY their divorce before going to court.
This battle comes amidst Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to highlight the importance of a family-friendly government in England.
Norgrove’s report also sets its sights on grandparents, who will need a 2-step court process to gain the right to see their grandchildren – one court order to open the issue and one for permission to pursue them. “Just as contact is a right of the child, not of the parents,” says Norgrove’s report, “so also grandparents do not have a ‘right’ to contact.”
Also from the report: “Not all grandparents are good grandparents. One of the separating parents can use his or her parents as a weapon against the other partner.”
Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, said “I have not seen anything in the report that says there must be a presumption on the rights of mothers. What the report is very clear about, which I wholly and utterly endorse, as does the commissioner, is that the presumption must be that the best interests of the child must be put first.” But in a system that is rewarding 93% of custody battles to the mother – to not reform it sounds like a presumption on the rights of mothers.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, plans on protesting the report personally.
If you’d like to read the report yourself, you can do so on the Family Law website.