It is a common belief that mothers usually fare better in child care proceedings. However, as reported in Family Law Week, a study commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation reveals that there is no evidence that family courts in England and Wales are discriminating against fathers in child contact and residence cases.
Dr. Maebh Harding of Warwick Law School studied almost 200 private child law case files from 2011. From these cases, she concluded that contact applications made by fathers were in fact “overwhelmingly successful”, and that there was “a similar success rate for mothers and fathers applying for orders to have their children live with them”.
The report highlighted that family courts were actually used as a last resort by parents, and that the vast majority of contact cases were settled without the need for a contested final hearing. It also observed that, contrary to popular belief, proceedings of this sort did not in fact on the whole, exacerbate any conflict between the parties involved.
Although the report was generally positive about the role played by County Courts in resolving child law disputes, four cases were highlighted, one of which had a background of proven domestic violence and in which near equal parental care had been approved by the court in spite of serious concerns having been raised about the welfare of the children. The authors felt that it was difficult to have confidence that the court had acted in the best interests of the children, in these specific cases.
They also expressed concern that recent cuts to Legal Aid would prevent many parents filing contact and residence claims with the courts, stating that: “We have concerns that the wholesale diversion of these cases from court through cuts to Legal Aid will mean that parents will agree to unsafe arrangements, where risk factors are not appropriately managed or will be unable to reach agreement about having contact with their children.”