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Amid today’s growing rate of separation and divorce, it is estimated that over half of all separating fathers enjoy little or no continuing relationship with their children following the severance. While our politicians would have you believe that many of society’s ills are caused by ‘absent fathers’, you’re less likely to have heard them admit that breaches to contact orders by resident parents, and the Courts' inability to resolve such difficulties, necessitated new legislation to combat this problem. (1, 2)

From October 2007 Judges will be able to impose community service orders, fines, counselling and involve Court Welfare Officers through a wider use of Family Assistance Orders.

The new legislation was introduced due to cases such as the one heard by The Honourable Mr Justice Munby in 2004, where a father left the Court in tears following a five year battle to see his daughter. When the Judge heard that the father felt let down by the system, he said: ‘…I can understand why he expresses that view… In a sense it is shaming to have to say it, but I personally agree with his view. It is very, very disheartening. I am sorry there is nothing more I can do... The system has failed him.’ (3)

Hopefully fathers such as this will now find some justice, but while the Government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other…

* Changes to Legal Aid in 2007

Legal aid payments to solicitors are being changed in 2007, making many solicitors question whether it is commercially viable for them to carry out publicly funded work. While many have signed the new Legal Services Commission contract, the amount of work which they’ll do is another matter.

In one county, for family related matters, there are now only two firms of solicitors offering to take on clients who qualify for Legal Aid. For those lucky few who qualify for Legal Aid, finding a solicitor who will act for them may become a problem, and if they can, limits to the amount that solicitors can earn may affect the extent and usefulness of services on offer.

A Member of Parliament on a salary of £60,277 may not understand that many parents, who fail to meet the financial criteria for Legal Aid, cannot afford legal costs that can easily run into five figures.

* Better information equals less stress, fewer legal costs and more contact

The view that most fathers don’t go to court because they come to an agreement is farcical. Most believe they cannot afford to do otherwise and when contact is unilaterally stopped by the resident parent, they feel powerless.

Fear stops many fathers from going to Court, but in reality less than 1% of applications for contact orders are refused.

Many aren’t aware that they can reduce their legal costs by being better informed, or if they can’t afford a solicitor, that they can represent themselves in Court.

Charities such as Families Need Fathers (08707 607 111) can provide them with support and advice as can Michael Robinson’s latest self-help title for separating parents The Custody Minefield: Parental Separation, Your Rights and The Law.

‘When mutual agreement or mediation are no longer options, parents are often left wondering what to do next’, says the author, ‘and though there are a range of support services available to help, so many parents simply don’t know they exist, or remain hesitant to use them. The Custody Minefield helps parents - be they mothers or fathers - understand the options available to them, while holding the interests of their children paramount. Through knowing more, parents can reduce personal anguish and stress, and instead invest their emotional energies in finding the best solution for themselves and their children.’

With many family law solicitors charging over £200 per hour, separating parents forced into legal action can find the costs of merely getting to court prohibitive.

‘Engaging professional legal advisers can lead to bills of many thousand of pounds’, says the author. ‘Money aside, the emotional burden of battling one’s ex-partner in court while trying to hold down a job and maintain a semblance of normality for the children involved is almost too much for many parents to bear. Again, understanding more about the legal processes involved, and the types of court orders available, helps people reduce legal costs and court time, and lets them focus on the other important aspects of their life.’

About the Author :

Michael Robinson is the author of The Custody Minefield: Parental Separation, Your Rights and The Law (ISBN 0955075130, £9.99), acts as a McKenzie friend in family law, and is a regular contributor to legal, parenting and psychotherapeutic magazines.

The Custody Minefield is written for parents, has no gender bias, and is entirely focused on the needs of the children, including issues such as child protection. The title has been ordered as a reference manual for a leading charity which helps parents through separation, and has received endorsement from the legal profession and parenting groups.

In conjunction with the book, a dedicated support site www.thecustodyminefield.com includes discussion forums to help parents and loved ones deal with the difficult process of separating when children are involved.

Visitors to the site will be signposted to various support groups and charitable organisations that can help. The site also includes links to legislation that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of related family law.

Further information:

To contact Michael Robinson for further comment or editorial in the lead up to Father's Day, please e-mail enquiries@thecustodyminefield.com

To request a review copy of The Custody Minefield, please e-mail info@oranapublishing.com

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(1) Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, DBE President of the Family Division, The Paul Sieghart Memorial Lecture at the British Institute of Human Rights, King's College London (3 April 2003) ‘60% of fathers have little or no continuing relationship with their children post-separation’ [Crown Copyright 2003]

(2) The Children and Adoption Act 2006 [Crown Copyright 2006].

(3) F vs M [2004] EWHC 727 (Fam) [Crown Copyright 2004]
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