If you were asked whether fathers are more likely to see their sons rather than their daughters, or the other way round, following separation or divorce what would you think?
Recent research, carried out by the London School of Economics and the University of Kent analysed data from ongoing monitoring of the lives of 19,000 children born between 2000 and 2001 collated under the Millennium Cohort Study.
The focus was on married or cohabiting couples who had split up before their child/ren reached eleven years old. All the children concerned had remained living with their respective mothers.
Surprisingly they found that the children’s genders were significant in that non-resident fathers were more likely to see their sons regularly than their daughters. Less of a revelation is fathers who can afford to have home with separate bedroom accommodation for the child/ren would see their children more frequently than those who could not, and fathers more actively involved with their child/ren before the separation were more likely to see their children than those who had not.
The report also revealed that eight out of ten non-resident fathers have some contact with their children under the age of three, whereas nine of ten fathers have more contact with children aged three and over. Sadly however, it appears that contact between fathers and their child/ren decreased in the longer term, and out of ten fathers three had lost all contact with their child/ren by the time the child/ren reached eleven years.
Where the child/ren were very young at the time of separation, or had not seen their father for a long time after separation, were more likely to have no contact at all with their father.
On a brighter note however, the study discovered that although three quarters of fathers with children aged five or under had overnight contact, this proportion rose to 80 per cent when the children were eleven.
There is no doubt that being a single parent can be tough, and the report revealed that mothers generally felt less confident about their parental skills after separation than those who remained in a relationship. There does not appear to be any improvement in confidence levels no matter how much contact the fathers have with their child/ren.
Moving away from the report, it is not the case that a parent can be forced to see his or her children through the courts. However, if one parent is not allowing the other parent to see the children or is restricting contact unreasonably, it is possible to apply to the court for an order to force the parent with care to make the child/ren available for contact. The order can be made in terms which clearly sets out the frequency and times the child/ren will see the non-resident parent, and if breached it is within the power of the court to apply sanctions to include a prison sentence for non-compliance.
In extreme cases, not unlike the recent case of Rebecca Minnock, in circumstances where the parent with care is restricting contact to the other parent the court is likely to order the child is to live with the other parent. The court’s view is that unless there are safeguarding issues that would restrict or prevent contact from taking place is that children have the right to have a relationship with both parent.
If you would like advice on the legal issues raised in this article Anita Garside-Slinger Solicitor, a Member of the Family Law Society Accreditation Scheme and a Member of Resolution, can be contacted at Ringrose Law solicitors, 2 and 2a Bargate, Newark (01636 594460; email firstname.lastname@example.org).