The movement for equal/shared parenting has just suffered a devastating defeat.  Very few of the usual news outlets have picked up on this, and you won’t find mention of it on the normal fathers’ groups websites, though individuals like Jeff Botterill and Nick Woodall have spotted it and Tweeted accordingly.

I am not referring to the gaoling for six months of Tim Haries, for vandalising an especially awful portrait of the Queen, which should surprise no one, but to an amendment to Clause 11 of the Children and Families Bill.

This amendment was introduced by Lord Nash – a schools minister – and Baroness Butler-Sloss – former President of the Family Division – following successful lobbying by the self-styled Shared Parenting Consortium, in reality a cynical alliance of organisations and individuals ideologically opposed to shared parenting, including the NSPCC, Resolution, Young Minds UK, Barnardo’s, Gingerbread, NYAS, Relate, the Children’s Commissioner, Coram’s Children’s Legal Centre and Butler-Sloss herself.

Section 11 had read,

 A court…  is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

The Shared Parenting Consortium had made the familiar claim that this clause would conflict with rather than enhance the paramountcy of the child’s welfare and that it implied in some way an equal division of parenting time.  Butler-Sloss explained,

 I… worry about those who would go to court with an erroneous view of what this clause actually means, and with an inbuilt sense of their rights rather than the best arrangements for the children. The purpose of this amendment is to give some clarity to the clause and to help the public come to terms with putting the welfare of their children first.

The amendment reads,

 In subsection (2A) ‘involvement’ means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.

This is significant and damaging for two reasons: first, it introduces the idea of indirect involvement, so that “involvement” can now be taken to mean, as now applies, a mere letter every month; and secondly it ensures that “involvement” cannot be taken to mean any division of a child’s time.

The reason this is so damaging is that the division of a child’s time is really the only thing a court has any influence over when making any order for Contact, Residence or the new Child Arrangements; it can have little influence over how that time is used or the quality of parenting during that time.  Removing the time element from the concept of “involvement” strips it of any significance.

The clause began life in the Government’s Response to the Family Justice Review and had some teeth,

 The Government believes that there should be a legislative statement of the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests.

The final version of Section 11 represents the final nail in the coffin for any hope of a legal presumption of shared parenting to be introduced into English/Welsh law.  This is despite the fact that there is overwhelming academic evidence that equal shared parenting promotes children’s welfare and that a legal presumption is the best way to achieve it.

Let us be clear – there are only two options for dividing up parenting after separation: the first is equal shared parenting and the second is sole mother custody.  There is nothing else, and even where an unequal form of shared parenting is ordered the tendency is for it to revert to sole mother custody.  This amendment ensures that the Consortium’s favoured demographic will continue to get the lion’s share of custody and that children will continue to lose fathers.  It has nothing to do with children’s welfare and everything to do with elevating the rights of one party over those of all others.

Baroness Butler-Sloss also said this,

 The groups of parents whom I worry about in relation to Clause 11 are those who try to settle the arrangements for the children without going to court.  In the absence of lawyers to advise either side, the stronger, more dominant parent may insist on an arrangement based on equality, or at least on disproportion which is not appropriate for the welfare of the children…

Given that these groups represent at least 75% of separating parents with children (and the official figure is 90%), demanding that all separating parents go to court to slug out their child care arrangements would put enormous additional pressure on the courts while at the same time provide a huge increase in business for lawyers and judges.  What is best for children and their families is to stay out of the courts, not to be sucked into an adversarial battle which can last years and cost tens or even hundreds of thousands.  The Shared Parenting Consortium is revealed as an alliance inimical to the interests of children.

It is high time that the organisations truly supportive of shared parenting woke up to what is happening and formed their own alliance.  The forces ranged against them are enormously powerful, well-funded and organised.  They are well-represented both in the Commons and in the Lords.  The NSPCC derives more than 70% of its annual income from the taxpayer, falsely positioning itself as a charity promoting the welfare of children; Barnardo’s derives 78% from the taxpayer.

Meanwhile the supporters of shared parenting are disorganised, lack funding and lack any common aims or any common understanding of what it is they are fighting.  We allow ourselves to be distracted by conspiracy theories and disputes over individual egos which block the formation of effective alliances and block progress.  This is an absolute disaster for the children and future generations who look to us for a solution.

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