Guestpost: Network on Family, Regulation and Society
Last week the Family Justice Review panel published their final report containing recommendations to improve public and private law family proceedings (http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/policy/moj/family-justice-review-final-report.pdf). Reporting of the 225 page report reduced the Review’s careful research and comprehensive recommendations to a plethora of inflammatory headlines claiming that the FJR panel had refused to recognise that fathers should have equal parenting rights following parental separation.
Broadly speaking, this came as no surprise. That media coverage of the report ran almost universally under headlines designed to provide a red rag to the fathers’ rights bull was disappointing, however. It was also troubling in three respects.
First, the reporting in relation to fathers rights was strikingly (and, it appeared in many cases, wilfully) misleading. The headlines seem to have been formed on the basis of the recommendation that the law should not be amended to introduce a presumption in favour of equal shared parenting after separation. This recommendation was made in reference to claims that children should spend 50% of their time with each parent; it did not suggest that fathers (or indeed non-resident mothers) should not have contact with their children. Neither did the report say anything to suggest that shared parenting (as distinct from shared time) should be opposed. On the contrary, the report clearly emphasises and supports the current position, which is that almost all separated parents do share parental responsibility for their children.
Secondly, the reporting was a distraction from the concern of the Review, which was with the family justice system overall, and from some very interesting recommendations on how to make the system function more effectively.
Thirdly the work and recommendations of the Review panel represented a genuine attempt to infuse the rules and workings of family justice with evidence-based information about what is likely to improve outcomes for children. In relation to shared parenting, a wealth of quality research evidence (referenced in the report) indicates that a presumption in favour of equal time with each parent can lead to arrangements which are contrary to the best interests of children. The resort to attention-grabbing headlines about fathers’ rights without any reference to the evidence on the matter is indicative of a general disregard for and/or disinterest in information about what really matters for vulnerable children. This is dangerous.
Opportunities for gathering and reporting evidence about the workings of the family justice system and reflecting on how the system could be improved on this scale do not come about often. Much of what is in the FJR report holds the promise of genuine improvements to family justice system rules and processes which might generate far better outcomes for children and families. There is also much in the report which merits serious debate and discussion before any final decisions about changes to the family justice system are made. It would be a great shame if, in its wake, misinformation about the case for adjusting the law relating to shared parenting provided the principal impetus for discussion and reform.
For this reason, the members of the Network on Family, Regulation and Society would like to see some constructive engagement with the full spectrum of issues and recommendations highlighted in the report. Readers with similar aspirations should read our short summary and discussion of the report here
*This is the first blog of the Network on Family, Regulation and Society, a collection of researchers from the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter with extensive experience of researching family law and policy matters. We plan to launch our own site containing regular blogs on family matters in the near future. In the meantime, you can find out more about the Network and its members here: