The common myth that family courts have a tendency to rule in favour of mothers has been discredited by a study conducted by the University of Warwick. The report into whether there is any gender bias within English and Welsh Courts reviewed 200 case files. Among various findings it concluded that contact applications put forward by fathers were ‘overwhelmingly successful’. Also the report established that in disputes over who a child should live with, mothers and fathers had similar success rates.
The study has been praised for its work in dispelling popular belief and demonstrating the fairness and equality inherent in British family courts. However the report has raised concern that, in some instances, it was considered the outcome of an equal or near equal shared care arrangement was, rather than being in the best interests of the child, was to satisfy the demands of both parents and ensure fairness between the adults.
Regardless of circumstance, a child’s needs should always be paramount, particularly in relation to arrangements for their care and the time they spend with both parents. It essential parents create a secure home life and routine for their children following a separation or divorce, protecting them from any parental conflict that could threaten to upset their emotional stability. Throughout the course of the study a number of cases were brought to the researchers’ attention regarding the use of equal care arrangements where one parent had a history of domestic abuse. In instances such as this it is difficult to see how the decision to share the care of a child was in the child’s best interests, leaving them unsupervised for prolonged periods of time with an adult who has a history of violence.
The study also questioned the impact of recent reforms resulting in severe cuts in the availability of legal aid in family matters. Many critics believe these cuts have removed the court as a feasible option for many parents wishing to solve disputes concerning their children. Pleasingly, the report concluded that the family courts were used as a last resort with many couples resolving issues without the need for court intervention which they saw as potentially negative. Increasing emphasis is now being placed on the constructive resolution of disputes with the help of collaborative law and mediation, both of which allow parents to work through their issues with one another away from the stress and expense of the court room. However once again the researchers reiterated their concerns over the welfare and safety of the children involved, as legal aid cuts potentially left children vulnerable to unsafe agreements.
If you need legal advice in relation to arrangements for children or require representation in relation to an application for a Child Arrangements Order please contact one of our specialist family lawyers on 0845 050 1958. Alternatively please complete the online enquiry form.