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By Jonathan Isaby
On the day that there is news that grandparents are to gain rights to access their grandchildren, it is worth noting the efforts earlier in the week of Dover's Conservative MP to ensure that children grow up knowing and with access to both of their parents.
Presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Tuesday, he lamented that one million of the three million children who live apart from a parent have no contact with the non-resident parent three years after separation.
"Too often, people say it is about mums' rights or dads' rights, but actually it is about the rights of a child to know and have a relationship with both their parents. That is the nub of what the Bill is about. It is not right that parents should sink their children's right to know them in a sea of acrimony when they split up."
He then went on to cite a variety of case studies to support his proposal, including the following:
"Kenn Griffiths of mychildcontact.com sent me details of a case involving a mother who was divorced several years ago. The father has residence and the mother tells a moving story about how the father has been poisoning her children against her, telling them that she is ill and will never get better and that if they live with her they will make her even more ill. He has been saying the same to the CAFCASS representative. The only information the CAFCASS representative had in front of her was the father's allegations, and she recommended that the mother see the children every other weekend in a contact centre, not for half the time as she does at the moment. Surely that cannot be the right way forward.
"Let me detail the case of an alienated mother in which the father has the residence order for their two boys. They had 46 hearings between 2000 and 2006 before contact was finally achieved, by which time the damage had been done and the children were so alienated that they had no relationship with their mother. How can that be right? This is the existing law that we have to contend with.
"Then there are the blackmail cases. Danny saw his six-year-old daughter every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings. He pays his ex-partner's mortgage and he pays maintenance through the Child Support Agency, but one Friday before he was due to make a visit, mum said, "I need a new bed; if you don't buy one, you won't see your daughter tomorrow." That was two years ago and he has not seen his daughter since because the judiciary will not enforce the contact orders. The system is stacked against him."
"The reason I am putting this Bill before the House is to ensure that there is a clear and enforceable right of the child-a clear presumption in law-that will send a clear message to all those involved, including CAFCASS and all the weak-kneed judges who will not make or enforce any orders. To the parents who have residence orders and should know better, I want us to send the message that this is not about their rights: it is about their children's rights to grow up knowing both their mother and their father."
Although Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd spoke against the Bill (he said he agreed with its intentions but feared it would "fall foul of the law of unintended consequences"), the House did not divide on the issue and the Bill proceeded to its next stage – although it stands little chance of becoming law unless it gets government backing.