Prime Minster, David Cameron chose Father's Day to slate single fathers who "abandon their families" and in his newspaper article published on Sunday 19 June 2011 stated that "fathers have a duty to support their children financially and emotionally - spending time with them at weekends, attending nativity plays and taking an interest in their education".
There are, indeed, a minority of cases where, in addition to financial support, the mother desperately seeks the ongoing emotional and practical support of the father, imploring him to spend more time with the children, maintain the father-child relationship and play an active part in the child's upbringing. However, there is currently no Order that a Court can make that will force a reluctant father to do so. Contact Orders only require the parent with whom the child lives to make that child available for contact. They cannot require the non-resident parent to take up contact.
Despite the best efforts of mediators and solicitors to settle contact disputes through negotiation, many fathers are faced with the prospect of costly and lengthy litigation in order to protect their children's right to maintain a relationship with both parents.
Concerned at the cost to the public purse and the length of time family disputes were taking to be concluded within the Court arena, earlier this year the Ministry of Justice commissioned a review of the family justice system. The Family Justice Review's interim report was published at the end of March 2011. Whilst it did place importance on a continuing relationship between parents and children, the report fell short of recommending a presumption of shared parenting as a starting point when considering the arrangements for the children post-separation or divorce.
Responses to the interim report are now with the Ministry of Justice and a final report is to be published at the end of the year. Hopefully, this will provide firm recommendations as to how best to support, encourage and ensure that regular contact takes place between children and the non-resident parent.