The change in question will advise UK judges that “the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to furthered through safe involvement with both parents.” In other words, the courts will be guided by the notion that – absence of abuse – equal parenting should be the starting point in any child custody determination.
It’s a dramatic, groundbreaking paradigm change that has advocates in many other countries – including the US and Canada – watching with intense interest.
And that’s just the beginning.
Going forward, mothers who deny their children access to their father may lose their driver’s licenses, their passports, or even their freedom to move as they please. This represents a radical departure from the status quo, which has been criticized for decades in the UK (just as it has been in North America and many other countries) as being patently pro-mother and anti-father.
So why are the UK lawmakers – not typically known for thinking outside of the legal box – leading the way in what could be the spark that changes family law around the world? It comes down to costs: social and economic.
One in five children of divorce in the UK become completely estranged from their non-custodial parent (usually their father) within three years. And with overwhelming research that links fatherlessness with problems at school, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and more, lawmakers felt that the costs of inaction outweighed the political toll of changing laws that haven’t been touched in generations.
What remains to be seen, of course, is whether many divorcing couples will be able to co-parent in a civilized manner. For some couples, that’s likely more than just a lofty goal – it’s wishful thinking.
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