A new study has found no evidence that family courts in England and Wales are discriminating against fathers because of gender bias.
The study, by Dr Maebh Harding from the University of Warwick and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, reviewed almost 200 case files from 2011 and concluded that contact applications by fathers were in fact “overwhelmingly successful”.
Her report, co-authored with Dr Annika Newnham from the University of Reading, paints a generally positive picture of the role of the County Courts in resolving child law disputes at the time of the study.
However, it does raise some concerns that equal or near equal care was being used as a way to ensure adult fairness, rather than achieving the best arrangement for the children.
The report concludes that family courts were only being used by parents as a last resort and the vast majority of cases were resolved without the need for a contested final hearing. Contrary to popular belief, proceedings did not result in any amplified or entrenched conflict between the parties involved.
However, cuts to legal aid are threatening the public’s access to the system, the researchers warn.
“Going to court with legal advice to resolve disputes between parents about their children is now out of the financial reach of most parents, although funding is still available for mediated resolution,” explained Dr Harding.
“We have concerns that the wholesale diversion of these cases from court through cuts to legal aid will mean that parents will agree to unsafe arrangements where risk factors are not appropriately managed or will be unable to reach agreement about having contact with their children,” she added.
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