Thursday, August 27, 2009

Parents Are Equal


An article in the Daily Mail today deserves some comment. Not because it is great journalism (I would look elsewhere to find that), but because I think it demonstrates some commonly held views and misconceptions. Appearing in the 'Femail' section of the paper, the article is entitled "The courts took my children away from me because I'm a working mother", and describes how Jo Joyce, a 'high-flying divorce lawyer', (temporarily) lost her children after her divorce because she was a working mother. Jo says that she has "seen the way courts penalise women during custody disputes for daring to have a career as well as children", and the author of the piece goes on to say:"Jo has become part of a worrying phenomenon. Courts are increasingly ruling that women live apart from their children after a divorce."

I'm sorry, but what is 'worrying' about that? Parents are equal, aren't they? What is important is who can best care for the children, not whether that parent is the mother or the father (or both of them). Clearly, there is an anti-father agenda here, and if you read on you will find it:

"Significantly, the British courts take no account of a mother's natural nurturing instincts or that in a family she invariably takes the lead role in looking after children."

I had to check that I hadn't misread this. "A mother's natural nurturing instincts" sounds to me like something out of a 1950s parenting manual, and I find it quite remarkable that it is still being used in 2009. As for expecting the courts to take account of the fact that the mother is usually the main carer, that of course falls into the trap of failing to treat each case on its own merits.

As the article quite rightly points out, the courts must consider the interests of the child above everything. That being the case (and, I trust, accepted as the correct approach by Daily Mail readers), surely it is clear that it would be against the interests of the child to have as a starting-point a position which favours one parent over the other, before even examining the facts. One of the relevant facts is, of course, the capability of each parent of meeting the child's needs. If one parent is working full-time and the other is not (or is working part-time), then that is a factor (but not necessarily a deciding factor) that should be taken into account, irrespective of which parent is the one working full-time. This being true, it is no surprise that in a time when more mothers are working full-time and more fathers are not, more fathers are obtaining residence orders - the law is merely reflecting what is happening in society. However, to take the view that more fathers obtaining residence is wrong per se is absurd.

A quick glance through the comments to the article suggest that the author's views are shared by many in Daily Mail land, which is slightly worrying. Perhaps the family justice system should do more to educate people to explain how it works and, more importantly, why it works that way.

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