The right of both divorced fathers and mothers to see their children is to be enshrined in law for the first time as part of changes to family justice.
This comes despite warnings from the government’s independent review and lawyers that it would “clog the courts”.
In a consultation paper the government will propose amending the law to explicitly recognise the importance of children having a relationship with both parents after separation and divorce.
According to the government, studies show that following a divorce, 90% of children reside “mainly” with one of their parents – with just 12% of these children living with their father. This “bias”, say Whitehall sources, needs to be corrected.
Under the four options proposed by the government, family courts will have a legal duty to ensure that parents have a continuing relationship with their children if a marriage breaks down – because a “child’s welfare is likely to be furthered”.
Ministers point to a 2008 study which claimed children with “highly-involved dads develop better friendships, more empathy and higher levels of educational achievement and self-esteem.
They are also less likely to become involved with crime or substance abuse”.
Earlier this year ministers had rejected the advice from the economist David Norgrove, who chaired an independent official review into family justice, and warned of the situation in Australia after the country introduced “shared parenting” rights. A series of legal claims and counter-claims led to severe delays in child custody cases.
But ministers say its draft clauses will not lead to the courts having to apportion “equal time” or “defining the nature” of parental relationship – both cited as reasons why the law failed in Australia.
Leading lawyers said that “once in legislation you could end up with more cases clogging up the courts”.