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Does the Children Act 1989 favour the mother? Marwa Hadi explains

As a family solicitor, I often speak to fathers who inform me that they believe that should they take any dispute regarding their children to the Court, they will have fewer rights than the mother.  

This is a common misconception which is not helped by the media who enjoy reporting fathers in superhero costumes scaling important buildings.  

Little is said however about the fact that in many cases, the children in fact have primary residence with the father or that shared residence orders are being made more frequently.

It is only when I speak to fathers experiencing matrimonial disputes that I reassure them of their equal rights and encourage them to resolve matters if they are not happy with the existing contact and residence arrangements. This can be done through mediation, negotiation via solicitors or ultimately by issuing Court proceedings.

Whilst statistically, most children do primarily reside with their mothers, this is often done for certain reasons which can be counteracted and I therefore advise fathers upon separation of the following:-

1. At the risk of sounding stereotypical, a greater percentage of mothers with children of school age work part time in comparison to fathers. If fathers were to reduce their working hours or alternatively, adopt a flexi working pattern which ensured they were available to carry out the school runs then they may find they can prove to the Court they are practically as equipped to meet their children’s needs.  

2. When a couple separate, the father is often the parent who decides to vacate the matrimonial home. When I ask fathers why they have chosen to do this, they say the situation at home was becoming unbearable or their Wife/partner wished for them to leave. They also feel they are in a better position to afford temporary accommodation as opposed to the mother. I always advise fathers who come to see me to try as far as possible to remain in the matrimonial home as the Court usually looks to maintain the existing status quo. If the father leaves and makes a Court application a few months down the line, by the time a hearing takes place the children will already have adjusted to living with mum and the Court may be reluctant to disturb the existing arrangement if it is working well.

3. In situations where the father does decide to move out, matters are made more difficult if they do not live locally to the matrimonial home. They may live in another town which means weeknight contact is impossible or live in a one bedroom property which would prevent overnight contact. It is important that if fathers do decide to vacate the family home, they consider what practical impact this will have on the time they spend with their children before doing so.