Are fathers treated differently to mothers?
Divorce  |  Family law

Are fathers treated differently to mothers?

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Walker Family Law
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IAre fathers treated differently to mothers?t’s a very important question, and one that causes some of the fiercest debate in the world of family law: does the family justice system treat fathers less fairly than mothers?

Many fathers involved in disputes over arrangements for their children have complained that the system is biased against them, but is it true? The question was recently posed by a family court judge, in a case that raises some serious issues.

The case concerned allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour alleged to have been perpetrated by a father against his daughter.

The circumstances surrounding the allegations are pivotal to the question that the judge posed.

The parents had an ‘on and off’ relationship, resulting in the birth of their child, in 2017. The relationship ended shortly after, with the child living with her mother, and generally spending weekends with her father.

Everything changed on the 6th of October 2021. The mother spent the evening at the Bingo, where she said she had drunk about three pints. Whilst she was at the Bingo the father looked after the child, but as she could not stay with him overnight, it was arranged that the mother would pick her up at 9pm.

The mother duly collected the child just after nine. The child was rather tired, as it was after her usual bedtime of 8 o’clock.

During the course of the walk home the child told the mother that her father had touched her, including in the genital area. Alarmed, the mother told two police officers that she happened upon in the street.

The police began an investigation. It was decided that the child should be interviewed, but for some reason that did not happen until about the 21st of December. When it did, the child had nothing but good things to say about her father.

Meanwhile, the father’s contact had been stopped, and did not resume even when the police indicated that they would take no further action.

Social Services had become involved, and they indicated that until a risk assessment was conducted with respect to the father, he should not have any contact with his daughter.

No risk assessment ever took place, and the father had to apply to the family court to re-establish contact. He made his application on the 4th of February 2022.

The family court had to establish the facts regarding the allegations against the father, and a fact-finding hearing was eventually fixed for the 28th of September.

In the event the mother, having given the matter further consideration, informed the court that she was no longer pursuing the findings against the father. Accordingly, the court made no findings against him.

In the course of his judgment the judge posed the following question: “if the roles were reversed, if [the father] had collected [the child] for contact on 6 October and walked from her mother’s, having picked her up at 9 o’clock, he having had three pints having just been to the Bingo, and [the child] had said to him “Mummy touched me” and indicated her chest and her stomach and her genital area, and had [the father] walked round the corner to a police officer and related that accurately (or inaccurately) in detail (or vaguely) to a police officer, how likely is it that [the mother] would not have … any contact with her daughter for almost a year as a consequence of what was set in place as a result of that allegation being made?”

The judge then answered his own question, finding it almost impossible to conclude that the answer would be anything other than ‘unlikely’.

Expressing regret at the fact that the family justice procedure had taken so long, the judge said that this stemmed from the fact that no professional during the process appears to have taken a step back and thought to themselves: “this is a case about a father and the suggestion that a father has sexually abused his daughter. No one seems to have asked the question – what is the actual evidence for sexual abuse having taken place?”

Whilst this was of course a case with very specific facts, it is indeed difficult to imagine that, had the roles been reversed, the mother would have been denied contact with her daughter for a year.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading law firms for family law in the South West. For expert advice, please contact the team.

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