There has been considerable reaction to the Prime Ministers comments about "runaway fathers" made to coincide with Fathers Day this year. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron called for such men to be "stigmatised" and the "full force of shame heaped upon them".
Obviously I can't defend all fathers (and wouldn't want to) but the majority of my current clients are fathers and I feel that the PM's comments unfairly casts many of them in a role which they have not chosen to be.
Despite all being fathers, my clients are a mixed bunch; there are fathers who have sole care of their children, fathers who have primary care of their children, fathers who want to see their children but can't because the mother wont let them, fathers who don't see their children because they're in prison and fathers who want to see their children but the Local Authority or the courts have stepped in to prevent contact.
The approach of the courts, if it comes to that, is that a child has the right to have contact with both parents unless there are good reasons to the contrary. Those reasons put the emotional welfare of the child first and tend to be invoked most often where there has been a history of domestic abuse or drug and alcohol abuse. In the publicly funded work I do, one or all of those reasons are nearly always present. The court process does allow for parents to demonstrate their commitment to changing their lifestyles, and I refer back to my previous piece on the importance of engaging in the services offered.
Sadly, it doesn't always work out. Only recently I had to advise a father to withdraw his application for contact. The client understood that the reality of his situation, particularly his failure to address his criminal lifestyle and drug use, meant that until he could make the necessary changes there was no realistic prospect of persuading the Court it was in his child's best interests to have him in his life.
If separated parents are able to reach an agreement between themselves involving the children, then of course that is preferable to legal action, but the reality of relationship breakdowns means that will not always be the case. I have a client who, despite a messy breakdown in his marriage, has fought hard for over two years to see his children when their mother relocated to the other side of the country. He uprooted his life so he can now see them on a fortnightly basis. It took a huge amount of effort and a contested application through the courts to get the contact he wanted and I hate to think that had he been unsuccessful, or not made the huge sacrifices he has done, our PM thinks that he should be stigmatised and treated with hostility.
It will be interesting to compare the PMs view on the importance of having fathers involved in their children's lives when it is revealed what cuts to public funding in family cases are proposed in the Legal Aid Bill due imminently.
Mr Cameron's states the Government has a responsibility "to do what we can to bring fathers back into the lives of all our children". Without access to legal advice and representation those fathers who already struggle to have contact with their children will only find their prospects diminished yet further.
Kate Gomery has recently qualified as a family law solicitor. She works at Heaney Watson in Liverpool where she is exposed to all types of family law work but particularly publicly funded family law cases. Prior to qualification Kate spent several years doing general crime and then serious fraud work. She trained at Pannone in Manchester.