David and Sally separated after 10 years of marriage in September 2014. They had two children, aged eight and five at the time.
David was a good father, who does not want to stop being a dad just because his marriage has ended.
However, nearly three years later, with more than £200,000 paid in legal fees, he is still fighting through the complex and bureaucratic family courts to see his children eight nights a month, instead of the six nights originally offered by Sally.
Sadly, this is not a fictional story, but one of the many sad cases of high-conflict divorces. Family breakdown is painful for everyone involved, and it is the state’s duty to support those going through this difficult experience.
However, as in the case of David and Sally, not only have those two extra nights per month been financially and emotionally expensive for them, but on several occasions Sally has unlawfully stopped the children seeing David, breaking the court order and undermining the father-child relationship.
I presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill in parliament calling for robust enforcement of Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) – the arrangement of contact and residence of children upon a divorce.
The law needs urgent reform to prevent parents from acting with impunity.
Children without a father in their life often struggle to reach their full potential. But the law does not safeguard this, because of a failure to crack down on noncompliance of CAO.
The criminal threshold for contempt is rarely met and judges are failing to assert their authority swiftly under The Children Act 1989.
Most family disputes need not see the inside of a courtroom.
The government now needs to run an independent commission, looking into these matters, so we have a family justice system fit for the 21st century.