The Times

January 18 2000

Both parents have the right of access to their children, says Tony Coe

Love of a child is not a separate issue

by Tony Coe, The Times

Can you imagine the uproar if either the Prince of Wales or the Duke of York had ever been denied contact with their children? No judge would allow that to happen. Why then allow it to happen to thousands of ordinary, perfectly good dads?

It is Saturday. Christmas Day is finally here. Today the calls will begin, and door bells will ring. Somewhere a mother tells her children to go to their rooms. Then she goes to answer the door. "Hello Frank, what do you want?" she says to the man standing there.

"I'm here to pick up of the kids for Christmas."

"I told you on the phone, they don't want to spend today with you. They want to go to my parents. Are you deaf or just dumb?"

"Helen, the court order says I get them for Christmas."

"You know the courts don't enforce those. No one cares if you see the kids. So if you keep bothering me with this, I'm going to call the police and say you are threatening us. You will be in trouble in a flash. So go away!"

"Well, I expected you to ignore the court order again, so I brought the kids' presents. Can I at least see them?"

"No, they're playing in their room. Put the presents in the garage and I will tell them they're from you."

"Can I phone them?"

"No, not this weekend, we'll be busy. I'll ring you if they want to talk to you."

After he's gone, the mother hears her seven-year-old call to her:

"Was that Daddy?"

"Yes."

"Will we see him today?"

"No, he's busy. He's spending Christmas with his girlfriend and her kids. I'm so sorry."

"Did he bring us anything?"

"No, he didn't. He can't afford to buy you presents this year, because he's just spending his money on his girlfriend's kids. He's not even paying his child support. But don't worry, there are lots of gifts for you, I even think that Father Christmas left some more around here somewhere. I'm going to find them, so why don't you go out and play while I look."

As they leave, she opens a cabinet, takes out wrapping paper and tape, then goes to the garage . . .

This story is true, though the names are different to protect the innocent, and the not-so. Permutations of this event were repeated thousands of times this holiday. Studies show that 60 per cent of non-resident parents (90 per cent of them fathers) are denied access to their children at Christmas. Many travel hundreds of miles, only to be turned away. Many will go to court, getting a hearing in the spring. They will spend thousands of pounds only to hear a judge tell them that Christmas is past, so there is nothing that can be done about it. They should focus on getting contact next Christmas. Others will throw up their hands, saying that there's no point.

The heartache every time that they are denied contact is just too much. So they just hope the kids will want to see them when they get older. A few others will feel that they cannot live without their children and decide that life is not worth living any more.

In this coming political year, one has to wonder why is there so much concern with financial support and so little with court-ordered parenting-time (so-called "contact"). Dads are always being told to spend more time with their children, but there is no advice on how thousands of non-resident dads (and mums) can do it.

Maybe the one question that should be asked of those who want to lead this country is "When will children have the right not only to a father's money, but also to a father's love?" Parenting does not end just because parents separate.

So again I say, imagine the uproar if one of the Queen's divorced sons were to be denied contact with his children. No judge would allow that to happen. Why then allow it to happen to thousands of ordinary, perfectly good dads?

  • The author is leader of the Equal Parenting Party, which fights for children's right to keep both parents; 38-40 Gloucester Road, Kensington SW7 4QU; 0171-589 9003; fax: 0171-584 4230. Website: www.EqualParenting.org. e-mail: tonyC@EqualParenting.org

    Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.