Do the Family Courts favour Women?

Call 0345 872 6666

Do the Family Courts favour Women?

This question has plagued the Family Law Justice system for many years. But is there any truth in the claims that sexism and gender bias are enshrined in Family Law? Do Family Law Judges routinely and deliberately rule in favour of women over men?

The claims of gender bias and sexism have been brought to the fore predominantly by the Fathers4Justice (F4J) campaign group who have demanded that there should be a presumption of 50-50 child care when parents separate.

Historically, the exact opposite has been true. The Family Courts have strongly supported the rights of men - a reflection of society at the time. Prior to 1839, the custody of children was automatically granted to the father. In 1857, marriages could be dissolved through the introduction of special divorce courts, yet men and women were treated differently. Men only had to prove adultery to obtain a divorce, however, women had to prove adultery plus some aggravating factor such as rape or incest until 1923, when this prerequisite was removed. Until 1893, women were deemed to be the property of their husbands, which meant that all their assets, income and possessions automatically became the property of her husband upon marriage.

However, Family Law is never static; it has evolved over hundreds of years as social and cultural attitudes have progressed. Every single day, Family Judges hear cases throughout England and Wales and the law is applied, interpreted and clarified to ensure that it properly protects the interests of all parties involved.

So, bearing this in mind, do the Family Courts today favour women?

In modern society, there is less of an emphasis on the ‘breadwinner’ and the ‘home-maker’. Many couples are juggling the demands of work, childcare and raising a family between them. Women work full time and men are fully involved in the day-to-day care arrangements of the children. The courts recognise these changing roles and the significant step away from the stereotypical ‘1950’s’ family set up. This impacts how Judges deal with both finances and the arrangements for the children when couples separate.

In relation to the finances upon divorce, enshrined in the law is the ‘yardstick of equality’. Judges will only depart from equality, and give one spouse more than an equal share of the ‘pot’, if they require more to meet their needs and the needs of the family moving forwards. The ‘needs’ principle is applied equally to men and women, however each case will depend upon the specific circumstances of the family involved. Marriage is a financial contract where spouses agree to share everything they have and own with the other person. This is true both in life and in divorce.

Regarding the arrangements for children, Judges start from the presumption that the involvement of both parents in the child’s life will further the child’s welfare, unless the contrary can be shown. Although this does not mean that there is an automatic starting point of 50-50 shared care when parents separate, there is no maternal preference enshrined in the law relating to children.

When determining the arrangements for children, the welfare of the child at the heart of any parental dispute will be the court’s paramount consideration. ‘No contact’ orders (where a child has no contact with one parent which is by order of the court) are very rare. The court also has a duty to consider any allegations of domestic violence and abuse, drug addiction and alcohol dependency and determine arrangements which adequately safeguard the children whilst preserving the bond with their parents.

The term ‘custody’ has been removed from Family Law in a deliberate move away from the idea that there is one parent who has more power than the other in relation to the children. The courts are routinely granting shared ‘lives with’ orders to both parents and orders are now framed as ‘shared care’ rather than ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders. The courts are deliberately changing the way parents are viewed and view themselves in terms of the care they provide to their children.

Where a divorce is concerned, the joint decisions made by the spouses during their marriage will often set the scene for how the financial pot is to be divided upon divorce; Those decisions may mean that one spouse needs more financial support than the other after separation. Cases involving children are often extremely complex and there is not a simple ‘one size fits all’ solution. The courts must have regard to what is best for the child involved - this will be different in every single case as every single child, mother and father are unique.

Talk to us

If you are affected by any of the above and would like to speak to a member of our highly experienced team, please contact us by filling out our online enquiry form or call us on 0345 872 6666.

Did you find this post interesting? Share it on:

Related Posts