"Bringing Families Together"

"Bringing Families Together"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pilot to ensure children see divorced parents is dropped

FIGHTING FOR FAMILY: Father-of-two Brian McNair of Stirling has been trying to get his court order for visitation rights enforced for a decade. Picture: Julie Howden

The Scottish Government has ditched a promised pilot scheme aimed at easing the trauma of the hundreds of children who lose contact with one or both parents during divorce proceedings.

In December 2005 ministers pledged to run a pilot aimed at ensuring, where appropriate, that both parents have access to their children after separation and that court orders allowing contact are enforced.

In Scotland each year an estimated 700 children fall victim to court order breaches which mean they lose contact with at least one parent.

As part of the Family Law Act 2006, Hugh Henry, the then deputy justice minister, pledged to pilot family court facilitators and commissioned research into the problem.

The Scottish Government has now dropped the plans claiming there was no suitable candidate found during the procurement process to run the project.

Brian McNair was granted a court order to see his two children 10 years ago.

He was meant to get overnight access and be able to take them on holidays. But he says he has been unable to get the court order enforced and that his ex-wife allows only him to see them three times a year for about 10 minutes.

"I am so angry and disappointed," he said. "Dropping this will have serious ramifications for fathers, mothers and grandparents.

"Children are becoming alienated from their parents and no-one is doing anything about it. The government is just turning its back. I have been contacted by so many fathers and some mothers unable to get access to their children because there is no-one to ensure compliance with the court orders."

Pauline McNeil MSP, Labour's justice spokeswoman, has written to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, demanding to meet him and discuss why the pledge has been dropped.

"Having fought so hard to get this commitment I am very disappointed that there is no action being taken," she said.

"It is primarily about how this affects the children of those parents who cannot get their contact orders enforced.

"I would look to this government to re-establish a way of making the system better. I would expect them to start by reinstating this commitment."

Families Need Fathers said: "We believe at least 700 children a year are affected by breached contact orders but this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

"In England they gave extra sanctions to the court to use against those who breach such orders including community orders. I would like to see the same thing happening here. In Scotland a parent can only be fined or imprisoned for breaching such an order and the courts are understandably reluctant to use such measures because of the additional harm to the children."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We ran a procurement exercise to secure a host organisation who would recruit and manage a postholder in each of the courts. We have reached the end of the procurement process without identifying a suitable candidate.

"We have started to look at options as to how the aims of the pilot could be met by other methods.

"A broad programme of research on contact issues is under way and is suitably flexible to ensure it can be adjusted to take account of any conclusions or data that emerges from other projects.

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