Lucinda Connell, North East’s Leading Female Specialist Family Lawyer of Major Family Law, Newcastle’s specialist divorce and children solicitors based in Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne states A new study by the Universities of Warwick and Reading (and funded by the Nuffield Foundation) has found that there is no evidence that family courts in England and Wales are discriminating against fathers because of gender bias. The study, which reviewed almost 200 case files from 2011, shows that contact applications by fathers are ‘overwhelmingly successful’.

The report paints a generally positive picture of the role of the County Courts in resolving child law disputes at the time of the study. However, it does raise some concerns that equal or near equal care was being used as a way to ensure adult fairness, rather than achieving the best arrangement for the children.

The report also questions the impact of recent cuts to legal aid, which the authors of the report say will remove court as a viable option for many parents. One of the authors, Dr Maebh Harding from Warwick School of Law said:

“Whilst it’s true that mothers were usually the primary care giver in contact applications, this was simply a reflection of the social reality that women are more likely to take on the role after a relationship breakdown. But there was actually no indication of any bias towards mothers over fathers by the courts; in fact we established there was a similar success rate for mothers and fathers applying for orders to have their children live with them.

And although the overall number of residence orders made for mothers was higher than those made for fathers, this was because a large number of such orders were made for mothers as respondents in cases where the father sought contact.

Transfers of sole residence were rare as the courts sought to preserve the status quo and where they were ordered they were disproportionately likely to be transfers from mum to dad and to feature welfare concerns and children’s services involvement.”

The report concludes that family courts were only being used by parents as a last resort and the vast majority of cases were resolved without the need for a contested final hearing. Contrary to popular belief, proceedings did not result in any amplified or entrenched conflict between the parties involved.