Letter: Abduction by 'absent fathers'

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The Independent Online
Sir: As a magistrate serving on the Family Panel, I cannot help wondering if Peter Malkin has attracted an exemplary sentence. The current legislation under the Children Act has a grave defect that would seem to encourage abduction.

Access is now termed contact. The intention of the Act is to give the interests of the child paramount consideration and to encourage parties to reach agreement without 'benefit of court'. This, of course, is not always possible and courts are frequently called upon to make contact orders. These are a farce because they are in practice unenforceable, and where such an order is flouted for no good reason the parent seeking contact has no remedy.

In most cases, a residence order is made in favour of the mother. The father seeking contact is powerless if the mother refuses to release the child in compliance with an order. In theory, the mother's non-compliance can attract a prison sentence. This is merely a 'sop to Cerberus'. What court would send the mother of a young child to prison? It would not be in the interests of the child, so would clearly be in conflict with the avowed intention of the Act. Fathers seeking legitimate contact enforcement, and the courts they resort to, are engaged in a charade.

It is a further injustice that fathers who fail to pay or keep up maintenance are vigorously pursued, and those who pay faithfully can still be denied their right of contact. Abduction must be a serious temptation to these unfortunate men. This legislation is worse than weak, it is useless and hypocritical. Without a sanction, the courts are toothless and justice is a mockery. The simple answer could be to link maintenance to contact, reducing the former by 50 per cent when the latter is illegally withheld in contempt of a court order.

The silent victims of this misguided part of the Act are so-called 'absent fathers' and their children. Little wonder if some should try abduction.

Yours faithfully,

JASMINE SALISBURY

Wilby, Norfolk

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