Getting tough on mothers: regulating contact and residence

Feminist Legal Studies 15 (2):189-222 (2007)
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This article critically examines the relationship between shared residence and contact after the breakdown of the parents’ relationship. It examines the background to the government’s main emphasis on methods of monitoring, facilitating and enforcing contact as the most efficacious method of proceeding in respect of the law reform agenda, focussing particularly on the potential impact of punitive enforcement measures on primary carers, usually mothers. The article sets the discussion within its wider cultural context in respect of fathers’ rights claims that family law currently favours mothers, and shows how recent legal developments constitute part of a package to manage post-separation relationships between parent and children. It also examines some of the emerging case law to show how the judiciary is using shared residence orders and transfer of residence to deal with protracted and very difficult contact disputes, and in ways which were not anticipated when shared residence orders were first introduced. Drawing on feminist legal commentaries the argument will be made that the use of transfer of residence and shared residence orders in these disputes is extremely worrying, especially in light of the growing body of empirical research which heralds caution. The article will conclude by suggesting that far from favouring mothers, both the law reforms and the case law effectively construct mothers as integral to the problem of contact. They are treated as the site of and solution to the ‚problem’ of contact, and the means of dealing with the problem is by increasingly punitive measures which are inappropriate in a family law context. At the same time non-residential fathers who do not uphold contact escape legal sanctions



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