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Unmarried fathers are granted parental responsibility to make them 'feel good', finds LSE academic

Unmarried fathers are being granted legal parental responsibility based on whether it makes them 'feel good' rather than the role they play in their child's life, an academic from the London School of Economics and Political Science has found.

Helen ReeceHelen Reece says a development in case law means judges are now basing decisions on whether to grant the order on the feelings and emotions of the father, rather than the effect it would have in practice.

 An order gives an unmarried father official legal status equal to the mother and applications are considered by court.

In her article Parental Responsibility as Therapy, recently published in the Family Law Journal, Helen Reece, a reader in law, writes that there is a danger the increased focus on emotions rather than actions 'implies a downgrading of what the father might do with his parental responsibility and an upgrading of how he might feel about having parental responsibility.'

Previously the main reason given for granting parental responsibility was to give an unmarried father more power to make decisions in his child's life.

Helen Reece argues the shift shows 'therapy culture' has pervaded this area of law. Therapy culture encourages an individual to put themselves first and puts greater emphasis on feelings than actions, she writes.

'Usually, a status in family law -- husband, child or mother – is awarded because the applicant has met the requisite conditions, and those conditions do not generally include, let alone consist in, the fact that the applicant will feel better if the status is granted," she says.

'It is a remarkable legal development that a legal order […] may be granted to make an adult "feel good".' 

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12 January 2010

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