Nearly four out of every 10 family break-ups finish with a courtroom battle over the children, newly-released figures show.
They mean that 50,000 couples whose marriages or relationships end each year fight so seriously over who will look after their children that they need lawyers and a judge to rule on their future.
The number of legal disputes over the children of separated couples is four times higher than estimates long accepted by lawyers, social workers and politicians.
It points to a large pool of hidden misery among broken families and a major drain on the finances of hard-pressed parents struggling with each other over the fate of their children.
Nearly four out of every 10 family break-ups finish with a courtroom battle over the children [stock photo]
The four in ten figure is far higher than the previously widely accepted ten percent, pointing to a vast number of children who have been living in misery [stock photo]
The figures were produced by family court social workers in response to queries from the pressure group Families Need Fathers. They have been endorsed by the chief family judge Sir Andrew McFarlane.
Sir Andrew, President of the Family Division, said they were ‘a far cry from the previous comfortable urban myth based on a figure of 10 per cent.
It indicates a major societal problem, with nearly 40 per cent of parents unable to sort out the arrangements for their own child without the need apply for a court order.’
The disclosure of the real scale of court disputes over children comes at a time when ministers are pushing through ‘divorce on demand’ legal reforms which will allow divorce in a year at the request of just one marriage partner, and which will abolish adultery or unreasonable behaviour as causes for divorce.
Justice Secretary David Gauke has said that current divorce law increases conflict between couples and generates ‘unnecessary blame games’.
However, the divorce law reforms will do nothing to settle disputes between couples over their children, or over their money and assets.
The new figures were produced by CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It said there were eight million couples with children in England and Wales and that 130,000 such couples break up every year.
But instead of the accepted figure that one in 10 couples who break up go to court to solve their arguments over children, CAFCASS said the true number was 50,000 – 38 per cent.
Jerry Karlin of Families Need Fathers said: ‘Clearly good quality data on the performance of the family courts are difficult to obtain. However, when data is poor, it needs to be improved and checked.
Sir Andrew McFarlane said the fractured relationships: ‘indicates a major societal problem, with nearly 40 per cent of parents unable to sort out the arrangements for their own child without the need apply for a court order’ [stock photo]
The disclosure of the real scale of court disputes over children comes at a time when ministers are pushing through ‘divorce on demand’ legal reforms which will allow divorce in a year [stock photo]
‘It is shocking that a mythical figure, that is three to four times lower than the real figure, has been relied upon since 2003. This implied that children in 90 per cent of separated families are “broadly fine” and hence “let’s not do anything”.’
The group called for a review of family law and more efforts to promote shared parenting.
Disputes between separated parents often happen after the children go to live with the mother and the couple argue over when and how the father will see them.
Fathers’ organisations have complained for many years that mothers routinely ignore court orders and refuse to let fathers see children.
Judges are reluctant to hand out prison sentences or fines to mothers who do not comply because of the risk that any punishment of the mother would harm the children.
Mothers often warn of abuse by fathers or that violent fathers may harm their children.