Fathers are now just as likely as mothers to win a custody battle for their children if they start the legal fight, latest figures show.
Family Court statistics for 2005, released yesterday, show that most of what are now called "day-to-day care" parenting orders are still awarded to mothers.
But most orders also go to whoever applies for them, whether they are mums or dads. Mothers end up getting more orders in their favour only because they are more likely to apply for them.
The figures straddle the introduction of the new Care of Children Act in July 2005, which changed the terminology from custody to day-to-day care. Women lodged 68 per cent of the applications for custody of children in the last six months of the old law, and gained 69 per cent of the custody orders.
In the first six months of the new law, the proportion of applications for day-to-day care lodged by women dropped to 64 per cent, while the proportion lodged by men increased from 26 per cent to 30 per cent.
The other 5 per cent under the old regime, and 7 per cent under the new law, were cases where both parents or other relatives applied for the children.
The outcomes in the first six months of the new regime were more complicated:
* 56 per cent of day-to-day care orders were made to mothers only.
* 9 per cent went to fathers only.
* 11 per cent went to other relatives such as grandparents.
* 14 per cent were for shared care by both parents.
* 10 per cent were for shared care by one or both parents and/or other relatives.
Union of Fathers spokesman Jim Bagnall said he was not surprised that fathers were still less likely than mothers to apply for day-to-day care because of the way the child support system worked.
"Dads are working and dads have to pay child support, whether they gain a major share of the day-to-day care or not," he said.
"So what's the point of gaining day-to-day care, on even quite a strong basis, because we are still paying child support?"
He said only one party could get the domestic purposes benefit even if both parents had equal time with a child. In most cases that meant dad worked while mum collected benefit.
The Justice Ministry statistics also show a continued decline in protection orders being granted in domestic violence cases, despite police figures showing a rise in reported domestic violence crimes.
The report notes that this may be because a protection order, once granted, stays in force indefinitely unless someone applies to discharge it. Although no figures are given, this means that the number of protection orders in force may be stable or rising even though the number of new orders being granted is falling.
Care and protection
* Family Court statistics indicate that parenting orders tend to go to whoever applies for them - whether they are mothers or fathers.
* Since a law change in 2005, more fathers - and slightly fewer mothers - have been applying for custody of their children.
* In terms of child safety, just over 80 per cent of protection orders are granted by judges without notice to the respondent, who is the male in 90 per cent of cases.