The children who never see daddy: Tragedy of Britain's fatherless families where one in five youngsters lose touch with a parent

Breakdown: 3.5m children live with a single parent while one in five children from a broken home lose touch with one parent within three years

One in five children from a broken home loses touch with a parent within three years and never sees them again, it is revealed today.

Many more lose contact as they grow older, most often with fathers after mothers are awarded custody.

Families minister Maria Miller described the scale of family breakdown as a ‘tragedy’, saying urgent reforms are needed to ensure children maintain relationships with both parents.

The Government will today unveil the biggest overhaul of child maintenance for more than a decade.

Mrs Miller said: ‘We know that if effective financial arrangements are in place, those parents are much more likely to stay in contact and much more likely to have a strong relationship with their children. Staying in contact with both parents is absolutely critical to give a child the best start in life.’

Ministers will argue that Labour’s child maintenance system encourages conflict between parents. Separating parents who insist on State intervention to sort out payments will now have to pay a fee of £100.

It is hoped that this will encourage more to work together to make their own arrangements, Mrs Miller said.

Payments will be overseen by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which is taking over the work of the Child Support Agency.

A separate review of family law, being led by the Ministry of Justice, is expected to lead to clearer access rights for non-resident fathers.

Damaging: Research has shown that children from single parent families are are 75 per cent more likely to fail at school and 70 per cent more likely to become a drug addict (posed by models)

Mrs Miller, in an interview with the Daily Mail, said the latest figures showed that there were 3.5million children from broken homes. Almost half have no effective maintenance arrangements.

‘Twenty per cent of children from separated families lose contact with the non-resident parent within just three years,’ Mrs Miller said.

‘That is a tragedy. But the current system entrenches conflict when families separate.’
Ministers are also taking steps to reduce the number of couples who split in the first place. They are planning to copy a programme successfully pioneered in Norway in which those threatening to separate are made to ‘think again’.

'Tragedy': In a Daily Mail interview, families minister Maria Miller said urgent reforms were needed to deal with the 'tragedy' of family breakdown

Experts from charities and voluntary groups talk them through the consequences of a separation, focusing on the likely damage to children and the parents’ future financial success.

Mrs Miller highlighted research suggesting that children who are not brought up in a two-parent family are 75 per cent more likely to fail at school, 70 per cent more likely to become a drug addict, 40 per cent more likely to have serious debt problems and 35 per cent more likely to become unemployed or welfare dependent.

She said the child maintenance system costs £460million a year.

The State spends 40p for every £1 paid in child maintenance, and non-resident parents currently owe arrears of almost £4billion. Under the proposed reforms, parents who are determined to split will be able to get initial help and information on their options free of charge.

They can then decide whether to make their own maintenance arrangements, or to use the statutory service for which there will be a charge. Parents on benefits will pay a smaller fee of £50.

Where a partner has suffered domestic violence, the case will be fast-tracked directly on to the statutory service.

Mrs Miller said: ‘We know that the most effective and enduring arrangements are ones that parents come to themselves.’