A LAW designed to protect women from domestic violence should be relaxed in order to shore up the rights of unmarried fathers following a break-up, a charity has claimed.

Families Need Fathers Scotland is urging MSPs to consider changing the Family Law (Scotland) Act during a rare Holyrood review next week because they say it encourages mothers to make false claims of abuse when there is hostile break up to a relationship.

The charity, which promotes positive relationships between separated fathers and their children, claims Section 24 of the law provides a perverse incentive which creates conflict between unmarried parents.

This section requires courts to pay regard to domestic abuse, when considering parental rights and responsibilities.

In their submission to the review, Families Need Fathers Scotland (FNF) said: "We have heard from many solicitors that Section 24 is the equivalent of putting a button in front of a mother who wishes to exclude the father from her life and that of their children, and asking if she'd like to press it".

While the Act itself gave unmarried fathers better recognition, this clause, which amended the earlier Children (Scotland) Act, has become vulnerable to "casual and opportunistic" abuse, FNF Scotland said.

"It is a fundamental weakness of the act that the legislators of the time viewed the proposals disproportionately through the prism of domestic abuse," the charity said.

"Our experience is that the overall impact of the Act has been to assist a mother who wishes to control or stop the relationship between a non-resident father and their children."

Ian Maxwell, FNF national development manager for Scotland, said the law was out of touch with the Scottish Government's policies on parenting which recognise the importance of two parents in the upbringing of a child.

"We do not condone or excuse abusive behaviour on the part of separated fathers. But we see the other side - fathers who have never been violent and who have been fully involved with their kids before separation being excluded from their lives, by allegations which are not borne out," he said.

"By the time that is addressed it can be six months or more before they can re-establish contact during which time the relationship gets damaged in a way which is not in the interests of the child."

FNF is calling for a change of culture modelled on 'shared care' arrangements in countries such as Australia and Sweden, where arrangements start from a presumption that parents split care equally after separation.

However a submission from Scottish Women's Aid (SWA) to the committee claims the current law is failing to protect women who have left abusive relationships, when ex-partners try to use the children to harass them.

This is more because of the way courts are implementing the law than the act itself, the charity said.

"Evidence abounds, from women from children and young people, from service providers and from solicitors practising family law, that the intention of the act has not been met and that the system continues to put children, young people and their mothers at significant risk," SWA said.

The Justice Committee does not often carry out post-legislative review of existing legislation, but the Family Law Act and the Children Act have been the regular target of petitions to Holyrood calling for changes to protect the rights of unmarried fathers.

Elaine Sutherland, professor of child and family law at the University of Stirling, has written to the committee arguing the repeated petitions are a sign of disquiet in some areas about the current state of the law. She said:"It is worth remembering that an obstructive mother may be motivated by reasons that attract some sympathy, including the fear of resumed or continuing domestic violence.

"However her opposition may have a less commendable cause, like her own resentment arising out of her relationship - or lack thereof - with the child's father."

Elaine Murray MSP, deputy convener of the justice committee, said members were taking advantage of a brief gap in its schedule to carry out post-legislative scrutiny of the family law act.

"There is a perception among some committee members that it is not working as well as it could be," she said.

"It could be useful to give some guidance to the next parliament."

She added: "Where there has been domestic abuse in a family relationship it can be very damaging to any children, and some people will try to get at an ex partner through the children. But if there is evidence that people are being unjustly accused of domestic violence and abusive behaviour then that should be looked at."

The Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee is to discuss the Family Law Act on Tuesday.