Evidence submitted by Families Need Fathers
More than half children are reported as wanting
more contact than they get from the parent they see less of.
More than half residential parentsexcluding
those who have shared care alreadywant to see more of their
children than they are allowed.
A majority of men now want a balance between
work ambitions and family responsibility, and in some respects
are now more egalitarian over the allocation of roles than women.
Fathers now provide a third of child care in
The normal court order for contact for divided
families cuts this by about two thirds.
There is an enormous supply of loving care offered
by non-residential parents and wanted by their children that is
denied by current arrangements.
The pain and anger felt by contact parents is
at last finding a voice. The more important suffering and damage
is to children. This is still rarely acknowledged.
Britain has, however, a raft of social and personal
problems that are related to insufficient involvement of children
with parents. The amount of time children spend with their mother
has fallen dramatically as more female parents go out to work.
It would be neither right nor possible to reverse this trend.
The increase in the time children spend with their father has
been as a result of changed personal behaviour and despite little
The problems are most acute and the needs are
greatest where the family has divided. A formerly involved parent
may find themselves excluded. There are suggestions in the research
that the parents most involved before the split may be those least
likely to be involved after. This exclusion is often combined
with pressures and demands on the residential parent that may
reduce their availability and effectiveness as a parent.
Shared parenting helps with the emotional loss
of children and parents. It also helps reduce poverty, reduces
behaviour that causes personal and social problems, improves health,
education and work performance. It promotes social inclusion,
the safety of children and reduces domestic violence. It improves
family relationships and parenting in the next generation. It
also saves public money.
The typical contact order, however, still revolves
around a fortnightly overnight stay, some hours midweek and sharing
holidays, with the rest of the time with the residential parent.
Even this is easily frustrated, however, by the residential parent.
The solution to these problems require strategies
across the whole of public policy. A key role, however, is the
family court system. Only a small minority of parents go to law,
but the settlements made by the others are in the shadow of the
decisions that are formally decided. Some 40% of our children
are affected. If the courts ensured that children had both children
involved in their lives, the rest to society would follow. Our
current `parenting defecit' and many of the associated personal
and social problems would rapidly diminish.
Our current system:
1. Awards what amounts to the possession
of the children to one parent.
2. Requires the other parent, either to
accept this outcome or to institute moves, inevitable seen as
aggressive, to challenge it. Those moves are adversarial, complicated,
expensive, long delayed and often ineffective.
3. With some exceptions, condones residential
parents refusing their children a relationship with the other
parent, even when there is a court order.
Many of the people who seek our help have agonising
personal choices. We can explore these with them but cannot make
for them. It is that their ex allows their children only a little
time with them, and that parent makes all the decisions over contact
and other things. To use any formal procedure to challenge this
puts at risk the little that they have. The costs of asking for
more involvement with the children under present arrangements
are certaintrouble, delay, expense and hostility. Any benefit
is uncertain. There is no knowing what the court might decide.
Any decision may not be enforced anyway.
Some members will take no action that could
endanger goodwill. Some of these find that their and their children's
position improves. Some find that they lose even what they had
and that this is irreversible because of the passage of time.
Others take action. some of these get a better relationship as
a result. Others find that the response of their ex is to deny
or further reduce contact. They have to accept this, or go down
the uncertain process of enforcement.
The outcomes are rarely predicable. The sense
of insecurity and stress is alarming. It is often the same or
worse for the children.
This is often most acute over holidays and Christmas.
The residential parent can simply impose arrangements. The other
is powerless in the short run. Any legal adjudication will be
long after the event.
1. The children should be put centre stage.
The issues should be reframed away from conflicts between the
parents into seeking the best blend of the parents for the children.
This should be driven by information about what children normally
want and need and by parenting plans. These should be promoted
by courts and by CAFCASS. We are very concerned, however, about
what seems to be in increasing trend to ask children which parent
they prefer. This is extremely distressing to children, and encourages
parents to involve children in their conflicts. In the normal
case children will want both parents in combinations to be explored
with them and others.
Currently the issue as seen by the courts and
other services, such as CAFCASS, seems to be to seek an accomododation
between the demands of the parents. Often this is on the basis
that the residential parent has the power and therefore their
wishes are the ones that need most responding to.
We wish to see the agenda as being how to get
the best parenting for the children and getting the parents to
agree on that.
2. A presumption of equality. The children
should be regarded as having equal rights to both parents. This
means that the parents should be in a position of formal equality
as far as formal responsibilities and "voice" is concerned.
One way to help is to give both parents residence orders unless
there are reasons to think this will damage the children. Discussion
of the division of parenting time should also start from equality.
The final outcome might only rarely be equality, but that should
not be excluded. However, departures from equality would be ones
that required justification. At present it is the non-residential
parent who has prove that more than token contact is best for
3. Recognition of the wider family. It is
very wrong that only parents can apply to the courts. This rule
is especially disrespectful of the customs of some communities.
The right to contact should be enlarged to at least grandparents.
4. Use of non-adversarial methods. Formal
contested court hearings should be a last resort. In them, the
parents should be discouraged from rubbishing the conduct character
and parenting of the other. The aftermath of a hearing at present
can be years of bitterness. Legal funding should cease for advocacy
of the views of the parents except in special circumstances. Children
however should have their advocates.
5. Some certainty of outcome. There is at
present no guidance about what results are to be expected, even
about what is relevant. This encourages litigation, and also results
in what appears to be widely different approaches in different
areas, or even judges in one area. These should be reduced by
parenting plans and guidance.
6. Active case management. A present the
court are purely reactive. They respond only when a party demands
it and then put many barriers in the way of whoever asks for their
help. The courts and CAFCASS should have a proactive role in seeking
the best parenting for the children. There should be no final
outcome of family proceedingsfor example a divorce or a
financial settlementunless satisfactory co-parenting arrangements
are in place.
7. A revamping of CAFCASS. This needs to
be changed from an organisation that reports on the parents to
the courts to one that actively promotes the parenting needs of
children. The primary focus should cease to be assisting the court
process. It should be diverting parents away from contested hearings
into the making of child-centred parenting plans. They should
offer preventative service of advice and support to parents including
those who have not started proceedings. They should administer
revitalised and reformed family assistance orders. This should
be funded from savings in legal aid.
8. Judicial continuity. The constant chopping
and changes is wasteful of resources and encourages habits that
disadvantage the weaker partynamely each judge or magistrate
trying a new tactic or giving an unco-operative parent "another
9. Accreditation. Decisions should only
be made by parties with sufficient knowledge and experience in
the needs of children, in communicating with children, in the
effects on children of family separation, and in using non-adversarial
methods in these contexts. Accreditation should apply to all parties,
though the schemes may need to be different.
10. Quality control. There is at present
no monitoring of what is ordered or why. This is essential information.
There needs to be audit of court orders, publicly available statistics
on key questions and investigation of prima facie discordant practices.
11. End to delay. Delay works against the
interests of children. In particular it works against their needs
for both parents. Very often a new status quo is instituted
before the issue comes up for decision. There are not valid reasons
for the extraordinary delays there are at present. The first hearing
or meeting should be within a week of the first approach and a
final hearing normally within a month. There must be provision
for deciding urgent issuessuch as disputes over holidaysin
12. Enforcement. There is much debate, often
lacking in detail, about enforcement procedures and vague promises
to legislate. Whatever is done, this should be clearthat
denying children the contact ordered is not acceptable and will
not be permitted. Taking action for enforcement should not be
the responsibility of the contact parent. The authorities should
take responsibility for ensuring their decisions are complied
13. Orders should show more respect for
stability. This is particularly the case where a parent seeks
to move a child in such a way as a relationship with the other
parent becomes difficult or impossible. The onus should be on
such parents to show that this rupture is for the benefit of the
children involved rather than for the advantage of the parent
seeking it. They should also be expected to offer practical and
financial help to enable the child to retain and develop their
relationships with both parents
14. There needs to an assumption that where
a child has lost contact for whatever reason, not only because
defiance of an order but because of illness or some activity that
disrupted the normal pattern of contact, that the child is given
equivalent parenting time in lieu.
15. Better speedier investigation of allegations.
One factor that urgently needs audit and quality control is the
treatment of allegations, for instance those of sex abuse or domestic
violence. Evidence of insufficient attention to these issues on
occasion is combined with our experience of an over-reaction to
allegations including malicious ones. Better guidance is needed
and more resources devoted to speedy and fair investigation of
allegations. At one pole children may be exposed to risk, at the
other they may be wrongly denied a relationship with a loving
and loved parent. If risk is established, the appropriate decisions
need to be made. If the allegations prove to be false there should
be robust treatment of perjury and attempting to pervert the course
16. Less secrecy. No judicial commentator
said "It does not matter is justice is not done, so long
as it seems to be done". However, our family courts are no
longer trusted. Things are done in secret family courts that would
cause scandal if widely known. Hearings should be in public, and
evidence and reports public, subject to protection of the identity
17. Moral leadership needs to be shown where
a parent neglects a child, for example not seeing them whether
there is a court order or not. It should be open to a parent,
perhaps even a child, to institute proceedings where a parent
is not acting on their responsibilities
18. An end to institutional sexism in the
family justice system. Oor prime objection to the status quo
is to the "winner takes all" system, but there appears
to be an assumption that extreme circumstances have to be shown
before a father is given a residence order or children more than
slight contact with a NRP. In the latter case, children whose
mothers who do not have residence orders are also discriminated
against. There may however be some movement in a less discriminatory
direction recently and in the higher courts.
Conversely, it is rare for a non-residential
parent to be denied all contactalthough most such decisions
may not be visible. Making no order may have the same effect,
and many may withdraw applications for orders.
Orders to see children only in contact centres
19. The right to seek help. At present the
contempt of court rules create problems for parents seeking advice
information and support other than from solicitors. The rules
20. There need to be more sources of information
and help for parents in dispute over their children. Currently
the first port of call is often solicitors who have an interest
in conflict and may have no training in the needs of children.
Many of the other sources of information may be biased towards
the residential parent. Neutral, child centred services need to
be more available, based on a recast CAFCASS.
Families Need Fathers is the second largest
membership charity in the family field. (largestGingerbread).
Its primary function is to help and support parents living apart
from a child to maintain and develop that child's relationship
with them. We are the only organisation that provides this help
on a national scale. We also do the sort of lobbying that charities
traditionally do. We are almost wholly voluntary but, none the
less, help some 100,000 families per year.
We are a gender-equality organisation that respects
diversity. Through our branches and volunteer network we have
contact with most sectors of society. Whilst we seek to help families
before and after any legal conflicts, most people come to us for
help at the point at which conflicts, often legal ones, are acute.
Help at this point is central to our work, although our national
helpline, using Telephone Helpline Association training and standards,
has been finding a range of callers who can often be helped to
avoid the destructive effects of our Family procedures.
We have been a charity, administering to the
needs of people disempowered, and often forcibly estranged from
family members, for over thirty years. We are not associated with
other organisations that have recently been involved in high-profile
The devil is in the detail in all family cases,
and the Family Courts are no place for most of this detail to
be thrashed out. We are at a loss to understand why the Family
Courts, and their government overseers, cannot understand how
such powerful courts have a pervading influence over the whole
gamut of family disputes. We believe that some urgent reforms
are needed that would be of immense benefit to the long-term interests
of most children, reduce the workload of the courts, and reduce
the damage in many cases that do not reach them.
Families Need Fathers
15 November 2004