Playing Russian Roulette – again ! !

Loaded dice or starting pistol ?

That’s the choice if we are to believe the latest developments of the government as it attempts to introduce ‘shared parenting’ into Britain.

“Parental separation affects around 3 million of the 12 million children in the UK” stated the Dept for Constitutional Affairs in 2004 (heaven knows what the figure is today, 10 years later). [1]

Having a ‘ministerial working group’ (MWG) made up of 5 minister who are all either avid or at least positively inclined to see that shared parenting is adopted should be a helpful factor. That they haven’t off-loaded it onto a Whitehall committee is a lucky break.  Whitehall ministries usually makes a mess of even the simplest reform measures (and here one thinks of Oliver Cyriax’s work, New Approaches to Contact’ (NATC), in 2001 and his ‘Early Intervention’ project of 2003 (a decade ago) which was so disfigured by Mavis MacLean as to be unrecognisable and unworkable). [2]

Right : a subdued looking Mavis MacLean 

And here we are again leaving the fate of 3 million children future to the tender mercies of people like Mavis MacLean !

This aging  “researcher” has perhaps done more damage to children and family life during her tenure than any other women one can call to mind.

Is the present government’s commitment to shared parenting the starting pistol for child custody reform we have waited decades to see ? Or will it prove to be a another false dawn (or poisoned chalice, take your pick)  ? With Mavis on the committee a fair and progressive outcome is doubtful.

And Mavis MacLean is not alone, as we shall see later, for in the mix looms the spectre of Liz Trinder dogging proceedings (see ‘Fossilised in Amber‘  https://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/36/

FNF – never known for being controversial or confrontational  certainly among Britain’s fathers’ groups – nonetheless felt compelled to write of Trinder in 2005 (in one of the innumerable  submission Parliament has requested on the sam etopic over the years):

  • “ . . . . We find highly problematic the research by Trinder and others that contact works best where there is a ‘gender contract’. According to this, the mother supports contact and in return the father acknowledges his inferior status as parent. As a child-centred organisation we will, as individual parents, do all we can to promote the best outcomes for our children. We are bound to struggle socially against being regarded as second class parents.” http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/familyjusticememopart1.pdf

Loading the dice

To judge whether it’s another false dawn moment or one more poisoned chalice an examination of the Steering Committee might prove useful:

From what is described above as “Unknown Quantities” totalling  8 out if 13, the government hopes to derive a majority in favour of shared parenting. In the latest ‘Daily Telegraph’ poll of some 3,996 respondees (Feb 2012), 75% were in favour of shared parenting. From that size of sample  we can conclude that British people are of the opinion that fathers should have the same rights as mothers regarding the care and parenting of their children after divorce.[3]

Studies in America show the same tendencies. There the debate centres on what is called Equal Parenting (EP).  Equal parenting respects parents’ preferences and views about their children’s needs and best interests in the same way as shared parenting does

  • “According to the majority of parents, the optimal post-divorce living arrangement, even in cases of high conflict, is equal parenting. Public opinion polls report that EPR is favored by about 80% of parents, with a slightly higher percentage of women favoring a legal presumption than men (Braver, Fabricius, & Ellman, 2008; Fabricius, Braver, Diaz, & Velez, 2010; Nanos Research, 2009).”

Note in the above reference to ‘high conflict’ families as also benefiting from shared parenting. This is the same point clearly made in other commentaries on this blog site. However, such families have so far been used unmercifully by opponents as tools to impede or scare away neutrals from shared parenting as a solution.

Of course, we still don’t live in a bigot-free society, free of anti-male prejudice, so any attempt to give men and fathers a better standing before the law has to be masked by describing it as something else. In this case it is letting children win the legal right to see both parents after divorce.

Everything on the surface, it would appear, looks set fair for a smooth, trouble-free cruise towards legislation. But look again, the ‘ministerial working group’ has handed-off the issue to a ‘panel of experts’ – experts who have featured on these blogs before over the years as being anything but fair minded towards shared parenting.

Look again at the list provided by the Ministry of Education (below). Janet McNamara, of the Public Communications Unit at the  education ministry, assured me that:

  • Membership of the shared parenting experts group was selected by the Ministerial Working Group.”

She describes these organisations as “key stakeholders with considerable experience and knowledge of working with children and separated families” (as if they some how had a monopoly of this wisdom). However, her list is somewhat different to others in circulation which consist of the following organisations:

In a letter to the well-meaning and positively inclined minister, Tim Loughton,  the veracity (and wisdom) of some of the listed organisations to render a reasonable and objective verdict was questioned. Tim Loughton, who  I have met a few times over the years, has always appeared to be a conscious and dedicated public servant. The welfare of the child has always been his priority even during his years in Opposition.

Précising my letter I said that;

  • The Fatherhood Institute, which one would suppose is in favour of shared parenting, is on record as having a reserved view of the subject. Gingerbread, NSPCC and Barnardo’s are on record as being opposed to the concept.”

All have expressed at one time or another, opposition to the rebuttable presumption to the shared parenting principle (and one wonders why NSPCC and Barnardo‘s were included as they deal with public law cases in the main and not private law ?) .

In their Oct 2010 and 2011 submission to government, ‘Gingerbread’  can be seen clearly qualifying any endorsement of shared parenting.  ‘Only Families Need Fathers’, I said, ‘can be said to be unequivocally in favour of it’ adding:

  • This is akin to excluding Women’s Aid from discussions when formulating domestic violence policies. This behaviour, of riding rough shod over those with a valid and a keen interest was once symptomatic of the previous Labour government which I had hoped we had seen the last of under new ministers.
    The absence of grass root fathers groups is not even countered by the inclusion of voices from Jill Kirby of the Centre for Policies Studies, or from Civitas or the Centre for Social Justice.

Mr Loughton was made aware of the disappointed arising from  fathers’ groups once again being shut out of a process that most affects them – disappointed but somehow not very surprised. Yet again, fathers’ groups are excluded and another golden opportunity has been thrown away:

  • “Alas, I see it is a repeat of the ‘Making Contact Work’ and ‘PSA-8’ situation all over again” (circa 2001 – 04).” (see Appendix).

Imagine my initial surprise to be rebuked in his reply implying my fears/observation were ridiculous and inaccurate. He urged me to wait and see what comes out of the consultation before making a final judgement. My riposte to him was that I would indeed wait and see what ‘form of words’ the final draft legislation took.

Have we moved on ?

Perhaps this letter of March 11th 2008 from  James Plaskitt MP (Lab. Warwick and Leamington), who was Parliamentary under Secretary of State at the DWP to Ms. Anne Begg MP (Lab) regarding one of her constituents – Mr. Fromholc – sums up the casualness shown toward the shared care situation of 2001 to 2008: 

  • “ . . .. Mr. Fromholc [Ms. Begg’s constituent] feels that a shared care system should apply whereby parents share care on an equal basis, obviating the need for any monetary agreement. Cases where care of a child is shared for exactly the same number of nights, are relatively rare. But, in such cases, the parent who does not receive Child Benefit will be treated as the non-resident parent. This treatment reflects rules which allow Child Benefit for a child to be paid to only. one parent. This means that, for Child Benefit to be paid to a person, a decision will have been made that they are the main provider of care and support for the child in question.  . . .  . However, recent consultation revealed no consensus among stakeholders about how shared care should be recognized in the future scheme. Consequently the government’s current thinking is that the shared care rules, including these relating to equal shared care, should be left largely unchanged . . . .”

This is intriguing as by 2006  Henshaw’s Report on funding CSA and shared care payments between former spouses had been well received. In addition the ‘test case’ won by Eugen Hockenjos in 2001 against the Sec. of State had underlined that a shared parenting  order and the Child Benefit regime was an ‘Emperor without any clothes’ (Hockenjos v Secretary of State for Social Security, May 2001). http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1403513,00.html

In the judgment against the DWP, Lord Justice Ward described the discrimination and sexual bias against a father with a shared care order as “grotesque”, “degrading”, and bringing the law into disrepute. The government then appealed to the House of Lords, but they too found that the benefit should be paid to both parents. This is evidence that pin points the gap between government-backed moves and rhetoric to encourage more joint care and a benefits system which supports only one parent, no matter how care was divided.  In practical terms the ruling was symbolic, exposing an anomaly, corrected immediately by the introduction of Child Tax Credit (payable, under Labour, to only mothers).

NB. Three articles dealing with the implications of Henshaw’s recommendations can be found at http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/5/https://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/24/ and at http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/12/

MWG composition

We need to look again at the composition of the panel. True, the ‘Centre for Separated Families’ appears to be sympathetic to the shared parenting ‘principle’ but are they in favour of it as presumed rebuttal position ?

However, ‘Resolution’ is a case in point where the name and ethos fails to match street level experience. Formerly known as the ‘Solicitors Family Law Association’ (SFLA), Resolution’s 6,000 members are said to be “family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes.”  Their members are said to follow a strict Code of Practice that is supposed to promote a non-confrontational approach to family problems. However, for years fathers’ groups have found little difference between this band of solicitors and those that are not SFLA or Resolution members. Indeed, some of the nastiest and most obdurate firms have hailed from this quarter.

NSPCC and Barnardo’s are so reviled by most leaders of fathers’ groups that they have to be discounted entirely as objective voices. Why these two organisations are loathed to the degree they are is due to their persistent hypocrisy and distortion of truth. Both have been embroiled in propagating condom use among the under-aged and for advocating homosexuality practices and acceptance –at a time when it was politically fashionable to do so (so one could include opportunism to their list of offences).

The NSPCC, for instance, has long sponsored Susan Creighton to report on child abuse and murders (circa 1979), yet they never fully disclosed the high murder rate by women. [4] The NSPCC have also always focused on male perpetrators to raise funds knowing one suspects that a campaign based on female perpetrators would yield not a penny

 As for the others could they be neutral or contentious ? The ‘University of Exeter’, this proved a huge disappointment. Tripp, once of Exeter and an excellent researcher, has been cuckold by Liz Trinder an arch-opponent of shared parenting in any form. [5]

Although Trinder may be little known outside select circles in Britain and even less well known outsideBritain, those that are recognised world figures take a very differing view of shared parenting than either MacLean, McIntosh, or Trinder.

For instance, Warsak, Kruk, Bausermann, Baskerville, Gilder, Amneus, though all holding divergent views nonetheless all agree that a fathers participation is vital to healthy socialising of a child (pre and post divorce).

As long ago as 2002 Bauserman, in concluding a huge review of parenting literature came to the view that:

  •  “… children in joint custody arrangements fare significantly better on all adjustment measures than children who live in sole custody arrangements.”

When asked, both children and parents say they prefer equal parenting time in case of divorce.  This simple fact is rarely seen in public debate about child custody, yet it is so obvious in 99% of cases. [6]  Dr. Edward Kruk is one of the renowned experts’ intent on bringing sanity to family courts; making them part of the international struggle for justice and equality. 

Dangerous line

With regards matters affecting child custody, there this is a huge and inexplicable ‘disconnect‘ between public opinion and the opinion of legal professionals (see Pruett, Hogan Bruen, & Jackson, 2000).

Changing public opinion reflects an on-going cultural evolution of parenting values and norms and researchers should be up to speed if not ahead of the curve on these matters. Yet they are not – and nor are the judiciary. The only way to begin to explain what is going on (or failing to go on) and why they are poles apart from pubic sentiment is arrogance and or selective deafness.

In order to work efficaciously child custody law and policy must reflect contemporary cultural standards, and both the judiciary and legislatures would be ill-advised to ignore the strong public support for shared parenting (or EPR) and the equally-strong public condemnation of the courts as unreasonably gender-biased in regard to child custody (Fabricius et al., 2010).

The law walks a dangerous line when it deviates substantially from an emerging community consensus such as equal parenting (Maldonado, 2005); at the same time, the success of an EP presumption is enhanced by the coincidence of this law reform effort and community opinion….” (p 40).

The plain fact is that shared parenting more closely mimics the pre-divorce environment for children than any other alternative regime – and it is vital that the transition from intact family to broken family is assured as smoothly as possible.

Shared parental responsibility is in keeping with current care giving patterns, as the majority of mothers and fathers are now sharing responsibility for child care in two-parent families.

At a time when Trinder, MacLean and McIntosh (and others) are shamelessly trying to discredit in whatever manner they can and despite unduly influencing the Norgrove Report (by using highly selected Australian ‘evidence’), saner voices are reminding us that:

“The most recent research strongly supports a shift away from the “one size fits all,” and “winner takes all” sole custody framework toward the notion of shared parental responsibility” [7]

This smug generation of women researchers are all too comparable to the Merchant Bankers that have wrought havoc everywhere and then disinterestedly move on, expecting everyone else to bale them out and leaving following generations  to stitch back together the fabric of society at some time in the future

END 

Appendix A

PSA-8 initiative

The ‘Outcomes & Evaluations’ committee was the final arbiter of the PSA-8 initiative aimed at increasing contact between fathers and children. It was a government commitment to reform custody but membership of the ‘Outcomes & Evaluations’ committee was reserved for academics only. It comprised of 1 man and 10 women. The majority of the latter were known at the time to be hostile towards increased contact and would be opposed to shared parenting, if it had been on the Agenda at the time (from Oct 2002 – Jan 2003). All fathers organisations withdrew from the process in Jan 2003 after flagrant bias in the Agenda and committee structure.


[1]Source: Gingerbread submission to Parliament, 2011, citing DCA / Department for Education and Skills / Dept for Trade & Industry sources.

[2] Cyriax:  The EI proposal which were submitted to Government, were fully developed and enjoyed across-the-board support from legal and professional bodies (8th Oct 2003).

[3] “Children win legal right to see both parents after divorce”, Telegraph, by Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent, 02 Feb 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9058018/Children-win-legal-right-to-see-both-parents-after-divorce.html

[4] Mothers and mother substitutes are suspected abusers in 44% of cases and fathers and father substitutes in 46.5% of cases. Dr. Susan Creighton 1979 (UK) senior researcher for the NSPCC found. And 65% of child abuse is committed by women whereas only 8% of child abuse is committed by biological fathers.

[5] ‘Exeter Report’ by Tripp & Cockett in 1991 (HMSO). They found it was the departure of the father that triggered the turmoil within the child.

[6] ‘Equal Parenting Favored by Both Parents and Children’, (Kruk), by Robert Franklin, Feb 24th, 2012. http://www.fathersandfamilies.org/2012/02/24/kruk-equal-parenting-favored-by-both-parents-and-children/  See also “Arguments for an Equal Parental Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody.”

[7] Child Custody, Access and Paretnal Responsibility (Dec 2008). University of British Columbia. http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/181/April7_Kruk.pdf 

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