Maypole Women is a new charity, established to support women and their children before, during and after separation and divorce.
This report provides evidence to show that current family law, as set out by the Children Act 1989, profoundly fails to meet the needs of women and children. Evidence is also produced to suggest the lack of regard to women’s needs has a direct impact on the success rate of court imposed shared care arrangements.
Maypole Women maintains that the needs of children and their primary care givers – almost always mothers – are inter connected, and UK law has a moral and legal duty to consider the needs of women involved in residency and contact disputes. When fathers have genuinely been the primary carer, many of the issues mentioned here will be applicable to them.
Most mothers want their child to have a meaningful relationship with the father (1), yet the obstacles for mothers in supporting contact are rarely mentioned, and often misinterpreted. An underlying purpose of this report is to portray those barriers to contact. It is our belief that respecting the needs of the primary care giver is essential if children are to reach their full potential, and enjoy quality relationships with both parents after divorce.
Changes to the family law system that would promote shared parenting and significantly improve outcomes for primary carers and children are presented:
• Recognition of primary care, replacing the current terms ‘residency’ and ‘contact’ with the terms:
o Primary Care (for the primary caregiver, replacing ‘residency’), and
o Maternal/paternal Care (for the parent in the supportive, rather than primary
care, role – replacing ‘contact’)
so that children’s care, including primary care, and parental roles(2) are protected and maintained from pre separated to separated family, providing children with continuity of care.
• Protection from domestic violence and sex offenders: safety must be prioritised before contact, and Parental Responsibility must rest on consistent, safe and responsible parenting.
• Meeting the long term economic needs of primary care givers, including the provision of training and support to enable primary carers to achieve economic equality and independence after separation.
The concept of ‘shared care’ is therefore embraced as a goal for all parents, but is used here as used by Cafcass3 and others to indicate arrangements where children spent significant amounts of over night contact with both parents, also called ‘equal parenting’ and ‘joint residency’.
The term ‘domestic violence’ is used here interchangeably with ‘domestic abuse’, to indicate a misuse of power and control. The term ‘violence’ can detract from the coercive nature of emotional abuse, which women typically report to be the most frustrating and painful.
1 Perry 1992, Laing 1999, from Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003; Women’s narratives, Maypole Women 2010
2 When that parenting is safe and responsible