Archive for category Family Law

Family Justice Review – will it help?

At last the Family Justice Review has been published. It concentrates mainly on the system of the family court process. A summary is provided here with the full report available via the link.

The Government is inviting responses by 23 June. You can respond directly or via Maypole, and we will collect all your ideas in one reply.

It is excellent news that a presumption of 50/50 equal care has beeen rejected. In Australia their Shared Care laws have been shown to increase risk of domestic abuse, increase gender economic inequality and meet mainly fathers’ needs.

Nothing sounds more fair than parents being equal. Treated equally, children divided equally at separation.

Yet the drive by fathers’ rights groups for equal care legislation has come to an abrupt halt with yesterday’s report. Research, particularly from Australia, shows that shared care legislation is unfair and unsafe, and increases inequality.

This finding seems such a contradiction, but shows that imposing equality where there is already inequality is not the solution.

A new book, Equality with a Vengeance by Molly Dragiewicz looks at how fathers’ rights groups are trying to erode the gains of the battered women’s movement in the US, as a backlash against feminism.

With improvements planned for the systems of family law, there remains nowhere within UK law to protect women’s right to financial equality and psychological well being at separation.

Children’s well being is linked to that of their primary carer. Yet an understanding of children’s needs remains shaped by contact, rather than the needs underpinning relationships, including primary care and safety.

There is still a lot of work to be done.

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Thank you to everyone who sent in concerns about the proposals on child maintenance. A Maypole trustee attended a meeting at the House of Commons on 17th March, which was also attended by a number domestic violence organisations. The meeting focused on the unprovable nature of abuse, and the fact many women will be unable to afford the £100 fee.

It’s great that Maypole has been so quickly recognised as a credible source of evidence on how domestic abuse presents at separation. With your help, we can ensure women’s voices are heard in family law.
Maypole’s written response looks more closely at how women negotiating with an abusive ex are not able to come to agreements which are in the child’s best interests, more about why some women won’t be able to afford the fee, and our prediction that the fee will be used by perpetrators as another form of financial abuse – and so will discourage (rather than encourage, as the Government hopes) private agreements.

This will be sent next week, and will be added to our new web site (more about that as soon as we have news). If you would like to read a copy before then please contact us.

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Maypole Women has been invited to the House of Commons!

Maypole has been invited to the House of Commons to discuss how proposals to change child maintenance will affect women and children. This is your chance to have your views heard.

The Goverment is suggesting:

· parents will be encouraged to make private arrangements

· a fee of £20-25 to find how much maintenance would be payable

· an application fee of £100 for the resident parent – £50 if on benefit, £20 paid upfront

· victims of domestic violence would be exempt

· a deduction of 7% – 12% of any child maintenance paid to cover administrative costs

· further enforcement charges for the non resident parent if enforcement is needed

· non-resident parents will be able to avoid a collection charge by agreeing to pay the maintenance direct to the parent with care, even against their wishes

If you have anything to say about this, please feel free to leave a comment so we can hopefully pass on your views.

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Mediation: couples ‘forced’ to go.

You may have seen in the news recently that separating couples will be ‘forced’ to attend mediation before they are ‘allowed’ to use the courts.

The Government says mediation is often ‘quicker, cheaper and less confrontational’ than going to court.

However, this news is misleading: when the rules come in to force on 6th April 2011 there will be a requirement that couples are told about mediation. This is being called an Information and Assessment session, to find out whether mediation can help. The cost of the session has been predicted in the media to be £40 upwards.

Where there are allegations of abuse or child protection concerns the Government says there will be no requirement to access mediation and the case can progress straight to court.

However, the Government guidelines state attendance is not required when there is domestic abuse only if it has resulted in police involvement (see Annex C).

Yet most incidents of abuse do not result in police involvement. And, whether there is abuse or not, mediation has been shown to disadvantage women so that women can be coerced in to agreeing arrangements which are not best for the child.

So what can women whose ex partners are abusive or controlling do? Attendance is also not required if the mediator decides the case is not suitable. When an application to family proceedings (ie to the family court) is made a mediator will be required to complete a form called a Mediation Information and Assessment Form, and there is a box to tick if he/ she thinks mediation would be unsuitable. The form must be signed by the mediator, and either the applicant (yourself) or your solicitor.

If you have a solicitor they can advise you, but must act according to your instruction. Therefore you have the right to decide whether the Mediation Assessment session would be suitable for you to attend.

Access to the family courts is protected by the Human Rights Act – we all have the right to access justice – and therefore everyone has the right to turn to the famly courts for help in resolving diffuculties with child care arrangements. Mediation is therefore an option, but no one can be forced to go.
‘The Parent Trap’

A recent announcement to consider share parental leave after the birth of a child has caused wide spread debate about equality in the work place and at home.

Changes in parental leave are part of a report, launched by Nick Clegg, which looks at the pressures on parents and how to make things better. Whilst noting that children tend to do better if the father is involved, the research clarifies that ‘it is the quality and stability of … relationships in a family that influences children’s outcomes, rather than a particular type of family structure’ (page 164).

Therefore, as long as children are in stable, nurturing environment, one type of family structure isn’t any better than any other.

Parents were asked why they were the main carer. 83% of mums said they wanted to be, 67% said it made better financial sense (the gender pay gap at work here) and 27% of women reported that they were the main carer because their partner didn’t want to be.

Research shows shared care (if parents separate) tends to be more successful if fathers have been more involved with their children’s lives before separation. Unfortunately, the family courts are not currently required to look at a father’s history of involvement. We have informed the Family Law review on how this can have a major impact on conflict and children’s well being when parents separate.

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Balancing rigid family courts orders and parental concrens

Mr Justice Coleridge, a senior division judge for England and Wales recently announced that he thinks people do not take family court decisions seriously enough.
Mr. Coleridge wants to see a return to the levity of the courts, advising we should follow Australia’s example and ‘resume wearing robes and removing the carpets and indoor plants’.
However, it seems dubious that the removal of potted plants in courts will deal with the problems that are rife in family law.

Research shows that Shared Care legislation introduced in Australia in 2006 focuses on contact rather than safety, children’s full range of needs, and the well-being of the primary carer – usually the mother – which has a direct impact on the child’s well-being. A recent Maypole study highlighted some worrying statistics about child custody in the UK. In 60% of cases, the court ordered unsupervised contact even when there were ‘serious welfare concerns’, such as the presence of domestic violence in the relationship, even though in 90% of cases in the family courts there are allegations of abuse.

Coleridge regrets the ‘lack of respect’ for family court orders. Yet what is a parent, who is ordered to hand over their child to a parent with a history of abuse, to do? Such a parent would fall foul of Coleridge’s proposed three strikes system, by which if the parent disobeys a court order three times the residence of the child would be transferred to the other parent. Adhering absolutely to whatever the court orders leaves little room for consideration of variable factors, and more importantly, shows no regard for the welfare of the child; it seems to reduce the child to little more than a prize or a reward for one parent.

Do judges really know better than protective parents who are dragged through the court system by abusive ex partners using child contact as a means of continuing control? Is it better for children that their non abusive parent adheres absolutely to court rule? Coleridge concedes that ‘better judicial training’ is needed in today’s courts, implying that the current standards of training are not high enough. Is it not understandable, and even reasonable, therefore, that parents with their child’s best interest at heart should sometimes doubt the authority of the family courts?

Admittedly, not all of what Coleridge proposed would be detrimental to the courts. He remarked that too great an emphasis was being placed on listening uncritically to the views and wishes of children, including young children. Our report echoed the same sentiments – ‘abusive tactics can cause children to appear more bonded to an abusive father, and even reject their mother. ‘

Perhaps Coleridge has arrived at the right conclusion via the wrong means: he seems largely concerned with authority, wanting the family court to ‘act as the proper and appointed authority figure both towards the parents and the children.’ The use of child contact as a continuing tool of abuse is rife in the family courts. We do need well trained professionals who truly understand the complexity of abuse and how it damages relationships. And, when women seek to end abuse by ending their relationship, we do need the state to act with authority in promoting safety before contact. It is only then that women and children will be truly free to escape domestic abuse.

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‘Valuing Motherhood, Meeting the Needs of Women and Children at Separation and Divorce’ report to forward to your MP

Last week Maypole sent a letter and Executive Summary of its report ‘Valuing Motherhood, Meeting the Needs of Women and Children at Separation and Divorce’ to every UK MP, every female member of the House of Lords and male members with a relevant interest.

The report can be read at http://www.maypole.org.uk/research.html
The report sets out the difficulties many women face at separation – issues which are currently not part of the public debate on solutions in family law. The report also explains why the Government’s Bill of Shared Care, to be discssed in 2011, together with a planned emphasis on mediation, would mainly meet the needs of fathers, increase economic gender inequality and harm children. The proposed Bill has a weak research basis whilst the research showing Shared Care can be damaging for a significant minority of women and children is very strong.

Our letter arrived on the desks of the MPs on Tuesday, 19th October. With the evidence fresh in their minds, we are urging people to contact their MPs to register their concern for the proposed Bill, and ask how the Government intends to decrease ineqality and protect vulnerable women and children.

A summary of the report is available at http://www.maypole.org.uk/index.html

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