Archive for category Government changes

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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Changes to Child Maintenance – Parents must face paying government fee to split up

The current child maintenance system looks set to undergo a radical reform, and the changes have been published for consultation. Under the new proposals, parents will face paying the government a £100 fee to separate. A press release from the Department of Work and Pensions on the 8th of January says the plans

focus on strengthening families, will encourage responsibility and support separating parents to reach their own agreement on maintenance and other issues important to the long term welfare of their children […] the Government believes that reaching a settlement independently is far more likely to produce better outcomes for the child.

In the Guardian, Maria Miller, Undersecretary of State in the Department of Work and Pensions has been quoted as saying: “We know that if effective financial arrangements are in place, those parents are much more likely to stay in contact… Staying in contact with both parents is absolutely critical to give a child the best start in life.”

However, as The Telegraph’s Patrick Hennessy predicted, “They [the changes] are likely to spark protests from groups representing women trapped in abusive relationships”

Firstly, how would women can afford the £100 fee if they have no access to finance? Miller saysthat for those on benefits, the fee will be £50, starting with an initial upfront payment of only £20.

However, women experiencing financial abuse may have no money and no legitimate access to loans in order to pay the application fee. If they struggle to pay, they will most likely be referred to the “new, more efficient statutory service [that] will ….tackle the minority of parents who refuse to pay.” – which may well result in more fees.

It’s probable that the couples needing the most help to sort out finances will be in high-conflict relationships – which are usually indicative of domestic violence, The changes do make a concession to domestic violence, stating that “In cases where people have suffered domestic violence, their case will be fast tracked directly onto the statutory service – and no payment will be required to enter the system.” However, most incidences of domestic violence leave no trace, and women tend to under report domestic abuse, or they find their concerns are ignored.

Maypole would like to see solutions for women on low incomes with no access to finance, and all those experiencing domestic abuse.

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