Posts Tagged domestic abuse
Lack of viable alternatives to motherhood
Boyd (2003) believes that ‘the ability and desire of women to leave their ‘special’ relationship with their
children behind may have been overestimated, particularly when the alternative was a perceived ‘choice’
to perform routine low paying jobs outside the home’ (39).
Mothers may find it easier to relinquish their role as primary care giver if they have an alternate identity
which is attainable and capable of replacing the fulfillment found in motherhood.
The reality for many mothers, having put their children’s needs first throughout the relationship, is
employment which is relatively low paid and of an inferior status to that gained before motherhood.
Allowing women to bear an unequal share of the financial burden of primary caring has no place in an
equal society. Mothers need, and deserve, support in re-establishing themselves in paid employment at a
level commensurate with their abilities, training and experience. Whether this should be provided by
fathers, at an individual level, or should be provided by Government, is a matter that must be addressed.
Relocation is a common family experience. Women in intact relationships, and their children, frequently
move areas – leaving jobs, schools, friends and sometimes family – to enable the father to gain improved
employment opportunities. Many occupations involve parents working away from home for substantial
periods, eg jobs involving business and sales travel, sports professionals, Members of Parliament and the
Armed Forces. An understanding of relocation after separation must be placed in context of normal
economic migratory patterns, and occupational choices that are considered acceptable within law.
Women at separation may be seeking to relocate for a variety of reasons. They may have a greater need
than fathers to relocate for financial reasons – they are more likely to be seeking new employment, and
require family help (particularly support from grandparents) with child care. In most cases, a mother’s
ability to relocate will have a positive impact, either directly or indirectly, on her earning capacity.
If the relocation of resident parents – mainly women – were to be restricted by the courts on the stance
that parent/ child contact is paramount, then the same concern, and laws of equality, must mean that non
resident parents – mainly fathers – are subjected to the same rules. In addition, the prioritisation of child/
parent contact above all else should allow for one parent to prevent the other in choosing a job which
involves significant amounts of time away from the child.
The universal restriction of occupation and relocation of separated parents would effectively immobilise a
large portion of the workforce, increasing unemployment and childhood poverty.
Attempts in Australia to control women’s freedom has led to increased litigation(40).
There is no justification for applying different rules according to gendered roles. Women deserve, and
have a right to, the same opportunities and freedom as men, and the security to know that this right is
enshrined in law. Relocation need not deprive a child of a parent when both are free to move.
The lack of protection for primary care giving role
Where there is a willing choice by both parents, shared care can be beneficial to children, but many
mothers report that their ex partner manipulated or forced a change of role at or after separation(41):
‘He forced the primary care to change – he got into severe debt, forcing me out to work and then claimed that as I was the best wage earner that he should stay at home….After six months he disappeared with our daughter and presented a case for custody as the primary carer. He is in prison now for sexually abusing her.’
When parental roles appear to have changed in the context of separation, court evaluators need to be
aware of the possibility of coercion, and the resulting risk to children.
Women are disadvantaged by divorce even when there is no abuse. In an intact relationship, women with
children typically work part time or limited their career choice to accommodate the needs of the children
and her partner’s career. The parents therefore work as a team, and neither could fulfill their role without
At separation, parents are already committed to those roles, and the couple’s greatest financial asset is
usually the non primary carer’s career, which the primary carer has contributed to. Primary carers ‘have
earned the right to an equal share of the fruits of the marital partnership’(42)
However, financial settlements rarely compensate women for the economic sacrifices they have made.
Women are unlikely to ask for a settlement which adequately reflects their contribution to the family
assets, and would often prefer to be poor than financially dependent on, and connected to, an ex partner(43).
It is therefore the responsibility of government to ensure that primary care taking is properly protected
when parents separate.
39 Child Custody, Law and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003
40 Flaws in John Howard’s parenting law, 3 June 09, The Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/flaws-in-johnhowards-
41 Mothers’ narratives, Maypole Women 2008/10, MATCH Mothers 2008/09 http://www.matchmothers.org/pages/gallery.php
42 The Divorce Revolution, L J Weitzman, 1985
43 The Divorce Revolution, L J Weitzman, 1985
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.
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
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.
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.