Posts Tagged maypole report

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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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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