Posts Tagged maypole women
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 have had some exciting news recently. We’ve been selected as one of 500 winners of Vodaphone’s ‘World of Difference program.’ The website describes it as:
The World of Difference UK programme gives 500 people the chance to work for a UK-based charity of their choice for two months, and get paid for their time.
This year’s winners started their placements in March, and are donating themselves to charities all over the UK. They are lending their considerable expertise to diverse causes like children and young people, the environment, animal welfare, poverty relief, health and the arts.
Maypole was registered as a charity last April, and although that has made a notable difference to how easily we are accepted, limited resources have still been a problem. However, now one of the co-founders is being paid by Vodaphone (and you can read her blog here), more time and effort can be put into Maypole – and hopefully, we can really help women who most need help.
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.
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.
The first day of this week, January 10th, is called D-Day, or Divorce Day. It’s the busiest time of the year for solicitors as estranged couples split – and it is women who are most likely to be initiating a divorce.
That’s never a good time, but we have some positive news for all women on that journey, as Maypole has been awarded a £10,000 Awards for All lottery grant to redevelop our website. The new site will offer more information, advice and support, and will enable us to offer a membership scheme and a secure self help forum.
The present site was designed and built by Rosalind, co-founder of Maypole: ‘As my first web site it’s suited us well but as Maypole grows we need more sophisticated design and functionality, and that’s way beyond my limited web design skills!’.
Jennifer (other!) co-founder of Maypole, says ‘the new site will be easier to find in search engines, which is really exciting as it was because we couldn’t find any dedicated support for women on the net that the idea for Maypole grew’.
We have appointed a web designer in Leeds, and look forward to uploading the new site in the spring. It will be at the same web address, and you will be first to hear of the launch.
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.
Maypole Women’s Charity now has its own Twitter feed. Follow us here or look at the feed to the right of the page.
‘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