Posts Tagged women and divorce

Valuing Motherhood – Women’s Connection to their Children

2.2 Children’s need for primary care giving

Children are cared for in accordance with a hierarchy of needs(10), in which physiological and safety needs must be met before benefit can be gained from relationships with others.

The presence of one parent who has overall responsibility for the child is a key feature of primary care giving, providing consistency and continuity of care. The disruption of the bond between the psychological parent and child should be avoided in the best interests of the child(11), and children continue to need attachment to their psychological parent throughout childhood(12).

When child care is divided equally, or nearly equally, at separation, mothers are likely to receive less financial support, although their costs, particularly housing costs, will not be similarly reduced. Women in this situation need to work longer hours to make up the difference. There is no evidence that fathers reduce their working hours to accommodate shared care(13), so shared care effectively has the potential to provide children overall with less parental care after separation – not more.

Recent court cases have demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of how children’s needs are met, and where the child’s relationship with the non primary carer (particularly those with a history of non involvement) fits in to an overall hierarchy of needs. In the recent case of TE v SH and S14, residency was transferred from the mother to the father. The child had been ‘flourishing’ in the mother’s care, whilst the father demonstrated a lack of empathy(15), and a proven lack of commitment to primary care giving. The court’s concentration on the potential (but unproven) benefits of the father/ child relationship obliterated consideration of the child’s more basic needs, including established attachments and continuity of care(16).

A failure to promote contact is not the same as a failure to meet a child’s essential needs. Nor does a failure to promote contact mean another adult is better placed to meet the full range of a child’s needs. No benefits can be large enough to justify the removal of a child from their primary care giver, where that care is proven to be good or good enough. The primary carer is the person most able to meet the child’s basic needs, and primary care forms the foundation on which all other relationships are built.

2.3 Women’s connection to their children

Primary care giving represents not just the functional meeting of needs, but a psychological connection. It has its origins in biology, brain structure, hormones, social conditioning and gendered parenting roles (17).
The definition of ‘equality’ to mean ‘sameness’ is therefore naïve, and ignores a mass of evidence that shows men and women have differing and complementary skills. Mothers’ and fathers’ roles are not mirror images of each other – they are not the same, and these differences cannot be eliminated by legislation.

Research shows that children’s relationships with their fathers are important but qualitatively different (18). Meeting certain conditions is crucial in helping mothers feel confident in promoting the father/ child relationship. The biggest factor of all is probably trust – trust that the father will identify and meet all the child’s needs, keep the child from harm, and not use child contact to undermine or harm the mother.

10 Motivation and Personality, A Maslow, 1987
11 McBean 1987, from Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003
12 Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003
13 Anecdotally, mothers who have lost their role as primary carer at or after separation almost always report that their ex partner is self employed, unemployed or works from home. Those that seek residency are able to accommodate a change in role without damaging their salary or career. Women’s narratives, Maypole Women 2008/10, MATCH Mothers 2008/09 14
15 Empathy is fundamental to a parent’s ability to identify a child’s needs, The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen, 2004 16
17 The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen, 2004
18 The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen, 2004

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Valuing Motherhood pt. II – The Reality of Family Lives

2.1 Primary care giving, and gendered parenting roles

In the majority of families mothers take ‘primary responsibility for every child rearing duty’(4), even when both parents work full time’(5) and when joint residency is ordered by the courts(6). Primary caring involves not just direct caring and associated tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, but also being responsible for
organising the child’s activities and other child care.

Primary caring is dependent on the carer’s ability to empathise with the child, and thus identify their needs(7). The term ‘primary care giver’ is therefore also referred to as the ‘psychological parent’ by some researchers.

When fathers are involved, their input tends to be additional to, or in support of, children’s continuous care needs. In a recent study, only a minority of mothers saw fathers as being ‘very involved’ in their child’s everyday activities prior to separation(8).

These gendered roles have been agreed – explicitly or implicitly, between both parents as being the best way to meet their child’s needs’(9).

UK family law, based on the Children Act 1989 is based on gender neutrality – but in the reality of women and children’s lives, parenting is never gender neutral or equal.

When mothers do not promote the father child relationship, the reasons behind this need to be understood as an interplay of social and psychological factors, and not as a failure of care. In most cases, reluctance to promote contact is intrinsically linked to mothers seeking to protect their child and themselves from perceived physical, psychological and financial harm. Until these factors are understood, barriers to contact will not be overcome.

4 The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, Sharon Hays,1996
5 This finding is supported by numerous research projects, and is consistent over time e.g. Hochschild 1989, Eichler 1997, Coltrane 2000, Silver 2000, from Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003; Fathers’ involvement with their secondary school aged children, Welsh et al, 2004; Women and Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, June 2009
6 Leaf 1996, from Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003
7 The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, Sharon Hays,1996; The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen, 2004
8 10-37%, Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms, R Kaspiew et al, 2009
9 Maccoby 1999, from Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003

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Valuing Motherhood – pt. I


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

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Maypole now has funding – just in time for D-day.

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.

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Maypole Women on Twitter

Maypole Women’s Charity now has its own Twitter feed. Follow us here or look at the feed to the right of the page.


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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
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

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