Court reporters - CAFCASS - More CAFCASS - no thanks
The Early Interventions Pilot Project (which
would give us Florida-style contact dispute resolution without
the need for either courts or cafcass, but unpopular in the
US is presenting judges with guidelines on normal contact
that will be backed up in court) has been undergoing a prolonged
process of being f**ked-up by civil servants.
Their tactic is to take the important parts out of the project,
and water it down with rubbish like "encouraging mediation
where possible" and "money for contact centres".
Whilst it does not go far enough, it is important to distinguish
between the original Early Interventions Pilot which was good,
and the watered-down-by-whitehall Family Resolutions Pilot,
which is rubbish.
What many people do not realise, is that the traditional targets
of our anger (ministers such as Hodge and Filkin) are actually
no more than the mouthpieces of the senior civil servants
(remember Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister!),
and it is these individuals to whom we should turn our attention.
The single worst offender in the whole of whitehall in this
context, is the following:
Vulnerable Children Division DfES
Caxton House (4F)
6-12 Tothill Street
London SW1H 9NA
0207 273 1288
FAX 0207 273 1167
Pauline Morgan PS to Bruce Clark
0207 273 5643
This man Clark has brought an obsession with risk-assessment
from his vulnerable children division into the pilot project
where it is clearly out of place, he is the evil and obnoxious
zealot who was single-handedly responsible for the munchhausen's-by-proxy
fiasco, and has done more damage the cause of family law reform
than anyone else.
Next in line is his Section Head (i.e. Bruce Clark's manager):
Director, Safeguarding Children Group
6-12 Tothill Street
London SW1H 9NA
0207 273 1396
The person at the top is Althea's manager - close to Cabinet
Great Smith Street
The following three people are also involved:
0207 273 4825
Brian Kirby CAFCASS
FAX 0207 210 4469
Tel: 0207 210 4465
May have changed
The PR phone number is 0207 255 1555 / fax 0207 255 1556.
Address: Inner London Family Proceedings Court
59/65 Wells Street
London W1A 3AE
The cartoon antics of Fathers 4 Justice may
have done them no favours, but now divorced dads have a new
superhero in Bob Geldof. Celia Dodd examines their grievances
while Katy Guest listens to victims of marital breakdown
Bob Geldof calls it "state-sponsored child
abuse". The legal system scars children by forcibly removing
them from their fathers, he says. "I and my kids will
never forgive what this state, through this law, did to us
to ruin our family even further than our own self-inflicted
damage," says Geldof, who was separated from his daughters,
Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches and Pixie, when he split with his
wife Paula Yates in 1995.
"What bewildered me and left me grief-stricken
was not just that she had left me but my children were gone,"
he says in a documentary to be broadcast on Channel 4 on Tuesday.
"Why couldn't I be with them like I had for all their
Other fathers have chosen to express their anger
by dressing up as superheroes and scaling buildings, or throwing
purple dye at the Prime Minister. Whatever you think of Fathers
4 Justice - and some believe they have actually damaged their
own cause - they have at least forced everyone to take a closer
look at the way the current system deals with divorce and
But the real victims are not the fathers, however
angry they feel. Their sons and daughters are the ones who
suffer most as mum and dad tear each other apart in court,
egged on by a legal structure that forces parents to confront
each other like gladiators. Meanwhile, the voices of the children
are rarely heard.
"It's terribly important to ensure that
children's views and feelings are taken into account, and
to think about how they should be involved in decisions,"
says Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the National Family
and Parenting Institute.
We don't need research to tell us that the less
conflict the better for children, and that long-drawn-out
conflicts and contact orders which aren't enforced can cause
children long-term unhappiness. Yet some parents spend several
years of their young children's lives in dispute, trying to
thrash out an agreement.
The Government's Green Paper, "Parental
separation: children's needs and parents' responsibilities",
published in July, takes account of the recent seismic shifts
in family life and proposes new measures which could make
separation easier for all families - including the 90 per
cent who manage the whole tricky business without resorting
to court. The basic idea is to make it possible for even more
couples to avoid court.
There is also a welcome move towards seeing
divorce as a continuous process - with children and parents
getting help - and a recognition of the need to offer support
for post-divorce parenting. Lamorna Wooderson of the Children
and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) says:
"There's a need for a lot more support, information and
advice, because often problems come not just at the time of
the break-up, but later, when new situations arise - when
a parent meets a new partner, or a new child is born, or as
the children get older."
Inevitably, lawyers and campaigners disagree
about flaws in the system and how it should be improved. One
of the biggest bones of contention is the notion put forward
by Geldof that courts should start from a presumption that
children will divide their time 50-50 between the parents.
It's a view qualified by Matt O'Connor of Fathers 4 Justice:
"In the eyes of the law we need a level playing field
to start with. Fifty-fifty contact is a good starting point,
but it could be 70-30 or even 90-10 - whatever is the most
workable arrangement couples can agree. We want a Bill of
Rights for the family which makes it unacceptable for either
parent to deny the child a relationship with the other."
But opinion is weighted against the 50-50 principle.
Dorit Braun of Parentline Plus echoes the Lord Chancellor's
Department when she says: "If you introduce parents'
rights you're in danger of superseding children's rights,
which is problematic. The Children Act says that children
have a right to both their parents, and we mustn't lose sight
of that. We need to look at what kind of arrangements can
be made, which everybody can manage." The one thing everyone
agrees about is the less time spent in court the better. At
present, it can take up to 12 weeks from the time parents
first apply to the court to the first hearing. But Toby Hales,
a family lawyer with the London solicitors Hodge Jones and
Allen, believes that blaming the system is too simplistic.
"People's expectations often far outweigh what the system
can deliver," he says. "My view is that certain
categories of dispute, such as some contact disputes, can
be almost impossible to resolve. The law doesn't provide sufficient
protection for children in the sense that disputes between
parents are allowed to go on for years. People try as far
as possible to avoid head-on confrontation, so lawyers are
always trying to cobble together negotiated outcomes that
really don't satisfy anybody and lead to them coming back
six months later because they're not working. There has to
be a complete reshaping of the kind of professional support
that's given to families."
Clearly you can never get rid of conflict in
divorce, but you can stop bad feeling becoming entrenched,
not least by speeding up the processes which help to resolve
issues, preferably outside court: research shows that arrangements
work best if couples work them out themselves.
According to Hales, hammering out a realistic
agreement at the outset cuts conflict in the long term; it
also helps the children as much as the parents. "The
initial period, when feelings are extremely raw, is so important,"
he says. "That's when you need outside intervention,
because if feelings get entrenched people get stuck, and x
years down the line you're still dealing with their sorrow
and agony that their marriage broke down."
There is no shortage of new ideas about how
best to come to realistic agreements, from Family Resolution
Schemes to the Legal Services Commission's Family Advice and
Information Networks, as well as mediation.
Like many lawyers, Hales thinks mediation helps
only parents who would agree anyway. But it is still widely
viewed as one of the best ways to handle heated emotions,
and is now being tentatively used to help children through
divorce, a practice which Mary MacLeod believes should be
Linda Glees, chair of the Family Mediators'
Association, says mediation can even help enforce contact
orders. "That has been a real weakness in the system,"
she says. "Mediation could help by unpacking all the
reasons which led to the court order falling down, which are
often surprisingly trivial."
But should mediation be mandatory? Fathers 4
Justice says it will not work if it is not. "If couples
don't agree fast-track resolutions and a parenting plan, they
should have to do community service, be electronically tagged,
or if they fail repeatedly, face some kind of custodial sentence."
Yet, as Dorit Braun points out, "often
the reasons contact arrangements break down is that one of
the parents is struggling emotionally and nobody's helping
them through that."
But there is a general agreement that the law
needs more teeth, particularly when it comes to contact arrangements.
One plan is that in the future Cafcass will monitor these
agreements closely and ensure they are implemented without
There is also widespread enthusiasm for the
new Family Resolution Schemes. One pilot in Sunderland has
just started, while two more (in Brighton and London) follow
later this month. Couples are directed to them by the courts
before they embark on the actual courtroom process in the
hope that they will circumvent it.
What people like about the Family Resolution
Scheme is that it offers the kind of early intervention which
can really help couples to put emotions aside to think about
the children. It also allows children's voices to be heard
much more than they are at present. Currently a Cafcass officer
spends just one hour canvassing the child's opinion.
In the future, they will spend much longer establishing
a relationship on the child's home ground to get a much more
accurate picture of their feelings. The National Family and
Parenting Institute would also like to see children signing
Parenting Plans with their parents.
Meanwhile, there is a call for more services
to help children and parents cope with divorce - the kind
of emotional support currently offered by Relate and school
Dorit Braun says: "We need sustained funding
for services that can help families by working alongside them
- it's not a question of telling them what to do. There is
a lot out there to build on, but it's patchy, fragmented and
poorly funded. Because where parents are struggling emotionally
they're distracted - they're not able to put their children's
If girls and boys are not to go on suffering
there has to be change. The Government will soon stop consulting
and announce what it intends to do. Opinions vary among those
who have been scarred by the system or work within it. But
there is broad agreement about a number of things. Couples
should get help as soon as they separate to help them work
out realistic parenting plans. They should be encouraged to
reach agreements out of court, wherever possible. Mediation
services ought to be consistent and available to all across
So should the Family Resolution Schemes being
pioneered in some courts. Where court orders are made they
must be monitored more closely and not broken so often. Children
should be encouraged to maintain ties with their extended
family. And children's views should influence decisions about
their own futures.
In the end, this is not about former rock stars
or angry dads in saggy fancy-dress costumes. It's about young
children - boys and girls - whose lives are being damaged.
They are the ones who are counting on all the grown-up lawyers
and counsellors and politicians to act.
A father's tale: 'No separation can be really
Andrew Caulfield, 38, a lawyer, lives near Guildford
in Surrey. He was divorced three years ago. His children are
aged from five to 11.
When we first separated we were quite clear
on one thing: that whatever happened, being fair to the children
was going to be paramount. We really believed we could stop
things from becoming acrimonious, but the truth is that the
adversarial court system in this country invites a divorcing
couple into acrimony, and finances and the children become
the main battlegrounds.
We ended up fighting through the courts, and
for about two years I did not have the level of contact I,
or the boys, wanted. It was very tough, very depressing, and
the people who missed out most were the children because children
need two parents.
No separation and divorce can ultimately be
really amicable: at some point it's going to get nasty and
when it does both sides use whatever weapons are their disposal,
usually money and the kids.
All of this is enabled by a legal system with
individuals - solicitors, barristers, judges - who come from
a generation where fathers didn't have a big role to play
in their children's lives.
People said to me, "You'll get to see them
every weekend in McDonald's, that's going to be all right
for you isn't it?" And I had to say no - that's a very
long way from my idea of what being a father is all about.
It took me three years of putting my case to
reach the situation I'm in now, which is that my sons spend
half their time with their mother and half their time with
me: that's the right solution. That's how it always should
Ellen, 46, has two daughters, now in their twenties,
whom she raised alone after separating and getting divorced
16 years ago. She lives in a city in the North where she helps
When a couple split up the assumption that's
usually made is that the mother will carry on providing the
childcare while the father carries on working. That is one
of the big causes of conflict: you're left looking after the
children and you think, why should I be doing everything?
I would have loved it if my ex-husband had wanted
to stay involved in his children's lives, but what he wanted
was to dip in and out on his terms. What all the research
shows is that it's regular contact that keeps children secure
after family break-up: if you get a non-resident parent who
keeps letting the children down, not turning up for contact
visits and so on, they start feeling rejected - and that has
very long-term implications.
You get a lot of families where the father moves
on, finds a new partner, has a new family, and then the first
wife and the first set of children lose out - their maintenance
is reduced, they're living in poverty.
The level of poverty among some lone mothers
is terrible: a few weeks ago I heard of a mother who had to
walk six miles home from hospital with four children after
one was taken to casualty with a playground injury - simply
because she didn't have the fare to get them all home. That's
how tight things can be.
The truth is that the non-resident parents'
lobby has got a great big voice but the resident parents are
struggling in silence. Largely they're just too over-burdened,
too up against it, to have the time or the energy or the resources
to mount campaigns at Buckingham Palace.
Bringing up children on your own as a lone parent
without the support of the other parent is really, really
tough: I did a university degree before I started working,
and studying and then working was so difficult. I did it,
but only because of the support of my friends; they helped
out with childcare and they were there to support me.
But when it's 3am and your child is ill and
you're completely on your own and you don't know whether she'll
be OK and the doctor just gives you a terse reply on the phone,
that's when you feel it.
That's when you know the loneliness and feel the total responsibility
of what you're doing.
Charlotte, 12, lives in London with her mother
and eight-year-old brother. Her parents split up a year ago.
Mum and Dad were arguing for ages before they
split up: they used to throw things at each other and that
made my brother and me frightened and we used to cry. But
it was still a big shock when they told us Dad was moving
out: we didn't think it would get that bad. It was really
horrible when he left - our house isn't the same now he's
gone. He lives in a flat but it's a Tube ride away and I can't
go on my own.
I think it would have helped if we could have
all sat down together and talked about how life was going
to be once Dad had moved out, but he and Mum either fought
or didn't talk at all.
Mum works more days now than she used to do,
so she is out a lot and busy during the week. She likes to
do things with us at weekends but then there's Dad to see
as well, and it makes it really hard for me to go out with
my friends and go swimming and to the cinema.
I really wish we could go back to how it used
to be. Everything seemed so easy then, and it all seems so
The identities of the last three interviewees
on these pages have been changed
Andrea, 21, was brought up by her mother from
an early age, after her parents divorced. She lives with her
mother in the North of England andworks in a shop. Andrea
has a four-year-old son.
Growing up without a dad has affected my whole
life: what I am now and what I'll ever be. Dad only turned
up when he wanted, didn't support my mum properly. My sister
and I had a lot of difficult times, had to get through a lot
on our own.
Mum was always tired and skint. We'd come home
from school and she'd be out at college or at work - I remember
us being on our own such a lot. And then when she came home
we'd have problems at school or with our work but we never
wanted to bother her with them: she seemed so stressed-out
already. So my sister and I bottled everything up inside,
and that's not been good for us.
What happened to us has affected how I feel
about men: I tend to be quite harsh towards them and I don't
trust them. I'm always expecting to be let down. My sister
and I both had babies when we were young: I was only 16 when
I had Jamie. I wanted to create the happy family I'd missed
out on. But I was so young, and of course it was unrealistic:
Jamie's dad and I have split up and I'm back with my mum.
But I'm determined to make it different for Jamie: he goes
to his dad every Saturday. We take him out together, too,
so he knows he's got us both: I want him to know that, because
it didn't happen for me.
I haven't done as well as I might. I'm always
afraid of being let down, so if something is difficult I don't
try, I give up too easily. I've been let down too often. I
prefer not to open myself to more disappointments.
To prove who is the best parent you have to
prove who is the worst. A large number of problems are because
the courts operate under a cloak of secrecy, allegedly to
protect the child's best interest. It should be unacceptable
for one parent to denigrate the other in front of the children.
It is incredibly damaging.
Too many parents and grandparents are not able
to have access. The resident parent should know that the court's
presumption is that the other parent should have equal contact.
We'd aim for early intervention - mediation, a parenting plan
and access arrangements.
The current system is slow, adversarial, divisive
and expensive. Children do best after break-up, typically,
if they see lots of both parents. I don't believe in fathers'
rights; it's about children. We should stop thinking about
fathers' rights and start thinking in terms of how to exploit
fathers as a resource.
What people need is support, advice and help
to come to terms with their emotional difficulties. Do you
remember the Learn Direct campaign with the gremlins? We need
something like that, to make people come together and bring
about a cultural change. There's so much more people could
do to learn the skills for a committed relationship.
We hear from thousands of children every year
for whom divorce or separation is one of their concerns. Children
don't always expect to be agreed with but they want to feel
they've had a say. We're also concerned about the provision
of information for children. Does a child know where to access
information? I really think they need to look at that.
Ours remains an adversarial court system.
The Solicitors Family Law Association knows that getting families
into court battles is entirely the wrong thing to do. We need
to get people to understand that the thing to do when a relationship
breaks down is not to get into a fight.