Don’t Panic! The HUB is HERE!!!

Stand down everyone. The impending crisis has been averted by a little purple super hero of a website. No – Not Fathers 4 Justice, something with a rather broader appeal. Ladies and gentlemen, mothers and fathers, batmen and wonderwomen, I offer you the much promised, much trumpeted….* drum roll *…Sorting out Separation Hub. * deflating trumpet sound *.

I’ve been a bit rich on the snark in the last few posts, and I don’t think its entirely healthy to dedicate another evening to deconstructing and criticising something. So I’m going to hit and run and then go and do other stuff (there’s a bottle of Bailey’s in the Kitchen). Here’s the hit list :

Too many damn scrolly things

Guidance on when you may need a solicitor woefully deficient. No mention at all of :

  • when you really really need legal advice e.g. abduction
  • the sorts of things you may be able to get legal aid for (brief mention of d.v.)
  • the fact that you could instruct a barrister through direct access
  • the fact that a little bit of advice may go a long way – solicitors are only described as “very expensive”
  • the sorts of help that a parent may need to seek from the court (in particular non molestation orders)
  • the fact that a litigant is entitled to go to court without a lawyer
  • the distinction between mediator, friend and legal adviser is completely blurred “You don’t have to spend money on a solicitor. Talk to someone you trust or a mediator to get some neutral help”

You begin by being asked a lot of quite personal sensitive issues designed no doubt to risk assess for domestic violence or abuse. If you are foolish enough to select any of the risk indicators you get diverted to messages telling you to call the police or other organisation and asking if you feel your life is at risk. All other matters fall by the wayside.

There isn’t really any legal information at all apart from the most basic of summaries of s25 MCA and some quite incongruous stuff about void and voidable marriages (not REALLY the hottest or most commonly relevant matter for most separating couples) and a bit about PR. The websites that the hub signposts to are all, from what I can see pretty reliable websites, but who selects them and who monitors them for accuracy? [Postscript, thanks @littlemscounsel for pointing out that the resources section links to some NFM legal factsheets, which are helpful.]

Stuff about children doesn’t seem to fall under the category of “legal” according to the hub (clearly there can be no association between children matters and law because that might imply lawyers were required and this is clearly not compatible with the LASPO line). On “parenting time arrangements” (which of course is not a thing really known to law as yet) it says :

Separation is a difficult time for everyone. It’s important for both parents to share parenting time. Do everything you can to make sure you both stay involved in your child’s life.

Most children benefit from having a good relationship with both parents as long as it is the safe thing to do.

Research shows children do better at school, tend to stay out of trouble and develop better relationships as adults when they have a good relationship with both parents.

  • Some parents share care on a 50/50 basis, so your child lives with both parents exactly half the time.
  • You may decide that you split weekends and school holidays.
  • Its helpful to make arrangements to suit the age of your child, you do what’s best for them as well as you.

To me that is in danger of putting 50 50 care first on the list, at any rate I think that may be how it is read. Without making comment on the merits of exact 50:50 arrangements, I think that drafting is a little unfortunate since it does not reflect any of government policy, the law or the future law.

There are also some quite bold and over simplistic assertions about “what works best” for children, such as “Try to make sure your toddler sees each parent at least every three days with some overnight stays.”  I’m not sure that all recent research or parental experience would necessarily agree with that, although it may be right for many children. Again, although it doesn’t say so I suspect this is easily misread as supporting midweek overnight contact for children of nursery age which has potential to be quite disruptive.

This is ALL it says about cases where a parent is being prevented from having contact with a child:

Being prevented from having a relationship

Not being allowed to see your child can be a very painful experience, not only for yourself but also your child.

Help for the future

  • Try to get your ex-partner to focus on what’s best for your child.
  • Put your own differences aside, try to see things from both sides.
  • Find out if there’s a legal answer, get advice from a solicitor or another qualified professional.
  • If you’re not allowed to have contact with your child, send letters or emails if possible.

If you’re not allowed to have contact with your child now, write letters and cards and keep them safe in a box to show them in the future.

This hub does signpost to some useful resources, but really… The idea that this hub is some kind of sticking plaster to cover the slashing of legal aid, or that in combination with some telephone gateway system (where no doubt callers will be repeatedly asked if they are “living in fear? worried about your own or your child’s safety?” and little else) – is just bonkers. The idea that parents can be meaningfully assisted by platitudes like “Try to get your ex-partner to focus on what’s best for your child” is really just fatuous, patronising and minimises the emotional and legal complexity of some (many) contact disputes. 

Best bit of the hub? It’s an ironic F4J purple. They may be miffy.

Right. Run away!

Family Justice Narratives : No. 6

This is the sixth of the Family Justice Narratives. You can find out what the Family Justice Narratives are all about and how to get involved here. This narrative is in the format of an email addressed to me, and comes from Brian, a social worker.



Started reading your blog with interest and admire the way you seem to find incredible amounts of time and patience to debate with and answer contributors, especially the distressed and unhappy fathers who can be abusive and emotional. Dialogue is important but sometimes attitudes are so entrenched dialogue gets us nowhere. I’d just like to share my experience of working with children and families in the family court setting. I’ve no axe to grind other than a professional interest in truth and objectivity in so far as it can be achieved and in balancing some of what sometimes appears in your blog with my own perspective.

I’ve been in social work practice in the family courts for over 30 years as a practitioner, manager and also an experienced mediator.  Some believe that people who do my work are not properly trained. I don’t know what training they believe is appropriate, but to hopefully satisfy them, I’m a registered social worker, have a degree in social work, also hold the professional qualification in social work, another qualification in psychotherapy, another in management, a MSc in conflict resolution and mediation and was trained in mediation at the Institute of Family Therapy. During my time I’ve worked with people abusing drugs and alcohol, victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and had some responsibility for a sex offender treatment programme in a prison, as well as working with possibly thousands of families passing through the family courts. Continue Reading…

Book Review : Making mediation work for you – a practical handbook

Making mediation work for you (LAG 2012)Making mediation work for you – a practical handbook

Kate Aubrey-Johnson with Helen Curtis (LAG, 2012)

As someone who has recently trained as a family mediator I was keen to review this handbook. It contains a wealth of useful explanatory material about mediation in general, and about the way that mediation operates in particular areas such as community mediation, family mediation and workplace mediation.

The material is well presented and easy to understand, and the FAQs from established practitioners were helpful. I thought it odd though that several of the case studies set out a scenario and then explained that mediation had helped the parties to agree an outcome, without setting out what that outcome was. The sections on family mediation were well set out and clear and so apparently were the other subject specific sections.

For most readers though, I thought that in fact the coverage was likely to be a bit too rangy – I found myself skipping chunks of the book which were either teaching me to suck eggs, or covering areas which were not useful to my practice, notwithstanding an interest in other types of mediation. Whilst much of the material is apparently aimed at non-mediators, a large portion of the material appears to be aimed at mediators themselves or the legal advisors of the parties to mediation, for whom the more basic sections on what is mediation and why mediate are (one might hope) rather less necessary. So, to my mind, this is a book from which different people will pick and choose the chapters that interest or inform them, although few will benefit from every chapter.

However, as an introduction to the principles and benefits of mediation I would say this book would be invaluable, particularly for those who are likely to encounter one or more types of mediation tangentially in their everyday work – I thought for example that a copy should be on the bookshelf of every District Judge and every CAFCASS Office, every Local Authority legal department and every legal outfit be it chambers or solicitors firm. There is much that is poorly understood about mediation and this book really does help to clarify the boundaries and limitations of mediation as well as its potential strengths and flexibility.

I think that this is a useful reference text to call upon as needed, but not one which is best suited to a cover to cover read.

At only £40.00 (£28.50 on Amazon) I think this book is well worth the money.