Different Demons

There are two main groups of critics of the family courts: they are Father’s rights groups (such as Fathers4Justice but of course there are many others) who concern themselves primarily with private law disputes, and a quite separate group concerned primarily with care proceedings and “forced” adoptions (John Hemming MP and journalist Christopher Booker to give two examples). The discourse these two sets of critics adopt may be similar – both criticise (rightly) the lack of transparency and both criticise the inefficiencies of social services, CAFCASS and the court system (with justification in some cases). Both seek to challenge what they see as miscarriages of justice. But their use and treatment of the leit motif of the Mother is very different, and indeed mutually contradictory.

For Father’s rights groups the Mother is seen and drawn as the beneficiary of institutionalised gender bias and the malicious withholder of contact to entitled and maligned fathers. Courts are too favourably disposed to Mothers, they are unquestioningly believed, pandered to and assumed to be the best placed to be a resident parent. Or so it goes.

For those who wave the “forced adoption” and “child snatching” banners parents, but usually and particularly the Mother is altogether more saintly. She has been wrongly accused, misrepresented and tricked. Her desire to fulfil her maternal role as only a mother can do is brushed aside in order to meet a target or a policy of adoption. Nothing she can do will be recognised – she is the victim of a campaign of persecution. This mother is victim, saint and martyr. She is a paradigm of selflessness. Or so it goes.

Of course I have sketched in very general terms the lines along which these stories tend to be told. I am identifying patterns, and I caricature a little for illustrative purposes – but not much.

How do we reconcile these two apparently incompatible criticisms of the courts’ approach to Mothers? Does it undermine one group or the other or both (or neither)?

Surely the court does not discriminate in favour of mothers in one sort of case, only to discriminate against them in another? What of care cases where the issue is the Mother’s ability to protect against an abusive Father? What is the pattern of injustice alleged by these groups?

And how is the justice system to go about meeting the criticisms from both sides (and should it try)?

I’m not mischief making nor proposing a particular answer to this, but it is a pattern that I’ve only really noted this week, and it does raise a conundrum for the judiciary, professionals and those looking at reform to the system, as well as for the campaigners themselves.

13 thoughts on “Different Demons

  1. Interesting. There is much to be said about marginalising fathers in care proceedings and child protection, but as you note, it largely remains unsaid!
    I think it is important to ask how many court users these two groups of critics actually represent.

  2. It seems to me that both groups share a common view of children as parental assets rather than people with rights. They therefore see (in the case of Fathers Rights groups the courts as supporting mothers to steal the asset, and in the case of the forced adoption people as the state stealing the asset from the parent (usually the mother).

    This seems to me to be the fundamental flaw in their arguments becasue children are not property and there is no right to “your” child, or indeed any such thing as “your” child.

  3. Nick Langford

    It’s an interesting theme, Lucy, but I think if you look at what Fathers 4 Justice are actually saying (or Fathers and Families in the US) the debate has moved on from a simplistic complaint about gender bias and has become rather more sophisticated. I can’t speak for the copy-cat groups, obviously.
    Stephen Baskerville probably best represents the current understanding of the issues, and presents it as a general assault on the family. The fact remains that when families break down it is the father who is most often forced out; family breakdown causes mass fatherlessness, not motherlessness. The families caught up in public law disputes are very often already fatherless, which is why the emphasis then shifts to mothers. These children, already deprived of one parent, are then faced with the loss of the other.
    I think Benedict is wrong, and that it is not parents who look on their children as assets, but some of those who work for the state who see other people’s children as transferable, and are known to refer to them as ‘adoptable commodities’. In the mindset of many of those who work in state agencies children belong, not to their parents, but to the state. Ultimately that is what campaigners are opposing in both public and private law.

    • I’m sure there is more sophistication in the arguments of many than in the brief sketch I outlined. I talk in general terms only. Broadly speaking those who come from a “fathers rights” perspective deploy the types of motifs I described, but of course they are not entirely homogenous.

      I’ve never heard the term “adoptable commodities” used and hope it is a figment of somebody’s imagination.

  4. Why are we so different from our European Partners in the callous way we treat so many parents? Both fathers and mothers are parents but on the whole single mothers outnumber single fathers hence more cases of “forced adoption” concern them.Also when police and the “SS” come in the night to remove babies at birth it is the mothers who are usually alone at that point so once again they get more mention,not from “preference” but because they are the more numerous victims.
    Just consider the following:-

    1:- The UK is the ONLY State in the WORLD that gags parents whose children have been taken by social services
    2:- The UK is the only State in Europe (except Croatia and possibly Portugal) to permit the horror of “forced adoption”.
    3:-The UK is the only State in Europe to allow “Punishment without crime” ie the regular taking of children from parents who have not committed any criminal offence.
    4:- The UK is the only State in Europe taking children from parents for “emotional abuse” and worse still “risk of emotional abuse” ( usually on the basis of predictions from overpaid charlatans that one day parents just might harm their children.)
    All this is a disgrace to democracy and a disgrace to freedom that could be instantly rectified by legislation to make all the above four practices illegal and to allow parents threatened with permanent seperation from their children to demand a hearing by a jury.

  5. Nick Langford

    I appreciate you are talking in generalities, and that we are discussing perceptions. I dare say I could present a generalised perception of lawyers which you might not recognise!
    I do think there is a sense within the FRM of a more flexible approach to the truth and an openness to new ideas. It has taken a while to get to that stage, so I think your perception may have been true some years ago, but probably no longer applies. There is some very good and intelligent writing by Stephen Baskerville, Glenn Sacks, ‘Angry Harry’ and others.
    I don’t get the sense (my perception) that there is the same progression within the industry itself, which still seems to be in denial and on the defensive. I was reading Liz Trinder’s report on PIPs this morning, and it still quotes the old 10% figure from the Blackwell Dawes report. Not only does this date back to 2003, but it doesn’t measure what she thinks it measures (the number of separating parents resorting to the courts), and is instead a measure of those FOR WHOM CONTACT WAS WORKING who had their contact ordered by the courts. It’s depressing seeing this error repeated endlessly. A similar but long discredited (by Nicholas Wall, no less) figure is the old Women’s Aid 29 Child Homicides claim, but it still gets wheeled out regularly. Time to move on?
    By the way, I don’t know how accurate Ian’s claims are, but it is evident that the problem with family courts and child protection generally are common to many countries, including most English speaking ones and many in Europe. This is an international issue, not a local one.

    • I am interested in what you have to say (maybe I’m not so much in denial / defensive as others? or maybe there is more movement within the “industry” than you think?) – and I would be interested in following through the references you give – can you provide links so that I and others reading this thread can do so? You are also more than welcome to provide links to the points you make on the 10% issue.



  6. NO NO Nick,
    Nowhere else in Europe do they gag parents with threats of prison if they go public,nowhere else do they tolerate forced adoption,punishment witout crime,and gagging of parents at contact centres ! The UK is a pariah ,an outlaw state (almost!)
    Ask parents in France,Germany ,Italy,Spain etc if children can be removed for emotional abuse or risk of it or, if parents can legally be gagged after their children have been taken, and they will not even believe it is happening in the UK so uncivilised they view it ! Don’t take my word for it ask for yourself !

  7. Nick Langford

    Now you are making me work!

    Liz Trinder’s report into the efficacy of PIPs, Building bridges? An evaluation of the costs and
    effectiveness of the Separated Parents Information Programme, is here: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DFE-RR140.pdf

    The Blackwell/Dawes report is Blackwell, A. and Dawes, F., Non-Resident Parental Contact, October 2003 and based on data from the National Statistics Omnibus Survey for the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It is usually cited as the origin of the 10% figure which is also given in the Green Paper Parental Separation: Children‘s needs and parents‘ responsibilities (http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/downloader/757ac7e1ce22fba840f69a9d7f50f558.pdf) where it is put in the form ‘only 10 percent of separating couples with children have had their contact arrangements ordered by the courts’. This clearly doesn’t refer to the percentage of separating parents who go to court to resolve their differences. This is probably an impossible figure to measure anyway as it isn’t possible to count separating parents, only divorcing ones.

    Margaret Hodge once put the figure at 40% in a letter to F4J, but I think that is too high.

    It does seem that governments try to play down this figure in order to present litigating parents as a small, irresponsible and dysfunctional minority. It might be a better measure to try to estimate how many children end up affected by the family Courts. Take, for example, Sir Paul Coleridge’s recent estimate that at any one time 3 million children are ‘caught up’ in the family justice system (Let’s hear it for the child; Restoring the Authority of the Family Court, Blue Skies and Sacred Cows, speech delivered to the Association of Family Lawyers 21st Annual Conference, Southampton, 25th-27th November 2010). I don’t know where he got that figure from, but it represents about 1 in 4 children.

    The infamous Women’s Aid report is Saunders, H., Twenty-Nine Child Homicides: lessons still to be learnt on domestic violence and child protection, Women’s Aid, 2004. It is available from Women’s Aid for £8 or is available free here: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/EB8A4840-425A-480B-8539-BF73FB35D2E9/0/twenty_nine_child_homicides.pdf. The Family Justice Council publish Lord Justice Wall’s A Report to the President of the Family Division on the publication by the Women’s Aid Federation of England entitled Twenty-Nine Child Homicides: lessons still to be learnt on domestic violence and child protection with particular reference to the five cases in which there was judicial involvement, March 2006, http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/report_childhomicides.pdf.

    Inevitably Wall’s report received less publicity than the Women’s Aid one which is still cited by those who oppose shared parenting.

  8. In the immediate past the scales were entirely tipped against the fathers, hence the F4J campaign.

    Now things have changed with the doctrines of Implacable Hostility and Noncooperation (with CAFCASS and that all children should have good relatios with their extended family on both sides, which has been taken up with a will by Family Court judges.

    The result is little better, MSBP accusations, Reversal of Residence and the increasing Demonisation of the mother to the point she is forbidden to see the children.

    It is still possible for the opposite to occur and the father be demonised and the F C judge be increasingly hostile to him to the point he is forbidden to see the children.
    ut as is now being said, if the father is dealt out of the equation, the “single mother” is now vulnerable to Public Law proceedings by the SS Dept., she is condemned and the children end up being sent to Forced Adoption – there have actually been cases.

    Many privatee cases are hijacked by CAFCASS and the SS, the mother is then accused of MSBP as she taught things to the children about the father, temporary Reversal of Residence is made on that basis.
    The mother is increasingly demonised as the “crazy woman”, the expert Witness finds she is suffering form Borderline Personality Disorder – it appears to be the favorite one –

    Ludicrous “”Fact” Finding” judgements are made and the mother is forbidden to see the children permanently or until she receives therapy for the Personality Disorder – which she can’t do because NHS or private psychs say she isn’t suffering from it!

    FC judges ignore this as evidence as does the Court of Appeal.

    IN some cases this leads to the children sent to Forced Adoption because it is held the treatment for BPD at 18 months would be too long “for the childrens’ timetables”.

    Every cliche of the Western cultural concept of the devil woman, the crazy woman, the dangerous woman, the witch float before you.

    This says a lot about the Family Court.

    I’m surprised , familoo, you or your colleagues have never met a case like any of the above.

  9. Hope someone can explain why the UK alone in Europe is so cruel to so many children and their parents !(See my previous comment)

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