Fathers Rights – Have they got it wrong?

Sadly, only a few people have contacted me through this site. The surprise is that they have all been men. Instead of mothers reaching out in the spirit of sisterhood, it’s dads emailing their stories to me. Though it’s only a few, there’s a definite common theme— a lack of fathers rights.

In all of the emails, the fathers feel at a disadvantage when it comes to contact with their kids after a breakup. I feel sorry for a couple of these men. In their emails they come across as real, desperate dads fighting a losing battle. But, I also know that there are two sides to every story and a reaction for every action.

Fighting for fathers rights to contact…

In 2010, the people behind www.separateddads.co.uk wrote an open letter to then Prime Minister, David Cameron requesting a review of the family court system.

For many years now women have enjoyed equal rights in this country… yet men who are separated from their partners and children continue to be treated as secondary parties in the Family Courts…The courts, Cafcass and others tend to be biased towards mothers and what they want, often prioritising the mother’s emotional welfare over the child’s needs…Fathers are too often the last party that the courts consider. We, for our part, would rather not be going to court at all, but do what is necessary to enable us to maintain relationships with the people who are of paramount importance to us in out lives. We implore the new government to prioritise a wholesale review of the family courts system, and to address the continuing discrimination against fathers to favour equal rights for fathers and mothers. – John Rowlinson on behalf of www.SeparatedDads.co.uk

Mr Rowlinson got it wrong..

The full version of the letter is available at http://www.separateddads.co.uk/equality-family-courts-open-letter-from-separated-dads.html  

Read it for yourselves and see what you think—factually inaccurate is what springs to my mind. I’d urge Mr Rowlinson to contact me should he need any letters writing in the future.

The Ministry of Justice however…..

To the dads whose emails seemed genuine, I’ve been digging around the murky depths and found something interesting. In 2006, the Ministry of Justice commissioned a report into the outcomes of applications for contact orders after parental separation. It’s broader purpose being to find out if the family courts do, in fact, routinely discriminate against fathers.

Published in 2008 using information from 300 separated cases across 11 courts in the UK, the report data showed that out of the completed cases 79% ended with an order or agreement for face-to-face contact.

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Fathers rights – A de facto presumption of contact

The report states that, in fact, most non-resident parents who apply for contact get it. While some don’t, it is rare. The courts work on a de facto presumption of contact, so unless there are good reasons why not there should be contact. Contrary to Mr Rowinson’s beliefs, it seems that fathers entering family court for contact do so from a position of power. One solicitor remarked that the judges have been bending over backwards to give fathers contact. Even with domestic violence cases, the courts still bend over backwards to assist and accommodate fathers.

Fathers rights – have they got it wrong?

Unhappy customers will often give a bad review. Maybe Mr Rowlinson was one of the small percentage of dads whose experience of court was a negative one. One solicitor interviewed commented:

They [fathers] can be worn down by the process if it’s prolonged. Expense is a very real issue, or they can just be disadvantaged because they can’t afford to keep going. And on occasion it’s because what they seek is unrealistic and they are given that advice and walk away. Some non-resident parents won’t compromise, so they see settlement and anything less than what they want as failure. So rather than accept whatever is proposed, including by the Cafcass officer, they simply won’t pursue it.

My question to the dads that have emailed me—why is there a resistance to contact? What is the root of the problem?  Co-operation between parents is essential and court is no substitute for communication— find a way to talk. Though this site is for mothers, there’s no reason why the articles couldn’t apply to the real, desperate dads. Representing yourself at family court is hard, but not impossible – whether your a mother or a father. I know from experience that family court does everything it can to support contact. A useful article for fathers is  Contact—Whose right is it anyway?

The full version of the Ministry of Justice report used for this article is available to view at:http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9145/1/outcomes-applications-contact-orders.pdf

What do you think of Mr Rowlinson’s letter?

 

Parental Responsibility – not as scary as it sounds

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What is Parental Responsibility?

If your child was born after 1st December 2003, you weren’t married to your ex and he’s not on the birth certificate, he can apply to the court for Parental Responsibility.

Legally defined parental responsibility (PR) means, “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” I found out during my own case that in reality, it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Your ex being granted parental responsibility gives him the right to have his say on the important stuff. This could be changing your child’s surname, medical treatment, moving abroad or what school they should attend.

No need to worry…

Parental responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to consult with your ex over every little thing. It doesn’t mean that your ex can tell you how to be a mum. By law, the day-to-day parenting decisions are made by the resident parent without interference from the non-resident parent.

Parental Responsibility and your case

In most cases there is no good reason for a father to be denied parental responsibility. Therefore if you really feel strongly about your ex not having PR, you will need to make your valid reasons known to the court. You will need to explain why you have refused parental responsibility, if you have. You will also need to convince the magistrates that they should not go against you by granting PR.

Though it’s rare for the courts to refuse a father parental responsibility, there have been exceptions. For example:

  • (Re H (Parental Responsibility)[1998]) – In this case the father displayed cruel behaviour towards his child and injured the child.
  • (Re P (Parental Responsibility)[1998])– The father in this case was found with obscene photographs of children.
  • (Re M (Contact: Parental Responsibility)[2001]) – In this case the courts felt that granting PR would undermine the mother’s ability to care for her disabled child and thus cause unnecessary stress.

You can see from the above examples that the reasons the courts had for not granting PR were all extremely valid. Your own reasons would need to be equally as valid if your desired outcome is for the courts to not grant PR. For more information on convincing the magistrates, take a look at Persuading with Proof makes a Convincing Case

Finally…

Think about what your ex having parental responsibility really means in practical terms. It doesn’t mean that you need your ex’s consent for every school trip. It does mean that he will be able to get school reports sent directly to him, is that so bad? Remember that parental responsibility is not a bat to beat you with. Day-to-day parenting is handled by the resident parent. Rational thinking can be difficult as a litigant. Let Emotion & Reason – 5 Steps to Creating a Balanced Argument show you the wood through the trees.

Has this information been helpful? Leave a comment to show your support for other mothers facing family court without a solicitor.

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Court Orders – What are they and what do they mean?

In family proceedings the court’s decision will be in the form of a Order. Court Orders are mandatory instructions from the court that you must abide by.

In most cases, it’s the parents of the child who make an application to the court for an Order. However, the Children’s Act does allow for someone other than the parents to be able to apply for orders that relate to a child’s upbringing. The court will consider the nature of a persons connection with the child before making any decisions.

Court Orders

The court orders regularly used in family proceedings can be found under section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989:

  • Parental Responsibility Order
  • Child Arrangements Order
  • Prohibited Steps Order
  • Specific Issue Order
What do they mean?
  1. Parental Responsibility Orders give fathers the chance to gain PR when the mother refuses to allow the father on the birth certificate or refuses to sign a Parental Responsibility  Agreement. Step-parents, guardians and 2nd female parents can also apply for Parental Responsibility.
  2. Child Arrangements Orders replace ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders. This order decides where your child lives, when your child spends time with each parent and what other types of contact can take place e.g. phone calls. If he does not already have it, a father is granted parental responsibility as part of a Child Arrangement Order.
  3. Prohibited Steps Order stops the person named in the Order from doing certain actions without the courts permission. This could be taking the child out of the country or making a decision about the child’s upbringing e.g. relocation.
  4. Specific Issue Order gives instructions about a particular element of a child’s upbringing. This could be what school they attend, the religion that the child is raised in, whether they should have a religious education or any other aspect of parental responsibility.

When making an order the court will take the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child into consideration. The older the child the more weight their wants and wishes will carry. It is important that you don’t try to influence your child’s view but instead support their wishes. If they are too young to make decisions, your argument should focus on what you think is in the best of interests of your child and why.

Is there anything that you could add to help another mother represent herself in family court? Leave a comment and show your support.

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The Welfare Checklist

What is ‘The Welfare Checklist’?

The Welfare Checklist is a list of 7 criteria that the courts use when making decisions during family law proceedings. It can be found fully in section one of the Children’s Act 1989:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child – in light of their age and understanding.
  2. The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child.
  3. The likely effect of any change on the child’s circumstances.
  4. The age, sex, background and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant.
  5. Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  6. How capable the child’s parents (and/or any other relevant person) are of meeting the child’s needs.
  7. The range of powers available to the court.

The court must consider the checklist when deciding to make an order in contested proceedings. It can significantly strengthen your own position to cross-reference your argument against the criteria of the Welfare Checklist.

Breaking it down…
  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child: What does your child want? If your child is young in age and/or understanding, what do you think they would want and why?
  2. Physical, emotional and educational needs of child: What is your involvement in meeting the physical, emotional and educational needs of your child? What involvement does your ex have in meeting those needs?
  3. The likely effect on your child of any changes in their current circumstances: What is your child’s usual routine? Would a change in their routine be positive or negative for your child? Why?
  4. Age, sex, background and characteristics the court considers relevant: Your case is just one of many so, make the court aware of the points that make your case individual. Does your child’s background affect your case? Does your child have any characteristics that are relevant to the case?
  5. Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering: ‘Harm’ can mean both physical and mental. Has your child been harmed or at risk of being harmed? Are you able to protect your child from harm? Would an order put your child at risk of harm? Why?
  6. How capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs. Are you capable of meeting your child’s needs? Why are you the best person to meet your child’s needs? How does this compare to the abilities of your ex in meeting your child’s needs? Do you have any concerns about your ex’s ability to meet your child’s needs? 
  7. The range of powers available to the court under The Children Act 1989. The courts prefer reasonable agreement between the parties and private arrangements often work better than court orders. What do you want the court to do? How can your case be resolved?
Your case…

Checking your position against the Welfare Checklist can strengthen and give your argument structure. It will help if you can guess how your ex will respond to the 7 points of the Welfare Checklist. Anticipating the responses of the other parties will leave you better prepared to counter and respond to them.

Has this post helped? Leave a comment and show your support to other mothers facing court without a solicitor. #mothers4justice2

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Contact—Whose right is it anyway?

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At family court, disagreements over contact are common. Representing yourself can be made easier by accepting, every child has the right to a relationship with both parentsso long as it doesn’t bring them harm. It isn’t about what’s best for you or what’s best for your ex. As difficult as it may be, a contact case can only be about what is best for your child

The child’s right to contact

The important thing to remember as a Litigant, is that the court will definitely expect some form of contact between a child and their non-resident parent. Contact can range from phone calls and letters to face-to-face visits and overnight stays. The scope for facilitating contact is vast and the type and frequency should depend on what is practical and what will be best for the child.

There is no entitlement to 50% of  a child’s time.

Children are not a possession and a parent has no automatic right to contact that would negatively impact a child’s welfare, needs or human rights. However, it’s worth noting that even in cases where concerns are raised, there is always the option of supervised contact arrangements. It is extremely rare for the court to accept that there should be no contact between a child and their non-resident parent.

Contact – be prepared!

I’ve learnt from my own experience that negotiation and compromise are essential when representing yourself in a contact case. Answer the following questions to help get your case ready to present to the magistrates:

  • Why can you and your ex not agree on the contact arrangements for your child?
  • Do your disputes come from emotion or valid reasoning?
  • Do you have any concerns regarding contact?
  • What is your proposal for the type and frequency of contact?
  • Are you being fair?
  • Why is your proposal in the best interests of your child?

For you as a Litigant, an argument concentrated only on what you think is best for your child will hold more weight than one that aims to withhold contact or discredit the ex.

What do you think? Leave a comment and help empower other mothers representing themselves at family court. Check out Emotion & Reason – 5 Steps to Creating a Balanced Argument for more advice on getting your case ready for the magistrates.

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