The Family Justice Review: death of fatherhood or the dawning of a new era?

Allowing the days to pass since the publication of the final report from David Norgrove et al on their review of the Family Justice System, I have had the chance to read and digest the details as well as observe the various reactions from different quarters.  Scanning the media, it struck me that the key focus was upon the fact that  Norgrove had dropped the phrase ‘children should have a meaningful relationship with both parents’ from the final report.  The story being framed around whether by doing so, he might have signed the death warrant for fatherhood.   The media coverage certainly raised the F4J flag high again and gave a loud voice to the grievances of fathers, a voice which in my view has been too long silent.

The phrase ‘children should have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents,’ can hardly be disagreed with, it is such an innocuous phrase  and one which, in actual fact, is a dilution of the concept of the ‘presumption of shared care’ which the fathers lobby have been pressing for these past few years. Norgrove included the phrase in his interim report, but in the final report it is missing and Norgrove didn’t appear too convincing when pressed in the media coverage on why.   Norgrove dropped the phrase and the recommendation from the final report, because, he said,  Judges would not be able to understand how to implement it.  Having worked with the Judiciary and trained some of them in gender equality, it seems to me that many of them would know exactly how to implement it, there’s something fishy in here, something that  doesn’t ring quite true.

You don’t have to look too far in reading the final report of the Family Justice Review to discover exactly who is likely to have nobbled Norgrove.  There is a powerful and hitherto dominant matriarchy in UK Social Policy circles and to be on message with this group one has to learn that the mantra ‘in the best interests of children’ really means ‘in the best interests of mothers (and their children).’   Looking at Appendix G of the Family Justice Review, a submission from Helen Rhoades, a researcher from Australia, it becomes abundently clear why the phrase meaningful relationship has been dropped.  This submission speaks of the difficulties that come out of the concept of ‘meaningful relationship’ and the myriad of problems that it causes mothers and by virtue of that their children.  Without any counter balance at all, or any consideration of the stand point that this researcher has taken , her submission is accepted as absolute fact and becomes the evidence upon which Norgrove relies to justify his actions. No doubt, I am sure,  helped along by a hefty dose of pressure from the mariarchal behemoths of  UK academia.

Now I have had a bit of a problem with the concept of presumption of shared care over the years, no doubt, if I am honest, caused by the fact that I work with the highest conflict families and the most entrenched attitudes. Still, I have always struggled with the concept of presumption and I have always believed that reform of family services and the family court process itself would deliver better outcomes for children by offering holistic, respectful support for dad as well as mum.

But the phrase ‘children should have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents’ is one that I can comfortably get to grips with, both in the message that it gives about the importance of mothers and fathers, and the way in which I can envisage it being played out into the family court arena and the family support services in the UK.  Children having meaningful relationships with both of their parents means that children have the right to spend good quality time with both parents, not just half a day a week or a midweek after school visit.  The concept that children should have a meaningful relationship with dad as well as mum after separation, is also one that translates well into all of the arenas that touch the lives of separated families.  Schools, Nurseries, GP services, anywhere children are, can be easily helped to understand the ways in which children benefit from good quality time with mum and dad and how small shifts in policy and practice can bring about big changes in outcomes for children.  In short, the phrase ‘children should have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents’ could so easily signal an acknowledgement of the essential role that fathers play in their children’s lives and the enduring commitment that this country has to supporting that.  In itself, such a small thing, but in its intention and its impact, it could end the horrible processes that lead to fathers being pushed out of their children’s lives and then blamed for not being there.

Norgrove’s assertion that the Judiciary would find it difficult to get to grips with and not understand how to apply it is, in my view, bunkum;  it is smoke and mirrors.   My guess is  that he doesn’t  really understand why it was so important to one group to include it and to the other to drop it.  The crux of the matter is, that the phrase ‘meaningful relationship’ acknowledges and validates fatherhood and, in one fell swoop, rebalances a dynamic that has too long been out of kilter in this country.  For the matriarchy, this rebalancing would be a disaster that would lead to ‘unintended outcomes’ (a frequently heard phrase around this issue) that appears to mean mothers will be controlled by violent ex’s and children in their thousands will be at risk.  Bowing to the pressure of this so far extraordinarily powerful lobby, Norgrove has failed to achieve what so many hoped for in this review, fairness and justice, not only for fathers, but for their wider families and most of all their children.

Or has he?  Speaking of unintended outcomes, when I review the landscape of post separation support, I cannot help but wonder whether Norgrove might have unwittingly have provided this government, with the long overdue opportunity to challenge the orthodoxy.  Reading the response to the report from government, in which a spokesperson for  the Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, affirmed the government’s committment to the importance of ‘children having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents,’  it strikes me that perhaps there is a change in the wind.  Maybe, Norgrove’s Report will end up being not so much the death of fatherhood,  as the last gasp of the matriarchy that has driven social policy  around children and families for the last forty years.

Social Policy around separating families was developed by feminists in the seventies and as such it is rooted in different times that called for different imperatives.  Our modern day mothers are no longer struggling for equality, the right to leave relationships and take their children with them.  They are no longer, either, impoverished outcasts living on a pittance (though some would advise you differently).  Our modern day mothers are benefiting on a daily basis from the rights and protection they enjoy as a result of the social policy that was developed in order that they were freed from dependency upon men.   These rights and protection however have come at a cost and it is fathers (and fatherhood) that have paid the price.

I am not arguing that mothers should have their rights removed or that in order for fathers to get a more just and fair treatment, mothers have to somehow suffer.  What I am arguing, is that children benefit from relationship with all of the important adults in their lives, before and after separation and that our current social policy and practice neither supports that or celebrates it.  What it does do is turn mothers into heroines and fathers into villains who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  And then, when kids are out of control, burning property and stealing designer clothes, rather than asking the fundamental question, is this because fathers have been missing? We turn it all around again and say this is because dads run off and leave mums to pick up the pieces.  Its a myth, a stereotype and it bears no relation whatsoever to real life family separation.

To the matriarchy, anyone caught talking about fathers and fatherhood is automatically assumed to be undermining the rights of single mothers and stigmatising lone parents families.  Far from it, at least in this quarter.  I’ve been a single parent, been right there and done that and its that experience that causes me to continue the work of seeking change.  My daughter’s father was pretty hopeless, he was just one out of so many that are not.

We are looking for balance here, something I say to all of the parents that I work with. Balance and the realisation that if children are not going to lose out, both parents are going to have to work hard to recover the ability to parent together, if not in harmony, then at least in a business like manner.  To get to that point there is going to have to be compromise, and the single parent lobby is going to have to accept that fathers matter too and co-operation and collaboration are not dirty words that automatically lead to those so called ‘unintended outcomes.’  For the matriarchy, the notion that mothers must compromise in some way appears terrifying.  The old ‘give men an inch and before you know it they’ll be in charge again’ mentality, rumbles along under much of the rhetoric I hear these days.

In all of my work with dads though, particularly those involved in family separation or separation support services, the idea of being given an inch only to take a mile is completely alien.  Dads that I work with speak less of wanting to be in charge and much more about wanting to feel that their children are able to spend time with them, love them still, do things that they used to do together.  Most dads are interested in their children not in controlling their ex partners and, where the odd control freak does appear, its not difficult to spot him and there are enough safeguards in place to ensure that any impact on mum is properly managed.   Put this to the matriarchy however and one would believe that if there is one bad apple, the whole cart load has to be affected.   The fact is there simply isn’t an army of men out there waiting to take control of women and children, but there is a group of disaffected dads, struggling to cope with the suspicious, domineering and discriminatory policies and practices, that effectively push too many of them out of their children’s lives.

Which leads me neatly back to Norgrove and the pressure he has bowed to, a pressure that is likely to have been created by a group of scaremongers that include some of the prominent matriarchal academics. One of these women recently said to me that ‘single mothers become single mothers because they are dumped by their husbands and left in poverty to bring up the kids.’  A breathtaking statement that she followed up with ‘I know, because I’ve researched this for the past forty years.’  Looking at her research portfolio, its not difficult to see that this myth she peddles as the absolute truth, is created by the fact that the only women she actually interviews, are those that have been left holding the baby.  And just like the matriarchy, Norgrove has based his decision to drop the phrase ‘meaningful relationship’ upon one piece of evidence from a researcher more than likely to have perpetuated her own position by interviewing a particular group.  Stand point academics, give me strength.

But have these women had their day?  Despite Norgrove, despite the stranglehold that matriarchal policies and practice still have on our family courts and family support services, could we be moving into a new era at last, a new era in which we see not the death of fatherhood as predicted by F4J in its response to the  Family Justice Review, but the loosening of the matriarchal grip, the rebalancing of social attitudes and in its turn, social policy.  If the initial response from the government to Norgrove’s failure to include the meaningful relationship phrase, is to be believed, we certainly are. And, if the social attitudes that we have seen in response to the Norgrove report allow the government to (as one commentator on this subject said to me recently) hold their finger up to the wind, we might just be heading for some very big changes.

Rebalancing our policies and practice around the separated family as a whole is a delicate task, but it is one I believe we are equipped for and one that I firmly believe will deliver the biggest difference for children.  I believe that supporting the whole family through and beyond separation brings better outcomes for children.  Its work I do every day and its work that would be better supported by the inclusion of the phrase ‘children have the right to meaningful relationship with both parents.’    The government response to Norgrove will tell us much, watch closely, times might just finally be a changing.


  1. Dear Karen.
    I read your appraisal of the Norgrove report with great interest and enthusiasm, I agree with with what you have written entirely. However, I feel that you have not gone far enough in exposing the hidden agenda that lies behind his report and the the present policy of the children’s courts. Which is: ‘lets get rid of dad and break those family bonds by any means possible’! Why do I say that? well, I have been through hell in the last 3 years, trying to get to see my son, with little success. I have been made to pay vast sums of money at contact centres where I have seen my little boy for 2 hours per month, prisoners get better visitation rights! I have written often to him only to find out that many of my letters were not approved by Cafcass. It seems that I had referred to my sons toys which I still keep for him and mentioned our holidays together, you know good times for a son with his dad. I always signed off with the words “I love you son”. My letters were returned by a Cafcass officer who had blanked out most of what I had put, including the “I love you”. She told me that things like this was “emotional pressure” and I was informed to alter the letters. I was given a list of things I could not refer to, which I will list to you: School and asking to see his reports. His medical records, his mother, his step sisters. Telling him that I miss him, the aspect of the amount of time we saw each other. Not to ask about his homework, not to read to him stories (connects with his education, I don’t have PR). You may feel that I exaggerate here, but what I’m telling you is the truth, I assure you. And what have I done to be debased in such a manner? absolutely nothing! This all started when I picked up my son from school, as was my habit and by agreement, after my x and I parted, we shared his care 50 50. All went well for 2 years, until she met someone else. She told me unilaterally that I was to stop picking our son up from school, and that he wasn’t saying at my home any more. I ignored her without abuse or threats, and carried on picking my son up. She phoned the police and told them I had kidnapped our son and was going to hurt him. From that day on all hell broke loose! Karen what you fail to mention in your article is that whoever starts to lie first, gets the kids, and Im sorry to say it’s usually the mother! To put aside her conscience and lie to obtain sole custody of our son and to stop me seeing him, is evil. But what gets me more than anything else is that once the courts, with the help of biased Cafcass, start to believe everything your x says, then they in effect tell you to wave goodbye to your kids and start to break your bonds of love with them, (ie the letter tampering and making you pay to see your child under supervision.). You may feel I am being extreme here Karen, but I am sure that the system is geared to get rid of disputing fathers, any way the crowded courts can! I tell you the truth. God bless my poor boy. “I love you son”.


  2. Dear Paul, my major focus for the past ten years has been upon trying to reframe and retrain the family support services that you describe here. You, like so many others, find your love and your bond with your son eradicated over time by institutionalised bigotry. The system is indeed broken and I know for a fact that what you are describing is not extreme and it is not fantasy, it is the result of the way in which social policy has underlined and underpinned the rights of one parent (most usually the mother) over the other. What I hope for and continue to work for, is a rebalancing of social policy so that bigotry in family services can be rooted out and services can be framed around the needs of both parents not just one, leaving the other out completely. It is such an uphill battle, but its one worth fighting for so that another generation of our children do not suffer the loss you and your son have had to endure. I send my sincere support to you. Kind regards Karen


    1. Dear Karen.
      I am sure of your sincerity and thank you for your reply to my comment. I am encouraged that people like you see the failings and try to put them right. The only problem is that while we wait many fathers, due to the heartbreak and stress, have come to the point of suicide, this has entered my own mind more than once. The only thing that stops me, is love… love for the most precious thing a father can have, his son. The fight I have put up over the years has left me very ill indeed, and penniless. If our government really knew what was really happening to fathers out there, if they knew what it was like to have a child removed, then they would act, but empathy is not the commodity of MPs or of Mr Norgrove it seems. God I would give my last penny to speak with that ignorant man, I would want to know if he had a heart or is he really a robot? I miss my son so much, I grieve, after all I brought him up from a baby, we bonded so well, anyway….Thanks again Karen.


      1. same here. i am a mental health social worker and have felt suicidal three times in the past year. your not alone.last week i sectioned someone who felt like i did three months ago.
        i have limited contact (one overnight a week) and am dealing with parental alienation. mum is a childrens social worker.

        i am avoiding court because it is brutal adversarial and will put pressure on my boys (11 and 8).

        this country fails our children. the system is rotten and does little to support families through the hurricane that is separation. it is a national disgrace.

        look after yourself. children change as they get older and more independent. they will need you believe me. the greatest gift you could give to your children is that time in the future when they will need their dad. they will not realise it now nor will they be allowed too.

        children love their parents even if they cannot openly express their love. you will be needed because when they are older they will have to deal with the issues that marked your separation and the conflict that no doubt marked it. rebuild your life and make it the best because you will be needed.


  3. Karen, I really hope you are right about big change being on its way. I’m one of the lucky (and persistent) ones as I got a Shared Residence Order yesterday and feel that I am in a good position to ensure that my child has a meaningful relationship with both mother and father. I started my fight early, before my daughter was old enough to be listened to. Many of the usual (false) allegations were made to create smoke screens and we were up against a skilful and experienced lawyer for my ex, who must have decided a long time ago that winning and billing were at the top of his agenda and the best interests of the child were somewhere at the bottom. Thankfully though, my ex wasn’t that clever about things and undone her own case.
    Many fathers are not so lucky and my heart bleeds for each and every one of them.
    Paul, I read your post and I feel for you my brother. I read it shaking my head all the way.
    I seeked and received the help of Families Need Fathers very early on and they were a source of great support and knowledge. If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend that you find out where your local branch is and get in touch. It’s worth it I promise you.

    In the past 2 years of my involvement with FNF and the Family Justice System, I have realised just why we are still where we are;

    1. Women network better than men. It’s an ego thing but men put up barriers that women don’t when dealing with one-another. Therefore, women support eachother better and more abundantly.
    2. Even if men seek help, once they have received the help they seek, most move on and do their best to forget the whole experience, therefore giving very little back to the process that helped them.
    3. It’s a subject that affects many but only those affected are concerned with the injustice and biased of the system so perhaps the numbers are enough to create a loud enough noise. When Dr Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement in the deep south in the 1960s, there were enough black people suffering and prepared to stand up and be heard for the noise to be loud, and it worked, eventually.
    4. The Family Courts secrecy keeps much of the astonishing injustices away from the public eye where CAFCASS et al want them, but as I said, even if the papers reported something everyday, for the most part, no one really cares about such issues unless they are affected by them in some way, such as separated fathers, family and partners of separated fathers and professionals who work with the biases each day.

    As I said Karen, I hope you’re right…


    1. Thanks Johnnie for your kind words on your post to Karen. I am happy for you that you eventually got your daughter back. I won’t use the word won, as that’s a word that most solicitors deeply care about, not the child, just winning, and the money of course! I am a member of RFFJ already and am in touch with some fathers there. Sometimes I despair at the though of not seeing my dear boy again, the idea of it brings me down, like I said it has made me ill, and the anger in me is constant. I wish to God that he help me, if there is one, or somebody out there who really cares, but as you say, unless it happens to you, why should anyone care?
      Respects Johnnie, glad you see your girl again, wonderful! Regards, Paul.


  4. I feel it is somehow very wrong, even immoral, that one parent has to go through the Family Courts, often spending thousands of pounds he/she can ill-afford, in order to obtain some form of contact with their children.

    It is a lucrative business for many which to my mind, often comes before the welfare of the children.


    1. I agree Yvie, a relationship with a child should be for life, not until family separation changes it into something called ‘contact’….


  5. Karen – best analysis on the current state of family law in the UK managing to highlight the philosophical grip of the matriarchy with an understanding of how it is the whole system relating to families that needs to change – not just the legal

    At last a reasonable and robust on this matter – please keep speaking out – your voice is needed


    The Men’s Network


  6. Hello Karen,
    I wish I shared your optimism that the government would reject Norgrove’s report. I have gone through this with my 2 sons for 13 years now. I do not believe there will ever be a change.
    Men’s DNA dictates that they are competitors and independant which leaves the masses of men ill-equipped to band together for the good of all – this is not the case with women and it appears that when a few feminists call out, all women seem to follow. End result is that politicians run scared from them.
    So, I am pessimistic about the future for fathers in the family court system. Worse still, I see no way out……………….


    1. Dear Cityman,

      I do believe that change is possible and I don’t believe its down to DNA. Belief in equality between men and women means that the different ways that we experience the world and the different ways that we work together are taken into account. I firmly believe that one day we will look back at what we have done to men and boys over the past forty years with great shame. Other countries are able to embed equality into their social policy and offer better outcomes for the boys and girls who will one day be mums and dads. I believe we can too and that it is incumbent upon all of us who have experienced the horrors of the current system to speak up, speak out and most of all to keep on keeping on and working for change. Sending my support to you. Karen


  7. karen
    don’t you think that social policy will be governed by one thing and one thing only? money?

    providing effective support and care for families post separation will cost.
    thank you for the article


  8. Hi Karen thank you for writting the article. I only heard of the the new report on question time and then i did an onllne search and found your article.

    I have 5 children 4 boys 12,11,6, 4, and a girl 8,. Since 2007 I tried to get to see my children, when my ex left in dec 2006 i never saw them for six months, until i took it to court. Its was a nightmare. I only got them to see my children for 2 hours ever two weeks, and then it was a contact centre. My lilttle girl asked me what happened to me. I could not tell her. How do tell i four years old that your mother wourld not let me her. I never saw the 4 years old for two and half years, due to me not knowing if he was mine. I aske to see him but the family courts and ex refused to let me, and it took the family courts for another 3 years to give me a dna test, well after my ex refuse to state in court he was mine. .Any way I am going off track, but i onlyl manage to see my kids for six months and could only briing up the chidlren from wolverhampton to manchester for 24 hours, this meant picking them up and taking them back, then in december 2007 the csa took all my wages off me with out warning I love 100 pounds from a 225 take home pay. I went into melt down, had a breakdown,. After all the hard court battles the csa and the family courts,/cafffcass with their spinless reports had achieved their aim which was to remove me from the chilren’s lives. So for 3 months i could not do nothing. then in march 2008 I started to write to my children every week, sending them money etc. I had no job, lost it, could not work, etc. I had all the letters returned. which caffcass stated in a report later on that the letters were sent back unmeliciously. by the mother. It was a nightmare i never say myl kids for over 16months after this my ex refused to let me see them, or communicated with them, the lawyers refused to move till they got legal aid and then, they said we have to give my ex more time tor respond. But all she did was make a excusees not to let me see the kids..

    When i did not managed to see them, I had to start again in the contact centres, and to be humiliitated and watched by people who are not qualified to observer children, yep you got it, contact centre people are not qualified. I have proof of this state in a contact centre report whiich states., Caffacsss by association and the contact centre on south gate in wolverhampton are not qulalified observe chidlren. I was shocked because caffcass endorse the report, and the courts take it as qualified a opnion. I has the caffcass officer what qualifications she had in child obervation, she said only what is in social work qualifications, . I was shocked, the court are taking unqualifed opinion and using this as a basis to controll my mine and my children lives. I ask my lawyer what about this and he stated me ” do no go there”. Its massively corrupt., the lawyers, judges, , contact center and caffcass colude to remover the children from the father’s life.. It turned out the youngest chilld was mine, and i took full reponsibility for him but i could have him at my house in manchester for another year, becausae the courts thought it wa harm him more.

    My ex wife is on nearly £1,000 per week from the state, she gets mnoney thrown at her, (she iis at univerisityo now). I am on £53 incapaicty benefity. I Loose money for deduction for csa, soical fund loan my ex left me with, rent and council tax etc. My ex offered to contribute £25 per week for all five children, out of the 53 i have to pay for travel, food, heating etc. Its a nightmare,. My children were asking me why i have no money and why is mama rich, why canot i see you more etc. I never said anything for 4 years and until i realise this was part of the plann to blame me for abandoning the chiildren. My duaghter was alway asking about divorce, why not can we not live to together,, why do you not want mama back etc. It was then i told them that that I was not jme, i shown them returned letters, , and told them what the situation was in the best possibley way . Of course the 4 year old could not unnderstand but my , 11 and 12 could. It is heartbreaking, to see this going on, its heart breakiing for the chilren to see their father humiliated in in this way, in court and by the mother every time I pick up or drop the children off. Its all a nightmare, prision sentence foor a crime I did not commit.


  9. I fully agree with Paul that there is a hidden agenda, not neccessarily to get rid of dad, but to destroy the family and break all emotional bonds. Everything I have read over the last 7 years reinforces my belief, that this is what is happening. I understand how this sounds and people will naturally ask why. Stephen Baskerville once wrote about the state and family confronting each other. It’s a hard concept to grasp but not when you look at the bigger picture. Parens Patriae, or the state as father is where we are going. Parents are sidelined and government are then free to indoctrinate the nations children into good global citizens of the future. I see my children regularly now after enduring monthly contact centres for 7 years. They are both great kids and it is wonderful having them around again, but I have some serious deprogramming to do. School is teaching them things I do not agree with, but fortunately my daughter is very astute and has made me aware of what is happening. The point is, there is a war going on for the minds of our children and we should be having a debate about who has the right to influence them. Parents or the government?


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