Holding our nerve: on collaboration, co-operation and consultation

This is going to be another one of those weeks in the world of family separation and its time to start buckling up now as the roller coaster ride sets off again. As F4J gear up for their Central London Fathers Day Service on Saturday, marching barefoot and laying shoes to represent the generations of children lost to one of their parents, the government have, in the last few days, announced the tenders for the development of new services to help separating parents to collaborate and today, the DfE and Ministry of Justice launch details of a consultation on the issue of ensuring the involvement of both parents in a child’s life. Whatever happens next, this debate is about to ignite once again, the core issue being the way in which too many children in the UK are at risk of the complete loss of a parent after family separation.

Expected to cause controversy on both sides of this polarised debate, the announcement on the consultation is sure to displease some, disappoint others and dismay many. This is by no means a static debate, it is alive and kicking and the coalition government are, at least, to be admired for the way in which they have taken this agenda full on. The announcements of tenders for developing new services to help parents to collaborate after separation is an example of this. Barely a year after the Minister with responsibility for reform of Child Maintenance set up a steering group to consider new services, proposals are being translated into reality. We may not like everything that the Child Maintenance Commission does, but the determination to ensure that private agreements are both supported and promoted is changing the language and the landscape of post separation arrangements for supporting children.

Having worked with the Child Maintenance Commission back in 2008 when the new Options service was brought into being, I know that they have faced an almost insurmountable resistance to change. Gingerbread, once the doyenne of family separation, have opposed the reforms at every end and turn, including a mass campaign to influence the House of Lords debate over charging for the use of the Statutory Maintenance Scheme. As Gingerbread lose their once mighty grip on the issue of maintenance and the punishment of fathers, the introduction of new services, to support families to collaborate around the issue of providing for children, forms the backdrop to the next stage. This time the consultation on the issue of caring for children after separation. This twin track approach, tackling provision and care for children is strategic in its thinking and, in my view, courageous. Whilst the announcement is not going to bring everything that the fathers lobby is seeking, it is going to demonstrate some determination to at least have a stab at tackling some of the ingrained issues.

The field of family separation looks incredibly different today to that which was presided over by the last government. During the latter days of their tenure, Labour Ministers threw bundles of cash at the problem of family separation without seeming to have any real understanding or care about the outcomes. Compare that to the speed at which the Coalition government have set about changing the face of family separation support, forcing all third sector organisations to consider how they can support collaboration between parents rather than dividing them further from each other. If you map this, you will get a sense of just how much this government has shifted the focus of support away from the lone parent model and towards a dual parent model. Those power bases of the last government, the Fatherhood Institute for example, for whom representing fatherhood appears to be about what fathers can do for mothers, seem out of step now with government intention and policy progress. As someone who has worked in the field for over two decades now, I cannot ever remember a time like this, when the tightly woven web of matriarchal domination seems to thin further on a daily basis. The coalition may not be delivering utopia in terms of equality today, but as a step on the highway to change, this consultation is absolutely key.

Prepare then for the debate to ignite once again and, within that, see the possibilities for continuing pressure for change. Those opposing a shift away from matriarchal dominance will seek to silence the argument and hold the status quo, those seeking to destroy it will try to show how the government are selling out and selling short. In between those two parameters are possibilities and much work to be done. Pushing for change within the court system using the original early interventions project, educating and encouraging key people to understand what further changes are necessary and setting out guidelines for operating shared parenting agreements in the shadow of changes to the children act, are all examples of what can be done alongside this consultation in the next weeks and months.

As a family practitioner and therapist, I don’t pretend to speak for fathers and I don’t speak for mothers either. I speak because I know that the way in which we have done things has, for too long created loss and grief and sadness and sorrow as well as intergenerational family breakdown. I believe that there is a different, more egalitarian way forward and we can change the future for the next generations of parents. Five years ago, collaboration, co-operation and consultation on the issue of family separation were dirty words. The tragedy of the children, whose feet are missing from the shoes that F4J will lay in London on fathers day, highlights the fact that for thousands of families, five years, five days or five minutes longer is, without doubt, too long a time to wait for change.

But, having watched the landscape around family separation change with astonishing speed this past year, I can see the benefits and I am holding my nerve. There is a long way to go and now is not the time to take the weight off the many levers for change that will bring better outcomes for future generations of children.


  1. Karen, please could you explain why you say in this article that utopia is equality, yet in your press release today you don’t agree with equal parenting time as a starting point?

    It’s agreed that it is good news that services like yours are getting more funds but that is only going to help a very small minority of parents if the law is still enforcing in practice the single parent model, where one parent is the primary carer and the other is a visitor at alternate weekends.


    1. Hi Chambers,

      Equality in caring and providing for children after separation comes when mothers and fathers are able to put into place parenting agreements that reflect their children’s needs at different times in their lives. When men can share work and care for children and women can do the same and it is a cultural norm that this happens. As for example, in Sweden.

      What does equal parenting time mean to you? It might be better to explain to me first before I start on that aspect because you will only pick apart anything I say! So, explain equal parenting time to me and then I will respond. K


      1. There are many parents who have separated who are able to share the care of their children in equal or near equal amounts.

        Others simply cannot because of work or geography etc

        However, equal parenting time should be the first thought for Courts and government services as well as parents. If not practical then it is about maximising the involvement of both parents care of their children.

        Most cases equal parenting time will not be possible because of work etc But it should be the first consideration as it is generally best for children and allows both parents to share financial and care responsibilities.

        Men and women have in most families an equal earning capacity or near these days. They also have an equal or near caring role of their children in most intact families.


      2. Breadwinner wives reign in 44% of homes


        16 minute difference in child care rates per day between mothers and fathers in 2007.

        European Commission Report, “Mothers recorded an average of two hours and 32 minutes per day looking after their own children, compared with two hours and 16 minutes by fathers, a gap of 12%”



    2. Ok, so you do actually mean that children’s time should be shared equally between parents when you say equal parenting time. Several things I disagree with in that standpoint – here goes –

      Children are not possessions, they are people, it is not possible to proscribe for families one standard care pattern.

      We do not have flexible leave for parents in this country yet, when we do then it might be more possible for men and women to share care equally.

      I don’t agree that children of all ages should be subjected to a division of time in exactly the same way. Some children grow closer to their dad during parts of their development, some grow closer to their mum. Each family needs to be helped to make the arrangements that are right for them and keep those flexible over time.

      Some children will not adapt well to moving between homes on an equal basis, what will you do with those children in your post separation support of families? Force the children who are not doing well to adapt or make the parents adapt?

      How will exact division of time resolve children’s transition difficulties? Most children have them, they get worse over time for some, especially when they grow older and feel as if they are being subjected to something to suit their parents needs.

      I advocate for shared residence orders in all cases except where there are proven issues to prevent it and an agreed parenting pattern from the outset that is revisited over the growing up life of a child. All parents should be involved in their children’s lives on a continuous and daily if possible basis in terms of talking with them, guiding them, making decisions about them. Children should be helped to feel that they live in two homes, parents should be helped to make that happen.

      Equal parenting time and equalities are not the same thing. In the former you are making it about parental rights and not about children’s wellbeing and in the second we are addressing the fundamental inequalities in policy and practice that allow mothers to assume control and fathers to accept that.

      I don’t think the consultation has got it right, unless we talk about time and what a meaningful relationship looks like to a child we cannot progress very far, but I remain hopeful that this is part of a process in which we can make some real difference over the next years.



      1. Hear hear. “Equal parenting time and equalities are not the same thing.” 100% true, however substantial sharing of time as an entry point to post-separation arrangements is vital. Couple of hours per fortnight is not. What started to work for us, what I’d consider borderline, would be at least 1 full daily cycle per week, that is morning to evening with a sleepover to morning at least. Blindly opting for a 50% split is senseless and does not take into account the child’s stability and wellbeing.


  2. Karen,

    UK Coalition Government proposals on Shared Parenting legislation sets out four options to amend Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 to enshrine shared parenting in law, with provisions that will be included in the Children and Families Bill.

    The government’s preferred option is to require the court to work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents, unless the evidence shows this is unsafe or not in the child’s best interests.

    The second option is to require the courts to have regard to the principle that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents.

    A third option would have the same effect as a presumption, by providing that the court’s starting point in making decisions about children’s care is that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents.

    In the fourth option the government suggests adding an additional factor to the welfare checklist so that regard is given to the child’s interest in retaining a relationship with both parents.

    The proposals confirm plans set out in February in response to the Family Justice Review Panel’s report.

    Ministers say that the change will encourage more parents to resolve disputes out of court and agree care arrangements that fully involve them both.

    Whatever their own view these proposals represent s tremendous step forward for children and parents post separation.


    ARTICLE – The law should be helping a child to have two parents



    1. Kip, there is much to be done and much going on behind the scenes too, the consultation is only a small part of the wider whole, I am actually stunned by the way in which the government have taken on the reform of the whole family separation field. K


  3. The problem here is 4 words, “where it is safe”.

    This leaves the whole litigation process open to abuse, as it currently is.
    I can forsee a big rise in Domestic violence allegations, and whole raft of other allegations coming into play, Drug use, Alchoholism, anger issues, ect ect ect

    The wording should read “Unless it is proved to be unsafe”. That slight twist on words would make all the difference.

    That way it have to be ‘Proved’ to be unsafe, rather than the ‘possibility’ of contact being unsafe.

    The presumption should be by default that a child needs both parents, and as a starting point it is safe for both parents to have a relationship with their children, if they wish to be invloved. If they both want to be involved with their childrens upbringing, nothing should stop that.

    The presumption should be that parents love their children, not want to hurt them.
    This paranoia about the possibility of parents hurting their children needs to stop.

    95% of all child abuse occurs in single parent households where the non resident parent plays no active role in the childs life. If both parents were playing a part, they could keep track of the childs welfare

    IF there is proof, either past or present, that it is unsafe, then contact should be stopped or revised for either parent.

    One thing i cannot understand is why there is so much nervousness and paranoia about both parents having a relationship with their children.


  4. Karen
    Another good blog
    A brief words for F4J, I did not necessarily hold with the way they used to protest, it highlighted the cause (positive) but gave the courts a chance to say “hey these are the fathers that we said should not have contact with the children and look at their reaction” thus (in the judges eyes) validating their decisions (negative)
    I thought the origiinal protests where brilliant but flawed. But this protest that you speak of is absolutely brilliant. It peacfully highlights the plight of the many father’s (and mother’s) who have been UNFAIRLY excluded (or reduced to an unsatisfactory level) from a relationship with thier children and to protest at a system that first seems to condone and then even support unscrupulous parents who would abuse the process and system given to bring a sensible balance to the issue of DV. This issue has been hijacked by bad parents and bad solicitors and they have not been brought to task for their machavelian ways.
    this system actually and perfectly suits the narcassistic parental alienator’s style and operatus morandi, thier need for the fuel of attention and they have no downside to fighting their corner
    Thus to my mind a very useful tool in the box would be a three strikes and your not the PWC (parent with control!) any more.
    The system give the defacto control of the decision making process for the “benefit of the children” to the PWC (usually the mother) or the primary carer. Thus (she) has a responsibility to wield that “power” sensibly, if she is seen to usurp that power then she should have that responsibility taken away from her and given to the parent who seems to best support the childrens relationship with BOTH parents.
    i would wager that 95% of al dads who go to support groups such as FNF or ourchildren1st seeking help and support would (even after the mother has behaved reprehensively) still support the involvement of the mother if they gained PWC status or residence (logistics and individual circumstances excepting)
    How many of these navarious mothers (and some fathers) are actually starting out actively supporting it the other way round?
    For is it not true that if a mother genuinely and actively both supported and encouraged the involvement, in real terms then, there would not be any need for the court process in the first place would there?
    The court process starts at the point where a mother resists, to an unreasonable extent, the contact that the father can reasonably support and facilitate. The father must then be sufficiently motivated to take steps to step up to the plate and go down the only route available to him legally and start court action.
    These two factors alone dictate court action, all other conditions avoid court action


  5. Link ishttp://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1825&external=no&menu=1

    I do do assessments but I have no space now until September unfortunately, Kind regards K


  6. Superb post, Karen, with what I feel is realistic positivity in your hopes and expectations, given time and a lot more work to come. I used the link you gave and have read (a couple of times) all the aspects given in the Consultation document. So, I’m now able to make comparisons between what is going on there, in the UK, and what happens here, in France.

    There is no such thing as a 50-50 parenting agreement between separated parents in France; that was considered as an impracticable suggestion back in the 1980’s. But, there are enforced laws here, based on International Rights of the Child and the following –

    Rights of the Child (French law)
    Rights of the Family (French law)
    Duty of support between Parents (French law)

    Before separating parents get anywhere near the Courts with their disagreements, they must both first undergo mediation. Not can, or should, but must.

    If a parent raises concerns/allegations about the child’s safety or the other parent’s parenting abilities, the case is immediately referred to the Department Procureur (Senior Child Protection Justice). If there is no hard evidence to support the concerns/allegations, the case is immediately dismissed. That all happens within 48 hours, during which time the child is placed in the care of family, usually grandparent(s). If the Procureur decides the concerns/allegations have proven substance, a criminal investigation is immediately opened. Only in the latter situation will Children’s Social Services become involved.

    If warring parents do end up in the Family Court, co-parenting is actively encouraged, and both parents are required to bring financial support to the child’s upbringing, eg they must share parental duties so that both parents are able to work, and both parents are able to engage in quality family time with the child. No percentages, just whatever is right for the child. If the parents can’t agree on how to achieve that, the Judge makes the decision and it is enforced with an Order. If either parent does not comply, either parent can take it back to the Court, back to the Judge who made the Order. That can be done directly, with no need for either parent to employ a lawyer or a barrister. If the parent who hasn’t complied presents proven good reason for not complying, that parent will not be penalised.

    If either parent does not rise to the ‘Duty of support between Parents’ legalities, and it is persistent, that parent’s Parental Responsibility is removed by the Court. Quite simply, it is considered to be abandonment.

    Family Courts in France also encourage (with an iron fist, if necessary!) both parents to make provision for the right of the child to continue having a meaningful relationship with his/her grandparents, and with the wider extended family. Single-parent families here often include grandparents who have Court empowered PR for grandchildren. This is to ensure children from single-parent families are raised with knowledge of their roots and learning from previous generations.

    Forcing a child to change residence is not considered to be in the best interests of the child. If a parent is found to have ‘frustrated contact’ between the child and the other parent, the offending parent can be imprisoned for a short but sharp period, but is more likely to be ordered back to mediation. The parent who has been found to be wrongfully accused then takes on the status quo position until the parent who has offended is released, or has realised the error of his/her ways via mediation. Not surprisingly, parents who frustrate contact are few and far between here; those who do try the patience of the Courts are predominantly mothers, but they really do get short shrift.

    Kindest regards


    1. Very informative post Hobo. I particularly like the Duty of Support stipulation, something which is virtually non-existent in this country and which many parents have no understanding of at all. The Midlands Family Division guidance to parents (and something similar put out by the Western circuit too) is about the only thing I’ve seen here that approximates to it. It would seem the family-friendly French, perhaps the Italians too for that matter, have much from which we can learn in this field. Is the government looking at what goes on in these inherently child and family-friendly jurisdictions closer to home?

      With regard to parenting law generally, Children Act changes can only be the start. There is a whole panoply of social policy and practice that needs attention to: from poor social services interventions, skewed to pro-mother findings by deliberately ignoring adverse evidence, to mindless arrests of separated fathers by police enacting their illegal and aggressive ‘arrest the father’ policing policies. Organisations like Gingerbread and the NSPCC should have their state support terminated until they prove THEY are SAFE to fathers in their policies and practices and the way they go about their business. Within the family justice system itself there is much wrong that the judiciary themselves have turned a blind eye to for years: mothers stretch out cases for months on end by making false allegations or raising bogus parenting ‘concerns’. Judges routinely ignore complaints about the disobeyance of contact orders. Worse, they slate the father for complaining and having the temerity to raise the matter in court. Fathers are criticised in court for not kow-towing to recalcitrant mothers or not showing ‘flexibility’ towards the mother. (Flexibility only works one way in family law; to cut the father’s contact down further). There is a ridiculous failing of judges to arbitrate more quickly and make interim orders to get better contact moving. When a mother makes false allegations, she doesn’t need evidence only ‘concerns’. Contact is then stopped or restricted to a contact centre. When a father asks for interim contact, the judge refuses; the fathers conserns are ignored as evidence must be ‘heard’. It’s crazy. Any inquisitive person can find out in seconds whether someone is over-controlliong or not.The judiciary pander to over-controlling parents who are only willing to concede miniscule amounts of contact through consent orders, requiring hearing after hearing for a father to make any decent headway. Why was the Early Interventions project sidelined or something similar not implemented in its place?

      Succeeding Presidents of the Family Division bear much of the responsibility for the Children Act failing to bring about shared parenting. They largely created the paradigm of the alternate weekend father. They created the expectation so prevalent in family law that that is all a father gets so don’t ask for more.

      As you say, there is still much to do.


  7. I admire the optimism, but only wish I could share it. I really don’t think tinkering with the language will change anything. I have seen too much now to have much hope in things improving. I have been treated as a criminal for no other reason than that I am a dad whose marriage broke down. I have been told by school teachers, doctors, etc. that they do not communicate with non-Resident parents. The alienation fostered by mom is compounded by a kind of alienation that is a lot more systemic than most will admit. Fathers are just not valued in this country, and no compensatory rhetoric of a Coalition government that has wreaked havoc in so many other areas is going to convince me that they care anything for dads and their children. Wish I could believe otherwise.


    1. I fully understand your pessimism, Bartholomew, because I am a grandmother who is treated as a criminal by the same system that treats you like a criminal. I have 8 grandchildren who I love dearly and equally, 7 of my grandchildren live in the UK and I am not able to even visit them. My crime was helping to protect the eighth grandchild from a dangerous, abusive mother and a destructive system that opts to place children for adoption rather than leave the child in the care of a good father.

      I am more fortunate than you in that I live in a country that is now becoming aware of the systemic alienation in Britain to which you refer. Our adopted country protects my grandchild, my son and me, through international laws. However, none of us would have that protection if we stepped into Britain. It is a situation that is shared by more British families than you would probably imagine.

      It takes time to change mindset, and when mindset is governed by laws, only politicians can change those laws to effect essential changes. Where England & Wales Family Law is concerned, laws and mindset must be changed because the wrong that has been done, and is being done, is now swiftly approaching a point of implosion.

      Dads like you, grandparents like me, mums, uncles, aunts, even the children who have been used and abused by those who had the power to prevent, or stop, the mass destruction of families in Britain, we can and will be instrumental in those essential changes. However, we need folks like Karen to ensure our voices are clearly heard by the people who need to hear, the politicians.

      Don’t give up hope, Bartholomew, hope fuels the ability to strive, and you have so much for which to strive. But, you already know that.

      Kindest regards


  8. Karen, I agree a lot with what you say. As a full time engineer with an ex-husband who moved 400 miles away 50:50 shared care sounds rather attractive but the focus needs to be on children rather than parental rights and equality.

    Courts aren’t a good place to resolve disputes between separated parents and emotional support and education to encourage parents to collaborate are better ways forward. I’m not convinced that any proposed change in the law is actually necessary though. According to a survey by the Office for National Statistics in 2002, I think it was, only around 1 in 10 cases have court orders. This is in line with other countries such as Canada, US and Australia. The latest records available show the courts in England & Wales had 95,460 children involved in contact cases in 2010 and there were 36,970 residence cases, although there is no distinction made between sole and shared residence. Of those contact cases 300 were refused contact, 2190 applications were withdrawn and in 840 cases the application no order was made. The latter usually happens when parents reach agreement during proceedings. By my calculation contact was awarded in 96.52% of the cases. The relevant table is on page 52 Judicial Court Stats;


    The Children’s Act 1989 gives both parents equal Parental Responsibility and rights to carry out those responsibilities. Residence, either sole or shared just determines where children live. In England & Wales the courts are bound by case law set in the higher courts as well as statute and Re P[1996] established the principle it’s almost always in a child’s interests to have contact. Also a version of the Family Bench Book in 2006 stated something along the lines that there was a presumption that when children stayed with one parent they should know and see the other parent. So it seems to me that the law is generally supportive of children having a relationship with both parents although I accept there are problems with the processes, determining appropriate amounts of contact or shared residence and enforcement.

    I doubt any of the options in the consultation or other changes to the law would change anything. Option 1 in the consultation is difficult to understand. Option 2 and 3 are likely to fuel legal debate as to the meaning of “fullest possible” and a legal definition of “starting point.” With Option 4 “the best relationship possible” can be interpreted qualitatively or quantitatively. What is really needed is a change in culture focusing on PR and what it means. The FJR recommended that in private cases residence and contact orders should be replaced with child arrangement orders to do away with the sense of winning or loosing. Any of the options in the consultation would just provide warring parents (or solicitors on their behalf) with something else to argue about instead.

    Picking up on point about the amount of time fathers spend with children. I wonder how many people have read the research. The EOC study it was based on concluded “new fathers want to be more involved at home, taking up more of the caring responsibilities, but their long hours and inflexible workplaces make that difficult. Most mothers want or need to work, but they find they have to trade down to get the flexibility they need.” The reference for the EOC research was the ONS Time Use Survey 2005 where there were problems with the methodology measuring childcare, in that only ‘active’ care picked up was either as primary or secondary activity. Time parents were responsible for their children wasn’t actually recorded. Working patterns haven’t changed that much since 2005. According to ONS employment figures published last year 67% mothers worked in 2010 – 29% full time and 37% part time. That means around two thirds of women with dependent children were not working or worked in less well paid jobs part-time or flexible jobs to fit around responsibilities for children. 90-95% of men with dependent children in employment were in full time inflexible jobs and fathers worked longer hours than any other group of men. 50:50 shared child care is more common in Sweden because there is a more equal sharing of child care/work before parents separate.

    There needs to be constructive discussion and debate. Key elements of that are exploring one another’s views for the purpose of understanding and clarifying them, and exploring and testing our own ideas or conclusions. My concerns are that emotional support and education will cost money , and whether those delivering the emotional support and education will be sufficiently skilled and regulated.

    Sorry I’ve written a lot more than I intended.


  9. Fiona, you are certainly right to point out that jobs that make it almost impossible for dads to be fully involved in the way that would be good for children are a real barrier. You are also right to point out that it is demoralizing to reduce women to dependents on their former partners. Feminism failed miserably to make things better for men and women alike in this country, and what is so ironic is that it is being used (or shall I say abused) by the corporate mentality that wants to keep women in their place (child-rearing) and men in theirs (financial provision), for the sake of the bloody-minded economy no doubt.

    This is why it would be so nice, if for a change, men and women (mothers and fathers) could unite (for a change, I repeat) in requesting that in the name of the children and in the name of child welfare, a number of things are radically reformed – including child benefit, maintenance, paternity leave – to make social mobility and child care easier for divorced parents in 21st century Britain.

    The need for change that includes fathers in parenting and women in the workplace to a much greater extent is urgent. This consultation, with its pathetic tinkering of the language, is just postponing an imminent crisis.


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