I have written widely on the subject of legislation surrounding separated families and how it has been so cleverly stitched to ensure that the outcomes after separation are more heavily in favour of women than men. I have written less about the unintended consequences of this legislation and the way that practitioners drive the less than equalities based outcomes that we see in the family courts. These unintended consequences, which cause the ghosts of mothers and fathers to haunt even the President of the Family Division, are caused by the deliberate actions of feminist academics and their lobby group counterparts. These women, who seek to uphold a women’s rights agenda,  condemn some women to the same fate as men, the complete loss of their children after family separation. When asked about this, some of them shrug and say that there are always unitended consequences in legislation. On Saturday,  I met some of those mothers, for whom the unintended consequences of feminist legislation has lead to them becoming ghosts in the lives of their children and I was reminded again, that without voices speaking up for them, these mothers (alongside all of the fathers who lose their children throught the family courts), will remain just that. The ghosts of unintended consquences.

We have been told for many years that there is no bias in the family courts, that every case is different and that the best interests of children are paramount.  Fans of this way of thinking point to the gender neutral legislation in the Children Act 1989 and make reference to research carried out by academics such as Joan Hunt and Mavis Mclean. These academics, who are linked through their work to the single parent lobby group Gingerbread (who lobby from a women’s rights perspective, the Nuffield Foundation (who have routinely funded research from a women’s rights stand point) and CAFCASS (who make reference to the research carried out by these and other academics who influence social policy around the family).  Their work is also studied by social workers and other family practitioners, effectively causing the family services sector in this country to be delivered from the political standpoint of women’s rights.  Beyond that there exists within the legislation around separating families a clear and unequivocal bias which has been pointed out many times to government but which remains a stranglehold on delivery of equalities based outcomes for families and particularly for children and their relationship with both of their parents. This is the use of the Child Benefit entitlement as the gateway to determining which parent is the parent with care and which is the non resident parent, a division which has been eradicated in the Family Courts through the use of the new Child Arrangement Orders. This division however, effectively comes into play, the moment the parents step out of the court door as the one who receives Child Benefit becomes entitled to claim child maintenance payments from the other.

It doesn’t stop there.  The use of Child Benefit to divide two parents into receiver and payer (good parent/bad parent in the world of Gingerbread and other women’s rights lobby groups) spreads its tentacles into every area of post separation family life, impacting on housing, health and employment and causing one parent to receive everything and the other to receive nothing at all in financial and other support terms.  Given that over 90% of Child Benefit is paid directly to mothers (it was designed that way), it is not difficult to see how it drives outcomes which reflect this (90% of parents with care are mothers).

All well and good then. The women’s rights based legislation, which was designed to give primary care of children after separation to children through the possession of the Child Benefit, has done its job and delivered a 90% success rate.

But what about that 10% of mothers who do not end up as the primary carers of their children? What of those women who fall foul of the legislation which is inbuilt with the fail safe delivery of primary care into the hands of mothers. What do we think of these women who are mothers but not mothers due to the actions of the fathers of their children?

It would seem that like attitudes to dads who do not see these children, these mothers are viewed with suspicion, even by those who are supposedly set up to support women and their rights.  On enquiring of a social worker’s views on non resident mothers recently I was unsurprised if a little taken aback by her vehemence in replying that if children do not see their mothers it must be because these mothers have done something to deserve that.  On probing further I was firmly told that children who reject their mothers only do so on the grounds of them being mad or very very bad.  The irony of this was underlined by this social worker’s proclamation of being a feminist practitioner, which she likened to being all about equality.  If that is equality, bring back the suffragettes, for there are more than one of these bad apples in the family services sector in the UK. Which is why meeting alienated mothers on Saturday, for me, was such a powerful testament to our collective failure to yet get it right for separated families in this country.

A Family Court system which rests upon a legislative framework which is designed to drive particular outcomes after separation is always going to fail some families. A Family Court system which is adversarial and which is supported by a state run service which rests upon a political ideology it is again going to drive particular outcomes.  And those outcomes are not going to rest upon the paramountcy principle that the child’s best interests come first but upon the beliefs and the standpoint views of individual practitioners as they are influenced by their governing body. Thus, If CAFCASS is routinely using the research outcomes of feminist academics to inform delivery of its policy and practice, it will routinely view the lives of separated families through a feminist lens. Which is a political ideology, which in my view has no place in serving the needs of children in supporting their right to have a relationship with both of their parents. And which is a political ideology which has not only failed many fathers but which has failed mothers too. Those mothers I worked on Saturday for example, and many more it would seem for whom the emotional terrorism of their child’s father is mirrored by a state which seemingly accepts without question these ‘unintended’ consequences.

Emotional terrorism is present in so many of those cases that we work on where parents are simply shoved out of their child’s life, it is present before the separation and is maintained afterwards, aided and abetted by an unaware work force and practitioners who believe that proclaiming onself feminist really does mean delivering equalities based outcomes.  It does not. What it means is that those fathers who are disregarded because of the need to put women’s needs first and those mothers who are dismissed because they must have done something really really bad for a child to reject them are left, like ghosts, to deal with the aftermath of loss. A loss which for many is like living with terminal cancer without pain relief  and without ever being allowed to die.

Is this equality? Is this in the best interests of children? I don’t think it is. Do you?