Emotional terrorism: the ghosts of unintended consequences

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?

20 thoughts on “Emotional terrorism: the ghosts of unintended consequences”

  1. “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.”

    This is clearly where the idea to question my receiving the child benefit came from, not that he needs the money, but that it gives him the right to claim child maintenance from me. Not that he asked me to transfer it, but he asked HMRC to investigate! Also it gives him the “right” to the use of the title “primary carer”. Another underhand playing card dealt….

    The Living Losses day, meeting other ladies suffering at the front line of parental alienation, was one of the most positive experiences I have had since separating from my husband over three years ago.

    To be in a supportive environment, where EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD the heartache and offered unconditional compassion between women who hardly knew each other should allow Karen and Nick to be extremely proud of their vision. The facilitation was extraordinary. We met as individuals and left the day as a group, anxious to learn more and acknowledge each of us as a unit struggling against the same problem together.


  2. It was such a good idea to start this group with mothers who have felt the loss and pain of PA, and the financial hardship that ensues. Some fathers’ groups have tainted the whole movement for parental equality by their methods for drawing attention to the plight of parents who have lost their children through the family courts, such as vandalising and defacing works of art. I wonder if small groups consisting of both mothers and fathers would eventually be possible? Of course, few fathers sew or knit, which is such a calming way to have something to occupy the hands while sharing the experiences of parents in similar situations, and something to show at the end of it. Is there some other creative occupation that would encourage shared views without taking a “gendered” position? Mah Jongh? Crosswords? Scrabble? Probably all take too long and too much concentration. Stick whittling? Carving? Plasticene or Play Doh modelling? Sorry, this is probably straying from the matter at hand….


  3. There must be legislation put into place to make the ‘interference of a parent child relationship’ illegal and therefore punishable. the courts are not capable of doing enough on their own.


  4. Nicely written as always Karen – it pretty much mirrors what happens in NZ although my perception is that things are marginally better for parents over here.


  5. I like how Dr Childress speaks of “normal range parenting”, thus sidestepping distractions of “competitive parenting” and having all the evaluators get tangled up in ridiculous issues, trying in their own mind to explain how a child could reject a parent. And agreed, people’s ideology causes them pre-determining the truth of various claims and accusations and explanations of what is going on.


  6. In the last year or so there has been considerable progress in making the family courts more transparent. Here Karen, you have touched upon an area where the family justice system is anything but transparent. It is not only CAFCASS that hang on to every word of a select coterie of researchers of a particular demographic. No, the same individuals and organisations crop up time and again: each time a study is required by the Family Justice Board or one of its feeder committees. I believe the last one was on litigants in person.

    Even if there were no issues with the shared ideology there are serious issues with our court system awarding repeated lucrative contracts to the same select group apparently without any competition or tendering process. It simply beggars belief that our court system – which is supposed to be completely impartial – lays itself open to allegations of cronyism by awarding research contracts in such a manner. Worse still, the Nuffield Foundation, occasionally funds the research at the behest of the FJB. Of all public bodies the court system should be beyond reproach.

    Lady Justice Paufley recently spoke out about “arrangements” between professionals in the family courts. It would be a good thing if the justice system led by example.

    I have just noticed that CAFCASS Cymru have revamped their website. It is noticeable that the paramountcy principle and the welfare checklist (the current legal framework for many CAFCASS’ activities) barely get a mention. However, the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child) gets a page of its-own. I followed the links and noted that Article 12 (the voice of the child) has its first sentence quoted almost verbatim (albeit in a different order) from the UNICEF summary.

    “Children have the right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into account.


    This is what UNICEF actually said previously. Not surprisingly the remaining sentences have been edited out:

    “Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child): When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account. This does not mean that children can now tell their parents what to do. This Convention encourages adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in decision-making — not give children authority over adults. Article 12 does not interfere with parents’ right and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children. Moreover, the Convention recognizes that the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child’s level of maturity. Children’s ability to form and express their opinions develops with age and most adults will naturally give the views of teenagers greater weight than those of a preschooler, whether in family, legal or administrative decisions.”

    Click to access Rights_overview.pdf

    Am I reading selectively or does anyone else agree that this paints a somewhat different picture?


  7. Apologies ….. but I am going to make a comment based purely on the financial aspect of family seperation …. but to hopefully highlight how this can be, and no doubt is often, a driving force in disputes between parents.

    It recently came to my attention that my ex wife was working part time, I believe for around 20 hours per week earning around the minimum national wage, so she would be grossing around £130 per week, her only earned income with her new partner no longer contributing.

    So, I decided to see how it would pan out if I also had the same gross income, and thus spent some time messing about on the various benefits calculators readily available online, to establish how our respective financial situations might compare.

    So mine, as a single parent (father, although that is academic) was that after being granted a tiny bit of Council Tax Benefit, but no ‘access’ to my children, thus having to pay for them through CSM/CSA, my net weekly income would remain the same as my gross at £130.

    Conversely, my ex, with the ‘child benefit’ for our two children in her favour, could claim tax credits, housing benefit, council tax benefit, CSA/CSM payments etc etc etc, and turn her £130 into in excess of £500 per week, thanks to the state.

    So, two children appear to be worth in excess of £370 per week under the current welfare benefits system to the parent who ‘controls’ the child benefit’. Is it any wonder that we have parents driven by money, rather than the best interests of their children?


    1. I completely agree with you Jay. I believe the anomalies in income between two separating parents on low incomes was highlighted in a report from the Centre for Social Justice in July last year.


      1. The anomalies in the system are seemingly endless Yvie. Taking another personal example, a few years back, the benefits income of the other household was substantial, and equated to more than double my earned income, which was still not sufficient to make ends meet in my own household, whilst the other household frequently holidayed abroad, constantly ate out at nice restaurants etc etc etc.

        Yet despite this, for the child from the marriage that had remained with me, the CSA deemed all that the other household could afford to contribute towards her upbringing was £2.50 per week, whilst it was deemed I should further subsidise the other household an amount 25 times greater than this each week for the two children dragged off into the abyss.

        This inequality suggests raises a number of issues, not least that some children appear to be given a far higher ‘value’ than others, even when siblings, which is hardly a healthy message to be sending out, and an insult to the child valued at virtually nothing, being brought up in a household struggling in order to subdise the lavish lifestyle of the other parent, and siblings.

        I once found a ‘maintenance’ calculator that provided guidelines to Courts when these matters were decided there, and based on respective household incomes, it suggested the net flow of any money would have been the almost exact reverse of that calculated by the CSA. It isn’t rocket science to means test, if the Courts used to manage to do it, then it should also be possible for the CSA to do so.

        In the meantime, the parent who has ‘control’ over the children, thus child benefit, and all the other benefits available, including CSA payments, has free reign to financially, as well as emotionally and psychologically abuse the other parent, seemingly with the blessing of the state.


  8. Jay, you have highlighted a real problem. The financial incentive to keep the children with the parent, usually the mother, who has residence is even greater if she keeps the former matrimonial home as long as the children reside with her. This can mean that the father is unable to access his equity in the house, even if he provided the means to buy it. He is thereby unlikely to be able to provide his own home for his children however hard he tries, especially if he is being hounded for child support payments and maintenance while trying to keep himself alive and gain access to his children through the ruinously expensive family court system. The whole financial slant results in the awful shenanigans whereby the mother (usually but not always) moves heaven and earth to make out that the father is the bad guy, in order for her to keep the money, via the children, who are thus used as weapons in the warfare of the adversarial family courts. Thus we get the false accusations of assault, etc, even before divorce proceedings have begun. The entire family court/divorce lawyer system has been set up in such a way that what might have been originally intended to support and help single parents has had the most appalling end result. The damage to whole families that has been going on for years and stretches far into the future is a national disgrace. Thank God for people like Karen who are almost superhuman in their efforts to put it right.


    1. This was exactly the position my son was in following his divorce. If the family hadn’t stepped in with support he would have been up the creek without a paddle – certainly without a home to offer his children I doubt he would have managed to obtain a shared residence order.


  9. Absolutely Susang, all of which is part of the sequence Karen described so accurately in her A-Z of male suicides, perhaps the saddest of all the unintended consequences of an unequal and unjust system.


  10. It was a very welcome revelation that Karen, from her position, portrayed the standard sequence of events in her A – Z. Many, many who read it must have had a light-bulb moment: “YES! That’s exactly what happened to me/someone I know!” I hadn’t read such a clearly expressed exposition from a professional or neutral source before.


    1. Susan,

      I recognise everything that Karen writes about. When I read what lawyers and ministers say, everything is just lies. But Karen says things as they are, which is rare in a country whose leaders are so disgraceful.

      What Jay says is true regardless of how much time dad spends with the children. It is nothing short of financial abuse to steal money from one struggling parent just so that the other isn’t such a burden on the public purse.

      On a different subject, I just feel so sad that the state goes to such lengths to use and abuse the term women’s rights, in order to accomplish its dirty work. If women only realised how they were puppeteered, families would be so much more protected from the lawyers and others who stand to gain from sewing gender wars.


      1. You hit the nail on the head there Jydir2003 when you say it is nothing short of financial abuse, something which is considered a form of domestic violence and abuse under the definition of this included in the proposed new domestic violence and abuse bill, and as such will soon become a criminal offence.

        Despite this, the CSA continue to hound parents for payments they simply cannot afford, aiding and abetting the other parent in their continued campaign of emotional and psychological abuse, particularly when those payments are for children their target never even gets to see, and hence the A-Z pathway is created.


  11. Systemic breakdown of family and community. This is intentional .if something dosnt feel see or smell right its cause its not right.any child would want its mummy and daddy ,and if males arn`t considered as good /equal ,then following this logic male only family such as gay male couples would be considered inferior to female couples couples .id like to see that argued in court .throughout my case i was told by cafcas ,my solicitors and contact centre to speak to gingerbread.now i know why .,everything is scewed against you.
    All the points mentioned i have come across.then you get to court finally they say you’ve only seen your kids one day a month so the presented has been set for contact .Iyou ask for more your judged to be being unreasonable just to wind you ex partner up. stinks like shit smells like shit .


  12. Thank you for this article and for the site. I have no marvellous input, however.
    The relentless anguish, the panic right before the goodbye, remembering, forgetting. It feels like the pain is slowly killing me. Before trial someone said my kids need to learn how to deal with him. Well sure. Despite the fact more and more information informs us to run
    The pain is horrendous


  13. Excellent article – providing a valuable insight exposing why systems and services purporting to protect children in separating families are potentially failing them on an almost industrial scale. The UK is decades behind other countries in this regard, where post separation arrangements are enshrined in statute – yet, sadly, for far too many children and parents, the UK has yet to catch up. Our services seem to have not only set off in entirely the wrong direction but have also lost sight of the simple fact that, whilst the ‘adult’ relationship may break down – the ‘parent’ relationship continues, for the life of the child.


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