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Judgements: surname dispute and communicating decisions to children  

Two recent judgements show how family sheriffs take difficult decisions to resolve family disputes.  

In Edinburgh, Sheriff Holligan grappled in MRG v MD with a disagreement about whether two children should use their father's surname, as on thir birth certificates and passports, or their mother's surname, which is being used in her house and at the doctor and thier nursery.  

The children's mother, who is the main carer, registered statutory declarations in the Books of Council and Session that they should be known under her surname.   The children's father, who has regular contact with them, uses his surname for them when the girls are with him.  The childre, aged 5 and 3, are known by their first names on a day-to-day basis and have little awareness of this dispute.  

After discussing various aspects of the use of surnames in Scots Law and stating that he did not regard the registration or the statutory declaration to be determinative, the sheriff recommended that the children should use both surnames, the father's followed by that of the  mother.  This Solominc judgement will no doubt be used to help settle future such disagreements, unless superceded by a decision in a higher Scottish court.

In Glasgow, the other Scottish court with specialist family sheriffs, Sheriff Anwar has issued a note in Patrick v Patrick.  This case concerned a father's request to have contact with his children following a bitter and acrimonious dispute beteen the parents. The sheriff concluded after hearing 11 days of proof that it was in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with their father and granted him indirect contact.  She did not consider it to be in the children's best interests for there to be a detailed written assessment of the issues raised in the case, as this risked undermining their snes of identity and self-worth.

At a further hearing regarding the arrangements for contact, it was agreed that the father would undertake the Triple P parenting course, that a psychologist would work with the children to assist them to develop a relationship with their father, that both parents would work with family therapists and then take part in mediation.

A clinical psychologist Dr Khan had reported to court on the entrenched views of two of the children that they didn't wish to see their father.  Following the sheriff's decision in favour of contact, Dr Khan was asked to communicate this decision to the children and help them understand why the court had not heeded their wishes.  Sheriff Anwar wrote a letter to children to be used by Dr Khan to explain why she made this decision, and the text of the letter is included in Sheriff Anwar's note about the case.

The Sheriff's decison to write a letter of explanation to the children raised much interest in the press and has been widely discussed within Scottish Family court circles.  It follows two recent examples of English family judges writing letters to children.  Some sheriffs have expressed alarm that they will now be expected to include letters to children in all of their family cases, but this is only likley to be needed to inform children when a decision cuts across their wishes.  

It is important that Scottish judges work hard to find better ways to obtain the views of children in such cases.  But it is also important that these views are considered alongside all the other circumstances, in order to decide whether it is still in their best interests to retain contact with both parents.

Families Need Fathers Scotland welcomes this move by Sheriff Anwar to follow up her decision with various measures including the children's letter in order to try and make it easier for the whole family to move on from a high conflict court case and learn from past mistakes.  


Comment by FNF Scotland on press coverage of Cafcass in England and Wales overhauling its approach to 'parental alienation'

There has been coverage in several newspapers today (including the The Guardian and Sun) that Cafcass (Children and Family Court and Advisory Service) in England and Wales is overhauling its approach to parental alienation - when children are put under pressure by one parent after separation to reject the other parent with whom they had a close and loving relationship. Cafcass is now acknowledging that parental alienation is a factor in a significant proportion of its cases. Cafcass is revising its training for its case workers in how to recognise and deal with parental alienation and what to recommend to the judge in the reports it makes to court. In extreme cases Cafcass officers may recommend that children may be removed from the care of an alienating parent.


FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says, "FNF Scotland hears examples of parental alienation and the holding and withholding of child contact as a method of controlling the non-resident parent at all its monthly group meetings across Scotland. Nevertheless there is still widespread denial here that parental alienation exists among many involved in the family court process, including lawyers, social workers and some sheriffs.

The headlines in this morning's coverage lead on the nuclear option of taking children away from an alienating parent. We are explicit in our approach that 'Both Parents Matter' as set out in all our literature. We welcome Cafcass's public acknowledgement that parental alienation is seriously damaging for the children involved, blighting not only their wellbeing in childhood but also affecting their self esteem and ability to form relationships into adulthood. However, we would rather the penny drops for separated parents that they should put the interests of their children ahead of demolishing their relationship with the alienated parent so the extreme option doesn't have to be triggered.

We don't have Cafcass in Scotland. The role it has in making independent reports about the best interests of the child is performed by Child Welfare Reporters in Scotland. We have raised as a matter of concern that when the role of Child Welfare Reporters was redefined in October 2015 it was explicit that they should be required to have training in parental alienation. This training has never taken place - caught in a disagreement between the Lord President and Scottish Government. It is not acceptable that nothing should continue to happen on this important matter."


Funding support to extend group work

Two recent successful funding applications and a well supported general appeal have strengthened the position of FNF Scotland and enable us to extend our work.

We already have a link with the Robertson Trust through renting a desk in their Glasgow building, and we are now very grateful to receive a award of £30,000 over the next three yars towards our "Dads Moving Forward" project.  This will develop additional support for the people attending our monthly group meetings to help them build self confidence, improve negotiation and communication skills and reinforce their parenting knowledge.  One new aspect of this work will be courses run by Steve Sweeney of Barnardos Rollercoaster Project to help FNFS volunteers to understand trauma and grief, develop action pans and then cascade this knowledge to other in local groups.

We have also been granted £4,500 by the Corra Foundation to establish a new monthly group in Dundee to support fathers and other people facing problems in getting contact with their children.  We have wanted to start a group in Dundee for a long time, but have had to wait until additional funding was available.  Group meetings will start in January 2018 and we already have two offers from family lawyers willing to attend the meetings.  Contact Alastair Williamson to register interest in the Dundee group.

We also wish to thank all the individuals who have contributed to our recent funding appeal.  It's good to know that people who have used our information and support services are happy to donate so that we can help others and deal with the increasing demand.  The appeal is still running - use this link to donate.


2017 Families Need Fathers Scotland AGM 

The FNFS AGM is in Edinburgh this year on Thursday 23rd November. It will be held in the Carlow Room at 10 Palmerston Place from 7-9pm, with tea and coffee from 6.30.  The first part of the evening will be reports on the activity and finances for the past year plus election of trustees.  Anyone interested in becoming a trustee should contact Ian Maxwell by 17th November

Following the AGM business there will be talk about contact centres by Kathleen Frew of Family Mediation Central and Margaret Ashman from Helensburgh Contact Centre. FNF Scotland is now working on a contact centre user guide and these talks plus the following discussion will help us explore how people use the centres and the benefits and issues for contact centre users.

Anyone can attend our AGM, but please let us know you are coming by booking a place here.


Running for FNF Scotland

We are delighted that we have three volunteer runners taking part in this year’s Edinburgh Men’s 10k on Sunday 5th November.

Martin Johnstone, Gavin Watson and Martyn O’Neill will be wearing the chic FNF Scotland running vests. Martin, Gavin and Martyn, all engineers working in different industries, will be running to raise funds for FNF Scotland’s work supporting parents facing problems arranging meaningful time with their children following separation.

Information about the Men’s 10K event is here: www.mens10k.com/edinburgh

 If you would like to sponsor Martin, Martyn and Gavin for their efforts, you can register your donation on our Golden Giving page at:http://gldn.gg/f/2017edinburghmens10k If you are a UK tax payer, donating through Golden Giving will increase the value of your donation by 20%.

 If you would like some paper versions of the sponsorship form email : ian.maxwell@fnfscotland.org.