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Child maintenance system still undermines shared parenting

The continued detachment of child support from the wider picture of family life is contributing to the impoverishment of children whose parents live separately and creates a perverse disincentive to meaningful co-operation between the parents.

In its submission to the inquiry by the Westminster select committee on work and pensions into child maintenance, Families Need Fathers – Because Both Parents Matter report the insights drawn from the experiences of more than 800 responses to its recent consultation among members and supporters across the UK.

Comments from the biggest ever response to an FNF consultation include:
“I feel worthless as a parent. The only interest in me is that I pay!”
“It almost destroyed me” (many)
“If not for my family the CMS would have made me homeless!”
“I have less than £100 a month for food, petrol etc.”
“As a result, the children consider me to be stingy”
“the lack of means testing or consideration of circumstances results in callous extraction of finances”
“I earn £20,000 a year my ex earns approx £60,000 I struggle to pay my bills and am denied access [by my ex] to my children. This should be taken into account”
“[the CMS/CSA calculation] has a perverse incentive to for the resident parent to keep contact as low as possible”

Jerry Karlin, Chair of Families Need Fathers (UK) says: “Our child maintenance system is poorly thought through and (perhaps unintentionally) actively undermines shared parenting. It discourages both parents from working and pushes many into severe hardship and poverty. For the sake of our children, it must be reformed.

It isn't just the moral mark of a civilised society that fatherhood should be respected and supported for the benefit of children after separation and divorce. There are shelves full of research findings that children do better when both parents are involved in their life. The tunnel vision of CMS and its various predecessors has done great damage to our children by polarising the interests of separated parents. Too many dads have been degraded and abused by the blunt instrument of the CMS in its present form.”

Ian Maxwell, National Manager of FNF Scotland added: "Fathers who willingly pay maintenance but then don't see their children are fed up with the notion that contact cannot be taken into consideration. By all mean chase up unpaid amounts vigorously but don't ignore the fathers who want to support their children and also see them."

FNF notes the content of a separate (unconnected) submission to the Select Committee by Dr Christine Davies setting out how low income Non Resident Parents struggle to pay when their child support payments represent marginal tax rates of 90% or higher - sometimes even above 100%. In other words, what they are expected to pay can exceed what they earn in certain circumstances.


November public meetings on education 'governance review'

 Education 'reviews' are coming thick and fast. As well as the current review of the effectiveness of the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement Act) Education Secretary, John Swinney, announced last month that he is conducting a review of 'education governance' - the way in which Scottish state education is organised and funded. There has been much discussion about what he may have in mind and, if fundamental overhaul is needed, what form it should take.
You can see a summary of the announcement at http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Education/thegovernancereview
This governance review specifically asks questions about responsibilities and functions at every level of our education system (from early years through to secondary schools) and how these can be improved to ensure Scottish education is world class for all our children and young people.  It also asks about how funding for education can be made fairer through the development of a needs based funding formula for schools.
The Scottish Government is keen to hear views from children and young people, parents, teachers, practitioners and the wider community and has scheduled a number of open events across the country during November. Most of the events will be attended and chaired by a Minister.
The venues are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth, Aberdeen, Dunoon and Dumfries. You can see the dates and book online  at http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Education/thegovernancereview


Contribute to the review of parental involvement with schools

The Scottish Government last year announced a review of the effectiveness of the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006. The National Parent Forum Scotland was commissioned to carry out the review.

The NPFS has an online questionaire for parents at this link.

The explicit ambition of the Guidance that accompanied the Act was to urge schools to “work hard” to engage with several specific groups including fathers in general and non-resident parents in particular. They were named specifically because it was perceived that previously they tended to be by-passed or overlooked by the previous experience of parental involvement.

It is therefore very important that fathers and non-resident parents contribute their experience - good and bad – of how successful schools presently are in actively including them. The closing date for completing the online questionaire is October 31st.

FNF Scotland has been particularly active in assisting both schools and non-resident parents establish a constructive relationship. Our publication Equal Parents  sets out the legal entitlements to information about your children at school but also gives advice on how to get your relationship off on the right foot.

There is a raft of research evidence that shows that children do better in and out of school when both parents are significantly involved with their education.

We will make an overall FNF Scotland submission drawn from our casework but this is a significant opportunity for individual non-resident parents to contribute their personal experience to the review and influence the conclusions of how effective the 2006 Act has been in meeting its original ambitions. 

If you do complete the questionaire please let us know. E mail john.forsyth@fnfscotland.org.

Reminder: the deadline is October 31st.




Quick responses to high conflict people

Although the title suggests an unduly physical approach to this issue, Bill Eddy's book is actually a great introduction to resolving conflicts.  Email and social media are major communication channels and we need to find ways to resolve some of the problems caused by such instant processes. 

BIFF stands from Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  This is the suggested approach for responding to the sort of personal attacking messages that will be very familiar to people involved in hostile relationship breakdowns.

This method should work whether the person you are responding to is suffering from a personality disorder or is simply unduly aggressive.  Personality disorders are discussed right at the start of the book as they are often the cause for angry communication, but the method Bill Eddy describes should work whether or not such a disorder is present. 

He stresses that you shouldn't try diagnosing or telling the person that you think their behaviour is dysfunctional. Keep your theory to yourself - just concentrate on using the BIFF techniques to deal with conversations that will otherwise escalate out of control.  When you receive a hostile message that blames you for everything, the instinctive reaction is to hit back. 

This book suggests how a far more effective response can be made, aiming to close down the issue and gives examples from various situations including family disputes. These responses may not always solve the problem but they are far less likely to escalate matters when dealing with high conflict people.




‘Lay Assistant’ free training course to run in Edinburgh in November.

Families Need Fathers Scotland is recruiting for a ‘lay assistant’ free training course to run in Edinburgh in November.

As the number of party litigants appears to be increasing steadily in family law actions FNF Scotland has been aware of the importance of the support and steadying influence a lay assistant can have both in court and before court in keeping focus on the important issues at hand.

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says, “We ran a successful pilot course in Glasgow last month, introducing prospective lay assistant volunteers to the role they can play and the support they can give. We are clear that they’re not surrogate solicitors and aren’t there to give legal advice. But they are there to assist the party litigant - and the court - by taking notes of what is said during proceedings and keeping track of any documents that may be referred to during a child welfare hearing or, more crucially, during a proof.

There has been more use of lay assistants in other areas of civil litigation such as debt or housing but we have noticed the increased number of people who are opting to represent themselves in contact and residence cases. They do for a variety of reasons but the main one is that they find their earnings are just above the SLAB threshold but aren't enough to cope with legal fees that can quickly turn into thousands.”

Depending on demand the course will run over two sessions in mid November and includes presentations by FNF Scotland staff and family law solicitors, video simulations and role play. The training is free, funded by the Scottish Government's Volunteering Support Fund. Further courses will be run in Aberdeen and Stirling in early 2017.

Ian Maxwell says, “Our overall aim is a review of family law to reduce the adversarial nature of resolving arrangements for parenting of children after separation. We always advise negotiation or mediation rather than litigation. In the meantime we can’t ignore the rising number of party litigants and this training is aimed at helping them present their case as efficiently and effectively as possible in the interests not only of the court but in the interests of the children involved.

Anyone interest in signing up for the training should contact Alastair Williamson or ring 0131 557 2440.