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Shared Parenting: Better for Scotland's Children

In a report published simultaneously at Holyrood and Strasbourg FNF Scotland calls for a reformed Scottish family law to include shared parenting as its starting presumption rather than an outcome that has to be argued for often with great difficulty and at financial and emotional cost within the adversarial court system.

There is overwhelming evidence of the benefits to both parents and children of shared parenting from a broad range of studies and reports around the world. Children in shared parenting families have significantly better outcomes in terms of emotional, behavioural, and psychological well-being, as well as better physical health and better relationships with their father and their mother compared to those who are only brought up by one parent.

This report collates existing research into the benefits of shared parenting from other jurisdictions where there is already a framework in place, such as Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands.

It also includes information from 15 questionnaires and interviews with families in Scotland who have experienced shared parenting at first hand. One mother who shares parenting time equally with the children's father says:

“I think us being separated is fairer for the children and we are all so much happier. I also think it means the boys have good relationships with both parents, they love both of us and we both love them and we reinforce this everyday. I also have a really healthy life outside of the children so there is more balance for me and then for the kids as well. I have time for myself that I didn’t have before, or where I did have it before I would feel guilty for leaving them, but now I don’t have this. I’m also more resourced to commit to the parenting side of things when I am responsible.”

National Manager of FNF Scotland, Ian Maxwell, says, “We want children to have an equally significant relationship with both their mother and father and their respective extended families wherever possible. This means that the child will spend a considerable amount of time with each parent; that both parents will have equal weight in important decisions affecting the child and that both parents will be recognised equally by public agencies such as schools and doctors.

We believe a legislative commitment to the values of shared parenting would save the public purse in court time and legal aid funding (as well as the psychological drain on the parents and their children) of high octane disputes about controlling rather than sharing time. If the starting point for the parents is clear then the discussion becomes about practical arrangements.

Attitudes are already changing in Scotland as family life and economic realities have evolved in recent decades. This is part of the drive towards greater gender equality in Scotland. Parents should be able to collaborate in the interests of the children long after the sheriff has gone home and the solicitors have closed their files.”

As well as being sent to members of the Scottish Parliament,  the report is being highlighted at a side meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.  The meeting follows up last October's Council resolution calling on member states to better recognise and positively value the role of fathers and do various things to support shared parenting for the benefit of children.

The FNF Scotland report also calls for :
* the “contact and residence” labels under the existing legislation to be removed and replaced with less value loaded terms, as has been done in England and Wales with “child arrangement orders”
* that parental rights and responsibilities should be retrospectively allowed for unmarried fathers.  The arbitrary date of May 6th 2006 enacted in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 is still creating anomalies within families and unnecessary discrimination between unmarried fathers and unmarried mothers
* that mediation should be encouraged in order to shift away from the current adversarial approach of raising disputes in court.


Family mediation on the television

One way to escape the referendum is to watch the start of a new TV documentary series on family mediation, which will be broadcast on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC2 for three weeks.

The makers of "Mr and Mrs" had privileged access to the private world of family mediation (English style), where separated couples attempt to resolve their disagreements. The aim is to avoid a courtroom battle if possible. Episode one covers 'shuttle mediation' in which the parties stay in separate rooms while the mediators move between them with proposals and counter proposals.



Children were harmed by professionals failure to test false allegations of abuse

A recent English family court judgement criticised the actions of various professionals in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse made by two children in a cross border contact case. The children had been living in Scotland but were retained in England by their mother after holidays in summer of 2014. She had moved to England to live with a new partner.

Mr Justice MacDonald found that the actions of certain professionals on both sides of the Border actively contributed to the difficulties in assessing the evidence, 'materially prejudiced the welfare of both children' and contributed to the "significant" emotional harm the children had suffered.

These breaches included:

  • The social worker unquestioningly accepted the mother's account and her failure to make enquiries of the father, the extended families, school, doctors or local authorities "was particularly egregious in circumstances where such enquires would have revealed a fundamentally different picture to that being painted by the mother."
  •  A failure (by social workers, Detective Constables, Detective Sergeants and teachers) to keep accurate records of what was said by the mother and the children, resulting in accounts of what the children said that were diametrically opposed.  This included both Scottish and English police officers.
  • A repeated failure by numerous professionals to interview the children in accordance with the ABE [equivalent of Scottish Joint Investigative Interview] Guidelines, in particular repeated questioning of one child in the presence of the other child and their mother, and the repeated use of highly leading questions.
  • A failure by agencies to coordinate their intervention: between 11 August 2014 and 29 July 2015. Taking the CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mentl Health] intervention into account, the children were questioned by no less than nineteen professionals on 44 occasions.
  • That ahead of any findings or criminal convictions in respect of the allegation, the CAMHS intervention extended to therapeutic intervention for one child by three psychiatrists and over 29 group therapy sessions and six sessions for the other child on the basis that they had been abused as alleged.

Mr Justice MacDonald quoted the conclusion of the children's guardian surveying the conduct of professionals in this case that "'It is as if a sort of hysteria took over and prevented people from asking certain questions'.  I cannot help but agree."

The woman had asked the court to rule that the man who raised the action to return him to Scotland where he had been the boy's primary carer had raped her and abused the children.

The judge concluded that every allegation the woman and children made against the man was false. She had 'told lies' and 'coached or influenced' the children - now aged 10 and six - into making false allegations. 

"In August 2014 the mother manufactured alarm using a falsified version of past events in an attempt to avoid returning the children to Scotland.  Using a combination of emotional pressure, inappropriate exposure to adult discussions and, on occasion, coaching, the mother proceeded to recruit the children to her cause. With the aid of repeated and persistent poor practice by a range of professionals the mother further succeeded in enclosing the narrative she had created within a hermetically sealed bubble, thereby succeeding in preventing professionals carrying out the checks that would have revealed that the allegations that were being made first by the mother, and then by the children required, at the very least, a critical and questioning appraisal.  Indeed, by reason of their almost entirely unquestioning approach towards the mother, a number of professionals simply acquiesced to their confinement in that bubble.  Had professionals adhered to well established guidance and procedure they would have discovered that the allegations lacked credibility.

It is important to recognise that the professional failures I have set out have had consequences. By reason of the failure of the relevant agencies to follow the clear and well established guidance and procedure the children were not only left in a situation where a parent was permitted to persist in conduct that was harmful to their emotional welfare but, by their omissions, those agencies actively contributed to that harm."   

Mr Justice MacDonald made the ruling in February but its publication was delayed until this month because the father was facing criminal charges connected with the allegations in Scotland. The Crown Office has indicated proceedings against the man have been dropped.




It’s Fathers’ Day this Sunday. Wellsfield Farm Park near Denny is working in partnership with FNF Scotland / Both Parents Matter”,  to offer FREE Farm Park entry to all Dads to raise awareness that 2016 is Scotland’s “YEAR OF THE DAD”.

Wellsfield Farm is a family run business, with a unique selection of on-site leisure activities and high quality holiday lodge accommodation, located in one of the nicest parts of Scotland. 

Wellsfield's Tony Harris says "Wellsfield Farm is a family run business and we celebrate that families come in all shapes and sizes.  We believe that children need a positive and healthy relationship with both parents, so they can be happy, secure and healthy. We believe in Getting it Right For Every Child", and that every child should be Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included. 

We hope to see many happy fathers and kids on Sunday. Just bring along Dad and he will gain Free entry to the Farm Park and Indoor Fun Barn!"

For more information on Wellsfield Farm see: www.wellsfield.co.uk


Radio Four drama on legal contact case feels true to life

A 45-minute drama of Radio Four felt very realistic, even if the case was set in the English courts and concerned a very particular aspect of child contact.

Behind Closed Doors  is set in the Family Courts where Harry, a sperm donor, is trying to get a court order to allow him to see 'his' daughter. Beth - the mother - is now in a lesbian relationship and would prefer Harry to keep his distance.

Harry offered to donate sperm so his lesbian friend and work colleague, Beth, could have a baby. After the birth Harry visited Beth and got to know baby Molly. For a time Beth was happy for Harry to visit but she never intended to have a relationship with him or for him to become involved with Molly as a father. Things went from bad to worse when Beth formed a relationship with Melanie and Harry felt he was completely excluded from seeing Molly. Now a judge has to decide whether Harry should have any contact rights.

Because of the English court setting, the court hearing involved a CAFCASS report and the father was representing himself (no legal aid in England).  But factors such as the judge telling parents that the case involves the interests of the child rather than their rights, the difference in the child's attitude to her father when interviewed away from the mother, and the mother's admission that her anxiety about contact could be affecting her daughter could have been copied straight from many of the cases we hear about at FNFS.  Well worth a listen.