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Tuesday
Jan222019

Making court orders work as intended for the child while saving money, time and stress

Felicity SheddenOnce an agreement has been reached between parents or a court order made, the arrangements for sharing parenting time with children in a separated family are settled.

Right?

If only that was the case. 

Sometimes it is only the start of a new saga when the two parents continue to wrangle over the day to day detail within the overall order or agreement.

At two events organised by Families Need Fathers Scotland in Edinburgh in January, Felicity Shedden from Family Law in Partnership gave a stark example of the limitations of what a family court can do when communication between parents remains poor or their concept of putting the child first still eludes them - hardly surprising when they may have spent many months and a great deal of money telling the judge of the other's parenting failings and character weaknesses.

In a 2014 court hearing in front of Sir James Munby, it had been agreed that the handover of the child should be at Clapham Junction but the parents couldn't agree which platform.  Sir James refused to decide, saying, "The courts cannot micro-manage the parenting relationship".

Felicity described how a new professional role, the Parenting Coordinator, has been developed to address this issue of making arrangements work and resolving disagreements about what is often in reality trivial detail. "Parenting Coordination" was originally developed in the USA and now also operates in Canada, South Africa and England.

Families Need Fathers Scotland arranged for Felicity to talk about Parenting Coordination at an afternoon briefing session for Scottish practitioners on January 15th followed by an evening presentation to the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Shared Parenting. 

Parenting Coordination is defined as:

‘A child-focused alternative dispute resolution process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience assists high conflict parents to implement their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating parents about children’s needs, and with prior approval of the parties and/or the court, making decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract’

All models of Parenting Cordination are based on the same three  principles : education, mediation and arbitration/determination. In all cases the process starts after the court order or parenting plan has been settled. It is primarily useful in high conflict cases. The Parenting Coordinator is usually appointed for a period of two years with the aim being to work themselves out of a job by the time the two years is up.

In some countries the Parenting Coordinator is appointed by court and reports back if a court order is not being complied with, whereas in others the appointment is agreed by the parents. The Parenting Coordinator doesn't re-examine the issues between the parents but starts at the point where those issues have been decided by court order or by binding agreement.

The Parenting Coordinator can help with:
(a) conflicts in the arrangements for the children’s day to day care;
(b) difficulties related to the children’s transitions between the parents, including codes of conduct and transportation;
(c) developing any necessary clarifying provisions that were not anticipated when the parenting plan was developed;
(d) assisting the parents to communicate more effectively where appropriate;
(e) assisting the parents to develop effective means of disengagement in their parenting and communication where appropriate;
(f) assisting the parents with the exchange of information about the children (i.e., health, welfare, education, religion, routines, day-to-day matters, etc.)

Family lawyers, mediators, child welfare reporters, curators and any of the other professionals involved in family support could become parenting coordinators if they undertake suitable training. Family Law in Partnership is holding this training in England.

It is a tricky task to build up working relationships with parents who can't bring themselves to agree with each other about anything much. 

This is the area of micro-management that Sir James referred to - and we hear from sheriffs up and down Scotland - where there is no real role for judicial input and expensive court time. An example given during the briefing session was an order based on allowing a separated parent to take his child to football training on a Tuesday.  A year later the training was shifted to a Wednesday.  One parent states, "the order says Tuesday", the other says "but it was about football training".

A Parenting Coordinator could attempt to persuade the parents to work it out, or mediate between them urging them to think about what works best for the child. But in the end, the Coordinator can make the decision for them. 

The advantage is that the issue can be resolved within a day or two and without returning to court (or exchanging correspondence between solicitors) with the concomitant costs and prolonging the standoff for weeks or months.

Comprehensive guidelines and strategies have been drawn up by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts based on experience over the past 25 years of operation.

Research on parenting coordination conducted in Alberta in Canada showed: 

42% of parents improved parenting cooperation in areas such as willingness to accommodate changes in visiting arrangements and improved day to day decision making about the children;

52% of parents noted improved cooperation on major decisions about the children;
in 22% of cases parents increased their involvement with the children;
57% of children showed less ‘acting out’ behaviours;

54% of children showed fewer symptoms of stress such as headaches, stomach-aches and difficulty in sleeping;
33% of the children showed more interest in seeing the non-custodial parent.

A Social Return on Investment (SROI) on this study found that a $7.40 return on every dollar of investment over the first three years of operation and the actual value of this programme was probably higher than this conservative estimate. 

FNF Scotland's response to the recent Government consultation on family law modernisation proposed that Scotland should establish Parenting Coordination on a trial basis in one part of the country and evaluate whether it is effective in reducing court appearances as well as helping parents to make parenting decisions on their own.

If Parenting Coordination is tried out in Scotland we would expect that this type of SROI analysis should be undertaken, and would hope that it would show significant advantages over the conventional court-based model, not least in savings on court time.

Tuesday
Jan222019

Research the impact of family breakdown on wellbeing

Dr. John Barry of University College London is working in association with Families Need Fathers to find out about the impact of family breakdown on wellbeing.

It is totally confidential and ethically approved, and the study will help to improve knowledge of what aspects of the breakdown cause the most stress e.g. family court hearings, child access etc. Whether you are a father or a mother, if you are still going through family separation and/or making arrangements for your children in family courts, through mediation or privately, then your participation would be welcome. The more people that take part the more persuasive the results will be.

The study will involve an online survey taking about 2 minutes to complete. It will be done several times over a year, so in total will take about one hour of your time over a 12 month period.

If you want to take part, please email Dr. Barry for further information,  who will provide you with a code to activate https://tinyurl.com/yagzh8ca.

FNF is not only supporting this research but sponsoring it financially. The results of this study will be published and form part of a programme of work we will be doing to help policymakers make informed decisions when reforming family justice and other related policies, so please support it and share this with friends to whom it may be relevant.

Families Need Fathers Scotland would encourage Scottish fathers to take part so that there is a sufficient number of responses to allow for production of Scottish results.  We are already very aware of the impact of stress on people who contact us, and are running stress management courses, training people as peer supporters and linking people to support each other online and in person.  The next stress management course in Edinburgh is on 31st January - further details and bookings here.

Thursday
Jan172019

FNF Scotland finalists in Scottish Legal Awards

FNF Scotland: Both Parents Matter has been listed as a finalist in the Community Contribution category of the 2019 Scottish Legal Awards.

Our entry focuses on the network of pro bono solicitors we have built up over the years who give their time to attend our six monthly meetings across Scotland. Every meeting now has at least one solicitor in attendance to give general information about family law and procedures. Because of the growing numbers coming to our Edinburgh and Glasgow groups we often have two solicitors.

Ian Maxwell, FNF Scotland national manager, says, "We are delighted at being listed among the finalists. Even to get that far is recognition of the value of our efforts in creating a connection between volunteer solicitors and people who come to us who are feeling lost in the aftermath of family breakup or separation. 

We see it as an additional form of access to justice which simply did not exist in family law previusly.

The solicitors who attend tell us they also learn a great deal from what they hear at the groups we run monthly in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Striling, Paisley and Dundee. Most group attendees are separated fathers but we also support separated mothers, grandparents, new partners and wider family members. 

It looks like the Community Contribution category will be one of the most keenly contested in the Scottish Legal Awards. We wish all the finalists well."

The Awards will be announced at an event on Tursday 31st March in Glasgow.  FNF Scotland currently has more than 30 Scottish lawyers helping us at our group meetings and we would welcome any other family law solicitor who wishes to help us in this way - contact Ian Maxwell for more details.

Tuesday
Dec182018

Holiday arrangements for FNF Scotland

Photo by Chris Gilbert on UnsplashThe Edinburgh and Glasgow offices of Families Need Fathers Scotland will be closed between 21st December and 4th January inclusive, but members of staff will be available in turn during the entire festive period to take phone calls about urgent issues.  Ring 0131 557 2440 and your call will be forwarded to Ian, John or Alastair.

Our offices will re-open on Monday 7th January, and the first group meetings of 2019 will be held in Edinburgh on Monday 7th January and Paisley and Stirling on Tuesday 8th January.

A "taster" session of an Edinburgh parenting course for fathers from Parent Network will be held in Edinburgh on Wednesday 9th January.  It will run on Wednesday evenings for the following 9 weeks - contact Alastair Williamson for further details and bookings.

FNF Scotland will be holding a Stress Management course in Edinburgh on 31st January  - further details and bookings here.

We are also holding an afternoon event about Parenting Co-ordination for mediators, lawyers and other family support professionals on Tuesday 15th January - further details and bookings here.

The Scottish Government will publish their response to the Family Law consultation in Spring 2019 and a draft Family Law Bill in the middle of the year.  FNF Scotland will continue to promote ideas such as a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting and a move away from adversarial conflict in family courts.  Parents wishing to help by lobbying their MSPs on these points should contact John Forsyth to help with this work.

Families Need Fathers Scotland wishes a happy and constructive New Year to all the people who contact us and attend our groups and all the lawyers and other professionals who have worked with us in 2018.

Tuesday
Dec182018

Parenting Coordination: an opportunity for Scotland?

Families Need Fathers Scotland suggested a Scottish trial of Parenting Coordination in our response to the recent Scottish Government Family Law Consultation. 
We are holding an event for mediators, lawyers and other family support professionals in Edinburgh on 15th January at which Felicity Shedden from Family Law In Partnership will describe how they developed a model from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and have been running training courses in England.  For further details and to book see here.
Parenting Coordination is an innovative child-centred intervention to support and guide parents in implementing their parenting agreements or court orders in medium and high-conflict cases.

The work involves skills from family law, mediation, mental health, parenting education, social work and child protection fields. Practitioners could come from any of these professions providing they have also trained in necessary components of the other skills.

During the current consideration of changes in family law and court procedure in Scotland, there is an opportunity to introduce concepts such as Parenting Coordination, which is now well- established in the United States, Canada and parts of South Africa. 

It could unify work currently carried out by a range of professionals and free the courts from some of the ongoing micro-management once an order has been made.  Parents and their children can benefit having immediately available support without returning to the adversarial court arena.