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Tuesday
Dec112018

International Shared Parenting Conference

Over 200 delegates attended the fourth international conference on shared parenting in Strasbourg on 22nd-23rd November 2018.  The conference was held in the Council of Europe building and the opening session was addressed by Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

She said: “There is an apparent, growing consensus that, when possible, shared parenting should be supported as part of separation and divorce arrangements.”

Shared parenting aims to maintain positive relationships between children and their parents in high-conflict separations and empower parents to meet their parental responsibilities in an equal way, she stressed.

The concept extends the principle of gender equality and challenges the stereotype of the father as breadwinner and the mother as nurturing carer and homemaker, still deeply entrenched in many cultures and still playing a role in many custody agreements.

However, shared parenting should not become a goal in itself or a systematic resumption: there are cases when shared custody does not correspondent to the child’s best interests. The decision on whether shared parenting is the best solution must take into account the individual circumstances, such as situations of intra-family violence, as well as the child’s views and expressed position.

The president of the International Council of Shared Parenting (ICSP) Edward Kruk, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, stated that this conference marks the watershed in shared parenting, it is now established as a norm.  Those who oppose shared parenting have to prove why it should not take place.

Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Children´s Rights Division of the Council of Europe also mentioned moving on from gender stereotypes.  Both men and women have the right to balance work and parenting, shared parenting is a way forward for this. Efficient and fast moving justice systems are very important if cases have to go to court and non-compliance with court orders is a serious issue.

Amongst the many contributions to the ICSP conference two judicial presentations stood out. Marie-France Carlier, a judge at the Namur Family Court in Belgium described how family courts have developed since the Belgian law was changed in 2006 to a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting.  There is principle of one family, one file and one judge with speedy procedures - 15 days to consider decisions.

She noted that the judge has to conciliate. Their first task is to reconcile people. They have to prioritise shared parenting but are free to decide otherwise.  The person who doesn't want shared parenting has to provide reasons such as distance, very young children or child protection.  Equal shared residence has been ordered in 50% of cases in Liege and 48% in Anvers. Priority actions include reducing the hurtfulness of words in court papers, meeting strict time deadlines, keeping children in touch with what is happening, the use of mediation and consensus, preventing alienation from becoming embedded. 

Jürgen Rudolph described how he is spreading the word in various countries about the Cochem system that he developed as a family judge in Germany.  This involves linking the work of all the professionals around the court: judges, lawyers, psychologists youth workers and social workers. 

The goal is to get the parents to "look in the eyes of their children and get them talking again. Early intervention is vital. The lawyer bringing the case is only allowed to submit one page to the court and the other side is not allowed to write anything.  Rather than having lots of paper the professionals have to speak with the parents and children. Court hearings should take place within one or two weeks.  The court can put pressure on the parents to go on a journey and see the situation through the eyes of the child. 

Families Need Fathers Scotland hopes to invite judges Carlier and Rudolph to speak in Scotland in 2019 as a contribution to the discussion of changes in Scottish family law and court procedures.  Their hand's on experience of how radically different systems can bring major benefits for both families and courts should make a valuable contribution to this discussion.

Ian Maxwell from FNFS brought this Scottish debate to the attention of delegates in a workshop session describing how we are "Still Beating the Drum For Shared Parenting".  

Friday
Nov022018

Shared Parenting: Benefits and Barriers

Professor Tommy MacKay gave a presentation at the 2018 FNFS AGM on Shared Parenting: Benefits and Barriers.

Tuesday
Oct162018

FNF Scotland comment on Dumfries false rape allegation case

In a judgement issued recently from Dumfries Sheriff court the sheriff concluded that a mother had made a false allegation of rape against a father in connection with a contact dispute (para 76).

Comment by FNF Scotland national manager, Ian Maxwell:

"This is a thorough analysis over 61 pages by Sheriff Mohan of the facts and circumstances of the events which led to the relationship between a father and his children being abruptly severed and fundamentally damaged.

While we understand that the mother in this case was suffering from severe depression, it is regrettable that her own family, friends and professional agencies saw their role as supporting  "her plan to leave with the children" and adding to it, rather than finding ways in which both parents and children could be supported to deal with her depression and other material stresses.

However, in the context of the current Scottish Government review of family law, this case illustrates the importance of early findings of fact where serious allegations are made by one parent against the other.  It also stresses the importance of objectively assessing the authenticity of the expressed views of children about contact with their parents after separation, especially where extremely hostile views have replaced a previously comfortable and affectionate relationship overnight. Sheriff Mohan questioned the credibility of the letters written by the children in this case.

This is not the first case where the intervention of a support agency has been found by a sheriff to have added to the sort of psychological and emotional damage on children that it was purporting to protect them from.

Sheriff Mohan has ordered that contact between the father and his extended family and his children be restored and we wish all of those involved well in recovering from the damage they have suffered.

Wednesday
Oct102018

AGM & Talk: Shared Parenting - benefits and barriers

The 2018 AGM of Families Need Fathers Scotland will be on the evening of Wednesday 31st October in Robertson House, 152 Bath Street, Glasgow.

Following the AGM we will have a talk by Professor Tommy MacKay about benefits and barriers to shared parenting.  Tickets for the event can be booked using this link.

professor MacKayProfessor Tommy MacKay will give an overview of current psychological research relating to contact and residence, focussing particularly on the benefits of shared parenting and some of the problems which are raised when shared parenting is proposed. 

Professor MacKay has worked extensively as a psychologist in a broad range of family law cases including contact and residence actions.  His 2014 publication "False Allegations of child abuse in contested family law cases" considered the high frequency of allegations of child physical or sexual abuse in cases of this kind, with a particular focus on false allegations.

Amongst the court cases in which he has given expert evidence is AH against CH (2016 CSOH 152).  In that judgement he stated that "evidence shows that children that do not have contact with both parents have, as a group, a greater propensity to experience difficulties academically, psychologically, emotionally and in future relationships in later life."  This supported the resumption of a father's contact with his son in spite of that child's resistance because of maternal influence.

Professor Tommy MacKay is Director of Psychology Consultancy Services, Co-Founder of the National Centre for Autism Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Clinical Director of the National Diagnosis and Assessment Service for Autistic Spectrum Disorders, a past President of the British Psychological Society, an Academician of the Academy for the Social Sciences and a Chartered Scientist. He works widely across several fields of psychology, having chartered or equivalent status in educational psychology, health psychology, clinical neuropsychology, psychotherapy and teaching and research in psychology.

Wednesday
Oct102018

Family law consultation submission

Families Need Fathers Scotland has submitted our response to the Scottish Government Consultation, alongside about 280 other submissions.

Amongst the main points we made were proposals for extending parental rights and responsibilities, creating a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in Scottish law, family court cases to be conducted on an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial basis, compulsory mediation information and extended use of family mediation.

We also suggest that Scotland undertakes trials of the use of Parenting Co-ordinators to support families once an initial determination has been made in court or through mediation. These should be professionals coming from family law, mediation, family therapy or social work backgrounds, trained and experienced in all these areas so they can provide a more comprehensive and longer term service than Child Welfare Reporters, Curators or Safeguarders.

This type of work is now used extensively in the USA and other countries in order to assist, support and guide separating parents to work effectively after separation. Rather than the family courts having to make all minor decisions such as on pick-up details and holiday dates, the parenting co-ordinators are tasked by the court to do this work.

Parenting coordination is a hybrid ADR process used with high-conflict parents, and the PC wears many hats. The Association for Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Task Force on Parenting Coordination (2006) defines parenting coordination 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 (p. 165).

Although the American experience is very positive, we would suggest a fully evaluated pilot scheme is the best way to fully explore whether this approach will benefit children and parents and provide significant cost savings.