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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.


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.


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.


Christmas tips from FNF Scotland

As 25th December approaches, FNF Scotland appeals to both separated parents to take the opportunity presented by the spirit of Christmas to set aside their personal issues for the benefit of their children.
Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year for divorced or separated parents. It is the time they most want to see their children but it may not be their turn to have them for Christmas Day. For many, mainly non resident fathers and their extended family, it is never their turn.

Families Need Fathers Scotland is recommending eight survival tips suggested by attendees at monthly group meetings. They are meant for fathers – and non-resident mothers – as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles whose contact has been lost or reduced when the parents separated.

Ian Maxwell, FNF Scotland National Manager says, “We have calls and e mails every day at this time of year from non-resident parents in great distress because arrangements to see their kids at some point over Christmas have broken down or abruptly changed or have simply been refused. We appeal to both separated parents to take the opportunity presented by the spirit of Christmas to set aside their personal issues for the benefit of their children. If they do that it could be the platform for greater goodwill in the New Year.

Maree Todd, Scottish Government Minister for Children and Young People, says, “For separated parents Christmas can be a very challenging time when it comes to arranging and agreeing contact.  Our National Parenting Strategy recognises the importance of ensuring parents get the support they need to form and develop healthy positive bonds with their children.
I am delighted that Families Need Fathers Scotland, who worked with us on the development and implementation of the National Parenting Strategy, have created this useful and practical resource for parents. Building healthy relationships at Christmas will last a lifetime – that’s much more important than buying things”
The Survival Tips are:

  1. Remember to put the kids first. Even though you are missing them don’t put your distress ahead of their enjoyment. Encourage them to look forward to the next time they’re with you.
  2. Try and negotiate with your former partner at least a phone call with your children on Christmas  Day so they know you are thinking about them and sharing their excitement.
  3. Try and agree with your former partner that it’s fair for the children to have Christmas Day with  each of you on alternate years.
  4. If you do have them this year don’t go overboard on arrangements. Think ahead about what  they’ll enjoy rather than what’s expensive. It’s time together that counts in the long run.
  5. Don’t compete on presents with your former partner. Outspending will create friction especially if  money is short for both of you. When you have limited time with your children it’s often tempting to try and compensate by extravagant gestures. Don’t. Good cheer now may pay off in  the New Year.
  6. Keep in mind that your children will remember the time they have with you. Don’t worry that they     don’t give you a second thought when they’re not with you. That’s what kids are like.
  7. If you don’t have any contact with your kids at all, sit down and write them a letter. Even if you  never send it it’ll be your time with them this year.
  8. Don’t let yourself get miserable or lonely at home. Make sure you see friends or think about  volunteering with some of the organisations that look after others at Christmas.

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".