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Friday
Dec152017

Christmas survival tips if you're not seeing your kids

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. Here are some tips that attendees at our group meetings have suggested.

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.

Friday
Dec152017

Housing benefit barrier to shared parenting

Research from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning documents many of the issues faced by separated parents whose children live with them for less than half the time.  Parents who rely on housing benefit may only be able to take shared accommodation without bedroom space for their children to stay with them.

At present, people out of work or in low-waged jobs can claim housing benefit for up to 100 per cent of their rent. Most single people under 35 in the private rented sector are restricted to the shared accommodation rate (SAR); their housing benefit is set at a level to cover the rent on a room in a shared house. Before 2012, the SAR only applied to those aged 25 or younger. By increasing the SAR to age 35, the government increased the likelihood that non-resident parents would be included.

Key issues raised in the study included:
- Difficult behaviour of other housemates
- Children disturbing housemates
- A lack of space for children to sleep (often sharing the parent’s room)
- Substandard properties
- Landlord rules banning children from visiting properties or staying overnight

These problems have an impact upon children in these families. They are unable to have friends over when staying with their other parent. They may lack lack privacy with other unconnected adults in the accommodation. They may find their relationship with their non-resident parent damaged. The child’s resident parent is also likely to object even though the by doing so they will themselves be affected, with most or all of the overnight care falling to them.

The study suggest various changes in housing provision and benefits that would make things easier for so-called "non-resident parents" who have overnight childcare.

Although the Scottish Government moved to mitigate some of the effects of the bedroom tax many of the problems outlined in this study apply here. It is estimated that 5% of men aged 16-64 are fathers to non-resident children.

FNFS will suggest to the Scottish Government that more could be done to make shared parenting easier for people in rented accommodation or depending on housing benefit.

Thursday
Dec142017

Boxing Day carol for fathers

A short film about a father's experience of Christmas when separated from his son has a free showing at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh on Saturday 16th December at 4.30pm.

This short film was scripted and directed by John Bell, a Dad who is part of Midlothian Sure Start's Dads' Group, funded by Big Lottery Scotland.

It emerged from a discussion by Dads on the emotional challenges of Christmas. The Dads Coordinator for Midlothian Sure Start, Tim Porteus says, 'The film powerfully recognises the emotional pain of Christmas for parents in this situation, but has an uplifting message about making the best of time they have.'

John Bell is a dad who has additional challenges because of a condition which means he has chronic and disabling pain.  John states, 'The pain I have is another angle I came at this. I've done my best not to allow my physical pain to be an issue for my children. In the same way, the simple message in the film is we understand the emotional pain for parents in this situation, but being a parent is also about putting our children first, and sometimes being creative in how we can do that, even in challenging circumstances.'

The film lasts 30mins and was filmed over three days last year. John's pain levels got too much to be able to edit it for last Christmas, but has managed to complete it just in time for this Christmas.

Sunday
Nov192017

Judgements: surname dispute and communicating decisions to children  

Two recent judgements show how family sheriffs take difficult decisions to resolve family disputes.  

In Edinburgh, Sheriff Holligan grappled in MRG v MD with a disagreement about whether two children should use their father's surname, as on their birth certificates and passports, or their mother's surname, which is being used in her house and at the doctor and their nursery.  

The children's mother, who is the main carer, registered statutory declarations in the Books of Council and Session that they should be known under her surname.   The children's father, who has regular contact with them, uses his surname for them when the girls are with him.  The children, aged 5 and 3, are known by their first names on a day-to-day basis and have little awareness of this dispute.  

After discussing various aspects of the use of surnames in Scots Law and stating that he did not regard the registration or the statutory declaration to be determinative, the sheriff recommended that the children should use both surnames, the father's followed by that of the  mother.  This Solomonic judgement will no doubt be used to help settle future such disagreements, unless superseded by a decision in a higher Scottish court.

In Glasgow, the other Scottish court with specialist family sheriffs, Sheriff Anwar has issued a note in Patrick v Patrick.  This case concerned a father's request to have contact with his children following a bitter and acrimonious dispute between the parents. The sheriff concluded after hearing 11 days of proof that it was in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with their father and granted him indirect contact.  She did not consider it to be in the children's best interests for there to be a detailed written assessment of the issues raised in the case, as this risked undermining their sense of identity and self-worth.

At a further hearing regarding the arrangements for contact, it was agreed that the father would undertake the Triple P parenting course, that a psychologist would work with the children to assist them to develop a relationship with their father, that both parents would work with family therapists and then take part in mediation.

A clinical psychologist Dr Khan had reported to court on the entrenched views of two of the children that they didn't wish to see their father.  Following the sheriff's decision in favour of contact, Dr Khan was asked to communicate this decision to the children and help them understand why the court had not heeded their wishes.  Sheriff Anwar wrote a letter to children to be used by Dr Khan to explain why she made this decision, and the text of the letter is included in Sheriff Anwar's note about the case.

The Sheriff's decison to write a letter of explanation to the children raised much interest in the press and has been widely discussed within Scottish Family court circles.  It follows two recent examples of English family judges writing letters to children.  Some sheriffs have expressed alarm that they will now be expected to include letters to children in all of their family cases, but this is only likley to be needed to inform children when a decision cuts across their wishes.  

It is important that Scottish judges work hard to find better ways to obtain the views of children in such cases.  But it is also important that these views are considered alongside all the other circumstances, in order to decide whether it is still in their best interests to retain contact with both parents.

Families Need Fathers Scotland welcomes this move by Sheriff Anwar to follow up her decision with various measures including the children's letter in order to try and make it easier for the whole family to move on from a high conflict court case and learn from past mistakes.  

Saturday
Nov182017

Comment by FNF Scotland on press coverage of Cafcass in England and Wales overhauling its approach to 'parental alienation'

There has been coverage in several newspapers today (including the The Guardian and Sun) that Cafcass (Children and Family Court and Advisory Service) in England and Wales is overhauling its approach to parental alienation - when children are put under pressure by one parent after separation to reject the other parent with whom they had a close and loving relationship. Cafcass is now acknowledging that parental alienation is a factor in a significant proportion of its cases. Cafcass is revising its training for its case workers in how to recognise and deal with parental alienation and what to recommend to the judge in the reports it makes to court. In extreme cases Cafcass officers may recommend that children may be removed from the care of an alienating parent.

 

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says, "FNF Scotland hears examples of parental alienation and the holding and withholding of child contact as a method of controlling the non-resident parent at all its monthly group meetings across Scotland. Nevertheless there is still widespread denial here that parental alienation exists among many involved in the family court process, including lawyers, social workers and some sheriffs.

The headlines in this morning's coverage lead on the nuclear option of taking children away from an alienating parent. We are explicit in our approach that 'Both Parents Matter' as set out in all our literature. We welcome Cafcass's public acknowledgement that parental alienation is seriously damaging for the children involved, blighting not only their wellbeing in childhood but also affecting their self esteem and ability to form relationships into adulthood. However, we would rather the penny drops for separated parents that they should put the interests of their children ahead of demolishing their relationship with the alienated parent so the extreme option doesn't have to be triggered.

We don't have Cafcass in Scotland. The role it has in making independent reports about the best interests of the child is performed by Child Welfare Reporters in Scotland. We have raised as a matter of concern that when the role of Child Welfare Reporters was redefined in October 2015 it was explicit that they should be required to have training in parental alienation. This training has never taken place - caught in a disagreement between the Lord President and Scottish Government. It is not acceptable that nothing should continue to happen on this important matter."