Are the family courts biased against men?

Too long, didn’t read: No.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

But as ever, its more complicated that that. This is clearly an issue that generates strong feelings. If there is no bias in fact there is certainly a perception from many that bias exists. What is going on here? And what if anything can we do about it?

On Saturday March 18th, I spoke at the Families Need Fathers’ Annual conference in Bristol. The text of what I said is largely what is set out in this post so I refer you to that for more detailed consideration of the statute and case law that informs my views.

I have already commented on accusations that I am ‘sexist’ in this post, which may also be worth a read if this is something that concerns you. All I can say is that I was grateful for the opportunity to speak before an audience that was overwhelmingly male and I hope I engaged respectfully and listened carefully what these men wanted to say to me. I am not ‘sexist’. I speak the truth as I see it. If you disagree – tell me and tell me why. But don’t fall back on stale and tired insults.

The issue of real or perceived bias sparked some interesting debate at the conference and later, via Twitter. The issue of how family courts treat men is certainly one we need to address, given the strength of feeling it engenders.

I was very concerned for example, to hear at the conference on Saturday that Dr Sue Whitcombe was alarmed by the bias she perceived from such agencies as CAFCASS, against fathers. The President of the Family Division urged her to raise this with the ‘top brass’. I hope she does.

Justice must, after all, be seen to be done.

Why can’t a father just see his kids as and when he wants?

This superficially simple question encapsulates the difficulties in this area. Is the family court deliberately, systemically biased against men? Is it sanctioned by either law or culture that the mother holds a veto on the father’s contact?

No. I don’t believe that for a moment. I think the reasons why so many men seem to believe that it is, are explained by many complicated factors. I set out below the ones which weigh on my mind and then some possible solutions or directions of travel.

I don’t mind you disagreeing with me. There may be things I need on my list, or things you think shouldn’t be there. By all means raise this me, in constructive comment. But if you just want to insult me, I am unlikely to find that persuasive.

Contributing factors to the perception of bias

  • Most mothers, most of the time, are primary carers of young children.
  • Many men, quite a lot of the time, appear to see looking after young children as boring, unrewarding, low status and they don’t want to do it.
  • When parents split, the situation that existed before the split is likely to be maintained – i.e. mother as primary carer.
  • Children aren’t parcels to be passed back and forth or a cake to be divided up between hungry parents. They need a home. They need stability, security and routine.
  • Quite a lot of men seem to see their relationship with their children thorough the lens of ‘their rights’ and are unwilling or unable to focus on the child’s experience
  • Quite a lot of women seem to see their relationship with their children as essential to their own identity and become ‘over enmeshed’ with child; they over-react to imagined or perceived defects in the father’s parenting. For further comment on this, see this post about the Rebecca Minnock case. 
  • Quite a lot of people seem to enter into intimate relationships and share their genetic material with people they do not like, do not trust and cannot communicate with.
  • The family courts does not have the tools needed to tackle the psychological dysfunction of parents. There is no easy access to therapeutic help or even supervised contact.
  • court buildings are poorly designed and don’t help parents talk to one another at court or feel comfortable in the court room; tensions remain high
  • The government has removed legal aid from private law cases and created a situation where mothers are encouraged to make allegations of violence against fathers to secure funding
  • there is a lack of judicial continuity as court loads increase but numbers of judges stay the same, or fall.
  • There is a growing number of ‘professional McKenzie friends’ who have rushed to fill the post LAPSO gap and some of whom provide dangerous and unhelpful advice
  • The debate is often ceded to the extremes at either end; to the detriment of sensible and constructive discussion

What can we do about this?

Having a Twitter spat can be entertaining for a brief moment but its utterly futile if all it achieves is people shouting at one another across the electronic abyss.

Here are my suggestions for some solutions. This almost certainly isn’t exhaustive. Please give me some more ideas. The very first step is that we MUST be willing to TALK to each other – not shout over one another. See for example Lucy Reed’s plea on Pink Tape. 

  • early, compulsory education about relationships and what makes them healthy and good
  • early, compulsory education about the realities of parenting and the need for BOTH parents to be involved.
  • pre-martial couples counselling so people at least ask each other ‘do we want children together?’ ‘What would we do if we split up?
  • Better access to advice for litigants in person; recognition that mediation is not the cure all for situations where there is an imbalance of power.
  • More resources for the family courts so there are enough judges to hear cases quickly and maintain continuity.
  • Recognition that CAFCASS personnel, social workers and private law children lawyers are more likely to be women. What’s going on here? Why don’t men want to do these jobs? Is it because areas of work dealing with children are seen as low status?
  • better recognised and better funded pathways to assessment and help for those cases which are becoming intractable.

And perhaps most importantly, and touched on by many at the conference and afterwards. DATA. DATA. DATA. What are the actual facts? What’s happening? What’s working? how can we get this data, interpret it and apply it? This is a clear and keen concern for many; see for example the recent speech by McFarlane LJ.

The President hopes this situation will improve by growth of digital court and consequent ability to ‘mine’ digital systems for data. I hope he’s right.

Over to you Peter.

EDIT 20th March 2017 – ‘lawful’ versus ‘sensible’ actions

Sadly I have to edit this post following my Twitter conversation on 19/03/17 with Peter who appeared to be relying on what I published as ‘expert advice’ that men could simply attend a school and remove their children without consulting the child’s mother or asking her permission.

If that is how Peter is going to interpret what I said, this causes me significant unease on a number of levels:

  • I do not offer ‘advice’ over Twitter. It would be foolish and irresponsible in the extreme to do so. I don’t know your case, I haven’t read the papers, I can’t possibly understand what is going on.
  • What I do – I hope helpfully – is attempt to explain general principles of law that may or may  not apply to your situation. I also point out that you should ALWAYS take time to get particular advice tailored to your particular situation, before deciding to do or not to do something.
  • With that in mind, these are the general principles Peter needs to bear in mind and pass on to the men he ‘advises’
    • If a father has parental responsibility and there is no court order in place preventing him, then there is nothing inherently ‘unlawful’ in turning up at school and taking your child;
    • In my experience in the South West, the police are highly unlikely to act if a child is with a parent who has parental responsibility, provided no court order is breached and they are satisfied that the child is safe and well;
    • HOWEVER the police will act to prevent the commission of a crime and to maintain public order. It is therefore usually extremely foolish if you are already in a situation of conflict with your ex, to do something, such as remove a child from school without prior warning or consultation, which can only be seen as  hostile act by the other parent;
    • If you are in a high conflict situation then I am afraid the practical reality is that the parent with primary residence does have an effective ‘veto’ on your actions, unless and until this can be resolved by you a) both talking to one another and sorting it out b) going to mediation and sorting it out c) going to court and getting an order to sort it out.

PLEASE REMEMBER that just because something is technically ‘lawful’ that does not mean for one second that it is either advisable or sensible to do it. I know it is frustrating to feel that you have to dance to someone else’s tune, particularly when you know you have done nothing to merit being excluded from your child’s life. But if you go down the path, in high conflict situations, of insisting on YOUR rights being exercised in face of opposition from the other parent, I can predict with near absolute certainty that your future looks bleak, in terms of any hope for resolving your difficulties and co-parenting in harmony.

I hope this is helpful Peter.

 

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “Are the family courts biased against men?

  1. Weathagirl

    Hi there,
    Firstly I would like to say this presents some interesting questions and solutions to family court proceedings that many go through and I am pleased that you are open to debate on this. Discussion of idea’s is key to moving forward.
    I can not speak on the behalf of mothers because even though I am one, I have never been too family court in that capacity. My perceptions are drawn from my own experience as partner to an alienated father, my male friends and family members dealing with family court and also the conversations I have with the many fathers I talk to on a daily basis through my support page for them on FB and Twitter.
    The simple and short answer is yes, there is a perceived bias against fathers but i do not feel it is a bias held only by the courts, It extends far beyond that and I hope to be able to go someway to proving that to you albeit with anecdotal evidence.
    Fathers feel and this seems to be back up with the sheer amount of fathers reporting the same thing that they start in family court at a disadvantage. There seems to be a preconceived notion that mother is best, a father starts from the position of he has to prove he is good whereas a mother starts from the position of prove she is unfit. this is highlighted in cases where there are allegations of DV, child abuse etc..
    If a mother makes an allegation it is usual and just for a father to be granted supervised visits until such allegations are investigated. however if a father claims abuse against him or the children the same is not said in reverse. She will unless in extreme cases be allowed to keep the children with her whilst investigations are ongoing. This is not something that happens only in family court, let me insert anecdotal evidence here.
    In my partners case, The police were called after she had what could only be described as a tantrum over a miniscule issue, I won’t get into the details on a public forum for the sake of all involved but will be happy to discuss this in private with you. She was identified as the abusive one by the police and removed from the family home, however she was not arrested and there was no discussion about who the children would stay with in the interim. She said she was taking the children and that was that. The police officers allowed her to leave with them no questions asked. He didn’t get a say in the matter, was kept in a separate room until they were gone, treated like he was the aggressor.
    My point is a mothers allegations seem to be taken more seriously by police, family court etc.. than a fathers. This is not right or fair to not only the fathers but more importantly the children. All allegations should be treated with the same weight regardless of gender and all safeguarding techniques should be implemented equally.
    Would love to discuss this more with you, I’m aware it is only one side of the story but i hope it helps understand the preconceptions fathers have a little better.
    Lisa Chamberlain.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Dear Lisa – thank you for your thoughtful comment, which is much appreciated. This is an area that understandably provokes strong emotion and I know it is difficult for us to talk constructively about it as emotions often overwhelm.
      To that end, I confess I am a bit prickly about your last sentence; stating that I need help to ‘understand the preconceptions fathers have a little better’.

      After 46 years as a human being and 9 of those spent as a lone parent and nearly 20 as a family lawyer, I have a very clear understanding of the emotions and situations at play.

      the point I made at the conference I will repeat; for every father devastated by the denial of a relationship with his child, there is a mother who is lonely and afraid, desperate for the the father to step up and take responsibility but having no legal mechanism to ‘force him’.

      the issue of fathers who walk away is every bit as painful and difficult as the issue of the mothers who deliberately sabotage a loving father’s relationship with a child.

      But both share a common theme; the lack of emotional intelligence displayed by so many of us and the disastrous consequences that then ensue if we have children with people we can’t talk to.

      I have no doubt the situation you describe happens; I have been involved in many cases where similar situations arose. I understand. I understand how difficult this is and I fully understand just how inadequate the court system is to deal with it. that is why I will continue to urge people to consider that the real solution to this may lie elsewhere .

      Reply
      1. Craig

        Dear Sarah,
        I find this reply quite odd for a Barrister. Firstly you avoid answering any of Lisa’s points and instead direct your attention to deadbeat Dads. If course there are plenty out there but that is not what is being discussed. You state that you have managed for nine years as a lone parent and for that I commend you but your experience appears to have clouded your judgement.
        You state that ” the issue of fathers who walk away is every bit as painful and difficult as the issue of the mothers who deliberately sabotage a loving father’s relationship with a child”
        I disagree with your statement wholeheartedly. I understand the pain of abandonment however a hostile and toxic ex partner will frustrate all contact with the children and go the extreme of false allegations to destroy ones relationships or indeed their whole life. This clearly betrays the fact that you do not understand, possibly you may not wish to. Your final thought that the real solution may lie elsewhere, yet you offer some interesting suggestions for improving the situation we have at present. I’m glad you have managed to be a human being for 46 years, long may it continue.

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          You are entitled to find my replies however you wish – just as I am entitled not to pay it much mind.

          The fact that you are so dismissive of the pain caused by fathers who create children then refuse to pay for them or refuse to care for them is odd. you disagree ‘wholeheartedly’. Really? Why? That shows a lack of even willingness to engage with the pain, fear and loneliness felt by many.

          I at least am prepared to recognise that both the alienated father and the abandoned mother (and child) can feel very serious emotional pain because of the selfish narcissism of another.

          Maybe you need to look deep into your own psyche and ask yourself why you cannot.

          Reply
  2. Jerry

    You say: “The government has …. created a situation where mothers are encouraged to make allegations of violence against fathers to secure funding” Therefore the system quite predictably and therefore arguably deliberately gives mothers an advantage.

    You say: “Quite a lot of men seem to see their relationship with their children through the lens of ‘their rights’ and are unwilling or unable to focus on the child’s experience” What happens to them? As a result of their attitude, the court is less likely to enable them to have and maintain contact (and rightly so).

    You say: “Quite a lot of women seem to see their relationship with their children as essential to their own identity and become ‘over enmeshed’ with child; they over-react to imagined or perceived defects in the father’s parenting.” What happens to them? As a result of their condition/attitude, they deny contact and get away with it. Although you give some reasons why this is hard for the court to prevent, this nevertheless amounts to bias.

    Considering the above, there seems to be a fundamental principle underpinning the actions of some of the family court that if a mother expresses an inappropriate belief, it is more likely to be treated as true, whereas if a man expresses an inappropriate belief, it is more likely to be treated as false. This must amount to bias.

    What I think you are saying is that the family court is pragmatic and that there is no intentional bias. However what you say must surely imply that even if in is unintentional, there is nonetheless an effective bias in favour of mothers. This must be corrected.

    Furthermore, campaigns on behalf of women and girls promote the view that when a woman makes an allegation, it should simply be believed without necessarily relying on evidence. No men would promote such views for believing men. Although I imagine that you would not support such campaigns, very surprisingly, the government appears increasingly to support them.

    Such trends can only serve to increase the bias and the perception of bias against men.

    My conclusion is that there is the implication here that women deserve certain advantages over men.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Thank you also for your thoughtful comment.

      I will say at the outset that this campaign for ‘I believe’ is something I absolutely abhor and will continue to condemn in the strongest terms. It is disgraceful assault upon common sense and the rule of law. You do not ‘believe’ allegations if you are a lawyer or a police officer. What you say is ‘I am listening. I take you seriously. We will get to the bottom of this. We will investigate’.

      Any statement of ‘belief’ at the outset of an investigation, corrupts that investigation. It wastes time and money and it risks perpetrators getting away with it.

      ‘Belief’ and support can come from friends and counsellors. Never lawyers or police. Completely inappropriate on every level.

      With regard to your other point, you say
      Considering the above, there seems to be a fundamental principle underpinning the actions of some of the family court that if a mother expresses an inappropriate belief, it is more likely to be treated as true, whereas if a man expresses an inappropriate belief, it is more likely to be treated as false. This must amount to bias.

      What I think you are saying is that the family court is pragmatic and that there is no intentional bias. However what you say must surely imply that even if in is unintentional, there is nonetheless an effective bias in favour of mothers. This must be corrected.

      I agree with you. Where we may disagree is how this inherent bias ‘must’ be corrected. It is clear that mothers obtain certain advantages in battles over children because they are overwhelmingly likely to have been that child’s primary carer – in the case of very young children, that claim is magnified by the biological reality of breast feeding. Thus, when a battle comes to court one parent feels ‘established’ in a way the other parent may not. This reality has to be recognised in the orders a court makes; it would be wholly wrong for e.g. to expect a breast fed baby to spend one week with mother and one with father. the courts are also expressing reluctance to make or enforce orders for overnight stays for pre-school children who are less able to talk about what worries them or what they don’t like.

      We do need to recognise this as an inherent reality; I am not sure ‘bias’ is always the right word.

      How should it be corrected? I don’t think the courts could or should carry the sole weight of this task. It is my clear belief, after many years as a woman and parent, that our society does not value activities around child care. They are seen as low status and boring. Many men don’t want to get involved. If men wish to correct this ‘inherent bias’ around mothers as ‘gatekeepers’ of infants, then we need quite a significant cultural shift towards recognising men as parents and encouraging them to roll up their sleeves and get on with it.

      I am frequently told by men for e.g. that ‘I don’t do nappies’ – they express revulsion and horror at the idea of poo! for goodness sake. Hopefully these men are a dying breed but I think the very fact it is culturally acceptable for a child’s father to say he will not willingly meet one of the most basic needs of his child is a strong indicator that we have a problem here.

      Reply
      1. Jerry

        When you say:” ‘Belief’ and support can come from friends and counsellors. Never lawyers or police. Completely inappropriate on every level. ” Isn’t this what happens every time a judge believes allegations of violence from a mother and makes a non-mol order or fails to enforce a “contact” order without any investigation? This is especially important when contact is stopped while findings – often not even relevant to contact are initiated. Surely the default should be “normal” and ongoing contact, whatever that may be as determined by the court?

        You feel mothers obtain certain advantages in battles over children because they are overwhelmingly likely to have been that child’s primary carer. Is that not bias? If anything, the court should surely compensate for that? The breast-feeding discussion is valid of course, but what about for children beyond breast-feeding age?

        I’d agree when you say you’re “not sure that bias is always the right word”! 🙂

        Your remaining more general points about our culture and men’s general willingness to get stuck in and do nappies, etc rings true of course, although I am talking about those who want to – and I accept that separation can push people into wanting things they never used to want! There is research however, which shows that as the French say, “L’appétit vient en mangeant”, in other words that the desire to care for a small child depends on and grows out of the bonding process between each parent and the child. Nature’s way, unsurprisingly. So the court should promote instead of hinder the establishment of this bond for both, and maintain it when it is already there. It is such a valuable natural force and society in many ways deters family-friendly forces. As an illustration of the bond, my own now-ex-wife was not very baby-friendly before having children and neither was I. We both changed dramatically throughout the pregnancy, the NCTs, etc and of course after our first child was born. So yes, we are held back by cultural habits, but if the prevailing ideology is one of equality, then all we need is more early involvement for many of us to adapt. The law too should be seen to strive to implement what the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus believes – namely that a child should as much as possible have an engaged (and safe) relationship with both parents.

        You are right that it’s culturally acceptable for a dad to decline to “mess with nappies”, etc. That is something we want to move on from, but the fact that it is culturally acceptable for a judge to banish a parent (if it’s a dad) to indirect contact in order to try to assuage mum’s rage and/or thirst to punish, is probably worse when we consider the long term development of the children and their own future relationships. We must all evolve…

        So I feel that we are agreeing that outcomes are biased and that outcomes are determined by the family law system and of course by the parents’ behaviours. Whilst the blame cannot lie with any one part of the system, is it not true that the system has been given the responsibility for taking action which will improve those outcomes? In which case, what structural changes are needed so that outcomes in the difficult cases improve and improve fairly?

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          When you say:” ‘Belief’ and support can come from friends and counsellors. Never lawyers or police. Completely inappropriate on every level. ” Isn’t this what happens every time a judge believes allegations of violence from a mother and makes a non-mol order or fails to enforce a “contact” order without any investigation? This is especially important when contact is stopped while findings – often not even relevant to contact are initiated. Surely the default should be “normal” and ongoing contact, whatever that may be as determined by the court? I think this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the court process. A judge does not ‘believe’ – a judge makes findings of fact on the balance of probabilities. To find FACTS the Judge must have evidence. Yes, that evidence could be just the words of the parties, but for serious allegations I would expect to see some supporting evidence. For e.g. if someone alleges they were punched in the face, corroborating evidence is photographs of injuries, trips to doctors. etc.

          I understand and share your frustration that certain allegations, such as sexual abuse, just stop contact stone dead while investigations are carried out. But what would you have the court do? They can’t possibly condone a situation where a child may be put in harms way. of course, being denied contact with a blameless parent is a moral and legal wrong; but so too is a child abused by an adult. The court has to err on the side of caution in many cases.

          I agree that our natural inclinations can differ and change over time and we should all be given help and support to develop. I was not a ‘natural’ mother and I didn’t find babies particularly engaging. But I hope I am a ‘good enough’ parent now.

          I disagree with this bit the system has been given the responsibility for taking action which will improve those outcomes? In which case, what structural changes are needed so that outcomes in the difficult cases improve and improve fairly? because that suggests a degree of deliberation and planning which I do not think ever existed. The court system has ended up, by default, because there is no other option, attempting to help warring parents ‘see sense’ and do right by their children. As I mentioned at the talk on Saturday, the court is simply not the arena to make upset, angry, unreasonable people be happy, calm and reasonable!

          Which is why I will continue to assert that the true ‘answer’ here is to empower our children to love and nurture themselves, maintain their self esteem and only enter into relationships for the right reasons; not out of fear, or loneliness or apathy. But because they make a choice and they find someone they can truly communicate with and therefore have the best chance of parenting well together.

          But alongside this must come cultural shifts about how men and women are viewed. And we all have some responsibility for that.

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            QUOTE: I understand and share your frustration that certain allegations, such as sexual abuse, just stop contact stone dead while investigations are carried out. But what would you have the court do? They can’t possibly condone a situation where a child may be put in harms way. of course, being denied contact with a blameless parent is a moral and legal wrong; but so too is a child abused by an adult. The court has to err on the side of caution in many cases :UNQUOTE

            I think the Court should follow the law and due procedure meticulously. I may be wrong but I think the law is that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore contact should never be cut stone dead until he has been found culpable ( by whichever standard of proof we want).
            Social Services procedures that all allegations and concerns must be subjected to thorough, impartial enquiries to discover whether they have any credibility before a man’s freedoms are interfered with. So a court would be wrong, in my opinion to interfere at least until there has been a Police Investigation. If a man isn’t even charged.
            Whenever any lawyer has any doubt about what to do all citizens ask is that you follow simple principles like that. A family Court should not decisions on the basis of their concerns that a man might be a pervert ‘just in case’ a child might be at risk.
            Or the CS could pick on the children of any citizen they like including any of us. Or will someone tell me that isn’t the law?

            No matter how intelligent, happy and reasonable we may think we are when we go in to the Family Court setting , we may come out angry, upset and unreasonable .I agree with that completely. Sarah, Are you delaying everyone’s comments or just mine?

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Something very odd is now happening with the spam filter on this site, which I lack the expertise to fix. I note for example that while MY comments are blocked, comments by various witch doctors go straight through and I have to find them and manually delete!

            So, I am afraid, unless you are some kind of witch doctor attempting to scam credulous idiots out of money, you will find you have to wait for me to release your comment from the holding pen.

  3. Tracey

    Dear Sarah,

    I have been following this subject for many years and have experienced Family Court from 2003 to 2008.

    As a mother, I instructed a solicitor to apply for residency after being the primary carer (and I am keen to define primary carer) for my children for 9 and 12 years. These were the ages of my children when court hearing commenced.

    The father of my children had taken exception to me instructing solicitors and commencing proceedings. However for those years, he had no problems with me as mother to our children. What commenced was an attack on me aso their mother and the threat of *you will never see your children again*

    He persisted in attacking me in court and used with CAFCASS, my mother’s difficulties whom suffered with SZ and had lost custody of me as a child to my father and stepmother. This was in 1976.

    In 2008 I took a step back as I saw what the war was doing to my children. They were scared & had become so immersed in fear of what both their parents were doing to each other. I remembered how hurt I was when my own parents slung allegations at each other and I was 9. The last time I saw my children was in 2006 at CAFCASS where my ex husband tore into me in front of the children and scared me senseless that I broke down. He had left me with debts, and had moved in with his girlfriend. He worked away and his parents were involved with the care of our children and he refused to inform the court of where they were living and indirect contact was allowed via his parents.

    I have not seen my children since that meeting in 2006. This has been at a huge personal cost to me. However, I had to form a life for myself and after falling apart for many years, it took me seven years to begin to build myself up.

    That said, a decade down the line, I hear of bias against fathers. And what I see is Father’s rights groups attacking Mothers in a battle of wills. Courts are impartial environments and when I was submerged in them, I wanted the Judge and CAFCASS to feel my pain. But they can’t and it is my belief there is no reason to. I work with women in the CJS whom often have Local Authority involvement in the care of their children and that in itself is traumatic for Mothers.

    I have studied Parental Alienation for many years. It does exist and has done for decades. I was alienated from my mother as a child. And when I found my mother she was living on the streets, a broken and poorly woman. Together we rebuilt our life together. But she was my mother and I loved her as the grown woman I became just as I did when I was a child.

    But, I see today, a different arena with Family Law. I see allegations of abuse made by one parent against another. And I see mums and dads ‘fighting’ the system and each other to prove they are the better parent. Is that down to Family Law? I don’t think it is. I see more parents fighting for their rights as opposed to understanding a child has the right to healthy & balanced relationships with both their parents. My children were older and I was prepared my children were able to choose their own time to spend with me or Dad, unfortunately, I was not listened to. My ex husband told me he was going to destroy me and he did. I was weak, broken and became the unfit mother he made me out to be. He had family, to support him. I didn’t.

    I see a lot of bias against mothers in society in general. More out of court than in. I see it in poorly written SW reports, media representation and in the CJS. We are horrified as a society to hear a baby is born in prison. For some babies, this may well be a better environment than a life born into a damaged and broken home in the community. Do I feel Family Courts are biased against fathers? No. Do I feel biased against as a mother? Yes. But not by the courts, by a society that holds mothers to account in general.

    To touch back on the term *Primary Carer* Primary Carer to me means that parent is the one who arranges day-to-day arrangements of the child/children. It doesn’t mean it’s the stay at home parent. This is more apparent in a household where both parents work. For a lone parent, there can be no question in whom is the primary carer. They are. The father of my children worked away five days per week and I worked full-time. I arranged childcare, school runs, packed lunches, etc. Primary carer is not a designated role, it’s a natural role that emerges.

    Thank you, Sarah for a thoughtful and balanced blog.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      And thank you too, for a thoughtful comment. To be able to face, with clear eyes, the pain we have suffered in our lives, to recognise its place but not let it destroy us or overwhelm us, is a great gift.

      Reply
  4. Sam

    “What commenced was an attack on me also their mother and the threat of *you will never see your children again* ” This sadly is my experience as well, despite telling both a senior SW Manager and a police DI that this is what was always threatened. Thank you Tracey for a very thoughtful comment, yes wider society is at fault, and forcing children away from their primary carer is clearly wrong.
    From my experience, professionals really do not understand the manipulation and acting ability of the controlling partner whether male or female. The controller simply does not have the welfare of the children at heart but rather are very immature individuals who must win at all costs.

    Reply
  5. Angelo Granda

    I believe it should be laid down in law,( to save any arguments), that mothers always should have care of any children in preference to a father UNLESS some sort of malicious behaviour or criminal child neglect can be proven against mother.
    This would have two immediate consequences:
    a) the child stays with mother and ,in the case of younger children, especially, this is good because it is a fact of life because they have a much stronger emotional bond and ,of course, a natural physical attachment with Mum who has given birth to the child. If this was law, it would deter men from abandoning a mum and then thinking he can take the children too. I believe, that in most situations a baby or young child will naturally want to be next to Mum.
    b) This would cut down on argument and false allegations in court because it would not get anyone anywhere. In fact ,people would be wasting their time going to court. If disagreements continued then they can be addressed by a divorce court which should make its decisions on facts alone.

    My main concern about bias against men is that there is a lack of males employed by the system. Female SW’s and lawyers are often overawed by men and their attitudes leading to wrong impressions that they are controlling, aggressive etc. Yet were the same man dealt with by a male, he would not be thought so at all.
    There should be a recruitment drive aimed at attracting more males into the CP professions.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree that the family justice system is far too feminised – but while men continue to refuse to work in it, what can we do?

      I also agree that women are more likely to perceive male energy as ‘aggression’ BUT equally a lot of men know this, and trade on it. They use the potential of their superior physical strength to intimdidate.
      But even more worrying are those men who are just not willing to accept that the way they behave makes a lot of women and children afraid of them.

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  6. Angelo Granda

    I absolutely agree with all three points you make ,Sarah. The men should reform their behaviour . They are human beings and once violence and verbal threat and coercion become habitual, the family is on the road to ruin.
    The answer is for the mum or (whoever is the victim) to report it to family elders at the very first sign of aggression and to the Police at the very first physical assault. ( I wonder if many women are prone to let it go at first in the false hope that he will change, perhaps Sam could comment).
    As I said the man is a human being and may get aggressive by human nature. It is only when it becomes habitual behaviour that it becomes serious criminal behaviour. He needs to be reformed .
    Just for the sake of discussion. Who do readers think does the most harm to a family? The Policeman who fails to do his job, charge the offender and bring him before a court which will reform him or the man himself?
    Human -beings do err and offend etc. but they are entitled to mercy and must be made to reform.
    In my opinion, more actual serious harm is done to mothers and children by the authorities ( including the CS).

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  7. Angelo Granda

    It is possible in the majority of cases if strong action is taken and effective strategies employed by the authorities. However, I must agree with Helen that with some individuals it is not possible. I suggest that the majority of men will fall into the former category especially after a couple of years in reform school, borstal or prison ( treatment to include a bit of hard work) . There may be statistics somewhere to prove I am wrong ; if so I apologise but I am not a professional reader of statistics. Those that offend again should be locked up for five years to contemplate matters further.

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  8. Paul Apreda

    Dear Sarah – you are a remarkable lady and I want to thank you for your contribution to the FNF conference. I hope you were pleased to see so many men who would ‘cut off their rights arms’ to be allowed to have a more active and involved role with their children – ‘poo’ and all!
    You make ood points about the lack of men in Family justice and related fields. Perhaps then you will support calls for a programme to recruit more men into those fields – similar to the excellent and well funded campaigns to recruit women into STEM subjects? We are drawing together a series of research threads that are seeking to test the proposition that the Family Justice system has a gender bias. I think its important that we look at a system wide analysis rather than focus on the idea of whether any individual element in isolation eg District Judges – exhibits bias. I think we should brng an outcome focus – rather like the excellent work that has been undertaken about gender issues where women are under-represented (as I’ve outlined above).
    I am interested in your experiences and assertions of the way in which men are dis-interested in hands on parenting effectively leaving the difficult jobs to women. That must contrast with your professional experience where you’ll see that men constitute the overwhelming majority of applicants for CAOs – particularly for some form of cntact rather than to be the ‘primary carer’. On that point I didnt see a response from you on Twitter to my comment that if children need a primary carer – why wouldnt having TWO of them be better at improving outcomes for those children.
    This is a very useful debate and I’m most grateful for your engagement with us in moving the issues forward. Inevitably there will be men who are angry and perhaps justifiably so in terms of their experience of the way they have been treated. Lets try to move beyond that rather than to focus on picking the most extreme or forceful comments to illustrate the poverty of the other side of the argument. I dont really see the merit for examle of responding to this comment posted earlier in the thread:

    ‘I believe it should be laid down in law,( to save any arguments), that mothers always should have care of any children in preference to a father UNLESS some sort of malicious behaviour or criminal child neglect can be proven against mother.’

    I’m sure that you would agree – children are not possessions and if we are simply seeking to repace the ‘natural guardianship’ of fathers that was removed in the 1989 Act with the ‘natural guardianship of mothers’ as I suspect is implicit in much of the thinking at present – that does rather miss the central importance of the ‘best interests of the child’.

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    1. helensparkles

      I didn’t see the merit of responding to this either.

      ‘I believe it should be laid down in law,( to save any arguments), that mothers always should have care of any children in preference to a father UNLESS some sort of malicious behaviour or criminal child neglect can be proven against mother.’

      Reply
    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      thanks Paul for your constructive and helpful comment. With regard to your Twitter comment that I didn’t answer – sorry I suspect it got lost in the deluge. I have certainly never before had anything like that level of response for any other issue I’ve engaged with on social media, proof that passions run very high indeed.

      With regard to children having two primary carers and that being ‘better’ – yes of course. How could it ever be detrimental for a child to have as many adults as possible around him or her, who love that child and want to promote his/her welfare?

      But when two parents separate, unless they are lucky enough (and rich) enough to both afford to live close to each other and the child’s school then I do think there are some very serious logistical difficulties that get in the way of ‘both’ parents playing the role of primary carer. I think there is a RISK (not an inevitability of course) that such children end up being shunted between two separate households and that is not generally to the benefit of the child.

      What is needed is considerably more emotional intelligence around separation than I think many can demonstrate and I would be interested to find out more about WHY this is so, and what we can do to help.

      I would be interested to assist in any way I can with furthering the debate that is so sorely needed. Thanks again for the opportunity. It is always heartening to see so many men so seriously committed to the welfare of their children, as I do have some heartbreaking examples of what happens when this isn’t so.

      Reply
      1. jai patch

        “But when two parents separate, unless they are lucky enough (and rich) enough to both afford to live close to each other and the child’s school then I do think there are some very serious logistical difficulties that get in the way of ‘both’ parents playing the role of primary carer. I think there is a RISK (not an inevitability of course) that such children end up being shunted between two separate households and that is not generally to the benefit of the child.

        What is needed is considerably more emotional intelligence around separation than I think many can demonstrate and I would be interested to find out more about WHY this is so, and what we can do to help.”

        This seems like a sensible comment, but it deflects from the true situation, which is that there is frequently a distinct bias against the father that has nothing to do with the inconvenience of geography. I have been assisting in a case where the father lived literally round the corner from the mother, her new partner and children – but was still not allowed unsupervised contact for over two years, due to an extremely dubious dv conviction. This alleged incident was presented to the criminal court as having been witnessed by the children, and when the children reported that they had seen and heard nothing, to a social worker compiling a section 7 report – that social worker chose to omit it entirely from their report, which supported the mother being resident parent and the father only having minimal supervised contact.. This has now finally been resolved, with the LA.allowed to save face with a new s/w telling the court that the father has undergone great changes, when in fact he has not changed at all. So to answer to your question,why this is so, I think it is vital to explore the gender bias, and the all-too-common agenda-driven perspectives of the social workers making recommendations to the court, that seem primarily designed to simplify their workloads.

        Reply
  9. Angelo Granda

    Dear Paul, Thanks for your comment. There is always merit in responding to comments on threads such as this when contributing to what some of us consider to be constructive discussion and your response is welcome. It is great to see your opinions. Your comments have just as much value here as anyone else’s whether you are professional or not. Especially interesting is discussion between folk with opposite opinions.
    I am not simply seeking to replace the natural guardianship of fathers with the natural guardianship of mothers. I am sorry but I hadn’t even heard of it. My suggestion was that pending a divorce court hearing which would be decided on facts , we should have a new law which means children should remain with mother unless it is known she is unfit. This would cut out a lot of family court squabbling. I have given reasons why and I suppose such a law might not be entirely fair in cases where Dad is a househusband. Please note, I am a layperson and I am putting forward suggestions. I always look forward to all disagreements. Not many men who are angry come on the CPR.

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  10. Anonymous

    I have witnessed a social worker lie about the prevalence of domestic violence in a relationship and try to encourage a perfectly happy to couple split up. She lied in her report saying that the man had been violent towards his wife and had a mental health problem when neither of these things were true. Social work in itself is a profession based on left wing ideology, and many left leaning people have a negative bias towards males.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The child protection system is too feminised, I agree with that. Most social workers and lawyers I meet are women. but there are very able and committed male practitioners.

      I don’t agree there is a ‘negative bias’ towards males but I do think the preponderance of female personnel in the system can put men at a disadvantage because women tend to react differently to what men may see as ‘just letting off steam’ for eg. That can be perceived by many women as aggressive and frightening.

      If a social worker tells a lie about a mental health problem, that is easily disproved by getting medical records to court. If it is alleged that a man is violent towards his wife but there are no police reports supporting that, or medical evidence, and the wife says it doesn’t happen – then challenge that account. Test the evidence.

      Reply
  11. Factsseeker

    As someone who has worked much of my time at the coalface in child protection over the past 30 years, I strongly challenge the core bias that a mother is the automatically better parent for children in most cases. This misguided and oversentimental idea is based on a stereotype. Just like sentimental lawyers and judges in many countries in the past have claimed the high ground in objectivity when they attributed superior intelligence to whites over blacks, superior tolerance to Christians over Muslims or the superior self-control of the English over Irish etc , Judges, prosecutors and politicians today continue to apply their biases and prejudices, albeit more subtly and cleverly, because society seems to need to stereotype people as this makes assigning blame easier in tight judgement cases. The gender stereotype might make it easier for a judge in deciding custody, but it comes at a price. Not only is there a growing men’s movement all around the world because of the treatment of fathers in family courts, but it is the children who suffer because the love, talents and parenting skills of millions of fathers is being denied to children because of the false belief that mothers make better parents. Instead, we have mothers putting their children in child care when children are less than a year old and then spending an average of only 2 hours per day with their children, much of that in front of the TV. Is this really enlightened behavior to the benefit of children ? Lastly, I am currently researching early child emotional abuse and neglect and the consequent damage to brain structure and development. This is very new area of study. It has only been made possible because we can now view brain functioning dynamically and correlate this wih behavior and development. I very much doubt you really know anything about it, because it is so new and also quite technical. I would suggest you read up as much as you can about this new area. I will just add that the research is demonstrating that adult violence and criminality is strongly linked to this brain damage and it comes ditectly from the quality of maternal care in the first two years of a child’s life. If you really have any conscience about protecting children, then put some effort into reading up about the true consequences of our modern society’s values especially the gender stereotyping.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      And if you want me to publish any more of your comments, you will row back pretty swiftly from condescension and rudeness.
      Don’t you dare lecture me on ‘effort’ and what I do or don’t do.
      And I put my child into nursery at 7 months old. Because I had to. To earn money.
      I don’t think mothers or fathers automatically are good, better, best.
      Good PARENTS are those who are not selfish. Who can put the child’s needs above their own adult desires.
      Sadly, selfishness and stupidity are common place to both men and women.

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  12. Angelo Granda

    Fact seeker, I find much of your comment very interesting and agree with much of what you say.
    I think children can come to harm by sending them to nursery too early in fact there is even a ‘theory’ that autism can be caused by it. The MMR vaccine does not cause autism, we know and accept that, but is it coincidence that an MMR JAB IS ADMINISTERED JUST BEFORE A CHILD STARTS NURSERY?
    A further comment, years ago not many children went to nursery in fact they were private ones patronised by the nobility and wealthy business people . Women weren’t forced to go out to work to earn money. Expectations were less and a family just had to manage on Dad’s pay packet ( and family allowance).

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You are talking about a tiny slice of history Angelo. For the most part, women have HAD to work or their children starved. We have now come full circle when the only way to afford decent quality of housing is for both parents to work.

      If men are so anxious about the impact of mothers working on children, then they will agree to support mothers to be housewives and in the event of relationship breakdown, pay maintenance and pension contributions for these women who sacrificed their earning capacity to bring up children, without the degree of bitching and moaning about it I often see.

      Reply
  13. Pingback: Sarah Phillimore: are family courts biased?

  14. looked_after_child

    Dear Factsseeker

    I’m very interested in this :-

    ” This is very new area of study. It has only been made possible because we can now view brain functioning dynamically and correlate this wih behavior and development. I very much doubt you really know anything about it, because it is so new and also quite technical. I would suggest you read up as much as you can about this new area.”

    Please can you provide references to peer reviewed research or sim. in the new area of study referred to. It would be very helpful if the information provided differentiates between this new area of study and that of Attachment and neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism or FASD

    Many thanks

    Reply
    1. Factsseeker

      Dear looked _after_child

      Forgive the delay. Glad you are interested. It will take a few days for me to find the core research papers that I have been working on, which will serve as an index into the new brain research being done iro early childhood adversity and its impact on brain development. Recent pediatric brain research does support Bowby’s and subsequent researcher findings about the nature and consequences of insecure attachment. FASD, of course, has a different cause of child brain damage. FAS and especially FASD, are still very worrying because many pediatricians believe alcohol and pregnancy is more damaging to the fetal brain than is at presently admitted by CP authorities. My area of interest is Child emotional abuse and neglect which is most damaging during certain critical periods of infant development. It is now becoming apparent that child emotional abuse or neglect, is just as serious and perhaps even more serious than all the other types of abuse. Anyway, give me a few days and I’ll provide you with some references.

      Reply

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