Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Staying contact remains a dream for many

Digest these figures, and question what we're told and led to believe.

Parents are likelier to be happier if agreements are reached outside of court

According to the Government's own statistics, the non-resident parent is almost three times more likely to have no face to face contact unless matters progress to a court order. Without a final order, it seems the chances for face-to-face contact drop significantly, and the prospects for staying contact are considerably less. [1]

The Rise and Rise of Shared Residence?

Should the courts be proud at their effectiveness. At the better end, yes, but the wide ambit of judicial discretion means that outcomes in court vary dramatically, and in some courts the outcomes differ appallingly.

In one court, you are statistically 2.6 times less likely to be awarded staying contact than in another. Can children and parents bond properly if there isn't overnight staying contact? It seems a large percentage of our courts remain ignorant of child welfare research...
Even very young children can benefit from overnight stays with their other parent. Kelly J B & Lamb M E (2000) Using child development research to make appropriate custody. and access decisions for young children, Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 39, 297-311
Based on the experiences of 30,000 children, the research found that 'a child's performance at secondary school, self-esteem and well being as an adult is linked especially to the father's input' and 'children are 40% more likely to suffer mental health problems when separated from their fathers' and 'on average, children are less likely to fail at school or suffer depression the more they see their separated father.' A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age’. Richard Layard and Judy Dunn.  The Children’s Society (2009)  
The Government now 'gets it'... but any reform is doomed to failure unless the judiciary offer consistent decision making. Without much more detailed guidance and statute, that remains unlikely.

Dame Butler-Sloss complained that 60% of children lose contact with a father after 2 years of parental separation.[2] Perhaps the above statistics help explain why. Not much has changed since 2003, and certainly not enough has changed in the courts. Added to this, it appears not enough cases get to a final hearing, and for those which do, their outcomes are based too much on inconsistent opinion rather than welfare based guidance.

We want shared parenting? For too many children, alternate weekends with a parent remains a dream.

  1. Tables are taken from 'Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce.' Joan Hunt and Alison Macleod. Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy. Department of Social Policy and Social Work University of Oxford. Family Law and Justice Division. September 2008
  2. “The Paul Sieghart Memorial Lecture”. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss [3 April 2003]