Monday, 19 November 2007

Judges don't bother to check experts' qualifications

Thanks to Robert Whiston for drawing attention to this article which, amongst other things, bolsters our argument that CAFCASS officers are not sufficiently qualified.

“A study by senior barrister Penny Cooper of City University in London, has shown that the majority of lawyers and judges do not bother to check the qualifications of experts they approach to bolster an aspect of their case.

She also found a substantial number of the expert witnesses had undergone no training to understand their legal duty.”

- “The expert as judge and jury”, By Lois Rogers, The Sunday Times (Britain), 18 Nover 2007

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

False Accusations can lead to PAS

False Domestic Violence Accusations Can Lead To Parental Alienation Syndrome, says David Heleniak

David Heleniak is a civil litigation attorney in New Jersey and Senior Legal Analyst for the True Equality Network.

False domestic violence (DV) restraining orders can lead to Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), a pattern of thoughts and behavior that can develop in a child of separated parents where the custodial parent causes the child to unjustifiably fear and/or hate the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a pattern of thoughts and behavior that can develop in a child of separated parents where the custodial parent causes the child, through manipulation and access blocking, to unjustifiably fear and/or hate the other parent. PAS is more than brainwashing, in that the child comes to actively participate in the degradation of the target parent, coming up with original (often ludicrous) reasons to fear/hate him or her.

Domestic violence (DV) restraining orders are a perfect weapon for an alienating parent. Typically, in addition to removing an accused abuser from the marital home, a DV restraining order also "temporarily" bars the accused abuser from seeing his or her children, and "temporarily" gives the accusing parent exclusive physical custody. And temporary, in the Family Court, has a funny way of becoming permanent.

Obtaining a restraining order based on a false allegation of domestic violence gets the target parent out of the house and out of the picture. A father who can't see his kids, for example, is unable to rebut the lie "Daddy doesn't love you anymore. That's why he left you." Nor can he rebut the alternate lie, "Daddy is dangerous. The wise judge said so. That's why he can't see you."

Often, if an accused abuser is allowed to see his or her children, it is in a supervised visitation center. As Stan Rains observed in "Supervised Visitation Center Dracula," "The demeaning of the 'visiting' parent is readily visible from the minute that a person enters the 'secured facility' with armed guards, officious case workers with their clipboards and arrogant, domineering managers.... The child's impression is that all of these authority figures see Daddy as a serious and dangerous threat. The only time a child sees this type of security is on TV showing prisons filled with bad people." Not only does visitation in a visitation center send the clear message to the child that the "visiting" parent is a bad person, if children decline to see their parents under such a setting, they are generally not forced to do so. More perversely, if a child is encouraged by the custodial parent to refuse to see the target parent, there will be no significant repercussion to the targeting parent, and, generally, the child will not be forced to see the target parent.

The more time a child spends away from the alienated parent, the worse the alienation will become.
As psychologist Glenn F. Cartwright remarked in his article "Expanding the Parameters of Parental Alienation Syndrome," "the old adage that time heals all wounds, such is not the case with PAS, where the passage of time worsens rather than heals the affliction.
This is not to say that time is unimportant: on the contrary, time remains a vital variable for all the players. To heal the relationship, the child requires quality time with the lost parent to continue and repair the meaningful association that may have existed since birth. This continued communication also serves as a reality check for the child to counter the effects of ongoing alienation at home.
Likewise, the lost parent needs time with the child to ensure that contact is not completely lost and to prevent the alienation from completely destroying what may be left of a normal, loving relationship.... The alienating parent, on the other hand, requires time to complete the brainwashing of the child without interference.
The manipulation of time becomes the prime weapon in the hands of the alienator who uses it to structure, occupy, and usurp the child's time to prevent 'contaminating' contact with the lost parent, depriving both of their right to spend time together and furthering the goal of total alienation.
Unlike cases of child abuse where time away from the abuser sometimes helps in repairing a damaged relationship, in PAS time away from the lost parent furthers the goal of alienation. The usual healing properties of time are lost when it is used as the primary weapon to inflict injury on the lost parent by alienating the child."
Along these lines, Dr. Richard A. Gardner, who coined the term "Parental Alienation Syndrome" in 1985, maintained: "If there is to be any hope of their reestablishing a relationship with the targeted parent, PAS children must spend significant time with him (her). They must have living experiences that will demonstrate that the PAS parent is not noxious and/or dangerous."

A parent willing to falsely accuse the other parent of domestic violence would probably be willing to poison a child against him or her. Add to this the problem that a judge willing to "err on the side of caution" by entering a DV restraining order based on a dubious false allegation would probably not be willing to do what was necessary to prevent the development of PAS.

PAS is heart-wrenching and, tragically, common. If the DV restraining order system could be reformed so that only real victims obtained restraining orders and only real abusers were thrown out their houses, I predict that the number of PAS cases would be greatly reduced. Let's try to get there.
Thanks to Lisa Cohen of JUMP for drawing EPC's attention to the above article

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Geldof on our appalling Family Justice System

This video is a few years old, but a must see!

The Real Love that Dare Not Speak its Name!

When Bob Geldof went to the Royal Courts of so-called Justice he was advised by a well-meaning court clerk not to mention to the judge that he loved his children!

The clerk explained that courts regarded such fathers as extreme!

Click here to watch the video.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Why target Judges?

From: Robert Whiston
Sent: 26 August 2007 01:49

Dear Mr. Foster,


An interesting article.

It is time the Press stood up on it hind legs and made an issue out of the
benign censorship and manipulation it has had to endure for decades by the
authorities, AKA the institutions.

It is curious how the authorities have no compunction in 'naming and
shamming' those they deem to have sinned or fallen short in the eyes of
society yet a double standard exists when those very same paid servants of
society themselves sin or fall short in the expectation of the public.

If you could but for a moment imagine that it is not judges being "targeted
by angry dads" but aggrieved parents which have not been well served by the
justice system then all would fall into place for you.

If you have any doubts about the failure of the courts system simply follow
what is happening with adoption cases this very week. Contact John Hemmings
MP for what he sees as their shortcomings.
When you are convinced then project that onto divorce cases where custody
hearings are also made in secret courts.

Yours truly,

Robert Whiston FRSA


There’s a natural tendency amongst the public to believe that judges are always right. Had I not had direct experience to the contrary in the family courts – and extensive experience at that – I would probably share that propensity.

The most effective campaigning I think we ever did was when we protested outside judges houses. It’s a pity that those demonstrations died out.

Since they stopped, the judges have lapsed back to simply sidelining nonresident parents and they have relaxed their judicial pressure on the government for the systemic reforms which are badly needed to ensure children get to keep both parents in their lives.


Friday, 10 August 2007

Judge Made Laws are Flawed

This successful appeal by the husband (see press report below) follows an absolutely crazy, incompetent and palpably biased decision by a family court judge.

Even so, the appeal court judges still find it necessary to make "a modest award" even though there were not the slightest legal grounds for ANY award.

It will be interesting to read their judgment. No doubt, as usual, they'll make up the law as they go along. Why even bother with a Parliament really!?

Man wins 30-year-old divorce payout appeal

A wealthy retired builder has won his appeal over a court ruling that he must pay more money to the woman he divorced nearly 30 years ago.

Dennis North, 70, was ordered last year to pay his first wife, Jean £202,000 by a family judge who heard she had "fallen on hard times" after embarking on a lifestyle she could not afford.

Lord Justice Thorpe, giving his ruling in the Court of Appeal today, said: "The prodigal former wife cannot hope to turn to a former husband in pursuit of a legal remedy, whatever may be her hope that he might, out of charity, come to her rescue."

But he, together with Lord Justice May and Mr Justice Bennett, agreed that Mrs North, 62, may have entitlement to a "modest award" which they will assess by the end of next week.

The couple, who married in 1964, divorced in 1978 - a year after he found out she was having an affair with the man she later went to live with.
In 1981 he made a financial settlement with Mrs North buying her a house and investments.

Over the years, he increased her assets so that she would have been able to live comfortably for the rest of her life.
But in 1999, she sold up and moved to Australia where she saw her capital dwindle because of bad investments and what the court was told was a lifestyle beyond her means.

A district judge awarded her a lump sum of £202,000 in April last year after agreeing that Mrs North's money troubles had nothing to do with her former husband and he had no further responsibility towards her.
Since his divorce from his first wife, Mr North has prospered and his wealth is now estimated at between £5 million and £11 million, the court was told.
Mr North, who still lives in the former matrimonial home outside Sheffield, was left to bring up the three children of the marriage and has two children by his second wife.

He asked the Court of Appeal to quash the award.

Lord Justice Thorpe said today that that approach was "fundamentally flawed" and the appeal should be allowed.

He said any settlement must be fair to both parties and it did not follow that Mr North was responsible financially for any of Mrs North's needs.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Fathers to get more child access under Tory reforms

CSA accused of rewarding mums who deny chld access to fathers

Fathers are to get more child access under Tory reforms

The Child Support Agency was last night accused of rewarding mothers who deny former partners access to their children.

Tory family welfare spokesman Andrew Selous is planning reforms to give fathers fairer settlements.

Mr Selous wants to end a rule that cuts mothers' maintenance if they let children stay with their fathers for more than a set number of nights.

It is cut by a seventh for between 52 and 103 nights a year, two sevenths for between 104 and 155 nights, three sevenths for 156 nights and by half for anything over that.

Around 40,000 estranged fathers care for their children at least 104 nights a year.

Mr Selous warned: "When a mother sees it's getting to 90 nights, she might say, 'Sorry, the children can't stay'."

He said the decision to replace the CSA with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission was ' rebranding and a massive missed opportunity'.

Mr Selous wants the commission to have a duty to help parents find a civilised arrangement over access.

The Work and Pensions Department said: "Access is a matter for the courts. Parents have the first responsibility to provide for children."

Info source:

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Cyriax warns about TV programme maker

Oliver Cyriax writes on the subject of Karen Hamilton Productions:

If this is the programme which recently contacted me (where the contact was also Karen - the mobile is 07980 863 769) it is best avoided.

The lead researcher for this documentary ('Karen') was at pains to inform me:

(i) that she already knew everything

(ii) that, in consequence, there was nothing more she needed to find out

Basic conversation confirmed that she was unaware of :

- the basic intellectual principles in this sector
- the common components of contact cases
- the law as it actually is
- the law as it is believed to be
- the difference between the two
- why this might matter
- recent developments in thought
- the role of Government and Whitehall
- the significance (or otherwise) of the Contact and Adoption Act
- the history of the various institutions
- the deficit of these various institutions
- the way this affects contact applications
- recent endeavours at reform

Karen did not know either what was wrong; or how it could be put right.

She made it plain that she was not interested in finding out. I have not had such a dispiriting conversation since dealing with the Home Office in the mid-1990s. I imagine that anyone who does, approaches the programme at their peril.

Please feel free to copy this out.



From: "Lara" <>> >>

Dear George,>>>> Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I have been out of the >> office>> for a few days and only now got the chance to catch up with all my emails.>> I am sorry to hear that you have had bad experiences in the past and hope>> that the following goes some way to reassuring you about the aims of our>> project.>>>>

Karen Hamilton Productions has won awards and helped to shape government>> policy with past programmes and this series, about the family justice system, will hopefully go some way to making things better for parents and>> children.

These programmes are serious docs and we have no interest in>> making one party look bad as this would be counterproductive to looking at>> where the problems in the system lie.

I have been working on this for over >> 2>> years and my huge concern is that these disagreements about children are>> linked to the hurt that both parents are feeling. It is these grey areas>> that we hope to elucidate as children need both parents- how can the >> family>> courts best serve families in the long term. As the child of separating>> parents I know myself how important this is.>>>> We also have a number of safeguards built in for the families that>> participate of the programmes, including that parents and children can >> drop>> out at any time up to transmission and we cannot broadcast their footage.>> The families will also get to see the programmes before they go out and >> are>> still able to drop out at this point.>>>>

I hope this answers your questions George and that you will be able to put>> something up on your website about us. It is only through talking to >> parents>> about their experiences that we are able to make well rounded and>> informative programmes and your help is much appreciated,>>>> Feel free to give me a call if you would like to chat further,>> Best wishes>>>>>>>> Lara Leslie>>>> Karen Hamilton Productions>>>> Tel: 020 7503 1640

Monday, 8 January 2007

More discrimination against nonresident parents

Times Online January 05, 2007

Court order effect on child support,,30589-2533023,00.html

Court of Appeal
Published January 5, 2007
In re B (a Child) (Child support: Reduction of contact)

The court was not obliged to have regard to the amount of child support one parent would have to pay the other when changing any access arrangements.

The Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Mummery and Lord Justice Wilson) so held in a reserved judgment on November 23, 2006, dismissing the father's appeal against the decision of Mr Recorder Maxwell, QC, in Chesterfield County Court on March 17, 2006, varying the court order relating to the father's contact with his daughter, by reducing the number of nights she was to stay with him from 105 a year to 93. That meant his liability to pay child support to the mother, previously assessed at £53.85 a week, was now assessed at £97.26 a week by the Child Support Agency.

LORD JUSTICE WILSON said that the father's liability to pay was assessed under the Child Support Act 1991 prior to amendments in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000. It was unclear whether he would be subject to the new statutory regime.

It would be impracticable for a court, hearing an issue as to contact or shared residence, to discern the beneficial or detrimental effect on the child of the consequences under the 1991 Act of alternative possible orders, demanding a complex inquiry into the likely differences under one or other of the regimes in the sums payable and also into the effect of the differences in those sums on the two households and on the child within each household.

Thursday, 7 December 2006


A major three-part television series for Channel 4 is being made about separating parents who cannot agree about the care of their children, focussing on the child’s perspective as much as possible and need your help.

Karen Hamilton Productions have contacted EPC with the following message:

“We are an award-winning independent television production company with a reputation for integrity and honesty, that specialises in intelligent, sensitively handled programmes.

This is the first time television has had the opportunity to see what happens when families come in contact with the legal system in an effort to resolve their differences. We have unprecedented access including to the work that CAFCASS does with families. We realise this is a difficult time for parents and children, but would like people to share this common experience in an effort to improve the situation for themselves and also for millions of other families now and in the future.

In order to make an informative and accurate documentary series it is important we speak to parents who are having trouble agreeing about the care of their children who are thinking about or are currently attending family court proceedings in either London or South East England with children of 7 years plus. Each person has a different story and each story we listen to helps us to become better informed about what the situation is like now and the possibilities for change.

After nearly two years of background research and preparation we are now at the stage of talking to parents and would appreciate your input. Any conversation we have would be confidential and would greatly assist with the project. You can contact Lara Leslie directly on 020 7503 1640 (or email ) and we can call you back to save your phone bill. Talking to us in no way commits you to taking part in the series. Many thanks in advance for your help."

Please contact Lara direct.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Family Court Secrecy - legal position reviewed


The birth parents applied to have media attendance at the care proceedings for their fourth child as they claim that serious miscarriages had occurred with the adoption of their previous children and that reporting the issue would help to prevent further injustice. In his judgment, Munby J reviews all the key authorities covering the reporting of family proceedings and concludes that the proceedings should be opened to media representatives.

John Hemmingway MP has looked at Munby's Judgment and analysed what he thinks it means.

John Hemmingway MP says:

"This is important as it means that people can talk publicly about the cases they were involved in - when it has finished - as long as they don't use any of the court documents or discuss what actually happened in court. That is without applying for permission.

The amended information rules from 2005
mean that you can send a copy of the judgment to any elected representative or Peer. Elected representative means an MP, AM or MEP. That does not have to be your own elected representative. Anyone with concerns about a judgment can send details to me with a copy of the judgment. Remember, however, that I cannot deal with any substantial load of casework and, therefore, are working in conjunction with affiliated campaigns on casework. It does allow some central recordkeeping as to the nature of problems, however."

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Save our dads, says Telegraph article


Lifeclass Extra: Save our dads

So many Telegraph readers are impassioned by the problem of fathers losing touch with their children after divorce that I'd like to invite readers to send their views in online, says Lesley Garner

Your view: Are we guilty of ignoring fathers' rights?

In this week's Lifeclass I highlighted, with the testimony of many of you, the inequities in the law.

The current system in the Family Courts divides parents into first and second class. One parent, usually, the mother, becomes first class, by virtue of being the resident parent. The other parent, usually the father, becomes second class, by simply being allocated visiting rights. But the second class can quickly become third class and then no class at all.

Disagreements, missed arrangements, the problem of maintaining a relationship with distressed children, prolonged court hearings and mounting costs drive a wedge between a father and his children. More and more evidence is coming in from readers that the system needs changing.

Responding to yesterday's article a father writes:

"Thank you for being one of the very first to highlight the plight of divorced fathers with such balance.

"I am one of the very few lucky ones in that, although my divorce was fairly acrimonious, my wife was always very keen that I should continue to have access on a shared basis. Until there is real momentum in the exposure of how many men ( and their children's grand parents) are marginalised by unfair procedures and the ineffectiveness and lack of balance within the family division, there will be ongoing anger.

"It takes real commitment and extraordinary effort by many men to put up with the vitriol from some women which so easily dissuades them from keeping in touch with their children. Especially when the courts do not enforce their decisions. All children are the losers."

Another father writes:

"I am a married father whose wife left me within weeks of our son being born. The last ten years have been almost unbelievable. Legal action for contact with my son continued for nine years. During this period I paid my solicitor over £100 per hour while my wife was legally aided. I also had child support payments to make to the CSA as contact with your children and liability to pay are not related issues.

"I have never been accused of any form of abuse, yet I have had no contact with my son for over a year, despite having an agreement reached through solicitors for my son to stay with me every second weekend. The courts do not enforce contact orders if the mother chooses to ignore them. This is a fact.

"After my ex-wife severed all contact with me my son went to pieces in class. I will never give up my struggle to be involved with my son despite the opposition of my wife, who is backed by the State."

What gives force to these arguments from Telegraph readers is that they are expressed by people across the board. It's not just fathers who feel disgruntled. The same message comes from wives, magistrates, grandparents and children who have lost contact with a father. Everyone wants to see a new emphasis put on the rights of children to have fathers and a new emphasis on shared parenting in the courts.

These are the views of a mother:

"I have come late to your discussion about fathers and families but was very moved by your column in the Telegraph today. Maybe you have a website where the discussion is ongoing and my comments could make a difference to other people who are going through difficult times.

"More than thirty years ago my husband left me when our son was less than six months old. My first reaction, frankly, was to go as far away as possible in order to deny him access to his son. I felt he had no right to his son. It did not take me long, however, to realise that his SON had an absolute and inalienable right to his FATHER.

"The ensuing years were not easy, to put it mildly. Both of us remarried and other children were born and I don't think matters were completely resolved until our son was married at the age of 27. But resolved they were and I have always felt that my decision was justified for my child's sake.

"However badly your husband has behaved ­ or however badly you feel he has behaved ­ your children have a right to their father and it is your duty to keep an avenue of communication open, where possible, for their sake."

This is my position on this issue. I agree with this mother. No matter the differences between parents, children need and have a right to both parents. I think there should be mandatory mediation in all cases where there is a dispute over children, before the matter goes expensively, and pointlessly, to court.

I can see, from the evidence of your experience, that there is a powerful case for the family court system to be overhauled and for the assumption of shared parenting to replace the present system of one primary and one secondary parent.

It's over to you. What do you think?

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Bill to axe troubled CSA unveiled

See EPC comment below story.

The troubled Child Support Agency is to be axed and replaced, under legislation announced in the Queen's Speech.

By July the CSA, which has been dogged with complaints throughout its 13-year history, had a backlog of 300,000 cases and debts of £3bn.

The Child Support Bill aims to replace it with a smaller body and a simpler way of collecting child maintenance.

Ministers hope it will encourage more parents to make their own arrangements, part of a more cost-effective system.

The bill ends the requirement that all lone parents with care responsibilities who claim benefits must also submit a claim to receive child maintenance, regardless of whether they already had a private arrangement.

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has said the government would seek more powers to deal with parents who repeatedly fail to pay maintenance - such as suspending passports and imposing curfews.

Criticism of the CSA has ranged from accusations of snooping and unfair settlements to its failure to collect millions of pounds in unpaid maintenance.

EPC COMMENT: Both parents should be responsible for supporting their children financially. It should not fall to the State to support the cost of raising children simply because the parents neglect their obligations.

Equally, both parents should be involved in the emotional support of their children. Where the State goes so wrong is in allowing (often encouraging) one parent (the de facto custodial parent)to exclude the other parent (sometimes totally) from their children's lives. Until Government gets this vital component right they will make no progress in installing a CSA system that works!

Story from BBC NEWS:

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Blair has killed family life, says Maureen Freely

Maureen's article appears in today's Sunday Times magazine.


Prime suspect
Lifelong Labour supporter Maureen Freely has been at the thick of family policy for a decade as an author, academic and political commentator — and as a mother of four. But she can take no more. The government, she argues, has killed family life. And all the evidence points to Tony Blair being the main culprit


Though officially committed to shared parenting after separation and divorce, and fully aware that our family court system is a disaster – exacerbating conflicts between parents, creating conflicts where none existed, and often permanently excluding one parent, generally the father, for reasons anybody who was not a judge or a family court welfare officer would call capricious – the government has changed nothing. It has commissioned a few reports and pilot projects and left it at that. Meanwhile, families continue to travel through this discredited system at the rate of 80,000 a year.

If we calculate that the average family includes two children, we can see that family courts affect the lives of a quarter of a million men, women and children annually, and often adversely.

WITNESS: Stephen Wiser

Stephen Wiser, 55, a company director from Hertfordshire, was divorced five years ago. He has four children from his marriage, whom he hasn’t seen for six years. He is a co-founder of the parent-support group Jump

“I have pictures of my children and I kiss them every morning and every night. I have been self-employed for 35 years. I feel unsupported and let down by this government because of their inability, or unwillingness, to adequately reform the family law system. Before this election this government introduced a pilot project —“the early interventions project” — to intervene with mediation and speed up the divorce process, because what happens is you can get a court date, which may take three months, then it can be adjourned for three months. So six months have gone by and children are becoming alienated from the nonresident parent.. But the project was just another ploy to buy a year of inaction and get them past the last election without too much controversy. As predicted by everyone, it was an unmitigated disaster, and wasted millions of pounds.

“I realised the government would never be forced to change or couldn’t afford to be seen to be caving in to pressure from the likes of Fathers4Justice, which is why I started a political initiative to move matters along. The result has been effectively no meaningful response from the government. Regarding family law, I’ve supplied written submissions to the constitutional affairs committee, the Department for Education and Skills, and Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). Cafcass is the organisation that acts as expert witness — to interview the children and families and report back to the courts. Listening in on the debates in parliament, you realise that Cafcass is totally underfunded, overworked, understaffed and demoralised, and still the government doesn’t come up with any money to help them do the job properly.

“This government should be more interested in improving people’s lives, not simply maintaining the status quo and attracting headlines for what they aspire, but fail, to do. The situation is so frustrating that some solicitors have banded together. They’re now called collaborative law solicitors, which means that the two sets of solicitors work to reach an agreement before it gets to court. If they fail to reach an agreement, neither of them can act for that client. So they have a vested interest in cutting away all cost, all the delay. It’s all in the child’s best interest.

“When I started this, I didn’t expect there to be any benefit or change in my personal circumstances. I’ve done this for the hundreds of thousands of other parents, and children and grandparents who don’t get a look-in in this situation. It’s a national disgrace.”

Click here to access the full article.

Friday, 6 October 2006

Basinger on trial for breaching court orders

Kim Basinger will go to trial after pleading not guilty Wednesday to disregarding court orders concerning ex-husband Alec Baldwin's visitation rights with their daughter, a court official ordered.

It is alleged that Kim Basinger ignored court orders by not letting her ex-husband know she would be out of town working so that he could take care of their 10-year-old daughter until she returned. On one occasion, Basinger also did not tell Baldwin their daughter, Ireland, was injured and required medical help, according to the court papers.

The Academy Award-winning actress faces up to 60 days in jail and a £24,000 fine if convicted of all counts. Baldwin, 48, and Basinger, 52, separated in 2000 after seven years of marriage.


Apparently the courts in LA, California take contact denial seriously. This is a far cry from the way British courts work. Our family courts would, of course, support Basinger in her campaign to exclude the father from their child's life and would villify Alec Baldwin for using the courts to try and stay a meaningful part of his daughter's life!

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Plans to make family courts open and fair

Equal Parenting Council (EPC) and other parenting organizations have been invited to a discussion tomorrow with Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP on "openness and fairness in the family courts".

Harriet Harman says she plans to set out her thinking on family law followed by a discussion on the recommendations made in the consultation paper.

EPC President, Tony Coe, said that his organization was “underwhelmed” by the proposals:

Whilst we welcome any move towards ending the secrecy and unfairness that characterizes our family justice system, I’m not sure how these proposals will, in the real world, improve matters for children, parents and grandparents. He added:

1. EPC is in favour of making the family courts as open as possible. We believe that justice in a modern democracy should operate in an environment of total openness with complete public access to all proceedings and rulings. We believe that should always be the over-arching, default principle.

2. At the same time we recognize that there will be circumstances where restrictions have to be put in place to ensure a fair trial and/or the protection of vulnerable children. However, courts should be required to set out compelling reasons for imposing such restrictions after hearing arguments for and against. Such decisions should be subject to an automatic right of appeal. They ought to be the exception rather than the rule.

3. We do not believe that ordinary disputes over residence and contact should ever give rise to such restrictions. Public access is not restricted in any part of USA and, in all our research into Best Practice across USA jurisdictions, we have never heard a complaint that a child suffered harm as a direct result of publicity.

(By “ordinary” cases, we mean those where there is no genuine safety issue.)

4. We welcome the addition of the concept of “fairness” alongside that of “openness”. EPC is much more interested in tackling our family courts’ unfair treatment of non-resident (i.e. non-custodial) parents. Non-resident parents are often treated in a derisory manner by judges and CAFCASS. They are routinely awarded zero or paltry parenting time (so-called contact) simply on the say so of the resident (custodial) parent. Yet fairness demands that both parents should be treated equally unless there is proven evidence of unfitness.

5. Fairness cannot be guaranteed under the present legislation which affords the non-resident parent no presumption of ANY parenting time with their child. The Government says there should be no presumption, because that would conflict with the principle that the courts should decide whatever serves the best interests of the child. But this ignores the reality that the resident parent always has a de facto presumption of parenting time - and indeed a presumption of total control over the care of the child. In the vast majority of cases this operates against the child’s welfare.

6. In conclusion, we are much more interested in a discussion about how the system can be improved so that children can be guaranteed frequent, continuing and substantial parenting time with their non-resident parent. (Substantial means between one third and half of the available parenting time.) Openness, while essential, is something of a side issue.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

US courts recognise Parental Alienation damage

How Divorce Wars Take A Toll On Kids
Children Are Often Caught In The Middle Between Feuding Parents


"It's easy to teach a child to hate. Courts are now recognizing this is a serious problem."

Richard Warshak, author

(CBS) Children often get caught up in their parents' divorce battles, forced to take sides. As Tracy Smith reports, "parental alienation" can take a serious toll on kids.

Experts tell Smith that a child easily picks up the hostile cues of one parent toward another. And whether those cues are subtle or intentional, either way the child suffers and can carry that burden into adulthood.

One girl who loved both parents very much but got caught in divorce crossfire is Victoria Peters.

Her parents also loved her — so much that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and five years battling in court to win custody.

"It was gut wrenching," remembers Victoria's father, Kevin Peters. "The whole thing was strange."

Franny Carney, Victoria's mom, says, "It's hell. It's like living in hell."

It was not an ordinary custody case.

Victoria's father claims that for years, while his ex-wife had full custody, she led a campaign to turn his daughter against him, what some experts refer to as "parental alienation."

"It's easy to teach a child to hate. Courts are now recognizing this is a serious problem," explains author Richard Warshak. "The children's affections are being poisoned against the other parent."

Kevin says the alienation campaign began with last-minute changes to his scheduled visits with Victoria.

"It was always an excuse that, on my weekend, there was some reason she couldn't come," Kevin says.

But Franny says she did not deny him visits.

"My daughter was locked in a closet when I called," Kevin tells Smith. Her mother would say, 'Lets go get in the closet. It's your dad.' "

Months went by. Kevin lost his temper. The police were called. His visits then had to be supervised. But even then, he says, his ex-wife continued to prevent him from seeing Victoria.

Franny contends that Kevin, who suffers from chronic depression, was emotionally unstable.

"I was frightened of him, ya know? When he was out of line, me and my daughter hid in the back of the bathroom," Franny says.

As charges mounted against Kevin, a court-appointed evaluator had to decide: Were these charges real or was there a concerted effort by Franny to turn Victoria against her father?

"Parental alienation is one of the common dynamics that occurs in high-conflict cases," says Daniel Stockley, a parental evaluator.

"The mother had difficulty, in this case, of letting go of, almost like an obsessive thought, that the child was at risk," says Stockley.

(At 8 years old, Victoria is skilled in the language of diplomacy. "I like living with my mom and I like living with my dad, so ..." she tells Smith.

But sometimes children are forced to take sides.

"I couldn't love my mom and my dad at the same time. I felt bad," says Michelle Martin, an adult child of divorce. Michelle says she was alienated from her father as a child.

"It shocked me how quickly and dramatically I changed my opinion of him. I would have nothing to do with him," she recalls.

According to experts, Michelle's case is typical because, when pressed, she couldn't tell anyone why she was so angry.

"He hadn't done anything to hurt me. And so, when I was asked for details, I didn't have them," she says. "I still, to this day, have to live with the mean things I said to him. The letters that I wrote to him. There are things I did purposely to hurt him."

Victoria, who was caught in a similar crossfire, had been in therapy since she was 3, frequently accompanied by her mother. It wasn't until the therapist's notes were finally subpoenaed that a disturbing pattern emerged that turned Kevin's case around.

"The telltale one is 'My mom says there's a side of my dad that I've never seen before, real mean.' And the therapist says, 'Have you ever seen that side?' 'No.' 'Do you believe it's there?' 'Yeah, I always believe my mom,' " says Kevin's attorney, Robert Fry.

Page after page of citations documented Victoria's growing fear and distress.

"The evidence was overwhelming that the relationship with the father was beginning to suffer," says Stockley.

In April 2005, in a startling decision, the court found that "an immediate change of custody appears to be in the best interest of the child" and Kevin was awarded full custody of Victoria.

"I was excited and stunned a little bit at the same time," Kevin remembers.

Ironically, it is Franny Carney, who now, because of what the court saw as alienating behavior, cannot see her daughter without a supervisor.

"I raised her for seven and a half years. I was involved in every area of her life," Franny says.

The court did not deny that she was a conscientious parent but the ruling made clear Victoria needed to see both her parents. The daughter Franny fought so hard to protect is living with her father

"I just come in to the house and I sit down and I cry," says Franny.

Victoria is reluctant to talk about any of it now. "I just mind my own business.
I love them both. It doesn't matter whose side I am on," she says.

As for Kevin, he's just happy for every moment he has with his daughter.

"I don't want her to think I'm a Superman or a hero or anything. I just want her to, you know, say 'My dad did what he was supposed to do,' " Kevin tells Smith, crying.

Experts say alienation can happen with both moms and dads. But this concept is still very controversial because charges of parental alienation have been used falsely in the past to defend fathers who really are abusive. And if the courts believe them, the abusive dads can get their children back.

Encouraging signs in Oz after family law reforms

Fathers benefit from new family law rules
Reporter: Sabra Lane

MARK COLVIN: New family law rules came into effect two months ago, designed to give children more time with their non-custodial parents, most often the father. The new regime's known as "shared responsibility".

The courts are starting to hand down judgements under the new laws. It's too early to assess overall trends, but there have been some interesting decisions and it seems fathers are getting a benefit from the changes.

A week ago, the Federal Magistrates Court ordered that a mother could not move her children interstate because it would stop the children from having a meaningful relationship with their father.

Another judge recently ruled that a father who'd previously had access to his child just once a fortnight should now have custody during school holidays, on special occasions like Easter and Christmas, and on birthdays.

Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Family bust-ups can be really ugly with lengthy, bitter court battles costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Legally, reporters can't identify individuals involved in family court matters.

This man, known as BJ, was one of the first cases under the revamped family laws.

His voice has been disguised to keep his identity secret.

Before July BJ saw his child just once a fortnight.

BJ: I want to be in her life. I want to see her grow. I want to do homework. I want to take her out. I want to take her to school. I want to go to excursions. I want to do everything with her.

Just because you separate and you divorce doesn't mean the father hasn't got a right to see his child.

SABRA LANE: But the Family Court recently ruled that had to change.

BJ explains how often he sees his daughter now.

BJ: Half of school holidays, special occasions, birthdays, her birthday, Christmas, Easter, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday after school.

SABRA LANE: Two years ago the Federal Government held a parliamentary inquiry into child custody.

It heard research that one in four children from broken homes only had contact with their dads once a year.

The inquiry resulted in new laws where courts had to consider giving equal time with both parents where possible, or substantial and significant time to non-custodial parents.

Barry Frakes from legal firm Watts McCray helped BJ with his case.

BARRY FRAKES: He really felt that the court had heard what he had to say and recognised the need for the child to have a real relationship with him, which was more than a visitor kind of relationship.

The court doesn't talk about 'access' any more, it talks about the time and makes sure that there is a 'meaningful' relationship.

So important events, holiday times, but also just the day-to-day stuff that happens during the weekdays is also important to kids.

And so the arrangements for that child in that case meant that the father could be really part of her life, day-to-day.

SABRA LANE: BJ battled his wife in court for three years, and until May this year he handled his case without a lawyer.

While happy with his ruling, BJ encourages other dads to resolve their problems without lawyers.

BJ: Do not go to court. It cost me $100,000 to fight in court. Communication is the most important thing. Leave solicitors out of the conflict.

SABRA LANE: Lawyers are also analysing another decision handed down last week by the Federal Magistrates Court.

It ruled a mother couldn't move her two children interstate, more than 1,000 kilometres from their father, because re-locating to another city would deprive the children any chance of a meaningful relationship with their dad.

Barry Frakes also represented the father in this case.

He says research prior to the new legislation, showed most contested relocation rulings favoured the parents who wanted to move.

BARRY FRAKES: In 76% of those cases the court permitted the relocation. In this case, the court decided that it wasn't in the best interests of the children to permit a relocation, and in the circumstances I think that reflects the direction of this current legislation, that it's going to be harder for a person who wants to move to satisfy a court that the children will still have a meaningful relationship with the other person when they're not seeing them for many months at a time.

SABRA LANE: Principal Solicitor with Women's Legal Services NSW, Janet Loughman, says she's not surprised.

JANET LOUGHMAN: We've been expecting the pendulum to swing, I suppose.

They're very difficult cases, weighing up really difficult competing interests but our experience has been that the courts are always more willing to place restrictions on the movement of the resident parent, usually a mother, than they are to place similar restrictions on contact parents, usually fathers. So I suppose, not a surprise.

SABRA LANE: Women's Legal Services NSW now wants further changes to the Family Law Act, particularly in relocation cases.

While courts place the child's needs first, Janet Loughman says they should give equal weight to the emotional well-being of the parent whose freedom is restricted.

JANET LOUGHMAN: We're pushing for an additional factor to be taken into account in these kind of cases, so that sufficient weight is given to the link between the welfare of the child and their primary carer, whether that be the mother or the father, and the effect of the refusal to allow a relocation also should be part of that decision.

SABRA LANE: Barry Frakes believes we could be witnessing a major change in Family Law, with courts now favouring fathers.

BARRY FRAKES: In some respects, people would think that the decisions might have been made under the old law in the same way, but I do think that the judgements themselves reflect that the court is taking seriously the need for fathers to have a meaningful relationship with their children.

MARK COLVIN: Lawyer Barry Frakes ending that report from Sabra Lane.

Friday, 1 September 2006

Times article on COLLABORATIVE LAW

We're splitting up, but need it be expensive?
By District Judge Stephen Gerlis
The McCartney split throws into focus the search for an alternative to costly family financial disputes
Stephen Gerlis is a district judge at Barnet County Court

So the battle lines are drawn. Sir Paul McCartney and Lady McCartney have both instructed high-flying and highly-paid divorce lawyers and if nothing is done to stop a descent into all-out war it may well prove to be an expensive exercise for both parties, no matter how well-heeled they are. The signs are not good, given the preliminary skirmishes that have taken place in the pages of the tabloid press.

The McCartney's marriage problems have surfaced at the same time as other high-profile and highly publicised cases, the latest being that of Beverley Charman, who recovered some £48 million to the disgust of her husband, an insurance magnate. Mr Charman threatens to appeal the decision, no doubt running up more lawyers’ fees in the process.

These seemingly intransigent disputes are repeated daily in family courts up and down the country and are not limited to large money cases. I frequently tell the parties, "Costs in financial disputes are like a taxi-meter that revolves faster and faster the longer the dispute goes on and the closer to a trial. Your solicitor will get paid, your barrister will get paid, but it will come out of your pockets." Recent changes in the family costs rules means that it will only be in exceptional cases that one party will be ordered to pay the other party’s costs.

Is there any way of preventing matters from getting out of hand and keeping costs to a minimum? The court itself has a built-in mechanism for attempting to resolve such matters without the need for a trial. Known as "financial dispute resolution" hearings, they are conducted by a judge who is there to assist the parties in trying to reach an acceptable compromise. However, the hearings are the last step before a trial, which means they inevitably take place at a time when the parties may already be too far entrenched and determined on a downward slope to uncertain and costly litigation.

But a new approach is beginning to produce interesting results and may show the way forward to a quicker, cheaper, more enduring solution.

Many family solicitors have adopted a system known as "collaborative practice". Collaborative practice requires transparency, respect and a focus on constructive outcomes in the participation agreement that the lawyers and clients sign at the outset. For lawyers to become part of the process, they have to take part in an intensive initial two-day training. Each party to a family property dispute instructs a lawyer who is suitably qualified for this new procedure. All of the progress is generally achieved at meetings attended by both clients and their solicitors. While the process continues, the client must call a halt to court proceedings.

Significantly, if the negotiations break down then the lawyers are not permitted to continue to act for the clients. This operates as an encouragement for the parties to reach an amicable outcome rather than rush to court. Its stated aim is to "seek to put the client’s aspirations and values at the centre of the process and the outcome that it provides". The lawyer’s role is not adversarial, as it would be if the matter went to court; it is, rather, supportive and advisory. What the court might or might not do is not the issue – reaching a satisfactory settlement is the name of the game.

Collaborative practice has apparently been spectacularly successful with the members reporting virtually complete success. Consent orders sent to court for endorsement contain a standard paragraph confirming that consent has been reached as a result of collaborative practice.
Perhaps marriage breakdown needs a sort of United Nations approach to encourage a ceasefire between the parties. It may be that collaborative practice provides that service. It is certainly worth a try.
Click here at access article on Times site

Monday, 21 August 2006

Joint Custody Bill - Michigan, USA

EPC COMMENT: do the opposing arguments sound familiar at all? Definitely, but in UK "noncustodial parents" do not even enjoy a presumption of ANY custody or contact!!! As a result, too many UK parents don't even get to see their kids.

Cory D. Mackwood: Joint custody bill should receive speedy approval

The Committee on Family and Children Services of the Michigan House of Representatives soon will debate HB 5267, introduced last October by Rep. Leslie Mortimer, R-Horton.
This proposed legislation would require a "presumption of joint physical custody" after divorce unless a parent is unfit, unwilling or unable to care for their child. It makes an exception if a parent doesn't reside in the child's school district and cannot maintain the child's present schedule.

Michigan Family Courts apply a custody standard designed in 1970 that requires both parents agree to joint physical custody or it is deemed unmanageable. Ask yourself how likely it is that some parent(s) may withhold this agreement solely to deny equal custody to the other parent?
HB 5267 has stirred many organizations to use scare tactics to assert that this bill is wrong for Michigan and its children. They remind us of abusive noncustodial parents that would "gain access" to the other parent. HB 5267 wouldn't support this kind of parent as joint physical custodian.

Critics of HB 5267 claim that noncustodial parents want joint physical custody to reduce child support and to rob our children of needed money.
Forget the vileness of this assertion; HB 5267 makes no change to the current child support formula.

Lawyers opposing HB 5267 assert that it will take discretion from judges. HB 5267 doesn't take discretion from judges; it replaces 1970 standards with 2006 standards. It will, however, reduce litigation since many motions involve enforcing noncustodial parental rights being violated.

These special interest groups misrepresent HB 5267. By playing to the pessimist in mankind, they believe they can scare us into leaving things the same.
They do that not in the best interest of children or even the abused parent they purport to represent. They do that in their own best interest.

HB 5267 creates a standard of equality, and assumes both parents want and deserve to be equal in the child's life even after divorce. It also assumes that our children want and would benefit from this equality, absent evidence to the contrary.
Is this really a revelation? Over 85 percent of Michigan residents asked say joint physical custody should be the standard.

Grown adults who are products of divorce say divorce was made more difficult for them because they didn't have "equal time" with both parents.
Are there bad people who will attempt to take advantage of the system? Yes, there are.
Are there bad people that already take advantage of the present system? Yes, there are.
Children need both parents. Parents deserve the right to equal parenting without having to get permission from the other parent - permission that in all too many cases is withheld as a punishment.

It's not 1970 anymore. HB 5267 would create equality. Equality for our children and equality for parents who never intended and don't deserve to divorce their children.
HB 5267: It's about children; it's about fairness; it's about time.

Monday, 7 August 2006

Alienating a Parent is easy to do, says Therapist

Alienating a Parent

10:00 PM PDT on Saturday, August 5, 2006

There is no doubt in my mind that parental alienation exists, especially in cases of divorce. The scary thing is, it is not that hard to accomplish. If I were a mother and wanted to alienate my kids from their father, I would be able to do it in a matter of months. All I would have to do is convince my children that their father was the reason for any pain or suffering we might endure.
Isolating kids from their dad and then feeding them unrelentingly negative statements is all it would take to turn children against a parent they have previously loved.

"Your father is the reason we're not a family anymore. He chose his girlfriend and her children over our family. He doesn't send us the child support like he should; instead he takes his girlfriend on expensive vacations. I can't buy you the clothes you need for school because your father, and his lawyer, has tricked the judge into believing he doesn't have any money. ... Your father never cared about you, in fact, before you were born, he said he wished I would have aborted you. Yes, really, he did. But I'm sure if you ask him he'll deny it. Your father lies and lies and lies. If it wasn't for you kids, I don't know what I would do. You are my rock, my life, my reason for living."

Statements like these result in children beginning to hate their father and wanting to protect their mother. Even in situations where the father has spent an equal amount of time being with and raising the children, even then it is possible to brainwash children into believing their father is a monster.

As a therapist, I will get families referred to me for "reconciliation counseling" where the stated goal is to assist in reunifying the father with his children. Sometimes it is the other way around; it is the mother who is the "hated" parent and the father who is the "loved" relative, but in the majority of cases, the father is the parent who is vilified and demonized.

If both parents follow the orders of the Family Law Court, they know neither is supposed to talk negatively about the other parent or discuss child support. Unfortunately, a judge's order carries little weight with parents who are self-centered and vengeful. If the mother has succeeded in keeping the kids away from the father either by saying he doesn't care enough to try and visit or erasing his voicemails, then the children will settle into a new life where they believe Mom is all good and Dad is all bad.

I know if you are an alienated parent that it is heartbreaking to hear your children say they hate you. What I can offer is this: Never stop trying to see your children even though efforts may be blocked and your legal fees are enormous. Kids aren't stupid. There will come a time when they will mature and wonder why Dad wasn't there. At that time you can discuss how you never stopped trying. But if all you have to offer is, "I got so fed up I went on with my life without you," you run the risk of alienating the children yourself, by your own choice, independent of the mother.

Mitchell Rosen, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula. Contact him at

Saturday, 5 August 2006

ECHR - Violation of Article 8 Right to Family Life


Press release issued by the Registrar
[emphasis added by EPC - see EPC's comment at bottom]

Chamber judgments concerning
the Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Romania and the Ukraine
Koudelka v. Czech Republic (no. 1633/05) Violation of Article 8

The applicant, Ji?í Koudelka, is a Czech national who was born in 1957 and lives in Prague. In 1990 a daughter was born of his relationship with E.P. The couple separated the following year and custody of the child was granted to E.P.

In 1993 the applicant applied to the court to gain a right of access, alleging that E.P. was preventing him from seeing their daughter. The court-appointed experts did not observe any impediment to contacts between the applicant and his daughter but reported an antagonistic relationship between the parents and a negative attitude of the mother, whose cooperation was in their view essential for the enforcement of a right of access. In a decision of 24 October 1995, which was upheld on appeal, the applicant was granted a right of supervised access: he was to have contact with his child every other Thursday afternoon in a welfare centre with the assistance of a specialised social worker.

That arrangement is still in force, although proceedings brought by E.P. to have it terminated are pending. The applicant has been trying to have his right of access enforced from the outset. The only attempt to establish contact was made in July 2002 at a specialised centre. On that occasion the experts found serious shortcomings in the upbringing of the child by E.P. and observed that contact between the applicant and his daughter would not be possible without prior therapy, as E.P. had been instilling a parental alienation syndrome in the child.

The applicant complained that the authorities had not made sufficient efforts to enforce his right of access in respect of his daughter, in spite of her mother’s resistance. He relied in particular on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing).

Even though it had been aware, from 1995, of E.P.’s obstruction to contact between the applicant and his daughter, the domestic court had for a long time done nothing more than address a formal warning to E.P. in 1996, and that measure had manifestly remained ineffective. Subsequently, it was not until April 1999 and October 2000 that the court had imposed two fines on E.P., for about EUR 70 and EUR 7. Having regard to the circumstances of the case and the reprehensible attitude of the mother, the Court considered that such a measure could not be regarded as sufficient or adequate.

In the circumstances of the case, the Court considered that the non-enforcement of the applicant’s right of access was mainly attributable to the manifest refusal of the mother, and then to that of the child under her mother’s influence. It found, however, that the Czech courts had not taken all the measures that could reasonably have been expected of them, in the very difficult dispute at issue, in order to secure E.P.’s compliance with the applicant’s right of access, and that their action had not been sufficiently prompt or systematic. Moreover, in view of the psychologist’s conclusion in July 2002 that E.P. was not bringing the child up properly, it was legitimate to wonder whether the courts had been acting in the child’s interest.

In the Court’s view, the Czech courts had allowed this dispute to be settled by the mere passage of time, such that the resumption of relations between the applicant and his daughter no longer seemed possible. Accordingly, the Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 8. It did not consider it necessary to examine separately the complaint under Article 6 § 1 and awarded the applicant EUR 13,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, together with EUR 2,000 for costs and expenses, less the EUR 701 already received from the Council of Europe by way of legal aid. (The judgment is available only in French.)


Alienated parents in the UK, who have applied to ECHR in similar circumstances, will be left wondering why their very similar cases were not even entertained by ECHR.

UK continually violates articles 8 (right to family life) and 6 (right to fair hearing) yet ECHR does nothing. Even in this case where it has found against the state, look at the nugatory consequences! This award is pathetic!!

In EPC's view, ECHR is a waste of time and money. It is a court that, in the vast majority of cases, fails to deliver justice.

Please post a comment on this blog - EPC is very interested to hear your views and experiences with ECHR.