Date: 21 October 2001 18:19
Subject: Fw: [euro-dads&mums] Observer article

>Please circulate this article worldwide as we seem in the UK to be
>continuing to make favourable progress here with regards media treatment of
>the subject. Since Jan 2001 the media treatement of fathers and custody has
>been getting better and better.
>Incidentally, 'The Obswerver' was previously a left wing inclined,
>pro-feminist paper but, Oh boy, have some of it's journalists taken a
>pasting last year by us.
>Kindest regards,
>Robert Whiston
>Chairman, ManKind.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: <>
>To: <>
>Date: 21 October 2001 15:13
>Subject: [euro-dads&mums] Observer article
>It's never Father's day
>Most divorced fathers want to see their children and most kids
>want to see
>their dads. So why does society make it so difficult for this
>simplest of
>things to happen?
>Sunday October 21, 2001 The Observer
>One Friday afternoon earlier this month, divorced father of two
>David Smith
>collected his children from school, took them home for tea and
>then played
>games with them on the computer.
>An everyday story of male parenting, you might think. But for
>David, it was
>a couple of hours of heaven and he savoured every moment.
>David lives within
>a few miles of his children, aged 12 and 10. Yet this was the first
>time he
>had seen them in almost two months. He was, he admits, quite
>nervous about
>it: 'But as soon as I saw them, it was wonderful. It was as if we'd
>spent time together two days before, instead of two months.'
>A musician with a national orchestra, David was married to his
>former wife
>for 14 years, and in that time he considered himself an excellent
>dad. 'I
>was very close to my children. Because of the unusual hours I
>work, I could
>be very hands-on. I would give them breakfast and sit with them
>while they
>ate it. I would collect them from school and give them tea. I did
>shopping, cooking, washing, cleaning. Unless I was working,
>there was no
>question of them going to a childminder.'
>This full-on fatherhood came to an abrupt end in June 1997.
>David - not his
>real name: like all men whose children have been involved in
>proceedings under the Children Act, he cannot be identified for
>fear of
>identifying them too - left his marital home for Jane, who is now
>his second
>wife. They had met in the school playground while they were both
>waiting to
>collect their children.
>'I'd never considered having an affair because I was committed
>to my family.
>But eventually, this amazing attraction between us became too
>much. I
>agonised before leaving because I couldn't even consider what it
>would be
>like not living with my children. The situation was a nightmare.
>'But then I
>thought: you divorce your partner, not your children.'
>Like many fathers in his situation, David was about to discover
>that this is
>not entirely true. Living alone in a rented flat, he would cry all the
>about what he had done to his children; his depression became
>so bad that he
>had to seek stress counselling.
>His one consolation was that he still saw his children three a
>times a week.
>Whenever he could, he would collect them from school and take
>them back to
>his former marital home to give them their tea. But it wasn't long
>before he
>realised that these visits were upsetting his former wife. In the
>end, it
>proved impossible for them to agree on when David should see
>the children,
>so they had to go to court to resolve this issue of 'contact' - the
>term for visits between a child and its non-resident parent after
>divorce or
>In her report, the court welfare officer remarked on David's
>bonding' with the children and said contact should be be
>'quantified, to
>serve the children's best interests'. But because of David's
>irregular work
>schedule, successive judges felt unable to issue a contact order
>set contact times and were unwilling to specify minimum contact
>levels. So
>David can only see them by arrangement with his ex-wife - who
>is, he says,
>often unwilling to give her consent: 'I have been to court about 13
>mostly to try to stabilise the access to my children. I've been in
>front of
>nine different judges, none of whom has seen my problem. I feel
>powerless. I
>started off seeing my children two or three times a week. Now I
>see them
>once a week for four hours, if I'm lucky. I have no overnights, no
>no holidays. I'm like an uncle they see occasionally, rather than
>'I feel I should be able to go to court and say "This isn't working".
>why would I spend more money going back to court? It's not that
>the kids
>aren't worth it. But I have no faith whatever that it would help.
>says things will be better when they get older - but by then I'll
>missed out on their childhood.'
>Divorced dads like David do not get a good press. For one thing,
>break-ups are generally assumed to be the man's fault. Divorced
>separated wives are the patron saints of our age, struggling to
>cope with
>the children on reduced incomes which condemn many of them
>to lives of
>hardship, if not poverty.
>Statistics certainly seem to support the principle of automatic
>culpability. Seventy per cent of men who leave their partners do
>so for
>another woman. Nine out of 10 single parents in Britain are
>female. Between
>35 and 50 per cent of fathers - depending on which study you
>believe - are
>estimated to lose contact with their children after separation or
>divorce.Which means that around 750,000 children in Britain are
>In the US, the terms 'Drop-Out Fathers' and 'Dead-Beat Dads'
>have been
>coined to describe men who do not seem to realise that 'parents
>forever'. These fathers are blamed for turning their children into
>delinquents and misfits who - research shows - are more likely
>to become
>drug addicts, drop-outs and teenage mothers and to exhibit a
>range of
>psychological and emotional problems which will last them all
>their lives.
>Like most other women whose ideas were formed by the
>feminist movement of
>the Seventies, I bought this line almost unquestioningly. Last
>year I
>produced a Channel 4 documentary, Why Men Leave, which
>focused entirely on
>the guiltiness of men in marriage break-up and the heartbreak of
>the women
>and children left behind.
>But even while I was researching the film, I became
>uncomfortably aware that
>the all-men-are-bastards theory is now as leaky as a sieve. For
>every man
>who walks out of a marriage selfishly and without a backward
>glance, there
>are dozens for whom the experience brings unexpected
>heartache - the loss of
>contact with children whom they love and whom they may have
>nurtured as
>conscientiously as the mother.
>Bob Geldof, who was nearly bankrupted by his battle with Paula
>Yates over
>custody of their three daughters, Fifi, Peaches and Pixie, vividly
>encapsulates the pain of a father separated from his children.
>'When you are
>with your children, it's not like: "Great, I've got three hours with my
>children",' he says. 'It's "There's a second gone, there's another
>gone - and all the time, it's the going, it's not the being with. This
>the thing that destroys people.'
>As a society, Britain pays lipservice to the concept of
>fathering'. The Children Act is built on the premise of shared
>parenting and
>states that a child has the right to have access to both parents
>divorce - a message reinforced by a new Home Office pamphlet
>which is being
>distributed to all parents who use the family courts. Why, then,
>are so many
>children being severed from loving fathers by the divorce
>According to the Newcastle Centre for Family Studies, the
>leading research
>body on family life in Britain, the 'popular wisdom' that men
>simply lose
>interest in their children and stop caring is not supported by
>Many, after all, enjoy happy, trouble-free contact within the context
>of an
>amicable divorce or separation.
>The Newcastle Centre's study of 91 non-residential fathers,
>begun in 1991,
>did show a high drop-out rate - six years after divorce, only 34
>men saw
>their children once a week and 21 didn't see them at all. But 60
>per cent of
>the fathers who rarely saw their children were in dispute with
>ex-wives about the frequency of contact. And most of the
>no-contact fathers
>had only given up in the face of serious hostility and
>obstructiveness from
>their former partners. They remained bitter and angry about what
>they saw as
>a denial of their role as parents.
>The fact is that divorce, like parenthood, is for life: love may be
>over but
>hate lingers on. And whichever parent keeps the children - in
>more than 90
>per cent of cases, the mother - holds the trump card. Even if she
>is partly
>or wholly to blame for the break-up, she is likely to be left with a
>of bitterness towards her ex. The easiest way to take revenge is
>controlling his access to the children. And the courts seem
>unable or
>unwilling to do very much about it.
>Julia Wise-St Leger, chief executive of the Accord Contact Centre
>in Kilburn
>- a place where non-resident parents go to meet their children
>when they are
>not allowed contact in the outside world - sees this phenomenon
>all the
>'The person with the care of the children has the most power and
>uses that
>power to make their children pawns in the struggle with their
>she says. 'We see families over and over again where the
>children are being
>used as pawns. And those children's lives are being damaged
>by the conflict
>Nick is a TV producer in his early fifties. Articulate and
>intellectual, he
>married eight years ago and his wife immediately became
>pregnant with the
>first of their two children. But the marriage was unhappy from the
>and when the youngest child was three they decided to separate.
>'My wife would only allow me to see the children on Saturday
>afternoons with
>her in attendance,' Nick says. 'One Saturday, about six months
>after I'd
>left, we went to a children's play centre and my son, then five,
>asked me to
>take him to the loo. As I got up, my wife said, unbelievably loudly
>everyone around us could hear: "What do you do in the loo with
>him? Play
>with him?" That was when I decided to go to law.'
>The case has now been in the courts continuously for three
>years. In that
>time, Nick has always maintained there was no case to answer
>while agreeing
>to submit to any expert inquiry necessary to prove the allegations
>They have now been completely dismissed, and at the last
>hearing the judge
>questioned the mother's fitness to look after her children.
>'But all of this,' Nick says, 'helps me not a jot. Because the
>children live
>under her roof. It will not be easy to re-establish a normal
>with children subjected to a continuous diet of this vile
>When any allegation of abuse is made, social services must
>investigate it.
>While this was happening, Nick was only allowed contact with
>his children
>under supervision in a contact centre. Here he came across a
>series of cases
>in which violence or sexual abuse were genuinely a factor. But
>he was
>surprised to find a large number of fathers who, like him, had
>subjected to false allegations by aggrieved ex-wives seemingly
>determined to
>frustrate contact between them and their children.
>'One man, a deputy head of a secondary school and an inspiring
>father, got a
>hug from his child at the end of a two-hour session with her and
>said to me:
>"Do you realise, this is the first time I've hugged my child in 18
>At the contact centre, Nick's wife would set up a rival 'camp' with
>children's toys and they would say, 'I want to go to mummy'. Then
>the social
>workers suggested he see his children in a private room
>upstairs where they
>could observe his interaction with them.
>'Their report could not have been more supportive,' he says. 'But
>my wife
>called the police and alleged that the social workers had left me
>with the
>children unsupervised - complete nonsense, of course.'
>The experienced social worker who runs the contact centre acted
>as a witness
>for Nick in court and said there was no way his children had
>been abused -
>an opinion accepted by the judge. But according to a
>psychiatrist's report,
>the idea of abuse has now been discussed so often in the family
>home that
>Nick's daughter probably just accepts that it did take place. It will,
>believes, take a lot to restore his image in his children's eyes: 'In
>I may never be able to do so. In the end, I don't think the law will
>be able
>to to provide for me to have normal, uninterrupted, healthy
>contact with my
>Even though the courts have said his children can stay over with
>him, it is
>now nine months since he last had contact with them. When he
>went to collect
>them, they wouldn't leave their mother.
>'She has demonised me, so it's not surprising,' he says. 'Yet they
>well-balanced, lovely kids. This isn't the kids' problem, it's the
>The best advice for any man embarking on a divorce is to do
>anything to sort
>things out rather than set foot in a family court. Most fathers go to
>in the understandable expectation that their case will be dealt
>with in a
>rational, fair and effective manner. Many - including Bob Geldof -
>come away
>enraged and bitter and convinced the system is biased against
>Family courts are deeply secretive places. Every year in England
>and Wales,
>the parents of some 200,000 children pass through them.
>Judges are free to
>make whatever comments about these parents' behaviour or
>parenting they see
>fit and to make whatever orders they consider appropriate about
>children's future.
>Their powers include the right to stop a parent seeing their child
>for any
>reason. (Unmarried fathers have no rights in law to see their
>own children
>at all, unless they can get a Parental Responsibility Order which
>gives them
>the same status as a married man.) There are no guidelines for
>contact with children. It is almost impossible to appeal against
>and there is no proper system for complaints. No one knows
>how - or if - the
>system is working since there are no case studies of the first
>one million
>cases which have been dealt with.
>In making their decisions, judges rely heavily on welfare reports
>drawn up
>by reporting officers. Formerly known as court welfare officers,
>influential figures advise judges on where children should live
>and how
>often the non-resident parent should be allowed see them. Their
>recommendations are usually rubber-stamped.
>Since they wield so much power, one might assume they are
>highly trained
>specialists. In fact, they are probation officers more used to
>dealing with
>criminals. Until recently they came under the probation service
>but they
>have now been hived off into the Government's new Children and
>Family Court
>Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). Their training up to now
>of two three-day release courses. 'It is nothing like adequate,'
>says Oliver
>Cyriax, a lawyer who campaigns for reform of the system.
>'Parking wardens
>train for longer.' Reporting officers' reports are secret. It is a
>of court for anyone not involved in a case to see them. Some
>officers are
>said to be doing a good and conscientious job.
>'There's a very heavy emphasis on promoting contact because
>it's the child's
>right to see their parent,' says family lawyer Gillian Marks. 'Some
>reporting officers are very, very astute.'
>Yet the reasons given in reports as to why a father's access
>should be
>restricted or denied often seem arbitrary, to put it mildly. One
>had cancer which, said the report, 'could be upsetting' for his
>child. A man
>might be said to 'lack sensitivity' or be 'over-enthusiastic' or even
>'father-centred' - for which tendency one man was denied all
>contact with
>his child. In one case, it was noted disapprovingly that a father
>had told
>his son he preferred Scrabble to Monopoly and thought
>hyacinths smelled
>sweeter than roses. This was seen as 'taking the lead in contact'
>- a form
>of emotional abuse, according to the reporting officer. One father
>wore a
>black shirt which 'could be intimidating'. Another stood accused
>of 'losing
>his temper with customs officials in a French airport in the
>1990s' and was
>therefore said to have an 'unfortunate disposition'. One report
>could find
>no reason why a child should not see more of his father but went
>on to
>conclude: 'Nonetheless, the mother must be concerned about
>something.' The
>father's contact was limited to two hours every six weeks.
>When judges do support father-child contact, it is all too easy for
>mother to derail it. David Smith remembers going to collect his
>children for
>what should have been a week's stay one Easter. He found his
>ex-wife had
>taken them away and stuck keep-out notices to the doors and
>windows of the
>house saying her husband had been stealing from her.
>Some women flout contact orders repeatedly - even when they
>are attached to
>penal notices, which in theory mean they could go to jail. But
>judges are
>reluctant to send mothers of small children to prison and
>hesitant even
>about fining them.
>'The key,' says barrister Gillian Marks, 'is that the resident parent
>has to
>give permission for the child to have a relationship with the other
>The stories that trickle out of family courts can sometimes be as
>and comic as they are heartbreaking. In one particularly
>distressing case, a
>man has been granted residence of his 12-year-old daughter
>while being
>banned indefinitely from seeing his eight-year-old son. The girl -
>who was
>also ordered to live with her mother but refused to go - is only
>allowed to
>see her brother for two hours a month under supervision in a
>contact centre,
>in case she influences him to her father's point of view. Her
>father says
>his daughter is determined to become a lawyer when she grows
>up, so that she
>can represent other children like herself.
>Joe is just at the start of the painful process of sorting out contact
>arrangements for his child. Last year he left his partner of 20
>years and
>their eight-year-old son for another woman. It did not occur to
>him at the
>time that this might result in him being cut off from his son: 'I was
>When I read in the paper now that a man has committed suicide
>over something
>like this, I understand it.'
>Joe's ex-partner is, he says, 'very, very bitter' about what has
>Trouble began when he wanted to take his son, Max, on a day
>out to a theme
>'His mother said, "I'm not letting him go" and I replied, "You can't
>me." She said, "Yes, I can." Then I realised that since we weren't
>I didn't have any rights over my own son.'
>He consulted a solicitor who advised him to get a Parental
>Order in order to establish his rights.
>Then I told her I'd like to have custody of Max. That was the word I
>used -
>though I understand they call it residence. She said, "I must
>advise you the
>likelihood of that is not good".'
>Joe went to see the court reporting officer who was drawing up
>the welfare
>report. 'She was a middle-aged woman and seemed OK. She
>asked me who I
>thought my son would like to live with and I said I imagined he'd
>choose his
>mother. She said, "You will be pleasantly surprised to hear he
>choose either of you. He said he wants you both." She led me to
>believe I'd
>be looking at shared residence of Max with my ex-partner. I went
>feeling quite cheerful.'
>But the finished report was damning, full of what Joe describes
>as 'hearsay
>and unsubstantiated allegations by my ex'. It recommended that
>because of
>'conflict' between the parents, Joe's former partner should have
>and that Joe should only get contact with his son.
>'My life fell apart then,' he says. 'This boy who gets up early every
>morning to see me before I go to work and who rings me five
>times a day, how
>do I tell him he'll only be seeing me every other weekend and on
>a few
>Joe was so incensed about the allegations in the report - and
>the fact that
>the reporting officer appeared to have taken no steps to check
>them out -
>that he decided to complain. He wrote to his MP and to every
>single member
>of the board of Cafcass. But he was told by Cafcass to take it up
>with the
>reporting officer concerned.
>'I wrote her a letter which said I realised she had a difficult task
>but she
>had been misled and I'd like her to see my son and myself
>together - as she
>had seen him and his mother - to show what a strong
>relationship we had. She
>just wrote back rejecting my claims out of hand.'
>Joe is due to go into court shortly but does not hold out much
>hope for
>shared residence.
>'The judge opens the report and the first thing he sees is Mr X
>did this,
>that and the other. What else matters after that? Not only am I
>fighting my
>ex but I'm fighting a system that doesn't work. Why should it be
>that women are necessarily the best people to look after their
>Children need both parents. Max and I are closer than ever at the
>Why should he lose that?'
>Is help for the Joes of this world anywhere on the horizon? The
>issue of
>father-child contact after divorce or separation has become a hot
>topic in
>both Europe and the US, where concern over the growing social
>caused by fatherlessness has spawned the publishing of entire
>libraries of
>books with names like Fatherneed and Life Without Father. In
>Britain, a new
>pressure group, Families After Marriage, has been set up by
>Maureen Freely and Julie Wheelwright to press for an overhaul of
>the family
>courts. FAM also wants to see the introduction of a system which
>encourage the use of mediation instead of the courts in 'ordinary'
>disputes, in an attempt to promote greater continuity, consensus
>It could be pushing at a half-open door. The Lord Chancellor's
>department is
>aware enough that the current arrangements are not working to
>have asked the
>Children Act sub-committee of its Family Law Advisory Board to
>look at them
>and recommend how contact could be made to work better. Its
>report on the
>'facilitation of arrangements between children and
>non-residential parents
>and enforcement of court orders for contact' is expected to be
>early in the New Year. It will then be considered by the
>Hopefully, the committee will have picked up that there are
>different ways
>of doing things.
>In Alberta, Canada, divorcing couples with children under 16 are
>required by
>the rules of the court to attend a six-hour post-separation
>seminar dealing
>with all the issues affecting their children. The intention is to
>people about the effects of divorce on children and the
>importance of
>maintaining contact with both parents, with the aim is of reducing
>It seems to have been highly successful.
>'At first people were perturbed at having to do it because it was
>compulsory, but satisfaction is very, very high,' says Joe Hornick,
>of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and Family which
>was responsible
>for evaluating the scheme. 'We did a six month follow-up and
>found most
>people had resolved most issues and that conflict was lower.
>Now a number of
>other jurisidictions in Canada are requiring it too.'
>In Sweden, the starting point for post-divorce childcare is shared
>- meaning exactly that. A child will divide its time equally between
>parents and court officers will actually turn up to fetch him if he
>materialise at the other parent's home.
>Businessman David Hickman experienced the Swedish system
>when, after a
>bruising Court of Appeal battle, his Swedish ex-wife left Britain
>with their
>three-year-old son to return to her homeland.
>'The Swedes do various things to reduce the temperature,' he
>says. 'First
>you have to have mediation. Then there's no concept of alimony -
>you just
>sell the house and divide everything. My wife said she wanted to
>start a new
>life and the mediator said, "It's not as easy as that. You have a
>Although 90 per cent of men whose children go abroad do lose
>contact with
>them, Hickman and his ex-wife have made their arrangements
>work. Hickman
>spends one week in five in Sweden - often staying in his
>ex-wife's flat -
>and shares his son's holidays. The boy, now 11, may even come
>back to a
>British boarding school.
>'It works because we've both leaned over backwards to make it
>do so,'
>Hickman says.' The scary thing is that the judges and barristers
>and welfare
>officers in England were quite willing to sanction a situation
>where I would
>wither away almost completely from my son's life. Basically, the
>just don't think Daddy is very important.'
>The names of fathers and their children in this article have been
>For more information about Families After Marriage, email