Friday, September 26, 2008

Courts Not Biased Shock

The findings of the report "Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce" may not make happy reading for fathers' rights groups, although perhaps they should. The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (formerly the Department for Constitutional Affairs) in 2006, to examine the outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce, and was carried out independently by the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, at the University of Oxford.

The full report comprises some 262 pages, but a 9-page 'Briefing Note' can be found here. The main element in the research was a detailed analysis of court files in 308 cases with a contact application in 2004, drawn from eleven courts. The applicants were almost all (289; 77%) non-resident parents, typically fathers (265). Key findings of the report included the following:
  • Outcomes were typically agreed. It was rare for the court to have to make a final ruling.
  • Most cases ended with face to face contact.
  • Non-resident parents were largely successful in getting direct contact where there had been none and in getting the type of contact sought.
  • Non-resident parents were almost twice as likely to succeed in getting the type of contact they wanted as resident parents who initially opposed staying, unsupervised contact or any contact.
  • There was no evidence that non resident parents as a group are systematically unreasonably treated by the family courts. On the contrary, the courts start from the position that contact is generally in the interests of the child, they make great efforts to achieve this and in most instances they are successful.
All of which confirms my own experience. Of course, there are instances in which the court gets it wrong, but these are few and far between. I am not for one moment suggesting that we should be complacent, but I'm not sure that any alternative system will be much more successful than the current one.

[Thanks to the ever-vigilant Current Awareness for bringing this to my attention.]

10 comments:

  1. Some thoughts.

    The issue is not that the "outcomes of applications to court for contact orders" are unfair.

    It is that fathers need to make those applications in the first place."The applicants were almost all (289; 77%) non-resident parents, typically fathers (265)."

    A simple straightforward presumption of 50:50 shared residential care at the outset is the solution.

    In the current system the PWC can easily deny contact for months thus establishing a status quo, which, by the time a case gets to court, is then enforced by the judge with a token contact order offered up to the NRP.

    PWCs continue to deny equitable contact to NRPs en masse.

    The courts seem pretty powerless to correct the widespread problem. One or two mothers having the kids turned over to their fathers by the courts doesn't even begin to address the inequality experienced by tens of thousands.

    DBNO
    An NRP and loving father (who is allowed to call his son on days when ex is in a good mood, but not have him visit me ). I am not a member of, or affiliated to, any father's rights group.

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  2. You do not blame the courts and those involved in the family justice system - others do, hence my comment at the beginning of the post. I think the vast majority of cases are settled without going to court, but I do agree with the 50:50 starting-point, as I've said here before.

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  3. how do i withdraw my signature from the official secrets act ? it was signed less than 3 months ago

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  4. Sorry, this is not my area of expertise. Does it make any difference to what you can disclose if you didn't sign?

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  5. Hi John,

    as the whole purpose of setting up the study was to "look carefully at repudiating some of the anecdotal evidence" (Baroness Ashton) the outcome should come as no real surprise!

    I have not had a chance to have a good look at what was done - but on the face of it the data would seem to be perfectly reasonable - the sampling process, for example, seems to be above any reasonable criticism.

    However, the real issue is not the validity of the data (i.e. whether or not the numbers are correct) it is the interpretation of the data which is needs to be examined.

    The flag that is raised is found in the statement "Non-resident parents were almost twice as likely to succeed in getting the type of contact they wanted as resident parents who initially opposed staying, unsupervised contact or any contact."

    Dbno has hit the nail on the head in pointing out that applications should not be needed in the first place. Whilst one has to accept that not all applications are actually made with a child's best interests at heart, surely the large majority are. The making of an application, rather than simply responding to one, is an active not a passive process, and in circumstances where one parent is convinced enough that the child's best interest are not being served, and cares enough about this, to go to court, surely one would expect a far, far higher ratio of success than is reported in the study.

    STH

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  6. Hi STH,

    I suppose it depends upon what proportion of all parental separations result in an application to court. I'm not sure if I've seen any figures for this, but my guess is it would be very small.

    Having said that, I'm on your side with the 50:50 starting-point, as I mentioned above.

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  7. Hi,

    Well, all of my contact applications were settled out of court. That does not mean that I am happy with them, or that they have stuck. It means that I have given up on Courts willingness to enforce anything over a measly every other weekend.

    A more accurate report would be how many nrps are happy with their financial settlement. This will show how much fairly NRPs feel the court has dealt with them.

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  8. I meant a measly every other weekend, from time to time.

    The judge said to us "These applications do not work". I am not sure if I am allowed to quote that though.

    When faced with non compliant PWCs contact is reduced to every other weekend. I had an order for more, when I asked for enforcement of the extra what I got was a downwards variation. I do not see any of that reflected in the survey. Still angry about it now (2 years later) that isn't in the survey either. Like the song too also btw.

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  9. I think he said "These orders do not work".

    A more accurate report would be how many nrps are happy with their financial settlement. This will show how fairly NRPs feel the court has dealt with them.

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  10. I'm with you all on the 50:50 starting point also.

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