Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Look in the Mirror

One of the most depressing features of writing this blog (and, I suspect, any family law blog) is the number of commenters who come on with an obvious axe to grind against the family justice system and all those who work within it. Now, that wouldn't be quite so bad but for the aggressive, unreasonable and often downright obnoxious nature of some of the comments, for example suggesting that all who work in the system are biased (e.g. against fathers), that they are only motivated by self interest (i.e. money) or, most ludicrous of all, that they are conspiring against certain users of the system. Now, I know that some people have had a very bad experience of the system. I have seen it. However, for the vast majority the system produces outcomes that are satisfactory, or at least the best that can be achieved in the circumstances. One bad experience does not equal a conspiracy.

I could go on, but I have been beaten to this post by Steven Ballard (left) of the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Blog. In his post Is Family Law a Masterful Scam? A Criminal Enterprise? he responds to a (fairly typical) commenter, in a more eloquent way than I could:
"People who are divorcing and fighting each other need to take responsibility for their own mistakes rather than simply blaming their lawyers and the system, and subscribing to inane, ridiculous conspiracy theories about lawyers and judges who are supposedly getting rich at their clients' expense."
and he concludes:
"Change the law, improve the system, yes. But in your own individual cases, you should always take a good hard look in the mirror before assessing blame for problems in your own home."
Quite.

14 comments:

  1. And from me - now if only the Times could take note..

    ReplyDelete
  2. ... that would be asking for too much, I think - wouldn't sell newspapers!

    ReplyDelete
  3. They make me so angry John. I keep commenting under different names but they never publish me, whatever the alias!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think that that is what Gordon will be doing today given that the Sun will no longer shine for him...

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think we are pretty lucky in this country, as the lawmakers do (on the whole) genuinely try to draft acts that will work fairly. It is an impossible ambition of course, as life is so complex you cannot foresee everything, and therefore unjust results happen sometimes.

    However we have an active press and the Law Commission to look things over for us. Things are very different is some other countries ...

    ReplyDelete
  6. True, although I think I would be pushing my luck if I were to tell these people that they don't know when they're well off!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ah, the rage of Caliban! I might not like very much what I see in the mirror, but at least I have a reflection.

    Yesterday I read an exchange between two parents discussing contact arrangements posted on a self-help forum. One parent was inflexible and overbearing; the other submissive and cowed. It is difficult to see how their dispute won’t end up in court, but court is the last place they should be. They need counselling, mediation or education, or perhaps all three. The likelihood however is years of increasingly acrimonious litigation.

    I, too, despair of the comments I read on forums from parents who say that the courts are ‘bias’ or ‘biast’ (sic) against them, when all they mean is that they didn’t get their way. Equally I’m distressed by the conspiracy theorists who see deliberation behind mere incompetence and sloth and blame the Rockefellers, Bilderburg Group, Illuminati, or Freemasons. I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence, but perhaps that’s because it’s such a clever conspiracy. Apparently the aim is to reduce the world’s population, in which case they are failing spectacularly.

    The tragedy of such nonsense, whether from the ignorant and illiterate or the intelligent but misguided is that it disguises the very real failings of the system and undermines the attempts of serious campaigners to highlight them and bring about constructive change.

    The more sober elements of the equal parenting movement have made specific and detailed criticisms of the family justice system, rather than generalised allegations. We’ve pointed to the imbalance which despite changes in gender roles elsewhere in society still means 95% of non-resident parents are fathers (CSA figures). We’ve shown it’s the preferential outcomes for women which makes them petition for well over 90% of divorces each year (Grant Thornton). We’ve said it is unacceptable that children lose substantial or all contact with one or other parent at a rate of 1,000 per week.

    We’ve demonstrated about the anachronistic Child Benefit - originally conceived to enable married mothers to be financially independent of their husbands. Because the law demands it is paid only to mothers, and because other benefits and payments (such as child support) follow it, it is often difficult for fathers to afford over-night accommodation for their children, which in turn leads to loss of contact and the ‘McDad’ syndrome.

    We’ve complained the PR rules discriminate because they award PR automatically to mothers, but make a father’s PR dependent on his relationship with her. The reason for this arrangement has more to do with historic discrimination against illegitimate children, but it needs to be reformed.

    We’ve campaigned against CAFCASS which introduces delays of up to 40 weeks into proceedings before producing reports which both HMICA and Ofsted have said are more often than not inadequate. We’ve produced evidence for institutional sexism within CAFCASS contained in the staff training documents. We’ve also brought attention to the Anti-Sexism Policy of NAPO which is nothing but an anti-male, hatred-filled feminist diatribe.

    I could go on (and often do). Perhaps our greatest criticism of the system is that most disputes should never be dealt with in a courtroom. In this we have the support not only of the long dead politicians who opposed a family court, and warned it would result in the excessive intrusion of the state into private lives, but also of modern feminist academics such as Liz Trinder.

    There are other criticisms to be made: concerning secrecy, the use of tactical delay, an intolerance of shared parenting, an ideological and false paradigm of domestic violence, the exploitation of endless litigation where one party has clear mental health issues, the unwillingness to differentiate between true and false allegations, etc, etc. I’ve used a broad brush here; elsewhere there is detailed and specific analysis. I’ve yet to see a similarly serious response from any of the system’s apologists. How about it?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Nick,

    I wondered how long it would be before you found this post! ;-)

    You make some good points, but I am certainly not an apologist for the system and nor, I think, are most people who work within it - they just try to make the best of what they are given. As I've often indicated here, the system is far from perfect but my experience over some 25 years is that: (a) in the vast majority of cases the system produces outcomes that are satisfactory, or at least the best that can be achieved in the circumstances, and (b) the vast majority of those working in the system are dedicated, hard-working professionals who care deeply about what they are doing, and don't deserve the abuse that they get from some quarters.

    One small point: I don't think that 90% of divorce petitions each year are issued by wives. National Statistics indicate pretty consistently that just over two-thirds of divorces are granted to wives, which should tally pretty accurately with the number of petitions issued by wives.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Can we make those claims about satisfaction? A report for the Ministry of Justice in March last year concluded, 'As a result of weaknesses in the evidence base, we cannot say with authority wheter the public, or indeed those who have participated in civil or family cases, are generally satisfied with those courts and tribunals, and why they are satisfied (or not). Lack of such data about a key public institution is concerning.'

    Regardless of the level of satisfaction, the level of dissatisfaction has led to a campaign of public protest which is unprecedented; it cannot be dismissed so lightly. A significant number of eminent judges have themselves been very critical of the system; it can and should be very much better.

    I don't doubt that most who work in the system, as in any other industry, are sincere and hard-working; I would not hear a word said against the individual solicitors and barrister who represented me, who went considerably beyond the call of duty (though ultimately in vain) to help me. The same cannot possibly be said about agencies such as the CSA and CAFCASS where incompetence and delay have become institutionalised.

    I appreciated that the abuse from some quarters may be distressing when undeserved, but you must remember that those who condemn the system have often had their lives utterly devastated. I seem to remember some quite harsh language flowing in the other direction at times.

    The figure for the number of wives who initiate divorce comes from the accountants Grant Thornton, and they have quoted figures in different years of 92% and 94%. They do indeed seem very high; I just use the information available. It is a shame that the courts do not publish statistics broken down by gender which would perhaps counter some of the allegations of bias made against them (or not).

    Once again, John, many thanks for allowing me space on your blog to have a rant!

    ReplyDelete
  10. No problem, Nick. You are always welcome here.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well, having just complained to cafcass, I do think you can buy a result to a degree in court with regards to contact in the UK and for that reason alone it is a bad system. I am speaking from very bitter and dodgy arguments wining over common sense becasue they were from a silver tongued expensive barrister against a dodgy LIP (me) who judges don't tend to like or respect at all really (or appreciate that some people really can't afford to be represented).

    ReplyDelete
  12. Also, before the money ran out, when I did have a barrister and solicitor, they both blamed me for my ex wife's unreasonable approach. They did not even countenance the thought that the professional solicitors or barristers could be lying (they were). Also when I criticised her solicitors in court the judge really didn't like it. I did not again. This bunker mentality has to stop. Too much sucking up to courts also seems to be the way to operate. In the absence of evidence the lack of openness or respect or response to criticism etc. does no favours. Because my ex comes accross as a nice person and me not, they favour her, with no evidence even though the opposite is the case and the children suffer, it would be laughable were it not for all the suffering children.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. Constructive comments are always welcome, even if they do not coincide with my views! Please note, however, that comments will be removed or not published if I consider that:
* They are not relevant to the subject of this post; or
* They are (or are possibly) defamatory; or
* They breach court reporting rules; or
* They contain derogatory, abusive or threatening language; or
* They contain 'spam' advertisements (including links to any commercial websites).
Please also note that I am unable to give advice.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.