You are always a dad. Happy Father’s Day

No, really. You are always a dad.

It doesn’t matter if your children live with you one hundred percent of the time. Or half the time. Or none of the time. Or if you have `contact’ of one card per year.

You. Are. A. Dad.

We can play semantics here. We can do the whole `Any man can be a father but it take’s a real man to be a dad’ thing. But you’ve probably heard plenty of opinions that diminish your role, your worth and your suitability. You know if you are below par – and if you believe you are there is a fair chance you came to feel like that over time.

Father’s Day alone.

But the power is in your hands. You are a dad. You likely swore to do the best for your children on the day they were born and this situation doesn’t change anything does it? Does it? I mean…you probably didn’t imagine that would be the endless paperwork. The tongue-biting. The being told the kids have a new dad. Your children calling another man `Dad’ and you being called by your first name. Seeing their name changed. The hurtful comments made on paper and to your face. The empty nursery. The photos you’ve taken off the wall because you can’t bear to look at them. The being told you have no dependents’ because your children don’t live with you more than 50% of the time. The inevitable Well plenty of guys don’t bother’ or the rebuttal `there are plenty of useless fathers out there’ comments. The comments about how you should walk away and your kids will find you when they grow up if they want to see you. The pictures of happy dads and their kids on Facebook celebrating Father’s Day. The TV adverts about treating dad on his big dad. The happy, smiling families that you don’t have.

No one would ever forgive you for walking away. Or giving up. Or being hard bitten and cynical. But it starts and ends with you. No one can make you keep going. No one can make you give up.

The biggest thing to fear perhaps? Your children asking you many, many years time when all this is the dim distant past  `What did you do to be my dad’.

Do everything you can and your conscience will be clear the rest of your life.

Happy Father’s Day whatever your situation.

Give a dog a bad name?

Separated Parents and Second Class Parent – why language is important

Second prize? Separated parent?Separated parents: It can be a minefield

It’s hard enough not having your children in your lives – especially if you are the minority of carer and didn’t choose to be. It’s even harder when the world insists on reminding you. The words used by many can sting.

You may be called a `Non resident parent‘. Or an `absent’ one. You may be told you are a `minority’ carer and as such the primary carer can veto anything you say or do. You may see in a CAFCASS report that your child `lives at the family home with the other parent’. You may hear about your children going `back’ to the other parent.

And much more. You’re number 2. As Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the Moon) says in an episode of `The Simpsons’ stony faced `Second comes right after first!

Give a dog a bad name?Separated parents – give a dog a bad name

It’s easy to internalise all this. Easy to accept that as the world sees you as less than a full parent you will begin to believe it yourself.

What’s worse is that once this starts happening there is a great chance you will start acting in a self defeating manner. You’ll abandon hope, feel like you are powerless and behave as if you aren’t a normal mum or dad.

Don’t fall into this trap

Separated parents – there is no such thing as a second class parent

Act like the parent you would be if your child were with you on a full time basis. Kids need bedrooms, right? With toys, clothes, pictures, etc. If he or she went to visit another family member they’d not being going `back’ to them. If you were still with your ex – a fully involved mother or father.

Yes, it’s hard. In the fact of unrelenting negativity from a hostile ex partner and outside world it is an easy trap to fall into. It’s all too easy to become defeated before the first metaphorical shot is fired if that is what has happened (or may happen).

But act like the parent you are: You are a mum or a dad regardless of what has happened and no one can take that away from you.

Making people understand what Parental Responsibility can feel like shouting into the wind

Parental Responsibility and medical matters

If you have Parental Responsibility you are able to be involved in your child’s health

Dealing with Parental Responsibility can feel like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Simple, eh? Nice and black and white.

Unless you have a court order that says you aren’t allowed to contact your child’s doctor, etc. if you have Parental Responsibility you can discuss your child’s medical health without the permission of other holders of PR.

This is backed up in court if you say something like `The other parent won’t tell me about my child’s medical condition’ – you’ll be told you have PR and to go away and sort it out.

So off you trot…and hit a brick wall.

If you know the surgery you’re child is registered at the following phrases may be used:

  • `You need a court order’.
  • `I will check with the doctor and he/she will decide’.
  • `You need the written permission of the `main parent’.
  • `We can’t talk to you’.
  • `You need to speak to your solicitor’.

What do these phrases tell you? The honest answer…that whoever is saying them doesn’t know about PR or the Children Act. Or they’re acting without legal basis.

Parental Responsibility is meaningless to most people

It’s something you know about for obvious reasons…but the practice manager or receptionist sure as hell won’t. If you are in a particularly hostile situation they may well know about your `abusive and controlling nature‘ which means the children and your ex partner would be endangered if you’re given any information…

If you don’t know what surgery your children are in you have an extra hurdle: Namely, finding it.

In this case contact the Community Health NHS Trust and speak to the Caldicott Guardian who, knowing all about PR, Gillick Competency, court orders and the like will be able to furnish you with the information you desire.

Right?

Dealing with Parental Responsibility can feel like going round in circlesThe maze that is Parental Responsibility

Not as easy as that, sorry. Call the Community Health NHS Trust and as well as the `reasons’ you can’t be given the information you seek you may be met with incomprehension. And/or referred to the Clinical Commissioning Group for the area (CCGs are organisations that took over some of the responsibilities of the now-defunct Primary Care Trusts – in England…in Wales we have Local Health Boards). Chances are when you speak to the CCG you’ll be referred…to the Community Health NHS Trust you’ve just spoken to.

So round and round you go.

Unfair? Yes. Frustrating? Definitely.

Making people understand what Parental Responsibility can feel like shouting into the windHow do you solve a problem like Parental Responsibility?

Easy answer. Don’t give up. Don’t expect anyone to know the law – even if they should. Give up and the problem is solved – namely you go away and stop bothering them.

Speak to the bloke down the pub and he’ll tell  you this is why Parental Responsibility isn’t worth anything. It’s because he’s got annoyed and give up.

Will you?

/sharedcare?Justpartofthemerrygoround?

Why a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care is a waste of time.

…a story from the near future when there is a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care:

`…newly appointed President of the Family Division Sir James Holman has issued new Practice Guidance in relation to the quantum of time children spend with their separated parents. All courts have been advised that any parent wishing to depart from a routine that provides children with equal amounts of time with each parent will be required to demonstrate why this view is in line with the paramountcy principle. Fathers rights groups hailed this as a major step forward, whilst Women’s Aid…’

`Hello, Family Law Assistance – how can we help?’

50/50 shared care? Just part of the merry go round?`Hi there. I’m looking for advice. I separated from my ex 3 months ago. She won’t let me see the kids. I’ve told her that the law means they are meant to be with me for half the time but she won’t listen’.

`Have you tried mediation? It’s always best to try to avoid court and besides it’s a requirement if you are going to make an application.

Contact National Family Mediation and organise to meet them. You’ll attend a MIAM. If mediation doesn’t work you’ll need section 14 of the C100 signed and stamped in any case’.

`Already done that. I went to the MIAM’.

`How did it go?’

`She went to the first one but said she wouldn’t agree to anything more than the kids seeing me on alternate weekends and mid week contact. Because there’s 50/50 Shared Care now isn’t there? She didn’t listen and refused to go to another session’.

`You’re right. There is a presumption of 50/50 Shared Care now’.

50/50 Shared Care. Would it change anything?`OK thanks. She told me I had committed DV against her and abused the kids which is why she won’t agree to anything else. Will the court ignore that?’

`Allegations made will either be ignored, or you’ll be asked about them. Possibly order a Finding of Fact’.

`Will that slow things down? Will I get my kids half the time until then?’

`It’s unlikely at this stage. The court has an obligation to investigate allegations. Since the changes to Practice Direction 12J were made last year however contact may be difficult for the moment’.

`I was told that if the kids are with her and not seeing me it’ll make things harder for me to get 50/50 is that true?’

`The court has to work in the best interests of the child and if they’ve not seen you for a long time it may want to work on a schedule of increasing contact…’

Sound familar? How would a presumption of 50/50 work?

Non resident mums are becoming more common

MATCH Mothers – helping non resident mums

There are significant numbers of non resident mothers as well as fathers. In the first of a series of guest blogs by people involved in the Family Law is an article written by Rosalind Barton, Secretary of MATCH Mothers. This charity offers non-judgemental support and information to mothers apart from their children in a wide variety of circumstances, assisting those whose children who do not see them at all, to those who are in shared parenting arrangements.

Non resident mothers are fewer than their male counterparts but are becoming more common. They face the same issues that any other non resident parent experience, albeit with sometimes additional ones as a result of the different expectations of mothers and fathers in society…

MATCH Mothers – helping non resident mums

As a young lady I began a difficult stage of my life as I faced divorce from not only my husband but a divorce from my 3 beautiful young children. In the 2001 I began a 3 year court battle for the residency of my children. I turned to MATCH Mothers for support and the strength I had was enhanced by this national charity.

Non resident mums are becoming more commonFortunately I had obtained Legal Aid and found an amazing barrister to see me through the legal minefield. The largest obstacle for me seeing the children was my health. I have Multiple Sclerosis. The judge who oversaw the 3 year case admitted he knew nothing about the condition. My barrister asked if professionals who knew me could be brought in to court. My consultant from Poole and a psychiatrist from Brighton were accepted and the fight began.

An uncertain future

According to the professionals I had a limited future and would not be strong enough for my 3 children. The judge did not ask my views on this; he just accepted the professionals’ views. This was a disaster for my children – particularly when they were moved from Winchester to Halifax by their father.

I began a new diet and exercise programme to maintain my health; with MATCH Mothers’ mental support  I was strengthened and able to maintain alternate weekend visits, 6.5 hours’ drive each way. Sadly my eldest son never spent time with me without explanation.

It was time to return to court.

Returning to court

A final court hearing in Bournemouth brought to head the hostility I had faced, culminating in me being told by our son’s other parent that nothing would change and our eldest son would still not spend time with me.

But around the age of 16 years he found the confidence to phone me and at last we began a (secret) mother/son relationship.

I moved on with my life and gained a psychology degree with the Open University and began and working with autistic children. Sadly this job ended this year. But with a lottery grant MATCH Mothers opened a free phone line to help and support mothers apart from their children. I also began a job as the Project Worker for matchmothers.org as well as acting as secretary.

Non resident mums face the same problems as dadsMATCH Mothers knows that there are many more mums struggling to cope with separation from their children and from many situations besides divorce.

Our aim is to reach and help each of them throughout the UK. Our charity will be celebrating its 40 year anniversary in 2019. Beginning in London by an English mum separated by miles as her children were taken to the USA by her ex-husband.

As with my own situation and many others there is reconciliation. The positives and rewards that can happen are our motivation to have this necessary charity.

A MATCH mother now living in Australia moved away from her daughter at the age of 3, the ex-husband had residency but no communication with the mum existed as the child grew up. With our support and recommendations to always keep communication open, never affected by the distance, the mother sent a letter every month to her daughter and kept phone contact open though never used.

At the age of 18 her daughter phoned the Mum and 48 hours later the excited mother flew back to the UK. She spent 10 days with her daughter and now her daughter lives in Australia with her.

Myself I don’t have residency with my 3 children but I do have open contact and the ability to talk with my children at any point of time.

Alienation

An issue which we deal with in 98% of cases is parental alienation. This occurs when the residential parent stops the non-residential parent seeing their child/children by alleged negativity and destruction.

In other words abuse.

We aim to keep up to date with this issue and attend the government’s debates on this and the legal profession’s acceptance or ignorance to this form of manipulation.

On the 27th June 2012 I attended a PA parliamentary meeting in the House of Commons for Mr Nick Child, A family therapist and expert in Parental Alienation, and three senior Family Court were present. Unfortunately little or no progress developed from this meeting.

Reconciliation

I had a difficult case; I was concerned my eldest son’s father had been painting a bad picture of me as a mother. However on that first meeting with my son, aged 17 years old I found out the truth. We went to dinner in a fancy restaurant and while sitting across the table my son said ‘I’m sorry’.

‘For what?’ I asked.

I then was told how he had been treated. Every time he was naughty, ranging from forgotten homework to kicking a football through a window he was told the same thing:

‘That’s another year you won’t see your Mum.’

12 years in total. How I still had dry eyes I will never know. I immediately told him it was not his fault, all boys are naughty at some time.

I am a mum and very proud to be the secretary of MATCH Mothers. I can tell all these mothers apart how special they are too. I am very proud of their aims and their achievements.

`Resident parent' doesn't mean `First prize'

What does being `the resident parent’ mean?

What does this actually mean???

Every time someone has told me they absolutely, positively have to be the resident parent I have always asked `What will a residence order allow you to do that you can’t do now?’

I usually get a blank stare. Or told something that isn’t true. Often that’s by the other side’s solicitor or barrister. If it’s a parent it’s usually something about being able to call the police and get the kids back if the non resident parent refuses to hand them over.

Problem is that it’s not true – if you want the thin blue line to get involved you’ll need an Emergency Protection Order (form C11) – covered in Section 44 of the Children Act. Or they’ll have to be convinced the child will suffer significant harm if not removed (that’s section 46). Most they’ll do (or the most they should do is a Welfare Check).

Pro-tip: Don’t think about trying to use these except in very, very extreme circumstances.

A resident parent has precisely no powers to demand a child is with them other than going through the courts – they are in exactly the same position as a non resident parent. Which is why if you phone 999 and demand your children are returned you’ve got a good chance of being told to speak to your solicitor and/or take it to court.

So in light of the above I present you with a comprehensive list of things that a resident parent can do that a non resident parent can’t. Here we go.

  1. A resident parent can remove a child from jurisdiction for up to 28 days without the permission of the non resident parent.
  2. That’s it.

A non resident parent does need permission of the resident parent.

Many people see resident parents have `won' first prize in a court caseWhat’s the point then? Let’s be honest – it’s a nice title innit? You’re the RESIDENT parent. The main one. The boss. It doesn’t matter that little title means almost precisely nothing – doesn’t affect when your kids are with you, who is in charge, education, medicine or anything else like that. That doesn’t mean that many of the people and agencies you deal with will agree with me on this…but that’s their ignorance and not based in law.

So what do you do when you are faced with an ex who demands they get this title? Ask them (or their solicitor) What harm will the child come to if this order isn’t granted?’ Expect to be told something along the lines of It’s a well established principle’ (rubbish). `The law is clear on this‘ (Ask them which law – there ain’t one). `It reflects the reality on the ground‘ (irrelevant). `The order HAS to say who the child lives with‘ (no it doesn’t…).

The No Order’ principle states the court must start from the position that no order shall be made unless the court consider that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all’– or in other words `Prove that an order is needed’.

Of course the `go to’ most solicitors will use for this is to say that such an order will make the primary carer (usually Mum) feel more secure if such an order is made which of course will impact the children.

So consider this. While a residence order is of little significance or relevance to you as a contact parent it is often the case it means a great deal to the primary carer.  With this in mind you can agree…or disagree that such an order should be made. You may wish to agree to such an order on the proviso that your goals for contact are agreed to. Otherwise you’ll have no option but to point out there is little benefit for such an order to be made.

(One final word – they’re not called `residence orders’ any more. It’s about Who the child lives with’. Same thing, different name – but `residence order’ is a little easier to say and everyone still calls it that in court).

Help! My ex has changed my kids’ names!

It’s amazing how often this comes up. And how many people will justify this. And will argue the toss. But this is a very simple one.

Names of children. A rose by any other name...?When can someone change the names of children? Here is a comprehensive list detailing every way a child’s name can be legally changed.

  1. With the agreement of everyone who has PR for the child.
  2. A court order saying so.
  3. That’s it. There is no number 3.

Simple, eh?

This subject comes up with a weary inevitability. So do the people we speak to who have this problem. We’ve had 2 today so far which is why this post is on this topic.

Pro tip: Deed polls don’t count. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on, especially so if there is lots of gold leaf, excitingly-shaped edges, fancy writing and lots of legalese that makes it look very, very important. If you have one for your child…you’ve wasted your money. If you have one and you want to do it legally you need to go to the Royal Courts of Justice to `enrol’ it…and you’ll need one of the extensive list above to do it.

Otherwise you may as well not have bothered.

Now I know what you’re going to say `Ah…my kids have a legal name and a known as’ name. So it’s OK’. Nope. Doesn’t work like that (unless you’re in Scotland and then it does).

Or you’ll say `I told the school/doctor/whoever and they were fine with it’. That’ll be because they don’t know or don’t care about the law. It’s probably the first one out of the list. Getting away with something doesn’t mean it is legal.

Or possibly `My kids chose to be called by their name’. Doesn’t matter. Check the list above.

Or maybe `The other parent isn’t about – so I can do what I like’. No. You’ll need to go to court to get an order in that case.

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? As always the first piece of advice is `Don’t stick your head in the sand‘. And as always the longer you leave it, the harder it gets to change things. As soon as you learn this happened contact the school, the doctor, where ever else and ask them to change to your kids’ real names. Maybe take their birth certificate in. Explain firmly but nicely what you would like to happen. If they do and it is left at that…great. You don’t need to do anything else.

If not…it’s time to go to court. You’ll need to make an application for a Specific Issues Order.

So it’s as simple as that. Either way – and I am aware I am repeating myself here – doing nothing is just about the worst thing you can do. A stitch in time and all that, OK?

Finishing Line

Contact Denial – What to do and not do

Contact denial is one of the most common matters dealt with in the Family Courts. It’s the most common reason a non resident parent reluctantly fills in the forms (usually a C100), pays their fee and sends it in.

The anatomy of contact denial

Right off the bat, let’s establish something fundamental.

Anyone denying contact between a child and someone who has PR for them without a court order preventing it is acting with no legal basis whatsoever.

Being the primary carer, resident parent, mum, dad, whatever doesn’t confer the right to tell someone who has PR for a child that they can’t see them.

The circumstance of how contact is denied varies however. There is no set pattern. Sometimes they haven’t met their child since birth. Or they had been permitted a sporadic and limited relationship which has ended. Often contact has stopped suddenly and without warning.

Why does contact denial happen?

And the justification for this? I don’t like your attitude. The kids don’t want to see you. You’re a bad parent. I don’t have to let you see them without a court order. I don’t like your new partner. My new partner is daddy/mummy. You’re not paying me enough cash. Or something else.

So…as a parent facing a scenario like this what you do?

Delay is the worst thing you can do if you are facing contact denialThe first step is do not delay. Doing nothing is just about the worst possible thing you can do. It won’t make anything better and it will quite possible make it worse.

In our experience things don’t get better on their own – they don’t `blow over’

Instead what happens is a  a status quo of no contact is set and the contact denier feels emboldened that they are able to continue with this course of action without problems. If you do nothing they’re right of course.

No one cares about contact denial apart from you

And the longer you leave it the more irrelevant any kind of previous relationship you had becomes. Seriously…the court won’t care that you were the resident parent and it’ll care less the longer you do nothing/write a letter/organise mediation/compose your latest symphony.

The moment contact has been denied address it. Organise mediation ASAP. Organise it. Don’t text your ex to see if she/he will attend. Because you won’t get an answer. Or they might be able to make it in 3 months time. Maybe.

FlagIf the place is open now (Google is your friend) stop reading this blog right now and phone them. If it’s out of office hours do it first thing tomorrow. If it ends up in court you’ll be required to attend a MIAM (a `Mediation Information Meeting) in any case. And besides it’s always worth trying on the grounds that court should be the last resort.

If (or when because more often than not it either fails or doesn’t happen in the first place, you’ll need to submit your form to start the whole process.

But the take home here? Do not delay.