That is the title of a new book written by Dr Edward Kruk, an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, specializing in child and family policy. It is so similar to how we feel about the inadequacies of the current presumption of shared parenting that we’re adding it here to re-iterate our own well established views on the matter.
Dr Kruk essentially states that the current presumption in Canada, which is very much like our own new working presumption, does more harm than good and needs to sit within an evidence-based fact finding process which includes the voice of the child in a meaningful way. Dr Kruk takes the view that often children are their own best experts in what is best for them regarding contact and should be viewed as such when it comes to their best interests. Which of course is something we agree with, assuming the child has not been pressured into a particular point of view.
In his article on Psychology Today, Dr Kruk explains further:
“first of all we adopt an evidence-based approach derived from research asking children themselves about their needs in the divorce transition, and then taking responsibility to reform our laws and public policies to address those needs….. Most simply stated, it is the responsibility of social institutions to support parents in the fulfillment of their parenting responsibilities to their children’s needs.”
And it seems that State side they share all the same problems we do here in the UK. They also seem to be experiencing a positive revolution in how the voice of the child is being accommodated, but much like our family justice system there is still room for improvement. Dr Kruk even refers to a young girl in England and her case, which left her estranged from one parent. Aimee Nicholls, now 16, talks about her parents’ divorce, which happened when she was just 5. Aimee says:
“Despite what people want you to think, I’ve learned that family law… works exactly how it was designed to work… It makes more money for everyone working in family law, and my situation is only partly resolved after 11 years of fighting… The system doesn’t like giving up, unless you’re one of the few families it allows to be different to “prove” that it’s fair. It clearly isn’t fair.”
Aimee goes on to describe how social services misled the courts about her wishes and feelings, how the judge ignored her sentiments in court, how court experts painted a picture of her father that was both untrue and deeply hurtful and finally, how the child welfare officer in her case lied in her report to keep her from seeing her father, and even went so far as to ‘misplace’ her wishes and feelings document. None of this will sound strange or unusual to those of us working in the darker corners of the Family Justice system.
She finishes by saying, “The system is completely broken. Almost everyone working in the system has some vested interest in what’s going on…. If it’s not money and work, it’s politics… The whole secrecy thing, it just makes it… worse. I personally think that would be one of the main things that would resolve this…. Nobody else’s voice gets heard. Politicians just need to stop this, and not in a few months, or two years, or a few weeks even. They need to do it now…”
We don’t know what’s happening by way of improvement in the US, but here at least, for now, under the current President of the Family Division, Aimee would be heartened to know that transparency is Sir James Munby’s priority. It may be too late for Aimee, but we hope, it won’t be too late for the future generations of children going through the courts.
And more than anything, we sure hope Sir Munby can pull it off, because children like Aimee all over the country are growing up with a negative, and unfortunately understandable view of the family justice system. A view which is also held by a large portion of the general public.
You can follow Dr Kruk on Twitter here. And if you want to check out his new book, you can reserve a copy on Amazon, which is due for release on the 25th November.
Roger Crawford said:
I am not sure quite what this Doctor’s views are (or indeed, your own) on a presumption of equal parenting. However, as a candidate in the 2010 election, standing for the ‘Equal Parenting Alliance’ Party, you will guess that a presumption of Equal Parenting is high on my list of desirables! Perhaps I should explain that I haven’t seen my only child, a daughter, for almost twenty years; she’s twenty-two next year. When I felt I had no option but to take the matter to Court, ten years ago, after endless promises by the mother that she would re-unite us, my daughter professed that she wanted nothing to do with me. As she had no idea who I was or what I was like, how did she reach that conclusion? Alienation by the mother, perhaps? When the ‘professionals’ talk about working in a child’s best interests, do they ever take into consideration the evidence that shows, in almost all cases, that a child is best brought up knowing both parents, even if those parents do not live together? A presumption, in law, of equal parenting is just that – a presumption. It starts here, as a basis for negotiation. Of course it is often not possible for each parent to spend equal time with the child or children but that presumption of equality in the eyes of the law – unless there be a PROVEN very good reason why not – must be the best start to working out a sustainable agreement.
I cannot agree that a young child necessarily knows what is best for him or her. What a child says he or she wants may be very different from what, in the long term, is best. And surely the parent’s feelings must count as well – one day that child may well become an adult and a parent, will that child’s wishes and feelings suddenly then not count?
How can the present system possibly claim to act in any child’s best interest when the ‘resident parent’ can invite any new man or new woman into the home of that child, with no questions asked? Whilst the non-resident parent has to go through the hell of the present ‘Family’ Court system in order even to spend a few hours with their children? Every survey, every report, shows that children are more at risk from live-in lovers, boy/girlfriends, even step-parents, than they are from their natural parents. Yet any new lover simply moves in, no questions asked. No police-checks, no court appearances. New lover is presumed fine to be with that child from day one. I can see any child – any child in the world – EXCEPT MY OWN. And anyone can see my child, except me. This has been immensely damaging to me, and I believe to my daughter as well. So perhaps you might see why a presumption of equal, shared parenting is very attractive to me!
The testimony of the girl quoted in this article is very interesting. The damage done to our children and ultimately to our society by the dreadful Family Court system is immense and I’m hoping that the current debate and changes proposed will make things a lot better. I don’t think they could be much worse.
Sorry to go on so.
Dana Raymond said:
Roger, I couldn’t agree more. I feel for your loss of not seeing your daughter and the loss of a shared childhood with her. Her loss of a father too.
Dr Kirk is right, the research backs up what you already know instinctively. The pain caused by the alienators, be it parents, local authorities or judges is immeasurable but a childs voice is unlikely to be heard as it is generally in conflict with others who claim to be working in the best interests of the child.
Aimee was let down by a system full of “professionals” professing to know what was best for her but she is astute to know that was not true. She, at only 16 years old, also has the measure of the child care system, born out of her own experiences. Some kids never know the real truth and grow up believing the lies told to them and they continue to be estranged.
Roger Crawford said:
Thank you Dana. I think that parental alienation should be made a criminal offence, but it is not even recognised in British law. The child’s voice is only heard if it concurs with the prejudices of social workers and/or the resident parent. Aimee is one very bright girl. It is through her and one or two others like her that change for the better is more likely to happen. Thanks again for your reply.
Thank you for your post and your thoughtful comments. I’m sorry about your struggle, I know we’ve discussed it before.
My view on shared parenting differs in terms of what we mean by shared parenting.
Talking about a rigid 50/50 split as a legal presumption inside the court system, to my mind, is wrong. The system caters to all sorts of family units and this kind of presumption could lead to child abuse. We don’t want that. There is also the added pressure to ensure that any contact arrangements for children meet their needs, so imposing a 50/50 shared contact regime on every child is a disaster waiting to happen. It is also true that research tells us, if you favour this body of work, that children fare better with one main home from which they can come and go as they please.
There are however, exceptions to every rule. Some children may thrive under a 50/50 time split and others may ask for it. Some children, like Aimee, want to be predominantly with one parent. This brings me to the more conventional take on shared parenting and what the courts are attempting to define in their definition.
The current presumption tells us that where two competent parents are involved in a child’s life, that child can only benefit from contact with both parents. The presumption makes no attempt at defining time spent or structure of contact with each parent. Instead, it seeks to ensure that every child benefits as much as they can from parental love and care.
This, I agree with. But I also take the view, as does the author, I think, that children should not be sidelined in the debate, and that even children as young as five, the age Aimee was when she started her quest to have her voice heard by the courts, have something important to add to the process. Indeed, they are the heart of it. That doesn’t mean though, that parents need to be sidelined if children are included – it just means everyone should be heard.
You can check out my take on the presumption of shared care in the article I linked to below the author’s; I’m not a fan, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. I’m a passionate advocate of the Paramountcy Principle. If it was allowed to work, we wouldn’t need what is frankly, to my mind, nothing more than a frill, in practical terms.
Roger Crawford said:
Thank you for your take on this: we at least agree that any rigid inflexible ‘agreement’ for 50/50 shared parenting is a disaster waiting to happen. I couldn’t agree more. It’s almost totally impractical anyway in many cases. But the impression I came away from the Family Court with, was that the resident parent – i.e. the mother in this case – was deemed 100% worthy of bringing up our child and I, though no evidence was found against me, was more-or-less irrelevant and my views of no merit. So I think a presumption that each parent is equally valuable to the child’s upbringing is needed – innocent until proved guilty, if you like.
I would like to have the opportunity to debate this further with you. I would like to be enlightened further with your side of this, as we are both on the same side! I’m sure we are both busy people, and I’ve no idea even where in the country you are – but if it would be possible to meet up perhaps one lunchtime I would be very pleased, perhaps sometime over the Christmas holiday period? I’m in Bedfordshire incidentally.
Finally, a confession. Being now sixty-five years old, I’m hardly computer literate and find it almost impossible to ‘follow links’ etc. Having been brought up in the steam age, I prefer mechanical things and writing to all this new-fangled technology. It does my head in. I’m surprised at myself that I can even manage to send this! But I do always read your posts and they are always interesting and often entertaining. I hope you can keep on doing them for a long while yet.
Thank you for your charming post and for your kindness. It would be lovely to talk further with you about this, but I don’t really get the chance to come Bedfordshire, as I’m busy making mischief in London most of the time. But if you ever find yourself in the area, it would be lovely to see you.
One thing I do always mention to parents I assist is that it always seems as if their socio-demographic is the Underdog. In reality, the truth, as I see it through my limited lens, limited by both experience and the limits of my thinking, is that both mothers and fathers can be treated unjustly inside the system. Indeed, for every father whom I try to help who has been wronged by the system, there is always a mother somewhere else I’m assisting who is suffering the same.
The system may look like it picks its targets by gender, but I believe that is a distraction from what’s really happening.
At 34 I confess that I am something of a Techno Bimbo, but like you, I try…. thank you again for your lovely post and I hope I get to make you smile at least a few more times before I put the project to rest (which I don’t imagine will be any time soon, as there’s lots to be done).
Have a lovely weekend, Roger.
Roger Crawford said:
Thank YOU for all you do. I used to think that it was just fathers who were disadvantaged by the system but it quickly became apparent that I was wrong. I do think the system is biased against the ‘non-resident parent’, male or female, but this is not set in stone. Sometimes both parents, and their children, are treated apallingly and it is this blinkered, cavalier attitude by social workers and other ‘professionals’ who assume they always know best, that is a big part of this problem.
I’m often in London. I drive coaches part-time still so know the city pretty well. I wouldn’t at all mind coming up to see you, but better after Christmas I think when things are relatively quiet and our personal lives are less hectic. Meanwhile, on with the struggle. . . .
Have a great weekend yourself, don’t let the b******s grind you down!
Thank you, Roger.
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Kip Miller said:
Researching Reform (Natasha),
Thank you for posting this article. I hope my own views on the topic are as well known as yours.
Just to say that I believe ‘reform’ will help undo a great ‘wrong’ against separated fathers in our society.
Kingsley Miller (even Toddlers Need Fathers)
Thank you for your post. And merry Christmas to you.
Dana Raymond said:
Today in the Daily Mail is the tragic story of a father who lost custody of his child and committed suicide with his child in his arms who also died. Another family failed by the family courts.
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