In the words of the murdered professor who appears as an interactive hologram in Hollywood’s film, I,Robot, starring Will Smith:
“I’m sorry, my responses are limited. You have to ask the
“That… is the right question. Programme terminated.” [I, Robot, 20th Century Fox, 2004]
Over a mere few decades the UK’s Family Courts have arisen from a little used legal process to settle disputes in rare divorces, into being one of the most sinister, blantantly gender-discriminating institutions of our country, capapble of taking children from fathers at the behest of mothers. Men, matched against mothers of their children in these courts, cannot beat this system.
I know this is not a good start. If you are reading this book you are likely a father facing the prospect of losing a meaningful relationship with your children. In the normal course of things you will be at a low: financially, economically, and certainly in terms of your relationship with your child’s or children’s mother. What is more, you may have recently been forced to leave your own home, perhaps with the help of the local police force who escorted you from your property as though a burglar. In whatever way things have come about you are likely reading this because you are thinking of going to court, or have been through a Family Court process and are wondering where it all went wrong. What you are no doubt looking for is help in the courts, not a history lesson.
After ten-years of helping many fathers in the Family Courts my first advice is a plaintiff plea, the same advice as given by the Conservative Party, and also, hardly surprisingly, the Family Courts themselves, namely: don’t go to court.
The reasons given by the judiciary for this unwelcome guidance are very different from my own. Those in authority believe disputes are exasperated by the adversarial nature of a court hearing and, secondly, that such court hearings are an unnecessary drain on the country’s trial resources- and in fact, the court system cannot cope with the present volume which nowadays number around 51,000 cases involving some 113,000 children each year, (Private Law applications under the Children Act 1989) (1). Civil Servants and the Elected Government of the UK have gone so far as to make official mediation, or MIAM (Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting), an obligatory first-step before any Child Arrangement application is accepted, unless, you are a victim, (meaning a mother), who has suffered domestic abuse. My own reasoning for this same advice is that if you are expecting an ounce of fairness or even-handedness from astute authorities who sagely examine every aspect of your case, you are so removed from the reality of the Family Court system that you may find yourself having a nervous breakdown.
What these two explanations have in common is an open recognition that the processes of the Family Courts are flawed. While this might not seem a revelation on its own, what most fathers have a problem understanding is that the Family Courts can be both transparently gender-biased but nevertheless perfectly legal. Hard to believe at the outset of your first ever court case, but harder still to take when you have done absolutely nothing wrong and yet the State endorses a mother’s wish to alienate you from your own children, or worse, to ensure you literally never see them again.
In order to address this objection properly I need to throw-off all the fetters of modern-day Political Correctness. We are, after all, going to be dealing with disputes between the sexes, of fathers against mothers.
I speak as someone who studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. Useless as that degree was it taught me to look at ourselves as Human Animals as well as Human Beings. Such a perspective enables you to entertain culturally-unacceptable thoughts, however much they go against the norm. I cannot deal with the topic of this book if I have to pussyfoot around words forbidden to us by the likes of the BBC, with 63% or more of TV production staff now women, and 68% of the BBC Trust also women (2) or by a Press now similarly dominated by women, or the departments of civil servants, 54% of all branches who are now women, (3) (with silos of women in key departments – not least of all the Commission for Equality with 75% of employees women). All these bodies inundate us daily with rhetoric and imagery that forbid us, often backed by turn-of-the-Century laws, speaking, and therefore thinking, anything that is non-PC – not unlike ‘Newspeak’ in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (4). Embedded within this thought-control are concepts such as: women are no less capable than men while at the same time somehow better than men, always the victim, and in need of positive discrimination to help them on their way. To contradict such precepts a speaker risks being marched-off to Room 101, labelled a woman-hater, a misogynist and even liable for prosecution under hate-crime legislation.
In truth, in the same way as evolution used to be deemed an insult to God, and shortly before Darwin’s time would have meant incarceration, so too can the idea that men and women are equal in all abilities and aptitudes, be but an out-and-out lie. For the fact is men and women do think and behave differently, especially when it comes to child-rearing. Overlapping Venn Diagrams, yes; but there are important dissimilarities.
Gender differences are self-evident and undeniable. Everything you are surrounded by, the room you are sitting in, the computer you are reading this book on, was invented, designed and/or brought into being by men. Contrary to what feminism would say this is not because women were until recently held-back and repressed by childbearing and men in general. It is simply down to differences in the two genders of the homosapien species, in aspects such as: motivation, attitude to work, thinking and so on.
Yet, these same gender differences, that serve men well as builders and architects in human society, can also be a man’s undoing. Let me give you a relevant example. One of the first things that most men want to do after separating from a spouse or girlfriend with whom they have had children, and who then become deadlocked in a dispute over how to share the upbringing of their children is ‘sort things out,’ as soon as they can. This is a male-predilection, wanting to tie-up with string, put-it-to-bed, write it down and have it signed-off by both parties. For how can you get on with this new job of being a single father unless you have rules and schedules? Without them, wouldn’t it just be a chaos and confusion?
Yet, women, in the same situation, have no problem with chaos and confusion as they feel their way through their new situation. Writing down a series of rules often appears to them as meaningless, childish nonsense. For mothers rearing their children alone is something that in their minds likely has already started, and will go on as before, by the time a father first realizes the complete consequences of his separation.
In many ways, the different approaches of the genders to a child rearing dispute can make fathers appear Asperger or Autistic, when compared to the fluidity of mothers. After all, children are fluid, changing beings. Your new life of separation will be fluid, and you cannot possibly see clearly ahead more than a couple of months after a break-up. Sure, if you are starting a new engineering project, or organizing a team of men, schedules of work are a wise and necessary step and something to be enforced with vigour. Yet, as a means of rearing children by two recently separated parents, it is truly dumb.
In other words, issues that men can find crucially important are simply not, and a good deal of distress in courts could be avoided if only someone were able to convince them of this fact. Often the sorts of things they want a judge to decide on, and force their ex into seeing sense over, are just trivia: timetables, pick-up times, reserving holidays and special days and so on. To this I say, forget it all! In the initial days, months and even years after splitting apart, sure, if it is offered, follow any routine you can get, but expect it to be changed at the drop of a hat.
The truth is, whether or not it was clear to you before, parents stick-it to one another over the rearing of children all the time. It is perhaps more obvious with babies, tagging each other over who does the nursing, putting down, feeding from a bottle, in a 24/7 series of tiring tasks. Some mothers of newborns openly admit they count the minutes until an exhausted father walks in and then, despite him having done a day’s work, hand over the bundle of joy as they flake out. With toddlers things get more subtle with tagging possible simply by walking into a room and then discovering, as you are about to go out again, that your partner has vanished. Yet, throughout all this passing of the hot-potato, you are both unconditionally in love with your child, and through that love, love each other. Once that love for one another goes, irrecoverably, the sticking-it to one another will naturally seem malicious in the extreme. All I am saying is take a moment to ask if what you are in dispute about is really maliciousness, or just normal child-rearing crap?
My first tip is therefore dig-deep, in whatever way you have to reach that human side of your identity, and try, just try, to put aside details in a dispute that could be classed as natural-male autism however much these anger and infuriate you. I mean anything that is not really essential for the joint rearing of children you love with all your heart – and I apologize to those fathers suffering the unimaginable pain of total separation from their children, to them I will return.
You may note that I said ‘in most cases’ going to court over the trivia of child rearing is a bad idea. However, there are exceptions.
I have little regard for the gatekeeping MIAM process, where a mediator signs an FM1 or section 4 of a C100 form to enable a non-exempt person applying to the Family Courts. Normally these sessions are not constructive – and I have even had a client-father who wanted to bring the mediator into court as a witness to prove that the mother was at fault for there not being an agreement (male autism QED!) In my view, this mediation as part of a court process is a bit of a scam. Attendance is not obligatory, and non-attendance does not undermine a party’s case. Nonattendance by one party, a couple of times, will result in the procedure being fulfilled – and statistics show women are twice as likely to do this as men. While the numbers are very confused, it seems that only about 12% of MIMAs result in an agreement, (5), although the true figure is probably a lot lower. This is not to say mediation work is hopeless, but you are unlikely to get progress for a few hundred quid and as a father, you have to get past the perception voiced by many mothers in the above study that a court case is:
“A faster and more effective way of resolving disputes.”
Yet with some people, being in court can evoke communication that was until then not offered. Outside of the courtroom, both parties have to wait near to each other if not in the same room. It is here that deals can be done and agreements reached before the uncertainty of a court case starts. If both parties walk into the courtroom with an agreement, even though not a written word of this was submitted beforehand, a judge most likely will (unless child neglect concerns dominate the case) change an initial ‘Directions Hearing’ into an effective ‘Final Hearing’ and record that agreement as an order.
However, before those who are being stonewalled by ex-partner leap at this as a quick route to sorting things out, there are a lot of ‘ifs.’ The first ‘if’ is if both parties turn-up for their first hearing equally manned, meaning with the same provision of legal representation, especially if that representation is zero, i.e. both are litigants in person. If this is the situation, the nearness of the courts can hit-home like a debtor facing a claims court. You then stand a better chance of being offered a last minute deal if the issues at court are trivial. Trivial does not mean: where the children will live the majority of the time, or whether a mother can move children away from their erstwhile home town. Details such as whether a child is picked-up at 4 or 5pm, or dropped-off at school or the night before at home, fall into the category of what I call trivialities. A lot also depends on the reasonableness of the mother, who ideally should be just tired of talking, but basically needs as much help as possible in raising her children and has no real axe to grind with their father.
If an agreement is reached it will need to be converted, on-the-spot, into the language of an order. This can be done by the Judge, but often this introduces misunderstandings. This conversion of an agreement to order is best done by a barrister, or a very competent McKenzie Friend (see later to find out how such people can be commissioned and what they do).
It is a huge gamble for a father to make an application to a court, banking on the mother being intimidated into a last minute agreement. When it does happen, usually at the FHDRA, (First Hearing Directions Resolution Appointment) I have never heard of a father ending-up with anything more than he already had within an existing informal agreement. In fact, the other party is likely to quote her backstop position, which, because of the order, then becomes the norm.
Putting aside the possibility of a deal at the doors of a courtroom, how do you reach an agreement with someone with whom you have had an irrecoverable relationship breakdown? If official Family Court mediators do not work, and by and large they do not, how can you do it? The answer to this is only an answer if you have face-to-face time with your ex.
First, let’s deal with the negative, which is where the male-nature drags fathers the majority of the time and constitutes my second tip, which is: if the Family Court is in your head at all, or has been mentioned by your ex-partner, do not, from the start, write anything down and send it to her. I mean nothing! No emails, no letters or notes, and no voicemail (which can be transcribed) and no phone calls. No social media postings, no photos on Instagram or anywhere else. Never, ever, go for that killer message that will sort it all out, or sort her out. Only ever make arrangements face-to-face, and then without witnesses.
Of course, I know, she will not talk, threatens to call the police… anon. Nevertheless, face-to-face negotiations are a must. (At the same time, when it comes to what is sent your way record, record, record! Keep all letters, emails, social media postings, and start and keep a diary of events). The essential point is that a father who finds himself separated from a partner with whom his child, or children, still living is vulnerable to misandrist systems of control of his, up until then, private life. At any moment, innocuous details can come under close criticism by those seeking to imply feminist-inspired stereotypes. This attack on a man’s integrity and fatherhood can be both physical, by the mother, boyfriend or police and psychological, by just about everyone else. It is important therefore that you as a father don’t add to this onslaught by using written communication.
I have seen this over-and-over again. Otherwise self-confident men, know without knowing why, they are in a weak position, and out of fear of face-to-face contact, resort to writing, texting or posting on social media rather than face their ex with the possible unknown consequences. These communications then become the main substance of a court case. At least 50% or more of all modern day evidence in the Family Courts are copies of these emails, transcribed phone calls, text messages or social media postings.
Whatever you may feel about it, or fear it, direct contact with your ex is essential. It is the only real way to communicate effectively with any person and the only safe way to communicate for an estranged father. It is in any case ridiculous to write to someone, who until recently you shared a bed, about seeing your own children. Don’t let yourself be psyched-out in this way. (NB: being denied all contact with your children is a special case and needs a different approach).
That having been said, you need to treat encounters with your ex with caution. Mothers in child disputes are inundated with a plethora of advice, skewed forms, and organizations, all of which entice them to come forward with allegations of domestic abuse. The rewards for making false allegations are generous: getting fast-tracked in court processes, a free legal team, as well as having ready-made arguments handed to them. Many otherwise honest women give-in to this temptation on the basis that ‘the ends justify the means.’
It is small wonder fathers shy from keeping face-to-face contact when the slightest mistake can evoke a juggernaut of injustice driven by the feminist stereotype of ‘a violent husband.’ For these reasons, in any encounter keep your distance, no raised voices, and use the salesman’s axiom of no said three times means no. You are a father and I am not a therapist so I will not try and tell you how to treat your own children who may also be present, although clearly if they are there, engage with them first.
Here I need to add a couple of warnings while at the same time encouraging fathers, in the words of a Justice4Fathers slogan, to have a ‘brave heart.’ There are certain hot spots to keep clear of for any meeting-up, such as on school premises, where your rights are usually a lot different from what you may believe (see later), and also any home you have left. Secondly, this advice only applies if there has been no violence or threats made, or allegations of the same, in your past relationship, whether it is from her to you, or the other way around. It need not be violence or threats that are in any way true.
Approaching someone who is unwilling to talk to you, and with whom there is a history of allegations of violence, even if you are married to that person, can result in being arrested. Unless you shout or strikeout during your meeting, nothing should come of such arrests, although you may be taken away and at a Police Station you can receive a rather annoying thing called a ‘Police Notice.’ This is often used to say if you come back to that location then you will be considered to be causing a public nuisance or committing harassment, and will be liable to arrest and charged for ignoring the Police Notice.
If the mother has anything at all incriminating against you, in writing or recorded (such as a voice mail), that vaguely looks threatening (even a message like ‘I’m coming to get the kids’), you can face being hauled-up to court the next day, after spending a night in police cells, on a charge of molestation, harassment, or any number of an increasingly long list of protective injunction charges. These supersede any order later made in a Family Court, and also close-down completely your chance of avoiding a Family Court Case.
It should be noted that unlike almost any other criminal allegation the police are directed to pursue domestic violence charges without the normal stringent level of evidence required for most criminal prosecutions. Magistrates often feel empowered by domestic abuse charges and treat potential offenders in a way normally only found in the Family Courts. In one case of mine a client was given a two-year non-molestation order against going near or contacting his ex in any way, by phone, in person or by IT methods, because of a Facebook posting he had made on his account a year before the complaint. The Court passed this order while my client was still in the police cell, and was never given an opportunity to speak, and instead was represented in court by a female solicitor my client had never met and who arrived 20-minutes late for a hearing that lasted a total of 30-minutes.
You should be aware that there are also now many routes for women to get protective injunctions against a father other than via the police, under the ever expanding Family Act 1996. An injunction, with a power of arrest, can be made ex-parte, without your knowledge or participation, through an urgent application to the Family Courts by a solicitor. Ex-parte orders are interim orders, but easily become permanent as the bar of proof needed from a mother in the Family Courts is both very low, and very wide (in its definition of abuse).
Protective injunctions are serious and should be heeded in full and to the letter, and definitely should be appealed or, in the case of those given in the Family Court, you should apply to have them set aside or appealed – unless the evidence presented in support of the charge is true. Breaking protective injunctions can, and often do, result in a prison sentence of up to five-years.
Whether because of the threat of false allegations, or because you annoy and tire your ex, the number of opportunities you will have to engage and negotiate face-to-face are going to be limited, so you have to make the most of them. This means having new strategies, for your own safety as well as to make any progress. Everything in your normal communication toolbox will have been exhausted. Clearly, nothing now works. So, you need some more tools, but which ones?
What most men fail to grasp is that what they really lack is an ability to negotiate with someone who has all the power. Quite often I found myself thinking that the reason a relationship existed at all with a client was because of the control his partner exercised over him all along. So, my third tip is: seek assertiveness training before you meet-up and go at things in the same old way – and get the same old responses. Assertiveness not in the sense of aggression or control, but assertiveness behavioural therapy to help you cope with being in a position of weakness but nonetheless calmly getting what you need for your children without feeling upset or angered by needing to ask.
I would like to interject an anecdote at this point. A father was subject of a Family Court dispute some 20-years ago. Since then, although he had as much contact as he wanted with his son, now in his twenties, his relationship with him was consequently strained, with long periods of no replies to phone calls, no cards sent on special occasions and so on. He knew his son was living on a constant diet of alienation against him, by his mother, and her extended family. His son then became tragically sick and had some life-changing surgery. This lead to further surgery that then went wrong. After visiting his son in hospital, the father was overcome with how close to death his son looked. On the way home, he was speaking to his wife in one of their rare phone calls when he suddenly broke down uncontrollably in tears saying how much he loved his son and how much he feared for his life.
His wife was living with her son’s condition day-in-and-out and so her feelings were more even compared to the father who only saw his son occasionally. From that day on, after his son thankfully recovered, the treatment of the father’s by his son was totally different. He no longer is calling-barred by his son and has a far more of a normal father-son relationship.
What can be learned from this is that while it may be obvious to you that you love your children, incredibly, this may not be believed by your ex. Remember, if a mother prevents her children having a relationship with their biological father, in any way, an act that is bound, certain and proven to lead to developmental harm, she cannot be thinking rationally. It is therefore worth, in any encounter, saying how much you love your children, without any conditions attached. Not: ‘I love our children, therefore…’ or, “because I love our children…’ or, ‘don’t forget I love our children…’ Just say you love your children – no more. Repeated enough times it may just get through whatever delusion is stopping your ex from letting you help raise your kids.
I know that most fathers will not be convinced by any of the above remarks, for what I am doing is twofold. Firstly, I talk about finding a way to give ground to the mother, on as much as possible, to avoid a court case. Secondly, I talk about continuing a face-to-face dialogue with the mother, even if this means stopping her in the street, but using new ways of communicating in order to reach an out of court settlement for the sake of your children. I know that both of these concepts will receive incredulity. The very last thing on most men’s minds who are thinking about a Family Court case is rolling over to the demands of their ex, and as for dialogue:
“That just ain’t going to happen!”
In a bid to get you to take advice from the words of the song sung by Fagan in the Film Musical, Oliver! (6) – ‘I think I better think it over again,’ – let me give you some hard-facts.
Family Court cases can take three-months to get to the first hearing. On average, they go on for 10-months after that, with some taking over two-years. The cost of an average and simple Family Court case, when a full legal team is used, is between £20-50,000 and for that you only get a mere week-or-two’s worth of a solicitors’ time and a barrister for a few days.
Even when you pay for legal experts, the majority of the evidence building is down to you. A court case that you may start in haste, and starts-off being done by you in your spare time, will, after some months, take over your life, consume your every waking hour and fill your mind. Many lose their jobs over court cases. You have also to take-on-board that once you start a court case you cannot stop it, only a judge can. If things start to go against you there is no bailing-out, for every application has a counter claim so the court case is as much the respondent’s as it is yours. If you do walk away, the case will quite happily go on without you.
You should also look closely at what you will end-up with, even if you do win, which is merely a piece of paper. That paper can be a very powerful tool for a mother, but for a father, it is different. You can wave the paper around when your ex breaks the order written on it, show it to the police if you like, but I can tell you not a lot will happen. Nobody will forcibly intervene with a mother until things have been taken to the very last resort, and no one will put a mother in prison for breaking a civil order. What is more, and worse, those mothers who are most likely to break Family Court orders are exactly the ones who know this.