Saturday, 21 July 2007

STAYING TOGETHER FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN


Teenage boys – who’d have them by choice? I should know by now: arguing with an adolescent only ever leads to raised voices and do you ever win when he always has to have the last word?

Come to think of it, why, in this nanny state of ours, don’t babies come with a health warning stuck to their foreheads? “CAUTION this little bundle of joy will turn into a belligerent teenager!”

It always amazes me, and I suppose demonstrates the full extent of parental love, that I have so many clients who want to argue over their children. Indeed I can’t recall a case where both parties have sought to reject the kids. If Outdoor Man and I ever went down the road to separation however, I speculate that Apprentice Man might just find himself in that novel position.

“Staying together for the sake of the children,” is an oft quoted phrase. Properly interpreted, does it actually mean: staying together for the sake of the parents? Neither parent should be expected to take on the sole day to day care of their children; it’s unfair – they’re extremely hardwork.

2 comments:

warbaby62 said...

I get more than a little irritated when it is clear that T.V. script writers, especially for soaps, do little or no research when dealing with story-lines involving separating parents and their children. Good drama should be based in reality. Not only does "going for custody" type threats reinforce the old and inappropriate "ownership of children" attitude that was removed by the Children Act, it does little to inform viewers experiencing separation, in particular children and young people. I accept that shared parental responsibility is not as dramatic as, "I will get the children", but I would expect dialogue put into the mouths of lawyers to be more accurate.

I noticed in recent episodes of Emmerdale that the issue of a proposed step-parent adoption of a child was being played out, when the biological mother lived as a virtual neighbour to the couple. It was shown as a move of convenience and "spite". Another difficult life situation displayed in a very skewed and unreal way, which no court process would entertain.

These careless and mischievous depictions merely add to the welter of misconceptions that people have when meeting the real live situations, often for the first time.

warbaby62 said...

I think that there would be few detractors from the view that the Children Act was a was a welcome radical change to the law relating to families and children. Not only did it bring together both public and private law under one statutory umbrella, it placed and defined the common ground between public and private law, in particular that of the central position of the welfare of the child. It was in this area that made the Act unique, when it clearly listed the features of what constituted the welfare of the child, within what is termed the "welfare checklist," (S1 (1)(3)). Although the welfare of the child had previously been held to be paramount, it was only "procedurally paramount", that is the first thing to be considered in relevant family proceedings and the only main areas of welfare concern were education, health and religion.

Although the status of, "the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age understanding) is highlighted by giving it first place in the list of the seven features, it is often misconstrued and misused, not the least by those who should know better. How many times does a court give direction for a report from Cafcass, with the added reminder of "ascertaining the wishes and feelings...."? Such inappropriate weight on and singling out of this issue is bad enough, but becomes dangerous when it is re-framed as, "let the child decide", in both subtle and obvious ways. "Ask Sammy who he wants to live with." "She says that she does not want to ever see her dad ever again and it is her choice."
"Why have you recommended that he should have contact with his father when he refuses to do so?", was a one lawyer's question to a Cafcass witness. Such are the dangers of reinforcing the importance of one issue over an array of others of importance in their own right. It is probably not surprising that a Cafcass worker will then fall over him/herself to fulfill acknowledgment of "wishes and feelings" and write in a report about an eleven month old child, "J is too young to appreciate the political significance of his circumstances." (Ofsted's Inspection of Cafcass East Midlands - 2008)

Although the Children Act has rightly and explicitly made the welfare of the child central in family proceedings, this does not mean that the child and all that he/she does and says should be thrust into becoming an over riding deciding factor - that is far from being in the child's best interests. As is the case with most sensible parents, it is the duty of the court to listen to the child, but the court decides.