Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Feedback 2: Fathers

Barry's other comment was on my posting about Liberal Democrat policy towards fathers.

He wrote, "This makes disagreeable reading on a supposedly liberal blogsite, and it is difficult to know where to begin. You mix general comments with specific which you clearly are inviting your readers to believe matches your situation. Firstly, your statement "the [father] loses his property." This is not the 19th century - these days marital property is assumed to be jointly owned regardless of whose name is on the deeds(and presumably your [marital]"property" was registered in your sole name - am I right?) Wives have property rights too in case you hadn't noticed.

you appear to be demanding a regime in which there is "control" over how the "ex-wife spends the money" (the child support) Do you want a government quango to be demanding household accounts and scrutinising grocery bills, or do you want the non-resident parent[ in CSA jargon] to be able to enter his/her children's home to check on the pantry or audit bank accounts? Do you want your ex-wife to be providing receipts? Perhaps you want your ex-wife to draw up a "child support budgetary plan" for your scrutiny and agreement? Is it really true to say that your children are turning up at your house "inadequately clothed" and "ill-fed" and that you are forced to provide food and clothing for them? Or is this hyperbole to make your point?

You call for "shared parenting" This can work and many divorced couples arrive at mutually acceptable arangements but it all depends on the nature of the divorce. If you have not managed to agree a "shared parenting" regime with your ex-wife then it probably is because she does not want it. Perhaps - have you considered - she has good reason? Reading your blog, and the casual way you seem to want to control her life through control over her household finances and the way she is bringing up her children and the insinuation that she is starving her children and failing to clothe them adequately- I would say she had reason enough to reject a closer involvement with you over parenting. I note that you are standing for the European Parliament in my region (the south-east) I for one will not be supporting you. "

Barry, by all means take issue with things I say but don't attack me for things which I didn't say. My remarks were based on my experience in counselling fathers through Family need Fathers and not just my own experience. Your remarks about my attitude to my ex-wife are unjustified, insulting and absurd. For the record, I have not claimed and I do not claim that my ex-wife "is starving the children and failing to clothe them adequately" nor do I want to "control her life". Given your propensity to distort what I have said, I will confine any future posts on the subject to the general.

Firstly, property. As you rightly point out property is assumed to be jointly owned and not merely assumed but actually set out in the relevant deeds. Why then is it reasonable for the state through the courts to order that one partner's share in the property is taken away and given to the other partner, whom the state has decided should live with the children ? Of course, in some cases this may be the only solution for the sake of the children. However, in many cases it would be possible for the children to spend more time with both parents. In many cases, the value of the joint property would be sufficient to allow both partners to buy new but smaller properties if it were sold. The courts do not usually support such a solution, preferring to expropriate the share in the property which the parent now labelled by the state as "absent" has built up over years. The absent parent may as a result have insufficient accommodation for the children when contact happens.

Secondly, the question of what counts as child support. Of course, I am not demanding such an absurd regime as you suggest. I am simply pointing out the unfairness of a system where the resident parent is assumed to be benign and to spend child support on the children whereas the non-resident parent is assumed not to support the children even when such expenditure can be proved. Thus, if a non-resident parent buys clothes for a child, this will only count as child support if the resident parent agrees but, of course, the resident parent has every reason not to agree because that would reduce the money to be transferred to the resident parent. The law and the courts treat the non-resident parent as an occasional visitor and a source of funds, not as a equal parent with a share in bringing up children.

My point is simple. The interests of the child should be paramount as current law provides, but why can we not also say that shared parenting is presumed to be the best way to achieve this ? That is the policy that the Labour government and the Liberal Democrats have both rejected.

Finally, of course you must make up your own mind how to vote in the South-East Euro selection, but please decide about me on the basis of what I actually say and not what you wrongly attribute to me.


Barry Molyneaux said...

started in my reply to your blog by noting that you mix general comments with specific and that you were inviting your readers to distinguish between the two. Thank you for explaining that your comments were placed in part on your counselling experience with "Families need fathers" which places your comments in context. In response to your reply, I have checked carefully and you do indeed mention that the CSA does not exercise any control over how the ex-wife "spends the money" ie the child support money. It is reasonable to infer - and quite unreasonable of you to protest about it - that you do indeed want some regime to exercise control over how the money is spent. I was merely pointing out the impractacility, the absurdity and downright illiberalness of this and i am pleased to note you agree. Clearly my blog response has been of some use!

As for "shared parenting" - you ignored my comments. The courts do not impose "shared parenting" orders on parents where one or both do not want this arrangement. As I said many parents do indeed want "shared parenting" and this will form the basis of their agreed arrangements for the children's care. For the courts to impose on parents "shared care" would be draconian social manipulation as it would compel both parents to be resident within a short distance, force both to live within the catchment area of a school and impose unacceptable - in liberal terms - constraints on freedom. Quite rightly, both Labour and LibDems have rejected this course as a political objective - as you note.

Your use of the word "state" is puzzling and quite worrying. The "state" does not have a view, make "assumptions", nor does it "force" fathers out of their homes or "decide" to deprive them of their children. Couples ask the courts to legally end their marriage. the court provides a framework to dispose of marital property and makes a court order about the children. Very few divorces are contested, very few arrangements for the children are imposed against a parent's will, and controversy over property is mostly confined to the very rich. You will hear otherwise from "families need fathers" Remember that the majority of the high profile cases of members of this organisation concern men who were never married to the mothers of their children - cases complicated not only by illegitimacy but also of paternity

David said...

You've done it again, Barry. I have not proposed and nor does Families need Fathers that the courts IMPOSE shared parenting. I suspect that your misunderstanding is shared by many in our party and elsewhere. As several speakers, including myself, tried to make clear in a conference debate in 2006, a legal presumption of shared parenting means a starting point for the discussion not an end point. Actual divorce settlements would start with the presumption that shared parenting is in the best interests of the children and then take into account all the practical factors such as accommodation, income, work location etc.

There are two reasons for suggesting such a presumption. Firstly, there is a large body of evidence showing that children benefit from shared parenting and suffer emotionally and academically from the absence of a parent. The evidence is particularly compelling when you look at the statistics for juvenile crime. Secondly, the current legislation assumes that children will live with one parent and the courts have developed the same assumption. This of course shapes the advice that solicitors give to their clients and a parent seeking to see the children more than once a fortnight against the wishes of the other parent will be advised that they have little chance of succeeding. You say that "very few arrangements for the children are imposed against a parent's will". I don't know how you can possibly know this. Perhaps you mean that very few arrangements are strongly contested because solicitors advise their clients that there is no point.

You also say, "the majority of the high profile cases of members of ...[Families need Fathers] ...concern men who were never married to the mothers of their children." I don't know where this information comes from. All I can tell you is that all the fathers who have telephoned me were married to the mothers, did contest the arramgements for children and now see very little of them. In some cases, they have not been able to see their children for years.

You challenge my use of the word "state". The government that proposes legislation, funds and manages CAFCASS and regularly makes statements on family matters, the parliament that adopts legislation and the courts that interpret it and develop their own assumptions are all instruments of the state. Their power, particularly the courts, to sort out the consequences of marital break-up has probably one of the most dramatic impacts the state can have on individuals' lives. I am sorry but I think your view of the role of the courts is naive. Controversy over property is not confined to the rich and matters much more to those who only have a little property. Many, many arrangements for the children are imposed against a parent's will.

I suspect we will not agree about any of this, but don't tell me that it is a liberal idea to take away an individual's property and contact with children.

Barry Molyneaux said...

Good, I am pleased to note you have shifted your opinion and I am glad you acknowledge that it is illiberal to impose "shared parenting" where one or both parents object.

I take issue with your bald assertion that there is a large body of evidence to support the benefits of "shared parenting" This is "Families need fathers" pyschobabble. The evidence, such as it is, say that children do best in a secure family environment living with both parents and their siblings where there is continuity of care and security. This is best provided by marriage or a strong "civil partnership" to use the jargon. Where this does or cannot exist children can do very well in a single parent household or where one parent is absent from home for whatever reason. Contact with both parents may be very important - and I certainly do not argue otherwise - but I know of no evidence that suggests that it is necessary for this to be by having to live alternately with both parents, indeed the evidence that continuity of care is crucial would seem to suggest the opposite. If you can quote a body of evidence that says that the children must LIVE with both parents - and where parents are separated that must mean by moving between households - in order to grow up without pyschological or academic problems, then quote it.

Turning to your last sentence. Isn't this what all your campaigning is about - that you had "your" property taken from you by order of the court? and you feel this is illiberal and unfair? What about the property rights of your expartner and your children? I hesitate to draw any conclusions from your blogs about your actual situation since you muddle the general with the specific but I sense there is an ongoing dispute as you mention the CSA with what sounds like personal experience, and your remarks about contact seem to be general. Do we conclude that you do indeed have regular contact with your child or children but you object to paying for their keep to your ex-partner?

David said...

Thanks for your latest contribution, Barry. I have not shifted my opinion, but corrected your mis-statement of it.

I am conducting this dialogue at a disadvantage, as it is clear who I am - I make no secret of it. You however are a blogger with no blog and an empty profile. I have good reason to suspect that your name is not Barry Molyneaux nor do you live in the South-East of England.

In any case, this blog is not intended to be devoted to the subject of shared parenting. Consequently, I have now selected the option of moderating comments. If you still have more to say on the subject, please post a comment including your e-mail address. If you don't want to share that with readers of the blog, I will moderate the comment and not publish it. We can then continue the conversation if necessary by direct e-mail.