Penelope Leach and Sleepovers

A week too late perhaps, but the dust has started to settle and when my good friend and OnlyDads Advisory Board member Spencer asked me for my views on Natasha’s post about Penelope Leach I thought I’d better offer a viewpoint.

So Spencer, what follows is a totally personal response. But first some context.

On Monday 16th (the day Natasha wrote her blog and all this news about Penelope Leach broke) I was having a meeting with my colleague, Rebecca

During our meeting we received a visit from a local dad – toddler in arms. This particular dad approached OnlyDads two years ago looking for some advice. He told me then that the situation with his ex was dreadful, he had failed to gain residence of his children – the judge, with input from CAFCASS, had simply dismissed his proposal, and he was now stuck. His final words to me that day were (and I remember them) were “the fact is, my kids will end up living with me – the Courts just haven’t done their job”.

And now they are living with him. Two years too late! It took the intervention of a social worker to work out was going on at mum’s house and then immediate – I mean IMMEDIATE action was taken and the children were taken to live with Dad. Now we have really happy and secure children. And for the first time in two years we see a dad with a look that comes only from knowing your children are safe written all over his face.

And I’m left wondering why it is, in these very clear cases, there remains a bias towards keeping children with mum?

And as part of this context, I recall my own situation, where despite it being obvious to everyone that my daughters should live with me, it took 9 court hearings, various CAFCASS reports, and it was again, only with the intervention of a social worker who really got a handle on what was going on, that this position was secured. Two years of total angst!

The fact is Spencer, I am uneasy with sexism of any kind. So when I read about Penelope Leach’s views my heart sank a little. I read Natasha’s post that same evening. I greeted it with an “Ooooff”. Let me add, I’m a big fan of Natasha as an individual, and her blog. I was however surprised with some of the words and phrases she used when talking about Penelope’s position.  I thought phrases like “we couldn’t agree more” and “applaud” and “salute” where likely to give rise to something of a backlash.

The facts are, that whether it was Penelope, or her publishers, or the media, headlines were spinning around that if toddlers /young children spend nights – or as the headlines ran, have “sleepovers” – with dad, it can cause children to suffer brain damage. Headlines like this are a powder keg.

Later that evening – it had been a full on and busy day – I tweeted something along the lines that this whole issue was best ignored. I also have a particular problem with the expression “sleepover at dads”. It diminishes the crucial role of fatherhood. It’s the same as tweets that read “off out with the girls (sic) tonight, hubby’s babysitting”

You were not the first to include me in tweets asking for an opinion, Spencer. Throughout last week I was finding it difficult to find my voice. See the thing is, the more I read, the more I disagreed with everyone!

In the world of family law and social media there is a set routine. Women state a view, then the father’s rights activists shout back that it’s all a “feminist plot”.  Then charities and other organisations jump in with posts and comments that basically say “it’s all about the children and aren’t we all grown up and reasonable by seeing both sides”. (They always read a bit holier than thou!)

My heart sinks further and I sort of clam up.

Anyway – that’s some background context. I’m now (as you asked) going to let you know what, and how,  I think.

Feminist plot? 

I can’t quite express who much I believe feminists are not the problem. I’m not going to enter the whole debate about who is and who isn’t a feminist (too boring) but for the sake of clarity I take a feminist to be anyone who does not feel the need to define themselves by parental or marital status and holds a world view that men and women should be equal.

Here’s the thing. In 8 years of running OnlyDads I have yet to support a dad who is “fighting” with a feminist ex. I guess that is because (by definition) feminists see themselves as equal, have a brain and a life, and are only too happy to share out the parenting responsibilities.

Academic approach

Basically Spencer – and here I perhaps part ways with Natasha – I’m not a fan of theories and papers and academic pronouncements on issues as diverse and dynamic as family life.

As a young man I studied theology. Some might say that’s all a bit useless given God doesn’t exist, but the study of religion(s) (and anyone else steeped in this disciple will agree, I’m sure) enables you to spot nonsense at a thousand yards. You are educated to sort of smell it!

An elderly professor told me over lunch one day at College that his God was a God of questions more than a God of answers. That was 30 years ago and I’m still learning from him.

The 1970s

Is “don’t go your dads tonight, you’ll get brain damage” that much different to parents from the ’70s saying “don’t play with the Indian boy, you will come home smelling of curry”?

To my mind, there is something of a totally dated feel to Leach’s viewpoint.

David Attenborough

We all love a bit of natural history on the BBC. I wonder if Sir David could be persuaded to do one last programme based on the rapidly changing face of fatherhood?

Walk out into town centre or playground today and you will see an army of dads with their offspring. And you will notice relaxed, happy, confident, and engaged children.

What happened? It really wasn’t like this even twenty or thirty years ago.  It’s truly remarkable!

So remarkable in fact that I don’t think courts, the legal profession, CAFCASS and others have quite cottoned on.

Care with words

If OnlyDads has taught me anything, it is that this contemporary generation of fathers love their children and want to be fully part of their lives.

To be separated from them is hard. Perhaps the hardest thing in the world. I hear the words “like being bereaved” all the time.

We all need to treat this love with the respect it deserves. Inflammatory newspaper headlines can be seen to ride roughshod through this love and it’s not good enough.

Final thought

I’m wary of any thought or philosophy that has the potential to divide the sexes or inflame the toxicity that exists at the time of  divorce and separation.

For this reason I think Leach is wrong. And even if a professor of social sciences could prove to me that she is actually right, I’d still disagree with what she has to say. And that is not bloody-mindedness. There is a bigger battle to be won here. Getting mums and dads working together is key.

We need a lot more unity and a whole heap less division.

Bob

ps I have read some crass personal comments being made about Natasha. I know for sure no one reading this post will quite appreciate all the work Natasha does supporting families and dads in particular. I treat Natasha like a friend, and even though we have disagreed on this one I hope to meet up on Wednesday and have another argument about who is buying the frothy coffee x

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The Family Law Panel – An Expression of Gratitude

The thinking behind the launch of The Family Law Panel began 18 months ago with a ‘phone call from Mary Shaw. During the course of that conversation I explained to Mary that we had just signed an exclusive contract with a national firm of family solicitors…

…I distinctly remember calling my colleague Rebecca afterwards to say we had just been given a right royal rollicking some valuable professional opinion. The core of Mary’s advice was that we were missing a trick if we ceased our signposting role to “local” solicitors and mediators.

Mary was right!

So, in January this year we made the decision to neither extend nor renew our contract with our national provider of family law information/advice. We had to think about alternative solutions so we set about seeking advice as to how best we look after and cater for the thousands of enquiries we get each year on matters to do with divorce and separation and Children Act proceedings.

Our first port of call was Roger Bamber. Roger invited us to London for a pow wow. He brought along his brightest and best (Rose and Robin) to the meeting; invited us to talk straight and explore all options and kicked off the meeting by reinforcing the bottom line – that mums and dads coming through our websites were parents in the “twilight zone”… parents who were motivated enough to look for support and direction; dedicated parents who needed the best possible service.

By the end of the meeting Rebecca and I walked out into the City of London and knew we had the furthered Mary’s basic idea of “going local”.

Chris Fairhurst was frequently on the blower! For those who don’t know, Chris is a mate on Twitter who was always bending over himself to help our dads. “Chris, I have a dad in Kent. He lives in his van, has absolutely no money, 15 convictions for this and that, hasn’t seen his kids for three years and is now looking for contact”. Such calls have always been met with an immediate “put him on”.

Chris – you really are a credit to your firm and the legal profession.

In between helping parents, Chris was also telling us very clearly that we needed to build up a panel of the best family solicitors around the UK. We listened!

With an outline plan beginning to crystallise we found ourselves in the offices of Norman Hartnell and The Family Law Co on a bright spring morning.

Norman doesn’t mess around!

We walked into the meeting he had arranged. Assembled around the table we found he had brought together his senior solicitors and partners, marketing managers, his human resources manager and (believe it or not) a senior naval officer with proven, top-level skills in team building and strategy.

Within about 10 minutes, The Family Law Panel began to take shape. What an astonishingly competent group of people!

During the next couple of months we received more help from Norman and his team than you can imagine – we really can’t thank them enough.

This short ‘thank you’ note would not be complete without passing on our gratitude to Jo Edwards and her team at Resolution for inviting us along to their Manchester conference so we could meet their membership and discuss our plans further. It was a kind gesture and one we really appreciate.

So today, The Family Law Panel is up and running. We are giving preference to Resolution members firms and individual solicitors who can demonstrate a commitment to the ethics contained in the Resolution code and utilise social media to reach a wider audience; we are not ashamed to say we are hand-picking the cream of the UK’s family solicitors.

Offering the very best service to the mums and dads who come through our organisation requires team work – and it is our privilege to have had your professional input and support.

Thank you.

Bob and Rebecca

 

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Mediation, Simon Hughes MP and the MoJ

Simon Hughes and the MoJ ask:

  1. What barriers are currently in place for family mediation?
  2. What else could be done to promote mediation?
  3. How have you promoted mediation in your local area?

OnlyDads and OnlyMums are not mediation specialists, but our organisation attracts many thousands of emails and questions from those going through the family law experience. What follows is informed by this data collection exercise and is our initial response to the MoJs initiative:

Barriers:

  1. Costs. In particular couples are very unclear how long it will take to arrive at a conclusion when they start mediation. Many describe it as “too open-ended”.
  2. Knowledge about the mediation process itself – some (dads especially) think it’s something akin to “getting back with the ex”
  3. Many don’t trust the ex and can’t bring themselves to even sit in the same room.
  4. Many (and again we would highlight dads) feel a judge, and a judge only, will accept their version of events.
  5. There is a common feeling with mums and dads that if the other chooses a mediator, then that mediator will be “their” mediator and may be biased as a result.
  6. The “ex doesn’t turn up despite repeated requests”
  7. The “kerfuffle at the fridge over the taking of some family photographs” gets turned into accusations of domestic abuse and mediation doesn’t even get started.
  8. Situation where there is a historic power in-balance – cases involving domestic abuse.

 How to Promote Mediation Services:

Sweeping generalisation – but perhaps women are more attuned into mediating in general then men. If that is the case, concentrating on men (dads) would seem to be a sensible approach.

Beware of more “top-down” promotion. The “sorting out separation” initiative was always going to be doomed. Central Government getting directly involved in people’s lives, especially at times of breakdown, is not going to be welcomed. I’m guessing the DWPs official line is that it’s been very successful but we can assure you that from grassroots level, the scheme was viewed as unwarranted interference, not trusted, lacking the right questions and responses, and subsequently, resolutely panned!

Supporting groups like OnlyDads that don’t have campaigning / political bias but that work with mums and dads and encourage reconciliation – mediation with a small ‘m’ and a big ‘M” – will help. (Now we would say that! but I think the case stands up to close scrutiny).

Promoting Mediation in Locality

This is really a question for local Mediation services and our views are limited. That said, NFM and a few outward looking mediation services add links to site like ours and in turn, we help spread the word through social media. That works.

We are trying to finalise plans for the rolling out of more of our (to be mediator-led) dads groups. At a very local, grassroots, level these will help as work and support can be offered directly to address some of the barriers referred to above. We would encourage mediation services to keep in touch with us on developments.

We suggest the mediation sector to do more media work – you rarely hear the subject aired on local radio, for instance.

To find a mediation service in your area, please click here.

We would welcome your comments – especially on highlighting Barriers to Mediation. Many thanks. 

 

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To separate or to divorce? That is the question

The end of marriage is very rarely easy. You’ve tried to work things out over a period of time, but it hasn’t worked. In some cases tempers get frayed, emotions run high and it all kicks off. Accusations and counter accusations fly. There is no agreement on anything. You just want a divorce to get out of the situation and be able to move on.

In other cases things are more amicable but the couple are content that the relationship is over and both want to move on. Divorce might seem the natural option, with a focus of getting things sorted as quickly as possible.

However, there is another section of people for whom immediate divorce is not the right way. They may have accepted that the marriage cannot be salvaged and divorce is the (likely) end game, but not just now thanks. Too much going on. Let’s do this calmly and slowly. We’ll agree to separate but not to divorce. There could be religious reasons behind this, a fear of the sudden impact on the children, or a couple are just too emotionally drained already to pick over every detail of the marriage to try to reach a divorce settlement.

Can people in this position do anything though to make their position legally more secure? After all, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for one or both of the parties to move on with their life, perhaps starting a new relationship with all the potential emotional and often financial implications. Whilst initially relations may be sound when the party that’s in a new relationship starts taking expensive holidays, buys a new car or generally seems to be ‘splashing out’ this can cause resentment. This is often when an amicable separation can lead to a nasty divorce.

So for any couple deciding to separate the starting point perhaps is an adult conversation about what is best for all of you. Proceed with a divorce to finalise everything once and for all or have some sort of interim separation agreement setting out who will start divorce proceedings when the time is right, a clear steer on division of assets and financial obligations, and how the children will be financially supported. Now, this may sound on the face of it like what you will do in a divorce anyway, but it can be much easier for people to focus on what will happen in the future rather than the here and now. And it means that, further down the road, there is less likely to be significant dispute. It also means certain situations (like new relationships) to be tackled allowing both parties to think through the implications at a time when emotions are not quite so raw.  Indeed, the conversations over these issues can often be much easier and more relaxed if you are not in the vanguard of divorce.

However, for some people the decision to divorce is an easy one and they want it sorted. If there is a measure of agreement on issues like finances and children, this can lead to quite a swift conclusion to the divorce – though the myth of a quickie divorce remains just that, a myth. You will get through the divorce process as quickly as possible if you do not contest claims and stay out of court, but it will still take around six months.

Only you can decide the best route for you, but there is lots of advice out there. This should logically start with a discussion with your estranged spouse, and may extent to friends and family, ideally with advice from an experienced family law solicitor, whichever route you follow.

Article written for OnlyDads by Andrew Woolley of Woolley & Co, divorce and family law solicitors. For further information about divorce and separation visit the Woolley & Co, Solicitors website.

©Woolley & Co, Solicitors 2013

 

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What Is The London Legal Walk?

We asked our very good friend Julia to write a few words about the London Legal Walk. I am grateful to Julia for writing what follows – and sit here totally dismayed and alarmed that legal aid is being cut in this way. We wish Julia and her team all the very best in her fundraising :-)
Julia writes…
…Here’s something that may strike a chord with some of our readers and followers who are going through divorce and separation and dealing with the various problems that arise.
As many will know to their cost, the recent cuts in legal aid mean that getting free advice from lawyers and CABs is going to be very difficult and in some places impossible. Legal aid will simply be unavailable for help with many family law cases. This means that those advice centres and services which remain will rely more heavily on charitable tuning and donation as they struggle to meet the demand for advice on divorce about children issues, debt, housing etc.
On 20th May, lawyers, judges and others concerned about these issues will raise funds for the London Legal Support Trust by taking part in the 10K London Legal Walk. Last year 6,000 walkers raised over £500,000 for legal advice centres. This year the aim is to raise even more at a time when the need has never been greater.
I will be walking with Team Justice Gap. So if anyone would like to support this cause by making a donation, however small (or large) then the link is here. All support will be gratefully received and will make a massive difference to providing access to advice and to justice for many families.
And for background information about the charity behind the walk click on this link.
Thank you for reading, and if you want to know more, please do get in touch with Julia via Twitter

 

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Dads Staying Over in Maternity Wards

What follows is my response to an article on the Netmums website that was posted this morning. It deals with the question (raised by Labour MP, Jon Cruddas) of men staying overnight in maternity wards.

I propose a compromise – let hospitals provide a choice: We could have female only wards and another where dads can stay overnight. After all, mixed wards are not unknown in the UK.

Priya was born 16 years ago now. During the pregnancy I attended every ante-natal class open to me. I took time off work when we had visits from the midwife and I was there continually during what proved to be a long and traumatic labour. When Priya was finally handed to me, like every other man who can talk honestly about the subject, I can say that my world view changed in an instant. The immediate and forceful love that I felt for this new born infant was overwhelming. Love lunged at me.

Driving home on my own three hours later was just, wrong. My wife was still struggling after the labour and could have done with someone at her side. And I felt strongly that I also wanted to be with and hold my daughter.

I would have welcomed the opportunity to stay the night. I would not have slept (and snored!). I would have been a husband and a father doing his duty willingly at the most important moment of my life.

I would just add that when Anya was born three years later, things were different. Staying overnight would not have been necessary. I had a home to run, Priya to look after, and the labour was that much easier.

bob 51241

Cruddas is right to raise this subject. Giving parents options seems a very sensible way forward and we should be grateful to him for speaking out. Allowing Dads to take a full and active part in the whole of their children’s life is central to the OnlyDads ethos.

This is just one (important) example of an area of life where things could be done better.

Thanks for reading. Bob.

And if you get a chance, do check out the pioneering work of Dean and Daddy Natal.

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Vacancy for a Young Single Parent

OnlyMums & OnlyDads are a registered Community Interest Company that supports single parents and those going through divorce and separation.  Although we have a great deal of experience helping parents through difficult times, we are primarily a “signposting” service to agencies and others who can help. We have an established Panel of Experts that deals with the majority of our email enquiries on a full range of housing, legal and finance related questions.

We are not involved in any political campaigning, neither are we a research organisation. We receive no public or government financial support. We fund our not for profit organisation through advertising opportunities on our websites.

You can read more about our work here

Challenging background

Every month we find more and more people are using our websites or contacting us directly for support.  Increasing financial pressure on existing charities like CAB and Shelter will undoubtedly lead to an increasing workload for on-line and responsive organisations like ours.  We know that the existing economic climate is difficult for the majority of single parents – with little light on the horizon. These are challenging times.

What skills are we looking for?

We are seeking to appoint a young single parent to work with our Advisory Board to:

  • bring fresh thinking to how we best support young single mums and dads;
  • bring suggestions for improving our websites; and
  • secure appropriate and relevant link exchanges with other key organisations and blogs/twitter contacts.

 The commitment

  • Our Advisory Board meets in Central London twice a year and you will need to attend.
  • Occasional telephone support.
  • Ad hoc email exchanges may be sought between meetings as required.
  • This is a voluntary position but reasonable expenses will be paid.

If this position is of interest to you, please send an email to info@onlymums.org so that we can then arrange a time to talk further.

Many thanks.

 

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