CAFCASS and Judges – Do they favour Mums over Dads?

You cannot run a Dads organisation without being asked this question. On a daily basis! 

When we spoke we Gillian about writing this article I could almost hear her thinking “you really have given me the hardest subject to write on haven’t you”. Well Gillian, maybe we did! but only for the very reason that we knew you would give the question and the comments it receives the full justice it deserves.

So – it’s over to Gillian to answer the question we left you with:  Do CAFCASS and Judges in Family Law Courts have an in built leaning towards a belief that children are better off with their Mums?”

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My first reaction when Bob asked me to write a blog for Only Dads and gave me this title was that I had drawn the short straw. “Can I pick again?” I wondered.

The reason for my reaction I think is obvious to most family lawyers and those people who have had the misfortune to have to take disputes concerning their children to court. Ask this question to a group of them and 9 out of 10 would immediately answer “yes” and ask what the next question is.

I am acutely aware, too, of how emotive the whole issue of a separated father’s role in a child’s life has become. There are any number of dads out there who feel very badly let down by the system in the face of parental alienation and often with very good reason. There are other fathers who have become quite militant and, regrettably, given their cause a bad name. 

What is undeniable is that the ideal situation for a child is for it to have a good relationship with both parents and for its parents to have a good enough working relationship as co-parents.  And I believe that CAFCASS and judges start from that view point.

We live in a society which still has the Mum, Dad and two kids ideal at heart. And within that ideal Mum, as the child bearer, is regarded as the primary carer if the idyll is broken and Mum and Dad separate.  Since our judges and CAFCASS are drawn from our society it is unsurprising that most of them will also start from that idealistic view point.  In any event, there is no getting away from the fact that in the majority of cases before the courts the mothers are the child bearerschild bearers and as a result will have had had a very different and, at least to start with, closer bond with their children. I know an eminent child psychiatrist who says that a child under 7 should not, in an ideal world, spend more than 7-10 days apart from its mother at a stretch.

So I decided that there was not much point talking in generalities when it came to trying to answer the question. Everyone knows the generalised answer.  I decided to draw on my own experience and to ask my colleagues what their experience was.  Some of the instances that were described to me were:

• A District Judge telling a mother at the outset of a case that he expected her to agree to mid-week contact though she had been opposing it;
• A judge ordering shared residence notwithstanding the finding that the father was a bully to both the mother and the three children;
• A judge finding against a mother who wished to return to her native European country because father enjoyed an equal time split, even though when the child was at his father’s house he actually spent more time with his paternal grandparents than with his father.

For each of these apparently “pro-father” cases there were ones where it seemed societal norms prevailed:

• An order for shared residence with a time split slightly in favour of the mother, despite CAFCASS reporting that the children had a closer bond with their father who had been their primary carer.
• No changed residence order despite mother making dreadful and unfounded allegations of child abuse against the father. This in a case where the mother retracted the allegations and agreed to work with the relevant services to enable contact to re-establish.
• Any number of leave to remove cases where the mother has been able to return “home”.

When you get litigation over children you get stressed children who, mostly, will tell CAFCASS what the parent they feel most bonded to wants, as if that is their wish too.  In a vastly overstretched and underfunded service it is no surprise if CAFCASS take these “ascertainable wishes and feelings” as gospel.

But there is no doubt that times are changing and changing quite fast. Leave to remove applications are not the “shoo in” for mothers they once were.  There is a greater realisation among all involved in family justice, and some father’s groups like Families Need Fathers, that the answer lies not in the amount of time a child spends with either parent but in the ability of the parents to work co-operatively together as separated parents. This is borne out by the recent rise of workshops and courses being run for separated parents. There is the in-court Parenting Information Programme and Resolution’s Parenting After Parting workshops to name but two. The requirement that all parents wishing to bring Children Act applications after 6th April this year will have to be assessed for mediation is, at least in part, an indication that the bigger picture is understood by a wider spectrum of society.

Society is changing, and it needs to change more, but with that change will gradually come a different answer to the question. Eventually, it won’t be necessary to ask the question any more.
Gillian Bishop
Family Law in Partnership LLP

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Family Law, Family Law Fortnight, Guest posts, Putting children first. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to CAFCASS and Judges – Do they favour Mums over Dads?

  1. Beki Davies says:

    I passionately believe we should work towards not having to even ask the question posed. I am ever hopeful that our society drives itself to always putting the needs of the child first. I cant ever loose sight of that hope, despite all the stories to the contrary.
    Adults are adults & should respect the fact that they brought children into this world & have an absolute responsibility to do what is right for their whole being.
    I am no legal expert, nor am I a social worker, or work for CAFCASS. All I have seen is first hand how a little boys’ face lights up everytime he sees his Daddy, talks about his Daddy or calls him on the phone. More than most I had every reason to prevent that from happening & not many people would have blamed me. His father refused mediation, refuses financial support all the usual.
    But my son needs his father in his life in the most positive way possible, I have a duty of care to make that happen.
    My case is not representative of all and certainly not the right way for everybody. Having to protect your child from a dangerous or abusive environment is something entirely different. My comments on this are personal to my situation & I hope sharing them will help someone else.

  2. Rob says:

    Great post Gillian!

    I disagree with you slightly on the point you make about childbearing and bonding, but I accept that a lot of people (Judges and CAFCASS included) believe the same.

    In our case we were fortunate to encounter Judges who had the courage to have their own opinions and not be swayed by the entrenched CAFCASS viewpoint.

    Parents are changing, solicitors are changing, Judges are changing… now, if only we can help CAFCASS change too we’d have a much better system.

    • ABeautifulMind1 says:

      I have total respect and admiration for your fight for your children – and for what is ‘right’ (both parents) 🙂

  3. ABeautifulMind1 says:

    Gillian, thank you for writing such a wonderful post. There are too many insightful parts to comment on so I shall choose my favourites, if that’s alright.

    1. That judges and CAFCASS are drawn from society and so is the ideology of two parents, two children and a labrador being the perfect family. It is very entrenched; so maybe it is ‘just’ society that needs changing. Then judges and CAFCASS will reflect those changes all by themselves. You so helpfully outlined a variety of interesting cases proving it’s not an exact science and that results can vary widely whether you are the mother or the father, and from judge to judge. How do we change society on this? Can we? Divorced parents often hope to re-marry again one day, still striving for the idealogical family of two parents (one step) in the same house, don’t they? I am generalising here, of course, it is just a thought.

    2. I admire your bravery in mentioning the bearing child/childbirth part, because this is my view too but I am always scared to express it for fear of backlash. Likewise, regarding a very young child, I have been told similar, that they should be with their mother, if at all possible. With all the advances made in family law, changes in politicial correctness and equality, I struggle to fight against biology and my fiercely maternal instincts.

    3. The last point jumping out at me was children feeling they had to say what they felt a parent wanted. I was reading a discussion online within the last 2 weeks from a child about CAFCASS. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The child described their fear of reprisals (from a parent) if they refused to go along with their pleas of what to say to CAFCASS. They actually wanted to live with the other parent. I thought it was awful, I can’t bear the manipulation of children in that way. CAFCASS have been criticised as not listening – but even if they did, how sure can they be that the ‘wish’ is coming from the child, if a child is being threatened like that?

    These are just my comments anyway, for what they’re worth. I very, VERY strongly believe that a child has a right to see both parents, in as healthy a way as possible, in as many circumstances as are safe to do so.

  4. onlydads says:

    Gillian – thank you for this considered post. As I mentioned on Twitter earlier it has given rise to numerous ‘phone calls today. All (every single one) from Dads had at its heart a strong belief that CAFCASS officers approached their particular case with a mindset that was already made up. These Dads did not feel listened to. And they did not feel that their children were “listened to”.

    As you will know OnlyDads is not a militant organisation by any stretch of the imagination. The majority of men who make contact with us are child-focussed and generally want what’s best for the whole family. Some are coping with enormous strains.

    I have two proposals that I think may help:

    1. The selection process and subsequent training of CAFCASS officers needs to be reviewed and then enhanced.
    2. CAFCASS should be prepared to present to Court actual trannscripts of conversations they have had (especially with children) when there is disagreement over their recommendations.

    Thanks again for such a thought provoking article.

  5. Stephen G Anderson says:

    I’m commenting, not because I can add anything, but because this blog has been written so skillfully. We don’t live in a perfect world, so there can be no guarantee that every single court application will result in the best possible outcome. There are so many variables at court: quality of any Cafcass report; how the parties’ evidence comes across on the day; skills of the advocates; the judges – their experience and prejudices; even what side of their beds they get out of; to name a few. Which is why, unless circumstances absolutely dictate, every effort should be made by parents and any professionals representing them, to explore the alternatives first.

    Thanks Gillian.

  6. Pete says:

    Maybe we’re asking the wrong people to answer the question. How about asking CAFCASS? Better still, why not look at the various whistle-blowers that openly state that they are pressurised to always report on the side of mother. No one has come out with the opposite yet, we can draw conclusions from that, as we can from the fact these whistle-blolwers say that their ability to ‘get on’ inside the organisation is severely hampered if they do not tow the party line. Or perhaps we should ask the children currently arguing with CAFCASS leadership over why their ‘wishes and feelings’ reports were routinely discarded when they indicated a pro-father stance? We’re still waiting for an explanation from CAFCASS on that one. I doubt we’ll see it. At least if we’re going to try and answer this question lets go to the direct participants – not someone on the outside that undeniably earns money from the continued status quo.

    • Iain says:

      my son has just has a report done a N blagg,,,,, 78 pages about 10 were right and all on the mother side they even blame dad for his grass in the garden being a little long,, I have found Glos cafcass have a lot to answer for , there is much more i can put here but as i am new i will wait >>

  7. Clare says:

    So sad when we are in this situation, mother refuses contact, pursues CSA for increase in maintenance based on the father not having his children, father wants to be involved, mother denies, father takes mother to court, Cafcass involved shows parental alienation, yet mother still denying contact and final hearing yet to come. It’s such a shame that a father who wants to be involved in the childrens lives ( and the children in his) can be so blatantly cut off. He had the children 3 nights a week and has PR yet doesn’t make a blind bit of difference!!!!

  8. Andrew says:

    It would appear that cafcass will always go with the default setting of the mother being the person who should care for children. It is very sad cultural conditioning to get this state, when they is evidence of a mother biting her eldest child and yet no child focused agency, cafcass included, are prepared to do anything about it. Other than brush it under the carpet.

    She did not have a bond with the youngest child, as she had neglected him and had to run away with him, with him being solely dependent on her, (Stockholm syndrome)? In order to get some type of relationship with him.

    The very same mother does not want to promote contact with the children’s father, plus it has been identified that the mother is lacking in her parenting skills, yet cafcass still want to give the mother residency.

    With having gone through this, having experience how imbalanced the system is and one sided, I can say that I feel that cafcass are very pro mum

    • iain thomas says:

      it is true as the are often run by bitter older women who use there jobs to take there bitter’s out on men and the children are abuse by mothers they will and have cover it up, i was told i will be taken to court if i said anything, they also will not deal with any kind of compated again them

      • Andrew says:

        Is it true that Cafcass do a tick box exercise when it comes to meeting parents and have a standard template for recommendations in their section 7 report. Suggesting such things as seeing children alternative Wednesday’s when it is not practical or logistical possible to do this due to the mother running off to another county?

  9. David Rover says:

    Nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room which is the benefits system. There is no doubt cafcass are pushed to favour the mother as to do otherwise poses problem for the benefits and if they were to be divided this would cost the state more. There is little doubt that until this changes nothing else will in the family courts. Yes transfer of childrens residence to the father (along with the benefits) does occur, but it is vanishingly rare.

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