Dads, Divorce and Suicide.

I was really touched by the BBC Newsnight feature last night on rising suicide rates (12 a day) among men in their 40s and early 50s.

There is plenty of evidence showing the impact divorce and separation has on men; we hear the stories daily at OnlyDads. Going from the regime of family home, wife, kids, job…to one of isolation, no home, little contact with children, the onset of depression and/or other mental health issues, redundancy…well, that’s a path well-travelled!

This harrowing journey generally takes between 12 and 24 months to see through and the results are grim. It can happen to anyone at any time.

Many of you reading this will know that OnlyDads extended its on-line signposting service for separated dads when we set up our pilot South Hams Dads Group in Devon.

At our weekly group meetings we offer an open door to dads who, for one reason or another, are struggling. The entry point for most men revolves around a struggle to see more of their children, post separation.

The Newsnight programme reinforced for me the value of what our group does and what it can offer. We all know men don’t talk about “their shit” to their mates or to their colleagues in the workplace. As a species we are constantly told to keep our – pecker – chin – head – spirit – all pointing upwards! It’s hardly surprising that back at the bed-sit, men try to do so, and conquer their sense of failure, through drink, narcotics, porn… or by just crawling into bed!

The very tragedy of these short-term kicks is that they don’t last very long; they lead, in fact, to further feelings of self-loathing and isolation. They should be our road-signs telling us danger lies ahead.

At our group meetings we offer dads space to be themselves. We hear all sorts. As a group we listen. We don’t judge. Sometimes we may chip in with advice or snippets of information. Sometimes we will share our own experiences. But more than all this, we listen. Men quickly find that they can share stuff that they never would with anyone else.

I’m looking back to the work of the group over the 18 months or so. Our core work remains helping dads build a better relationship with their children – often through support and encouragement during their efforts to re-build relationships with mum – but we increasingly talk through the altogether more complex (and interlinked) issues we face: work, isolation, money (or the lack of it) feelings of depression, lack of libido, anxiety disorders, personal failures – some big, some not so, but still important to talk about.

We’ve had a number through the doors – drinkers, hard men, men who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Men who have talked through their suicide feelings and, in some cases, attempts. Worriers – those who have stop socialising. Angry men…we’ve had all sorts in truth – what Jean Genet would have a called “the wonderful company of broken men”.

Good things happen though. Our group sees smiles at our meetings. Laughter too.  Friendships are born – friendships that now flourish outside of the group itself. In short, what our group provides is a bridge for the isolated.

It would be good if every town and city could have a group like Totnes. One could write an essay on the benefits – but dads staying alive, getting to see more of their children, sorting themselves out and dusting themselves off…feeling able to move onwards and in some cases upwards, are prizes within grasp and worth working towards.

We asked the Government (DWP) if they would help us pilot an expansion of these groups, but they didn’t. That said, we reckon if just a couple of local dads got together in any town/city and found a location to meet and put up a few posters, you would find that men would come. We might not have the perfect model – but of one thing I’m sure; it’s better than nothing!

If you want to find out more about the work of OnlyDads, or are thinking of  setting up your own group, please do get in touch. Bob  

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Family Law: Don’t “Name and Shame”

It came to our attention over the weekend that a pressure group were talking about a “campaign” that would “name and shame” mums who, in their words, are “contact deniers”.

Stunts like this get dads nowhere and need to be avoided. As any man who has been through the family court system will tell you, courts are very quick to pick up on behaviour that they deem to be in any way unreliable or untrustworthy. We felt it important to state very clearly that such action would not be in the best interest of children, or dads.

OnlyDads asked Chris Fairhurst of Stephensons to set out some of the legal reasons why such action is just not on.


There has long been a tension between the need for privacy in family law proceedings, especially those involving children, on the one hand, and the call for openness in family law cases on the other, in order to provide transparency and public confidence , especially from those who perceive that the Family Justice system operates in secrecy thereby avoiding the fairness of public scrutiny.

Primarily, the restrictions upon open courts in family cases involving children, are there first to protect the identity and therefore the welfare of the child and secondly the parents, or any other party involved in the proceedings. Until a fairly recent change in the law there were very few cases where the press had been able to report upon such proceedings. This changed from April 2009 following a number of calls from the press and other groups to allow more openness which resulted in changes to court rules allowing the attendance of the public and press in appropriate cases, but even so the details that can be reported are usually limited to the subject of the dispute rather than identification of the parties or any children involved.

I was actually representing a parent in the first instance of an accredited member of the press attending at a family hearing in the Manchester County Court on the first day the rules came into force nearly 4 years ago. Apart from describing the proceedings as “impenetrable”, the journalist didn’t seem to take much from the experience and certainly didn’t return. I’m not sure once afforded the opportunity journalists in general where much bothered after all about the cases involving the majority of individuals, or their children, preferring instead to camp out on the door step of the Royal Court of Justice in London, waiting for the participants in the latest celebrity “mis-match” or “big-money” divorce to step out into the sunlight waving their order.

Those truly interested in cases involving a child are the parents themselves, who will be acutely aware of the particular and unique circumstances of their situation and the complexities of whatever it was that got them to court in the first place.

More changes were contemplated by Parliament to change reporting restrictions but following further consultation have backtracked from this, perhaps in recognition of the difficulties of legislating in respect to the private circumstances of individual families. It now seems likely that proposed legislative changes that were on the statute books, but not implemented, will now be repealed in any event.

A very recent updated Commons Report “Confidentiality and openness in the family courts” sets out the various arguments and why the Government has now pulled back from greater openness since the Family Justice Review was published, stating:-

“this complicated and sensitive area of law” needed to be reviewed carefully, including gathering the views of children with experience of the family courts. Further legislative change would not be brought forward in the near future but other measures would be considered.

We will instead look at measures that can increase the amount of publicly available information about the work of the family courts, including encouraging judges to publish more family court judgments. In particular, Ministers will examine the results of the family court information pilot, which trialled the online publication of family court judgments in an anonymised form.”

That will not satisfy all however, as calls grow louder from some quarters, for parents whom another alleges may be obstructing or blocking contact with a child, to be effectively “named and shamed” in public, no doubt with the assistance of Facebook, Twitter or whichever other digital media might be at hand at the time.

If anyone was thinking of getting involved in such a practice. Forget it. Don’t. Your contact with your child may depend on it. The person doing the “naming and shaming” is usually the one who, rightly or wrongly, perceives they have been wronged. The parent being “named and shamed” faces the upset of public exposure, and most importantly the very child whose interests the parent seeks to protect is identified and made ready for the taunts in the school playground that would inevitably follow.

Children quite rightly inflame passions. Something would be wrong if they didn’t. But families are complex and unique, and things unfortunately don’t always go as planned. If separated parents cannot agree things between them, it is very easy for them to fall into the trap of trying to protect what they believe to be their “rights” rather than those of their child, and this can then ingrain the difficulties and cause frustration. Children have “Rights”, Parents have “Responsibilities”.

The family law system for resolving disputes in respect to children is not perfect, but despite the misconceptions, it tries it’s best to resolve matters for the best interests of the children concerned, taking into account all the circumstances of the family and if appropriate the views of any child. It is rare that any separated parent is permanently excluded from contact with a child, by the court. Although there are still some unfortunate examples of one parent, for whatever reason,  trying to seek to block and frustrate contact with another, if no contact or indirect contact is ordered by a court, it would have to be for very good reasons which the court has decided, with the assistance of expert advice, impact upon the welfare and best interests of a child.

If a separated parent who was not in proceedings but seeking contact with a child, “named and shamed” another parent, they are more likely to alienate the other parent and make the situation even more difficult than they find themselves in already. What parent is going to want to co-operate then?

We have recently seen the consequences of false allegations being shared by digital media and although the libel courts are beyond the reach of most individuals, an allegation to the Police or an application to the court for a Non-molestation Order is not. Further, if such a parent having made such an allegation thought they would then make an application to court for contact, I can’t imagine such behaviour would be ignored by the court, in its subsequent decision-making.

If in court proceedings, such a declaration would put a parent in contempt of court, landed with a probable fine, possible imprisonment, injunctive orders and any decisions for contact with a child far more restrictive than might otherwise have been.

If you are trying to sort out arrangements to see your child it is far better to get proper advice from an experienced Family Lawyer. They will be able to advise you of your options and hopefully assist you in agreeing arrangements for your child with the other parent, without the need of applying to court. It should be noted that if you might need Legal Aid, for most family law cases it will disappear from 1st April 2013, unless involving an element of Domestic Abuse. Therefore, it is important not to delay getting advice if you have any doubts about your situation. More importantly any delay could affect your child.

A local Law Society Accredited Children Panel Specialist can be found here

By Chris FairhurstFamily Solicitor – Stephensons Solicitors LLP

(You can also follow Chris on Twitter by clicking here)

We are grateful to Chris for this article – and we hope any dad thinking of doing a unilateral ‘name and shame’ job will listen to the advice.

Comments are welcome…

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Poems Required for New Anthology

OnlyMums and OnlyDads are going to celebrate our sixth anniversary by publishing an anthology of poems to be called “They don’t fuck you up, your mum and dad

Running our support organisation for separating /separated mums and dads we have learned that each story is individual. That said, the journey into single-parenthood carries with it some common themes.

These themes move through loss and heartbreak and that accompanying sense of hopelessness and bewilderment through to an eventual ending or, epiphany and a new dawning; that life is offering you a “new beginning”.

ALL mums and dads know that this journey is never smooth. It is signposted with moments of frustration; most of us have used the expression, “I’m taking one step forward and two steps back.”

Regardless of where you are in this journey, we invite you to send us a poem for possible publication. We are looking for poems that touch upon aspects of this journey through divorce, separation and beyond…

We ask that only unpublished poems are submitted together with your contact details. Poems should be sent to

Shan Ellis, Poet, editor and single mum of two, will be working with us as our Editor. We anticipate publishing around 80 poems in the Summer of 2013.

 The deadline for submitting your poem (or poems) is 28th February 2013.


When submitting your poem, we ask you to also send us a signed copy of the short contract below:

The publisher: OnlyMums & OnlyDads Community Interest Company

In signing this contract you are accepting the following terms:

  1. Acceptance of the proof edited piece of work named…………………………………….to be included in the “OnlyMums and OnlyDads Anthology” and credited to the author named………………………………………….
  2. Publication to be exclusive to the anthology for two years, at which time non-exclusive publication rights will apply.
  3. You agree to your work being edited for The OnlyMums and OnlyDads CIC Anthology.
  4. No Royalties will be paid to the Author. Any Revenue received will cover costs and be put towards the furthering the work of the OnlyMums and OnlyDads Community Interest Company (Company No. 8293558).

Signed by the Author ……………………………………………………………………….

Date ……………………………

Contact details:




Hard copies (together with a signed copy of the short contract above) can be sent to:

OnlyMums and OnlyDads CIC, 21 Crocadon Meadows, Halwell, TOTNES, Devon. TQ9 7LH

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Support Group for Dads

Our support group for dads in the South Hams, Devon has been working towards creating a “constitution” which spells out what we are, and, as importantly, what we are not.

We would be interested in your views – and of course, you can follow our group on Twitter: SHDadsGroup


A meeting held on Monday evenings where dads experiencing family difficulties (often through divorce/separation) can find support from other dads who are going through the same. As a group we recognise that for many dads, securing a meaningful and ongoing relationship with their children is not always straightforward.

We are a fellowship of fathers. We share our experiences, strength, and hope with each other, so that we may forge and maintain positive and enduring relationships with our children.

We are open to any and all fathers who face issues with parental responsibilities following the break-up of a relationship.

How will we do this?

By providing:

  • a safe space for dads to talk about their emotions
  • a listening ear
  • group and/or individual support and direction
  • company for any dad feeling isolated
  • an arena where men can explore solutions to their particular problems through fostering an attitude of co-operation and mutual respect between separated parents.


Given the context of family and relationship breakup, this Group feels that respect for each other, ourselves, and the wider family is important.  We try to:

  1. work through problems rather than dwell on them
  2. use considered language
  3. avoid interrupting each other
  4. keep information heard at the meetings confidential


We see our groups as a “friendly drop-in” rather than a formal meeting, so we tend to avoid paperwork, agendas and the like. That said, each meeting will have one of the group taking the role of Chairman to ensure the ethos of the group is adhered to and a simple structure is followed which enables any dad who wants to speak, can be heard.

Where and When?

Monday evenings at 7.45. We meet at the Red Wizard cafe in Totnes (top of town, next to the Happy Apple). Meetings tend to last for an hour or so. Tea and Coffee is available. Meetings are free, but a donation can be made for refreshments.

For further information, please contact

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

UK Event for Fatherhood and Dads

Over the weekend, weekendatdads and helpforfathers caught me at a weak moment and nominated me as Chairman chief bottle washer of a Dads event!

I’m not sure about you – my timeline on twitter will be different to most – but I have noticed a rise in the number of groups and individuals who, in different ways, are setting up to promote and represent the interests of dads and fatherhood. What exactly are we all doing, is a good question.

An event?

In my mind (and please let me know what you think) there is nothing like face-to-face contact, and it would be interesting to hear from others as to where they have come from, what they are doing, and what they hope to achieve in the future.

So I tentatively suggest we find a central location somewhere in the UK, find the use of a free board room for an afternoon, (some corporate will want to sponsor us in some way, surely) and organise a brief agenda which allows us to spell out what each of us is doing.


How about sometime in late February?


Bristol, Oxford, Birmingham, or London spring to mind. Perhaps an MP could find us a committee room in Westminster to use?


Well on Twitter I see groups of dads working within Children’s Centres, groups supporting SAHDs, “weekend dads”, young fathers, dads from black and ethnic minorites…and lots more besides…

I suggest we leave the question of “who” open-ended. Anyone or any group with an interest in promoting fatherhood perhaps?


(and this is just my view) – it’s always good to meet up with people in a networking sense. And perhaps out of this initial meeting ideas may arise about how we might better co-ordinate and support each others work.

What next?

Well perhaps nothing more at this stage then letting me have your reactions. Is it worth doing is probably the first question. What do you think…?

Oh, and given I have about two minutes a day, spare time – if you feel you want to join an organising committee or such, do let us know!

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Single Mum: What to do in a Crisis

Our friend HedgewitchBedcca sent a tweet last night (just picked it up) to OnlyDads, OnlyMums, and Gingerbread saying she was worried about this situation posted up on the Netmums website. “What advice would you give?”, read the Tweet.

We have had many such crisis calls and as with many there are certain things which jump out at you. In this case we can note that Mum mentions mental health issues, the plain economic facts that suggest she has hit rock bottom, and (for me) more evidentially, she is seeking support from an anonymous website forum! This suggests to me that this Mum may well be feeling totally isolated.

I’m writing this in haste – please forgive the lack of a comprehensive response – but if this mum had contacted us, I would advise the following:

  1. Find someone who can sit with you (in person) to look at what needs to be done to ensure your family is not split up. It maybe that Mum doesn’t feel able to ask friends or neighbours (this is not unusual) but maybe these same people can suggest someone else to do this hand-holding role. In a crisis, personal contact and the chance to off-load face to face is what’s needed – not reading replies on an on-line forum.
  2. The advice to go the MP, CAB, Education Authority etc…all this is fine. But (and it’s a big “but”) is mum really in a position to do this herself? It would be much better for Mum to have someone by her side, or even to make these calls and emails for her in my experience.
  3. Many of these necessary appointments and emails will take weeks to work through. It does not sound like this Mum and her child can wait weeks.
  4. Perhaps the one letter that needs to be written now is a letter to the MP so he/she can get this benefit put back. That may well prove quicker than going through CAB etc…If Mum wants to contact us, we would help her do this today if that would help.
  5. In time, there are organisations and charities that can help Mum work towards a sustainable future for her and her child – of course there are – but again, all this work takes time. Time is not on Mums side.
  6. If mum is so isolated and in a position whereby she really can’t ask anybody to help (many Dads we come across get in this state), then I just wonder if the good folk at netmums could find a way to find out where she lives – I have no doubt at all that with the power of social media, a small financial collection and a food parcel could be pulled together within 24 hours to help this Mum get through the next few days at least. Perhaps (as she seems to trust Netmums) together we could also find a mum or two from the network to go and sit with her and begin the process of booking all these appointments to help her sort this situation out.

In haste. Bottom line is, this Mum needs some human interaction. And quickly!

Bob –







Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Divorce and social media. A bad match

The OnlyDads Twitter account engages with lots of individuals who are going through divorce/separation. That is perhaps obvious. But it was earlier this year that OnlyDads started receiving emails from companies asking us to advertise their special “divorce packages” whereby they (for money) will track the on-line outpourings on social media of “the ex” that I thought it would be a good turn to add a warning to our websites. We turned to our friend Andrew to write a few cautionary words for us:


You may be a regular reader of this blog and have dropped in directly to see what we are talking about. Alternatively, you may have been pointed at it by Twitter or Facebook. Whatever route you took, you cannot deny that social media, in all its forms, is a powerful medium in this day and age. It permeates all of society – so it is only natural that it is impacting on divorcing couples.

It has been well documented that Facebook is being mentioned in an increasing number of divorce papers, often it seems when one party or the other has got in touch with an old flame via the site. But an increasing number of people are now apparently using their Twitter account to make disparaging remarks about their soon-to-be ex. Some are even setting up Twitter accounts for that express purpose. In days gone by, you may have got together with friends for a coffee or a pint and had a good moan about your estranged spouse. What you said didn’t really go any further. If you use social media to air your views, it is a different story altogether.

Now this presents legal issues in itself that fall well outside family law and on which I do not pretend to be a specialist. However, as I understand it, you are risking defaming a person if you say something disparaging about them to more than one other person in writing. Whether you consider your Twitter account to be a private account or not is not likely to hold much water. Anyone writing anything on a social media platform must accept that it is possible, or even likely, that those views are gong to be copied or forwarded, even if you send it as a private message. You can leave yourself open, then, for legal action. Just look at the furore around comments made about Lord McAlpine, who has already received damages from the BBC and is said to be “going after” people who named him on Twitter, in connection with a BBC Newsnight investigation.

An individual may also inadvertently reveal details about some cases they are not allowed to talk about, particularly if it involves children, leaving themselves open to contempt of court proceedings.

And don’t think you can do things on the quiet if you have only a handful of low-key followers. There are now agencies out there who offer to track social media accounts, presumably to amass incriminating evidence to use either in a divorce case or a possible prosecution. We would urge no one to have anything to do with such agencies.

I mention the wider implications of such behaviour in an effort to deter people from entering into public character-bashing on social media sites for fear of legal proceedings. But there is a more fundamental reason for not gong down this road as well, one with which I have much more first hand experience.  Anything that inflames emotions during a divorce is a bad thing. Making disparaging remarks on Twitter certainly fits in that category. It will almost certainly lead to more heartache, particularly if children, other family or friends see a messy split played out in this way. And it is likely it will lead to a divorce taking more time and costing more. Making the other party angry will serve only to make them dig in their heels, making it harder to reach any settlement.

Social media can play a very positive role in society and in family law – after all it helped some of you find this blog! However, it has little positive to offer two people going through a divorce.

Written by Andrew Woolley, family solicitor and founder of divorce and family law firm Woolley & Co.   Andrew is an avid social media user, follow him on Twitter – @woolleyandco. For more details visit

If you would like to add your observations and comments for the benefit of others – we would love to hear from you…



Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

McKenzie Friends: What Do They Need To Know?

I am going to thank Ursula for this post straight away. Ursula is one of those family law solicitors who “gets it”. She has combined her insightful mind with a degree of straightforward pointers in this article. We hope very much that it will be of interest to Litigants in Person, McKenzie Friends, and indeed solicitors and others who, increasingly, will be coming up against more and more people representing themselves through divorce and separation and Children Act proceedings.


…I blame Twitter. I was minding my own business when @Only Dads started up a conversation about McKenzie Friends; naturally I couldn’t keep my nose out of it and before you say “Philosophy of law by SocialMediafication”” Bob had bagged me into writing it down properly for his blog. He said he would correct the spelling mistakes and grammar too. Might be a case of the blind leading the blind!

Anyway… we agreed that helping people in court is not an easy task and I think we agreed that some people both qualified as lawyers or not, are sometimes part of the problem.

I have always thought that going to court is daunting! But there are a few starter bits of knowledge that I think I would want to know if I was putting myself forward to be a mate’s McKenzie friend.

Warning: This is a practical mini- guide to court. I am a Solicitor-Advocate and this article is about that arena, not other ways of solving disputes (and there are loads of other ways). Look away now if that is going to wind you up.

1. Not all Lawyers on the other side will be rotters, but it pays to make a cool assessment of them before opening up too much.  They have a job to do and this is not their life. Professional detachment is cultivated by us because it protects us. It is hard to think well if you feel too much.

A decent solicitor should show a willingness to explore the options and want to narrow the issues. All solicitors or those employed by a firm of Solicitors have professional duties including being officers of the court and maintaining the integrity of the profession.  That means they are not allowed to lie and should not engage in sharp practice.

If there is a lawyer for the other side then they will probably try to come and have a word with you before entering the court room. You can explore the issues then politely say “I don’t think I want to commit to anything until I’ve heard from the Judge”.  This is sneaky (but clever) because now you probably know at least 50% of what they will say in court.

2. If your friend is facing a Non-Molestation order, consider how much you really want to oppose it. Do you really want it to go to trial? You can submit to a continuation of a Non-molestation order on the basis that “no admissions /adverse findings are made” and it can be written on the face of the order. That can be a useful way of preserving your friend’s character without wasting time and money defending an order.

3. Never ever wait until the third review hearing do decide to do the “big reveal” about your clients welfare concerns (she drinks too much/ her new boyfriend is junkie/ the new dog is a sabre tooth tiger in disguise). Welfare concerns should be dealt with and put in front of the court at the first opportunity. Putting those fears in late in the proceedings looks like a tactical strategy because you feel you are losing (which is a wasted emotion when it comes to your children let me assure you) rather than motivated by genuine concern.

4. Think about the name of the hearing and the time it has been listed for. A 30 minute “Directions Hearing” on a Children Act application will result in a To Do List – not be an opportunity to tell the Judge about the iniquities of the CSA/uselessness of CAFCASS/ emotional damage caused by the fact you had 30 minutes unilaterally knocked off your contact (again); using all those brilliant phrases you thought of in the bath…

…approach a case realistically. It may be 3 hearings and 12 months before your friend is able to tell the tale directly in evidence to the Judge. The order of doing things is often directions, CAFCASS  report, review hearing, trial.

5. Now what is your mate going to say? If they are the Applicant they have the right to go first. But if you are in person the Judge may ask a represented party to go first so you need to be quick off the mark before people assume you are happy to let the other party start.

Practice and prepare the first 2 sentences off by heart and the rest will follow. “Good morning Sir this is my application for contact with my son. The reason I need an order is because the difficulty in contact seems to be….”

Ensure your friend’s less favourable aspects are out into the arena on his terms. “I know the court will be concerned that I was arrested last week/rude to the CAFCASS officer/lied about having a girlfriend. However I really understand that it was wrong/ stupid/bizarre;  far better to deal with it and move on, than to let the other side pick it up and run with it.

They may feel their inner Rumpole struggling to get out but I reckon you won’t need to quote any law. Everyone in the room will know why we are here. You may want to try it on with the new legislation about a presumption of shared parenting but I suspect the conversation will go –

Litigant in Person (Kavanagh QC stylee) “ This court needs to consider the presumption of shared parenting and order contact immediately”

Judge (Voldemort stylee) ” So what; we did under the case law anyway, and now I am beginning to think there is something in the Mother’s allegations that you are an unbearable bossy boots…”

6. Self control is the way to speed up contact through the courts. It will take 6 to 12 months. And each time your mate loses his rag or has a strop about something he adds on another 6 -10 weeks. This is because bad behaviour by adults can cause the court to put the brakes on contact or go backwards in the quantity and the quality of contact.

Tell your mate texts are the worst way of communicating anything; use them for,” On our way “or, “We did the homework it’s in the bag”. There is also no place for Facebook and Twitter in disputes over children. Firstly proceedings about children are confidential which is what the internet isn’t. And secondly, the children deserve better, so sort it.

Critically examine his communication with the other party, verbal and written. If your mate needs a few home truths about his communication then now is the time to dish it out. Encourage coaching classes or other ways to learn coping strategies. Otherwise it will be interim application after interim application about why contact needs to go backwards, not forwards. Look for the trigger points and try to help them sort it out.

7. Evidence. A Judge is inclined to listen to your side more if you can bring evidence to support your story. But evidence has to be relevant and admissible. Most lawyers would say that generally all evidence is potentially admissible in disputes over children. Evidence is more likely to be included or excluded due to relevance. For example; mean texts your friend sent 18 months ago are probably irrelevant as being too old. Reams of email whining and point scoring are irrelevant due to proving nothing that the court doesn’t know already. Think, “what does this prove?” “Does it cut to the chase?”, “does it pass the so what test?”

If you have to deal with allegations you may be asked to become involved in a “Scott Schedule” this is just a table of allegations in tab form.

If you want to prove that police were called then you need to ask for disclosure. Drug and alcohol allegations can be dealt with using scientific testing. Evidence by way of a letter from schools can be requested. Ask the Judge if you can put in evidence. If you don’t ask (politely) you don’t get.

Do not forget that you are in the civil jurisdiction. That means all the evidence should be written down, so make sure that your friend has an opportunity to put down his story in a statement at some point. The statement can contain photos as evidence and in my experience pictures tell a thousand words.

8. Directions and review hearings: these hearings either start the case off by starting up contact or they deal with a To Do list so the case can be heard by a Judge. At a review hearing it is often helpful to have a position statement. Two A4 sides is plenty. It should update the court in general terms and it should say what you want the court to do today. Do yourself and the Judge a favour and make sure it is in readable font, 1.5 line spacing and the paragraphs should have sub headings, e.g.: “Contact since the last hearing”; “my view on the CAFCASS report”; ” Why contact overnight is suitable”.

You may not get what you want but your friend should take up whatever contact is offered. Remember this area of law is highly discretionary and a Judge can make any order at any time. However they tend to err on the side of caution and there is no point kicking off if things do not go your way. Courts remember the angry people. People who cannot control themselves in front of a Judge are unlikely to hold back when talking to the other party, thus undermining their “I don’t know what you mean when you say there has been domestic abuse in this relationship” story.

9. Mediation: If you can, try not to be in court without having done the initial mediation meeting. It is called a Mediation Information & Assessment meting (MIAMS) and there are very few cases where mediation will not narrow/iron out at least some of the issues. At least show willing to think about it. Often one hearing to show people the error of their ways (via a Judge giving a firm indication) plus mediation sessions can sort the whole thing out…I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about anything but Court but matters about children should really begin and end with mediation.

10. Always remember the test in Children act Proceedings –

a) Do these children need an order?
b) If yes, then we (will soon) presume that they need to share time with both parents.
c) The welfare of the child is paramount.
d) The flip side is that the happiness of the grownups is nothing. This is not about justice for adults. If it was, Parliament would have written that into the statute.

Well Bob, that’s it really. There are some great resources out there:

The Midlands family court guidance
Lucy Reed at Pink Tape has written a book for Litigants in Person and her blog is full of interesting articles. Look here for more information.

Hedges Law are the original Pay As You Go family law advice firm. Our leaflet about it can be found here:

This article is meant to be a helpful steer about some practical aspects of Court. It is for information and interest and not my take on the family justice system as a whole. It is not a substitute for legal advice in any case. I used him/he throughout because I think this article is slanted towards a lot of issues Dad’s face and because I am beyond the grammatical gender wars.

If anyone wants to say Hi/pick a fight/even ask me for legal advice! you can find me at or @tweetygraffity.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Stop mums using kids as a weapon in divorce

In this post, Kimberley tackles an issue that goes to the heart of much of the work we do at OnlyDads. We really would be interested in your thoughts too…

…Children are many things. They can be messy, noisy, expensive, funny, infuriating, loving – but they are not weapons. However, there remains a persistent minority of mothers out there estranged, separated or divorced from the child’s father, who insist on using their offspring in this way. And it’s about time something was done to stop this.

Any parental break-up is heartbreaking for the children involved. The law states that the children should be at the centre of all considerations around arrangements post-split and that their needs and feelings should be put first. Morally, most people believe this anyway and do not need the law to remind them. The unfortunate thing though is that some mothers ignore both the legal and the moral arguments, and use their children as pawns in a game to manipulate or hurt their ex-partner, sometimes without even realising they are doing it.

This might be through dictating unfair contact and if their ex won’t adhere then denying contact again for several weeks. It could be through feeding derogatory stories to the child to taint their picture of the absent parent leading to permanent damage to the relationship. Or it could be actively encourage the children to spread lies about an ex to score points with friends or in any ongoing financial settlement.

It is difficult for the law to deal with this. If a mother repeatedly refuses to comply with a contact order, the father can go to court to ask for it to be enforced. The courts can warn and even fine the mum but, ultimately, can do little more at the moment. It could be argued that in the most extreme instances, residence should be switched to the absent parent but would it be in the best interests of the child to do this? Like it or not, the mum is often best placed to look after the needs of that child, who loves them dearly, on a daily basis. Similarly, a cut or complete removal of benefits is likely to adversely affect the child, as would a custodial sentence.

Some mums I have come across know this and exploit it. Many will be good mums in every other sense, but just want to hurt their ex and don’t even fully realise the impact on their children of this behaviour.

It is time we had a debate on the issue and what more can be done to help fathers caught in this trap and their children caught in the middle.

Written by Kimberley Bailey, divorce and family law solicitor with Woolley & Co, Solicitors based in Bristol. Kimberley works with many separating parents, focusing on putting the children first in the advice that she gives. For more details visit

How do we stop this happening? What sanctions can be brought that will be in the best interests of children? Do parents always know when they are using their children as weapons? OnlyDads agree with Kimberley – there really is need for further debate!


Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Tidying Children’s Bedrooms

When I sent out a tweet last week about tidying children’s bedrooms the replies came in thick and fast – many with a hint of humour! But the fact is, for me at least, tidying my daughter’s bedrooms has been one of the down-sides of my parenting life.

In my case, it may be the fact that I’m totally a bit disorganised. I’m also a bloke, a bit lazy when it comes to housework, and of all the things I could be doing, or would like to be doing, clearing up the mess left by my two daughters, comes bottom of every possible list I could make!

So. How do you tidy up? Richard offers us some of his wisdom…

It is that time of year again. The time every parent dreads, when every advert on the television seems designed to drive you to distraction. In short, every advert is aimed at your children, which means that they spend most waking minutes pestering you into buying them a disproportionately expensive piece of badly made plastic rubbish as their Christmas present.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution right above your head. If there is one thing guaranteed to persuade you that your kids have enough rubbish in their lives already, it is the Herculean task of tidying their bedroom.

Those of you with very young children should not underestimate how big a job this is. There is a limit to the level of bedroom destruction which can be caused by any child which still sleeps in a cot. Roughly speaking, it is equal to the destruction caused by them to the rest of the house. Once they are fully mobile, though, it becomes an entirely new kind of problem, because they start to regard the bedroom as ‘theirs’ (irrespective of who pays the rent or mortgage) and therefore open to a kind of devastation rarely seen outside of officially-declared disaster zones.

At this point, many of you will be thinking “Oh good, he’s about to tell us how to avoid that”. I am going to disappoint you. You can’t avoid it. Children are acquisitive, careless and messy, which is a combination perfectly designed to prey upon the parental psyche. However, there are steps you can take to minimise the havoc they can cause and then to deal with it.

The first thing you can do may seem fairly obvious, but it reflects one of the more subtle changes to the modern home. Put simply, don’t allow your children to keep too much stuff in their bedrooms.

In recent times, we’ve developed an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to children’s things in a way that almost harks back to the Victorians. We want them away where we – and visitors – cannot see them. But it stands to reason that the more things a child has in their bedroom, the more mess that they can make with them and the easier it is for you to let it get out of control.

There are two alternatives here. One is to set aside one room of the house as a playroom and keep all toys there, leaving the bedroom for clothes and, if necessary, books. Not everyone has that luxury, though. If not, then select a corner of a communal room to put everything into.

There’s an added advantage to that second option. If you have things where they can be seen, it is much easier to enforce ‘tidy up time’. If you tell a child to tidy their bedroom, they will do so reluctantly and slowly, secure in the knowledge that you can’t be stood in the doorway to chivvy them along because you have other things to do. Tidying a communal area, however, requires them to work under your nose.

The second way to mitigate the mess is to try to avoid having children sharing bedrooms. The door is the natural boundary to the bedroom, so the smaller the room, the smaller the space to create a mess in. There’s also some evidence – specifically, my mother’s – to suggest that two girls in a room together will make far more mess than two boys.

Despite such precautions, there’s still going to be mess. Making it clear from an early age that it is not your responsibility to clean it up and that if you have to do so there will be consequences is imperative. With younger children this can be turned into a game – ‘can you tidy your toys away etc before I get back upstairs with…’ – but the resistance is going to kick in at some point. For older children – again, especially girls – the threat of you even going in to their room and touching their stuff will be like a flame to a firework. Do not be put off by this. If there are things in their room they don’t think you should see then they need to tidy the room up. If they want their things left in a certain place and not in a black binliner at the bottom of the dustbin then they need to tidy their room up. If they think that just leaving the job means that you will do it anyway, make sure they know that your way involves a lot more effort for them in the long run.

Remember, don’t leave all of this to the end of the day. Not only will everyone be more tired and more likely to over-react, most children will simply use it as a way to delay bedtime. Make it a conditional activity, so that if everything is tidy to your satisfaction then there will be time to do something else either that day or before bedtime. You’ll be amazed at the amount of co-operation you will get.

Finally, do not despair. The tidiness message gets through eventually. One of my messy little sisters now lives in a house with white carpets.

…Thank you Richard – all helpful stuff 🙂 If you want to add your own “top-tips” they will be read with interest!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment