7. Advice

Separation and divorce - First Aid Kit

Children need ongoing reassurance from their parents that the children were not responsible for the divorce. They need a truthful explanation of the divorce i.e. what will happen and where they stand but not unnecessary details. They need to be reassured by both parents by consistent contact through visits, and phone calls. Parents should avoid criticism of the other parent to the child or in the presence of the child. Try not to use the child as a messenger between parents.

Dealing with divorce / separation out of court

Staying out of the courts is a good option. Lawyers get paid more the longer a case goes on. It is therefore financially in their interests to provoke as much problems as possible. Remember that as a man there is little chance of getting justice through the courts. It may be possible to get more contact and spend less money by negotiating directly with the mother. Mediation may help here. Remember to get all agreements in writing and witnessed if possible. Remember that the agreement may not stand in any future court case. Remember also that a mother may choose not to honor an agreement, at anytime, for any random reason even when it is an agreement that she devised and wrote. However even a court order is not a protection against this kind of behavior since mothers regularly flout court contact orders with impunity and judges rarely do anything about this [Telegraph 8-Sep-96].

Dealing with divorce / separation through the courts

What to do before court

1) Get a good solicitor who is either known to you or a friend or an organisation such as FNF. Listen carefully to the advice and write it down or tape record it. You may decide to be a litigant in person in the court. If you do this you are best advised to take a 'McKenzie' friend who has experience of the courts and who can advise you before you go to court. If you do not know anyone to act as a McKenzie friend then an organization called LIPS can help arrange a McKenzie friend for you. To make sure the McKenzie friend is accepted take to court a piece of paper stating:

A friend in Court, in the XXXXX court, Matter no. xxxxx.
To the Clerk of the Court:
At the hearing before xxxxx on xx date it is my intention to act in person and be accompanied by a friend. Litigants in person are entitled to the presence of a friend arising from the following:
* Rules of the Supreme Court, Order 35 rule 7/1
* County Courts Act 1984, Section 60 (notes).
* McKenzie v. McKenzie {1970} 3 WLR 472.
* 06-May-97 The Times in Ray H
In order to avoid unnecessary delay on the day of the hearing, please will you place this letter before the court and confirm to me that there is no objection to my proposed course of action.
Signed xxx (litigant in person).

2) Always try to remember that a father has as much right to have contact with the children as the mother.
3) Be whiter than white in the eyes of the children, judge, court welfare service, any other relevant party.
4) Remember that the children's act is there for all parties, not just the children, use it
5) Stand fast and try not to listen to uninformed sources, as they are often not up to date with the system. You have to fight for your right's - they will not fall at your feet.
6) Make a parenting diary and put all past details and incidents in this diary on the day they occurred. Put down a summary of all contact, and phone calls with the children and also your ex partner. This diary can be used as evidence of your track record.

Directions hearing

This normally lasts 5-10 minutes. The hearing will determine what action should be taken to determine the arrangements for the children. Where children are involved they will normally order a court welfare officer.

Court Welfare Officers Report

Make sure that the court welfare officer sees you together with the children. Do not take the court welfare officers report as gospel, they have only a limited idea of the situation, with regard to your children's domestic or educational needs. There are a few books that may help:

Family court welfare work - Probation Service work brown book
Court Welfare Work: Research, Practice, and Development by Adrian James Hull university (1992) FNF office
The Court Welfare in action - research into procedures Adrian James

Be careful of some common 'Welfare Report' inversions:

he brought his child toys ('threatened to setup an alternative home'), played with his child ('overstimulated' him), fed him at mealtimes (showing the child was 'hungry'), let him fall asleep in a car on the way home ('exhausted' him), is upset at not seeing his child (is 'emotionally unstable' and/or has 'low self-esteem'), said he would take his wife to court for contact ('threatened' her).

Court hearing

The court case can vary a great deal. Very much depends on how well the parents cooperate. In general it is probably best to prepare your case very well and prepare for the worst. In some cases there can be a number of false accusations such as marital rape, and child abuse. A well prepared case and being represented by someone who operates well in court is the best defence against such accusations.

The courts are supposed to decide 'in the best interests of the children'. The best case will therefore be made around well prepared arrangements for the benefit the child. i.e. stability, security, activities, meals, and school.

Remember above all that all the studies show that a child does best when it has contact with both parents. The court may try and establish the traditional contact of every other weekend and half the school holidays with the father. A good quote to dismiss this is from Mr Llwyd in the house of Lords 17-Jun-96 in the family law bill debate. He said:

"The evidence overwhelmingly points to a llack of concern by the public and the courts about children's loss of parents. Residence orders are often understood as custody and may be in favour of only one parent. The other parent may be given a contact order to visit, or be visited by, the child at weekends, for example. That is not sufficient to exercise meaningful parental responsibility. The courts are often reluctant to enforce that minimal contact."

Co-parenting plan

A joint Co-parenting plan made by the parents is clearly best to avoid any future disagreements. There are various groups that offer support to shared parenting e.g. : Share Parenting Information Group


bullet The visiting parent should give an indication of the childs whereabouts
bullet Leave a contact telephone number if the child is away for a long period.
bullet Every effort should be made to keep to agreed timescales and phone if late.
bullet Avoid making negative comments about the other parent
bullet Keep the contact consistent if the child is young.
bullet Lengthy contact allows a parent-child relationship to develop best.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the systematic denigration by one parent by the other with the intent of alienating the child against the other parent. The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the father. The alienation usually extends to the father's family and friends as well.

Future sections:
Child advice
Marriage advice
Campaigning - What you can do.

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