UK Family Law Reform

Free information index

http://www.napo.org.uk

Family Court and Parental Contact Survey - findings published

Posted to the Napo website by napo - Office - on 12-Oct-2005

Family Court and Parental Contact Survey

During the summer of 2005, Napo conducted a survey using a questionnaire on the part played by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) in determining how the Family Court processes applications from parents for contact with their children. The total number of cases covered by the survey was 864. In all cases proceedings concluded with a final order during the period 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005. Essentially the survey compared the levels of contact in individual cases both before and following CAFCASS involvement and also determined what reasons lay behind Court decisions not to allow contact at all, and the nature of the restrictions imposed when contact was granted.

Family Court and Parental Contact

A briefing from Napo the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff

INTRODUCTION

During the summer of 2005, Napo conducted a survey using a questionnaire on the part played by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) in determining how the Family Court processes applications from parents for contact with their children. The total number of cases covered by the survey was 864. In all cases proceedings concluded with a final order during the period 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005. Essentially the survey compared the levels of contact in individual cases both before and following CAFCASS involvement and also determined what reasons lay behind Court decisions not to allow contact at all, and the nature of the restrictions imposed when contact was granted.

BACKGROUND

CAFCASS was established in April 2001. The new service brought together staff from the Family Court Welfare Service (then part of the Probation Service), the Guardian Ad Litem and Reporting Officers’ Service, and the Children’s Division of the Official Solicitor’s Department. The principal task of those Family Court Advisors who prepare private law reports in CAFCASS is to respond to the needs of children in Family Court proceedings and to advise the Court accordingly. Proceedings commence when family members, usually parents, find that they are unable to reach agreement about arrangements for their children and one party then makes an application for a court order. Family Court Advisors produced 31,698 court reports in 2001/2, rising to 33,803 in 2003/4. During 2003/4 11,143 residence orders and a further 27,926 contact orders were made. In addition, 607 family assistance orders were made in 2003/4, a fall from 979 in 2001/2 (1). All the referrals are complex and difficult conflicts to resolve. In all cases parents were unable to agree, either voluntarily or through mediation, what was in the best interests of their children. In 2000 there were 142,000 divorces and a similar number of breakdowns in cohabitations. Marriage and divorce statistics show that around 55% of separations involve children under the age of 16 years. Napo is the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court staff. Napo represents the majority of Family Court Advisors employed by CAFCASS. Currently Napo has over 600 members in this work.

1 CAFCASS Annual Report and Accounts 2003/4

THE STUDY

The 864 cases included in this survey came from the 10 CAFCASS Regions in England. There are now separate arrangements for CAFCASS in Wales. The average private law case load per Family Court Advisor in the survey was 27. The breakdown of the cases per region was North West 231, Yorkshire and Humberside 79, West Midlands 53, East Midlands 109, East 134, South East 37, London 35, South 43, South West 60 and North East 29.

Child contact

The survey examined contact with both parents at commencement and completion of proceedings. On average cases can take many months from start to finish. Over a year is not unusual as factors such as court listing patterns, adjournments to try out contact arrangements for later review, etc., all play a part in this timescale. At the commencement of proceedings 319 fathers had lost contact with their children. This represents 36% of the sample. However, by the end proceedings, following CAFCASS staff intervention, the percentage of fathers without contact had fallen to 7.8%. That is 68 of the cases. At the commencement 70 mothers, or 8%, had lost contact with their children and this had fallen to 44 cases, that is 5% of the total, by completion. CAFCASS intervention, therefore, led to contact being restored to fathers in nearly 80% of cases where it had previously been lost and a smaller figure of 63% of mothers. A previous study undertaken by Napo in 2002 found that the corresponding figures in that survey of 300 cases were that 44% of fathers had no contact at the commencement, falling to 6% at completion. (2)

Contact Restoration 2005 Study


1 Total number of cases - 864

2 Father has no contact at start of proceedings - 319

3 Mother has no contact at start of proceedings - 70

4 Contact is restored with FATHER at end of process - 251

5 Contact is restored with MOTHER at end of process - 44

2 Contact, Separation and The Work of Family Court Staff – Napo briefing April 2003

Recommendations in final outcomes

In 38 cases in the study the Children and Family Reporter recommended no contact with the father in the final Court Report. This represents 4.4% of the sample. The Court concurred with this recommendation in 89% of the proceedings, that is 34 of cases. Staff also recommended that mothers be given no contact in 10 cases, but the Court ordered that no contact be made in 11. The additional case involved a deterioration in alcohol abuse by one mother.

No contact recommendations

1 Total Number of cases - 864

2 CAFCASS recommend no contact with FATHER - 38

3 CAFCASS recommend no contact with MOTHER - 10

4 Courts order no contact with FATHER - 34

5 Courts order no contact with MOTHER - 11

Reasons for no contact

Father

The principal reason why fathers were not successful in their applications for contact was domestic violence, a significant factor in 41% of the total number of cases where contact was refused. Child protection matters, usually emotional, physical or sexual abuse was the principal reason given in a further 29% of the total. In the remaining cases contact was not given because it was against the child’s express wishes, there was a history of drug or alcohol abuse, a failure to cooperate over a consistent period or a history of sex offending.

Principal reasons for no contact fathers

1 Domestic violence - 14

2 Child protection/abuse - 10

3 Non co-operation with Court - 3

4 Against child’s wishes - 3

5 Drug/Alcohol abuse - 2

6 Sex Offending - 1

7 Case dismissed - 1

8 TOTAL - 34

Mother

The principal reasons for no contact being given to mothers were different to those for fathers. The number is statistically small but mental illness, drug abuse and contact being against the children’s wishes were the main justifications

Principal reasons for no contact mothers

1 Mental Illness - 3

2 Drug/Alcohol abuse - 2

3 Against the child’s wishes - 2

4 Child protection - 2

5 Violence - 1

6 Case withdrawn - 1

7 TOTAL - 11

Indirect supervised contact

Indirect contact was granted to fathers in a further 58 cases and to mothers in an additional 13. In all cases the form of the indirect contact was either letters, videos, emails or cards. In a further 38 cases the Court ordered supervised contact with the father and in 11 cases with the mother. The reasons were similar to cases for no contact but were judged by professional staff to be less serious.

Other factors

The survey respondents identified that 61 fathers and 10 mothers pulled out of the proceedings at some time during the process. In Napo’s view this fact illustrates the complexity and emotional state of parties during all or some parts of the proceedings. The principle reasons why fathers withdrew from proceedings were

• Unable to cooperate - 11

• Acceptance of the child’s wishes - 10

• Held in custody on criminal charges - 4

• Serious drug/alcohol problems - 5

• Agreements breached - 5

Other reasons include lack of finance and on legal advice. The reasons for mothers pulling out included child’s wishes, mental health issues or an agreement reached between the parties. The survey also found that existing contact orders in respect of fathers were resisted by the mother in 123 cases at some time during the proceedings and contact orders in respect of mothers were resisted by fathers in a further 24 cases. This again, in Napo’s view, is an expected finding as parents were referred to CAFCASS because of a failure to agree in the first place. In the remaining cases where the outcomes were known, the results were as follows:

Residence

1 Residential Order mother - 162

2 Residential Order Father - 29

3 No Order - 29

4 Referred to other proceedings - 32

5 Dealt with in other ways - 79

CONCLUSION

The study shows, in Napo’s view, that it is extremely rare for CAFCASS to recommend no contact with a father. Contact was not given in 4.4% of cases against the father. No contact in respect of the mother was order in 1.3% of cases. The figure for no contact with fathers in this study is higher than earlier research conducted by CAFCASS which indicated that no contact orders were only made in about 1% of cases by fathers. Contact was refused primarily because of serious issues of domestic violence or child protection or abuse. It is possible, in Napo’s view, that the proportion of cases involving domestic violence and no contact is higher in this study than national figures would suggest. The study also illustrates in Napo’s view that there is no evidence of systemic bias against either fathers or mothers in the process. The study shows that fathers had lost contact with the children in 36% of cases at commencement of proceedings. After CAFCASS intervention this had fallen to 7.8%. The corresponding figures for mothers are 8% at commencement, falling to 5% by completion. The study also shows that a significant number of parents pull out of proceedings during the process and that there is a resistance to the arrangements in many cases. These findings illustrate the complex nature of cases referred to CAFCASS and the difficulties experienced by staff in negotiating agreement.

Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary, Napo October 2005 BRF16-05

Appendix 1 Case studies

Respondents to the survey were asked to provide case studies which illustrated the difficulties experienced by staff and therefore the need for professional training. They also show that contact is only refused in very difficult circumstances.

CASE STUDY 1

CAFCASS Region North West

The father in the proceedings had a serious problem with alcohol and had been married for over a decade. He had suffered from alcoholism for the previous 5 years. There was a history of domestic violence and harassment at the point of separation. Continued threats were made to the mother and he attempted suicide in front of his son. He has been in and out of detoxification for the previous 3 years and served a short period in custody for the breach of an injunction. CAFCASS were originally looking at supervised contact at a relatives so that the father could maintain his most recent detox but after 3 weeks he turned up at the office in the early morning in an extremely drunken state and could not stand up, let alone be interviewed. Several weeks later he turned up in a similar state at Court and it was decided that he was, therefore, unfit to participate. No contact was ordered and he was advised to go and seek assistance with his problems before the matter could be reconsidered.

CASE STUDY 2

CAFCASS Region North West

CAFCASS was involved in a case at the conclusion of a volatile relationship where the mother was adamant she wanted to separate but the father did not. They had one child together, a three-year-old girl. On one occasion whilst the child was upstairs a violent argument ensued and the father stabbed the mother in the leg, refusing to let her leave the home and escape he then tried to cut his throat with a kitchen knife. Following separation the father continued to stalk his former partner. The mother reported experiencing post-traumatic stress which is ongoing. The Court reports refused all contact. The father had little insight on the effect of behaviour on the mother and showed limited remorse. The mother is described by the CAFCASS worker as still shattered psychologically. Concern was expressed for her welfare and functioning should contact continue. The Court did allow the exchange of cards at birthdays and Christmas.

CASE STUDY 3

CAFCASS Region North West

CAFCASS became involved in a case where there had been an arranged marriage in Pakistan between a British Asian mother and a father who was from Pakistan. They did not live together for almost five years following the marriage ceremony as he was waiting for permanent stay in the country. Shortly after he moved to England she became pregnant. There then followed serious allegations of domestic violence and rape within the marriage. The Court concluded there was substantial evidence to uphold the allegations. The mother became very fearful for her emotional and psychological wellbeing and the impact that the violence would have on the child. The father failed over a consistent period of time to accept any responsibility for his behaviour and wanted reconciliation but was unable to focus on the needs of the child. No contact was ordered.

CASE STUDY 4

CAFCASS Region North West

CAFCASS became involved after a father was seeking increased contact with his 11-year-old son. The existing arrangements were for 5 hours contact a week with his son and his 17-year-old sister. The father claimed that the mother was restricting contact and was prejudiced against him because he was in a gay relationship. However, CAFCASS enquiries revealed that there had been police involvement in several domestic violence incidents between the father and his current partner and that he had some mental health problems. The two children described some worrying incidents of the father’s aggressive behaviour during contact. They still wanted to maintain some contact with him but not at his home. The Court agreed with these arrangements.

CASE STUDY 5

CAFCASS Region Yorkshire and Humberside

CAFCASS became involved after the parents separated when their only daughter was an infant. At the time of the proceedings she had reached 3 years of age. There were allegations of domestic violence and harassment complicated by the girls inability to separate from the mother because of a serious health issue. Arrangements had been made over 18 months for the mother and father to meet at various venues and get him to understand his daughter’s health needs. However, these almost always let to acrimony in front of the child. The father had difficulty accepting the mother’s view of the child’s condition and the mother felt he did not treat her properly. The point was reached where contact had either to stop or the child would be forced to separate from the mother and spend time alone with the father. The Court supported the view that the child would not be able to do that successfully given her age and that the attempt would impact adversely on the mother’s stress levels. Accordingly no contact was ordered.

CASE STUDY 6

CAFCASS Region Yorkshire and Humberside

CAFCASS became involved after a father and son, who had regular contact in the past, had this stopped by the mother. This, after some months, led to the child making sexual abuse allegations against his father. After investigation there was found to be no substance to these allegations. However, it became apparent the consequences of the child continuing to have the contact would be damaging. The father eventually accepted the Court ruling that indirect contact such as letters and cards would be the best way to retain contact with the child for the immediate future. These reasons were communicated directly to the child.

CASE STUDY 7

CAFCASS Region Eastern

After months of involvement CAFCASS ordered no direct contact because of the father’s persistent harassment and abuse of the mother. The decisions were not made swiftly or lightly as the case involved conflict and litigation over an 18 month period, many reports and a number of attempts to establish good contact. The children involved were both under 11 years of age and exhibiting physical symptoms such as sickness and vomiting at the time of contact and indicated that they were scared of their father. Eventually a no contact order was made.

CASE STUDY 8

CAFCASS Region South East

CAFCASS became involved in a case where there was a long history of domestic violence. The parents were cohabiting. The child was aged 6 at commencement of proceedings and 9 by the time they had terminated. The father was given limited and intermittent contact at first with the child. The child had very mixed feelings about the father at the beginning and staying contact was thought to be inappropriate. The father had children from another relationship where there were also allegations of violence. There were serious child protection issues. The fathers application for direct contact was then rejected and indirect contact was allowed.

CASE STUDY 9

CAFCASS Region East Midlands

CAFCASS became involved after a father who had lost contact with this children made an application. On examination, he was Schedule 1 sex offender and was also on the Sex Offender Register and had been harassing the mother. In discussion he continued to deny his offending behaviour. After a short intervention CAFCASS argued against any form of contact on the basis of the complete denial of the sex offending and because of child protection. It was suggested that the Court might taken another expert’s view on this but the father withdrew his application.

CASE STUDY 10

CAFCASS Region London

CAFCASS became involved in 2004 in a case where a father was given residence provided he made the child available to the mother at a contact centre on alternate Saturdays. The condition was that the mother did not go to the boy’s house or school. She was allowed to telephone the child at an arranged time. After three or four months it was reported that the child who was seeing a family psychiatrist had become violent toward the mother at the centre and refused to see her. Contact subsequently broke down. It was recommended that the matter be dealt with by a specialist family service and that the child and mother would attend. By March 2005, the situation had become complicated after the birth of another child and the mother’s lack of contact with her son. After a further series of interviews it was recommended that no direct contact be made. The mother remains adamant that the child should live with her and the father is supportive of contact in principle but no progress has been made.

CASE STUDY 11

CAFCASS Region West Midlands

CAFCASS became involved with a family when breakdown occurred where the mother had a significant anti-social personality, unpredictable behaviour and alcohol misuse. There were threats toward professional workers involved including weapons. Staff had no ability to predict the mother’s mood and were therefore unable to be assured of the safety of the child or supervisor. The Court made a no contact order, however, the mother is allowed to write to the child, but she has not taken this up.

CASE STUDY 12

CAFCASS Region South East

CAFCASS became involved after complaints from a mother that her ex-partner had severe mental health problems and had made repeated threats of harm, and that the behaviour was exacerbated by alcohol use. On interview the father was thought to have no insight into the impact of his behaviour or the risk posed to the child consequently no contact was ordered.

CASE STUDY 13

CAFCASS Region Southern

A father applied for contact with his sons who lived with his mother. There had been no contact for several years and previous contact arrangements had been beset by the father on at least one occasion shouting abuse through the letterbox, damaging the front door, and causing stress to the child and mother. The father had also, by his own admission, not turned up to scheduled meetings. He had a history of alcohol abuse, had made little effort to maintain contact with the child over previous years, nor had he applied for contact until 2004. The father failed to keep appointments with CAFCASS and it was recommended, and accepted, that a no contact order be made.

CASE STUDY 14

CAFCASS Region Yorkshire and Humberside

For the last 18 months, CAFCASS has been involved with a father with two young children aged 4 and 2. He and his ex-partner and current wife have been involved in various proceedings over that period. Originally the father was seeking contact with his children. His ex-partner alleged drinking and bullying of the eldest child. Contact went from being at a local contact centre to unsupervised. The new partner then made allegations of domestic violence and alleged alcohol was involved. The mother of the children then went back to Court to have the contact supervised again because of the volatility and alcohol abuse, and this was granted.

CASE STUDY 15

CAFCASS Region West Midlands

CAFCASS became involved over a long period of time in a case that culminated in a Hearing which concluded that the father had been extremely violent to his partner and that the harassment and threats continued long after the separation. Indeed the father had tried to run the mother off the road as she was waiting to cross with the child in a pushchair. The Court had no hesitation in concluding no contact.

CASE STUDY 16

CAFCASS Region North West

The father had had no contact with the children for a number of years and recommenced proceedings. After deliberations and interview the Court ordered supervised contact. This was done because the children concerned had reservations about meeting their father and there were also concerns about the state of his mental health. The children who were aged 10 and 11 were thought to be old enough to have strong feelings but as they did not know of their father directly but knew of him by repute the supervision order was made. The purpose was to put them back in touch and allow the children to take decisions themselves when they had knowledge on which to base those decisions.

CASE STUDY 17

CAFCASS Region North West

A father had applied for contact but his ex-partner was refusing to cooperate because she felt she was experiencing intimidation. She also complained about a lack of commitment to the contact and felt there were welfare issues. The child, a boy aged 9, was it was said by the mother against contact going ahead. The Court, therefore, ordered a psychological assessment of the parents and the child. The conclusion of the psychologist was that the mother was not promoting contact or encouraging contact. The Court, therefore, ordered that contact occur in line with the child’s subsequent wishes and feelings as expressed both to the CAFCASS officer and the psychologist.

Families Need Fathers refute NAPO claim that there is no gender bias in the Family Courts

Families Need Fathers (FNF) today commented on a survey published by NAPO the Family Court union, which claims that there is no evidence of systematic gender bias where parents make applications for contact with their children through the courts. In fact the evidence provided falls far short of what might be needed to demonstrate that there is no bias against fathers, but rather demonstrates a defensive response on NAPO’s part to a system that is known to be failing non-resident fathers and their children. For the survey to be credible NAPO would need to prove that virtually all fathers – as well as mothers – were given residence orders, as there is nothing stopping courts giving residence orders to both parents. The usual practice of granting a residence order to one parent (normally the mother) and a contact order to the other, labels one parent as the one that matters and the other as the one that doesn’t. No-one knows how often both parents are given residence orders as figures are not collected, but an informed guess would be about one in twenty. In order to refute a gender bias NAPO would also need to prove that children were allowed a broadly equal relationship with both their parents. Yet the typical court order is still one that allows the children to visit their father every second weekend and some of the holidays – amounting possibly to one eighth or less of the child’s time. This contrasts starkly with the data supplied by The Equal Opportunities Commission and a recent Mintel report which documents that fathers in intact families currently provide one third of child care. Whereas after divorce or separation the child can expect his or her time with the father to be cut by some two thirds. What is that but discrimination?

“There was a time, years ago, when all that most fathers demanded was what the Americans called ‘visitation rights’. The right to see their children occasionally. What most fathers now demand is a serious involvement with their children, both before and after separation. Some even dare to demand, well, equality with the mother. Yet NAPO is showing how far behind the agenda it is by refusing to document the true outcomes of these family proceedings,” commented FNF Chair John Baker. “Few fathers go to the bitter end and get an order of no contact. Most give up beforehand. Neither does a court order for contact mean that the child gets that contact. For many fathers this is just one stage in the struggle, and contact ordered in court is commonly refused in practice. ” he added.

Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.

http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/ukfamilylawreform/