Baroness Butler-Sloss: Punish parents who defy contact orders

Family Law|June 2nd 2014

A former President of the Family Division has called for parents who defy contact orders to face “unpleasant” penalties.

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said more should be done in order to enforce contact orders, claiming there were too many cases of one parent preventing the other from seeing their child following a separation.

In an interview with shared parenting charity Families Need Fathers, she said:

“I would like to see I must say, mothers who flout contact orders required to do all sorts of things that don’t actually send her inside … I should like to see her penalised in all sorts of inconvenient ways as long as it doesn’t have any impact on her care of the child.”

She added:

“[T]here is no reason why she shouldn’t be required to go and clean the streets, whatever it may be. I would make her do something really unpleasant so that she understands the consequences of this.”

She said that while mandatory community service for those who defy the orders would be appropriate, she would draw the line at sending them to prison.

She said prison time would be “counterproductive” in these cases as it could lead to the child becoming resentful of the father, being “the man who has sent [the child’s] mother to prison”.

The interview concerned the limitations of the Children and Families Act 2014.

Baroness Butler-Sloss discussed her objections to Section 11 of the Act, specifically the part which creates a ‘presumption of parental involvement’.

She said:

“I started as a lawyer by objecting to the word ‘presume’. Lawyers don’t like presumptions. There is one presumption: the welfare of the child is paramount. I didn’t want a second presumption.”

She argued that while judges and magistrates would have no problem understanding the law, people involved in the cases may mistakenly believe that it means a child’s time should be divided equally between parents.

She added that it was important it be made clear that the ‘presumption of parental involvement’ did not mean both parents had an automatic right to time with their child.

The government has since inserted an amendment stating that involvement simply means any degree of contact with the child, “either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.”

I take a different view, as I have written in previous posts. I don’t regard Section 11 as harmful or giving too much “say” to the parent involved.

I think parents who are currently ignored in legislation need to be included, perhaps because I have spent 30 odd years listening to them and learning of the defects in the legislation, which is at present entirely child centred.

So it is interesting that Baroness Butler Sloss has now made these remarks in such terms, acknowledging a real problem exists, considering that she was the principal mover in the House of Lords behind the decision to amend the Act and is known for her unconditional support of the child in any family dispute.

Furthermore, although it has received the Royal Assent, it has still to be brought into force and as yet there appear to be no plans to do so. Enquiries to the MOJ press office produce only a response to watch their web site.

So parents with apparently insoluble problems in seeing their own children, are no further forward than they ever were.

Is sending out mothers to “clean streets” the answer or is it simply more reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel than a serious proposal to end child contact problems in 21st Century Britain?

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  1. Luke says:

    “So parents with apparently insoluble problems in seeing their own children, are no further forward than they ever were.”
    I agree, the resident parent – which is almost always the woman – is still beyond the law.
    She said that while mandatory community service for those who defy the orders would be appropriate, she would draw the line at sending them to prison.
    So, if a Judge did actually give the resident parent a “clean the streets” punishment and the resident parent just doesn’t turn up for that punishment what happens then ?????
    Alternatively what if the resident parent decides “cleaning the streets” is a better option than allowing contact and does it repeatedly (amidst appeals on each occasion of course and months and years going by) – what happens then ???
    Allow me to say how ill thought out and frankly silly these ideas are from Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
    The threat of prison and loss of residency is the only thing that will persuade some resident parents to allow contact – but in the feminised society we have the obvious still isn’t enacted.

  2. Yvie says:

    Make 50/50 shared parenting the default by law. Parents will then have to decide between themselves which is the best division of time to suit both the children and their family circumstances. Parents should be encouraged and supported by law in the care of their children following separation, and no parent should therefore need to be punished, penalised, or face unpleasant penalties. Anything that needs the punishment of either of the parents should be discarded as completely unworkable as it is not in the best interests of the children.

    By sticking rigidly to her outdated opinions, Baroness Butler Sloss is determined to ensure that no progress is made within the Family Justice System and the same old merry-go-round continues as it has always done, with disharmony between the separated parents and the children unfortunately caught in the middle of it.

  3. russell armstrong says:

    Well said both

    BS (Butler Sloss) is a master at the written word and has long since played fast and loose with the real “best interest of the children”, it seems to me that her agenda is unclear

  4. Luke says:

    “Anything that needs the punishment of either of the parents should be discarded as completely unworkable as it is not in the best interests of the children.”

    That still won’t solve this particular problem Yvie, it’s a separate issue – if one parent won’t cooperate and keeps the child 75/25% of the time or 100%/0% of the time what are you going to do if there is no punishment ? What’s more that would inevitably happen in some cases.

  5. Nordic says:

    I certainly agree that the courts should start from a presumption of shared parenting (if not necessarily 50/50). However, I disagree that sanctions and punishment are unworkable. If you leave high conflict families in a legal and rules vacuum you just spread more conflict and allow the resident parent to “win” by default to the great detriment of the kids. If resident parents know disregard of court orders actually will entail unpleasant consequences for themselves, they are less likely to misbehave. In my view, the widespread abuse of child arrangement/contact orders in this country is a problem of the courts own making. Jurisdictions such as the Nordics adopt a much firmer (and therefore also clearer) enforcement approach. At least in part, this may help explain why the number of children who completely loose contact with the non-resident parent is much lower in these jurisdictions (i.e. 10 – 12% compared to the 30 or 40% often reported in media here).

    Enforcing child arrangement orders with the same rigour as child payment obligations will not result in lots of mothers languishing in prison, but may limit the number of kids who completely loose contact with their fathers.

  6. Skeptic says:

    Punish, punish, punish – yes, great idea.

    But of course, this is just empty grandstanding on the part of Butler-Sloss. She and everyone involved in this industry care nothing about the stability and welfare of children.

    If they did care, they would talk less about punishing and more about how constructively to change legislation around children’s issues so that there would be no need for mothers to destroy father-child relationships.

    For a start, you would have to dissolve a corrupt CSA and replace it with a system that is child-centred and takes the needs of both parents into consideration. A system that aggressively seeks to impoverish dads and escalate child poverty in proportion to a dad’s desire to be involved (and put in less time at the office) is just something to be ashamed of, and the CSA will no doubt go down in history as an abusive and criminal organization, as will any government that supports it.

    After removing money from the equation, you’d then want to replace a judiciary with no independence from the interests of the state and corporate sector, with a younger judiciary that is as independent as possible, and in tune with social developments and the moral imperatives of a truly child-centred system that would financially reward parental cooperation.

    There should be no need for punishment, violence and criminalization where children are concerned. If only the likes of Butler-Sloss had more of an imagination.

  7. Yvie says:

    I think we are on a similar wavelength skeptic. The present system is confrontational and can very easily destroy father-child relationships, often in a very short time. The law needs to change to make this less likely and to ensure that children enjoy both their father and their mother. Regarding the CSA, I think it is a vile organisation. It has no respect for decent fathers who provide willingly for their children. They are there only to collect money and meet their targets, and if a father loses his home in the process, they have no concern. Taking children out of poverty when they are residing with their mother, and putting them back into poverty when they are residing with their father makes no sense at all, but the logic of this somehow by-passes the CSA.

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