Study: No discrimination against men in family courts

Children|June 2nd 2015

Men are as likely to have a contact application approved by a family court as women according to a new study by the University of Warwick and the University of Reading.

The study, which has just been released, analysed nearly 200 custody cases from 2011 and concluded that applications by fathers were “overwhelmingly successful”.

This contradicts popular perception that fathers were at a disadvantage in family courts. It was reported last month that a US-style men-only law firm was opening to the UK to address this perceived issue.

The study found that mothers are more likely to become the primary carer in contact applications simply because they are more likely to be in that role when a relationship ends, but that courts did not favour mothers over fathers.

Dr Maebh Harding, one of the report’s authors found that more residence orders are made for mothers, but that “this was because a large number of such orders were made for mothers as respondents in cases where the father sought contact.”

The report concluded most parents resolve their case outside of court and that family courts are becoming a last resort, likely because of legal aid cuts. Dr Harding points out that “funding is still available for mediated resolution.”

Due to lack of access to legal aid there are concerns that some parents will agree to contact arrangements that don’t take account of risk factors. The report authors found four cases in the study cohort where there were serious welfare issues for the children involved.

The full study can be read here

Image by Tony Guyton via Flickr

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  1. Alistair Nunn says:

    It’s not just about contact. It is about residence and this nearly always goes to the mother which in turn gives that parent full power over the child enabling them to do whatever they want to.

  2. Paul Apreda says:

    I fear this is yet another PR exercise by HMCTS ‘allowing’ researchers to study cases to give them the sense of approval that they want. This ‘research’ seems to fly in the face of anecdotal evidence from Courts – including from Judges and magistrates with whom we deal.

    One fundamental question doesnt seem to be addressed however. Applications by fathers for contact are, in our experience, normally for substantial staying contact amounting to 25% or more of the child’s time. What we dont know is the extent or quantum of contact ordered. Perhaps unbelievably the HMCTS data system (called somewhat ironically Familyman) !!! does not differentiate between Direct and Indirect Contact. That means that a father’s application is ‘successful’ if – despite asking for substantial contact he is awarded indirect contact to be able to send his child a Xmas or birthday card. Now that’s what I call success!


    PS Dont worry I’m used to Stowe not bothering to reply to any comments 😉

  3. david mortimer says:

    The family courts view separating couples as two legal components: the ‘resident parent’ and the ‘non-resident parent’ (who does not live with the child). Although these two legal concepts might sound similar they are treated completely differently in the family courts. The only legal right a non-resident parent has is they can apply to the courts for contact. They do not have any other significant or presumptive rights over their children.

    Most people believe they have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law if they were accused of domestic violence or child abuse given they are criminal offences. However, this principle only applies in criminal trials which have to prove a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It does not apply in the family courts which are civil proceedings where the best interest test is applied to all decisions which are made on a balance of probability.

    Family court judges do not believe it would be in a child’s best interest to question what the resident parent has said (to see if it is true or not) because they claim do so would undermind their authority as the primary care giver. You might wonder how any decision could ever be reasonably considered as safe and in a child’s best interests if they do not check.

  4. Luke says:

    “The study found that mothers are more likely to become the primary carer in contact applications simply because they are more likely to be in that role when a relationship ends, but that courts did not favour mothers over fathers.”
    My own family situation that I am aware of in detail does not back this up at all, the father was doing the majority of the childcare when the relationship ended and the mother got full residency – it wasn’t even a debate despite attempts to make it so – the Judge wouldn’t even consider anything else as a possibility.
    Many fathers don’t strongly contest residency or request residency sharing because court appearances are not cheap and they are told by their lawyers (truthfully) that they have no chance of success – the mother almost always wins.
    Of course the case involving my relative is anecdotal – but the fact that women have residency 95%+ of the time is not anecdotal – how does that square with there being no bias against fathers ?
    It doesn’t, many mothers work full time too, if they are trying to sell the idea that no fathers that parent equally want residency or at least shared residency then frankly no reasonable person is going to buy that.

  5. Luke says:

    The following response in the blog by the lawyer GeorgiaLee Lang takes this study (of no bias against fathers) apart:

  6. CG says:

    I’m not surprised that “The study, which has just been released, analysed nearly 200 custody cases from 2011 and concluded that applications by fathers were “overwhelmingly successful”.
    The interesting, telling, figures are surely how many of those successful applications (there would be an outcry wouldn’t there if the first time a contact order was sought there was a tendency to turn it down) turn into repeat applications/hearings in regard to contact being not upheld etc.
    Re David Mortimer’s comments about “….a child’s best interest…” I would be interested to know if anyone has ever had given them a legal definition of ‘best interest’. A phrase much bandied about but not quantified or codified it seems.

  7. Dr Nigel Miles says:

    Thank God for LA had millions of parents worried for a minute. Most being civil enough to work out their concerns maturely. Thinking that the only redress to implacable parents was Court.

    “My dear life and soul” as we say down here in Bonny Cornwall…But wait. Perhaps if local and foreign ladies come here claiming innocent on separation and then with the help of Local Benefit scrounging law firms, who if they did their jobs properly such as ensuring the Court signs off their benefit claim for “x” £000’s. Whoa but perhaps also thry could gain empirical evidence for the Court in those cases which need it which is not provided by H M Constabulary.

    But not gaining empirical evidence and colluding with Local Authority public servants into perjurying themselves in Court and continuing to allow domestic abuse on children in the guise of being DSM V sufferers themselves. God Lord woild give John Grisham another great story line plot what!

    You know we might even enter the 21st Century with ensuring that parents have not only the “Strasbourg” based moral rights to be engaging parents with responsibility but also; never surely, legal right to be a responsible parent? What what what… Oh l can fear those hormones raging in some fair maidens stopping the privatising of their children produced partheogenetically.! Whatever next, happy family children…well the Pilgrim Fathers petition will help on Go on stop the continued domestic abuse of all our children. …Go on sign the petition and make Christmas Day every day for them!

  8. Nordic says:

    The report actually contains some quite interesting data, which does paint a more nuanced picture than the traditional 95%/5% claim. However, the data most certainly do not support the authors’ main conclusion. Quite the contrary and in its interpretations and conclusions, this report fails to live up to basic academic research standards. The Lang review quoted by Luke gives a summary of (some of) the questionable and unsubstantiated claims.
    It appears to me as if the authors tried to fit the study to preordained conclusions. Might this have something to do with the fact that the study was conducted with support from the Nuffield foundation, an interest organisation known for traditional views and opposition to shared parenting? The end result is another piece of uncritical pseudo research so common in the family law space.

  9. Dorcas Nduati says:

    The Bible says that men are the head of the households. No discrimination against men!

  10. Michael L Danielson says:

    Umm…is it just me, or is this entire article basically saying “Hey, men, don’t worry! After the court has ruled against you by default, you have as good a chance as any woman of getting approved to SEE — not gain custody of, mind you, but merely VISIT — your child! There’s no more bias in the courts! Hurrah!” ******** (My Amend! Marilyn)

  11. Will G says:

    According to the report, in 96 per cent of cases, the parents who apply to court for “access” to their children are men, with the average case taking between six months and two years to complete. In just under half of these cases, dads will win the right to have their children stay with them overnight, with the most common arrangement being every other weekend. Just under a quarter will be restricted to seeing their children in the daytime and the remaining quarter will be given little or no opportunity to be the daddy.

    According to the University of Warwick, the lead researcher on the project, Dr Maebh Harding, looked at this data and “concluded that contact applications by fathers were in fact overwhelmingly successful”.

    The basis for this claim is that 88 per cent of dads who applied to court for contact with their kids were awarded some kind of access. For example, 10 per cent were restricted to “indirect contact” with their children via phone, post or Skype; a further five per cent were only allowed to see their children in the company of a supervisor and 23 per cent were permitted to spend a few daytime hours with their children.

    I don’t know about you, but when I think of an “overwhelmingly successful” parent I don’t picture someone who is neither trusted to be alone with their children, nor allowed to wake up in the same house as them.

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