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Divorce & Splitting Up: what’s the deal with Dad?

In the latest extract from her book Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe considers the plight of fathers caught up in the divorce process.

Parents suffer when they lose the precious experience of living with their children on a day-to-day basis.  I have lost count of the number of times a parent has come to see me in tears because they no longer see their child every day.  Sadly, the inevitable consequence of living in two households is that even if there is an equal division of time, one parent is bound to miss out on something.

At one time it was almost automatic that in the event of divorce, children went to live with their mother. Judges, social workers and society at large presumed this was the “natural” way of things. There is little doubt that the position for fathers today is much better than a decade ago. Much of that is down to the changes that have taken place in society and how the roles and rights of men and women have developed. For instance, it is no longer unusual for the wife to be the breadwinner while the man stays at home to care for the children.

Even so, many of today’s men feel that they are second class citizens when it comes to residency of the children or contact arrangements with them. In too many divorces, children become weapons: the means by which emotional blows can be landed. A few years ago it was estimated that up to 50 per cent of all fathers lost touch with their children within a couple of years of a divorce. That is a shocking statistic.

In my experience, if a man puts together a cogent and reasoned argument about why he should have residency of his children, the courts are prepared to look at his argument in an even-handed way. However groups campaigning for fathers’ rights say that they have experienced markedly different fates at the judges’ hands. These angry men feel wronged by the courts, and cruelly torn from their children.

I have dealt with every type of relationship breakdown. I represent equal numbers of men and women and because I work to achieve for my clients the satisfactory conclusion that they seek, I have been sheltered from the kind of resentment and sense of injustice that the men who join these organisations clearly feel.

However, I have much sympathy for their cause. After speaking to a number of these men and being moved by their stories, I could only conclude that many fathers are unfairly treated by the law in this country. Many of the men to whom I spoke told me that that they had taken active, sharing roles as parents, only to find themselves suddenly expunged from the daily lives of their children.

My advice to men who find themselves in this situation, or who fear that they will end up in this situation, is as follows:

  1. Stay calm.
    Focus on what your children are telling you that they want. You may not agree with their views, but you need to recognise that the court will look at your family situation from the children’s perspective. Your case will be harmed if you disregard the children’s wishes and feelings.

  1. Acquaint yourself with CAFCASS:
    the court-appointed welfare officers ( Somebody from CAFCASS will meet all the family members and determine how everybody feels about the situation. They will take into account the children’s wishes and feelings, and will report back to the court with their recommendations.

  1. Parental Alienation Syndrome is a term used to describe a parent’s poisoning of a child’s mind against the other parent.
    It is a controversial concept, and not all courts in the UK accept that the syndrome exists. However the court will recognise when a child shows a disproportionate reaction to one parent, and will seek to get to the bottom of why this is the case.

  1. Family courts have received a drubbing over the years because until recently, they made their decisions behind closed doors.
    If you are required to attend a family court, remember they are not “out to get you”. Whatever you do, do not rant or rail against them because you won’t improve their opinion of you if you come across as unreasonable or aggressive.

  1. Don’t wage war against “The Man”.
    It is possible that at some point, somebody in authority will say something with which you do not agree. However this does not mean that you should complain about them or try to get them removed from the case. As difficult as it is, recognise that there may be a reason behind a recommendation. For example, if you have not seen your children for a long time, the court may recommend that contact is supervised until the children’s trust in you has been rebuilt.

  1. Brave the contact centres.
    Yes, they can be intimidating or unpleasant places. However if your contact with your children is reduced to a few hours at one of these centres, with or without supervision, grit your teeth and look towards the future. Remember: you are there for your children and the contact centre is merely a stepping stone towards a full and renewed role in your children’s lives.


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Harry Wallington says:

    The Family Court system (and certainly Cafcass & Social Workers) seems to have been influenced massively (it feels like “taken over” would be an accurate description) by a feminist ideology that wishes to eliminate men from any position of authority within the family – in the belief that the family is the fundamental “patriarchal institution” underlying all others.

    In reality, the situation within a family can be that not only can men be heavily involved in the care of the children, but that parenting styles can be radically different. Not just “different” – but one can be healthy and the other very unhealthy.

    By the absolute assumption that children should reside with the mother (this was explicitly announced to me by the Court Cafcass officer) it is quite possible to remove from children the protection of the good male parent, and leave them at the mercy of a bad female parent capable of massive levels exploitation, neglect and abuse.

    This bad parent is likely to put up a sophisticated front which will make everything look as if it is OK on the surface. Actually there may be evidence to the contrary that emerges (such as signs of distress in the children) but this is likely to be ruthlessly suppressed by all the female workers within the medical, school, police and social work fields who may encounter it – a kind of female solidarity.

    Of course, the domineering, controlling abusive mother will go all out to eliminate the good father by alienating the children against them as much as possible – but in this she is hugely supported by Family Services.

    To my knowledge there is no assessment of parenting capability made if there are no obvious signs of physical neglect, etc, but much of the damage being done will be psychological. A request for Family Therapy intervention which might possibly have helped (but many Family Therapists have also been poisoned by the gender feminist ideology) was refused in my case by the female Judge.

    In many cases there will only be one possible suitable home in which the children can live, but two potential resident parents. One parent has to be chosen. How is this to be done correctly?

    I would suggest this simple test. Residency between two parents (given equal capability, demonstrated by the close involvement in the children’s lives men have frequently had) ought to be given to whichever parent can demonstrate the capacity and willingness to involve the other parent after separation.

    This one simple step – could change the entire family separation landscape, and eliminate a mountain of pain and suffering, death and destruction.

    I have always maintained that a far greater degree of effort needs to go into parental communication AFTER separation – than before…as all the small day to day information is lost.

    This situation being insisted upon in mediation, for example – for those planning separation – might well cause one or other to reflect on the wisdom of what is being considered.

  2. The Devil's Advocate says:

    Well done Marilyn at last you have approached the subject with a form of balance.

    Unfortunately not to the level of a balanced responsibility as the legislators in Brazil and Mexico representing a child population 85% if all children resident n the EU.

    I am not even going to mention an interpretation of Parental Alienation (not the Syndrome as it is not a DSM category as yet but that is a fundamental issue as Childress and Woodall’s seminal works which will provide confirmaton and l advise you all to seek them out on the Web). No we will use the term as you advocates love: implacable hostility!

    No the fundamental issue is parity of comprehensive rights to fully engaged parental responsibility. The is the key issue of equality engagement to all who have no criminal conviction of child abuse.

    What is needed are those 325 MPs (two are confirmed on this) to legislate for this reality as best interest needs for all our chldren and society as a whole then the arguments you have mentioned will be moot, actually fully axiomatic. (Any form of psychological abuse will be a criminal act and time at Her Majesties pleasure will be self evident together with loss of custodial rights on release and those who are not citizens, to be returned to their native country).

    This will send a insuperable message that children don’t just need both parents in ther lives in a responsible and fully engaged manner but everyone in the first and second filial families to provider a better than best interest for them.

    There is an organisation which is attempting to consolidate the 13.5 million citizens (ONS) in the UK whose families are in this schizm and children are being enslaved to full or some form of psychological abuse and enslavement to hate half of their familes. I believe it is called Amazing Grace! It has one aim and four fundamental objectives to help legislate as aforementioned and change forever the current debacle which our our children and all in society. Happy children back with all in their families. Wow won’t the Wilberforce’s and Tom Clarkson smile!

    Thank you.

  3. Andy says:

    It’s all well and good supporting the points you have suggested.Majority of cases the law and review by judges is now draconian…
    This has lead to the parent,as non resident, ejected out of family life,now has been told to take a part time role and pay for it….child maintenance and the rest of financial issues the courts dish out against the Father…
    Not all the facts are made aware of and judges seem to make a decision as what they think…
    Yes, Fathers rights groups are fighting for what is a fair and civil approach to equal life standards but at present far from this..let’s see how much the mother would shout if the Father got parental rights then you would see the true reality of unfairness against fathers who work and survive in life style that is far below polity due to the money grabbing law so government can say benefit reduction by mother’s some one gas to pay..Yup you got it…
    And what about the children,,,forgotten about in the fight between parents and who blames who…
    God help us when divorce is on line and now no blame to be introduced…Just remember if government introduced it it will be wrong somewhere….keep fighting for what is right,not put up and shut up…and pay.

  4. Vincent McGovern says:

    The Custody Minefield: Submissions to the EU Parliament ……/…
    5 Jul 2014 – Vincent McGovern is Chair of Central and North London Branches of Families Need Fathers, part of the UK’s largest shared parenting charity, …

    Excellently worded Marilyn. For those who insist Fathers are equal under the law in UK please check the above link. In the European Parliament the UK Family Courts is considered to be draconian, medieval, barbaric. Not my words, the words of 3 MEP’s whom I met while there.

  5. Harry Wallington says:

    Just thought it would be good to add a detail about a invariable solicitor/Judge position that I have noticed in your ebook and heard stated by others.

    This is the idea that the separating couple “once loved each other”, and that there seems to have been a communication breakdown and isn’t it all unfortunate – if only they could recover that…etc.

    Now of course this will certainly be true some of the time – but…increasingly NOT!

    It may be true that one party genuinely loved the other – but it seems increasingly clear that many women are planning ahead all along to be single parents, and to eject the male once they have used him enough in the home. It doesn’t matter how dedicated and loving the male is…that simply isn’t the point. These women have a desire for total domination which means that they simply refuse to share the opportunity for parental influence with anyone else – however good that other person may be at relationship or household management, or however poor they themselves may be, for example.

    Consequently, whatever efforts are taken towards counselling are completely futile – the women will be entirely obstructive or simply “go through the motions” because there will be this predetermination (which may have been extremely well disguised early in) NOT to follow the relationship through.

    Knowing this ought to subtly shift the perception that solicitors and Judges have of the situation that is being played out in front of them. That one of the parties may have deliberately set out to decieve the other all along may well indicate important aspects in regard to child welfare, too.

    The realisation that the male has actually been the victim of a predatory female may make them a lot more sympathetic to the male and determined not to add to the suffering already experienced.

    This is important, because it is the mirror opposite of the exploitative, female abandoning concept of maleness – that has been presented as typical for so long now – that it is part of our subconscious thinking.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Harry
      You arent the first to make those comments to me and Ive been thinking about writing a post which I might call “The Gold Digger”.
      Watch out for it. I would be interested in your opinion.

      • Harry Wallington says:

        It’s good not to be alone in this perspective, which I think will be absolutely fundamental to even out the playing field.

        Across the board, the “gold-digger” concept may be an entirely appropriate perspective, as to my recollection all the men I’ve heard have complained that the women involved did as little as practically possible to assist within the marriage either.

        In my case, there hasn’t been that much gold to dig, but with surprising candour was at one point told “I haven’t used you enough yet”.

        There was certainly some very significant (for me, at least) financial contribution…but the major “gold” in this case was most importantly years of psychological and intellectual support – enough, in fact, to turn around a life threatening psychosomatic condition.

        I would say there was a projection onto me of a preexisting problem with a father.

        However I would suggest that this is far from uncommon. In the US, for example, it may be that a third of all girls have experience sexual abuse. What do we imagine happens to the anger generated within the unconscious, as a consequence?

        So while identifying a problem I’m not at all unsympathetic to those who may be involved. It’s just that using Family Services and Courts to try and gain revenge and compensation for what will be unconscious trauma – against some entirely innocent party – simply cannot be acceptable as the way forward.

    • Name Witheld says:

      I have been a victim of this narcissistic behaviour by my ex and have subsequently not seen my daughter for 7 years. Cafcass cannot be bothered to deal with these women and get rid of the father because it is easier. Our justice system is a disgrace. My daughter has had 2 new fathers since I was refused contact with her. The latest old enough to be her grandad. Absolutely sickening and I can prove her lies and a Cafcass cover up.

  6. Andy says:

    In respect of Harry..prior blog.
    It seems this is the trend in divorce…Mother’s plan “Gold Digger Parent”for the future and with what is now termed as a Fxxk off fund hidden by both parties and now seems to be the trend…
    This seems as the mother is playing out a very good play ,long term, when found out or exposed just grabs for what ever she can..generally all benefits,child maintenance and tax credits and on top of all this part time work as to beat the benefit system…
    This then turns into lies and blame lumped on to the Father who is demolished by the courts..
    Currently this seem to be the trend but when are the courts going to realise this is now the way Mother’s work…
    In short amicable as it seems turns out and in to war…with escalating costs…greedy solicitors as well…

    • Harry says:

      Hi Andy – really looking forward to what Marilyn is able to develop on this. I think our divorce rates are far too high. The key thing is that as a society we just haven’t managed to find a way to combine the freedom for personal development which we now insist on, with the children’s completely opposite need for permanence and stability.

      Well, actually, it shouldn’t be impossible – because they can also benefit hugely from the variety and stimulation that could be provided by genuinely loving co-parents, but it would need a complete change of outlook in general towards what we think of as family life.

      From the book it’s obvious that Marilyn that she is aiming to set the standard for the profession by making divorce as least costly as possible in every way for her clients.

      I’m hoping to develop a community music program for all ages but particularly aimed to help families in relationship difficulty.

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