No, family lawyers are not involved in a conspiracy

Family Law|May 17th 2016

I’ve probably said here most of what I am about to say previously. I am not, however, going to check that or make any apology, as clearly, and sadly, these things need to be repeated.

Everybody loves a conspiracy theory, although not everyone actually believes one. Who killed JFK, whether the moon landings were faked and whether Princess Diana was murdered are all interesting stories, but for the most part they are pretty harmless, at least for those who believe in them.

There are, however, two linked conspiracy theories surrounding our family justice system, and these are certainly not harmless for their adherents. The theories have been around for years, and I was reminded over the weekend that they are very much alive and well, as I watched a discussion unfold on Twitter between lawyers and theorists.

In their most pernicious form the theories suggest that everyone concerned with the family justice system, and that includes judges, lawyers, social workers and Cafcass officers, is involved in them. One theory suggests that all of these people are actively working against the interests of fathers, and the other theory suggests that they are concerned with an evil plot to remove children from families. I say the two theories are linked because many of those who believe in one theory also believe in the other.

The anti-father theorists believe that the family justice system is biased against fathers, so that mothers are preferred in any dispute over with whom children of separated parents should reside, and fathers are often given limited contact with their children, or are denied contact entirely. The courts are not, of course, biased against fathers, as I have explained here previously.

The child-snatcher theorists are concerned with public law children cases. They believe that, for some reason I have never quite fathomed, the family justice system seeks to forcibly remove children from families for no, or no good, reason.

Now, before I go any further I will say that there are of course cases where fathers are wrongly denied contact with their children, and where children are wrongly removed from their families. Of course there are. The system makes mistakes – it is not perfect, and no one within the system is saying that it is. However, they are also not involved in some concerted effort to achieve a particular end.

Why does all of this matter? Surely, people who believe in such theories are misguided, but essentially harmless? Well, no. The problem is that a whole industry has evolved to advise the believers upon how they should conduct their cases. And most of that advice is bad. The industry, of course, has received a considerable boost by the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters, as litigants are forced to look elsewhere than lawyers for their advice.

In the private law field the advice will begin by the litigant being told that the courts are biased, putting things on the wrong foot from the start. Litigants will also be advised not to believe anything they may hear from a lawyer, as that lawyer is, of course, biased against them. And things go downhill from there, with allegations of bias against judges (for some reason judges tend to take a dim view of this) and refusal to accept the will of the court. All of which, of course, does extreme damage to the litigant’s case.

In the public law field the advice can be even more extreme. For example, advising a family to flee the country, so as to avoid the system entirely. What an irresponsible thing to say! Apart from the damage this can do to the parents’ case, have the advisors ever stopped to think that the children may be suffering harm within the family, and that they could therefore be condemning the children to further harm?

Parents involved in care proceedings concerning their children are also sometimes advised against instructing lawyers, or certain lawyers, as they may also be biased against them. This at the very time when the parents are most in need of the best expert legal help available. The latest wrinkle is that it has been suggested that barristers who have previously acted for the local authority should not be instructed for this reason. This is utter nonsense, and shows a complete lack of understanding of how lawyers work.

In short, if you are involved in family proceedings, whether private or public law, you will be doing yourself, your case, and most importantly your children, an extreme disservice if you fall for one of these conspiracy theories.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Andy. says:

    Sorry John,I totally disagree with your defensive of the subject.
    All to often as the prior post on this blog shows how courts supermajority to the Mother..automatic view.Yes, the solicitors do say the male will have to loose all financial stability and yes,solicitors say your rights with the children will be reduced. Yes the scubag money grabbing solicitors who are to give you advice in all aspects are really trotting up the pound signs and raiding what savings you had or lent to support this area of useless letters between both legal houses..Solicitor tactics…

    I read with great horror the injustice of the Doctor who has ‘re appealed against his maintenance payments as Spousal maintenance and in addition child maintenance payments to a mother who either is not in full time employment or is in full time and wanting more…As you say, John, in your blog,these theories are a inflamed but in reality are very true….
    This seems the courts decision from the :O average to the wealthy who find out that the legal system is in favour of the springing mother if she puts on a award winning performance….
    Just ask any ex father..truth is out there..

  2. Luke says:

    The following is simply a statement of fact in my opinion:
    The anti-father theorists believe that the family justice system is biased against fathers, so that mothers are preferred in any dispute over with whom children of separated parents should reside, and fathers are often given limited contact with their children, or are denied contact entirely.
    Clearly when a family breaks up there is going to be damage – somebody is going to get hurt. In reality the father is usually going to get hurt because the mother is going to get residency, that is often just the way it has to be, however, the courts make it much worse for men because the father often doesn’t get any residency when he should – even when he has been the most hands-on parent or it has been 50-50.

    When it comes to contact the courts to date have been extremely bad in enforcing it, unlike the father when he transgresses they usually give the mother chance after chance after chance when she does so. Sometimes this has gone on for YEARS, then the courts sometimes decide the lack of contact and alienation between father and child has gone on too long and in the interests of the child and mother they shut him out forever !
    Women know this, and I have actually been present when they have discussed it ! Contact enforcement has in many cases been a disgrace.

    So yes John, some things do have to be repeated – and your cavalier attitude to the way men are treated in court is one of them…

  3. Sally Kingston says:

    This article is utter nonsense. A lawyer is judging all lawyers and the profession as a whole, surely the most reliable ‘ratings’ comes from external sources. If I ask a Judge, how did you perform, surely he or she is not going to turn around and say “I did an awful job there”…There are many cases out there where I have attended Court, read transcripts of cross examinations of Cafcass ‘experts’, Section 7 reports, Local Authority s.17 and s.37 reports and so on…where its plain that everyone is just taking a random stab or biased. I’ve seen Mothers getting away with appalling behaviour and if the shoe was on the other foot and it was the Father, he would be scavenging around lucky if he got some 1hr a month in a Contact Centre, oh and paid for by the Father as well. Enforcement proceedings are a total joke, where any reasonable excuse is automatically enough to establish breaches as reasonable on the BOP and the Father is left in a position to try prove BRD. The Author should perhaps take the time to conduct some research to substantiate his views and not just sing from the lawyers are correct position.

    However, I do fully support the author in that Care Proceedings should never be attempted in Person or on the advice from crackpots on internet forums. Private proceedings, are more of a theatrical show where the Mother holds all the aces generally.

    Oh, also I am Female, and a BPTC student, with a 2.1 from a Russell Group Uni and work part time as a McKenzie Friend.

  4. Vincent McGovern says:

    I won’t bother commenting on the usual lack of impartiality from John Bolch where bias against fathers throughout the family court system is concerned. Five Ombudsman (3 PHSO) in my favour answer that one. And deepest sympathy to many mothers who lose so terribly in Public Family Law.

    On the subject of conspiracy theories I do broadly agree with Mr Bolch. It is the reason for the conspiracy I disagree with. I have often said that conspiracy theories are the preserve of those who lack the ability to deal with the reality they find themselves in. But saying that I also realise that in family law one is expecting vulnerable, quite often poorly educated, English not a first language litigants to be able to make the emotional leap of accepting they must not argue with the mad hatter when in Alice In Wonderland.

    So at the most emotional and vulnerable time of their lives we are expecting complete beginners to be able to perform like seasoned legal professionals where their children’s lives and future are being determined, let alone their own. Under such pressure no wonder people turn to conspiracy theories. What else have they got.

  5. Yvie says:

    It should be 50/50 shared care as the default. The law should be quite clear on this to both parties and families using the family courts for contact issues should be kept to the minimum. I am not saying that would be a perfect solution but it would be a reasonable starting point. Sadly something which the courts should be more aware of is parental alienation, or pathogenic parenting as it is sometimes called. This is a deadly weapon which is often used by one parent to erase the other parent from the life of the children. These parents get away with it every time as it is not recognized by the courts. They feign innocence and claim it is the wishes and feelings of the child. In fact, it can have long term psychological consequences for the child.

  6. Paul Apreda says:

    Ladies and gents – to paraphrase the lovely Mr.Bolch – ‘As I’ve said here previously’ !! – it is utterly pointless having a go at John in this forum. I’m sure he is a lovely chap if we met him down the pub but he is completely immersed in the culture of the legal profession. It’s not his fault and we shouldnt take out our outrage on him. Yesterday I learned that the message that is coming down from the MoJ to the judiciary is that the Family Courts are there to provide a ‘service’ to parents and not the other way around!!! That is a massive opportunity to make the sort of real change – in the way that ‘patient power’ has impacted on the health service. Good luck John……….:-)

  7. JamesB says:

    If these (English and Wales Family Law Courts) were not rubbish, then they would be open to the public. They are not open to the public as day in day out they dish out disrespectful nonsense to fathers up and down the country. Speaking as someone who has tried and is still trying to maintain a decent relationship with his children following divorce, they don’t help. So, now my children are upset because only Mummy comes to her performances as Daddy can’t take the abuse and laughter at him any longer. Like Andy Murray perhaps, Dad doesn’t seem to be about much.

    Perhaps divorce doesn’t work, you won’t get lawyers saying that though as they have vested interest in making money out of it.

    Cafcass said to me, and it is the one thing I agree with them on, that co-operative parenting is the way forward, but what to do if the mother is implacably hostile or manipulative? You have little choice but to try and bite lip and it gets really very tiring to do that year in year out.

    Think John needs to rethink his attitude to fathers to something other than slaves to be abused by their women.

  8. JamesB says:

    English and Welsh Family Courts. Also, it is not just about the Mothers and Fathers, it is the children who are failed most of all by these courts and the wonky politicians who set them up.

    With regards to spending a fortune on lawyers, best advice I got was to stop spending money on them as the other side were ramping up costs out of spite and losing in court lost less money than I would have paid to lawyers. Although perhaps did damage my mental health a bit and I hate these places for it.

    So, like the referendum debate, you have me biased on one side and John biased on the other and its a Judgement call. That said, I think the perception is these places are unfair.

    The statement above ‘Private proceedings, are more of a theatrical show where the Mother holds all the aces generally.’ struck a chord. Its a pity Cafcass were not more professional.

  9. JamesB says:

    I don’t think cafcass or the E and W Family law are much good. If you have to go down that route, and I advise avoiding it as a man then try and keep a sense of humour as taking these judges seriously is crazy. Like the man said above, like arguing with the mad hatter. They need to be changed to be like the scottish system and children cases kept out of them more and disputes settled between mothers and fathers as much as possible.

  10. D says:

    Wow! Great article to bring up such discussion in comments. I think that society is probably pre-judging fathers on stereotypes unfairly in these situations and the courts are just a function of this. I remember someone talking about dropping their child at childcare and the day there was actually a male carer his internal reaction was “Hmmm .. That’s weird. A bloke. I wonder whether he’s ok?” .. not exactly arrangements with Family Courts but you can imagine the thinking.

    Personally I think my definition of fair/expectations probably differs from that of the law, meaning that marriage isn’t for me. It’s all back to I don’t agree that I should be potentially responsible financially for another adult (ex-partner) for life even if they decide they want nothing else to do with me. On the same token I wouldn’t expect them to compromise their career/earning potential for me. So fortunately/unfortunately I can’t reconcile myself with the idea.

  11. John Bolch says:

    Thank you all for those comments which, as a certain family law barrister said on Twitter, justify the existence of my post!

  12. PeterD says:

    Congratulations to John for yet again angling the well tried and tested click bait in order to engender a reaction! However, it is a debate that is worth rekindling because there is still quite a lot hidden within the embers and I have not seen much evidence of anyone addressing the core of the problem.
    I have spent the last couple of years immersed in family law for my degree but my research has indicated that the actual problems in the family courts are possibly far more deeply entrenched than those we observe symptoms of: both in the courts themselves and the professions that serve them.
    If we look firstly at the way family law is taught. Each aspiring lawyer buys at least one textbook and it is here that the first stages of indoctrination begin. The choice is pretty limited. In the first tier of general texts we have ‘Family Law’ by Jonathan Herring; ‘Bromley’s Family Law’ by Lowe and Douglas; ‘Family Law: Texts, Cases and Materials’ by Harris-Short, Miles and George; ‘Hayes and Williams Family Law’ by Gilmore and Glennon , etc.
    In the next tier we have more specialised books like ‘Family Law Gender and the State’ by Diduck and Kaganas; ‘Children’s Rights and the Developing Law’ by Jane Fortin; ‘Family Justice’ by Eekelar and Maclean , etc.
    Having read them all I can safely say that there are common and familiar stereotypes throughout these pieces of commonly recommended and frequently cited reading matter. So much so that I think, in professions which are supposed to be predicated upon evidence and asking probing questions, there is not much encouragement during ‘potty training’ to explore different points of view or question the established orthodoxy.
    The next level of study is supposed to involve increased critical evaluation and analysis but the available legal commentary and articles have a relatively limited authorship. The same ideas and the same people that write the text books are disproportionately represented in the population that write the articles and commentaries. Furthermore, they also dominate the editorship of the family law periodicals, etc. One frequently comes across situations where the same cabals of academics get cited by each other and review each others’ work. Therefore, diversity is sadly lacking and there is little input from outside the seats of learning that fed the existing crop of authors.
    As an outsider looking in it all seems like a very incestuous and extremely shallow gene pool. It’s little wonder that people feel frustrated at criticising a closed-system that can be perceived as so self-serving, self-perpetuating, monotheistic and lacking in diversity. I would suggest that John’s standpoint is merely symptomatic and not causal.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Peter – I hope that Marilyn’s team will allow this post as I’d be very grateful if you would contact us through our website at using the Contact Us facility. I would be very interested in picking your brains about a number of projects that we’ve had judicial approval for around the experience of litigants in the Family Court. Many thanks, Paul Apreda, national Manager FNF Both parents Matter Cymru

  13. Mattie Burns says:

    What a load of secht. Everything the opposite that this guy says, is true. Coming from a lawyer, who lies for a living. Shsme on him, deceiving people.

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