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Court Orders for 'Indirect Contact' Offer False Hope

Indirect Contact is a form of post-separation child contact which courts often recommend but whose value is questionable.

FNF survey results appear in an article published in May by Family Law, shows that court orders for ‘indirect contact’ (sending of letters, cards and gifts) offer only false hope with no evidence that there is any prospect of a positive outcome.

Instead of spending quality time with their other parent, indirect contact replaces that time with a card to be sent once a week/month/year without even any guarantee that the child will actually receive the card.

The courts often do this when asked to enforce an existing order for contact which is being broken by a hostile parent. Fathers (and less often mothers) feel fobbed-off by this unprofessional and unfair tactic to close (“get rid of”) a case.

Children are thus left in the sole care of a hostile parent who has been found to cause emotional harm to the child by alienating them from the other parent.

The authors call on MoJ to publish data on the frequency of the use of such orders being made and to commission research into the outcomes. Meanwhile courts need to regularly consider early psychological interventions and changes of residence of children. It is blindingly obvious that time does not ‘heal’ these cases and on the contrary usually makes the situation worse.

 

The May issue of Family Law, the leading practitioner journal for family practitioners, includes an article by family law barrister Sarah Phillimore and Families Need Fathers (FNF) questioning the basis for indirect contact orders in hostile family proceedings.

It is not unusual for family courts that order contact with parents to then give up on them and orders for indirect contact only i.e. sending of letters, cards and gifts when their orders are not complied with. Courts allegedly do this in the hope that this leads to resumption of normal direct contact afterwards (in 58% of cases either a judge or a Family Court Advisor (Cafcass FCA) suggested this to parents applying for contact). The survey of 154 FNF service user in such cases suggests that this simply does not happen (just one case where direct contact was resumed). Rather it appears that hostilities to contact become more entrenched.

One client of Ms Phillimore’s said ‘At the last contact session my son said “see you next time” he waved as he left, I have not seen him for seven years now’.

An alienated/brainwashed child told a respondent to the FNF survey ‘In the last phone call I had with my daughter, she told me that she remembered loving me once, but “luckily I have been allowed to stay away from you and now I realise only an insane person would want to see you.”.

The Ministry of Justice currently publish data on number of contact orders, but fail to distinguish between those for direct contact and those only for indirect contact where judges apply this ineffectual ‘wait and see’ approach. Further research is clearly needed, but the authors suggest that there is no evidential basis for this as a successful strategy and that it is likely to be doing more harm than good. They call for earlier intervention in hostile cases and greater willingness to consider reversal of residence, as has been happening very occasionally in recent months. The direction of travel is to be commended, but needs to be made much more explicit.

Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers says “Our analysis shows that many fathers and some mothers are being fobbed-off with the expectation that writing letters and sending gifts will lead to a resumption of full and meaningful relationships with their children, but it does not. They feel that such decisions are being made for the convenience of courts and Family Court Advisors and fail to meet the welfare needs of children.”

The full text of the article referred to may be found in Family Law - May 2019, Volume 49, pages 458-461), on our website and on Sarah Phillimore’s website.

ENDS

 

Notes for editors:

 

Sarah Phillimore, Sarah was called to the Bar in 1994 and since 1999 has worked as a specialist family lawyer in Chambers in London and Bristol. She has interest and experience in care proceedings, private law children applications and Court of Protection work.

Sara is the site administrator of the Child Protection Resource (www.childprotectionresource.online) which aims to provide useful information and commentary for the general reader on the law and practice around issues of child protection. Sarah is a barrister at St John’s Chambers Bristol and may be contacted on 0117 923 4700.

Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is a registered UK charity providing information and support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, and support to divorced and separated parents, irrespective of gender or marital status. FNF is NOT a fathers' rights group - we support the best interests of children - namely mature and collaborative parenting by both parents - an objective which is inadequately promoted in the family court system and associated services.

Our primary concern is the maintenance of the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents. Founded in 1974, FNF helps thousands of parents every year.

Further information may be contacted on 0300 0300 110 or by email at media@fnf.org.uk,

 

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FNF HSSF Kite Mark Award

Families Need Fathers has been awarded the Help and Support for Separated Families Kite Mark which is a new UK government accreditation scheme for organisations offering help to separated families.

Families Need Fathers work with a range of family law professionals, including Family Law Panel

 

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