The research by Professor Tommy MacKay of Strathclyde University was published in the British Psychological Society’s Educational & Child Psychology Vol 31 No 3 September 2014: Child Abuse and Protection (see: here).
False and unfounded allegations are no less likely in the family courts in England and Wales, especially since an allegation of domestic abuse became a route to legal aid when general funding was withdrawn from family cases in 2013.
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, when he addressed the Families Need Fathers conference in Bristol in March 2017, acknowledged that such allegations are “one of the greatest vices of the system”.
Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of FNF says, "If the proportion from this small sample in Scotland by an experienced, independent expert is similar in England and Wales we are speaking of 10,000 plus cases where the parent, usually the father, applying for parenting time with his children, becomes the focus of the case. We hear examples daily from our members where the cloud of suspicion hangs over proceedings for months and often fatally undermines their case. Some say it's like something out of Kafka."
When false allegations are made, they are in themselves abusive ‘hate crimes’ that the authorities don’t take seriously and for which there are no repercussions to the offenders. Neither is there help and support provided to the victims, some of whom had to face arrest, being held in police cells and then been barred from contacting their children, having done nothing wrong. Worse still, many of these vindictive accusers repeat their allegations to their own children to turn them against their once loved parents, grandparents and wider family members. This destruction must stop.
Already now, false allegations are a common feature of family disputes that half of our service users report. For over a fifth they are the single most important issue that they deal with. Such allegations take time to investigate, cause huge stress and, most importantly, disrupt relationships between the parent and child. In far too many cases this disruption leads to complete elimination of (usually) fathers from children’s lives.
The Government, police, judiciary and social services need to ensure that proper checks and balances are in place so that:
· Unproven allegations are always properly investigated if they are in any way material in the decision of the court
· Any investigations are carried out within weeks rather than months
· Interim, safe arrangements are always made available for contact
· The cost of such arrangements is shared fairly between the parents
· Where allegations are found to be malicious they are treated as hate crimes for which there are some consequences for the perpetrator.
· Authorities do not automatically conclude that those who report abuse are ‘victims’ and that those whom they accuse are ‘perpetrators’
· State Legal Aid is offered to both parties or neither – currently only the accuser may qualify
· Sanctions are applied for making a Statement knowing it to be false.
(This is already a criminal offence of Perverting the Course of Justice that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but is almost never acted upon by the Family Court, Police or CPS in family disputes where such allegations are rife – see here).
Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and Women’s Aid recently published a study indicating that 62% of family disputes involved some kind of allegation of domestic abuse. However, they made no attempt to investigate whether the allegations were true or not (see our Press Release of 27th July 2017 here).
A Cafcass spokeswoman, reported in Children & Young People Now magazine (see here), said "We wanted to explore, the nature of domestic abuse allegations within the family court, particularly how this can affect children.” However, this seems to us to have been a disingenuous response as their study did not seek to establish the nature or extent of true or false allegations. Surely validating the evidence is the starting point for such investigations, before one can consider the effect on the children?
FNF consider it a matter of great regret that Cafcass, a publicly funded body with expenditure of £115m last year (in England alone), does not have a budget for the commissioning of meaningful, independent research into the immediate or long-term impact of their interventions, nor do they carry out studies into international best-practice. Perhaps this is not so surprising given that Cafcass’s Key Performance Indicators are focussed on operational efficiency rather than on the outcomes of their interventions. In other words, they measure how many cases they process and the time it takes and not whether they helped families to reach the best short and long-term outcomes for children. Measures of effectiveness in establishing safe, meaningful, beneficial and lasting relationships with both parents and wider families do not feature. We simply do not know the extent to which family courts or Cafcass’s involvement have helped or hindered family court outcomes.
Please address any queries/requests for info to FNF (firstname.lastname@example.org) - 0300 0300 110.
Notes for editors:
Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is a registered 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.