UK Judicial College Ignores Social Science on Child Well-Being When it Trains Family Judges

March 1st, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
I write a lot.  I produce a good many words each day on a variety of subjects.  I’m rarely at a loss for words, much as some might wish I were.  But in this case, I have to confess I’m seriously challenged.  In short, words fail me.  And I don’t know how to spell slack-mouthed, sputtering incredulity.  If I blow a gasket trying to express my awe at the smug “we don’t know, we don’t care” attitude of one Brian Evans, someone please call 9-1-1.

Mr. Evans seems to be employed by the Judicial College of the United Kingdom.  It’s the body that trains jurists throughout England, Wales and in some cases, Ireland and Scotland.  It was to the Judicial College that David Moritmer of England’s Fathers 4 Justice sent the following kindly-worded Freedom of Information request.

(1) Please  will you kindly provide me with copies of the peer reviewed research which you  use to train judges on how much contact time divorced parents should have  with their children to ensure that their long term relationship is sustainable.
(2) I would also like copies of the peer reviewed research which shows  that sole residency is in the best interests of children following parental  separation or divorce where safety is not an issue.

Yours  Sincerely
David  Mortimer
To its credit, the Judicial College was very prompt in its response to Mr. Mortimer.  In a matter of a mere 20 days Mr. Evans responded to Mr. Mortimer’s request on behalf of the Judicial College.  (Americans who’ve ever tried to utilize our Freedom of Information Act usually liken the experience to some exotic and prolonged form of torture that would have been the envy of the Spanish Inquisition.)  Not so the British counterpart.  Here’s Mr. Evans’ response to Mr. Mortimer.

Dear Mr Mortimer,

Thank you for your email of 7th February 2013, in which you asked for the following information from the Judicial College:

(1) Please will you kindly provide me with copies of the peer reviewed research which you use to train judges on how much contact time divorced parents should have with their children to ensure that their long term relationship is sustainable.

(2) I would also like copies of the peer reviewed research which shows that sole residency is in the best interests of children following parental separation or divorce where safety is not an issue.

Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

The answers are as follows:

1) There is no research used to train judges in relation to deciding contact time.

2) The Judicial College is unaware of any research relating to the effects of sole residency and would not be the owner of any such information if it should exist.  As before the College would not use such research in its training.

Therefore I can confirm that the Judicial College does not hold this information…

Outside the scope of the Act, I am pleased to provide you with some general information which may be helpful. Research is generally publicly available and judges have always had access to it although there has never been judicial (or other) direction on what should be seen. Each case in court turns on its own facts and the welfare of the child remains the court’s paramount consideration. How much contact should take place depends very much on a combination of factors (where the parties live and whether close by or not, child’s age etc.) and not on peer reviewed research. Ultimately, judges will make their own independent judgement based on the evidence presented and tested in court.

Now, I’ve marveled more times than I can count at the fact that the judiciary, in all English-speaking countries I’m aware of, is utterly at odds with the social science on child well-being.  Time and again they intone the mantra of the “best interests of the child,” but act in opposition thereto.  Such is the case with child custody and visitation orders.  Is four days out of every month sufficient to child well-being?  After all, that’s what’s usually ordered, so wouldn’t you think a judge who’s forever barking about the best interests of children, might want to know what parenting arrangement best promotes that?  You would, but they don’t.  Hence the all-but-universal practice that effectively separates children from their fathers.

Now we know why.  In the United Kingdom at least, when a judge ascends the bench, he/she is trained in various aspects of how to do that job, which is a fine and necessary thing.  But when it comes to those who rule in custody decisions,
“there is no research used to train judges in relation to deciding contact time.”  We might reasonably ask “why not?”  After all, there are small mountains of peer-reviewed research on exactly that topic and a great deal more that is less direct but nevertheless applicable to the subject.  For example, a great deal of good research shows that children suffer terribly when their parents divorce and much of that trauma comes from the loss of their fathers.  Shouldn’t a judge, who’s so interested in children’s welfare be aware of that research and act accordingly?  You’d think so, but in the U.K., they’re having none of it.  They know nothing of the science relating to family structure and child well-being, and they’re not about to learn.

Mr. Evans’ frank ignorance about child well-being and the social science relating to it and family structure is astonishing.  His casual dismissal of entire libraries of scientific knowledge on the subject beggars belief.  I thought Americans were anti-intellectual (and we are), but I’ve never seen anything like Evans’ remarks here.

Let’s try to make this simple.  Mr. Evans, you say that “each case turns on its own facts” and that is true.  But look at the facts you choose on which those cases should turn.  Where the parties live may in some cases be important, but in most the parents live close enough to have substantial parenting time.  So according to the Judicial College’s training, judges are taught nothing about how to apportion parenting time in the great majority of cases in which the parents live close by.

And what if they don’t?  The judge is still faced with the decision about parenting time.  Is it better to simply hand the child to mum 100% of the time because they live too far apart to do pick-ups and drop-offs every two weeks?  Or is there another way they could have substantially equal time with the child?  Well, social science provides a lot of excellent information on that.  For example, it tells us that kids overwhelmingly prefer shared parenting.  It further tells us that they tend to do better when they have meaningful relationships with both parents.  It tells us that when fathers are marginalized by the standard four days per month visitation, they eventually drop out of their children’s lives, to the detriment of both.  Social science tells us that fathers who have ongoing relationships with their children are happier, less prone to suicide, more apt to be employed and stay off drugs and alcohol.  Social science shows that shared parenting tends to reduce conflict even in high-conflict couples.  When asked by social scientists, children overwhelmingly say that, while moving from one house to another is a pain, they do it happily as long as they don’t lose a parent.

Stated another way, Mr. Evans, if you don’t know where you’re going, how do you plan to get there?  If judges don’t understand the value to children of having real relationships with both parents, how can they begin to craft orders in their best interests?  The answer is “they can’t.”  Since the law requires judges to make orders in the best interests of children, knowing the science about what promotes that is necessary.  But the Judicial College believes that it’s not only not necessary, it’s not even optional.  They don’t have that information and they have no plans to acquire it.  Hey they’re too busy training judges in how to act “in the best interests of children.”

Willful ignorance is despicable.  Foisting one’s willful ignorance on helpless children is… well, I have no words.

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