Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -


Children and Their Families: Contact, Rights and Welfare

Andrew Bainham, Bridget Lindley, Martin Richards, Liz Trinder (eds) (2003)

Hart Publishing; ISBN: 1-84113-253-5, 430pp, £30 paperback

Someone has described this as a dry academic book, but I could not disagree more. It is filled with reports of exciting new research almost unanimously in support of contact, plus reviews of recent work, and lists many very relevant references.

This is an invaluable book for all those who are concerned about children after family breakdown. It is essential reading for parents and professionals, as it explores the meaning and significance of parent-child relationships after family breakdown, the shift towards the presumption of contact and its value and purpose.

The book brings together contributions from a multidisciplinary team of authors who addressed the Cambridge Socio-legal group in 2002 and it contains extensive references to current research. It includes an impassioned plea by Bob Geldof where he eloquently criticises a legal system which seeks to sideline and disenfranchise fathers after divorce. Many of the contributors note that the majority of parents make their own arrangements for children without recourse to the courts.

With so many contributors it is difficult to review, but some of the items which stood out for me were:

Andrew Bainham argues that the most important function of the law is to support the widely held view of the international community that the parent-child relationship should not be disrupted without a demonstrably good reason. In support of this he gives a detailed analysis of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, and The European Convention on Human Rights.

Ann Buchanan and Joan Hunt's study of disputed contact cases contains some challenging children's perspectives. Young people felt that welfare officers could be more skilful in communicating with children and more sophisticated in assessing their wishes and feelings. Children provide some useful tips for parents, welfare officers and other children. This contribution has one of the most extensive range of references

Judy Dunn's report on her study of children's perspectives of contact and parental relationships, confirms that contact was important for the majority of children and that most children would have preferred more frequent contact. It also confirms that the success of contact is very much at the whim of the residential parent. Rather surprisingly it makes no reference to the groundbreaking work on interviews with children by Walczac and Burns (1984) and Ann Mitchell (1985).

Bob Geldof's article makes compelling reading as he describes a divorce industry funded by an outmoded legal system which promotes injustice, conflict and unhappiness on a massive scale, and left him feeling criminalised, belittled, worthless, powerless and irrelevant. He stresses that divorcing couples with children have special responsibilities and that society cannot cannot allow one parent to expunge the other from the children's lives. He proposes what I would call 'Bob's Law' covering education in schools on relationships and familial responsibility, marriage classes, mandatory arbitration before divorce can be contemplated, and a presumption of equal parenting - implying shared responsibility and equal residency.

An informative and inspirational book for all who care about the well-being of this nation's children.

David Cannon, October 2003

Copies may be ordered from the publisher's website


1. Introduction - Liz Trinder

Section 1: Children and Families

2. Contact and Children's Perspectives on Parental Relationships - Judy Dunn

3. Making and Breaking Relationships: Children and their Families- Claire Hughes

4. Children's Contact with Relatives - Jan Pryor

Section 2: The Law and its Limits

5. Contact as a Right and Obligation - Andrew Bainham

6. Connecting Contact: Contact in a Private Law Context - Jonathan Herring

7. Supporting Cross-Household Parenting: Ideas about 'the Family', Policy Formation and Service Development across Jurisdictions- Mavis Maclean and Katrin Mueller-Johnson

8. Squaring the Circle - the Social, Legal and Welfare Organisation of Contact - Adrian James

Section 3: Mothers, Fathers and Children

9. Contact: Mothers; Welfare and Rights - Shelley Day Sclater and Felicity Kaganas

10. The Real Love that Dare Not Speak its Name - Bob Geldof

11. Fathers after Divorce - Bob Simpson, Julie Jessop and Peter McCarthy

Section 4: The Hand of the State

12. Contact for Children Subject to State Intervention - Jo Miles and Bridget Lindley

13. Contact and the Adoption Reform- John Eekelaar

14. Adoption and Contact: A Research Review - Elsbeth Neil

Section 5: Challenging Contact

15. Assisted Reproduction and Parental Relationships - Martin Richards

16. Contact in Containment - Belinda Brookes-Gordon

17. Making Contact Work in International Cases: Promoting Contact Whilst Preventing International Parental Child Abduction - Donna Smith

18. Disputed Contact Cases in the Courts - Ann Buchanan and Joan Hunt

19. Working and Not Working Contact after Divorce - Liz Trinder

Andrew Bainham is a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge and Reader in Family Law and Policy at University of Cambridge.

Bridget Lindley is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, Legal Adviser at Family Rights Group, London and a family mediator at Cambridge Family Mediation Service.

Martin Richards is Professor of Family Research and Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Liz Trinder is a Senior Lecturer in Family Studies, School of Social Work and Psychosocial Studies, University of East Anglia.

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