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New Brazilian Law 12 318 defines and punishes parental alienation

August 26, 2010

Breaking news: Brazil has ratified a law that defines and punishes parental alienation as a form of child abuse

On the 26th of August 2010 the Brazilian Parliament has ratified with immediate effect a law against parental alienation. The law defines parental alienation as a form of child abuse. It provides Brazilian judges and courts with seven measures to deal with parental alienation. Amongst those are fines, contrary custody and/or care and residence decisions and care supervision orders.

Below you will find the text of this new Brazilian law in an English translation and below that the Brazilian original text.

Peter Tromp
Father Knowledge Centre Europe

Brazilian Law 12 318 – Ratified law that defines and punishes parental alienation

Check below in full 12.318/10 law that provides for parental alienation.
LAW No. 12 318, DE 26 AUGUST 2010 Provides for parental alienation and amending Art. 236 of Law No. 8069 of 13

Ratified law that defines and punishes parental alienation in Brazil
26 August 2010


Given the decrees of Congress promulgated the following law:

Article 1 This Law regulates the parental alienation.

Article 2 The parental alienation is considered an act of interference with the psychological training of the child or adolescent, promoted or induced by their parents or grandparents if the child or adolescent is under their authority, custody or supervision, and to result in less contemptuous behavior that impadiscano creating or maintaining links with the other parent. Examples of forms of parental alienation, as substantiated to the court or discovered by an expert, or charged directly with the testimony of third acts are aimed at:

I – open a campaign to ban the behavior of the parent exercising parenting;

II – impede the exercise of parental authority;

III – prevent contact of the child or adolescent with a parent;

IV – opposing the right to family life regulated;

V – deliberately omit relevant personal information to parents on the child or adolescent, including educational, medical and related changes of address;

VI – make false allegations against parents, against his family or against the grandparents in order to prevent or hinder their care to the child or adolescent;

VII – Change the address of residence without justification in order to prevent the attendance of the child or adolescent with the other parent, with his family or grandparents.

Article 3 The provision of an act of parental alienation hurts the fundamental right of the child or adolescent to enjoy a healthy family life, impedes the relationship of affection in relationships with parents and his family group, and is a form of abuse against moral the child or adolescent does not comply with the duties related to parental authority or guardianship or custody.

Article 4 In the face of evidence or documents indicated that parental alienation, the application of this Act at any time of the procedure, or incidentally in independent action, the court will determine, with urgency, after hearing the prosecutor, the transitional measures for the maintenance of ‘psychological integrity of the child or adolescent, including to ensure their familiarity with the parent or make a genuine rapprochement between the two, if any. The court will provide the child or adolescent and the parent a minimum guarantee of visits, except in cases where there is imminent risk of physical or psychological harm to the child or adolescent, certified by a professional designated by the judge in charge of monitoring visits .

Article 5 If there is evidence that they have been charged with acts of parental alienation incidental damages, the court, if necessary, to determine the bio-psychological consequences of child:

1 The expert report is based on extensive psychological assessment biopsychosocial or, where appropriate, including a personal interview with the parties, examination of documents in the case, the story of the couple’s relationship, the chronology of events The assessment of the personalities involved and the investigation as a child or teen may have developed symptoms of alienation against their parents.

2 examinations will be performed by professionals or experts in the multidisciplinary team, necessary in any case, as evidenced by appropriate academic or professional history to diagnose the acts of parental alienation.

3 The expert or a multidisciplinary team appointed to assess the presence of parental alienation will submit a report within 90 days, renewable only with judicial authorization based on a detailed explanation.

Article 6 In response to acts typical of parental alienation or against any behavior that hinders the coexistence of the child or adolescent with a parent’s parent, the court may, together or separately, to raise the subject of their civil or criminal liability arising, and have adequate tools to inhibit or mitigate the effects of alienation. He will, according to the severity of the case:

I – indicate the presence of parental alienation and to notify the parent;

II – expanding the system of family life for the alienated parent;

III – impose a fine on the alienating parent;

IV – require advice biopsychosocial;

V – lead to a change of custody from joint custody or its reversal;

VI – to elect a temporary residence of a child or adolescent;

VII – to declare the suspension of parental authority.

In the case of arbitrary change of address, or impracticability or obstruction to the family, the court may also reverse the requirement to remove the child from parents’ residence, during the alternating periods of family life.

Article 7 In case of assignment or change of custody will be given preference to the parent that allows efficient co-existence of the child or adolescent with the other parent, if the case can not be alternating.

Article 8 The change of domicile of the child or adolescent is irrelevant to the determination of responsibilities relating to claims based on right to family life, unless this is not the result of consensus between the parents or a court decision.

Article 9 (vetoed – amended – cash)

Article 10 (vetoed – amended – cash)

Article 11 This Law shall enter into force upon its publication.

Brasília, August 26, 2010,

189 ° and 122 ° of the independence of the Republic.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto

Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi

Read more – News
* 20/11/2009 – CCJ’s Board approves action against a parent who incite hatred child – click here
* 18.08.2009 – Parental Alienation can lead to loss of custody of the child – click here

Read More – Articles
* 13/8/10 – The “syndrome” that will turn law – Nebo Flávia Azevedo Antunes – click here
* 23/7/10 – SAP – Parental Alienation Syndrome – Luiz Fernando Valley Guilherme de Almeida / André Fernando Reusing Namorato – click here
* 21/7/10 – Soon, parental alienation is a crime – Denise Perissini Maria da Silva – click here



Lei 12.318 Sacionada lei que define e pune a alienação parental

Confira abaixo na íntegra a lei 12.318/10 que dispõe sobre a alienação parental.
_____________ LEI Nº 12.318, DE 26 DE AGOSTO DE 2010
Dispõe sobre a alienação parental e altera o art. 236 da Lei nº 8.069, de 13,MI116210,101048-Lula+sanciona+lei+que+determina+alienacao+parental+como+crime

Lei 12.318

Sacionada lei que define e pune a alienação parental

Confira abaixo na íntegra a lei 12.318/10 que dispõe sobre a alienação parental.


LEI Nº 12.318, DE 26 DE AGOSTO DE 2010

Dispõe sobre a alienação parental e altera o art. 236 da Lei nº 8.069, de 13 de julho de 1990.


Faço saber que o Congresso Nacional decreta e eu sanciono a seguinte Lei:

Art. 1 Esta Lei dispõe sobre a alienação parental.

Art. 2 Considera-se ato de alienação parental a interferência na formação psicológica da criança ou do adolescente promovida ou induzida por um dos genitores, pelos avós ou pelos que tenham a criança ou adolescente sob a sua autoridade, guarda ou vigilância para que repudie genitor ou que cause prejuízo ao estabelecimento ou à manutenção de vínculos com este.

Parágrafo único. São formas exemplificativas de alienação parental, além dos atos assim declarados pelo juiz ou constatados por perícia, praticados diretamente ou com auxílio de terceiros:

I – realizar campanha de desqualificação da conduta do genitor no exercício da paternidade ou maternidade;

II – dificultar o exercício da autoridade parental;

III – dificultar contato de criança ou adolescente com genitor;

IV – dificultar o exercício do direito regulamentado de convivência familiar;

V – omitir deliberadamente a genitor informações pessoais relevantes sobre a criança ou adolescente, inclusive escolares, médicas e alterações de endereço;

VI – apresentar falsa denúncia contra genitor, contra familiares deste ou contra avós, para obstar ou dificultar a convivência deles com a criança ou adolescente;

VII – mudar o domicílio para local distante, sem justificativa, visando a dificultar a convivência da criança ou adolescente com o outro genitor, com familiares deste ou com avós.

Art. 3 A prática de ato de alienação parental fere direito fundamental da criança ou do adolescente de convivência familiar saudável, prejudica a realização de afeto nas relações com genitor e com o grupo familiar, constitui abuso moral contra a criança ou o adolescente e descumprimento dos deveres inerentes à autoridade parental ou decorrentes de tutela ou guarda.

Art. 4 Declarado indício de ato de alienação parental, a requerimento ou de ofício, em qualquer momento processual, em ação autônoma ou incidentalmente, o processo terá tramitação prioritária, e o juiz determinará, com urgência, ouvido o Ministério Público, as medidas provisórias necessárias para preservação da integridade psicológica da criança ou do adolescente, inclusive para assegurar sua convivência com genitor ou viabilizar a efetiva reaproximação entre ambos, se for o caso.

Parágrafo único. Assegurar-se-á à criança ou adolescente e ao genitor garantia mínima de visitação assistida, ressalvados os casos em que há iminente risco de prejuízo à integridade física ou psicológica da criança ou do adolescente, atestado por profissional eventualmente designado pelo juiz para acompanhamento das visitas.

Art. 5 Havendo indício da prática de ato de alienação parental, em ação autônoma ou incidental, o juiz, se necessário, determinará perícia psicológica ou biopsicossocial.

§ 1 O laudo pericial terá base em ampla avaliação psicológica ou biopsicossocial, conforme o caso, compreendendo, inclusive, entrevista pessoal com as partes, exame de documentos dos autos, histórico do relacionamento do casal e da separação, cronologia de incidentes, avaliação da personalidade dos envolvidos e exame da forma como a criança ou adolescente se manifesta acerca de eventual acusação contra genitor.

§ 2 A perícia será realizada por profissional ou equipe multidisciplinar habilitados, exigido, em qualquer caso, aptidão comprovada por histórico profissional ou acadêmico para diagnosticar atos de alienação parental.

§ 3 O perito ou equipe multidisciplinar designada para verificar a ocorrência de alienação parental terá prazo de 90 (noventa) dias para apresentação do laudo, prorrogável exclusivamente por autorização judicial baseada em justificativa circunstanciada.

Art. 6 Caracterizados atos típicos de alienação parental ou qualquer conduta que dificulte a convivência de criança ou adolescente com genitor, em ação autônoma ou incidental, o juiz poderá, cumulativamente ou não, sem prejuízo da decorrente responsabilidade civil ou criminal e da ampla utilização de instrumentos processuais aptos a inibir ou atenuar seus efeitos, segundo a gravidade do caso:

I – declarar a ocorrência de alienação parental e advertir o alienador;

II – ampliar o regime de convivência familiar em favor do genitor alienado;

III – estipular multa ao alienador;

IV – determinar acompanhamento psicológico e/ou biopsicossocial;

V – determinar a alteração da guarda para guarda compartilhada ou sua inversão;

VI – determinar a fixação cautelar do domicílio da criança ou adolescente;

VII – declarar a suspensão da autoridade parental.

Parágrafo único. Caracterizado mudança abusiva de endereço, inviabilização ou obstrução à convivência familiar, o juiz também poderá inverter a obrigação de levar para ou retirar a criança ou adolescente da residência do genitor, por ocasião das alternâncias dos períodos de convivência familiar.

Art. 7 A atribuição ou alteração da guarda dar-se-á por preferência ao genitor que viabiliza a efetiva convivência da criança ou adolescente com o outro genitor nas hipóteses em que seja inviável a guarda compartilhada.

Art. 8 A alteração de domicílio da criança ou adolescente é irrelevante para a determinação da competência relacionada às ações fundadas em direito de convivência familiar, salvo se decorrente de consenso entre os genitores ou de decisão judicial.

Art. 9 ( VETADO)

Art. 10. (VETADO)

Art. 11. Esta Lei entra em vigor na data de sua publicação.

Brasília, 26 de agosto de 2010; 189º da Independência e 122º da República.


Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto

Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi


Leia mais – Notícias
* 20/11/09 – CCJ da Câmara aprova medidas contra pai ou mãe que incitar filho ao ódio – clique aqui
* 18/8/09 – Alienação Parental pode levar à perda da guarda da criança – clique aqui

Leia mais – Artigos
* 13/8/10 – A “síndrome” que virará lei – Flávia Nebó de Azevedo Antunes – clique aqui
* 23/7/10 – SAP – Síndrome da Alienação Parental – Luiz Fernando do Vale de Almeida Guilherme/André Fernando Reusing Namorato – clique aqui
* 21/7/10 – Em breve, alienação parental será crime – Denise Maria Perissini da Silva – clique aqui

The Divided World of the Child: Divorce and Long-Term Psychosocial Adjustment

April 26, 2010


The Divided World of the Child: Divorce and Long-Term Psychosocial Adjustment

Gordon E. Finley,
Florida International University

Seth J. Schwartz,
University of Miami

Finley, G. E., & Schwartz, S. J. The divided world of the child: Divorce and long-term psychosocial adjustment, 2010



We are grateful to a number of graduate and undergraduate students for their help with data collection, entry, and management: Sandra Mira, Tara Sheehan, Mike Mira, Dax Rodriguez, Crystal Langlois, and Leif Elliott. We are also grateful to Ron Mullis for his help with off-site data collection.

Gordon E. Finley, Department of Psychology, Florida International University, University Park Campus, Miami, FL 33199. Seth J. Schwartz, Center for Family Studies, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, Miami, FL 33136, USA.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to either author at the above addresses.

Electronic mail should be sent to or to


This study evaluated the extent to which divorce creates the “divided world of the child,” as well as consequences of this “divided world” for long-term adjustment. An ethnically diverse sample of 1444 young-adult university students completed retrospective measures of parental nurturance and involvement, and current measures of psychosocial adjustment and troubled ruminations about parents. Results indicated that reports of maternal and paternal nurturance and involvement were closely related in intact families but uncorrelated in divorced families. Across family forms, the total amount of nurturance or involvement received was positively associated with self-esteem, purpose in life, life satisfaction, friendship quality and satisfaction, and academic performance; and negatively related to distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents. Mother-father differences in nurturance and involvement showed a largely opposite set of relationships. Implications for family court practices are discussed.

KEY WORDS: Divorce, adjustment, fathers, mothers, involvement, nurturance.


It is well-established that divorce creates multiple adjustment issues for parents and children (Kelly, 2007). Following divorce, one parent – usually the father – generally becomes nonresident (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999). When the father leaves the child’s home, the child becomes part of two households instead of one. Becoming nonresident also often decreases a father’s involvement in his child’s life (Amato, 1998; Carlson, 2006), which leads to increased child distress (Schwartz, Finley, & Mira, in press-a). Whereas the intact family represents a system where both parents regulate the children’s lives, in the divorced family, the mother and father occupy “separate worlds,” and the child must reconcile these separate worlds (Marquardt, 2005). We refer to this situation as “the divided world of the child” (Finley, 2006).

The “divided world of the child” model inherently draws on family systems theory. Family systems theory holds that the larger family system holds family members together and causes their behaviors to be interrelated (Ng & Smith, 2006; White, 1999). In divorced families, the nonresident parent may no longer be an active member of the family system in which the child resides. In essence, divorce divides the former family system and creates multiple family systems, often with the child as the only common link between them (cf. Emery & Dillon, 1994).

Supporting the “divided world” thesis, reports of maternal and paternal involvement are reasonably correlated with one another in intact families (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; White, 1999) but less so in divorced families (Maccoby, Buchanan, & Dornbusch, 1996; King & Sobolewski, 2006). The lack of correlation between maternal and paternal involvement suggests that “Mom’s World” and “Dad’s World” are separate and disconnected. Marquardt (2005), using qualitative interviews, found that many children of divorce portrayed “Mom’s World” and “Dad’s World” as divided and found this division distressing.

Although some intact families may also create a “divided world” (e.g., through parental psychopathology, work schedules, and competing interests and demands), the structural and legal parameters involved in the divorce process and its sequelae (e.g., nonresident parenting, visitation schedules) may be most likely to create the “divided world” effect by reducing one parent’s nurturance and involvement in the child’s life.

The present study was guided by two objectives. First, we examined the relationship between emerging adults’ retrospective reports of their mothers’ and fathers’ nurturance and involvement.

Family systems theory would predict that mothers’ and fathers’ nurturance/involvement would be positively interrelated in intact families because the larger system increases the relationship between maternal and paternal behaviors (cf. White, 1999). In divorced families, where parents are no longer housed within the same family system, perceptions of corresponding maternal and paternal parenting variables should be unrelated to one another (Buchanan et al., 1996; King & Sobolewski, 2006). The “divided world” effect in divorced families may therefore emerge as a result of removing the overarching family system that houses the child and both parents.

Second, not all divorces are equal in the extent to which they create a “divided world” (Harvey & Fine, 2004). Some divorced parents remain cordial with one another and create a relatively coherent environment for their children, whereas others are indifferent – or even hostile – toward one another. As a result, individual difference factors contribute to the “divided world” effect in both intact and divorced families. When examining effects across parents, it is important to examine both the total amount of involvement received from both parents, as well as the difference between the level of involvement received from one’s mother and father (cf. Beyers & Goossens, 2002). The “divided world” effect is therefore important to operationalize in two related ways. First, the difference in the extent of nurturance and involvement between parents corresponds closely to how Marquardt (2005) and others have characterized the “divided world” effect. Second, it is important to characterize precisely where this difference lies on the continuum of nurturance or involvement. A highly involved mother and a moderately involved father may be characterized by the same discrepancy as a moderately involved mother and an uninvolved father. However, these two scenarios are completely different in terms of the involvement that the child receives, and likely in terms of the consequences for the child’s long-term functioning. Although mothers tend to be more involved than fathers in most family activities, including childrearing (Craig, 2006; Dienhart, 2002), this difference – and thus the “divided world” effect – may be exacerbated in nonresident-father divorced families (Schwartz, Finley, & Mira, in press-b), presumably due to the structural factors related to post-divorce custody and visitation arrangements. The father’s decreased involvement may also signify reductions in the total amount of nurturance and involvement that the child receives.

Fourth, another aspect of the divided world hypothesis concerns the regulation of conflict (e.g., Marquardt, 2005). In divorced families, and in intact families where the parents are disconnected from one another, much of the conflict that has occurred between the parents becomes internalized within the child. This internalized conflict takes a number of forms, one of which we label troubled ruminations about parents (Schwartz et al., in press-a). That is, young people from divorced families may feel, to a greater extent than those from intact families, that one or both of their parents caused pain in their families, that the nonresident parent was not interested in spending time with them, that their parents may not have loved them, and that they are dissatisfied with their relationships with one or both parents (Fabricius, 2003; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000). In divorced families, there now are multiple family systems where there once was one. Thus, these systems may separate from one another as each parent forms a new family system separate from that of the other parent (cf. Arditti & Madden-Derdich, 1997).

Critically, these multiple family systems remain connected predominantly through the child, thereby placing the burden on the child for interfacing between these divergent family systems.

This may, in part, lead to troubled ruminations about one or both parents. A similar effect may occur in intact families where the “divided world” effect exists. In either case, troubled ruminations about parents are indicative of distress (cf. Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000).

Methodological Framework: Use of Retrospective Reports of Parenting

Our methodological framework is a blend of child-centered and multidimensional perspectives on parental nurturance and involvement. The primary premise of our research program is based on Rohner’s (1986) theory that children’s perceptions of their parents are uniquely predictive of later outcomes (see Khaleque & Rohner, 2002; Rohner & Britner, 2002; Rohner, Khaleque, & Cournoyer, 2005, for reviews). Our focus on multiple components of parental involvement is drawn from Hawkins and Palkovitz’s (1999) call for multidimensional understandings and measures of parent involvement (see Finley & Schwartz, 2004).

Our use of retrospective reports of parenting with emerging adult samples is consistent with a number of prior studies (e.g., Fabricius, 2003; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000). The retrospective method also is consistent with a view of emerging adulthood as a time of reflection and of looking back on one’s childhood and adolescence – including relationships with parents – in its entirety (Arnett, 2000; Warshak, 2003). Given that they are of legal age and may be freer than minors to express their true feelings and opinions, emerging adults may be in a unique position to characterize the totality of their relationships with their parents (Finley & Schwartz, 2007). This may be especially true in divorced families, where minors may still be involved in the family court system and may be less willing (or able) to speak their minds (Warshak, 2003).


In evaluating the “divided world” hypothesis, we tested two predictions. First, consistent with family systems theory (White, 1999), we expected all of the corresponding mothering and fathering variables to correlate highly in intact families and negligibly or zero in divorced families. Second, we expected that high total amounts of perceived nurturance and involvement would be related to positive psychosocial outcomes. However, we also expected that the extent to which the child perceives her or his world as divided would be related to negative psychosocial outcomes as well as to troubled ruminations, especially about the father. We further expected that the extent to which the person’s world was perceived as divided would be greater in divorced families than in intact families.



Data for the present study were taken from a recently collected dataset focusing on maternal and paternal nurturance and involvement (Finley, Mira, & Schwartz, 2008). Participants were 1375 emerging-adult university students (75% female; mean age 19.85, SD 3.46) from intact and divorced families and who identified both of their biological parents as their most important parent figures. Participants from divorced families were included as long as they did not report residing with their fathers at any time following their parents’ divorce. We did this because mothers are awarded primary physical custody in the vast majority of divorces, and because father-resident divorced families may be substantively different from other types of divorced families (Greif, 1995; Schwartz & Finley, 2005).

The present sample represents 80.2% of the total sample collected. Half of all participants (50%) were first-year students, with the remainder being sophomores (19%), juniors (17%), seniors (12%), or graduate students (2%). In terms of ethnicity, 58% of participants were Hispanic, 24% were non-Hispanic White, 13% were non-Hispanic Black, 5% were Asian, and 1% were Other. Most (81%) of the data were gathered at a public university in Miami where the majority of students are Hispanic, and the remainder were gathered at another public university in northern Florida that serves a largely non-Hispanic White student population. The majority (74%) of participants were born in the United States, whereas the majority of mothers (67%) and fathers (69%) were born abroad. The most common countries of origin for immigrant participants and parents were Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Of the 1375 participants included in the present analyses, 75% (n = 1037) were from intact families, and 25% (n = 338) were from divorced families. The mean participant age at the time of divorce was 8.2 years (SD 5.2, range 0 to 22). Participants from the full dataset, but not included in these analyses, included those reporting the death of one or both parents (2.2%; n = 39), those rating a non-biological mother or father figure (9.5%; n = 162), those reporting that their parents had never been married (0.5%; n = 8), participants from divorced families who resided with their fathers at any time following divorce (4.0%; n = 69), and those who did not provide family form data (3.5%; n = 60).


Nurturant Mothering and Fathering. Adult children’s retrospective reports of parental nurturance were measured using the Nurturant Mothering and Fathering Scales (Finley et al., 2008; Finley & Schwartz, 2004). Each item is responded to on a five-point scale, with the scale endpoints varying as a function of item content. Sample items include “When you needed your father’s (mother’s) support, was he (she) there for you?” Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for scores on the nurturant mothering and fathering scales were .90 and .93, respectively. The factor structure of these items was equivalent across mothers and fathers (Finley et al., 2008).

Maternal and Paternal Involvement. Mother and father involvement were each assessed in 20 domains of parenting drawn primarily from Hawkins and Palkovitz (1999). Within each domain, we asked participants to indicate, on a scale of 1 (not at all involved) to 5 (extremely involved), how involved their mothers and fathers had been during the participant’s childhood and adolescence.

Using exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, Finley and Schwartz (2004) extracted three fathering subscales from the 20 involvement domains: instrumental (discipline, being protective, career development, providing income, ethical/moral development, school/homework, developing independence, and developing responsibility), expressive (caregiving, companionship, leisure/fun/play, sharing activities/interests, emotional development, social development, spiritual development, and physical development), and mentoring/advising (mentoring/teaching, advising, developing competence, and intellectual development). In the present sample, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranged from .79 to .91, with a mean of .86.

Troubled Ruminations about Parents. To assess troubled ruminations about mother and father, we used two four-item Troubled Ruminations about Parents Scales (Schwartz et al., in press-a). These scales consist of three items adapted from the Painful Feelings about Divorce measure (Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000). We selected items that (a) were applicable to participants from both intact and divorced families and (b) reflected an angry, ruminative, painful, or regretful tone regarding past relationships with parents. These items were “My father/mother caused most of the pain in my family,” “I wish my father/mother had spent more time with me when I was younger,” and “There have been times when I wondered if my father/mother even loved me.” We also added two items assessing overall satisfaction with one’s mother and with one’s father. In the present sample, Cronbach’s alpha estimates for troubled ruminations about mother and about father were .78 and .81, respectively.

Psychosocial Functioning. We assessed eight indices of psychosocial functioning using commonly used measures of each construct. From each measure, we selected a subset of items (generally between two and five). We did this as a way of assessing an extensive range of psychosocial outcomes without the instrumentation becoming too long. Our primary motivation for using shortened scales was a concern regarding the amount of time during which students were likely to maintain concentration and to provide accurate responses.

For each scale, the authors and a panel of undergraduate and graduate students selected those items that appeared to most directly reflect the construct of interest and that were most appropriate for emerging adults. Each student then administered the selected items to 5-10 pilot participants and asked them to identify the clearest and most face-valid items for each construct.

The authors and students then met again and selected the items that they and the pilot participants believed best represented the dimensions of psychosocial functioning that we intended to measure. Data from these pilot participants were not included in the present analyses.

Self-esteem was measured using two items from the Coopersmith (1981) Self-Esteem Scale, along with items assessing overall self-esteem and overall satisfaction with one’s physical appearance (cf. Harter, 1999). The response scale ranged from 1 (Completely False) to 4 (Completely True). The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was .78.

Purpose in life was measured using two items (“In life, I have very clear goals and aims for myself” and “I have discovered clear-cut goals and a satisfying life purpose”) taken from the Purpose in Life Test (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1969). The response scale ranged from 1 (Completely False) to 4 (Completely True). The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was .82.

Life satisfaction was measured using a single item that asked participants to indicate their overall satisfaction with life, on a scale of 1 (Very Low) to 5 (Very High). Single-item measures of life satisfaction have been commonly used and appear to possess adequate construct validity (e.g., Antonucci, Lansford, & Akiyama, 2001; Makinen & Pychyl, 2001).

Psychological distress was measured using four items from the Beck Anxiety Inventory (Beck, Epstein, Brown, & Steer, 1988), four items from the Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (Radloff, 1977), and three reverse-coded items from the Ego Strength Scale (Epstein, 1983). All of these items were responded to using a scale ranging from 1 (Completely False) to 4 (Completely True). The Cronbach’s alpha estimate was .87.

Friendship quality was measured using three items from the Friendship Quality Scale (Bukowski, Hoza, & Boivin, 1994). Although this measure was designed for use with adolescents, we selected those items that would also apply to emerging adults. These items were “If my closest friend and I have a fight or argument, we can apologize and everything will be OK,” “I can be completely open with my closest friend,” and “I can always count on my closest friend.” These items were responded to using a scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 4 (Strongly Agree). The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was .71.

Satisfaction with friendships was measured using a single item assessing overall satisfaction with friendships, on a scale of 1 (Very Low) to 5 (Very High). This item was left separate from friendship quality because it did not correlate with the friendship quality items.

Romantic relationship problems were measured using three items from the Relationship Assessment Scale (Hendrick, 1988), assessing the extent to which (a) romantic partners meet the person’s needs, (b) the person has problems in her/his relationships, and (c) s/he regrets having gotten into most of these relationships. We added two additional items referring to being taken advantage of in relationships and to one’s relationships not lasting very long. We adapted these items to refer to romantic relationships in general, because some participants may not have been in a committed relationship at the time of data collection. The response scale ranged from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 4 (Strongly Disagree). The Cronbach’s alpha estimate was .72.

Academic performance was assessed using items measuring (a) overall satisfaction with one’s academic work, (b) one’s characterization of oneself in high school and in college (e.g., A student, B student), and (c) self-reported high school grade point average. Satisfaction with academic work was rated on a scale ranging from 1 (Very Low) to 5 (Very High). The Cronbach’s alpha estimate was .69.


In Miami, participants came to a laboratory and completed the assessment in groups of 8-10.

In Northern Florida, participants completed the assessment in class. Average completion time ranged from 20-30 minutes. Data were collected between September 2004 and January 2006.


Membership in the intact versus divorced family forms did not differ significantly by emerging-adult gender, χ 2 (2, N = 1443) = 3.10, p = .21, φ = .05. However, there were significant ethnic differences by family form, χ 2 (6, N = 1424) = 39.71, p < .001, φ = .17. Ninety-six percent of Asian participants, compared to 71% of non-Hispanic Whites, 59% of non-Hispanic Blacks, and 73% of Hispanics, were from intact families.

Hypothesis 1: Relationships between Perceived Maternal and Paternal Nurturance and Involvement by Family Form

We tested Hypothesis 1 by correlating reports of nurturance, expressive involvement, instrumental involvement, and mentoring/advising across parents. We also evaluated the extent to which, within each family form, each correlation was consistent across gender and across ethnicity.

We tested for correlation differences using a procedure outlined by Cheung and Chan (2004). All of the correlations to be compared are estimated within a single model, to avoid problems associated with testing the same hypothesis multiple times. The correlation differences were tested in two steps. First, we tested for differences in correlations between family forms. A model with these correlations free to vary across family form was compared to a model with these correlations held equal across family form. The difference in correlations across family form can be indexed as the difference in model fit between the constrained and unconstrained models – where model fit is indexed according to how well each of the models matches the data. A significant difference in model fit is represented by at least two of the following three criteria: a significant chi-square difference (Byrne, 2001), a difference in comparative fit indices (CFI) of .01 or greater (Cheung & Rensvold, 2002), and a difference in non-normed fit indices (NNFI) of .02 or greater (Vandenberg & Lance, 2000). If these fit indices change appreciably when the correlations are held equal across family forms, then we can assume that the correlations are significantly unequal across family forms. This approach is more statistically powerful than the traditional (r-to-z) method of comparing correlation coefficients – which is known to be rather weak (Cheung & Chan, 2004).

Analyses indicated significant correlation differences across family forms, Δχ 2 (10) = 50.75, p < .001; ΔCFI = .003; ΔNNFI = .052. The correlations between corresponding maternal and paternal variables were strong and significant in intact families and close to zero in nonresident-father divorced families (see Table 1).

Second, we sought to examine whether these correlation differences may have been due to emerging-adult gender or ethnicity. Within each family form, we tested for correlation differences across gender and across ethnicity using the same procedure used to test for differences across family form. Correlations were consistent across gender within both family forms: intact families, Δχ 2 (5) = 5.43, p = .37; ΔCFI < .001; ΔNNFI = .001; and divorced families, Δχ 2 (5) = 5.55, p = .35; ΔCFI < .001; ΔNNFI = .004. Correlations were also consistent across ethnicity within intact families, Δχ 2 (10) = 15.98, p = .10; ΔCFI = .001; ΔNNFI = .002, and within divorced families, Δχ 2 (10) = 11.76, p = .30; ΔCFI = .001; ΔNNFI = .009. These findings therefore suggest that the correlation differences across family form were not due to gender or to ethnicity – and that these differences were likely due to family form itself.

Hypothesis 2: Consequences of the Divided World for Psychosocial Functioning

In the final set of analyses, we operationalized the “divided world” effect as a continuum and examined its relationship to emerging adult psychosocial functioning. Following Beyers and Goossens (2008), we computed latent “total” and “difference” scores between reports of corresponding maternal and paternal processes. This allows both the “total” amount of nurturance and involvement received from parents, as well as the difference in perceived mothering versus fathering, to predict each psychosocial outcome. The “total” latent variable was created by fixing the path coefficient to each parenting variable to 1, and the path from the “difference” latent variable to the father variable was fixed to -1. These constraints specify that both parents’ nurturance or involvement scores are added together to derive the “total” score, and that the father’s amount of nurturance or involvement score is subtracted from the mother’s score to derive the “difference” score.

A separate model was estimated for each parenting variable (nurturance, expressive involvement, instrumental involvement, and mentoring/advising). We also modeled family form as a predictor of the “total” and “difference” scores for each parenting variable, to ascertain the extent to which the “divided world” effect might differ by family. The unstandardized regression coefficients for these paths represent the magnitude of the difference, in standard deviations, between intact and divorced families.

We evaluated the fit of each model using the CFI, which compares the fit of the model being evaluated to that of a null model with no relationships between variables; as well as the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), which reflects the extent to which the correlations implied by the model deviate from those observed in the data. The chi-square index (χ 2 ) tests the null hypothesis of perfect fit to the data – which is often impossible to achieve – and as a result, the χ 2 is reported but is not used to evaluate model fit. As specified by Keith (2006) and Kline (2006), good model fit is represented by a CFI of .95 or higher and a RMSEA of .05 or below, with .90 and .08 representing the lower and upper bounds for acceptable CFI and RMSEA values, respectively.

These path models fit the data well, χ 2 (10 df each) ranged from 62.83 to 102.57, all ps < .001, CFI ranged from .98 to .99, RMSEA ranged from .062 to .082. Divorced families were rated lower than intact families on total scores for three of the four parenting variables: nurturance, B = -.11, p < .02; expressive involvement, B = -.13, p < .001; and total mentoring/advising involvement, B = -.14, p < .001. In terms of the mother-father difference scores, divorced families scored significantly higher than intact families on all four parenting variables: nurturance, B = .67, p < .001; expressive involvement, B = .65, p < .001; instrumental involvement, B = .94, p < .001; and mentoring/advising involvement, B = .46, p < .001.

For nurturance and all three dimensions of involvement, the total score was significantly related to all of the psychosocial functioning indices and to troubled ruminations about parents.

The difference score was significantly related (in the opposite direction) to all of these indices except for purpose in life and academics (see Table 2).


The present study yields two important insights into the “divided world of the child.” First, and consistent with prior work (Marsiglio et al., 2000; White, 1999), in intact families, reports of nurturance and involvement from mothers and from fathers were closely related. However, this was not the case in divorced families. Second, when the “divided world” was operationalized as a continuum, the total amount of nurturance and involvement across parents was positively linked with indices of well-being, and negatively linked with indices of distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents. Between-parent differences in nurturance and involvement were negatively related to self-esteem, life satisfaction, and friendship quality and satisfaction; and positively related to distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents. Further, divorced families were associated with a greater “divided world” effect than intact families, suggesting that divorce is associated with compromised quality of life in emerging adulthood, as well as with troubled ruminations about one’s father. All of these findings were consistent across gender and ethnicity – suggesting that custody and access decisions need to be responsive to the feelings and outcomes of children of divorce, regardless of their gender or ethnic background.

Effects of Divorce on the “Divided World” Effect

Consistent with Hypothesis 1, in divorced families, there was virtually no relationship between reports of corresponding maternal and paternal processes – suggesting that the adult child’s world had been sharply divided. Divorce therefore appears to be associated with a perception that one’s parents are sharply different in their levels of nurturance and involvement – which can be troubling for the child, as noted below. This pattern represents the essence of the divided world of the child, as originally conceptualized by Marquardt (2005). “Dad’s World” becomes separated from the child’s primary family system. It must be noted, however, that the degree to which this occurs likely varies from one divorced family to another (Harvey & Fine, 2004). The extent of the “divided world” may depend on the extent of cordiality between the parents, the child’s custody arrangement (Maccoby, Buchanan, Mnookin, & Dornbusch, 1993), and whether one parent has relocated away from the other (Braver, Ellman, & Fabricius, 2003).

Moreover, the “divided world” effect is associated not only with more traditional measures of well-being, distress, and relational functioning, but also with troubled ruminations about the father. Troubled ruminations include dissatisfaction with the father-child relationship, feeling unloved by the father, feeling that he caused most of the pain in the family, and doubting whether he wanted to spend time with the person. At least some of this is likely a result of structural factors resulting from custody and access decisions.

Effects of Differential Parental Involvement and Nurturance on Emerging Adult Children’s

Psychosocial Functioning

The results for Hypothesis 2 were also supportive of the “divided world of the child” thesis – and suggest that the “divided world” effect is more pronounced in divorced families than in intact families. As anticipated, the total amount of involvement received from both parents was predictive of all of the psychosocial functioning indices across family forms, and the difference between maternal and paternal nurturance and involvement was a significant predictor in the vast majority (85%) of cases. What this suggests is that both perceiving both parents as non-nurturant and uninvolved and/or perceiving a sharp difference between maternal and paternal nurturance or involvement – both of which may be linked to divorce – may be associated with compromised psychosocial functioning and troubled ruminations in emerging adults.

Critically, although it is possible for a “divided world” to emerge in intact families, there are structural effects of divorce, and of custody and access decisions, that may make the divided world effect more likely to appear in divorced families. In intact families, the divided world effect is most likely to emerge when parents are differentially involved. One common example would be when one parent is largely non-nurturant and non-involved while the other is highly nurturant and highly involved. However, in divorced families where the father generally is cast into a nonresident role, divorce itself may structurally create the divided world effect. It is therefore essential for family courts to create post-divorce custody arrangements that maximize nurturance and involvement from both parents in order to reduce the “divided world” effect.

Among the psychosocial functioning indices, self-esteem, life satisfaction, and psychological distress appear to be among those most affected both by “total” parenting and by mother-father differences in parenting. These three psychosocial functioning indices, taken together, have been labeled as “subjective well-being” (Sheldon et al., 2004) and are often used to index quality of life in young people. Post-divorce arrangements that marginalize the father from the child’s life and decrease that parent’s nurturance and involvement (cf. Fabricius & Hall, 2000; Finley & Schwartz, 2006; 2007) thus appear to have far-reaching impacts on young people’s quality of life. In turn, these effects may be associated with subsequent difficulties in career and in relationships (Côté, 2002). Troubled ruminations about the father, which also appear to result from lowered parental nurturance and involvement and from the “divided world” effect, have also been found to reduce well-being and to increase distress in emerging adults (Schwartz et al., in press-a).


The present results should be interpreted in light of several important limitations. First, all variables were measured concurrently. As a result, although parental involvement and nurturance were assessed retrospectively, and although psychosocial functioning was assessed in present tense, we cannot rule out the possibility that current dimensions of functioning may have influenced participants’ reports about their parents’ past behavior.

Second, all of the parenting dimensions were assessed globally, referring to the entirety of the participant’s childhood and adolescence. This was intentional in light of the framing of emerging adulthood as a time of reflecting back on one’s childhood and adolescence in totality (cf. Arnett, 2000). However, we do not know whether participants from divorced families completed the parenting measures thinking of conditions occurring before, during, or after divorce. Third, the use of a university student sample may introduce biases by underrepresenting individuals with financial, emotional, intellectual, or social difficulties. Further research with community samples is needed.

Finally, the ethnic breakdown of the sample is both a limitation and an advantage. As a limitation, the overrepresentation of ethnic minorities and of individuals from immigrant families is not consistent with the U.S. population at present. Moreover, the ethnic diversity of the sample is specific to the Miami area, given that Cuban Americans comprised more than half of Hispanic participants and that most of the Blacks were of Caribbean descent (cf. Stepick & Stepick, 2002).

Replication with larger proportions of native-born Whites, African Americans, and groups that comprise the majority of the U.S. Hispanic population (Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans; Ramirez & de la Cruz, 2003) is needed.

As an advantage, the ethnic diversity of the sample may reflect the changing demographics of the U.S. population. Hispanics are overrepresented among the foreign-born population (Ramirez & de la Cruz, 2003), and immigrants are comprising an increasing share of the Black population in the United States. Since 2000, one of every two people added to the U.S. population has been Hispanic (Bernstein, 2007), and by 2050, one-quarter of Americans will likely be of Hispanic descent (Huntington, 2004). As a result, gathering data on ethnically diverse samples is an important direction in family research (e.g., King, Harris, & Heard, 2004; Toth & Xu, 1999). The diversity of the sample also allowed us to evaluate the consistency of our findings across gender and ethnicity.

Conclusions and Implications for Family Court Practice and Policy

The present results have provided substantial support for the “divided world” thesis (Finley, 2006; Marquardt, 2005). The strongest support for this thesis comes not only from indices of perceived parenting, but also from indices of emerging-adult psychosocial functioning and of troubled ruminations – long-term feelings of anger, pain, regret, and hurt. Clearly, a postdivorce arrangement where one parent resides within the child’s primary family system — while the other is marginalized or severed from that family system — does not fulfill the best interests of the child (cf. Finley, 2002). The present findings thus suggest that divorce decrees that include joint physical custody may represent one way to reduce the distress associated with the “divided world” and to enhance quality of life for children of divorce (cf. Warshak, 2007). The present results also suggest that, the more the child’s post-divorce life resembles that of an intact family, the better adjusted children of divorce are likely to be as they enter adulthood.


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Table 1 – Mother-Father Correlations by Family Form
Variable Intact Divorced
Nurturance .37 *** .06
Expressive Involvement .50 *** .04
Instrumental Involvement .45 *** .03
Mentoring/Advising .38 *** -.01
* p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001


Table 2 – Standard Regression Coefficients for Psychosocial Indices on Parenting Variables
Variable Nurturance Expressive Involvement Instrumental Involvement Mentoring/Advising
Total Difference Total Difference Total Difference Total Difference
Self-Esteem .33 *** -.16 *** .31 *** -.14 *** .23 *** -.12 *** .29 *** -.16 ***
Purpose in Life .22 *** -.01 .23 *** -.02 .25 *** .01 .25 *** -.01
Life Satisfaction .45 *** -.22 *** .42 *** -.19 *** .34 *** -.15 *** .40 *** -.17 ***
Friendship Quality .16 *** -.10 ** .16 *** -.09 ** .16 *** -.07 * .18 *** -.09 **
Friendship Satisfaction .23 *** -.17 *** .21 *** -.18 *** .19 *** -.13 *** .21 *** -.12 ***
Romantic Problems -.24 *** .14 *** -.23 *** .13 *** -.19 *** .09 ** -.20 *** .09 **
Psychological Distress -.31 *** .17 *** -.27 *** .15 *** -.23 *** .13 *** -.27 *** .14 ***
Academics .17 *** -.06 * .19 *** -.07 * .18 *** -.07 * .20 *** -.06 *
Troubled Ruminations Mother -.74 *** -.04 -.60 *** -.04 -.48 *** .08 ** -.55 *** .06 *
Troubled Ruminations Father -.70 *** .70 *** -.59 *** .62 *** -.50 *** .56 *** -.58 *** .59 ***
* p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001

Évaluation de l’instauration de l’hébergement égalitaire dans le cadre d’un divorce ou d’une séparation en Belgique (Université de Liège, Langue Francais)

March 2, 2010


Résumé : Évaluation de l’instauration de l’hébergement égalitaire dans le cadre d’un divorce ou d’une séparation

Sous la coordination de : Marie‐Thérèse Casman
Chargée de recherche : Angèle César

Avec la collaboration de :
Dounia Chaoui
Charline Waxweiler

Recherche commanditée par le Secrétariat d’État Belgique à la Politique des Familles

Belgique, Université de Liège, Panel Démographie Familiale, 2010

Tables des matières

Objectif de la recherche
Les Résultats

La loi de 2006

  • Ce que les professionnels et les parents retiennent de la nouvelle législation.
  • Implications de la loi de 2006
  • Ce que pensent les professionnels de la loi de 2006 et de l’hébergement alterné.

Les intervenants du droit familial

  • Le rôle des avocats
  • Le rôle du Juge et ses motivations

Les mesures d’instruction

  • L’expertise
  • Les études civiles sociales

Le point de vue des juges

Le point de vue des assistants de justice

  • Les enquêtes de police
  • Les auditions d’enfants réalisées par un psychologue
  • Conclusion

La médiation
La place de l’enfant
Les motivations parentales à l’hébergement des enfants
Le profil des parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné
Les vécu des parents quant à la séparation/ divorce et quant au mode d’hébergement mis en place
Les modes d’organisation concrets

  • Les rythmes d’alternance
  • Frais extraordinaires et loisirs
  • Le choix du domicile de l’enfant
  • Mutualité et remboursement des soins de santé
  • Les allocations familiales
  • Les parts contributives
  • Le Logement
  • La consommation d’eau
  • Autres primes, aides, prêts et réductions
  • Le transfert des enfants
  • Garde enfant malade
  • Fiscalité
  • Vêtements et transport des affaires

L’entente parentale

Pistes de recommandation
  • Le rapport à la médiation
  • La question de la part contributive
  • Collaboration, information et formation entre les intervenants du droit de la famille
  • Accompagnement du justiciable
  • Un projet, le Tribunal des Familles
  • Rencontres pluridisciplinaires
  • Adaptation des systèmes administratifs et scolaires
  • Création d’un guide destiné aux parents

Objectif de la recherche

L’objectif de cette étude visait à analyser les différents modes d’organisation d’hébergement, alterné de type égalitaire ou non, mis en place par les familles, ainsi que les diverses « stratégies » ou arrangements entre les parents, et éventuellement leurs nouvelles familles respectives, leur permettant de gérer les contraintes financières et pratiques spécifiques au mode d’hébergement mis en place.

Il est également question d’établir les premiers constats après l’instauration de cette loi en juillet 2006, de voir qu’elles étaient ses réelles implications au niveau de la pratique des professionnels et de recueillir l’avis de ces derniers à son sujet.

Il s’agit aussi de faire le point sur les avantages et les inconvénients de cette nouvelle législation, tels qu’ils sont vécus par les différents acteurs c’est‐à‐dire tant les parents, que les professionnels qui l’appliquent ou contribuent à l’appliquer : les juges, les médiateurs familiaux, les intervenants sociaux.

Ajoutons également que ce nouveau mode de partage de l’hébergement amène également des questions administratives tout à fait inédites : domiciliation de l’enfant, rapports avec l’école, fiscalité, carte SIS, etc.

En outre, il s’agit également d’apporter des éléments de connaissance sur le profil des parents pratiquant ce mode de garde, en termes de statut socioprofessionnel et de composition familiale notamment.

Il s’agit, enfin, de dégager différentes propositions d’amélioration permettant d’une part une meilleure adéquation du mode d’hébergement égalitaire à la situation des parents séparés via des actions publiques de modifications législatives et d’autre part une organisation performante des démarches administratives, et des mesures d’accompagnement des familles et de soutien à la parentalité.


Afin de nourrir cette recherche, plusieurs outils de recueil de données ont été mobilisés : la synthèse documentaire, ainsi que l’analyse de données qualitatives et quantitatives. L’obtention des données qualitatives s’est fait au moyen d’entretiens semi‐directifs réalisés auprès de deux types d’acteurs. D’une part, des experts et professionnels qui à divers titres, sont en contact avec des parents en rupture et, par conséquent, la question de l’hébergement des enfants. D’autre part, des parents séparés ayant opté pour un mode d’hébergement de leurs enfants impliquant pour la moitié d’entre eux un partage égalitaire du temps. Les données quantitatives découlent de l’utilisation d’un questionnaire comprenant une quarantaine d’items portant sur l’hébergement des enfants et le contexte de la séparation parentale. Le volet qualitatif a été réalisé sur base de guides d’entretien spécifique au public rencontré (expert ou parents).

Les deux volets, qualitatifs et quantitatifs, ont respectivement concerné 109 et 197 individus. Précisément, l’échantillon des professionnels était d’abord composé de Juges travaillant pour la Justice de Paix, le Tribunal des Référés, le Tribunal de la Jeunesse, la Cour d’appel, et le Tribunal de Première Instance, et ce, dans les villes de Charleroi, Bruxelles, Liège, ainsi qu’en Flandre Occidentale. Deuxièmement, les différents types de médiateurs familiaux ont également été rencontrés, plus précisément, des avocats médiateurs, des notaires médiateurs et des médiateurs dits « tiers », psychologue de formation ou possédant une toute autre profession d’orientation plutôt psychosociale. Dans ce cas, les rencontres ont eu lieu dans les villes d’Hasselt, de Charleroi, de Liège, de Namur et de Bruxelles. Ensuite, différents avocats ont témoigné de leurs expériences professionnelles en matière d’hébergement des enfants. Tous étaient spécialisés en matière de droit familial. Ils exerçaient à Liège, à Namur et à Bruxelles. Enfin, un agent mutualiste, un fiscaliste, une juriste en planning familial, un pédopsychiatre expert auprès des tribunaux ainsi que trois assistants de justice ont participé à cette recherche. Cet échantillon de professionnel concernait en tout trente‐sept personnes. L’échantillon des parents était, quant à lui, divisé en deux parties. La première concernait 86 parents parmi lesquels 44 pratiquaient, ou avait pratiqué, l’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire. Les 42 parents restant se trouvaient dans un système de partage inégalitaire, l’hébergement principal étant dans la majeure partie des cas, attribué à la mère. La seconde partie de cet échantillon est constituée des 197 répondants au questionnaire, parmi eux, 124 francophones et 73 néerlandophones. Pour 43% d’entre eux, c’est un hébergement égalitaire qui a été mis en place. Ces deux échantillons de parents, sont principalement composés de femmes puisqu’elles sont 59 à avoir accepté un entretien et 134 à avoir répondu au questionnaire. Les deux échantillons étaient majoritairement constitués d’employés, un certain nombre d’entre eux étaient indépendants alors que seule une minorité parmi eux était demandeur d’emploi.

L’analyse des données qualitatives a consisté en une analyse thématique.

L’analyse des données quantitatives s’est faite sur base du calcul des fréquences et des pourcentages.

Ensuite, dernier aspect de cette méthodologie, un focus group a été organisé. Les résultats de l’analyse qualitative des entretiens ainsi que les données issues de l’enquête quantitative ont été présentés lors d’un focus group à des professionnels fréquemment amenés à travailler avec ces matières familiales. Ce focus group était composé d’un psychologue médiateur et expert pour les tribunaux, d’une criminologue de formation, chercheuse à l’université de Liège et auteur d’un ouvrage : « garde alternée : égalité des parents et intérêt de l’enfant enfin rencontrés ? », d’un responsable du service d’étude du « Gezinsbond », licencié en sciences politiques et sociales auteur d’une recherche en sociologie de la famille sur l’attitude des magistrats face aux situations de non‐représentation d’enfant, d’une responsable du service étude de la Ligue des familles, d’une juge de la jeunesse à Liège, d’une juriste de la FAPéO, anciennement avocate, d’une chercheuse et formatrice à l’université des femmes, d’un responsable de la fondation Françoise Dolto, et enfin, d’un avocat spécialisé en droit de la famille.

La confrontation de nos résultats à leurs pratiques nous a permis d’étayer notre rapport et d’élaborer différentes pistes de recommandation.

Les Résultats

La loi de 2006

• Ce que les professionnels et les parents retiennent de la nouvelle législation.

La primauté de l’accord est le premier élément souligné par les professionnels de notre échantillon. Nous avons pu constater que bien que la loi donne la possibilité au juge de refuser l’accord des parents, cette situation ne se présente que très rarement, voire jamais. Cette possibilité nous a été décrite comme étant «un cas d’école ». Certains professionnels tendraient alors à considérer que les parents sont les meilleurs « juges » de la situation.

Il nous semblait intéressant de nous pencher plus précisément sur cette notion d’accord. Comme cela vient d’être abordé, l’accord doit primer. L’ensemble des professionnels constate également que le nombre de parents se présentant devant les tribunaux avec un accord a considérablement augmenté. Différents éléments peuvent expliquer ce constat.

Tout d’abord, cette augmentation pourrait être attribuée au contexte familial actuel. Effectivement, qu’il y ait séparation ou non, une plus grande démocratisation a pris place dans les relations familiales.

On peut également y voir l’influence de la nouvelle législation en matière de divorce puisque la loi de 2007 aboutit à la suppression du divorce pour faute et à la promotion du divorce à l’amiable. Il nous semble cependant qu’à ce sujet une dérive soit possible. Effectivement, lorsque nous avons interrogé les parents, nous avons recueilli les témoignages de mères essentiellement, qui nous décrivaient des divorces conflictuels, des conventions signées sous la menace, des manipulations dont elles n’avaient pas eu conscience immédiatement, etc. Tous ces divorces sont cependant passés aux yeux de la Loi, des tribunaux, comme étant des divorces « à l’amiable ». Au moment où les parents se présentent devant la justice avec un accord, la dynamique propre du couple ayant mené à cet accord reste totalement inconnue. Effectivement, dans ces situations, aucune investigation n’est menée. Le risque est alors grand que la parole du plus fort ne l’emporte sans que la justice ne s’en aperçoive. Derrière ce constat se pose la question suivante : est‐ce bien le rôle du tribunal d’intervenir dans pareille situation ? La question reste ouverte.

Le second élément souligné par les professionnels est le fait que l’hébergement égalitaire doit être examiné de manière prioritaire. Il semble donc assez clair que l’hébergement alterné ne va pas être appliquée à tout va, de manière systématique. Dans cet état d’esprit, les juges rencontrés nous ont décrit ce texte de loi comme étant plutôt une recommandation qu’une réelle contrainte. Il apparaît cependant qu’il existerait quelques différences entre les magistrats lorsqu’il s’agit d’appliquer la loi, nous y reviendrons.

Le troisième élément retenu par les professionnels est le fait que le législateur, de par la Loi de 2006, pose l’égalité parentale en principe.

Tout d’abord, il convient de faire la différence entre équivalence et égalité. Effectivement, les parents sont égaux en droit par rapport à leurs enfants, cela ne suppose cependant pas qu’ils soient identiques. C’est justement parce qu’ils sont différents que l’enfant aura besoin de conserver un lien avec ses parents, tout du moins dans la majeure partie des cas.

Lorsque les professionnels abordent cette question de l’égalité parentale, ils évoquent la répartition des tâches relatives aux soins et à l’éducation des enfants. A ce niveau, ils constatent une augmentation du nombre de ce qu’on appelle les nouveaux pères, ces deniers étant cependant encore minoritaires.

Dans notre échantillon de parents, ce sont encore généralement les mères qui s’occupent principalement des enfants (soins, transport, médecin,…) et des tâches ménagères.

Nous avons pu constater que, parmi notre échantillon, les parents qui vivaient bien l’hébergement alterné de leurs enfants étaient souvent ceux qui s’occupaient à deux de leurs enfants avant la séparation. D’après les entretiens que nous avons menés, hébergement alterné ou pas, le choix d’hébergement vient en continuité du système qui était mis en place du temps du couple, bien que cela n’ai pas été confirmé par le volet quantitatif. Par contre, dans les familles où la répartition des tâches était inégale, ce principe d’égalité est, nous a‐t‐on dit, difficile à accepter. Certains de ces parents s’opposent à cette loi dans le sens où ils la vivent comme un système censé être « bon pour tous », mais néanmoins « pas bon pour eux » et donc inadapté à leur réalité. Pour beaucoup, privilégier un mode d’hébergement par rapport à un autre ne leur paraît pas justifié en regard de la multitude des situations et de l’aspect non généralisable de ce qui détermine le bien‐être et l’intérêt de l’enfant.

Lorsqu’on s’attache plus précisément à la manière dont les pères rencontrés ont vécu la nouvelle législation, on s’aperçoit que l’instauration de la loi les a amenés à oser demander l’hébergement égalitaire.

D’après les professionnels, une certaine différence semble être constatée en fonction des catégories sociales. Il semblerait que dans les familles ayant un faible niveau socio‐culturel, la mère tende plus fréquemment à être considérée comme ayant un rôle plus important que le père vis‐à‐vis de l’enfant.

• Implications de la loi de 2006

Les professionnels considèrent que l’instauration de ce texte de loi a eu de nombreux impacts.

Tout d’abord, le paysage juridique est considéré comme ayant fortement changé. Avocats et juges nous expliquent que là où avant il fallait plaider en faveur de l’hébergement égalitaire, il est désormais nécessaire de plaider en sa défaveur si on souhaite qu’il ne soit pas appliqué.

Pour certains, cette loi a d’ailleurs un impact négatif sur la dynamique judiciaire dans le sens où elle amène une des parties, voir les deux, à faire la preuve des côtés négatifs de l’autre parent si elle veut s’opposer à son projet d’hébergement alterné. Il semble cependant que cette dynamique existait déjà, bien avant l2006.

L’autre conséquence importante de l’instauration de la loi de 2006 est le fait que le nombre de demandes d’hébergement n’a fait qu’augmenter. Cette augmentation, les magistrats l’expliquent par deux éléments.

Tout d’abord, avant juillet 2006, de nombreux pères n’imaginaient pas du tout avoir la possibilité de demander l’hébergement alterné. Comme nous l’avons précisé plus haut, ce sentiment se confirme au vu des témoignages de pères recueillis durant l’enquête.

Ensuite, certains y voient l’impact de l’importante médiatisation qui a accompagné l’instauration de cette loi. Le grand public semble d’ailleurs en avoir retenu que l’application de la loi équivalait à une mise en place systématique de l’hébergement égalitaire, message inadéquat que nous avons également rencontré lorsque nous avons interrogé les parents.

Puisqu’on demande plus fréquemment l’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire, il est logique de constater que les jugements l’instaurant sont également plus nombreux. Seule une juge de la jeunesse nous confie avoir le sentiment de revenir de l’hébergement alterné pour retourner vers un hébergement plus classique.

Certains des avocats que nous avons interrogés, nous ont expliqué que, le fait que le législateur pose l’égalité parentale en principe pouvait avoir un impact positif sur les conflits. Selon eux, il y aurait un double effet. Premièrement, le fait que les parents pensent ne pas avoir d’autre choix qu’accepter l’hébergement alterné et deuxièmement, le fait que certaines mères n’osent pas pousser le conflit trop loin de peur de voir leur ancien conjoint demander un hébergement alterné auquel elles se refusent ; elles préféreraient ainsi abandonner une pension alimentaire ou tout autre avantage de ce type. Ce dernier point, tout particulièrement, nous semble un des effets pervers possibles de l’instauration de cette loi. Le lien peut être fait avec ce que nous évoquions précédemment, lorsque nous envisagions la méconnaissance par la justice des dynamiques de couple. (Chantage, manipulation, etc.)

Voici les principaux points retenus par les professionnels. Nous pouvons souligner qu’un aspect est oublié par toutes les personnes rencontrées à l’exception d’une juge de la jeunesse. Il s’agit de la deuxième partie de la loi, à savoir « règlementant l’exécution forcée en matière d’hébergement d’enfant ». La majorité des juges rencontrés ne semble donc pas avoir recours à l’exécution forcée.

• Ce que pensent les professionnels de la loi de 2006 et de l’hébergement alterné.

Trois points ont été passés à la loupe lorsqu’il a été question de recueillir l’avis des professionnels. Il s’agit de l’utilité de l’instauration du texte de loi, d’une critique du texte de loi en lui‐même, et de manière plus générale, de leur sentiment par rapport au système d’hébergement égalitaire.

Certains des professionnels que nous avons rencontrés nous ont confié douter de l’utilité de l’instauration de ce texte de loi. Nous avons pu constater qu’il s’agissait de magistrats qui statuaient déjà en faveur de l’hébergement égalitaire avant l’instauration de la loi, cette dernière n’avait alors que très peu changé leur pratique.

Quelques professionnels pointent du doigt la rédaction du texte de loi en lui‐même. Le débat s’articule alors autour de la notion de cas par cas. Pour une minorité, la formulation de la loi va à l’encontre de l’application de ce principe. Pour l’ensemble des professionnels, comme nous l’avons cité précédemment, la principale qualité de cette loi réside, justement, dans le fait que sa rédaction laisse une certaine liberté de décision aux magistrats. Ce qui, disent‐ils, leur convient parfaitement.

Il nous semblait également intéressant d’investiguer les représentations qu’avaient les professionnels de l’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire. Il nous semblait que ces dernières pouvaient éventuellement influencer leur manière d’appliquer la loi et d’informer les parties.

Dans ce cas également, le débat a tourné autour d’un concept central, l’intérêt de l’enfant. Les visions des uns et des autres divergent.

Au nom, donc, de l’intérêt de l’enfant, certains professionnels du droit familial affirment être complètement opposés à ce mode d’hébergement. Selon eux, l’impact sur les enfants peut se révéler catastrophique, et ce, d’autant plus qu’ils entretiendraient, selon eux, les conflits parentaux. Ils perçoivent ce système comme n’octroyant pas à l’enfant un statut d’être humain mais le reléguant plutôt à une place d’objet. L’idéal de la famille nucléaire est généralement très présent dans le discours de ces professionnels.

Les professionnels tendent également à considérer que l’hébergement alterné est un système engendrant un coût très élevé, impossible à assumer par certaines familles.

Lorsqu’on leur demande ce qu’ils pensent de ce mode d’hébergement, une catégorie professionnelle se distingue par ses préoccupations. Il s’agit des médiateurs familiaux. Probablement parce qu’ils sont fréquemment confrontés à l’aspect pratique de l’hébergement alterné, et parce que leur rôle consiste notamment à anticiper d’éventuelles difficultés ou à aider les parents à les dépasser lorsqu’elles se présentent ; les considérations d’ordre pratique sont largement présentent dans leur discours. Ils insistent alors sur des points très précis, tel le lieu de domiciliation de l’enfant ou encore, le partage des allocations familiales.

Une moitié des professionnels que nous avons interrogés porte cependant un regard positif sur l’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire. Ils se représentent ce système d’hébergement comme un outil potentiel permettant la communication entre les parents, mais également comme un moyen permettant de lutter contre le risque de rupture du lien parental. Ce type d’organisation est également perçu comme un système offrant un certain confort aux parents en ce sens qu’il leur permet de « souffler » une semaine sur deux et d’être pleinement parent le reste du temps. Ce vécu concorde avec certains des témoignages recueillis auprès des parents. L’hébergement égalitaire est parfois perçu comme pouvant favoriser la qualité de la relation parent‐enfant, notamment la relation avec le père.

Parmi notre échantillon, les avocats étaient ceux qui étaient les plus opposés à ce mode d’hébergement. Un seul nous a confié le conseiller à ses clients. Les médiateurs sont, quant à eux, ceux qui se sont montrés les plus positifs vis‐à‐vis de l’hébergement égalitaire, et ce, en dépit des problèmes organisationnels qui peuvent en découler.

Les intervenants du droit familial

Nous nous centrerons ici principalement sur les rôles des juges et des avocats, nous reviendrons ultérieurement sur le rôle des médiateurs.

• Le rôle des avocats

Dans un premier temps, nous avons demandé aux juges et aux médiateurs quel était, selon eux, le rôle des avocats. Les deux professions s’accordent, à ce sujet, sur deux reproches formulés à l’égard des avocats.

Tout d’abord, ils déplorent l’attitude des avocats vis‐à‐vis de la médiation ainsi que les propos qu’ils tiennent parfois à son sujet, et par conséquent, l’information qu’ils fournissent à leurs clients. Dans ce cas, la médiation est souvent considérée comme une perte de temps et d’argent, et comme ôtant une part de clientèle aux avocats. Une certaines concurrence s’opérerait alors entre les deux professions, les avocats allant parfois jusqu’à décourager leurs clients d’entamer une médiation lorsqu’ils en expriment le désir. Ce type de reproche est principalement formulé à l’égard des avocats non‐médiateurs.

Ensuite, juges et médiateurs critiquent la possibilité qu’ont les avocats d’accéder à la profession de médiateur. Pour beaucoup, ces deux professions se trouvent dans des dynamiques bien trop différentes, voir opposées pour qu’une même personne puisse passer d’une à l’autre. On nous a ainsi expliqué que l’avocat avait pour rôle la défense d’un seul client et qu’il avait un rapport particulier au conflit dans ce sens où il lui arrivait de l’utiliser et d’en tirer parti pour défendre la cause de son client. Le médiateur a pour rôle de veiller à l’intérêt du couple en entier, sans en privilégier un membre par rapport à l’autre et d’apaiser le conflit en menant les parties vers un accord convenant à chacun. Selon les professionnels interrogés, le rôle de médiateur tenu par les avocats en pâtirait obligatoirement.

De manière plus spécifique, les juges désignent l’avocat comme étant celui chargé d’informer son client. En lien avec ce rôle de conseiller, les juges nous ont informés qu’il était de plus en plus fréquent que les parties se présentent devant les tribunaux sans être représentées par un avocat. Ils y voient là un effet de difficultés économiques tendant à s’aggraver plus on avance dans le temps. Dans ce cas, on peut se demander qu’elle est alors l’information à disposition des parents suivant ce type de voie.

Dans un second temps nous avons interrogé les avocats quant à leur vision du rôle qu’ils jouent auprès de leurs clients. Nous remarquons alors que le critère économique est très présent dans le discours des avocats. Ainsi, ils nous expliquent ne pas avoir la possibilité d’éviter certaines procédures, au risque de voir leurs revenus trop amoindris.

Les avocats rencontrés nuancent la croyance selon laquelle ils auraient pour habitude d’attiser, voir d’engendrer, le conflit. Ils expliquent alors que l’avocat a avant tout un rôle de porte parole de son client. Le travail de conseil et peut‐être d’apaisement des conflits qui a lieu en dehors de l’audience n’est donc pas toujours visible. De plus, les avocats rencontrés semblent persuadés qu’il n’est pas nécessaire que les parties soit représentées par un avocat pour parvenir à se déchirer, il semblerait qu’elles y parviennent très bien sans cela. Il serait effectivement déjà dans cet état d’esprit ne serait‐ce que de par la dynamique judiciaire et la possibilité d’emporter quelque chose par rapport à l’autre.

• Le rôle du Juge et ses motivations

Lorsque la thématique du rôle du juge est abordée, différents aspects sont énoncés. Il s’agit du nouveau rôle du juge conciliateur, du discours tenu par le juge, de l’importance que les décisions soient prises au cas par cas, de la grande diversité des jurisprudences et, au final, des critères qui motivent les décisions judiciaires.

Le texte prévoit que le tribunal, et donc le juge, en plus de trancher en cas de litige, tente de concilier les parties en leur donnant les informations utiles sur les procédures et sur l’intérêt de la médiation. Il peut, dans ce cadre, avoir recours à la médiation. En fonction de ces recommandations, on peut imaginer que le juge serait à même d’orienter chaque parent de manière spécifique et adaptée à sa situation vers un intervenant en mesure de répondre à ses besoins. D’après le témoignage de certains juges que nous avons rencontrés, il n’est pas aisé d’endosser ce rôle de conciliateur au vu de la réalité judiciaire. Différents obstacles sont alors pointés. Le premier est d’ordre matériel et est relatif au manque de temps accordé à chaque dossier lors des audiences d’introduction. Effectivement, ces dernières sont généralement surchargées et il n’est généralement pas possible d’accorder plus de 5 à 10 minutes par situation. Le second est relatif à la formation des magistrats. Certains nous ont confié ne pas avoir reçu la formation qui leur permettrait d’exercer ce rôle de conciliateur adéquatement, ne serait ce parce qu’ils ne disposent pas d’informations spécifiques sur les propriétés intrinsèques des différentes mesures possibles.

Lorsque les professionnels abordent la question du discours du Juge, nous pouvons constater que les expériences et donc les opinions qui en découlent, divergent. Là où certains juges sont perçus comme étant tout à fait adéquats, d’autres pointent leur formation en matière d’accueil du justiciable. Il apparaît ainsi que certains ont une conception très autoritaire de leur rôle, laissant alors peu de place aux parents, pourtant très concernés par la décision qui va être prise. Nous avons recueillis différents témoignages plaidant la nécessité pour le juge de tenir un discours adapté aux représentations qu’ont les parents de leur rôle, certains allant jusqu’à qualifier le fait de tenter de leur imposer le discours de la société de « violence institutionnelle [1] ».

Tous les professionnels rencontrés s’accordent sur un point, nous l’avons déjà abordé, la nécessité de la prise de décision au cas par cas. Lorsqu’il est question du rôle du juge, ce point est largement abordé et développé. Nous en retiendrons une certaine unanimité à ce sujet et ce en dépit du fait que cette loi, instaurée en 2006, avait notamment pour objectif de rendre les décisions de justice plus prévisibles. Cet objectif est plutôt mis à mal par ce mode de fonctionnement. D’après les interviews que nous avons menées, il semblerait que les juges ne tolèrent pas qu’il en soit autrement. Pour eux, il est primordial que la justice ne soit pas automatique et que les situations soient analysées pour qu’une solution adaptée soit trouvée. Notons cependant que là où certains parlent de « cas par cas », d’autres parlent de « juge par juge », tant les pratiques d’un juge à l’autre peuvent différer.

Les juges rencontrés semblent conscients de la grande diversité des jurisprudences. Ils justifient cela par le fait que la justice est faite par des êtres humains et que cela ne saurait être évité. Les avocats partagent en majorité cette conception du fonctionnement judiciaire.

Ces différences de jurisprudence peuvent notamment s’expliquer par les différences de critères servant de repères aux juges. Effectivement, certains juges accordent plus de poids à tel ou tel aspect, alors que d’autres vont plutôt se centrer sur un élément différent. Après la dizaine d’interviews menées, il apparaît clairement que les juges prennent une même décision sur base d’arguments différents, liés aux préférences de chacun, mais également en rapport avec leurs représentations de la famille. La plupart des juges interrogés, au même titre que les autres professionnels de notre échantillon, conservent une représentation selon laquelle la famille nucléaire reste le modèle familial idéal. Les juges nous ont confié prendre la « moins mauvaise » décision lorsqu’ils statuaient en faveur d’un mode d’hébergement.

Nous avons, en outre, relevé que les juges et les avocats rencontrés faisaient souvent référence à leur vécu personnel. Ainsi, certains se positionnent en tant que père ou en tant que mère lorsqu’ils justifient leurs décisions.

Suite à ce dernier point, on peut se demander s’il est adéquat qu’un professionnel de la justice se laisse en partie guider par son propre vécu. En tant que professionnel sa conduite ne devrait‐elle pas être guidée par d’autres valeurs, celles de la société ou de la communauté scientifique, par exemple ? Si son rôle est de trancher entre les différentes définitions de l’intérêt de l’enfant, il est effectivement important qu’il ne se laisse pas diriger par ses valeurs personnelles qui pourraient automatiquement orienter le débat.

Nous avons également pu remarquer que certains éléments constituent pour quelques juges un facteur d’exclusion vis‐à‐vis de l’hébergement égalitaire alors que pour d’autres, il s’agira d’un élément favorisant, considéré comme influençant positivement l’instauration d’un système d’hébergement alterné.

Parmi les arguments pris en compte, nous avons pu recenser : la divergence philosophique, les aptitudes éducatives parentales, la disponibilité des parents, l’absence de dialogue entre les parents, le fait que l’un menace l’autre, l’âge de l’enfant, le niveau de vie des parents, l’éloignement géographique, la manière dont l’enfant vis sa relation avec chacun de ses parents, la position de l’enfant face au choix d’hébergement, et enfin, la personnalité des parents.

Notons également que tous les juges n’évaluent pas ces différents points avec les mêmes méthodes et que le court laps de temps consacré à une situation lors de l’audience d’introduction ne permet pas toujours de réaliser, une analyse approfondie d’éléments complexes, tels que les aptitudes éducatives parentales ou encore la personnalité des parents.

Pour terminer, notons que les magistrats se basent chacun sur un âge limite différent considéré comme valeur seuil en dessous de laquelle l’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire doit être évité. Or, aucun ne semble baser ce critère sur des arguments scientifiques, psychologiques, comme par exemple, la notion de temporalité à mettre en lien avec l’âge de l’enfant. Effectivement, en fonction de son âge, l’enfant n’aura pas le même rapport au temps qui passe. Ainsi, plus l’enfant sera petit, plus le temps lui semblera long. Il ne semble donc pas pertinent d’envisager le changement de domicile d’un petit enfant de semaine en semaine avec nos repères temporel d’adultes, comme semblent le faire beaucoup des juges rencontrés.

Le dernier point mis en lumière par ces interviews, est celui de la formation des juges, pointée et dénoncée par de nombreux professionnels et même, dans certains cas, par les juges eux‐mêmes. Cette formation a effectivement été remise en cause en regard de leurs connaissances des moyens d’instruction mais également lorsqu’il a été question de l’accueil parfois réservé au justiciable. Cette formation est également mise à mal lorsqu’on aborde la question des auditions d’enfants réalisées par le juge.

Les mesures d’instruction

Sous cet intitulé sont repris différents éléments. Il s’agit, d’une part, de la propension qu’ont les juges à avoir recours à différents moyens d’investigation. Les entretiens nous ont permis d’en recenser quatre, à savoir : l’expertise, les études civiles sociales, les enquêtes de police, et enfin, les auditions d’enfants réalisées par un psychologue.

D’autre part, les magistrats rencontrés ont exposé leurs motivations à opter pour l’un ou l’autre de ces moyens.

• L’expertise

L’expertise semble être un moyen d’investigation utilisé avec parcimonie. Trois facteurs explicatifs peuvent ici être mis en lumière.

Le premier, de loin le plus cité, n’est autre que le coût engendré par l’expertise. L’expertise est prise en charge par les parties puisqu’il s’agit de procédures civiles, le coût peut s’élever de 1000€ (à Liège), auxquels devront être ajoutés 200 à 300 € par enfant supplémentaire, jusqu’à 2000 € (à Bruxelles). Seuls ceux qui sont dans les conditions de l’aide légale ont droit à un coût réduit de l’expertise.

Le deuxième facteur est commun à différentes méthodes d’investigation, il s’agit du temps nécessaire à l’expertise. Ainsi, une expertise peut prendre, selon les dires des juges, environ six mois. Il arrive même, d’après certains, qu’une expertise soit ordonnée mais qu’elle ne soit jamais réalisée.

Le troisième élément explicatif est relatif à la nouvelle législation concernant l’expertise. Cette dernière nous a été décrite comme étant « trop lourde » et comme « compliquant les choses ». Il semble alors que certains magistrats cherchent à contourner la législation en préférant ordonner ce qu’ils appellent des « mini‐expertises », plutôt que les expertises telles que prévues par le cadre légal.

L’essentiel des magistrats interrogés semble avoir une utilisation de l’expertise très mesurée. Les situations pour lesquelles une expertise est demandée, sont alors celles pour lesquelles il y a un risque de rupture du lien parental, ou celles dans lesquelles un des deux parents semble atteint d’une pathologie psychiatrique, ou encore, celles où la souffrance de l’enfant est telle que l’expertise pourrait déterminer la protectionnalisation du dossier.

• Les études civiles sociales

Les études sociales civiles sont un processus dynamique de récolte d’informations qui s’inscrit dans un contexte déterminé, à un moment donné.

Le point de vue des juges

Près de la moitié des juges rencontrés nous a parlé des études civiles sociales. Les autres ne les ont pas évoquées. Nous supposons donc qu’ils n’y ont pas recours fréquemment.

Concernant ce qu’en ont dit ceux qui l’ont évoquée, nous avons remarqué que tous ont abordé la question du temps pris par les études sociales. Effectivement, même ceux qui nous disent fréquemment mandater les assistants de justice déplorent le fait qu’un rapport se fasse attendre six à neuf mois. Certains semblent freinés par une si longue attente et ont tendance à faire de moins en moins appel aux assistants de justice. D’autres, en dépit de cet inconvénient, estiment que le travail fourni étant de très bonne qualité, il est toujours bénéfique de décider d’effectuer une étude sociale.

Au cours des entretiens, nous avons remarqué qu’il y avait débat autour du style rédactionnel (simple recueil de discours sans prises de positions) des rapports des assistants de justice, mais également quant aux attentes concernant les objectifs de ces derniers. Ainsi, sur deux juges de la Jeunesse, un affirme ne voir aucune utilité à ces rapports puisqu’à aucun moment l’assistant de justice ne propose une piste quant au mode d’hébergement à choisir. L’autre juge nous explique qu’il lui semble normal que les assistants de justice ne se positionnent pas en faveur d’une solution particulière puisqu’il s’agit justement de la charge qui incombe au juge, à savoir, statuer.

Ce sont donc la durée des études et la méconnaissance des objectifs des assistants de justice qui semblent poser question aux magistrats.

Le point de vue des assistants de justice

Nous sommes allés à la rencontre de trois assistants de justice travaillant dans les arrondissements de Liège, Bruxelles et Charleroi.

Les entretiens ainsi menés nous ont appris que les assistants de justices reçoivent des demandes d’études civiles sociales de l’ensemble des magistrats de leur arrondissement. En général, les assistants de justice s’accordent avec l’ensemble de leurs collègues sur le fait que c’est plutôt dans leurs habitudes que les juges se distinguent. Ainsi, tel juge demande souvent une étude sociale dans tel contexte (toxicomanie, hébergement égalitaire, etc.), alors que tel autre juge va plutôt se différencier dans sa manière de rédiger le mandat, en posant des questions très précises ou au contraire en restant très vague. Il apparaît alors que même les juges qui remettent en cause les études sociales y ont en réalité régulièrement recours.

Il est également apparu qu’assistants de justice et juges avaient peu souvent l’occasion de communiquer entre eux. Il semble qu’une unique rencontre entre magistrats et assistants de justice a été organisée dans le passé mais qu’elle n’a pas été réitérée. Or, tous les magistrats en place ne sont plus spécialement les mêmes, et il en va de même pour les assistants de justice. Les juges connaissent fort peu la méthodologie des assistants de justice et les attentes qu’ils peuvent avoir vis‐à‐vis du rapport qui leur est remis. Par ailleurs, nous avons appris que les assistants en sont conscients, ce qui les amène parfois à se demander si leur rapport est lu dans son intégralité et comment il est utilisé.

Les assistants de justice nous apprennent que, d’une part, il apparaît que s’il y a un long délai d’attente entre le moment où le juge mandate et celui où le rapport est remis, ce dernier à imputer à un retard structurel. En clair, il est possible qu’un certain temps s’écoule entre le moment où le mandat arrive à la maison de justice et celui où l’étude est attribuée à un assistant. Cela est dû au fait que chaque assistant à un nombre maximum de dossiers ouverts en même temps (7 à 9 pour un équivalent temps plein dans les maisons de justice de Liège et Charleroi). Lorsqu’une étude se termine, une nouvelle situation est automatiquement prise en charge. Il semblerait cependant que les retards n’atteignent pas 6 à 9 mois comme les juges nous l’ont rapporté. Le retard semble s’expliquer par certaines périodes au cours desquelles il y aurait une plus grande affluence de dossiers, mais également parfois, par une équipe en léger sous effectif. D’autre part, rappelons également que certaines familles sont difficiles à joindre (pas de réponse ou l’enfant présent un seul dimanche par mois chez le père alors qu’il doit être rencontré dans son milieu de vie). Il arrive aussi que beaucoup de personnes soient concernées par l’étude sociale (nombreux enfants, nombreuses personnes concernées et devant être rencontrées telles que les grands‐parents, les nouveaux conjoints, etc.).

Par rapport à l’aspect rédactionnel et aux objectifs du rapport, conformément au BPR [2] , tous s’accordent sur le fait qu’ils ont certes, un rôle d’information, mais qu’ils n’ont pas à se prononcer sur le mode d’hébergement à choisir.

• Les enquêtes de police

Parmi la dizaine de juges rencontrés, trois d’entre eux nous ont parlé des enquêtes de police. Il s’agit pour eux d’un moyen auquel ils ont fréquemment recours lorsqu’ils s’interrogent sur des éléments matériels relatifs au milieu de vie de l’enfant. La police s’inscrit clairement dans une démarche de vérification (Conditions d’hygiène, frigo rempli, espace suffisant à chacun, etc.).

• Les auditions d’enfants réalisées par un psychologue

Deux juges, aux tribunaux des Référés et de la Jeunesse, nous ont dit préférer faire entendre les enfants par un psychologue plutôt que par elles‐mêmes quand la situation le permettait. Bien qu’il s’agisse des deux seules juges de notre échantillon à pratiquer de la sorte, certains professionnels du secteur nous ont affirmé que d’autres magistrats fonctionnaient ainsi.

Dans ce cas, la méthodologie appliquée est très stricte. L’enfant est amené chez le psychologue une première fois par le père et une deuxième fois par la mère. L’objectif est ici de parvenir à départager la partie du discours de l’enfant induit par chacun des parents, du discours qui lui est propre. [3]

Ce procédé permet tout de même d’avoir l’avis d’un psychologue à un coût nettement réduit (environ 50‐100€) en un laps de temps relativement court. Notons cependant que les moyens (en terme de temps, d’outils et de nombre d’entretiens) mis en oeuvre lors des expertises restent bien plus importants, et ce, tout particulièrement au niveau du nombre d’entretiens fixés avec l’enfant.

Le point négatif souligné par la juge de la Jeunesse qui a recours à ces auditions d’enfant, est le fait que certains psychologues essayent de réaliser une expertise. Or, ce n’est pas ce qui leur est demandé.

Les auditions d’enfants par un psychologue, semblent néanmoins être un moyen moins coûteux et plus rapide d’obtenir l’avis d’un psychologue sur un dossier. Notre échantillon ne nous a cependant pas permis de nous rendre compte de l’ampleur de cette pratique.

• Conclusion

De manière générale, la communication autour de ces collaborations (juges – mesures d’instruction) apparaît comme un élément clé. Nous avons pu remarquer que tous n’ont pas la même définition des mesures d’instruction, ce qui, par conséquent, les amène à avoir des attentes différentes. Il nous semble que ce probable manque de communication, et la méconnaissance qu’il engendre, seraient à l’origine du discours parfois décourageant tenu par certains professionnels à l’encontre des autres professions du secteur du droit familial.

La médiation

Nous avons interrogé les médiateurs au sujet de leur profession, de la vision qu’ils en avaient.

Notre premier constat à été d’observer que les médiateurs rencontrés provenaient d’horizons professionnels divers et variés mais ils sont néanmoins regroupés en trois catégories de médiateurs : les avocats, les notaires, et les « tiers [4] ».

Beaucoup de médiateurs interrogés se sont formés à la médiation suite à un événement personnel : une séparation, des difficultés relationnelles au sein de leur famille, etc.

Pour les avocats, il s’agissait plutôt de poser un autre regard sur une même situation Il apparaît clairement que le conflit tel qu’il peut parfois être géré par les avocats insatisfait par moment certains, ce qui les a amenés à se réorienter professionnellement. Les situations rencontrées dans le cadre d’une médiation sont assez similaires à celles rencontrées par les avocats. C’est définitivement le regard posé sur celles‐ci qui se veut différent. Le rapport au conflit et la manière d’y réfléchir sont des éléments dont les avocats médiateurs nous ont tous parlé. Il semble donc qu’il s’agisse d’éléments déterminants les ayant amenés à faire de la médiation.

Le deuxième constat qui découle de ces interviews est de loin celui qui semble le plus préoccuper les médiateurs. Il s’agit de leur difficulté à pratiquer la médiation, judiciaire ou non. Sur la dizaine de médiateurs rencontrés, une petite moitié nous a confié fréquemment recevoir des médiés envoyés par le juge. Nous remarquons que ceux qui ont la meilleure collaboration avec les tribunaux sont ceux qui ont pu communiquer avec les magistrats et leur expliquer en quoi leur travail consistait. Cet élément semble encourager une meilleure communication entre les deux professions. Il apparaît également que les médiateurs les plus sollicités pour des médiations judiciaires sont ceux qui pratiquent les coûts les plus bas, pouvant aller jusqu’à la gratuité. Les professionnels exerçant en asbl ou en planning familial nous expliquent donc ne pas connaître ces difficultés. Ce qui va dans le sens des déclarations des juges puisqu’ils ont affirmé être particulièrement attentifs aux coûts qui devront être pris en charge par le justiciable.

Concernant la médiation judiciaire, deux facteurs ressortent. A savoir, le coût de la médiation et la communication interprofessionnelle. La seconde moitié des médiateurs, travaille le plus fréquemment dans le cadre de médiation « spontanée », c’est‐à‐dire débutées à l’initiative du ou des médié(s).

Les médiateurs nous ont expliqué souffrir du manque d’information dont dispose le grand public à leur égard, et souhaiteraient d’avantage se faire connaître. Il semblerait que certains magistrats manquent, eux aussi, d’information à ce sujet.

Le troisième élément largement abordé par les médiateurs est celui relatif à la formation. Les médiateurs nous ont énormément parlé de formation, la leur, mais surtout celle des autres. Nous avons pu observer qu’un véritable débat existait à ce sujet. En nous basant sur les témoignages, nous comprenons que deux formations existent, une troisième est également accessible, à Louvain‐la‐Neuve, mais personne ne l’a évoquée.

La première, dispensée par le Barreau, est destinée aux avocats. Le cycle de formation dure 90 h et les avocats ont ensuite l’obligation de continuer à se former régulièrement.

La seconde est un post graduat de deux ans et demi, comprenant cours théoriques et stages, elle est destinée à ce que l’on appelle les « tiers ».

Les uns critiquent la formation des autres. Les médiateurs tiers déplorent le manque de formation en psychologie et en médiation des avocats médiateurs, tandis que ceux‐ci reprochent aux premiers leur manque d’acquis juridiques.

Comme précédemment cité lorsque nous avons abordé la question du rôle des avocats, l’ensemble des professionnels du droit familial remet majoritairement en cause la double casquette « avocat et médiateur ». Il en va de même des notaires médiateurs que certains nous ont décrit comme incapables de saisir la dynamique du conflit, eux qui auraient une représentation figée des choses de par leur profession d’origine.

La profession de médiateur nous apparaît, somme toute, divisée en deux à trois catégories se discréditant les unes les autres. Cette profession éprouvant déjà quelques difficultés à s’imposer, nous pouvons imaginer que cette pratique dessert plutôt l’image de la médiation auprès du grand public mais également auprès des autres professionnels du secteur.

Nous reprenons la suggestion d’une médiatrice tiers qui nous disait que l’essentiel était d’informer les parents sur les spécificités de la formation des uns et des autres et que, même actuellement, un parent qui se rend chez un avocat médiateur n’a pas exactement les mêmes intentions, les mêmes attentes, qu’un autre allant chez un médiateur « tiers ».

Ensuite, nous avons interrogé les médiateurs sur le moment auquel les parents entament une médiation. Il est apparu qu’elles pouvaient avoir lieu à des moments fort différents. Les médiations les plus rares sont celles que l’ont peut qualifier de « préventives ». Le médiateur est alors consulté avant que le couple n’ait pris de décision. La majorité des consultations se feraient pendant les procédures ou alors, bien après celles‐ci.

Dans le premier cas, il s’agit le plus souvent de médiations entamées sur base du conseil d’un juge ou d’un avocat, ce sont, semble‐t‐il, les avocats médiateurs les principaux concernés par ces demandes. Dans le second cas, il s’agit de parents consultant de nombreuses années après qu’une décision de justice ait été prise, cette dernière ne leur convenant plus. Il arrive parfois qu’ils engagent, en parallèle à la médiation, de nouvelles procédures judiciaires, mais pas forcément. Les médiateurs tiers sont ceux qui semblent le plus sollicités dans le cadre de ce type de demandes. Enfin, à l’unanimité, un moment est généralement désigné comme inopportun pour débuter une médiation, il s’agit du « dernier instant », lorsque tout a été essayé et qu’il serait tentant de proposer la médiation comme  « solution miracle » en dépit de l’enlisement dans lequel se trouvent les parties.

Lorsque nous avons examiné la question du coût de la médiation, nous avons recensé des séances allant de la gratuité jusqu’à une centaine d’euro en fonction du type de médiateur et du cadre dans lequel la médiation se déroulait. Ainsi, les asbl et les plannings sont ceux qui proposent les tarifs les plus bas, le premier cas de figure concerne généralement des médiateurs tiers, alors qu’en planning on y retrouve habituellement des médiateurs juristes, en raison des contraintes des fédérations de planning réglementant l’engagement du personnel. Les médiations les plus chères sont celles des avocats médiateurs, 75€, 80€, 90€, allant parfois jusqu’à 100€. Ajoutons qu’il est possible de bénéficier des services d’un avocat médiateur « prodéo », mais uniquement lorsqu’on remplit certaines conditions économiques.

Nous avons constaté de grandes variations concernant le nombre de consultations constituant une médiation. La durée de la médiation et le nombre de séances qu’elle comporte peuvent, en fait, être mis en lien avec son coût. Il semble en effet que plus les séances sont onéreuses, moins elles soient nombreuses. Les médiations les plus brèves durent environ trois séances.

Une médiation peut prendre jusqu’à 15 séances. Une séance peut durer jusqu’à 2h, avec une moyenne de 1h à 1h30. Elles concernent principalement les notaires médiateurs et certains avocats médiateurs. Entre ces deux extrêmes, 15 et 3 séances, une majorité de médiateurs, avocats ou tiers, pratiquent des médiations de quatre, cinq, six voire sept séances.

Les médiateurs nous ont rapporté qu’ils étaient consultés, toute orientation confondue, pour deux raisons principales. En première position se situe la question de l’hébergement des enfants qui est de loin, la plus fréquente. En seconde position, viennent les questions financières et matérielles. (Qui garde la maison, comment se partage t‐on les biens ? Etc.) L’hébergement alterné, en particulier, semble être à l’origine de beaucoup de demandes de médiation, ce mode de garde posant à la fois des questions d’acceptation et d’organisation.

Les difficultés d’organisation liées à l’alternance les plus fréquemment citées sont : la répartition des vacances, la conciliation de la vie familiale avec la recomposition familiale, la répartition des frais extraordinaires, le montant de la part contributive, et le partage des allocations familiales et de l’avantage fiscal. Notons que certaines médiations concernent l’ensemble de la problématique du divorce ou de la séparation, alors que d’autres sont plus ciblées autour d’un ou deux point(s) de questionnement.

Lorsqu’il a été question de la représentation qu’ont les médiateurs de leur fonction et de ses objectifs, nous nous sommes aperçus qu’il existait différentes écoles de pensée. Chacune d’entre elles conditionnant leur conception du rôle de médiateur et leur manière d’en évaluer les objectifs. La première catégorie de médiateurs est opposée à une recherche de l’accord à tout prix. C’est la relation qui doit être travaillée. Le critère de réussite de ces médiations est donc relationnel, on est ici attentif à la restauration du lien, de la communication et du respect mutuel. Dans ce cas, la médiation n’aboutira à la rédaction d’un accord que si cela est nécessaire. Pour la seconde catégorie de médiateurs, la solution aux problèmes des médiés occupe une grande place dans leur discours. Leur critère est donc matériel, l’objectif étant l’accord en tant que document, rédigé par le médiateur et signé par les parties. L’accord va généralement être le critère recherché par les avocats et les notaires, alors que les médiateurs tiers vont accorder de l’importance aux critères plus abstraits que sont le lien et la communication.

Nous terminons par ce que nous appelons une situation «contre‐indiquée à la médiation». Il s’agit des cas ou un des membres du couple a une relation d’emprise sur l’autre, exerçant alors une forme de manipulation. La médiation ne ferait, dans ce contexte, que renforcer la parole du plus fort. Ce serait alors la responsabilité du médiateur de détecter cela et d’interrompre le processus de médiation.

La place de l’enfant

Les enfants, même s’ils ne sont pas « partie » au sens juridique du terme, occupent une place importante au sein des procédures. C’est d’ailleurs au nom de leur intérêt que le magistrat va être amené à trancher quant à leur mode d’hébergement et que parents et intervenants du monde juridique se revendiquent.

Nous avons pu observer que le rôle prévu pour l’enfant par le cadre légal était différent en fonction de son âge et du tribunal auprès duquel la requête était introduite.

Effectivement, l’enfant à partir de 12 ans recevra automatiquement une convocation à son nom si les procédures se déroulent au sein du Tribunal de la Jeunesse. Il sera alors invité à être entendu, sans y être obligé. Au sein d’un autre tribunal, si l’enfant de plus de 12 ans veut être entendu, il devra en faire la demande par écrit au juge en charge du dossier. Les mineurs de moins de 12 ans sont moins fréquemment entendus. Des différences existent cependant en fonction du juge à qui l’appréciation de la situation et donc de la maturité de l’enfant est laissée.

Nous avons précédemment évoqué la place de l’enfant au sein des médiations. Rares sont les médiateurs qui les rencontrent, principalement parce qu’ils estiment ne pas avoir une formation leur permettant de le faire. L’enfant est donc généralement cantonné à la place de la « chaise vide », absent physiquement mais très présent dans le discours des parents.

Nous avons également constaté que les acteurs du monde judiciaire s’interrogeaient sur ce qu’il convient de rapporter au parent des paroles de l’enfant. C’est ainsi que certains juges ont pour habitude de retranscrire l’intégralité des dires de l’enfant dans le rapport à disposition de l’avocat des parents, alors que d’autres suivent les désirs de l’enfant et ne font par seulement de ce qu’il les autorise à répéter, et donc, à prendre en compte pour le dossier. Il en ressort également que, pour la majorité des magistrats, le cadre de l’audition d’enfant doit être bien posé et que ce dernier sache exactement à quoi s’en tenir à ce sujet.

Les motivations parentales à l’hébergement des enfants

Les motivations généralement reprises par les parents sont : le fait qu’un des parents évalue que l’autre parent n’a pas les capacités éducatives suffisantes, la distance géographique entre les domiciles parentaux, le maintien des contacts entre l’enfant et ses frères et soeurs issus d’une autre union, la volonté d’un des parents de “changer de vie” et de moins assumer la charge des enfants, les disponibilités horaire au regard de la vie professionnelle, le fait qu’un des deux ne désire pas héberger les enfants plus d’un certain temps, et, dans une faible mesure, le fait que le parent souhaite que l’enfant continue à voir aussi bien son père que sa mère ou encore de ne plus payer de part contributive.

Nous pouvons donc remarquer qu’à la question : “Qu’est‐ce qui a motivé votre choix d’hébergement ?”, personne n’a évoqué la volonté ou l’intérêt de l’enfant. Les professionnels rapportent que les parents motivent leurs demandes par le souhait d’avoir les mêmes droits que l’autre parent, de trouver l’intérêt de l’enfant, de s’investir autant que l’autre, et de se trouver sur un pied d’égalité au niveau décisionnel et tout particulièrement en ce qui concerne la scolarité des enfants.

Le discours tenu devant les tribunaux semble alors courtois et poli, et reflétant, au final, assez peu les véritables motivations des parents qui elles, nous semblent plutôt terre‐à‐terre et surtout faites de considérations pratiques.

Par rapport à cela, on peut alors faire le lien avec ce qu’un expert pédopsychiatrique auprès des tribunaux, nous a dit, à savoir que le tribunal est le lieu des convenances et de la politesse et non celui de l’évaluation des relations parent‐enfant.

On peut donc souligner que les motivations des parents rapportées par les professionnels sont bien différentes. Il était alors question de concept tels que l’égalité parentale et l’intérêt de l’enfant.

On peut se demander si le tribunal est l’endroit le plus adéquat pour régler le conflit familial. Quels sont les moyens donnés aux juges pour approcher la réalité telle qu’elle est vécue par les parents ?

A la suite de De Scheemaeker (2008), nous rappelons le débat initié par Hayez et Kinoo (2005) sur l’ingérence de l’Etat dans le privé des familles. En effet, ils mettent en exergue le paradoxe entre le droit reconnu aux deux parents d’exercer la fonction parentale après séparation et le fait que l’Etat déciderait de l’organisation de la vie parent‐enfant.

Notons cependant que plusieurs magistrats nous ont expliqué percevoir une motivation cachée derrière les arguments présentés face à la justice, ils manqueraient cependant de moyens pour les identifier clairement.

Les questions du temps et des moyens accordés à la justice, pour lui permettre d’approcher au plus près la réalité des parents, sont ici centrales.

Le profil des parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné

D’après notre sondage, non‐représentatif, le parent‐type est âgé de 30 à 40 ans, diplômé de l’enseignement supérieur et universitaire, et preste un temps plein dans le cadre d’une activité d’employé ou de cadre moyen. Ce qui semble se confirmer par la partie quantitative de notre recherche. Les parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné égalitaire que nous avons rencontrés ont en grande majorité, un statut d’employé. 7 ont un statut d’indépendant et 4 sont sans emploi. 17 parents avaient 2 enfants au moment de la séparation, 11 en avaient 1, tandis qu’une minorité en avaient 3 (7 parents) et 4 (4 parents).

De par leurs statuts professionnels, nous pouvons supposer que le profil des parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné semble correspondre à ce qu’en dit la majorité des professionnels rencontrés. À savoir que ceux pratiquant l’hébergement égalitaire étaient issus des classes moyennes supérieures, et d’un milieu intellectuellement favorisé. Ces constats ne constituent cependant que des tendances, et ne vont pas à l’encontre de l’idée selon laquelle l’hébergement de type égalitaire existe au sein de tous les milieux.

Il faut cependant être prudent, ce constat d’écoulant peut‐être directement du biais de représentativité.

Les vécu des parents quant à la séparation/ divorce et quant au mode d’hébergement mis en place

En ce qui concerne l’hébergement égalitaire, il apparaît que les problèmes pratiques qui surviennent ont principalement trait aux aspects affectifs. Par ailleurs, nous constatons, parmi notre échantillon quantitatif, que les parents sont plus de 40% à avoir été confrontés à des problèmes sur le plan organisationnel. Enfin, les problèmes financiers et sur le plan éducationnel sont rencontrés dans les mêmes proportions (un tiers de notre échantillon).

De manière générale, les parents évoquent souvent le ressenti de leurs enfants lorsqu’on les questionne sur leur vécu de l’hébergement. La situation est alors décrite, par les parents, comme demeurant plutôt triste et parfois douloureuse. Beaucoup soulignent tout de même que le temps a permis une adaptation et un apaisement des difficultés.

Nous avons tenté d’identifier ce que les parents évoquaient le plus fréquemment comme étant les avantages du mode d’hébergement qu’ils ont mis en place. Les éléments les plus cités sont : une meilleure relation avec leurs enfants, une plus grande liberté retrouvée, la possibilité d’un investissement professionnel plus important, un sentiment d’équité et un investissement plus important dans le quotidien de l’enfant. Le fait que l’enfant voit ses deux parents et que les tâches soient partagées entre les parents sont également des avantages qui ont été relevés. Pour les parents ayant leurs enfants en hébergement principal, cela leur permet d’être le parent le plus présent et ayant une forme de contrôle sur la vie de l’enfant. Pour quelques pères, l’hébergement alterné leur a permis de poursuivre l’investissement qu’ils avaient dans la vie de l’enfant déjà du temps de la vie de couple.

Le plus souvent, l’hébergement alterné leur apporte un sentiment d’équité dans le sens où il est synonyme d’égalité au niveau de la répartition du temps passé avec les enfants. Pour certains parents, il s’agissait de garantir l’épanouissement des parents dans leur rôle parental au travers d’un égal partage du temps passé avec les enfants.

Pour les parents ayant leurs enfants en hébergement principal, cela leur permet d’être le parent de référence, le parent ayant plus de contrôle que l’autre et plus d’implication dans la vie de ses enfants, mais cela ne va pas sans la fatigue qui en découle.

Les désavantages perçus et/ou vécu comme étant des difficultés sont : le fait de “passer à côté” de tout un pan de la vie de l’enfant, de devoir sans cesse changer d’habitudes et subir les conséquences de la discontinuité entre les deux lieux de vie, de supporter le vide laissé par le départ de l’enfant, et l’“assignation à résidence” induite par l’alternance. Les disparités éducatives entre les parents sont également très souvent l’objet de plaintes. Le fait de devoir rester en contact est également pointé. Certains parents nous ont dit leur difficulté de laisser leur enfant aller chez quelqu’un en qui ils n’avaient pas confiance, allant parfois jusqu’à craindre pour leur sécurité. Les transports, le fait de faire les sacs et de devoir gérer les oublis qui en découlent, sont généralement les inconvénients associés à l’hébergement égalitaire. Pour les parents pratiquant un hébergement principal, une des difficultés supplémentaires est la fatigue liée au fait de devoir assumer l’enfant quasiment seul(e).

Pour finir, une difficulté liée à tous les modes d’hébergement est le fait que l’enfant se trouve en présence du nouveau compagnon ou de la nouvelle compagne de l’autre parent.

Pour les parents ayant leurs enfants en hébergement principal, deux éléments se distinguaient clairement. La gestion tant quotidienne que financière des enfants et celle de la fatigue liée à l’importante charge induite par l’hébergement principal. Beaucoup de pères et de mères ayant leurs enfants la quasi totalité du temps nous ont dit combien cela pouvait être fatiguant. Cette fatigue est notamment la résultante du fait que l’essentiel des charges liées à l’enfant sont assumées par un seul parent. La gestion financière pose également problème dans bien des cas.

Une éventuelle responsabilisation des enfants a également été pointée par certains parents. Cet élément apparaît tantôt comme une conséquence positive, tantôt comme un élément plutôt négatif. Il n’est pas rare que les enfants de divorcés soient décrits comme étant plus matures que les autres enfants de leur âge. Certains auteurs [5] soutiennent même qu’une fois adultes, ils sont généralement plus autonomes et responsables que leurs pairs issus de familles unies. D’après le discours des parents, deux éléments semblent potentiellement être explicatifs. Premièrement le fait que les enfants soient amenés à devoir anticiper leurs besoins et prévoir des bagages une semaine à l’avance. Deuxièmement, le fait qu’un seul parent doive assumer la gestion du ménage là où avant deux personnes avaient cette charge, amène souvent l’enfant à y participer et à plus aider son parent qu’il ne l’aurait fait si la séparation n’était pas survenue.

Pour finir, l’alternance étant propre à tout mode d’hébergement, à l’exception d’un hébergement exclusif qui amènerait l’enfant à ne plus voir un de ses parents, elle amène fréquemment les parents à se revoir ou en tous cas, à rester en contact.

Autre élément présenté comme un inconvénient lié à l’hébergement égalitaire, il s’agit du fait que l’enfant se trouve, une partie du temps, dans un milieu éducatif différent de celui que l’autre parent voudrait instaurer. Nous avons pu voir qu’avec une séparation, les différences entre les pratiques éducatives qui existaient entre les conjoints du temps de la vie commune se sont généralement exacerbées. Une minorité de parents seulement suit une même ligne éducative après concertation, d’un foyer à l’autre. Nous y reviendrons lorsque la question de l’entente parentale sera abordée.

Nous avons interrogé les parents sur le rôle qu’ils pensaient que leur ancien conjoint/ partenaire, tenait auprès de leurs enfants communs. Pour certains des professionnels que nous avons rencontrés, l’hébergement égalitaire constitue un moyen de lutter contre un risque de rupture du lien parental puisqu’il semble qu’en cas d’hébergement principal l’enfant cesse très fréquemment de voir le parent qui n’a qu’un hébergement secondaire.

D’après les témoignages que nous avons recueillis, trois types de “places”, de “rôles” semblent se dégager. Certains seraient aussi présents que l’autre parent. D’autres sont présents mais sans réellement assumer leur rôle de parent et ayant une relation plutôt axée sur le divertissement. D’autres encore, n’auraient, d’après leur ancien conjoint, quasiment plus de place ou plus de place du tout dans la vie des enfants. Nous avons pu remarquer que les parents qualifiés de parents “loisirs”, ou de parents absents étaient dans la grande majorité des cas des parents ayant l’hébergement secondaire de leur enfant. Il arrive cependant que certains de ces parents voyant leur enfant deux week‐ends par mois, parviennent à avoir une autorité bien installée et à assumer pleinement leur rôle de père ou de mère. Dans les cas d’hébergement égalitaire de notre échantillon, il est très fréquent que le parent reconnaisse une place importante à l’autre. Notons cependant que bien que l’hébergement ait un impact important sur le type de relation parent‐enfant, l’organisation telle qu’elle existait du temps de la vie commune peut également avoir une influence considérable.

Les modes d’organisation concrets

• Les rythmes d’alternance

Lorsqu’un hébergement égalitaire a été mis en place au moment de la séparation, le rythme en était hebdomadaire pour les trois quarts de notre échantillon. Ils étaient 19% à fonctionner selon un hébergement bi ou trihebdomadaire et seulement 6% avaient instauré une alternance quotidienne. Ainsi, parmi les alternances possibles d’hébergement égalitaire, l’alternance par semaine est celle qui est la plus répandue.

Ce constat vient appuyer les résultats du volet qualitatif de notre recherche, la majorité des parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné ayant opté pour l’alternance de semaine en semaine.

• Frais extraordinaires et loisirs

Cet élément est de loin celui qui pose le plus de problèmes. Grand oubli de bon nombre de conventions, il est très rare que les parents aient prit un accord très précis à ce sujet. Il n’est pas rare de lire qu’il est prévu que les frais extraordinaires soient partagés. Oui mais, dans quelles proportions ?

• Le choix du domicile de l’enfant

Beaucoup des parents de notre échantillon rencontrent des problèmes d’ordre administratif liés à la domiciliation de l’enfant. Outre les implications pratiques, financières, administratives, nous avons pu voir qu’il existait derrière celles‐ci un aspect symbolique parfois extrêmement fort. C’est ainsi que la question de la domiciliation de l’enfant peut tout à fait être le lieu d’un enjeu considérable pour les ex‐conjoints. Certains parents nous ont confié s’être sentis « moins parents » lorsque leur enfant n’était pas domicilié avec eux. La domiciliation des enfants a donc un impact, à la fois pratique, administratif, fiscal, et symbolique.

Dans la pratique, nous avons constaté que, lorsque le domicile n’était conservé par aucun parent, les enfants étaient généralement domiciliés avec leur mère, celle‐ci procédant au changement d’adresse de l’enfant, dans la foulée du leur, sans se rendre compte du réel impact de leur choix. Par contre, lorsque le domicile est conservé, l’adresse de l’enfant est rarement modifiée et, dans ce cas, quel que soit le parent qui y reste domicilié.

• Mutualité et remboursement des soins de santé

Une partie de notre échantillon, des mères essentiellement, même si leur vécu correspond aussi à celui de quelques pères que nous avons interrogés, ne se sont pas posé la question et garde de manière permanente, la carte SIS en leur possession. Elles se trouvent généralement dans une situation où elles continuent à assumer l’intégralité du versant médical et soins de l’éducation de l’enfant, en dépit de l’instauration d’un hébergement égalitaire et du fait qu’une maladie survienne en dehors de « leur semaine ». Dans pareilles situations, l’autre parent a peu d’intérêt à posséder la carte SIS.

Pour une autre part de notre échantillon, cette carte SIS a bien souvent été au centre de querelles, l’un des parents, plus négligeant, ayant perdu la carte à une ou plusieurs reprises.

Très peu de parents connaissent l’existence d’un duplicata renouvelable tous les 2 mois à 6 mois en fonction de l’endroit où il est délivré. Il nous semble cependant qu’il serait utile que cette information soit diffusée.

• Les allocations familiales

Il apparaît que dans les cas d’hébergement alterné de type égalitaire, la répartition des allocations familiales se fait rarement tel que cela était prévu par la convention. Les allocations sont alors souvent laissées au parent se trouvant dans la situation économique la plus difficile, il s’agit alors d’une sorte de « compensation ».

D’autres parents rencontrés ont témoigné de différents stratagèmes leur permettant de bénéficier des allocations les plus élevées possibles en fonction des logiques de majoration.

Il semble qu’une réflexion sur la pertinence de la philosophie des allocations familiales qui favorise financièrement la natalité soit utile. En effet, il n’est peut‐être pas opportun que le rang des enfants détermine le montant perçu, dans un sens progressif, un troisième enfant ne coûtant pas plus cher qu’un premier ‐ bien au contraire.

• Les parts contributives

Sur le plan financier, nous constatons que pour notre volet quantitatif ils sont près de 40% à ne pas percevoir, ni verser de pension alimentaire. A l’inverse, ils sont 51% à soit percevoir (35%), soit verser une pension alimentaire (16%). Ils sont seulement 3% à fonctionner en versant chacun une somme sur un compte commun .

Ce que nous avons appris en menant cette recherche va dans le sens d’un constat de difficultés pratiques concernant l’application de la loi au quotidien. Ces difficultés qui s’avèrent parfois de nature à augmenter les tensions entre ex‐conjoints, voire à rendre les conflits inévitables.

Au fil des témoignages, nous avons à plusieurs occasions constaté que les contributions alimentaires sont un sujet à haut risque dans les relations entre ex‐conjoints. Lorsqu’il y a conflit, le paiement des contributions alimentaires se révèle souvent un enjeu considérable. Selon les situations, elles peuvent ainsi mettre en difficulté tant celui qui les paie, que celui qui est censé les recevoir.

Il n’est effectivement pas rare que les parts contributives restent impayées. Dans ce cas, bon nombre de parents attendent que les montants dus soient suffisamment élevés pour que l’action en justice se justifie financièrement. Sans quoi, le parent introduisant une requête devant le tribunal risquerait de dépenser plus d’argent en frais d’avocat que ce qu’il en récupèrerait grâce à la procédure. En rapport avec ces parts contributives non payées, nous avons relevé qu’aucun parent interrogé ne nous a parlé du SECAL. Peut-être ne se trouvaient t‐ils pas dans les conditions financières leur donnant accès à ses services. Peut-être, également, n’en n’ont‐ils pas fait la demande, ignorant l’existence de cet organisme et ses missions.

Nous avons également constaté que les personnes rencontrées pensaient que l’hébergement égalitaire excluait qu’une pension alimentaire soit fixée. La loi prévoit pourtant qu’en cas de différence de revenus significative, et malgré l’instauration d’un hébergement égalitaire, l’un des parents peut être contraint de payer une part contributive à l’autre parent dans le but d’égaliser leurs revenus.

• Le Logement

De nombreux témoins nous on dit la difficulté de trouver un logement satisfaisant pour les parents séparés, qui allient à la fois loyer raisonnable, espace suffisant et proximité des lieux extérieurs importants dans la vie de l’enfant (logement de l’autre parent, école, lieux de loisirs,…). Ainsi, de nombreux parents se trouvent assez limités en termes de choix de logement et contraints de vivre dans un logement qui ne convient pas tout à fait aux besoins du ménage. Observons que, le principe de l’hébergement égalitaire augmente le besoin d’un logement de grande taille puisque chaque parent doit disposer d’une habitation adaptée à l’hébergement des enfants, dans de bonnes conditions, une semaine sur deux (ou selon l’alternance choisie).

En fonction des possibilités financières et/ou d’un manque d’habitation à disposition, certains parents nous ont fait part de périodes de « camping » plus ou moins longs. Dans la plupart des cas, celles‐ci suivaient directement la séparation.

Nous avons également rencontré des parents concernés par des demandes de logements sociaux. Si désormais les sociétés de logements sociaux tiennent compte du nombre d’enfants qui habitent réellement dans le ménage (en abandonnant le critère de l’hébergement majoritaire temporellement), les listes d’attente et les budgets serrés risquent bien d’amener à privilégier les ménages qui occupent les lieux à temps plein, au détriment de ceux qui laissent parfois, en fonction de l’alternance de l’hébergement, des chambres inoccupées.

A nouveau, ici, nous voyons apparaître des arrangements qui permettent au parent introduisant la demande de logement social de mettre plus de « chances » de son côté. Ce qui implique que les ex‐conjoints puissent s’accorder sur ces pratiques par des négociations ou compromis autour de la domiciliation des enfants.

Concernant le domicile anciennement occupé par le couple, nous constatons qu’un des parents rachète généralement la part de l’autre parent. Il est dans ce cas très important pour eux que l’enfant garde ce repère.

Dans notre échantillon, les parents ayant vendu leur domicile et devant chacun se reloger sont minoritaires. Rappelons que la majorité des parents interrogés sont issus d’un milieu socio‐économique assez favorisé.

• La consommation d’eau

La consommation d’eau subit une différence de tarification en fonction du nombre de personnes occupant l’habitation. Ainsi, ici le nombre de m³ d’eau à un tarif avantageux est fixé par la domiciliation. Cela implique pour le parent dont les enfants ne sont pas domiciliés chez lui qu’il subisse une tarification d’eau ne correspondant pas à la réelle taille du ménage.

• Autres primes, aides, prêts et réductions

Les divers témoignages que nous avons recueillis nous amènent à un même constat, à savoir que les critères d’attribution de ces dernières ne permettent pas de prendre en considération la réalité d’un ménage vivant un hébergement à tendance égalitaire.

Cela signifie donc qu’un parent vivant une situation de fait qui l’amène à être dans les conditions d’octroi d’une prime, d’une aide ou d’une réduction, ne peut guère en bénéficier parce qu’administrativement, les critères d’octroi ne sont pas remplis. Ainsi, le parent est de nouveau confronté à l’écart entre sa situation de fait et sa situation administrative. Certains témoignages expriment particulièrement la complexité du système administratif et ses aspects obsolètes en regard des nombreuses structures familiales existantes. (Par exemple, carte de famille nombreuse, etc.)

• Le transfert des enfants

Afin d’éviter des confrontations pénibles, nous avons noté que beaucoup de parents se servaient de l’école comme lieu de transfert, privilégiant ainsi la neutralité de l’endroit.

• Garde enfant malade

Le constat principal est indépendant du mode d’hébergement mis en place. Ce sont en grande majorité les mères qui s’absentent de leur travail pour garder un enfant malade. Dans la plupart des cas, elles trouvent cependant une solution dés le second jour. Elles font alors appel aux grands‐parents, à des babysitteuses, ou parfois, à des gardes d’enfants malades professionnelles.

• Fiscalité

Dans le cas d’hébergement alterné, nous avons pu remarquer, au même titre que les allocations familiales, que l’avantage fiscal était souvent laissé au parent éprouvant le plus de difficultés financières, il s’agit alors d’une sorte de compensation.

Il est également très répandu qu’un parent, généralement celui pour lequel cela se révèlera le plus avantageux, déclare à lui seul tous les enfants. Dans pareille situation, les parents s’arrangent ensuite entre eux pour fixer le montant qui devra être reversé à celui ne déclarant pas. Ce type d’arrangement repose bien souvent sur l’entente parentale, il est donc assez fragile.

Une minorité de parents demande à bénéficier de l’avantage fiscal partagé.

• Vêtements et transport des affaires

Différentes questions se posent lorsqu’il est question du transfert de l’enfant d’un domicile à l’autre. La première concerne la lessive. La plupart des parents pratiquant l’hébergement alterné de notre échantillon font respectivement la lessive des vêtements de leur enfant. A l’inverse, la quasi‐totalité des parents hébergeant leur enfant de manière principale, assument seuls la corvée de lessive. Ils récupèrent des sacs de linge sale au retour des week‐ends et des vacances.

Ensuite, vient la question de l’achat de vêtements. Il apparaît que les mères achètent généralement plus d’habits que les pères, généralement par goût plutôt que par nécessité, ce qui ne les empêchent pas de se sentir lésées sur le plan financier. Beaucoup partagent les frais importants relatifs à l’habillement, par exemple l’achat annuel d’une nouvelle paire de chaussures et d’une veste d’hiver.

La taille des bagages et le nombre d’affaires suivant l’enfant dans ces déplacements ont largement été évoqués par (Il n’accepte plus d’avoir deux gardes robes, livres scolaires, etc.) Ce constat pourrait en partie expliquer un certain abandon de l’hébergement alterné au moment de l’adolescence.

Les gros inconvénients relatifs à ce transport d’effets sont les très fréquents oublis que parents et enfants déplorent. Il est alors nécessaire, lorsque les parents le permettent, d’effectuer de nombreux allers‐retours entre les domiciles parentaux.

L’entente parentale

Un lien important peut être établi entre l’entente parentale et les modes d’organisation concrets, surtout si l’on considère qu’en cas d’hébergement égalitaire, la souplesse, la flexibilité, l’apaisement des tensions et la communication sont autant d’ingrédients de poids dans le succès de la mise en place de ce mode d’hébergement.

Le questionnaire nous a appris que la formule d’hébergement a été choisie dans la majorité des cas d’un commun accord (44% des réponses). Ils sont 28% à avoir entériné un accord commun par une décision de justice.

En ce qui concerne la prise de décision avec l’ex‐partenaire, nous voyons lors du volet quantitatif que les prises de décision sont vécues majoritairement sur le mode du désaccord ou de l’absence de discussion. Ainsi, près de 30% de nos répondants estiment n’être jamais d’accord avec leur ancien partenaire lors d’une prise de décision et ils sont 28% à fonctionner sans réel accord, le parent qui héberge prenant la décision seul. Toutefois, ils sont 43% à agir en concertation le plus possible et 20% parmi ceux‐ci considèrent agir de manière tout à fait concertée.

Sur les 58 personnes vivant des difficultés lors des prises de décision avec l’ex‐conjoint, moins de la moitié (48%) ont recours au pouvoir judiciaire pour régler ces questions. Nous pouvons supposer que les désaccords concernent des questions de gestion de la vie quotidienne. Ces questions ne représentant pas assez d’ampleur pour engager des procédures lourdes et couteuses. Il ne s’agit cependant que d’une hypothèse.

Nos répondants au questionnaire sont 21% à avoir eu recours à la justice pour faire respecter l’hébergement. Les recours en justice concernent les deux aspects : soit faire respecter un jugement, soit le modifier, soit les deux.

En se reprnant la typologie décrite par les chercheurs français (2008), F. Brunet, P. Kertudo, S. Malsan, nous pouvons constater que la “coparentalité associative” [6] est le modèle minoritaire dans notre échantillon qualitatif. Il nous semble que ce modèle est plutôt temporaire.

Le modèle de la “coparentalité tolérante” ou la “collaboration civilisée” [7] est bien représenté. Nombreux sont ceux qui ont fondé un certain équilibre autour de la recherche du meilleur intérêt de l’enfant.

Les parents des deux modèles que nous venons de citer veillent à ce que l’enfant ne soit pas chargé de la communication. Il s’agit d’une pratique qu’ils veulent à tout prix éviter.

Les parents dont l’organisation correspond aux deux premiers modèles évoquent une certaine liberté liée au fait que le système mis en place reste souple, flexible et adaptable, notamment lorsqu’il s’agit des dates de départ en vacances.

Le troisième modèle, la “biparentalité” ou la “parentalité parallèle” [8] , concerne près de la moitié des parents de notre échantillon. Les tensions au sein des anciens couples restent bien souvent présentes, même si la séparation date de nombreuses années. Les recours à la justice en cas de désaccord ne sont pas rares. La communication est souvent rompue. Lorsque les enfants sont passés d’un hébergement alterné à un hébergement principal exclusif [9] ou lorsqu’ils sont en âge d’être autonomes, la communication entre les parents ne se fait tout simplement plus. Lorsque les enfants sont encore assez jeunes et qu’une forme d’alternance est maintenue, c’est souvent à eux qu’il incombe de faire passer les messages entre leurs parents.

Il semble que les situations conflictuelles vont généralement de pair avec la mise en place d’un hébergement principal. Il ne s’agit plus d’un sentiment que d’une réalité statistique. La bonne entente et la flexibilité qui en découle facilitent l’hébergement alterné, mais il semble que leur absence n’empêche pas totalement la mise en place d’un hébergement égalitaire. L’hébergement égalitaire en cas de mésentente est cependant vécu comme étant plus contraignant, l’absence de dialogue entre les parents impliquant une certaines rigidité au niveau de l’organisation.

Enfin, si la souplesse et l’adaptation sont un mode de fonctionnement revendiqué par de nombreux parents, il n’en demeure pas moins que l’équilibre mis en place est souvent fragile, ce qui interroge la viabilité même de l’hébergement sur le long terme. Nous avons effectivement remarqué que certains, tant bien que mal, essaient de maintenir cette entente pour qu’une flexibilité soit encore envisageable. Ces efforts, et parfois ces sacrifices, sont parfois difficiles à tenir sur la longueur.

Pistes de recommandation

• Le rapport à la médiation

Beaucoup de professionnels défendent l’idée d’un système où la médiation serait un passage obligé, ne serait‐ce que pour une première séance d’information. Le modèle Canadien est d’ailleurs très souvent cité par l’ensemble des professions du droit familial comme étant un idéal à suivre.

Suite à nos constats, il nous semble qu’un important travail d’information et de publicité au sujet de la médiation reste à faire, et ce, tant auprès des professionnels que des parents. Là où les premiers la conseillent peu, les seconds la connaissent à peine.

• La question de la part contributive

Nous avons constaté que beaucoup des parents de notre échantillon avaient bien des difficultés à obtenir le paiement des parts contributives mais surtout des frais extraordinaires. Il serait alors utile qu’on envisage de budgétiser ces frais extraordinaires, ce qui constituerait un avantage au point de vue du parent payeur, et une plus grande facilité de réclamation en cas de non paiement pour le receveur. Notons également qu’aucun des parents rencontrés n’a évoqué le SECAL, alors que bon nombre d’entre eux se sont trouvés dans des situations économiquement difficiles notamment parce qu’une part contributive restait impayée. Il nous semble dans ce cas utile de renforcer la publicité concernant le SECAL auprès des parents. Nous avons aussi remarqué que les situations les plus difficiles du point de vue économique surviennent dans les premiers moments de la séparation, lorsqu’aucun jugement n’est encore arrêté. Or, sans jugement, il n’est pas possible de s’adresser au SECAL. Nous pouvons supposer que les parents n’en ont pas parlé parce qu’ils n’étaient pas concernés, leur revenus dépassant le plafond fixé pour pouvoir avoir recours à ce service. Dans ce cas, au vu des difficultés économiques qu’ils ont rencontrées, nous pouvons nous interroger sur la pertinence d’un tel plafond et sur l’éventuelle nécessité de l’augmenter.

• Collaboration, information et formation entre les intervenants du droit de la famille

Ce constat nous montre que bon nombre d’éléments vont à l’encontre d’un fonctionnement coordonné et pluridisciplinaire de l’ensemble des intervenants du monde judiciaire. Il nous semble important d’identifier les différents obstacles à cette collaboration et de tenter de mettre en avant différents moyens de les surmonter.

Les représentations qu’ont les professions concernant leurs collègues nous semblent constituer un de ces obstacles. Effectivement, ces représentations se traduisent par un discours assez négatif et décourageant vis‐à‐vis des différents métiers entre lesquels une collaboration pourrait être installée. La proposition d’un avocat présent lors du focus group prend alors tout son sens. Il suggère qu’on amène, très tôt dans leur formation, les différents corps de métier du droit familial à communiquer entre eux. Cela aurait pour objectif d’atténuer le développement de représentations erronées à l’encontre des autres professions. L’idée sous‐jacente est que d’une bonne communication naîtra plus de compréhension.

Nous pourrions également envisager une distribution des rôles entre avocats, juges et médiateurs qui lutterait contre cette impression de concurrence et de dédoublement des compétences.

L’information dont disposent les professionnels au sujet de leurs collègues laisse bien souvent à désirer. Ainsi, nous avons remarqué que les professionnels avaient une conception erronée du rôle du médiateur par exemple, ou encore de l’avocat ou des assistants de justice. Ce manque d’informations exactes a pour conséquence que les différents moyens, dont les mesures d’instruction, mis à disposition du juge mais aussi du justiciable sont utilisés et conseillés inadéquatement. Par exemple, peu de professionnels semblent conscients du fait qu’il existe des contre‐indications à la médiation. Il nous semblerait dans ce cas utile d’organiser des rencontres d’informations entre les différents corps de métier quotidiennement appelés à travailler ensemble qui porteraient sur les rôles de chacun mais également sur les propriétés intrinsèques des mesures d’instructions.

• Accompagnement du justiciable

Les parents estiment avoir manqué d’écoute, d’information et de soutien lors des procédures. Ce sentiment peut en partie s’expliquer par le phénomène que nous venons de décrire. Ils n’ont pas été orientés, ni même informés de l’existence de la médiation, leur avocat y était peut‐être défavorable. Ils n’ont pas été informés d’autres modalités d’organisation de l’alternance. On leur a expliqué que l’hébergement égalitaire « c’était une semaine sur deux », le juge qui a tranché n’était peut‐être pas partisan de l’hébergement par demi‐semaine chez les tout‐petits, etc.

Outre un travail sur les représentations, sur une redistribution des rôles, sur l’information à disposition des professionnels, il nous semble utile de créer un espace d’accompagnement tant pour les parents, que pour les enfants. Différents professionnels pourraient s’y croiser, fiscaliste, avocat, psychologue, médiateur, etc. Le travail de collaboration pourrait alors en être facilité et les justiciables seraient plus susceptibles d’être orientés plus adéquatement. Beaucoup de parents nous ont confié avoir manqué de ce type d’accompagnement, d’un endroit où ils auraient pu acquérir des informations sur leurs droits mais où ils auraient également pu confier leurs sentiments à une oreille attentive. La nécessité d’offrir un espace de parole neutre aux enfants, sans que leurs propos ne puissent avoir de conséquences, comme c’est le cas lors des auditions d’enfant, à été plébiscitée lors du focus group. Il nous semble qu’un tel espace de paroles pourrait être envisagé au sein d’une cellule accompagnant à la fois les parents et les enfants, chacun dans un espace qui leur est propre.

Relatifs à des situations extrêmes, très peu représentées dans notre échantillon de parents, les professionnels ont souligné l’importance de réviser le système d’accompagnement des plaintes pour non‐représentation. Le recours à l’exécution forcée et l’introduction de la médiation au sein de ces situations ont été présentés comme d’éventuelles clés.

• Un projet, le Tribunal des Familles

Le projet du tribunal des familles a longuement et spontanément été abordé par les professionnels du droit de la famille. La grande majorité des magistrats rencontrés y sont favorables. Ils y voient l’occasion de simplifier les procédures aux yeux des parties. Le fait qu’un même juge suive la famille est également pointé comme étant un élément très positif.

Si tous le plébiscitent, peu adhère à l’entièreté du projet tel qu’il leur est présenté. Les Juges aux Référés ne voudraient pas être réduits à l’aspect correctionnel de leur travail, les Juges de Paix s’inquiètent d’une éventuelle perte de leur contentieux familial, les Juges de la Jeunesse doutent qu’il leur restera une charge de travail suffisamment importante et craignent de devoir se réorienter professionnellement, etc. Les avocats espèrent qu’avec la mise en place de ce tribunal, les pratiques vont s’uniformiser, même si d’autres affirment que même un Tribunal des Familles ne modifiera en rien les différences de jurisprudence.

Une majorité y voit l’occasion d’organiser différemment les auditions d’enfants.

Ce dernier point va dans le sens de ce qui a été défendu à la fois par les médiateurs, les avocats et les parents. Beaucoup d’entres eux proposent que les auditions d’enfants soient réalisées par des professionnels de l’écoute. Ils défendent cette suggestion en arguant que dans ces conditions, la parole de l’enfant sera écoutée dans un cadre plus adapté et probablement moins marquant pour l’enfant surtout. Le professionnel de l’écoute serait alors plus à même de distinguer la parole de l’enfant de celle de ses parents et d’identifier un éventuel phénomène d’emprise.

• Rencontres pluridisciplinaires

Nous exposions précédemment notre impression selon laquelle le concept d’intérêt de l’enfant serait utilisé par tous et tout le temps, ce qui a pour conséquence de le vider de son sens. Lors du focus group, il a été proposé de revoir la manière dont les professionnels et tout particulièrement les juges, travaillent avec cette notion d’intérêt de l’enfant. Il ne serait plus question de chercher à définir cette notion mais il faudrait offrir à toute personne, avec la légitimité qui lui est propre, la possibilité d’exprimer « sa » vision, de « son » intérêt.

Devant la justice, le processus serait alors démocratique, chacune de ces visions de l’intérêt de l’enfant ayant droit de cité. La mission du juge serait alors de trancher entre plusieurs visions de l’intérêt de l’enfant, dont celle de la société. L’avocat à l’origine de cette suggestion précise que si le juge est rattaché à une vision particulière de l’intérêt de l’enfant, aucun débat ne serait possible au tribunal, il ne resterait plus qu’à espérer tomber sur un juge ayant la même vision de l’intérêt de l’enfant que soi. Or, comme nous l’avons vu, il n’est pas rare que le juge, guidé par ses valeurs personnelles et son vécu, dispose d’une vision bien particulière de l’intérêt de l’enfant. Des rencontres interprofessionnelles, telles que suggérés précédemment, pourraient également avoir un effet sur la représentation qu’ont les juges de certains concepts. La confrontation de plusieurs points de vue et l’échange mèneraient peut‐être à nuancer certaines idées préconçues. La quasi‐totalité des juges que nous avons rencontrés semblaient persuadés de travailler de la meilleure façon qui soit, de prêter attention aux critères les plus pertinents. Or, tous, ou presque, avaient des pratiques différentes et semblaient peu enclins à une éventuelle remise en question. Il nous semble alors utile que de telles rencontres soient organisées dans le but de parvenir à une certaine uniformisation des critères pris en compte par le juge. Il nous semble intéressant qu’ils puissent exposer ce qui les amène à accorder de l’importance à tel ou tel élément en particulier. Ceci contribuerait peut‐être à une certaine harmonisation entre les jurisprudences et à un amoindrissement du phénomène de « juge par juge » tel que décrit par certains.

• Adaptation des systèmes administratifs et scolaires

Il serait utile que les écoles s’adaptent aux nouvelles réalités familiales. Par exemple, l’école devrait pouvoir tenir compte de la séparation des parents en diffusant les informations à chacun d’entre eux. Cela nécessiterait alors une augmentation des coûts d’envoi et d’impression. La prise en charge de ceux‐ci par l’école ou par les parents serait à discuter.

La mise en place d’un système de résidence semble assez intéressante. On pourrait ainsi tenir compte du fait qu’un parent héberge son enfant la moitié du temps malgré le fait qu’il ne soit pas domicilié avec lui. Les avantages qui en découleraient restent cependant à préciser (logement social, prêt famille nombreuse, etc.)

La question des allocations familiales pose également quelques problèmes et mériterait d’être réfléchie.

Il faudrait également une meilleure information des parents au sujet de la possibilité d’obtenir un duplicata de la carte SIS.

• Création d’un guide destiné aux parents

Puisque, comme nous l’avons souligné, certaines informations parviennent difficilement aux parents, il nous semblerait utile de distribuer une sorte de guide de quelques pages à tout parent entamant une procédure de divorce ou de séparation. Il serait intéressant qu’il y figure une information claire sur la médiation, sur la nouvelle législation, sur les différents points à considérer lors de la rédaction de la convention (allocations, frais extraordinaire, fiscalité, etc.)

[1] Olivier Limet, lors du colloque : Divorce conflictuels et intérêt de l’enfant. L’intérêt de l’enfant : critère ou alibi ?

[2] Document visant à normer, à harmoniser les pratiques des assistants de justice au sein de toutes les Maisons de Justice.

[3] L’idée sous-jacente est qu’en amenant l’enfant chaque parent risque d’essayer d’influencer les dires de l’enfant en sa faveur, sorte de « bourrage de crâne » effectué sur le trajet vers le bureau de consultation.

[4] Cette appellation désigne les médiateurs dont les formations de base sont plutôt d’inspiration psycho-sociale, en tous cas, elle concerne ceux qui ne sont ni notaire, ni avocat.

[5] Thayer, E.S., & Zimmerman, J. (2006). Les enfants‐adultes du divorce. Montréal, Québec : Sciences et Culture.

[6] cette catégorie renvoie à un modèle de famille, après séparation ou divorce paritaire et négocié, que certains sociologues nomment « la forme associative du fonctionnement familial »

[7] ce modèle se distingue du précédent pour deux raisons essentielles. Il est exclusivement centré sur les enfants et les liens entre les parents sont moins fréquents et plus lâches. Les relations entretenues par les parents sont cordiales et polies, mais pas amicales.

[8] ce modèle se distingue très significativement des deux premiers en ce qu’il ne repose pas sur une coparentalité. Il n’y a plus de couple parental à proprement parler mais deux parents. Ceux‐ci s’entendent principalement sur les modalités de circulation des enfants entre eux. En dehors de cette question organisationnelle, ils agissent indépendamment l’un de l’autre.

[9] C’est-à-dire, sans que l’enfant n’aille chez l’autre parent, même pas un week-end sur deux.




Le succès des parents à mi-temps

Source: Belge – Le Soir Belge – DORZEE,HUGUES – Mardi 2 mars 2010

Famille Une étude de l’ULg évalue les effets de la loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire

Papa et maman à mi-temps ? La formule semble faire lentement son chemin. Depuis l’entrée en vigueur de la loi du 18 juillet 2006 « tendant à privilégier l’hébergement égalitaire de l’enfant dont les parents sont séparés », de plus en plus de couples optent pour le mode de garde alternée.

Les parties seraient davantage prêtes à se mettre d’accord. Les tribunaux ont visiblement bien intégré le principe. Et le phénomène des « nouveaux pères » se confirme. Mais il reste de nombreux obstacles. Juridiques, administratifs et pratiques, notamment. C’est ce qui ressort d’une vaste étude réalisée par le Panel Démographie familiale (ULg), sous la direction de Marie-Thérèse Casman, pour le compte du secrétaire d’Etat aux Familles, Melchior Wathelet (CDH).

Celle-ci s’appuie sur des enquêtes à la fois quantitatives et qualitatives menées auprès de 119 professionnels (juges, médiateurs, avocats…) et un échantillon de 197 pères, mères et enfants vivant de près une séparation.

Un certain profil de parents. L’hébergement égalitaire est surtout pratiqué au sein de familles issues de la classe moyenne supérieure. Le profil type ? Employés, détenteurs d’un diplôme universitaire, âgés de 30-40 ans, travaillant à temps plein, mais qui dans 40 % des cas rencontrés, bénéficient d’horaires flexibles. Leur motivation première ? « Le bien-être de l’enfant » (88 % des réponses données), mais également son âge (56 %) et la disponibilité des deux parents (50 %). La majorité de ces ex-conjoints ont opté seuls pour cette formule. Une minorité d’entre eux (31 %) ont eu recours à un tiers (médiateur, ami, conseiller conjugal…).

Proximité et stabilité. Dans 64 % des cas, les parents habitent à proximité l’un de l’autre (moins de 15 kilomètres). Il s’agit d’une alternance essentiellement hebdomadaire (75 %) – une semaine sur deux, demi-semaine, week-end élargi, etc. La formule a été majoritairement maintenue dans le temps. Seuls 17 % des répondants déclarent avoir changé leur rythme de garde à terme.

La gestion financière ? Dans 72 % des situations rencontrées, chaque parent gère ses dépenses pendant l’hébergement ; dans 54 %, il y a un partage égalitaire ; dans 25 %, les parents utilisent un compte commun.

Des difficultés logistiques. L’hébergement partagé est aussi source de problèmes qui, souligne Marie-Thérèse Casman (ULg) ont un « impact pratique, administratif, fiscal et symbolique ».

Ici, ce sont les frais extraordinaires et de loisirs. Là, l’achat et le nettoyage des vêtements. Plus loin le bulletin scolaire ou la carte SIS. Il est aussi question du choix du domicile, des allocations familiales laissées le plus souvent au parent qui connaît la situation économique la plus difficile, des éventuelles charges (eau, électricité…) calculées sur un ménage à mi-temps, des primes (isolation, énergie…) que les deux parents voudraient revendiquer, etc. Autant de problèmes pratico-pratiques qui, souligne l’étude de l’ULg, nécessiteraient des avancées concrètes : un guide destiné aux parents, des facilités administratives pour obtenir un duplicata de carte SIS ou le dédoublement des allocations, etc.

Les professionnels partagés. Depuis quelques années, l’hébergement égalitaire gagne donc du terrain. La société a évolué (égalité hommes/femmes, autorité parentale redéfinie, etc.). Même si, comme le souligne l’étude, « ce sont les mères qui assument encore la majorité des tâches liées à l’enfant (médecin, déplacements, scolarité…) » Des « nouveaux pères » qui revendiquent davantage leurs droits ; la magistrature qui s’est rajeunie ; et, bien entendu, la nouvelle loi entrée en vigueur en 2006, qui a été très (et parfois mal) médiatisée : ces trois éléments permettent d’expliquer l’évolution.

Mais, l’enquête du Panel Démographie familiale démontre aussi que cette formule n’est pas applicable tout le temps (lire ci-dessous les arguments des juges) ; que chaque divorce et chaque type d’hébergement doit être traité « au cas par cas » ; que le bilan dressé par les médiateurs (très positif), n’est pas celui des magistrats (mitigés) ou des avocats (assez critiques) ; que la séparation, quelle que soit la formule, appauvrit ; que les parents restent mal informés sur leurs droits et que le coût des procédures (médiation, expertises, frais de justice…) constitue un obstacle important.

Bref, papa, maman et les enfants à mi-temps, ça progresse, mais tout n’est pas rose pour autant.

PARoles de pères et de Mères

« J’ai pris conscience que j’avais là du temps pour moi. »

« J’ai pu tisser des liens plus profond avec eux. »

« Avant, je travaillais pas mal le week-end. Depuis la séparation j’ai arrêté. »

« J’ai un autre équilibre en tant que femme et que maman. »

« Il faut passer à côté de tout un pan de la vie de l’enfant, devoir sans cesse changer d’habitudes, supporter le vide laissé par son départ… »

« Pendant une semaine, on n’a aucune autorité sur lui, et quand il revient, il faut deux, trois jours d’adaptation. »

« Il ne sait pas cuisiner, c’est toujours des plats tout faits, ma fille a pris 20 kg en 3 ans. »

« Ici, il y a toujours des limites pour le dodo, la télé. Chez son père, elle fait ce qu’elle veut. »

« C’est l’enjeu de la séparation, accorder la même liberté à l’autre. »

PAROLEs de jeunes

« De toute façon, ils ne s’entendaient plus, depuis des années, ne se parlaient plus, ne dormaient plus dans la même chambre, je pense qu’ils ont bien fait de se séparer. »

« Ils se tiraient dans les pattes, mais ils ont quand même réussi à se mettre d’accord là-dessus. »

« La décision s’est prise de commun accord, mais ça n’a pas été immédiatement possible. »

« La grande question qu’on nous posait, c’était : “qui préfères-tu ?“ Je me rappelle qu’on nous tenait éveillés pour ça. Avec mon frère, on s’était drillé à répondre : les deux. »

« Je me rappelle que j’avais toujours mes affaires partout. »

« Ça m’a permis de créer des liens vraiment plus forts, on ne s’adressait pas à un binôme mais à un être humain. »

« Je perdais à chaque fois mes repères. J’avais du mal avec la discontinuité, l’instabilité. »


« Il y a de plus en plus d’accords, peut être aussi au fond, parce qu’on ne vit plus de la même manière. Peut-être aussi que la mentalité des femmes a évolué, peut être qu’elles en ont marre. »

« La loi est venue soutenir un changement qui existait déjà. »

« C’est une pétition de principe pour des gens bourgeois qui ont la possibilité et qui s’entendent, si on ne s’entend pas ça n’est pas praticable. »

« Le législateur est resté volontairement très flou. Il a utilisé des termes qui laissaient aux juges la plénitude de ce qu’ils pouvaient faire. »

« C’est vraiment au cas par cas. »

« L’inconvénient, c’est le coût engendré par l’hébergement égalitaire, chacun des parents doit avoir un espace vital suffisant. »

« Une semaine sur deux, ça permet aux parents de souffler. Ça permet à chacun d’assumer. »

« Cela permet de lutter contre le syndrome de Héron, ces enfants élevés sur une seule patte, ce n’est jamais bon. »

L’Hébergement égalitaire

Les « plus »

Les enfants peuvent conserver des liens étroits avec les deux parents à part égale. Ceux-ci peuvent retrouver une certaine liberté, du temps pour eux, s’investir différemment dans leur vie professionnelle, etc. Cette formule permet aux enfants d’être davantage autonomes.

Les « moins »

L’instabilité, les déplacements, le fait de devoir tout dédoubler (chambre, garde-robe…), la vie « en deux temps » pour les parents, l’obligation pour les enfants de devoir gérer deux styles de vie et de retrouver leurs repères, etc.

L’opposition des juges

Dans l’étude de l’ULg, les juges exposent plusieurs raisons pour lesquelles la « garde alternée » est difficile à mettre en place : les divergences philosophiques (un mariage mixte, deux religions…) ; la disponibilité (un parent travail beaucoup, l’autre pas) ; l’absence de dialogue entre les ex-conjoints ; des enfants en bas âge ; un niveau de vie très différent ; l’éloignement géographique, etc.


Etude de l’ULg sur les effets de la loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire

Source: La CODE (La Coordination des ONG pour les Droits de l’Enfant) – Actualité mise en ligne le 8 mars 2010

Lien vers l’étude:

De plus en plus de couples optent pour le mode de garde alternée et le phénomène des “nouveaux pères” se confirme depuis l’entrée en vigueur de la loi de 2006 relative à l’hébergement égalitaire de l’enfant dont les parents sont séparés, selon une étude de l’ULg pour le compte du secrétaire d’Etat aux Familles, Melchior Wathelet (cdH).

L’étude, réalisée par le Panel Démographie familiale (ULg) auprès de 119 professionnels et 197 pères, mères et enfants vivant de près une séparation, montre que l’hébergement égalitaire est surtout pratiqué au sein de familles issues de la “classe moyenne supérieure”. La motivation première est le bien-être de l’enfant.

L’hébergement égalitaire est cependant source de problèmes pratiques comme par exemple les frais extraordinaires, les loisirs, ou encore le nettoyage des vêtements et la carte SIS. L’étude de l’ULg estime que ces difficultés nécessitent des avancées concrètes comme un guide destiné aux parents ou des facilités administratives.

L’étude révèle aussi que ce sont les mères qui assument encore la majorité des tâches liées à l’enfant mais que des “nouveaux pères” revendiquent davantage leurs droits.

Pour le secrétaire d’Etat aux Familles, Melchior Wathelet, qui a présenté cette étude lundi au Parlement, les priorités sont désormais l’intensification de la médiation familiale et la création d’un tribunal de la famille pour lequel il veut déposer un projet de loi en avril.


Etude concernant l’h ébergement égalitair e des enfants

Source: [Belsoc Infos] Eric Vermeesch – Wed, 15 Apr 2009 03:06:35 -0700

From: port…

Newsletter du 15/04/2009


Etude concernant l’application de la loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire des enfants dans le cadre d’un divorce ou d’une séparation

En 1960, on a dénombré 65.220 mariages pour 4.589 divorces. En 2007, les mariages se réduisaient à 45.561 mariages tandis que les divorces étaient multipliés : 30.081 divorces.

On le constate bien : les pratiques de mariages et de divorces ont évolué grandement ces quelques dernières dizaines d’années. Dans ce contexte, la législation a évolué jusqu’à l’instauration, en juillet 2006, de la loi concernant l’hébergement des enfants en cas de divorce ou de séparation des parents.

Cette loi prévoit que si les deux parents formulent une demande d’hébergement égalitaire des enfants, le tribunal devra entériner cet accord, sauf s’il existe des éléments contraires à l’intérêt de l’enfant et/ou des deux parents. Plus précisément, le texte de loi déclare que « lorsque les parents n’habitent pas ensemble et qu’ils saisissent le tribunal, l’accord relatif à l’hébergement des enfants doit être homologué par le tribunal sauf caractéristiques allant à l’encontre de l’intérêt des enfants. ».

Par ailleurs, en cas de désaccord et d’autorité parentale conjointe, le tribunal examine prioritairement la possibilité de fixer l’hébergement égalitaire entre les parents. Mais il faut qu’au moins un des parents en fasse la demande. Si le juge décide d’un autre type d’hébergement que l’hébergement égalitaire, il devra le motiver tout particulièrement.

Le Secrétariat d’Etat à la Politique des Familles a chargé le service Panel Démographie Familiale, coordonné par Marie-Thérèse Casman (Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège) de réaliser une étude dans l’objectif de mieux appréhender l’application de cette loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire à l’heure actuelle.

Pourquoi avoir choisi la résidence alternée ? Quels en sont les avantages ? Les difficultés ? Ou, au contraire, pourquoi avoir opté pour un autre type de garde ? Comment se déroule l’organisation quotidienne ? Quelles améliorations peut-on apporter à la loi ? … ?

Pour mener à bien cette recherche, nous désirons rencontrer tant des professionnels qui travaillent autour de cette législation que des parents ayant divorcé ou s’étant séparés, et ce, quel que soit le mode d’hébergement choisi. Des témoignages sont essentiels afin de mieux connaître les situations vécues et contribuer ainsi à élaborer des propositions d’amélioration de cette loi.

Dans le cadre du recueil des témoignages de parents, la participation à cette recherche peut se concrétiser de deux manières :

– rencontrer un chercheur pour un entretien (environ une heure).

– répondre au questionnaire en ligne publié sur ce site :

Bien entendu, l’anonymat et la confidentialité des propos sont scrupuleusement respectés.

Les chercheurs se tiennent à votre disposition pour vous apporter de plus amples informations et seraient ravis de bénéficier de votre témoignage.

Coordonnées des chercheurs :

Angèle César (ace…

Charline Waxweiler (charline.waxwei…

Téléphone : 04 366 21 85

Adresse postale : Panel Démographie Familiale – Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège – Chemin du Trèfle, 1 (Bât. B13) – 4000 Liège


Recherche sur l’hébergement égalitaire

Source: [Belsoc Infos] – Fri, 10 Apr 2009

Université des Femmes

Fri, 10 Apr 2009 11:01:44 -0700



Madame, Monsieur,

Le Secrétariat d’État à la Politique des Familles a chargé le service Panel Démographie Familiale (Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège) d’évaluer la loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire. Cette loi prévoit que l’hébergement de l’enfant soit préférentiellement partagé entre le domicile du père et celui de la mère.

La participation à cette recherche peut se concrétiser de deux manières :

– rencontrer un chercheur pour un entretien (environ une heure-nous nous déplaçons).

– répondre au questionnaire en ligne publié à cette adresse :

Des témoignages (le votre ou celui de vos contacts) sont essentiels pour mieux connaître les situations vécues et contribuer ainsi à apporter des améliorations à cette loi.Bien entendu, l’anonymat et la confidentialité des propos seront scrupuleusement respectés.

Pourquoi avoir choisi la résidence alternée ? Quels en sont les avantages?

Les difficultés ? Ou, au contraire, pourquoi avoir opté pour un autre type de garde ? Comment se déroule l’organisation quotidienne ? Quelles améliorations peut-on apporter à la loi ?

En espérant bénéficier de votre collaboration, nous vous remercions de votre attention et restons à votre disposition pour vous donner de plus amples informations.


Angèle César & Charline Waxweiler

Chargées de recherche

Panel Démographie Familiale

Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège

Chemin du Trèfle, 1 (Bât. B13) 4000 Liège



04 366 21 85


Appel à témoin: recherche hébergement égalitaire (ULg)

Source: Thomas Ulg – « le: Novembre 25, 2009, 15:57:29 »

« Le Secrétariat d’Etat à la Politique des Familles a chargé le service Panel Démographie Familiale, coordonné par Marie-Thérèse Casman (Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège), de mener une étude dans l’objectif de mieux appréhender l’application de la loi sur l’hébergement égalitaire des enfants (2006) en cas de séparation des parents.

Dans ce contexte, outre des professionnels travaillant dans ce domaine et des parents divorcés ou séparés, nous souhaiterions rencontrer un certain nombre d’enfants ayant vécu l’hébergement alterné.

C’est pour cela que je fais appel à vous: avez-vous vécu ce type d’hébergement? Comment l’avez-vous vécu ou le vivez-vous encore ? Quels souvenirs en gardez-vous ? Quelles améliorations peut-on apporter à la loi ? Quelle relation entretenez-vous aujourd’hui avec vos parents ? Que pensez-vous de l’hébergement alterné ?

La participation à cette recherche consiste à rencontrer un chercheur pour un entretien d’environ une heure. (Nous nous déplaçons) Les données recueillies ne seront utilisées que dans le cadre de l’étude. Bien entendu, l’anonymat et la confidentialité des propos seront scrupuleusement respectés.

Si vous souhaitez participer ou recevoir plus d’infos, n’hésitez pas à nous contacter :

Thomas Englebert


Angèle César

chargée de recherche


Co-ouderschap na scheiding kent steeds meer succes

Bron: België – Goed Gevoel – Scheiden – (1074264) – 02/03/10 06u38

Almaar meer koppels kiezen voor co-ouderschap als verblijfsregeling voor de kinderen na een echtscheiding. Dat blijkt uit een studie die de Universiteit van Luik uitvoerde in opdracht van staatssecretaris voor het Gezinsbeleid Melchior Wathelet (cdH). Met de studie wil Wathelet de echtscheidingswet uit 2007 evalueren.

Vooral in hogere middenklasse

Uit de studie blijkt dat de formule van co-ouderschap vooral populair is in de hogere middenklasse. De belangrijkste reden om ervoor te kiezen, is het welzijn van het kind.

Praktische problemen

Er duiken soms wel praktische problemen op bij co-ouderschap, zoals rond buitengewone kosten, hobby’s, de was of de SIS-kaart. De Luikse onderzoekers suggereren dat daarvoor concrete maatregelen nodig zijn zoals een begeleidende gids voor de ouders.

Nog volgens de studie zijn het vooral de moeders die de praktische taken rond het kind op zich nemen. Voor staatssecretaris Wathelet liggen de prioriteiten bij een nog betere uitbouw van familiale bemiddeling. Hij werkt ook aan de installatie van een nieuwe familierechtbank. (belga/lb)


Co-ouderschap wint aan populariteit

Bron: België – – 0 reacties – 03/03/2010

03/03 Het co-ouderschap wint stilaan aan populariteit. Volgens een onderzoek van staatssecretaris voor het Gezinsbeleid Melchior Wathelet kiezen steeds meer ouders voor co-ouderschap.

Tijdens een scheiding verschuift de aandacht steeds meer naar de kinderen. Ouders proberen een regeling te vinden die de kinderen het minst schaadt, en dat vinden ze in co-ouderschap. Als negatieve punt kaarten heel wat ouders echter de financiële rompslomp aan. Zo is het nog moeilijk om overeen te komen als er buitengewone kosten zijn of wanneer het adres voor de sis-kaart moet worden bepaald.


Co-ouderschap kent steeds meer succes

Bron: België – Knack – Nieuws – Mensen – 02 maart 2010 om 09u00

Co-ouderschap kent steeds meer succes

Almaar meer koppels kiezen voor co-ouderschap als verblijfsregeling voor de kinderen na een echtscheiding. Dat blijkt uit een studie die de Universiteit van Luik uitvoerde in opdracht van staatssecretaris voor het Gezinsbeleid Melchior Wathelet (cdH).

Met de studie, waarvan de resultaten dinsdag gepubliceerd zijn in De Standaard en Le Soir, wil Wathelet de echtscheidingswet uit 2007 evalueren.

Hogere middenklasse

Uit de studie blijkt dat de formule van co-ouderschap vooral populair is in de hogere middenklasse. De belangrijkste reden om ervoor te kiezen is het welzijn van het kind.

Er duiken soms wel een aantal praktische problemen bij co-ouderschap, zoals rond buitengewone kosten, hobby’s, de was of de SIS-kaart.

De Luikse onderzoekers suggereren dat daarvoor concrete maatregelen nodig zijn zoals een begeleidende gids voor de ouders.

Nog volgens de studie zijn het vooral de moeders die de praktische taken rond het kind op zich nemen.

Voor staatssecretaris Wathelet liggen de prioriteiten bij een nog betere uitbouw van familiale bemiddeling. Hij werkt ook aan de installatie van een nieuwe familierechtbank.

Meer over: gezinnen, co-ouderschap, echtscheiding


De Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid lanceert een studie betreffende de toepassing van de wet op het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf van kinderen

Bron: België – Het gezinsportaal – Actualiteit – 23/04/2009

In 1960 werden er 65.220 huwelijken en 4.589 echtscheidingen geteld. In 2007 daalde het aantal huwelijken naar 45.561 terwijl het aantal echtscheidingen opliep tot 30.081.

Het aangaan van een huwelijk alsook een echtscheiding is in de loop van de laatste decennie fors geëvolueerd, zoveel is duidelijk. In deze context onderging de wetgeving verschillende wijzigingen met onder andere de invoering, in juli 2006, van de wet betreffende het verblijf van de kinderen in geval van een (echt)scheiding van de ouders.

Deze wet bepaalt dat indien beide ouders een gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf van de kinderen wensen, de rechtbank dit akkoord zal moeten bekrachtigen, behalve indien er elementen bestaan die strijdig zijn met het belang van het kind en/of de beide ouders.

In geval van onenigheid en gezamenlijk ouderlijk gezag, zal de rechtbank overigensin de eerste plaats de mogelijkheid tot een gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf tussen de ouders onderzoeken. Maar tenminste één van de ouders moet hierom verzoeken. Indien de rechter een andere verblijfsregeling beslist dan het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf, zal hij dit in het bijzonder moeten motiveren.

Naast het werk van de Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid, Melchior Wathelet, en de Minister van Justitie voor de inrichting van een familierechtbank die bevoegd zou zijn voor de berechting van alle familiale conflicten, heeft Melchior Wathelet eveneens opdracht gegeven aan de “service Panel Démographie Familiale”, geleid door Marie-Thérèse Casman (Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège) een onderzoek te voeren met als doelstelling een beter beeld te krijgen van de huidige toepassing van deze wet op het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf.

Vanwaar de keuze voor het afwisselend verblijf ? Wat zijn de voordelen? De moeilijkheden ?

Of, integendeel, vanwaar de keuze voor een andere verblijfsregeling ?

Hoe verloopt de dagelijkse organisatie ?

Hoe beleven de ouders en de kinderen dit gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf ?

Welke verbeteringenkunnen er in de wet worden aangebracht ? … ?

Getuigenissen, zowel van beroepsmensen die rond deze wetgeving werken als van ouders die een (echt)scheiding achter de rug hebben, zijn van essentieel belang om een beter inzicht te krijgen in hoe deze situaties ervaard worden en om de wet aan te passen indien dit wenselijk blijkt.

Teneinde getuigenissen van ouders te verzamelen, nodigt de Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid u uit om de vragenlijst te beantwoorden op onderstaande site :

U heeft ook de mogelijkheid tot een onderhoud met een onderzoeksmedewerker (ongeveer één uur).

De anonimiteit en vertrouwelijkheid van het gesprek worden uiteraard nauwgezet gerespecteerd.

De Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid alsook de onderzoeksmedewerkers blijven geheel te uwer beschikking voor meer informatie en verheugen zich over uw getuigenis.

Gegevens onderzoeksmedewerkers :

Angèle César (

Charline Waxweiler (

Telefoon : 04 366 21 85

Adres : Panel Démographie Familiale · Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège · Chemin du Trèfle, 1 (Bât. B13) · 4000 Liège



Melchior Wathelet lanceert een studie betreffende de toepassing van de wet op het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf van kinderen

Bron: België – Melchior Wathelet – Federaal Staatssecretaris van Gezinszaken – Nieuws – Gezinsbeleid – 04 apr 2009

In 1960 werden er 65.220 huwelijken en 4.589 echtscheidingen geteld. In 2007 daalde het aantal huwelijken naar 45.561 terwijl het aantal echtscheidingen opliep tot 30.081. Het aangaan van een huwelijk alsook een echtscheiding is in de loop van de laatste decennie fors geëvolueerd, zoveel is duidelijk. In deze context onderging de wetgeving verschillende wijzigingen met onder andere de invoering, in juli 2006, van de wet betreffende het verblijf van de kinderen in geval van een (echt)scheiding van de ouders.

Deze wet bepaalt dat indien beide ouders een gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf van de kinderen wensen, de rechtbank dit akkoord zal moeten bekrachtigen, behalve indien er elementen bestaan die strijdig zijn met het belang van het kind en/of de beide ouders.

In geval van onenigheid en gezamenlijk ouderlijk gezag, zal de rechtbank overigensin de eerste plaats de mogelijkheid tot een gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf tussen de ouders onderzoeken. Maar tenminste één van de ouders moet hierom verzoeken. Indien de rechter een andere verblijfsregeling beslist dan het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf, zal hij dit in het bijzonder moeten motiveren.

Naast het werk van de Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid, Melchior Wathelet, en de Minister van Justitie voor de inrichting van een familierechtbank die bevoegd zou zijn voor de berechting van alle familiale conflicten, heeft Melchior Wathelet eveneens opdracht gegeven aan de “service Panel Démographie Familiale”, geleid door Marie-Thérèse Casman (Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège) een onderzoek te voeren met als doelstelling een beter beeld te krijgen van de huidige toepassing van deze wet op het gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf.

Vanwaar de keuze voor het afwisselend verblijf ? Wat zijn de voordelen? De moeilijkheden ?

Of, integendeel, vanwaar de keuze voor een andere verblijfsregeling ?

Hoe verloopt de dagelijkse organisatie ?

Hoe beleven de ouders en de kinderen dit gelijkmatig verdeeld verblijf ?

Welke verbeteringen kunnen er in de wet worden aangebracht ? … ?

Getuigenissen, zowel van beroepsmensen die rond deze wetgeving werken als van ouders die een (echt)scheiding achter de rug hebben, zijn van essentieel belang om een beter inzicht te krijgen in hoe deze situaties ervaard worden en om de wet aan te passen indien dit wenselijk blijkt.

Teneinde getuigenissen van ouders te verzamelen, nodigt de Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid u uit om de vragenlijst te beantwoorden op onderstaande site :

U heeft ook de mogelijkheid tot een onderhoud met een onderzoeksmedewerker (ongeveer één uur).

De anonimiteit en vertrouwelijkheid van het gesprek worden uiteraard nauwgezet gerespecteerd.

De Staatssecretaris voor Gezinsbeleid alsook de onderzoeksmedewerkers blijven geheel te uwer beschikking voor meer informatie en verheugen zich over uw getuigenis.

Gegevens onderzoeksmedewerkers :

Angèle César (

Charline Waxweiler (

Telefoon : 04 366 21 85

Adres : Panel Démographie Familiale – Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales de l’Université de Liège – Chemin du Trèfle, 1 (Bât. B13) – 4000 Liège


Spruijt – sliced and diced

February 10, 2010

A critical review of:
Frequency of contact with non-resident fathers and adolescent well-being: A longitudinal analysis; By Spruijt, A.P., Goede, M.P.M. de, Valk, I.E. van der; Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, Volume 40, (2004), pp: 77-91

By Peter Tromp & Robert Whiston, June 2009 (Updated February 2010)


Translating into plain English Ed Spruijt’s paper regarding the frequency of contact with non-resident fathers (see above) one has to conclude that either he is a radical feminist in trousers, who sees little virtue in his own sex, or has wasted his time and the resources of the Utrecht University in accessing the longitudinal study funded by that University.

Longitudinal studies are always expensive to undertake and are always to be preferred over attitudinal studies that can last a day rather than years and seek the immediate response or opinion of those questioned.

Attitudinal studies are cheap but open to manipulation by loaded questions in a way that longitudinal studies are not meant to be. Alas, the Spruijt paper confounds this long held view of superiority; his study appears to be based on only 164 young people, although it is undertaken over several years.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s there were always those in the academic world that argued that fathers were not needed for the successful raising of children. It became a fashionable pose to strike rather than a factual attitude (Appendix 1).

Rebecca O’Neill in “Experiments in Living: the Fatherless Family” (Sept 2002) describes the mood in this way:

“In the 1970s and 1980s many people argued that the traditional family – based upon a married biological father and mother and their children – was outdated. Under the guise of ‘freedom of choice’, ‘self-fulfillment’, and ‘equal respect for all kinds of families’, feminists and social rebels led a campaign to experiment with different family structures. Sometimes it was claimed that women and children did not need men, and were, in fact, often better off without them. On occasion it was said that families were not breaking down, they were just changing; that the most important thing for children was their parents’ happiness and self-fulfilment; and that children were resilient and would suffer few negative effects of divorce and family disruption. The idea of ‘staying together for the children’s sake’ was often derided. Some parents embraced the new thinking, but not all of those who took part in the ‘fatherless family experiment’ were willing subjects. As the idea that mothers and children did not need fathers took hold, many social and legal supports for marriage weakened. Some mothers and children were simply abandoned. Some fathers were pushed away.”[1]

The 1990s saw those blinkers slowly falling away and the 21st century saw 30 year old reputations begin to crumble as it became increasingly obvious that if two parents are best – a critical point conceded during the1990s – then fathers are equally essential in lone parent families. A point unequivocally conceded by the UK Government in 2007 when “Joint birth registration: promoting parental responsibility” was published by the UK Department for Works and Pensions. [2]

The ‘liberation’ of women that feminist sought, and partially achieved, had the result of either precipitating a social collapse or of coinciding with that collapse (see for example the falling of fertility rate (TFR) and average completed family size (CFS) sinking below the reproduction level in the United Kingdom in 1971 in Fig 1).

The ONS diagram shown here represents actual and predicted total fertility rate (TFR) and average completed family size (CFS), for 1951–2025 (United Kingdom).[3]

An unexpected complication faced all across Europe is the potential impossibility of funding pensions – principally for retired women who live the longest.

Feminist legislation penalised men when they divorced and gradually this had the effect of deflating marriage rates, lowering replacement rates and limiting family size.

All across Europe measures have been put in place to generously support if not reward lone motherhood while at the same time detaching fathers from their children.

Sue Slipman’s book “Would You Take One Home with You ?[4] epitomises the contemporary view of female superiority and invincibility – though this female arrogance was based on unspoken subsidies from the taxpayer (see also “Price of Parenthood” by Jill Kirby, Centre for Policy Studies, 2005).

Fortunately for humanity, the concession of the indispensability of fathers was squeezed out of a reluctant academia not by elegant theories but by truths that could not be overturned and by ‘outcomes’ which could not be countered.

One of the first to point out the fallacies and flawed thinking in the feminist dogma was Patricia Morgan in her groundbreaking book “Farewell to the Family ?” This was quickly followed by publication of “Charles Murray & the Underclass – The Developing Debate” by Charles Murray et al. Dec. 1996, IEA.

1. The debate has moved on

To summarise, Ed Spruijt’s paper embraces much of this now discredited feminist dogma; a dogma that finds it impossible to accept that fathers should play any sort of significant role in the development of growing children.

Ed Spruijt, who also writes under the title of A. P. Spruijt, concludes in his 2002 paper (“Frequency of Contact with Non-resident Fathers and Adolescent Well-Being: A Longitudinal Analysis”), that the frequency of contact (called ‘visitation’ rights in the US and the Netherlands) between a non-resident parent, i.e. the father, and a child is not generally connected to a child’s general well-being. In the Dutch public and media debate on divorce issues Spruijt presents himself (and also unfortunately is presented) as one of the leading experts in issues of children of divorce. His recurring theme is one that emphasises the unimportance of fathers and that fathers don’t matter as much as they would like to believe (cf. fathers groups such as ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ and others; see Joep Zander; accessed on 9th February 2010 [5]).

Spruijt ignores the reality that the latest government and academic thinking now reflects the views held by fathers groups for the past 30 years.

Instead, he appears wedded to the notion that if children don’t see their fathers they will be fine (Anna Freud in the 1940s had a similar out-dated attitude). He adopts this stance on the pretext that children who have to grow up in families where there is ‘conflict’ between the parents will be ‘damaged.’ The logic of this misguided view is therefore to conclude that all contact is damaging to children and that all fathers should be shut out of their children’s lives. (He does not explain how children can grow ‘undamaged’ in households where the parents are married but have an average number of arguments).

This, of course, is the radical feminist’s ideal state of affairs, their nirvana is a social order where men can be excluded at will from their children and permanent marriage abolished.

A paradise where a woman can choose to be pregnant or not – and by who; where she can abort any pregnancy without reference to anyone, especially the father; to not have to worry about income or housing; to not be dependent on a man and choose to not have a man around the place.

Behind the public gloss of seeking a favorable reception these are the raw attributes that all Feminist Theories and morals have, for the past 40 years, sought to achieve. Paradoxically these ‘modern’ theories are premised on 19th century writings and on men with bizarre views of women and family such as Friedrich Engels (Appendix 2).

To then realise that the author of these contaminated thoughts is the main expert spokesperson for the Dutch version of CAFCASS (Raad voor de Kinderbescherming) is both a body blow to children and fathers and a contradiction to any claim the Kinderbescherming may make about its fairness towards both parents.

2. Repressing Numbers

It is essential for those within the Kinderbescherming to realise that there are two simple elements, two estates, in all separated families that must not be lost sight of. Firstly, the ‘good enough parent’ and secondly the ‘not so good enough parent.’ Both categories contain a wide range of diversity but it is the not so good enough parent which is numerically much smaller.

For example, in England, CAFCASS recognises 5% of all parents pose problems of varying seriousness.

The reciprocal of this is that 80% to 90% of parents are ‘good enough parents’ and pose no problems (Pareto’s law). The following illustration (Fig 2) depicts the proportions involved.

It is therefore utter madness that national custody matters should be decided by a minority 5% of parents when policy should be determined by what is happening in the majority of instances.

Policy should be dictated by rules suitable for the majority of cases with exceptions and provisions made therein for the tiny minority who represent what CAFCASS terms intractable cases among the ‘not so good enough’ parents.

Nevertheless, this is the premise adopted by Spruijt when he states that because there is a possibility of conflict in some families, all families must be judged the same.

When he concluded in 2004 that frequency of contact between a non-resident parent and a child was not generally to children’s well-being, he camouflaged the scenario he was describing, namely, one where ‘high conflict’ levels in a small number of families have negative effects upon children (this is the same ploy used by feminist writers, e.g. J. Hunt, B. Neale).

Could there be any other outcome, one wonders ? On both sides of the argument, fathers and Spruijt, there is common agreement that conflict and violence, tension and stress in the home is bound to affect children’s emotional and psychological well-being.

It is so obvious, that it doesn’t need to be stated ? But does it need to be used as a poor excuse to bar to all fathers when the same could be said of equally destructive mothers ?

The conflation of good family experiences with bad ones is typical of a certain section of academia. One has in mind here the work of the English academics Joan Hunt and Brenda Neale.[6] Both decry shared or co-parenting. However, upon closer examination of their methodology one discovers they are focusing on “high conflict” families.

One also finds that the academic definition of co-parenting – the term constantly preferred to that of shared parenting – is the reason for much resistance.

Co-parenting is defined as encompassing children who spend more than 40% of their time with one parent. This is not what fathers groups define as shared parenting; they see shared parenting as a post divorce joint venture with no rigidly set of hours or days per parent. They see shared parenting as fully flexible and ranging from say, 20:80 to 50:50 and to 80:20, if the mother’s work patterns demand it.

In 2001, the percentage of children in the Netherlands who were subject to a co-parenting (shared parenting) agreement totaled 4% (Ed Spruijt, Scheidingskinderen, 2007, pp. 17-18). This data is based upon a group of children with divorced parents, including 17% of children whose parents had co-habited – this is also cited by Christina G. Jeppesen de Boer. [7]

Is it any wonder that there is ‘little evidence to support shared parenting’ and similar claims, when it is only 4% of the total population ?

It is at this junction of a). 4% and b). high conflict families that the true extent of the problem is revealed to be not huge but incredibly small. High conflict families are everywhere spoken of as if numerous and associated with shared parenting. And yet why should this be so when a category restricted to 4% must surely be manageable ?

3. The Conflict Myth

It seems alien to their thought processes that all the alternatives of post-divorce arrangements could prove to be unsuitable for some of these ‘high conflict’ families – and that would include sole mother custody.

Some, but not all, ‘high conflict’ families pose a threat to children but many such families can manage successfully with a little outside assistance.

However, the emotional volatility of mothers in these families is such that the risk of child abuse is higher and a child’s safety can only be improved by the presence of a father (Appendix 3). Australian data, post 2006 reforms, show that it is instability of mothers that is most likely to produce father preference custody – albeit shared.

The academics’ collective answer to tackling the fall-out from these ‘high conflict’ families is a blanket ban on fathers from seeing their children. This assumes the dysfuntionality stems either from the father alone or from the friction resulting by the social interchange between father and mother. This, despite the conventional wisdom, valid until the 1980s as Spruijt admits, where “it was more or less taken for granted that contact between the non-resident parent and the children was always positive (Crombach & Elzinga, 1989).”

However, there is another source of conflict, namely the instability of the mother herself. Since she is left alone once the authorities have detached the father from the family, we have little idea how children fare with a mother who might be in need of psychological support and can no longer pick on or bully the visiting father. Indeed, judicially orphaned children may create a climate of friction for the newly divorced mother that she cannot then cope with.

In Britain, which has seen a surge in the numbers of child abuse cases in the past 30 years (and the increasingly horrific nature of those abuses), Lord Laming has twice been asked by government to report on how and why children are abused.

The conclusion of Lord Laming’s second report (May 2009) is that when all the state apparatus has failed it is fathers in the final analysis that help keep children safe from abuse. [8] A conclusion pioneered by Patricia Morgan in 1995.

Rebecca O’Neill is only one of many writers who have recently pointed to the low self-esteem and psychological unsuitability of many women. The day treatment rate for women/mothers in need of psychiatric help is far greater than for men/fathers. The admittance into psychiatric facilities is also dominated by women. [9]

The upshot of Lord Laming’s second report (into child abuse) is that the public is finally aware of what was previously swept under the carpet, namely that in Britain 200,000 children are at risk of abuse in their own homes and that as many as 350,000 children have parents who have serious drug habits.

When another 1.3 million children live with parents who drink heavily one has to question whether the present custody bias is fair to children, and whether focusing on ‘conflict’ between parents is actually the most important thing for children’s safety after divorce (Appendix 3).

4. The New Face of Conflict and Aggression

The words, aggressive, violent and hostile all conjure up images associated with men and, indeed, Spruijt’s paper trades on this misconception.

The ratio of male violence to female violence and its propensity in everyday life has been rapidly closing since the 1980s (see D. Dutton, Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz 1980, etc). Spruijt and fellow sociologists have yet to absorb this dynamic into their academic work.

Those that give an opinion about violence in general, and in particular about domestic violence and even of rape, write as if from a 19th century moral stance. They have yet to move on and embrace the female morals of the 21st century.

Perceptions have changed – some would say radically – of how women see themselves and how they behave. What women today see as tolerable and their right, academics might not agree.

The ‘Ladette culture’ is just such an expression of modern female perceptions. Below is a not untypical scene of girl violence to be found nightly on British streets up and down the country.

Three girls are caught on a town’s CCTV assaulting not another girl but a young man. One is keeping him still on the ground while another repeatedly kicks him.

The age group that poses the most danger to society’s fabric is the 16 to 22 age category.

These are the girls who will, in a few short years, move on to become pregnant, mothers and then separated mothers.

Partying’ is another new dimension. Never in social history have young mothers deliberately left their infants at home while they ‘party’ returning the early hours sodden with alcohol.

What sort of non-resident father would want to tangle with mothers like these ?

The abandonment of deferred gratification is the direct by-product of materialism and the feminist movement behind it.

Not content with fighting men they fight one another.

It is the police who have to break up the drunken and brawling women with the insipient risk of being falsely accused of improper touching or handling of the suspect who may be resisting arrest.

The situation in most large urban areas became so grave that in 2004 a UK Select Committee looked into the situation and the trend in violent women arrests.[10]

Further information on this aspect of modern female behaviour can be found at:

In June 2009 it emerged the number of women involved in alcohol-related trouble has increased by almost a third in two years while, in May 2009, figures showed females are now involved in a quarter of violent attacks. The number of women convicted for domestic violence has also risen sharply and has been blamed on an aggressive “ladette” culture…

5. Pathologies

Pathologies among children such as exhibiting poor school attendance, poor academic achievement, poor discipline, etc, could be indicators of being bullied or picked upon, i.e. victimised, at home.

If, as Spruijt implies, the only important thing for children of divorce is that there is no conflict around them – and in so doing legitimises the basis for barring fathers – then he must be at a loss to explain why children do so well in the traditional married two parent family where conflict and stress is a regular occurrence.

Conversely, why do children of unmarried mothers do poorly when there is little or no fatherly contact and, therefore, little or no levels of conflict ?

Pathologies that characterise SMH (single mother households) are not to be found among the children of a). widows and b). single father households. Spruijt does not begin to tackle this confounding issue.

While not wishing to under-emphasise conflict and tension, learning how to deal with these factors is part of growing up, and arguably is why children from traditional married two parent families are better prepared to lead a successful adult life.

The last four decades have seen a phenomenal increase in the numbers of divorces across the entire western world and somewhat belatedly it is being realised that the model from 40 years ago does not work.

The consequence of refusing to address this deficiency is that the longer we let one divorce year slip into another without remedying the situation, the more damage is done to children.

Until relatively recently it was an imperative to show by scientific research how inconsequential was the damage caused to children by the lack of contact with its non-resident fathers after a divorce.

Spruijt rests much of his case on studies that are now 10 or more years old, e.g. Amato & Gilbreth, 1999, and King & Heard, 1999. Times have moved on since the otherwise much respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) funded a 1998 report by two antipodean academics, Dr. Jan Pryor and Professor Bryan Rodgers (Appendix 4), which concluded that:

“Although short-term distress at the time of separation is common, this usually fades with time and long-term adverse outcomes typically apply only to a minority of children experiencing the separation of their parents.” [11]

Pryor & Rodgers’ report was greeted with howls of disbelief at the time and heavily discounted as being out of touch with reality. However, it epitomised a decade where funded studies (inc. JRF) sought to portray divorce as having little detrimental effect on children.

Amato & Keith began the decade by concluding that parental divorce generally had only small negative effects on the adjustment of children (Amato & Keith, 1991a, and 1991b). How this could have been taken seriously is today difficult to explain considering that from the 1960s through the 1970s the detrimental effect on children was acknowledged to be considerable.

The ‘small negative effects’, experienced by children growing up in families that are not continuously intact, were defined then in a way that would cause concern to us today:

“. . .. adolescents who have gone through the divorce of their parents are more likely to experience emotional problems, less likely to attend or complete college, more likely to display problematic behavior, and more likely to engage in early sex and experience relational problems (Amato & Keith, 1991a, 1991b; Simons, 1996).

These negative effects of divorce apply to young children as well as to adolescents, and both short- and long-term effects have been found (Amato & Keith, 1991a, 1991b; Chase-Lansdale, Cherlin, & Kiernan, 1995).”

However, the Bauserman meta-analysis (2002), demolishes the last defences to this position.

In a meta-analysis of 33 research papers, Bauserman found that children growing up in shared parenting arrangements between both parents after divorce and separation did much better than children growing up under the sole care of one parent. His study confirmed the original better outcomes for children living in shared parenting arrangements that began to emerge in the 1980s.

In ‘The Disposable Parent’ (Roman & Haddad, 1978) it was argued that joint residence was the best post-divorce arrangement and that courts should begin with a rebuttable presumption of joint residence. Roman & Haddad shared with Goldstein, Freud & Solnit, the idea that children need consistency and continuity of affection.

6. Confounding the Custody Convention

Among the themes published in the American Psychological Association journal was that children in shared parenting arrangements exhibited higher levels of self-worth – a classic symptom absent in children of lone mother households.

Bauserman’s analysis showed that, even when taking into account, i.e. “controlling for”, the influences of pre-existing levels of conflict between separating parents, children still fared better in a shared parenting environment. This immediately debunks the popular counter-argument that any beneficial factors of shared parenting rely on families having low or no levels of conflict.

Spruijt seeks to dismiss the importance of fathers by questioning the mainstream assumption, namely, that it is always beneficial for the development of children to have contact with their father. Anna Freud’s singularly perverse contribution to this general discussion was also to advocate the non-involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. [12]

The school of thought that gathered around Anna Freud held that any post–divorce contact between parents was inherently confrontational, dangerous and/or violent. Awarding sole custody to mothers achieved the twin ambitions of limiting a father’s access to his children and restricting any dangerous confrontational scenes with his former wife.

In 1925 Anna Freud had met Dorothy Burlingham the ex-wife of an American millionaire who sought Freud’s psycho-analytical skills for her four children. They were in effect Freud’s guinea pigs but the world would not know for many decades that her treatment of the Burlingham children was an utter disaster. Its lethality led to alcoholism and the suicide of one of the children in Freud’s own home. [13]

Unaware of this experimental disaster (which was deliberately kept a closely guarded secret for over 40 years), academia and the judiciary began embracing the theories on the basis that they were fully tested and functional.

Anna Freud thus became absurdly influential in government circles and in the four decades after 1945. Her false findings powerfully reinforced the gathering assumptions in the UK judiciary, particularly Lord Justice Roger Ormrod who piloted the changes wrought by the 1969 Divorce Reform Act. [14]

Proof that these misguided principles are still affecting nearly every child’s life today is provided by Richard Warshak who writes:

‘They reinforced the folklore, sentiment and sexual stereotypical views of mother as nurturers substituting them for factual information when deciding custody matters.’ [15]

Spruijt believes research shows the relationship between the frequency of contact and a child’s well-being is not well defined.

He supports this view by quoting Amato (1994) and Valarie King (1999), Amato and Gilbreth (1999), who all conclude that the frequency of contact does not relate to the children’s well-being.

7. Parental Authority

Following the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) the legal position in the majority of European countries is that both parents should have parental authority and/or responsibility. This would surely be frustrated if Spruijt’s views were to prevail – or unless he knows (as we know) that having parental authority means nothing, has no teeth and is unconnected with the right to see ones children ?

Yet confusingly for the reader he cites Hines (1997) who maintains “A positive relationship between parent and adolescent may improve the negative consequences of a divorce.”

In his plan to discount fathers’ importance he cites the near 20 year old source of Furstenberg & Cherlin (1991), who state that on the basis of the latest research data (circa 1990) they ‘cannot unhesitatingly advise that regular contact with the non-resident, non-caring parent will always be in the child’s best interest’.

This is so true as to be not worthy of inclusion by Spruijt. No one can say unhesitatingly that regular contact with a non-resident will always be in the child’s best interest – and if asked now, in 2010, they would be far less hesitating one can assume.

One has to take instead a broader view. It is a little disingenuous of Spruijt to include this divisive phrase in his ‘Introduction’ (when it lacks validity in the 21st century) and one suspects this he did knowingly.

There will always be some fathers who pose a problem and therefore a blanket endorsement, i.e. unhesitatingly, is never possible if cast iron guarantees are being sort. But then the same can be said of mothers. Can we unhesitatingly say they always make the best carers ? One only has to look at Fig 2 to realise what an inconsequential point Spruijt is trying to make.

Despite citing Amato & Rezac (1994) and Lamb (1997), who are positive about fathers and the role of the father in the development of children, Spruijt still remains opposed to greater participation by fathers.

8. Inviting Retaliation

Spruijt does make some positive remarks and helpful contributions to our understanding of children of divorce. For instance, he highlights children’s behaviour as being just as influential on parent’s behaviour as much as parent’s behaviour affecting children’s behaviour (something too often overlooked).

He also concedes that there is so little longitudinal research on the subject of frequency of contact after a divorce that it is impossible to predict the validity of results so far available (in other words, the data he presents could be typical or very atypical).

Wearing his academic hat he prefers to stand detached and detail factors such as internalising and externalising the problems of youngsters. He is happy to correlate between the negative and the positive factors and link them to internalised and externalised problems. Perhaps this is how he can cope with the destruction his handling of the subject causes allowing him to leave his psyche as a man untouched.

Few of us have that luxury; we identify our humanity with the suffering of children, with kith and kin and the well being of society.

Were we to cause untold misery, most of us know from lesser experiences that we would have to live with that burden on our consciences forever.

Externalising behaviour is the term given to aggressive or delinquent behaviour, and internalising behaviour is usually defined as symptoms of withdrawal, anxiety, or depression.

Later in this article we will discuss some of Dunn’s findings with regard internalised and externalised problems but for the moment we will focus on Spuijt’s paper.

His sample consisted of 164 young people all drawn from divorced parents. The results showed no significant correlations between frequency of contact with the non-resident father and internalising and externalising problems of youngsters. However, there was some indication that low levels of contact were negatively correlated to externalising problems.

In all probably, low levels of contact is more connected with parental conflict and uncertainty about time and place of visitation. Increasing frequency of contact with the non-resident father over time seems to correlate slightly to diminishing internalised problems.

For many of us it is not good enough to shrug off problems and difficulties by hiding behind platitudes and throw-away remarks such as, “Probably little contact is connected with parental conflict and uncertainty about time and place of visitation.”

One of the most researched topics has to be the correlation between children’s well-being (defined by adults) and the frequency of contact with their non-resident father. However, nearly every study looks at only one time period and assumes that parental factors impact on children – never the more interesting point of how child factors impact on parental attitudes/behaviour (see also Rational Choice Theory).

Children’s ability to internalise and externalise problems created by one (or both) parents will also affect visitation frequency because it will link directly to parental behaviour. The innate characteristics of some children make for an easier transition after divorce than for other children who are more deeply affected – but no one knows why.

It is in everyone’s interests that empirical tests are conducted to map the bi-directional influences between parents and their adolescent children – a course of action emphasized by Rueter and Conger (1998).

To study such effects, it is imperative to use longitudinal data. However, there has been an insufficient number of longitudinal research studies to give a clear picture on the frequency of contact after a divorce. Longitudinal research is necessary to answer the question which comes first, frequency of contact or child problems. At present all we can say with certainty is that the data on ‘outomes’ is the most clear cut in favour of fathers remaining engaged with families.

The problem when contact is limited is that its value increases dramatically and parental conflict will erupt for that finite resource. For parents, certainty of “time and place” is vital.

Limiting contact will not decrease hostilities but stoke up the embers. Interrupting time and place facilities of a precious resource is to invite retaliation.

The attack on Pearl Harbour, in Dec 1941, was precipitated by the American refusal to supply oil to a nation that had no minerals or natural resources of its own. Today, 2009, we see Europe devising strategies to cope with the possibility of Russia again shutting off the gas pipelines that supply the EU’s heating.

In the context of father-child contact, the obvious answer is to increase the amount of time fathers have to visit. The opposite scenario, that is of limiting contact to a few hours per week, hardly makes the special arrangements that have to be made, worthwhile and it is not surprising that across the world contact visits by fathers taper off after a period of time. [16]

9. What Dead beat dads ?

Jonathan Bradshaw’s team at the University of York found that many parents (over 90% were fathers), often on the advice of their solicitors, gave up the unequal struggle of seeing their children or keeping in contact with them. British Government figures confirm the fact that after divorce or separation around 40% of children lose all contact with their fathers after a few years. And Dutch qualitative explorative research by Griffiths and Heckman (1989) indicated the same conclusion for the Netherlands.

  • Bradshaw and Miller, in their 1991 study of lone parents, found that 35% of non-residential (most of whom were fathers) did not maintain contact with their children following divorce.
  • Wicks (1991), estimated that some 750,000 children in England and Wales had lost contact with their fathers. [since then, more divorces have increased that figure – Ed].

Such statistics are viewed as a). unacceptable by politicians and policymakers and b). as undesirable by health and social work practitioners – yet nothing is done to rectify the situation.

Instead, fathers are blamed and labelled as ‘Drop-out dads’ when in truth they are “Pushed out dads.” Fathers cannot be blamed for maladjusted and delinquent children that result especially when it is the professionals, such as Spruijt, that think fathers should have little or no contact with their children.

Shared parenting, with its emphasis on co-parenting, eliminates fatherlessness and the trend toward maladjusted and delinquent children is sharply reduced.

It is an embarrassment to concede that in most Dutch and British families, fathers come to occupy a secondary position to mothers after divorce, and in some cases seem to occupy no position at all – most particularly so after divorce. One suspects this is increasingly true of the rest of Europe.

At this point we touch again the world of semantics. If highly valued contact time is de-limited, i.e. less restricted, it does not become worth less or valueless. On the contrary, it is still valuable and precious – some might say priceless. On that basis, a lasting deal between parents can be struck. By the mother giving more time to the father, the father is less likely to be stressed when she suddenly cancels a scheduled contact visit and more compliant to accept a new time and date. For the mother the benefits are that she has a more elastic environment within which to work and more freedom to prioritise aspects of her own life and widen her own horizons.

10. Power Struggle

Reference has already been made with regard to Pearl Harbor but we can use other geo-political analogies. When the Soviets divorced their former Allies in 1946 and decided in 1948 to blockade Berlin, they believed they had the whip hand.

Stalin calculated he could get away with a blockade by using his trump card of shutting down all land communications to West Berlin. This was his veto – he would be the ‘keeper of the gate’. This should have left the Allies powerless and more amenable to his diktats. But his move was itself trumped by the Berlin Airlift.

The ability to neutralise power play by a belligerent parent (i.e. a Stalin) is not available in the family courts and without countervailing force or sanctions the inevitable happens.

‘Gatekeeping’, the American term for mothers who hold the veto over whether their child sees its father, precipitates unpleasant confrontation and can triggers unwanted actions and or events. Reinforcing such a regime perpetuates the very dangers that feminists are fond of exaggerating (‘Father and Child Reunion’ by Warren Farrell). The growth of this tactic seems to indicate a willingness on behalf of some not to seek solutions and not to give up control of this instrument of sanction over men.

Feminist policy makers (and in the UK there are now many in Whitehall according to Melanie Phillips), are not interested in any alternative where the circumstances surrounding a high conflict family can be lessened and the negative affects constrained – politically it helps them not at all.

Helping both parents so that they can begin to live in harmony by lessening the cause of the friction are not targets on their radar screens.

The presumption is always that the violence and conflict emanates from fathers and never mothers – that invocation is never allowed to be challenged. However, across the civilised world child abuse figures point the accusative finger directly at mothers, e.g. Victoria Climbie (see, for instance, Western Australian child abuse figures at Appendix 5).

“Figures from the Department for Child Protection, obtained by The Sunday Times, show the number of mothers believed responsible for “substantiated maltreatment” has risen from 312 to 427.

In the same period – 2005-06 to 2007-08 – the number of fathers reported for child abuse dropped from 165 to 155.

A breakdown of all family-based child abuse shows an increase from 960 to 1,505 last year.” [17]

And, based on Yearly reports on child abuse in the Netherlands from 1999, 2000 and 2001 by the Dutch Child Protection and Youth Care Agencies (Advies- en Meldpunten Kindermishandeling AMK), we reported from the Netherlands that:

‘Children, especially boys, growing up in single parent mother-headed families are at twice to 2,5 times the risk of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and mental abuse and neglect by either the mother herself or her “new friend”, the so-called “stepparent”. ‘ (see ‘The benefits of post-divorce shared parenting‘, Peter Tromp, 2009)

Where non-resident father experience hostility or obstacles trying to secure contact with their children it is not surprising that many should lose interest over time. The personal hurt caused by being thwarted time and again from seeing their children in a tranquil, soothing and satisfying environment leads many fathers to give up, hoping for better prospects once their children are over 18 years old (see also the earlier reference in ‘What Dead beat dads ?’ to ‘the unequal struggle’).

11. Teenage Years

In another regard Spruijt’s review of contact is useful as it covers the procession into the teenage years and into the early twenties. Helpfully he provides a series of tables and shown below (Fig 3) is a table relating to the contact frequency between father and child – albeit limited to a small sample size of 164 children.

Compared to other researchers (including the UK government’s estimate of 40%), his figures seem underestimates both in terms of children who see their fathers only occasionally (T3, 13%) and fathers not able to see their children at all (T3, 32%).

Table 3. The frequency of contact at various points in time: (%age).
T0 T1 T2 T3
% % % %
None at all 27 38 35 32
Less than 4 times a year 08 10 13 13
5 – 11 times a year 06 09 10 15
12 – 23 times a year 13 15 13 14
24 – 47 times a year 22 15 12 13
more than 47 times a year 24 13 17 13
Total 100 100 100 100
131 131 148 164
Source: A.P. Spruijt, University of Utrecht 2002. (n=164, 65 boys and 99 girls all lived with mother).

Spruijt measured how frequently a child saw its father immediately after divorce – this he calls ‘T0’ – which on average was 10 years before the next measurement point of ‘T1.’

In calendar years, T1 is equivalent to 1991, T2 is 1994 and T3 is 1997 (T0 must be circa 1981-83). We are able to see from Fig 3 that the proportion of children that fell into the category where they had no contact at all with their fathers, begins at 27% (T0) in the immediate post divorce era, and then rose only to fall, e.g. 38%, 35%, and then 32% in T3.

The reciprocal of this is that approx. 66% of fathers, and therefore children, saw one another on a more frequent basis.

The category at the other extreme, i.e. “more than 47 times a year” sound generous in parental time but in calendar terms this works out to less than once a week. The total absence of any category for father visits in the 100 or 150 times per annum category creates a pregnant moment and one that we must hope occurred to Spruijt.

The numbers do the talking. A quarter of all fathers never get to see their children (T0, 27%) and a second 25% get to see them once a week (T0, 24%). A huge 50% of fathers don’t get to see their children on a more regular basis than once a fortnight.

The American, Valarie King (University of Pennsylvania, 1994), reported that in a random survey of more than 1,500 American children (a better sample size), she arrived at a ‘no contact’ percentage of 25%. Her conclusion was that a substantial number of the children of divorce lost contact with the non-resident parent – on average about 25% (NB the institutional/conventional resistance to putting the figure higher has eased since 1994).

Disappointment follows disappointment and personal hurt kicks in after a time. Those fathers awarded most contact, i.e. 24 – 47 times a year and more than 47 times a year, witness a halving of their contact time (from T0 to T3). Is this gatekeeping by mothers or frustration by fathers ? Spruijt falls silent on this crucial point.

Spruijt could have made a significant contribution by determining whether or not it was due to a sense of futility among fathers.

The 164 boys and girls in the Utrecht survey are reported as living with their single mother. The data does not measure how frequently a child sees its mother when the father is granted custody after divorce and thus an opportunity to compare and contrast the benefits per se, and of contact by mothers in particular, is missed.

Is this because custody is heavily biased towards mothers making comparison with fathers technically very difficult ?

Spruijt asks the same significant question posed by all academics who are perhaps too many places removed to realise what happens in real life. Why, he asks, have these children lost contact with their non-resident parent ?

He believes that the degree of contact seems to depend both on the family composition to which the child belongs to (arrival of step-parent and step-siblings) and on the marital status of the non-resident father.

He finds that 66% of children had regular contact with single non-resident fathers but when non-resident fathers re-married this fell to only 29%. This should not be surprising to Spruijt but it appears to be.

What Spruijt does not measure in his ‘family composition’ is the effects of the original social class and economic income bracket which may be very influential and which may be very diverse at either end of the spectrum. Omitted too is any cultural or ethnic minority dimension.

The need to earn a living and provide adequately for his second family yet still remit monies to his first family soaks up any time and energy he would have to himself to visit the children his first family. In this and others regards Spuijt appears to be amazingly unworldly.

Restricting ourselves to purely socio-economic factors, the north-south divide seen in custody awards in Britain underlines the strong cultural factors linking contact with frequency when compared with the socio-economic status of the original family composition (see “Twenty Wasted Years – Joint Custody is Not New or Untested”, Robert Whiston, 2008)

Fig 4. Marriages, United Kingdom, 1951 – 2006 (ONS)

We might speculate that as children progress into their teenage years and early twenties they might seek out their father to reassure themselves as to their identity, lineage and their heritage. But it is also possible that 25% – 30% of divorced fathers re-partner and have a second family that preoccupies their time.

Forty years ago it was planned that the Divorce Reform Act 1969 would see re-marriages equalling ‘first time’ marriages and then overtake it as divorce became ever-easier and cheaper. But as the trend lines show in Fig 4, this never happened; first time marriages nose dived and re-marriages have become stuck on a plateau since 1973.

We might also speculate that those children in Spruijt’s sample who do not see their fathers at all, or rarely, might have had fathers re-engaging with society and seeking the company of women, they might even have re-partnered and formed re-blended families.

This could explain why, at least for some numbers, i.e. in the less than 4 times a year and the 5 – 11 times a year categories, there is an actual increase, a doubling, in frequency of contact over the years (from T0 to T3) – but again Spruijt falls silent at this most influential of junctures.

Fig 5 Stability of the internalising and externalising problems. (Table 3)
T1 > T2 > T3
Stress and depression: .36 .47
Suicidal thoughts: .39 .43
Poor mental health: .19 .39
Delinquency: 36 .34
Risky habits: 53 .41
Unemployment: ns .19
Source:  Spruijt 200

Fig 5, on the right, replicates Spruijt’s Table 3 where he analyses the risks faced by children of divorce but who have some kind of contact with their father. At one point he concludes that children receive both no benefit from contact with their father but elsewhere that they do benefit from said contact.

This, it would appear, is not an uncommon situation. Spruijt refers to the work of Amato & Rezac (1994) who also found contradictory results in the USA concerning contact with the non-resident parent and Spruijt, to his credit, mentions other examples of contradictory findings regarding the benefit of contact.

However, Amato and Rezac (1994) examined the benefit of contact only in relation to where there were degrees of ‘conflict’. Not unnaturally they found that if there were relatively few incidents of conflicts between the parents, the contact was positive for the child.

This is so obvious one wonders why it has to be stated. The answer to that rhetorical question is that it is a ‘means to an end’; by understating the conflict element it brings the reader one step closer to the view that all contact is bad.

It is not revealed to the reader that Amato and Rezac analyzed only 33 studies regarding the question whether there is a positive relation between the well-being of children of divorce and access to the non-resident parent” (see the much more recent meta-analysis of Bauserman).

Once the scene is set, Sprujt is free to build on the erroneous impression by quoting, for example, King (1994 & 1999). According to Spruijt, King says in her 1994 study “clearly comes to the conclusion that there was not any significant correlation between visiting arrangements and the (numerous) characteristics of the children studied.”

However, were we to remove the small number of families ‘in conflict’ from the sample, would the ‘insignificant correlation’ relating to contact become significant ?

Valarie King’s dissertation of 1993 (Consequences of Outside Father Involvement for Children’s Well-Being), was written against a backdrop of increasingly common “rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing non-resident paternal parenting…..” [18]

The fact that in 1993 it was possible to write, “Recent public sentiment has increasingly called for the involvement of these fathers in their children’s lives under the assumption that such involvement will have positive benefits for children” would indicate that the public thought fathers were not getting a fair deal and ere not seeing enough of their children.

There is also the possibility to be weighed that the sample is skewed by the number of fathers who are out-of-wedlock fathers as well as being non resident fathers.

Perhaps Spruijt hopes no one will notice that in citing King’s 1999 study he actually reinforces the counter-case just outlined. King’s 1999 study concluded that ‘this particular correlation depended on the mother’s satisfaction with the arrangement’, thereby pointing directly not to compliance and co-operation and benefits to the child but capriciousness and unspoken conflict in the sample. Quote;

  • If mothers are happy with the visiting arrangements between child and father, the children will be all right. Similarly, Amato and Gilbreth (1999) did not find any correlation between the frequency of contact and the well-being of the children.
  • In 1999 King, together with Heard, specified this conclusion by stating that this particular correlation depended on the mother’s satisfaction with the arrangement.

Spruijt tries to downgrade the importance of a father in a child’s life by remarking that “the central idea runs.” The insinuation is that society is meant to have wrongly and idly arrived at believing that, “contact is always beneficial for the development of children. In a word: contact is essential.” [19]

12. Risky Behaviour

If we turn to more up-to-date studies, e.g. News-Medical in Child Health News (25 May 2004), we find that the ago old Gold Standard is till valid (“Children’s behaviour is linked to contact with real father” See Appendix 6.

An obvious omission is the complication of sexual development in girls caused by father absence. Spruijt seemingly focuses on boys and their ‘risky habits’ but fatherlessness affects girls too, especially their mental health (see “Does early father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy ?). [20]

Results: “….. Among children experiencing low father involvement in infancy, behavioral, autonomic, and adrenocortical reactivity became risk factors for later mental health symptoms. The highest symptom severity scores were found for children with high autonomic reactivity that, as infants, had experienced low father involvement and mothers with symptoms of depression.”

In plainer English it also reports that;

“…father-absence continued to affect the rate of early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy exhibited by daughters. In addition rates were highest for early father-absence, in the middle for late father-absence, and lowest for father-present adolescent girls.”

We have to travel back through time, to 1999, to find another apparently credible report that gives some support to Spruijt. In 1999, the State of Washington hired Dr. Diane Lye to prepare a report to advise on how the Parenting Act 1988 (seen as a major revision of the state’s custody laws) was working in practice. Overall it was favourable to parenting plans, joint custody etc, however, Diane Lye also included ancillary matters such as violence, abuse and conflict and levels of child support. The resulting Lye Report has inevitably been seized upon by supporters and critics alike as it contains ammunition for both. [21]

For instance, Joan Kelly, an Executive Director of the Northern California Mediation Center, is cited almost on the last page (pp 4-26 & 4-27), as stating:

“Dual residence arrangements appeared to be more harmful when parents were in high discord than were sole residence arrangements. In contrast, adolescents in dual residence arrangements where there was cooperative communication between parents benefited more than did adolescents in sole residence arrangements.” (Pages 34-35 in “Current Research on Children’s Post-divorce Adjustment”).

Again, this is not really the point. Whatever the residential arrangements, e.g. sole mother custody, discord will have harmful effects. What Joan Kelly thinks is atypical and runs contrary to the Lye Report. Its conclusions, while generally favorable to a regime that more willingly embraces fathers, contain questioning citations (along the lines of Joan Kelly), from other experts and a sample of these can be found in Appendix 7.

The real flaw in the Washington State’s Parenting Act 1987, is that whatever the wording of reform legislation, retaining a maternal ‘veto’ effectively torpedoes any progress for fathers and children.

Spruijt, in a paper co-authored with DeGoede in 1997, wrote;

“Numerous studies have shown that youngsters growing up in families with a happy, harmonious parental marriage experience fewer problems and a higher well-being than those from divorced or martially distressed families.”

But he seems temperamentally trapped and unable to concede that a). youngsters growing up in slightly disharmonious married families are just as happy and b). that shared parenting offers children of divorce the best chance of recapturing something close to those former days of stability.

His analysis lacks a certain credibility simply because he refuses to acknowledge the implications of his own work. He cannot make the small step from his preferred model to that of joint custody / shared parenting / co-parenting that his research demands.

13. Social Policy and Suicides

Too many academic papers have a tendency to reduce raw data into confusing bi-variances, co-variances, statistical probabilities, degrees of standard deviation etc (e.g. Fig 3 & 5). It is a situation not retrieved by explanatory commentaries which fail to enlighten the reader.

Is it only vanity or a dread of looking unprofessional that stops assessments being understood by the common man ?

What, for instance, would an average man understand by the numbers ‘greater than 0.39’ associated with Spruijt’s “Suicidal thoughts” category ?

If he were to write that 5 years after the date of the divorce 45% of children aged 17 – 19, had, at one time or another in that period, the occasional (or recurring ?) suicidal thought, it would carry more meaning/weight.

Those not from a Sociology background tend not to obfuscate and approach the problem of suicide intent on making the numbers meaningful.

They see an increase in male suicides over the past 40 year among the young, i.e., aged 18 to 28 and say 29 to 40. At the same time there is an almost corresponding decrease in successful suicides among females in the same age groupings (females have always preferred attempted/para suicides).

Among the non-sociological fraternity it is the belief that social policy dictates to a large extent the suicide levels. To believe that fatherly involvement is a prime cause rather than social policy, is to confuse problem with symptom.

Fatherly involvement can have, in individual cases, an acute effect but it more often attenuates the impact of poorly thought out social policy. The British prison service has found that most young male who commit suicide upon their admission into prison are from fatherless families. Very few, if any, young men with an actively engaged father commit suicide in prison (see 13.Sample Size below).

The efficacy of any post-divorce custody model should take into account such phenomenon if the child’s best interests are to be served. This approach provides a far firmer and more pragmatic base on which to speculate about how suicidal thoughts overwhelm.

Somewhat ambiguously “being unemployed” is described by Spruijt as “obviously the least stable problem.” Does he mean by this that the least important factor is being unemployed or, that it will strike at random within the group, or that being unemployed is the most volatile factor and therefore the least stable ?

Being unemployed is surely the most influential underlying risk factor for young men affecting as it does their self-worth and helping to ensure “risky habits” of smoking, drugs, drinking, delinquency, and suicide. Being unemployed is very depressing – anyone who has been unemployed will know the toll that being continually ‘rejected’ takes from one’s self confidence.

Therefore, asking a young person in questionnaires is sometimes not a good idea for they are perhaps less well equipped than others to answer why they behave the way they do.

14. Sample Size

Spruijt’s paper is not very clear as to the sample size used for the various measurements.

The foundation of the Spruijt paper and its results shown in the tables above, appear to be based on a 1991 questionnaire and face-to-face interviews involving some 3,000 youngsters aged between 12 and 24 years old but the citation is for 164 participants.

It appears to be a subset. i.e. the youngest group aged 12 – 15, which were continuously ‘refreshed’ (re-examined ?), meaning that by 1994 the oldest were 27 (T2) and aged 30 in 1997 (T3).

In 1997 the number of young people aged between 12 to 30 years old who participated in the investigation totalled 1,781. Spruijt then adds;

“For the benefit of the analyses in this article” [he selected a group] “of children of divorced parents who had participated three times”, [and who are] “living with their mothers or had lived with them before leaving home.”

It is this selection that causes the reviewer some unease. Was it a selection to mimic a random sample or was it a selection that contained inherent biases ? Was it impossible to find a sample, albeit smaller in size, of children from father only households to compare and contrast the validity of his subsequent findings ?

Whatever the answer to these key questions we are told that the group consisted of 65 boys and 99 girls (giving a sample size of 164, or n=164).

The children are said to come from 131 households where the parent was divorced but over a three year period a further 33 divorced households are added which would, a first sight, indicate an instability in the sample size.

Spruijt’s methodology has another unsettling aspect as he records that the average age was 17.9 years (12 – 24 years). No median age is given. Characteristics are so diverse in this age range (12 – 24 years), and the stages of ‘self’ so numerous that aggregating them would seem to defeat reaching any clear cut conclusion. It would have been far better if he could have arranged for a 3 or 4 year interval, a discrete age range of, say,. 12 – 15, 15 – 18 etc, and for ‘snapshots’ to have been taken then.

Finessing the existing data and hypothesising from a sample of 164 is an academic exercise in comparison with the very pragmatic matter of judging cohorts in their thousands and/or of outcomes for an equally large number, or for a generation.

When the majority of young men (under 21) who commit suicide in jail within the first 3 weeks are found to come from fatherless families then that is something that is concrete and can be discussed. (ref. Prison Service Perrie Lectures, Prison Officer Training College, Rugby, UK, June 2001).

Knowing that fact enables relevant studies to be made of the degrees and intensity of paternal and maternal bonding (Spruijt’s reference to Parker, Tupling, & Brown, 1979), and whether one or both were ‘authoritative parents.’

Looking for answers in a sample of 164 might be useful, but compared with other options is surely looking down the wrong end of a telescope.

In an earlier 2001 paper co-authored with De Goede, Spruijt states that;

“Father bonding is an important protective factor against the negative effects of a divorce, but only if this father bond was established long before the divorce.”

Yet in the book “The role of the father in child development” by Michael E. Lamb, this conclusion about a long established bond is not altogether validated. Nonetheless, Spruijt cites Lamb as a source for part of his argument for the low relevance of fathers and contact in the paper currently here under review.

A long established bond would imply ‘quantity’ of time invested in father-child relationships rather than quality – or is this a nefarious and unrelated connection ?

Measuring the father bond in the Caribbean cultures (Lamb, page 78) shows a low amount of time invested by fathers in child relationships, yet Spruijt does not speak of quality or quantity, nor does he reveal the ethnic or cultural mix of his Utrecht sample (something that Lamb’s 500 page book does explore). [22]

15. Bonding

Bearing in mind the rich maritime trading traditions of both Holland and Britain, Spruijt falls silent again on the compensatory capacity of mothers when fathers are away at sea for months at a time. What quantity of time or intensity of bonding would Spruijt put on such family relationships ? Why one wonders is all the emphasis for bonding placed on fathers all the time when mothers have a pivotal role in making paternal bonding happen and making it count.

Is any consideration given to the results if mothers employ ‘spoiling tactics’ both before divorce, as the adult relationship dwindles and during divorce when battle is joined ?

One can gauge how much of a deterrent this can be when Spruijt cites King & Heard (1999), who found that if the mother was happy with the visiting arrangements between the child and the father, the children will be all right (cited above).

In short, any conclusion about particular correlations Spruijt might make depends wholly on the mother’s satisfaction with the arrangement (again, ego and the ability to veto coming to the fore).

Conversely, but still underlining the point, Amato & Gilbreth (1999) did not find any correlation between the frequency of contact and the well-being of the children. This leads one to suspect a positive outcomes for contact in governed more by mothers than fathers.

How influential a ‘fortress mother’ can be and how she can rule the lives of others can be measured by inquiring into the lives of other women, namely ‘second wives’. Their lives are, or can be, made utterly miserable by the antics of the parent-with-care, i.e. the mother in the first family. Even the standard of living a second wife can expect is governed by and is always at the mercy of the whims of the parent-with-care.

The common assumption Spruijt tries to undermine in his 2002 paper is one dating from the 1970s which believes children thrive best when contact with both parents is possible. In the following decades, particularly in the 1990s, serious efforts were mounted to overturn this view principally because of the financial gains involved and the political advantage it would benefit those proposing it.

In “Father-child relations Mother-child relations, and Offspring Psychological Wellbeing in Early Adulthood” (1994), P. Amato points out the closer children are to their father, regardless of the quality of the mother-child relationship, the happier, more satisfied, and less distressed they are.

This must surely put in doubt the assumption in many circles that making the mother happy is key and takes primacy over the child’s happiness.

16. The Well-Being of Children

Contrary to Spruijt’s interpretation of the available literature there is more than ample evidence to indicate that the benefit of fatherly contact is not a 50/50 question i.e. that for every gain there is a loss, far from it.

Heide Ottosen makes a telling point when in “Contact and the well-being of children”, (2004, supra, p. 28) she states that this type of research (father-contact-child) is more prominent in countries such as the US where family policy discussions have a more moralistic character than in Scandinavia” (and presumably Spruijt has access to every US university archive).

Another dimension is that America is much more openly religious than Europe, which is far more secular in many of its institutions. Funding for a secular view of divorce and custody will probably more found more easily and viewed as more objective than one stemming from a religious base. Yet ‘secularism’ can be as much a religion, and as dogmatic, as Christianity or Islam.

Stephen Gilmore (2006), and J. Dunn (2004) fail to share Spruijt’s opinion. Gilmore has assessed legal decision-making with a view to the evidence regarding contact and shared residence, and J. Dunn (2004) has researched children’s perspectives about their non- resident father. They believe that the volume and frequency of contact is significant and that the quality of contact is also significant.

Mothers who are not mature and instead allow their bitterness to colour their attitudes can adversely affect both the quantity and the quality of contact. Thinking they are hurting their former partner they are not responsible enough to realise they damage only the children.

It isn’t just that Lamb’s handbook (about which Spruijt appears to place great store) asserts; “… the role of the father in the development of children … clearly shows that in two-parent families both the mother and the father play an important role in the healthy development of their children”, it is that the book shows how pivotal all fathers are for all children and what a disaster has resulted from their marginalisation.

For instance on page 121 the chapter begins:

“Among social sciences and public policy makers in Europe there is increasing awareness of the complex and contradictory nature of contemporary fatherhood.

Page 196 echoes these sympathetic themes and on page 307 the section begins:

“Fathers are major but often unrecognised members of the family who play a central role in children’s socialisation.

Other contributions to Lamb’s manual are worth listing briefly:

  • In a study of men in Guyana it was found that 61% of fathers played with their children, 40% took them for walks and outings etc. 62% talked to children about things important to them, and 42% helped with homework ‘often’ or ‘very often.’ (Lamb, pp 78-79).
  • Unexpectedly, at least from a European perspective, fathers from low income families actually spent more time with their children’s activities than men from higher income brackets (Brown et al 1994 and 1997).
  • In addition it was found when the child was still an infant, approx. 72% of fathers reported changing nappies, 64% got up in the middle of the night, and 70% prepared baby food. The levels of paternal involvement are remarkable and would not be out of place in American or European homes.

According to Lamb’s book, debate in Europe is polarised around two camps; one where men are in crisis and unable to provide the cash through work necessary to support a family (Hobson 2002), and in the alternative, where men are no longer the austere stereotypical patriarchs of old but have instead evolved into caring, nurturing beings (Bjornberg, 1992).

This is a severe if not overly simplistic view of what is a complex and fluid situation. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two and is a mixture of the two.

However, those extreme views are only supposition, for Lamb makes it crystal clear (on p 121) that in Europe the study of fathers has been ignored and even the host of official EU statistics measure women and not men (a criticism that can be justifiably leveled at Britain’s ONS).

Fatherhood, Lamb believes, is in transition all across Europe, and the EU has no idea of the changes underway in the social landscape –instead it is naval gazing at trade negotiations and multi-ethnic diversity.

Compared with the level of fatherly involvement seen among Caribbean fathers, the European social backdrop is a lunar landscape and is inadequate. What agencies are at work that actively separate children from their fathers ?

Those proposing sole mother custody and by implication limiting father contact to only a few hours per week or per fortnight, can no longer deny that it is children who will suffer most. How can Saturday afternoons with Dad make up this sort of deficit ?

The conclusion Spruijt reaches is that children would do better “if parents learned to communicate better with one another.”

This is where he and pro-fathers rights groups begin to share common ground because it is so obvious (though one suspects he sees fathers as the culprits for any lack of communication).

What, one must ask, is more guaranteed to antagonise the situation and more designed to create obstacles to the desired state of better communications than sole mother custody, vesting as it does the veto power of one parent over the other ?

This is blatant anathema to better relationships that it is surprising those opposing greater parental involvement have not yet identified it.

Pro-fathers rights groups would readily agree that it would be better if parents were able to communicate with one another but this simplistic view overlooks the tragedy concealed within. The parent with whom the child resides after the divorce and who frustrates the other parent’s contact (i.e., the father) usually has not unpacked their emotional baggage. This often consisting of raw, unprocessed emotions linked to the separation and which can lead to prolonged vindictiveness.

Despite the very emphatic nature of a legal separation – and its hard, factual reality – subconsciously it is possible that in the mind of one parent there has been no relational ‘Goodbye’ to the former marital estate.

17. Parental Alienation (PAS)

Spruijt and pro-fathers rights groups are agreed on the existence of parental alienation (sometimes referred to as PAS) and the damaging effect it can have on the child.

Disharmony and alienation can be deliberately orchestrated to benefit one of the parents. To the observer this can be seen as hostile acts or even belligerence by one or both parents. At its most efficient parental alienation is wholly interchangeability with hostility and violence – and because PAS is child-based, children are drawn into its creation and become its actors.

In a paper published in 2008 by E. Kaplan, of the Faculty of Social Sciences (University of Utrecht), states how boys and girls are sucked in and suffer. [23]

“As conflicts between parents leads to loyalty problems with the child, with more girls suffer from conflicts for the separation as opposed to boys.”

Kaplin then measures the phenomenon and finds that a gender difference exists:

• 72% of fathers believe PAS is a problem.

• But only 36% of mothers believe PAS is a problem.

• According to the father’s PAS is a severe problem in 21% of cases.

• But according mothers PAS is only a severe problem in 10% of cases.

These 2008 findings of higher percentages of PAS contradicted earlier findings regarding PAS undertaken by Ed Spruijt and his colleagues in 2005. He had concluded that although PAS did occur in the Netherlands, it was hardly ever found to be the severe form.

In Britain, Sturge and Glaser were dismissive of PAS as it was not a DSM recognised syndrome – an arcane point – but conceded that the processes of alienation were real in some cases. By contrast,

‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ is equally not recognised by the DSM as a syndrome but is nonetheless referred to as such in legal circles.

The problem with interchangeability is the slide into aggregation and the resulting obfuscation. We see this everyday in statistics that lump together cohabiting couples with married couples into one category.

Spruijt is not alone in confusing high conflict families with families where PAS can be found. Nor is he alone in wrongly for appearing to group conflict and PAS with actual physical violence (see Appendix 8).

In respect to divorces, before 1998 the reported conflict level was 8.4 and had only increased to 11.0 -13.2 after 1998 (on a 0 – 20 scale). Considering the increased marginalisation of fathers and the amount of anti-father legislation this is not a significant increase. It has to be pigeon holed as ‘not significant’ because it is not specific to one type of action or category (i.e. it could be an amalgam of causes).

Additionally, the fact that the legal construction of ‘joint parental authority’ may in itself bring about higher conflict levels was a conclusion of a Danish Commission which reported on this topic in 2006 (‘joint parental authority’ and its equivalent has spread to nearly all the EU nations by 2009).

The Danish Commission found that in Sweden “the conflict levels did not decrease with the passing of time” which would seem to point to a systems-induced failure rather than a human one. [24]

Where the model of divorce and/or custody has changed, e.g. some states in America, levels of conflict have also altered.

18. Kinderbescherming

Unlike the United Nations, the Kinderbescherming is not dependent on the Armed Forces of its member nations and can exercise options to give both parties a level playing field – but chooses not to.

It does not rely on the individual clients to sort out problems but relies on individuals inside the Kinderbescherming to provide solutions and push things forward. Society has to hope that individuals inside the Kinderbescherming are pushing in the right direction but who is there to check and correct the Kinderbescherming ?

The Kinderbescherming can be pro-active if it chooses to be – it may not have wholly unlimited options but its powers are not curtailed as they are for the United Nations.

Spruijt also believes that ‘counseling, parenting plans and mandatory mediation for divorcing parents could be helpful to diminish the continuous conflict between fathers and mothers after divorce’ and who could not agree with that ?

Pro-fathers rights groups see it as a positive step.

The only drawback is that undertaking such counseling, parenting plans and mediation when a veto is held by one party, negates any possibility of meaningful and equitable negotiation leading to mutually beneficial outcomes (comparable to the Czechoslovakia being forced to surrender the Sudetenland and its border defences in 1938 to Germany prior to annexation).

If Spruijt truly wants to diminish the conflict between fathers and mothers after divorce then changes are needed to the custody model now in operation.

Principally there must be an end to the ‘casino’ approach to custody where the punter (the father) is tempted by the prospect of justice (winning) but where the house (the court) ensures it always wins.

Take the gambling dimension out of custody awards; eliminate the prospect of the court awarding 95% of custody cases to sole mothers and both children and fathers will benefit.

The present level of conflict between fathers and mothers after divorce will measurably subside if those simple stapes are taken.

In other areas Spruijt holds views that are compatible with fathers groups; he recognises the dangers of parental alienation (PAS, Gardner, 1998) as a potential threat for the healthy development of children.

Spruijt’s solution for this and “overt and continuous quarrels between ex-spouses”, is for the parent, i.e. implicitly the father, to learn to control their conflicts.

This Spruijt believes will provide a framework upon which contact (which he says is essential) would be conditional and granted only after compliance, i.e. the veto again.

Spruijt is caught in a two-way bind of is own making. Either it is good for children to see their father, or it is not.

Either the child’s best interest (CBI) comes first, or it does not; in which case (i.e. where it does not) then the pretence is laid bare – it is the mother’s best interest that comes first.

It is mothers who win out and the CBI mantra is merely codified shorthand for mother’s best interest. (see also Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Pres. of the Family Division, ‘The Effects and the Implications for Contact’, Nov 2001, Regents Park lecture, prioritising mother custody).

Thus, the champion of women – the radical-feminists – reduces all women to an infantile status last seen in the 19th century. Women cannot function in society without being given custody of any children. The discomfiture and odium of being a divorced women and not having been granted custody of any resulting children is too embarrassing to bear.

Even where they are clearly unfit to be mothers they are given custody – an assertion made fact by analysis of the child abuse and neglect figures.

Women under Spruijt’s law are adults in name only; they are incapable of making binding contracts or being held responsible for decisions that do not completely suit or favour them. Has he not considered the child abuse and neglect figures and is not his first duty to children rather than parents ?

If, as is implied, contact is semi-dependent on the quality of contact and the investment fathers are prepared to make should we not also measure the quality of mothers and their mothering abilities ?

If the question of the role of mothers is not up for discussion why should we discuss whether fathers should be assessed as to suitability ?

Why are fathers always considered the variable factor and not the mother ?

Instead of looking at the high or low frequency of fatherly contact why are we not measuring the suitability of women in the sample; the suitability of women who divorce and those that prefer to be unmarried mothers ?

Is there something inherently wrong in their psychological make-up that marks them out to be poor wives and inadequate mothers ?

To borrow an adage from the late Prof. Jacob Bronowski, “Only by asking the impertinent question can we arrive at the pertinent answer”.


“Are men really necessary ? Good question”

The Times (UK), Nov 25th 2007

(An article prompted by government moves to make IVF available to women without the need for a husband or for the child to have a father)


.. For nearly 30 years we have seen a subtle but increasing onslaught against masculinity. From the female separatism of the 1970s, when I went to feminist meetings that were open to “women and girl children only”, to the feminisation of the classroom and exams and the widespread use of the word testosterone as a term of blame and abuse, men and boys have come to understand that they are increasingly seen as hairy, smelly, lazy, disruptive, violent and generally rather a bad thing.

Women regularly blame their difficulties on men and expect them to make reparation. They increasingly tolerate men only if they take on domestic chores and childcare. Meanwhile, women are beginning to feel truly independent of men, at least financially. It is hardly surprising that men increasingly feel dispensable.”

“ …. As Camille Paglia once said, if civilisation had been left to women, we’d still be living in grass huts.”

“ ….. This is a moment for serious revaluation of men. The women at Cranford [a novel] managed, despite the lack of men, and so did my mother, who was widowed with four tiny children, and others like her. But it is at great cost and a great loss – and to the children, too. What we need is the rehabilitation of real masculinity, because that is something most of us do need and like.”

NB. Persistent marginalisation of men may lead them to be less inclined to fund, via their taxes, those services most valued and used mainly by women, e.g. medical treatment, pensions, housing, child subsidies.

Frederick Engels

In the 1970s, the feminist movement which had encouraged change was co-opted by radicals who saw women as the prototypical oppressed class and marriage and “compulsory heterosexuality” as the mechanisms of oppression.

This stream of thought drew on Frederick Engels’ analysis of the origins of the family. In 1884 Engels had written:

“The first-class antagonism in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between men and women in monogamous marriage, and the first-class oppression with that of the female sex by the male”.

(Ref. Frederick Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family, Property and the State’. International Publishers: 1972, pp. 65-66. (

200,000 children at risk of abuse in their own homes’

200,000 children are at risk of violence or abuse in their own home,

According to an official report that demands urgent improvements in child protection starting “at the heart of government”.

By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent, Daily Telegraph, 13th Mar 2009

Instead of seeking any fundamental change in the rules and systems for social services and child protection, Lord Laming said that everyone involved in the field needs to do their jobs better.

“After reviewing child protection standards in the wake of the death of Baby P in Haringey, Lord Laming said ministers, council chiefs, social work managers, NHS staff and police officers all needed to do more to safeguard vulnerable children.

His report revealed figures suggesting that of the 11 million children in England, 200,000 are living in homes where there is “known high risk case of domestic abuse or violence.”

“As many as 350,000 children have parents who have serious drug habits and 1.3 million live with parents who drink heavily, Lord Laming’s report says.”

“Divorce and separation: The outcomes for children”

By Bryan Rodgers and Jan Pryor, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, June 1998

“a comprehensive review of over 200 current research reports by”

Right: Dr. Jan Pryor has been the inaugural Director of the Centre for the last seven years. Recently (May 2009) she handed over the reigns to Associate Professor Paul Jose as Acting Director. Jan’s new role as Chief Families Commissioner has impacted on her time and she now works part time for the Centre as a Senior Researcher.

Left: Professor Bryan Rodgers BA (hons), MA (Oxford), MSc (London), PhD (Bristol) Professor of Family Health & Wellbeing, The Australian National University, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, Primary Areas: Psychology and psychiatry, social issues & public policy. Expertise: Depression, alcohol use, family health & wellbeing, divorce, childhood adversity and mental health, gambling.

E-mail:, Tel: +61 2 6125 0399
Room 3231, Coombs Building

More reports of WA mothers mistreating children

By Nick Taylor, PerthNow, (Western Australia), 18 July 2009,27574,25802810-2761,00.html

The number of WA mothers reported for abusing their children has leapt in the past two years.

Figures from the Department for Child Protection, obtained by The Sunday Times, show the number of mothers believed responsible for “substantiated maltreatment” has risen from 312 to 427. In the same period – 2005-06 to 2007-08 – the number of fathers reported for child abuse dropped from 165 to 155.

A breakdown of all family-based child abuse shows and increase from 960 to 1505 last year.

Michael Woods, of the University of Western Sydney, said the data “debunked a common misconception about fathers and violence”.

Dr Woods, who is also a co-director of the university-based Men’s Information and Resource Centre said: “The figures undermine the myth that fathers are the major risk for their children’s wellbeing.

“The data is not surprising. It is in line with the international findings regarding perpetrators of child abuse.”

He said previous practices of lumping together de facto, live-in boyfriends and overnight male guests with fathers as male carers had “skewed beliefs” about who abused children.

Angela Hartwig, executive officer of the Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA, said the increases were a concern, but child abuse, neglect and domestic and family violence could be reported in several ways.

“Because the woman is so often the primary care-giver she is held as being responsible for the neglect,” she said.

“This could also explain why there is such a high number of neglect cases against women, as the data only shows the first person believed responsible.

“The statistics do not show the strong correlation that where there is child abuse there is often domestic and family violence and the women may be the victim of the abuse.

“If she is a victim of domestic and family violence, a woman has very little power to change the situation.

“It is difficult for a woman to provide for children when living with an abusive partner who has total control of all decisions made, which includes controlling the finances.”

Children’s behaviour is linked to contact with real father

Posted By: News-Medical in Child Health News, Tuesday, 25-May-2004

The importance of a father figure in children’s lives has been demonstrated by a new study of families with separated parents in Bristol.

After looking at couples who had split up, researchers found there was a direct relationship between their children’s behavioural problems and the amount of contact they had with their natural father, and the quality of the relationship between father and child.

The effect was more pronounced in single parent families, particularly teenaged mothers. In these families the children were particularly vulnerable if they had no contact with their real father.

The findings, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry were based on data collected by the Children of the 90s study based at the University of Bristol.

Professor Judy Dunn from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London, studied 162 children whose parents had separated, over two years. Of those children, 18% had no contact with their father, and 16% had contact less than once a month. There tended to be less contact if the mothers had been relatively young when pregnant.

Researchers interviewed all 162 children (initially at an average age of eight and a half) about their relationship with their mothers, fathers and stepfathers. The mothers were asked to report on children’s behaviour, on whether they were aggressive or delinquent (externalising behaviour) or withdrawn, anxious, or depressed (internalising).

There were fewer externalising problems according to the child’s relationship with both mother or non-resident father, and according to the extent of child-father contact and the quality of this relationship.

Internalising problems were associated with the quality of the relationship with the mother, and to infrequent or no contact with the father.

The report notes: “Earlier studies have reported some inconsistent findings on the significance of contact.

“Our findings were unequivocal: more frequent and more regular contact (which included communication by telephone) was associated with closer more intense relationships with non-resident fathers and fewer adjustment problems in children.”

Professor Dunn notes that the amount of contact between a child and a father was related to the relationship between the parents.

She says: “This underlines the importance of parents developing a good working relationship over children’s issues and of keeping any problems in their own relationships separate from their parenting.”


Children’s perspectives on their relationships with their non-resident fathers: influences, outcomes and implications. Judy Dunn, Helen Cheng, Thomas G. O’Connor, and Laura Bridges. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45:3 (2004), pp 553-566.

Review of the 1999 Parenting Act Study

Short review by Diane N. Lye, Ph.D. and Mary Wechsler


More creativity and individualizing of parenting plans should be encouraged. The study concluded that too many Washington parents have “cookie cutter” parenting plans that are primarily every-other-weekend residential schedules, which does not meet the needs of all families. Dr. Lye suggested encouraging individualizing parenting plans by disseminating information about diverse residential schedules to attorneys, judges, court commissioners, guardians ad litem, court facilitators, and other professionals involved in the formulation of parenting plans.

Parenting Act Study (Washington State)

Report to the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission and Domestic Relations Commission


p 4-27

“Recent studies suggest that the relationship between child adjustment and conflict is neither universal, simple, nor particularly straightforward It appears that, rather than discord per se, it is the manner in which parental conflict is expressed that may affect the children’s adjustment. High interparental discord has been found to be related to the child’s feeling caught in the middle, and this experience of feeling caught was related to adjustment. Adolescents in dual (shared) residence arrangements did not feel more caught than did adolescents in mother or father custody type arrangements. Nor was amount of visiting related to feeling caught. There was a significant effect, however, of the interaction between type of residence and the parental relationship. Dual residence arrangements appeared to be more harmful when parents were in high discord than were sole residence arrangements. In contrast, adolescents in dual residence arrangements where there was cooperative communication between parents benefited more than did adolescents in sole residence arrangements.”

(Pages 34-35 in “Current Research on Children’s Post-divorce Adjustment”)

Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur

“Joint custody arrangements, while not common, are found in many communities, particularly in more privileged socioeconomic groups. Whether or not high levels of contact with both biological parents can reduce or eliminate the negative consequences associated with divorce is an open question. To date, researchers have found very little evidence that it does.” (Pages 6-7 in Growing Up With a Single Parent).

“We have demonstrated that children raised apart from one of their parents are less successful in adulthood than children raised by both their parents. For children living with a single parent and no stepparent, income is the single most important factor in accounting for their lower well-being as compared with children living with both parents. It accounts for as much as half their disadvantage.”
(Page 134 in Growing up With a Single Parent).

Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin

“Custody arrangements may matter far less for the well-being of children than had been thought. The rationale for joint custody is so plausible and attractive that one is tempted to disregard the disappointing evidence and support it anyway. But based on what is known now, we think custody and visitation matter less for children than how much conflict there is between the parents and how effectively the parent the child lives with functions. It is likely that a child who alternates between the homes of a distraught mother and an angry father will be more troubled than a child who lives with a mother who is coping well and who once a fortnight sees a father who has disengaged from his family. Even the frequency of visits with a father seem to matter less than the climate in which they take place. Joint physical custody should be encouraged only in cases where both parents voluntarily agree to it imposing joint physical custody would invite continuing conflict without any clear benefits. In weighing alternative public policies concerning divorce, the thin empirical evidence of the benefits of joint custody and frequent visits with fathers must be acknowledged.”

(Pages 75-76 in Divided Families).

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in the Netherlands

A.P. Spruijt, B. Eikelenboom, J. Harmeling, R. & H. Kormos
The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 303-319.


In the Netherlands, about 20% of children do not have any contact with their non-resident parent after parental divorce. There are often many reasons underlying the broken contact, but one might well be the process of parental alienation, when the child denigrates and excludes the non-resident parent. This article presents the results of two studies conducted amongst divorce experts and divorced, non-resident parents. A total of 138 respondents co-operated in our studies. Of the respondents, 58% thought PAS either does not, or hardly, occur in the Netherlands, and 42% thought it does.


Gardner distinguished three levels of PAS, namely mild, moderate and severe and identified the eight major symptoms. These were:

1. There is an ongoing campaign of denigration against the other parent (mostly the father).

2. The arguments for the slander given by the children are weak, frivolous and/or absurd.

3. The children lack ambivalent feelings in that they declare the non-resident parent to be 100% bad and the resident parent 100% good.

4. The children claim the decision to exclude the non-resident parent as their own and the resident parent supports this ‘independent’ attitude emphatically.

5. The kids support their resident parent automatically. This could result in the child rejecting convincing evidence to the contrary.

6. The children do not feel guilty about cruel behaviour towards the non-resident parent.

7. The children, while excluding the non-resident parent, seem to recite borrowed scenarios that are quite unusual for their age.

8. The hostility expands to the family of the non-resident parent.

Spruijt reports that “We were able to distinguish four separate aspects: two of them concerning alienation due to the resident parent and two concerning alienation due to the child. Our results underpin the importance of mediation, since it seemed that PAS occurred significantly more often when decisions with relation to the children were not taken together by the parents but were determined in court. We consider that compulsory mediation and better communication during divorce would prevent many cases of PAS.”

Additional sources and references:

“The Effects of Divorce on Children : A Selected Literature Review (Canada)”

“Factors Affecting Children’s Post Divorce Adjustment (Conflict)”

Quote; “ . . . Johnston et al. (1985) conducted an in-depth examination of the nature of parental disputes with 39 families who were disputing custody or access arrangements. It should be noted that this sample is biased in that their rate of verbal and physical aggression is considerably higher than that of a normal divorcing sample. However, it provides us with an indication of the devastating effects conflict can have on children.”


Ideological background

1970s Feminism Brings Only Exulted Equality For Some

‘It’s been a long journey – and we’re not there yet’

By Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian Dec 2008

There’s something satisfying about convening a gathering of 1970s feminists in what still feels like the heart of the British establishment – the Reform Club on Pall Mall, an august neo-classical structure that doesn’t look like it’s changed much since Gladstone’s time.

It represents pretty much everything that Fay Weldon, Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Susie Orbach once struggled against and to a degree succeeded in changing – the Reform Club was the first London gentlemen’s club to admit women on equal terms, in 1981. They, each in their own way, were pioneers in what was then called the Women’s Liberation Movement when the concepts of equal rights for men and women, equal pay, and equality of opportunity were still just that: concepts.

Lynne Sega: “By the end of the Sixties, I had read de Beauvoir and Doris Lessing but there

were no role models apart from them, and it was hard to know quite what to be. So that’s what brought me to women’s liberation: I was a single mother with a child and it simply rescued me. It gave me a grounding to rethink everything. So much of what we did was around how to make motherhood livable, beginning with the situation of childbirth, which was an utter nightmare. I gave birth all alone in hospital – no one was allowed in there with you – and all you could hear were screams.”

Biographical note:

Lynne Segal is Professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck. Segal co-authored (with Rowbotham and Hilary Wainwright) the 1979 pamphlet ‘Beyond the Fragments’, which argued for closer links between feminism and left-wing politics. Rowbotham published a groundbreaking pamphlet ‘Women’s Liberation and the New Politics’ in 1969 and was one of the forces behind the first National Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970, which set out a political agenda on issues such as equal pay, education and free contraception. In 1987 Lynne Segal wrote ‘Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism.’


[1] Experiments in Living: the Fatherless Family” 2002,

[2] “Joint birth registration: promoting parental responsibility” Department for Works and Pensions; 26 June 2007. See also “Single mothers to be forced to name fathers on birth certificates”, 16th Mar 2009. and

[4] Would You take One Home with You ?”, Sue Slipman

[5] Dossier on science and paternity; A critical dossier on how father- and fatherhoodissues related to divorce are presently dealt with by Dutch social science and scientists like A.P. Spruijt‘; by Joep Zander; accessed on 9th February 2010; Google translated version to English:; Original Dutch text version:

[6] Child contact with non-resident parents”, by Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts, Shared parenting but cite “high conflict families.”

[7] Utrecht Law Review, “Parental relocation, Free movement rights and joint parenting” Christina G. Jeppesen de Boer,

[8] Fathers must help keep children from abuse”, Daily Telegraph, 12th Mar 2009, “Fathers have a vital role to play in keeping children save from abuse, according to Lord Laming’s report in the wake of the death of Baby P.

[9] Experiments in Living: the Fatherless Family” (Sept 2002).

[10] Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Tuesday 14 December 2004, Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219), This committee also heard testimony from Women’s Aid and NSPCC about their view of violence & child abuse.

[11] Divorce and separation: The outcomes for children”, June 1998 (a comprehensive review of over 200 current research reports by Bryan Rodgers and Jan Pryor)

[12] This has to be seen against the backdrop of her own orientation and the failure of her work to aid the children of her lifelong friend Dorothy Burlingham (all of whom died prematurely). Neither Freud nor Burlingham had any qualifications.

[14] See “Sword and Wig” by Lord Justice Dunn.

[15] Psychologist Dr. Richard A. Warshak, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas, has been studying children for over twenty years. He is one of North America’s foremost authorities on the effects of divorce on children. In “The Custody Revolution, The Father Factor” and the “Motherhood Mystique”, he introduces his book by putting the issue squarely: “…. stereotypes are poor substitutes for factual information. In the last two decades, social scientists have examined different custody arrangements and their effects on children’s development. If this information is ignored, and we continue to allow myth and sentiment to rule custody decisions, we short-change our children and we short-change ourselves.”

[16] Non-Resident Fathers in Britain”, Jonathan Bradshaw, Carol Stimson, Julie Williams and Christine Skinner Interim Report March 1997

[17] More reports of WA mothers mistreating children”, By Nick Taylor, PerthNow, 18 July 2009, qv. The number of West Australian mothers reported for abusing their children has leapt in the past two years. ttp://,27574,25802810-2761,00.html

[18] University of Pennsylvania, 1993, ID Number: 1197,+VALARIE

[19] Spruijt cites Furstenberg and Cherlin (1991)

[20] Child Development 74(3): 801-821. by Ellis, B., Bates, J., Dodge, K., Fergusson, D. Horwood, L. Pettit, G. & Woodward, L. (2003).

[21] The review was undertaken by Diane Lye, Ph.D., and Mary Wechsler.

[23] “Ouderverstoting in Nederland – Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) en loyaliteitsproblemen bij recente scheidingsgezinnen”, July 31, 2008

[24] Commission Report No. 1475/2006 and Chapter II, Section II.3.2.2.

“Sons and Fathers”

November 24, 2009


“Sons and Fathers” is as relevant today as it was in 2001. Furthermore, it is relevant to legal systems across Europe and North America as all share the same basic principles.

Alan Levy Q.C. was a very well known British lawyer, specialising in child law, medical law and human rights and was a great defender of children’s rights.

This is his assessment of the fathers’ role in ‘the family’ as he saw it in 2001, and how he saw it developing together with promised government policy changes – much of which has failed to materialise 8 years later.

“Sons and Fathers” – A Challenge for Youth and Family Court

‘Children Law UK’ conference, London 7th February 2001 (formerly British Juvenile and Family Courts Society)

Legal Overview of Fathers in the Family – Human Rights

By Alan Levy Q.C.

I want to give a brief legal overview of parenting in this age of human rights, now that we have the Human Rights Act, and what I have to say is confined to Family Courts. I have had my ignorance underlined by those various references to how many papers come out each year which I have not read, so I declare that ignorance at the outset.

Fathers in the past have had an extremely strong and authoritarian position as regards their children and their wives. The last hundred and fifty years has witnessed a very considerable erosion of the father’s legal position and his authority in or outside the family. From a subjective and selfish point of view the father in the Victorian age was king it seems to me, and it was
a rule by divine right, or certainly with the approval of the courts.

In a case in 1848 a high court judge opined that, and I am afraid that some of the judges, like most lawyers, go in for lots of subsidiary clauses but I think it is quite useful to get the flavour of the particular language:

The acknowledged rights of a father with respect to the custody and guardianship of his infant children are conferred by law. It may be with a view to the performance by him of duties towards the children and in a sense on condition of performing those duties that there is great difficulty in closely defining them.

I want to come back to that observation a bit later because I think it is very relevant in modern times. He went on:

It is substantially impossible to ascertain a watch over their performance, nor could a court of justice usefully attempt it. A man may be in narrow circumstances, he may be negligent, injudicious and faulty as the father of minors. He may be a person from whom the discreet, the intelligent and the well disposed exercising a private judgement, would wish his children to be for their sakes and his own removed. He may be all this without rendering himself liable to judicial interference and in the main it is for obvious reasons well that it should be so. Before this jurisdiction (and that was the high court jurisdiction) can be called into action between them it must be satisfied that not only that it has the means of acting safely and efficiently but also that the father has so conducted himself or has shown himself to be a person of such description or is placed in such a position as to render it not merely better for the children but essential to their safety or to their welfare in some very seriously important respect that his rights should be treated as lost or suspended should be suspended or interfered with. If the word essential is too strong an expression it is not much too strong.

So I don’t think there was any danger of Victorian judges going in for social engineering. In a notorious case in 1883 one judge said that the court had no right to interfere with the sacred right of a father over his children. Another judge said that the only cases where the court will interfere with the rights of a father over his children are where it is shown by his conduct that he is extremely unfit in any respect to exercise his parental authority and duties as a father. This was typical of the courts of the time. The court thought that to ignore these rights would be to set aside the whole course and order of nature.

Now I have one or two more quotes and I dwell on this because I think in a way it is important to realise what the situation actually was years ago. I think there has been, no doubt quite rightly in most instances, a considerable reaction against this over the years but I do think we have to ask ourselves the question about contact after a split between mother and father, and whether we really haven’t over-reacted to some extent.

A famous judge, Lord Justice Bowen, a member of a particular Court of Appeal had this to say,

It must be remembered that if the words “benefit of the infant” are used in any way but the accurate sense, it would be a fallacious test to apply to the way the court exercises its jurisdiction over the infant by way of interference with the father. It is not the benefit to the infant as conceived by the court, but it must be the benefit to the infant having regard to the natural law which points out that the father knows far better as a rule what is good for his children than a court of justice can.

Well I am sure there are many fathers who would echo that in the twenty first century but I think we, hopefully, have moved some distance from literally applying it in every case as a natural law.

Whilst we have moved on somewhat as far as the welfare of the child is concerned, the rights of the father certainly predominated. I have gone back to the 19th century, and the further one goes back, the eighteenth century looks at legal writers like Blackstone and others, the father was absolutely in charge and the welfare of the child, certainly until the beginning of the last century, or reasonably well into it, was a subsidiary consideration.

In 1886 the Guardianship of Infants Act was passed and the mother was entitled to apply to the courts, who might make such orders as they thought fit as to custody, having regard to the welfare of the infant and to the conduct of the parent and to the wishes, as well of the mother as of the father. So there was a beginning of a real shift. The mother was thus given equal rights with the father and the welfare of the child is, for the first time, enshrined in statute and given a preferential position.

It has been said that there is a remarkable dearth of legal authority after the beginning of the twentieth century until about 1926. We may all have come across, I suspect, references at some point to a fairly old statute, but in 1925 the Guardianship of Infants Act was passed and was a real landmark because for the first time it made the welfare of the infant the first and paramount consideration. I shall come back to that phrase and how I think it may interact with the Human Rights Act in a moment or two.

In the statute it said that the court shall not take into consideration, whether from any other point of view the claim of the father, or any right at common law possessed by the father in respect of such custody, upbringing, administration or application as superior to that of the mother, or the claim of the mother as superior to that of the father. So the modern position was reached, although it should be noted, and it is a startling fact, that it was not until 1973 that mothers could exercise authority over children independently.

I think the modern position, the welfare of the child being paramount, which plays such an important part in court cases now, was not always so. I think it is unlikely to be modified by the Human Rights Act of 1998 which, of course, has made the European Convention on Human Rights part of our domestic law. The convention has as its core, of course, peoples’ rights and the research which we have heard about today I found fascinating. I noticed how much rights was referred to, the right of the father to contact, or, perhaps you could put it another way, the right of the child to contact or the father’s and the mother’s rights to this, that or the other.

There is no doubt that we are in an age now where rights have suddenly become respectable. Up until, certainly very recently, one was talking about responsibilities and duties but now, certainly in the courts, it is respectable to refer to rights again. But how is it going to affect the position, particularly the father’s position? Under article 8 of the European Convention which you will recall is the right to respect for private and family life, there have been various decisions at Strasbourg, the old European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights. They have made clear in a number of leading cases that particular reports will be attached to the best interests of the child which, depending on their nature and seriousness, may over-ride those of the parents. One English House of Lords judge has already offered the view that there is nothing in the convention which requires the courts of this country to act otherwise than in the interests of the child.

Whilst noting in passing that there is yet another expression, in Article 3 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely:

in all actions concerning children whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

One has to recognise that this is something of a verbal morass and room for forensic pedantry, but I suspect that the importance of the child’s welfare will not in reality diminish in English law. Whilst there may actually have to be a decision, because nowhere in the European convention does the word “paramount” appear, it may well be a rather, and I personally hope and I am sure many of you do, that, as far as children are concerned, it turns out to be an arid debate. I personally do not think that in particular fathers or mothers or other carers, will suffer.

I think it can just about still be said, echoing Pat Scotland’s observations this morning, that traditional family life is made up of a married couple and their children. There have, of course, been great inroads into the traditional concept, made by separation, divorce, fostering, adoption, remarriage, unmarried birth and reproductive technology. It can certainly now be argued in my view, and I would obviously be interested later to hear other views, that it can be argued that the father has overall had, in the court setting, and I emphasise in the court setting, his position steadily undermined over the years in certain particular areas. One of the “fashionable” areas at the moment is the question of contact and where there are real disputes and great difficulties.

In one area, as we have heard, we are promised reform. In England and Wales the law governing relationships between parents and children has been slow to recognise the parental status of unmarried fathers. This is of course in marked contrast to the position of married fathers. For most purposes the Children Act 1989 doesn’t distinguish between married and unmarried parents, and it aims to encourage both parents to continue to share in their children’s upbringing even after separation or divorce. The Children Act replaced, it has been, said the traditional approach to parents rights with a new concept of parental responsibility. Confusingly, however, in my view the definition of parental responsibility is, as we know, all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property. I want to come back to parental responsibility in a moment.

The Act did not put married and unmarried fathers on a completely equal footing. In practical terms the possession of parental responsibility probably has little effect on a father’s role in the day to day upbringing of his child at least while the parents are living together or co-operating in their arrangements for the children. In those situations a father’s authority in matters such as the child’s education or medical treatment is unlikely to be an issue. Lack of parental responsibility becomes a problem when the relationship with the mother breaks down, when the mother is unable to exercise her parental responsibility because of, for instance, illness or accident. The unmarried father may then be in difficulty in respect of, for example, adoption proceedings or proceedings regarding The Hague Convention on Child Abduction as well as in respect of medical and education matters.

This, what can be seen as a discriminatory situation, we are told will be set right, and, if I may say so, Baroness Scotland gave a model political answer to the question this morning.

To come back to the central matter of parental responsibility, what are the parental responsibilities being referred to? You will recall in the nineteenth century case I mentioned earlier, the judge referred to the father’s performance of duties towards the children, and added that there was great difficulty in closely defining them. The definition in section 3 of the Children Act a century later, as we have seen, doesn’t help very much: all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities etc., which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and property, yet there is no definition. The failure to define the rights, duties etc., has led one commentator to complain of the complacency over the existing state of family values.

We have to turn to Scotland and the Children’s Scotland Act of 1995 for assistance. This legislation is said to have been influenced by articles 5 and 8 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and before briefly looking at the Scottish legislation it may be useful to look briefly at those relevant articles.

Article 5 states that:

State parties of government shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or where applicable the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the present convention.

and that, like so many parts of international conventions, is a model of tact and vagueness .

Article 18 paragraph 1 states that:

State parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or as the case may be legal guardians have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

That is what is said to have had a great influence on the Scottish Act. Overall, I do not think the law can contribute a great deal to the very difficult problems that do arise, particularly in respect of certain situations of the father but I will come back to my perhaps rather cryptic conclusion in due course. I think it is very interesting to look at the Act because but I do think it helps if this vagueness or this smokescreen is penetrated and somebody does try to spell out what duties and responsibilities are, if only to give some actual framework to get ones teeth into. Ironically, nothing of this appears in the Children Act 1989, under the same parliament, so perhaps it is a sign of progress in the Children’s Scotland Act 1995 that it has some most interesting provisions, which I am sure many of you know of, but I don’t think have been widely disseminated.

The first section says that a parent in relation to his or her child has the following responsibilities, and child in this Act is a child under the age of sixteen:-

a) to safeguard and promote that child’s health, development and welfare

b) to provide in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child direction and guidance to the child

c) if the child is not living with the parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis and

d) to act as the child’s legal representative but only in so far as – and here is a familiar exclusion or potential exclusion clause – but only in so far as client compliance with this section is practicable and in the interests of the child.

One then has section 2 of the Children’s Scotland Act which is headed “Parental Rights” and this says that a parent in order to enable him or her to fulfil their parental responsibilities in relation to his or her child has the right:

a) to have the child living with him or otherwise to regulate the child’s residence

b) to control, direct or guide in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child, the child’s upbringing

c) if the child is not living with him or her to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis and again to act as the child’s legal representative.

There is also a section, as in the Children Act, to provide for the acquisition of parental rights and responsibilities by a natural father when that is necessary.

The final section I want to refer to in the Scottish legislation which is a very interesting one about the views of children. Section 6 says a person shall in reaching any major decision which involves:-

a) his fulfilling or her fulfilling a parental responsibility or the responsibilities mentioned earlier in the Act or

b) in exercising the parental right have regard to so far as is practical to the views if he or she wishes to express them of the child concerned, taking account of the child’s age and maturity and to those of any other person who has parental responsibility or parental rights in relation to the child and wishes to express those view and … without prejudice to the generality of this subsection a child twelve years of age or more shall be presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to form a view.

To me, it is interesting that it took until 1995 for parliament to be begin to spell out parental responsibilities. I think in a sense it reflects a widely held view that government intervention, to use those words in the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, even by direction or guidance except in exceptional circumstances will provoke strong hostility, especially if the legislation threatens to interfere with the child/parent relationship. We should not forget that, in 19th century laws restricting child labour and introducing compulsory education, those laws were opposed on the grounds that they constituted an unacceptable interference with family responsibilities. Although we have moved a good deal away from that, I suspect there are still some very strong feelings about government interference, as it is seen, and the extent of it. It may be that the spelling out of parental duties and responsibilities will help in promoting parenting skills and meet some of the gaps which exist in knowledge and practice, which result in court appearances whether civil or criminal which hopefully in some situations could be or may be avoided.

I want to turn finally to the European Convention on Human Rights, which I have briefly referred to already. In respect of the sort of problems which have been discussed today, I do not think that anything revolutionary is going to come out of the Human Rights Act. A new vocabulary has to be learned for instance. Words such as necessary in a democratic society, proportionality, for the protection of the rights of freedoms of others, right to respect for private and family life, and a right mind set will be used.

In a sense, many of the problems whether it be contact or perhaps going to another extreme adoption, one has been putting forward for many years. For example, if it were an adoption case, that the adoption is over the top and really should not take place in these circumstances; and that the adoption agency or the local authority is wrong. Now, we are simply changing our vocabulary to say that it is unnecessary in a democratic society or it is disproportionate, and it seems to me essentially, that various rights have been balanced in the courts for many years and that is a process that will have to continue.

I think the act will be important, and it may be particularly important for fathers, in certain positions, that their rights are emphasised but that they are not paramount. Their rights are not, by the declaration of them, the answers to the problems because of course others have rights: mothers have rights, children have rights, other carers may have rights. I think the convention will provoke some changes and there will be some ingenious points but I cannot help feeling that the challenges we are discussing today are generally ones that need a human rather than a legislative solution. Whilst the law has a part to play as a referee in many situations, personally, I do not think the ignorant lawyer, I will not say judge, not having read all these papers and trying to rely on the legal principles, will get very far. These are, after all, very difficult human problems and I think in many ways it is other professions who have to try and solve them.

‘A critique of Christina Jeppesen De Boer’

November 21, 2009

By Peter Tromp MSc and Robert Whiston FRSA, 21/11/2009

Feminism, and radical feminists in particular, have built upon the natural transition begun in the 19th century towards a more egalitarian society and have, for political gain, claimed these changes for themselves.

They claim that without feminism women would not have any basic rights, conveniently overlooking the Titanic syndrome (‘Women and children first), and the legislation prepared by men to prohibit their work in mines, in onerous factory occupations and long jail terms etc.

By 1970 Feminism viewed ‘the family’ as ‘the enemy’; the great Satan; the oppressor of all women. For feminism ‘the family’ has become a “barometer” by which to measure social change – their induced social change. Some non-feminists feel that the family’ is too one-dimensional and prefer the more comprehensive barometer of increasing male suicide rates.

How can more families falling apart and greater numbers committing suicide be justified in the name of greater democratisation, personal liberalisation and living in a more integrated global society ? This is essentially the argument made by feminists who see the family as merely changing and evolving in an eternal process of self-discovery and self-realisation. Can these delusional rewards be equated with the benefits of children living in broken families ?

Mrs. Christina Jeppesen De Boer subscribes to the feminists perspective of an institution, marriage, which serves only to preserve national values and traditions. The implication must be that she would prefer scientific or political debate to disregard the typical image of the family and throw off the yoke it presents.

Mrs. De Boer is a Danish born feminist lawyer starting out on her career and is married to a Dutchman. She was described in a 2008 article (see Dutch ‘Gazette No. 108’, June 9, 2008) as a lawyer specialising in child law and human rights. Yet she also admitted to a degree of ignorance about Dutch legal matters.

She is therefore unwittingly free to conflate ignorance with expertise and the reader will not know which sentence contains prejudice and which skill. Her view is that while public opinion, researchers, and political actors in general speak favourably of ‘the family’ as an accepted concept, it has, in fact, undergone ‘deep transformations for the last decades’. The very concept of ‘family’, she believes, ‘has become ambiguous’.

Other Unions

Marriage and the family have only become ambiguous and therefore suspect, one supposes, because of the deliberate policy of inventing new forms of union, be it cohabiting or legalising same-sex marriages.

Placing such artificial and contrived unions on a par with spousal marriage only serves to discount the value of the latter.

If society was shocked by the advancement of legalised same-sex unions in the 1990s, will De Boer’s view of a “wider range of realities than ever before” bring forth legalised polygamy and marriage between brothers and sisters in the 2020s ?

In terms of the processional evolution of child law, De Boer’s view probably coincides with some aspects of the British child specialist lawyer, the late Alan Levy QC.

His conclusions regarding the last 150 years of custody and the role of fathers probably parallel hers but he may not come to the some conclusion as she.

Levy contends that the father’s legal position has been considerable eroded vis-à-vis his children together with his authority inside and outside the family. This is true.

Alan Levy QC, who died in September 2004  aged 62, [1] was by contrast to De Boer a very well known and much respected lawyer, specialising in child law, medical law and human rights. During his long legal career he was a great defender of children’s rights. Whenever I met him at Whitehall committee meetings or at seminars I found him a most affable, self-effacing man. He freely accepted the limits of his knowledge and skills in matters outside the family law arena.  To compare and contrast these two advocates will therefore be interesting.

Age brings wisdom and to a 2001 conference arranged by ‘Children Law UK’, Levy freely confessed ‘ignorance’ to his audience of matters that today swirl all around the issue of family courts and human rights – where all accepted he was the expert. [2]

In his address Levy said;

“Fathers in the past have had an extremely strong and authoritarian position as regards their children and their wives”

“ .. .From a subjective and selfish point of view the father in the Victorian age was king it seems to me, and it was a rule by divine right, or certainly with the approval of the courts.”

Levy’s address later contended that this semi divine right of a father’s legal position had, over the last 150 years, been considerable eroded vis-à-vis his children together with his authority inside and outside the family. This is probably true all across Europe.

De Boer’s view would probably coincide with Levy’s but probably for different reasons.

Centralised Control

Time then for a ‘reality check’ with history. The Victorian age, as indeed was the preceding Georgian age (and ad infinitum), was one of ‘small government’. If we use Great Britain as a model, the most economically advanced nation of the 19th century, we see a great reluctance to become involved in private matters; a situation that was to reverse after 1945.

Feminists forget (or simply do not know) that only in the second half of the 20th century has the world witnessed ‘big government’ the ‘command economy’ and the growth of centralised control.

In Britain any administration prior to the 20th century that could guarantee its ‘writ’ ran to the extremities of the nation was doing exceptionally well (see Dublin and the origins of ‘Beyond the Pail’). Even the Mogul emperors of China could not guarantees uniformity within their borders.

The first of these ‘big government’ with centralised control being the Soviet Union from 1920 onwards, followed by the command economies of Italy and Germany. All three embraced socialism in its various forms.

Victorian women, who are intrinsically no different from women today, were in no position to defend family rights.

Yes, women can destroy a family, as feminists have done, and women can witness family destruction by third parties, but ‘No’, they cannot defend their children or themselves by deterring aggression, neutralising threats with counter threats and meeting aggression with aggression as pictures from, for example, Darfur and Argentina’s ‘disappeared’ vividly illustrate.

It makes sense in a ‘small government’ world for the onus of child care and guardianship to be entrusted to a person who can not only perform the duties but ensure they can be performed on their behalf. Economically this meant men; judicially this also meant men -for who would jail a mother for gross dereliction of care towards her child and treat a similarly wayward father with the same leniency ?

The resulting ‘oppression of women’ that is bandied about by feminists came, they forget, with a very high price tag for men.

On the obverse of the coin, if a father was grossly derelict in his basic duties towards any of his children the court would have no compunction in jailing the father. His rights could be suspended or interfered with permanently. His children could be made ‘wards of court’.

How many judges in Victorian times, or indeed now, would be prepared to either jail a mother or permanently suspend her rights and role as a mother ?

Therefore, one has to ask how can a legal system effectively ensure child safety and the deterring and rectifying of child abuse without ‘nationalising’ children if mother custody prevails ? That, surely, is the situation we have fallen headlong into.

Making Comparisons

Therefore, I wish to turn around the argument advanced by De Boer and aim her own bullets at her position.

Families thrive when governments do not interfere according to a new international comparison of family policy published by the independent think-tank Civitas.

Comparing the state of ‘the family’ in secular Sweden, Catholic Italy and Britain the renowned researcher Patricia Morgan who observes that ‘the family’ does best when governments don’t try to nationalise child-rearing;

“One of the most striking points of comparison is the extent to which the state interferes in family life, especially the rearing of children, in each of the countries.” [3]

Governments that do try to nationalise child-rearing and do try to interfere/regulate how children are socialised are invariably of the big government variety.

This would be tolerable if the premise was that the state makes a good parent – but the state does not.

De Boer says it is a mistake for more and more countries to let parents choose joint custody after divorce and she cites among others the  1998 changes in the Netherlands.  The premise that it is ‘in the interest of the children’ is not true, suggests De Boer.

What she advocates, one suspects, is a rollback of the law in the same manner that Australian feminists want a reversal of custody laws to the pre-2006 situation.

New to Holland and Dutch law, De Boer confesses that her views “would never get much attention” in her native Denmark but maintains that ‘in the Netherlands, whether they like it or not’ …. ‘parents [have] joint parental custody’ after a separation.

She sees automatic joint parental custody of children in the Netherlands is a bad thing. De Boer finds the current Dutch system fails to address children’s primary needs: namely a secure environment in order to grow.

“A situation which is not always the best interests of the child. This is especially true for children from socially vulnerable families.”

The counter argument to the above assertion is simply what governmental or judicial system exists that does not fail to address and protect children fully ?

And in rebuttable to her earlier claim it is wholly disingenuous to claim that children from socially vulnerable families are not adequately protected in joint custody scenarios.

Firstly, joint custody means two parents can monitor whether a child is being abused/ neglected or not. Gross examples of child abuse and child murder are predominantly found in sole mother custody arrangements where fathers are kept at arms length.

Secondly, why focus on the tiny percentage of high conflict families with dysfunctional children and enforce an artificial regime suitable for them on ‘good enough’ parents and normal children ?

Government as Parent

All governments, be they of big and small variety, make bad parents. All governments since 1950 have inexplicitly become intoxicated by the prospect of running other people’s lives. Yet the record of state-run child institutions is one of abuse, degradation, drugs, criminality and unhappiness in adult life.

Both Melanie Phillips and Prof. Robert Rowthorn have identified a major shift in emphasis in family law towards the ‘welfare of the children’ paradigm .This has acted as a kind of Trojan horse in the battle to hold onto ‘family values’ and keep the family stable (see Carol Smart). [4]

Smart portrays their perspective (Phillips and Rowthorn), as the child being returned to the virtual status of a marital asset which is awarded to the innocent spouse.

From the perspective of their opponents, e.g. De Boer and Smart, the child is a de facto ‘ward of the state’ and the state must decide its future – much as in the early Soviet years where all men and women were counted only as “units of production” owned by the state.

Therefore, barring the new ‘pseudo’ sciences of sociology, psychology and various modern ideologies, it is entirely appropriate that in the 18th and 19th century – lacking these ‘sciences’ – measures to protect children should be couched in terms of ‘divine right’, ‘natural justice’ and the ‘sacred right of a father over his children’ and that these notions should receive the approval of the courts.

Levy’s address then went on to quotes a Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Bowen [the sentences have been separated to enable clarity]:

“It must be remembered that if the words “benefit of the infant” are used in any way but the accurate sense, it would be a fallacious test to apply to the way the court exercises its jurisdiction over the infant by way of interference with the father.

It is not the benefit to the infant as conceived by the court, but it must be the benefit to the infant having regard to the natural law which points out that the father knows far better as a rule what is good for his children than a court of justice can.”

This is ‘small government’ in action, namely unless it can do better and the situation is not gross or offensive, it is better to leave matters as they are.

Levy in his address cites a high court case of 1848, where a judge was of the opinion in his summing up that the dereliction by a father must be gross before the court will consider stepping in.

Levy’s citation is here again broken into manageable sentences by simply setting them out clearly. Items 1, 2 and 3 list the defects in this particular man’s character;

1. A man may be in narrow circumstances, he may be negligent, injudicious and faulty as the father of minors.

2. He may be a person from whom the discreet, the intelligent and the well disposed exercising a private judgement, would wish his children to be for their sakes and his own removed.

3. He may be all this without rendering himself liable to judicial interference and in the main it is for obvious reasons well that it should be so.

Item 1 has the father described as having a ‘narrow’ view of life; of perhaps being negligent in his duties to his children (aged under 21).

Item 2 contrast his actions with a ‘person of quality’ or from polite society who might take a very deferent stance as to his conduct.

Item 3 concedes that he may (not is), all the things he is accused of, yet the court recognises that the sanctity of the family is beyond its reach unless the misconduct is severe and gross. In the judge’s view this man is on the precipice of the ‘good enough’ parent. As such he can do nothing to interfere with the man’s human rights – something De Boer, a lawyer specialising in human rights, should not ignore.

4.Before this jurisdiction [and that was the high court jurisdiction] can be called into action between them it must be satisfied that not only that it has the means of acting safely and efficiently but also that the father has so conducted himself or has shown himself to be a person of such description or is placed in such a position as to render it not merely better for the children but essential to their safety or to their welfare in some very seriously important respect that his rights should be treated as lost or suspended should be suspended or interfered with.

The judge of 1848 shows himself superior to judges and lawyers of today for he gives the classic, measured, balancing of rights so often trampled upon in today’s form of justice.

The court, he believes, cannot intervene where it cannot supervise the aftermath and ensure its actions result in safety and not more abuse or neglect. In 1848 a judge could not be sure of this – and it is true even to this day.

Furthermore, such a safe course can only be undertaken where the father’s behaviour renders him unsuitable (not, not just a parent with poor parenting skills).

Only after satisfying those criteria should a court contemplate action for which it might fail to deliver and might itself be subject to criticism, namely by providing a situation that is not just ‘better’ for the children but essentially ensures their greater safety and/or their welfare.

If De Boers is serous in her proposition let her first answer successfully, if she can, whether any mother should have been given custody in the last 30 years based on the same criterion set out for fathers above ?

Worthless Guarantees

Unless a court can guarantee these fundamental it has not right to suspend the rights of a fathers who is discharging his obligations to the best of his ability. Indeed, the introductory passage to the summing up confirms this view:

“It is substantially impossible to ascertain a watch over their performance, nor could a court of justice usefully attempt it.”

Levy was of the opinion that there was never any danger of Victorian judges attempting ‘social engineering’. Court thought that to ignore these rights would be to set aside the whole course and order of nature and such a course should not be lightly entered upon. A degree of prudence that is lacking in today’s courts and yet outcomes for children are no better, and arguably, are now worse.

Fundamentally, De Boer argues for a big government approach believing that government, not parents, know best. A point negated by Prime Minister Rudd’s profound apology (Nov 2009) to children from institutions transported to Australia in the 1950s (and similar governmental abuse abound through recent history). [5]

De Boer would do well to recall as Levy reminded his audience of the words of Lord Justice Bowen in the Court of Appeal:

It must be remembered that if the words “benefit of the infant” are used in any way but the accurate sense, it would be a fallacious test to apply to the way the court exercises its jurisdiction over the infant by way of interference with the father. It is not the benefit to the infant as conceived by the court, but it must be the benefit to the infant having regard to the natural law which points out that the father knows far better as a rule what is good for his children than a court of justice can.

It is this distinction, i.e. the imagined benefit to the infant as seen by the court, versus the actual benefit to the infant of an intact family, which has been overlooked by modern academics and jurists.

The claims of feminism to have benefited the lot of women and children by pushing for reforming  legislation is a false claim when reforms had already begun in the 19h century, e.g. the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, the Custody of Infants Act 1873, the Guardianship of Infants Act 1886 and the Guardianship of Infants Act 1926.

All of these brought fundamental changes. This is the natural transition alluded to in the opening paragraphs.

Fathers and Shared Custody

In her thesis on  ‘Joint Custody’, the Ph.D. candidate at the Utrecht University is quick to dismiss the tens of thousands fathers who want a better deal to see their children as a insignificant minority group but omits to state that the numbers of children ‘at risk’ in ‘high conflict’ families is minute – probably not even 1% of households.

CAFCASS in Britain estimates that around 5% of family disputes are ‘intractable’, i.e. not easily settled, and this figure crops up in other countries. Were we to estimate that 20% of this sub-group were ‘high conflict’ families is would be over generous (5% x 20% = 1%). Yet De Boer uses this ruse to discredit shared parenting and greater father involvement.

She sees dangers and children emotionally unsettled by having joint residence and shared custody.

It is therefore ironic that a study from her native land of Denmark shows fathers to be more than adequate as single parents than mothers ( The study was conducted by senior researcher Mogens Nygård Christoffersen of the Danish Social Research Institute in Copenhagen.

Christoffersen’s study was of 478 fathers and 532 mothers with children in the age group 3 to 5; they were a statistically representative selection of the Danish people; they were interviewed by telephone or by visits to the home; the response was 89%. The statistically representative showed that 94% of children from broken homes live with their mothers and only 6% live with their fathers.

This corresponds with the gender breakdown provided by ONS figures. Christoffersen’s study found that the judicial system did not aid father custody, rather, a third of the fathers (approx 33%) had become single parents by default, i.e. wife had died or wife unable to care of their children. Again these figures are echoed by ONS data for Britain.

“The broad conclusions of the research (listed below) provoked a violent emotion-charged debate which lasted 3 to 4 months inside Denmark.

  1. Better contact. Christoffersen’s found children who grew up with a single father had not only better contact with all four of their grandparents but also with their mother when compared to those who lived alone with their mother.
  2. Fathers who were single fathers were less stressed than mother and seldom hit their children. Mothers did not resist the use of smacking as a method of punishment of their children.
  3. Single fathers are usually less pressed for time and have fewer psychosomatic reactions to stress than mothers.
  4. “Parents who are appreciated at work actually have more time and energy for their children (in the UK, ONS data has long shown 70% of single fathers work full time and less than 50% of single mothers work). The suggestion by the Danish investigation of 3-5 year old children’s growing up needs has aroused a furious debate in Denmark.
  5. “Father is best: A list of other analyses support the contention that children are best served by living with their father, according to the research undertaken by Morgens Nygård Christoffersen (Danish Social Research Institute in Copenhagen).

A furious debate erupted in Denmark when Christoffersen published his findings that favoured father custody. The general reaction was negative. The study, said Christoffersen;

“. . . . was regarded as a personal opinion in the debate on where children should live after a family breaks up, and they didn’t care about the results”

Had Christoffersen’s study shown women as more beneficial to young children, one imagines he would have been feted and applauded ?

The cultural hegemony that produces collective thinking and gender priorities played out in both Britain and Norway when Christoffersen presented the results of his research. In August 1997 he presented his work to the University of Essex in London and on 19th Sept to a conference organised by the Norwegian Research Council (‘Family Changes – Fatherhood and Children‘).

Possible Solution ?

Levy was of the opinion, in the years before his death, that Articles 5 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child held the best solution for an equitable division between mothers and fathers which he recognised as biased in favour of mothers (despite the assurances made by Baroness Scotland to him in 2001 that the bias would be corrected).

Article 5 states that governments must respect the rights and duties of parents and not just focus on the child to the detriment of the parents. Furthermore, Article 5 recognised the evolving nature of a child’s needs and wants and that it was the right and duty (note not ‘responsibility’ which has an ephemeral, wishy-washy definition in English), that both parents should give ‘appropriate direction and guidance’.

The 1995 Act in Scotland is said to more closely follow the above tenets than the English 1989 Act.

It is possible that something is being lost in tranlastion but Christina Jeppesen De Boer could not be more wrong when she states:

“In the media you often read about fathers being sad, e.g. Fathers4Justice and similar organizations, and of mothers who want to keep their children away to the father.

You read about it, but the media coverage is not based on research.

It’s a persistent myth that there are many fathers [who want more involvement with ?] their children and children themselves who want the possibility to stay [with their fathers].

But that myth can be punctured – there is little research in the Netherlands for such a case.”

It may be is sheer speculation but had De Boer been born Dutch and not Danish, her command of English with which everyone in the Nederland is gifted, would have opened up her mind to new horizons that might have included the Bauserman meta-analysis of 33 research papers which she appears not to know or weigh in her deliberations. [6]

She might have been able to access all the surveys from 2000 to 2009 that disprove here opinions – the latest one of these was commission by the firm of lawyers Mishcon de Reya (published Nov 2009).

That particular poll was carried out to mark the 20th anniversary of the Children Act. In it the authors state that the Children Act 1989 is “not working” despite its good intentions.

The poll, of 4,000 parents and children, validated what fathers groups have been claiming and complaining about vis-à-vis the Children Act of 1989, namely;

  • 19% of children said they felt used in the separation
  • 38% of children never saw their father again once separated
  • 50% of parents admitted putting their children through an intrusive court process over access issues and living arrangements
  • 49% admitted to deliberately protracting the legal process in order to secure their desired outcome
  • 68% confessed to indiscriminately using their children as ‘bargaining tools’ when they separated
  • 20% of separated parents admitted that they actively set out to make their partners experience ‘as unpleasant as possible’ regardless of the effect this had on their children’s feelings

Is De Boer seriously suggesting that this state of affairs be allowed to continue for the sake of 1% of dysfunctional families ?

If so the smallness of numbers would ensue them one-to-one attention and to hold up the advancement for 99% of separating families is dubious virtue, feeble-minded and most unconvincing.


[1] The Guardian, Wednesday 29 September 2004. Allan Levy, QC, “was a passionate advocate for children’s rights and the leading expert on child law at the English bar  has died of cancer”

[2] Alan Levy, QC, “Sons and Fathers” A Challenge for Youth and Family Court, ‘Children Law UK’ conference, London  7th February 2001, (formerly British Juvenile and Family Courts Society)

[3] ‘Family Policy, Family Changes’ by Patricia Morgan.

[4] ‘Divorce in England 1950-2000: A Moral Tale’ (1999)

[5] 1990/1991 ‘The Pindown Inquiry’; 2000, ‘Waterhouse Report’; 2008, Haut de la Garenne, Jersey, inquiry.

[6] The recurring and distinct theme in all the separately authored papers was that children in shared parenting arrangements exhibited higher levels of self-worth etc. Robert Bauserman, Uni. of Maryland (American Psychological Association, 2002).

EU Family Law Update – November 2009

November 1, 2009