Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Debating Family Law with Fathers4Justice

2.7.12: Updates about this post. First, anyone reading it should note the comments below that it provoked, mostly starting about a week after the blog was posted. Second, the 'debate' with F4J that I refer to in the title was the radio interview that started this episode: the point of this post is to illustrate what happened after I debated family law with F4J. Third, I took the unusual step of closing the comments on this post on 26.6.12. I have left the comments up to that time on here because they illustrate my point better than the original post, but personal attacks are not a legitimate part of any debate and future comments like this will be removed.


This week I had a radio debate with Nadine O'Connor from Fathers4Justice. This post discusses some of the correspondence that I've received from people associated with F4J since that interview, and leaves readers to reach their own conclusions about what it might say.

I've had a strange experience this week - it's the first that I can recall receiving hate mail. Who is sending me hate mail? Angry dads. Why are they angry at me? Basically because they don't like some of the things that I said in an interview on BBC Radio Solent on Monday morning about proposals to reform family law. Until Sunday 24 June, you can listen to the interview, which features me and Nadine O'Connor from Fathers4Justice, on the BBC website - our bit starts about 12 minutes into the broadcast.

From what I can tell, the interview itself was fairly unremarkable. Mrs O'Connor and I didn't agree about much, but that's to be expected - why have two people there unless they have different views? She was reporting the experiences of F4J based on the people who get in touch with them, and I was talking about the research evidence in so far as it is relevant to the family law reform question.

I would imagine that most people who get in touch with F4J have had difficult experiences with their former partners, the family courts, or both, and the perspective of those people is, of course, one of the many that we should be listening to when thinking about possible reforms. But we should also bear in mind that their voice is only one voice, and it is right at one end of the spectrum - and this is where I hit some nerves of some F4J members.

Consistent findings from at least 3 different research projects have suggested that it is around about 10% of separating couples that end up in court when making arrangements about children's upbringing. (A lot more than that get legal advice - something like 80%, I think - but only about 10% end up in court - lawyers are quite good at negotiating settlements.) But anyway, whether it's a study by the Legal Aid Board in 1998 (para 3.6), a study for the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2003 (p 39), or a study by the Office for National Statistics in 2008 (p 12), the findings are consistent - about 10% end up in court. The important thing with the ONS study is that it is based on a nationally representative sample which started out with 7,000 interviews. Most people in the sample are not separated parents, of course - they're 7,000 people who, between them, reflect the population of the UK, which means that there is no pre-selection of people based on their court experiences. When this study says that about 10% of people end up with court orders about their children, there's no reason to think it's not right. Obviously we don't know absolutely for certain, but it's reasonably clear that only a small percentage of disputes about children end up being decided by a judge.

I say all this just to set the context, and to explain why it is that I think I was on fairly strong ground with what I said in the interview. I've had a couple of emails back and forth with Mrs O'Connor  about this which, for the avoidance of doubt, have been nothing but courteous. Less pleasant, though, have been other emails that I've received and comments written about me by other people associated with F4J. As Mrs O'Connor herself noted in a comment on her public F4J facebook page, some people and organisations refuse to appear at media events alongside F4J because they consider the people associated with F4J to be "bullies". (Since Mrs O'Connor puts links to this F4J facebook page on her Twitter feed, I assume there's no problem with anyone looking at it and with me quoting from it.)

Having set the scene, I'm not going to annotate this story much more, because I think it tells itself. Below, I have reproduced, in full and with no changes or omissions, two emails that I received on Monday from Mr Barry Gaynor and Mr Pete Nicholls. My favourite part about them is the way they are signed off so politely at the end...

Monday 18 June, 13.52

"Hello Robert

I note that have you used inaccurate data on BBC Radio Solent this morning you claimed that only 10% of cases go to Court to sort out contact, you misquoted inaccurate data by Hunt and Macleod of 2006 which references the incorrect data of the 2003 report by Alison Blackwell and Fiona Dawes ie this data is from a study of contact which was working, not those parents making Applications to Court.

Your work and people like you damage children, I hold you and your ilk responsible for the separation of children from their fathers based on lies. For too long this practiseof quoting lies has been quite common amonst your colleagues.

And am still shocked that this tactic is still allowed and that people with positions of high standing are allowed to poison to debate and spew such damaging and false statistics without any remedy, Until you are held accountable or an apology issued, I will ensure that your name be tarnished throughout the Internet for your mideeds.

Kind Regards
Barry Gaynor"

Monday 18 June, 13.57

"Dear Rob,

Having heard you on BBC Radio Solent this morning I felt compelled to write.

Do you actually know anything about which you speak as a so called expert, and what compelled you to come on the radio so devoid of facts? Humiliating I would have thought.

The 10% you and so many other lazy and frankly ignorant journalists / academics (so called experts) quote is, as Nadine of F4J stated, based on the 2003 Blackwell Dawes report and regurgitated in 2008 by Hunt and Macleod.  The 10% figure was wrong in 2003, it was wrong in 2008 and it is still wrong despite an academic who's never been divorced, had children or more importantly lost them to the corrupt courts repeating it. I do wonder if repeating false statistics for so long can really be ignorance, or adherence to some nefarious social engineering agenda. It's just that academics are supposed to be concerned with facts and so few in family law are. One might reasonably ask what's going on. We'll find out soon enough. 

I shudder at the thought of an apparently uniformed academic researching relocation in family law due to report later this year. What are our chances? What hope have we that you might actually do the job right, that you might actually realise the human agony of one relocation let alone thousands - or the actual affect upon small children? from being forcibly removed from a loving/loved parent Here's one for you to chew over. As a mother moves around the country, so too the court which hears the case. So if mother continues to move, and forces the case to be transferred repeatedly, how might you go about stopping that without infringing her human rights - rights that in the real world damage children. Of course we could simply resolve the issue as have other states by providing equal status to both mother and father. It stops one parent (read mother) intentionally moving for their own selfish reasons and means the child is guaranteed stability - they can move only when both parents agree. That old idea of cooperation, for the benefit of the child. That's too simple though Rob, doubt there's much research income from that. I see your problem, I really do.

Anyway, I wanted to make sure you knew your were spouting bull re the 10% so I've done my job here today. Hope you had a lovely weekend Rob. Many fathers did not. Having been stopped from seeing their kids without good reason - on Fathers Day. Wonder how many took their lives this year? Now there's a piece of research that's worth doing but I doubt you'd get much funding or kudos in the brave new world of anti-family social engineering.


I didn't reply to either of these two emails. I consider them to be rude and bullying, and I am not interested in trying to defend myself against personal attack when the issues in question are nothing to do with me personally. (These emails may be contrasted with Mrs O'Connor's emails, which were perfectly polite and focused on the research findings, and to which I have replied.) There's obviously lots that I could say about the points raised in these emails, but let's hold fire because there's more to be found when we look at the comments posted on Mrs O'Connor's F4J facebook page.

Mr Nicholls features a number of times. His first contribution to the feed follows from two questions that I was asked in the interview, namely whether I've ever been divorced (no) and whether I have children (no):

"Academics are dangerous. I work with them all the time and am continually astounded by how little they know. Good thing he admitted he's never married or had kids, or stepping inside a family court room. One can see why he's an expert then. Wonder if he's ever considered become a court expert witness, he's more than under qualified for the job."

Just to clarify, Mr Nicholls knows nothing about my relationship status, only that I have never been divorced; and I have, in fact, been in many family courts. The first time was 12 years ago, the most recent was last November, with many visits in between. In any case, my claim to expertise comes from research and study, not from personal experience - on which, see this blog post on research and anecdotes that I wrote a while back.

Mr Nicholls seems very concerned with aspects of my person (as if that affects the Office for National Statistics' research). After finding a link to my Law Faculty webpage, he says: "Its Dr Rob George here, doesn't look old enough to shave let alone father a child". Mr Nicholls then notes from my profile page that I am researching relocation disputes (on which see my earlier blogs on internal relocation and my current project). With reference to the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Nicholas Wall, Mr Nicholls says this:

"By the way, he's had special dispensation from old Nick (No, not the devil, Sir Nicholas Wall - oh, hang on...) to conduct a study on relocation as a follow up to Payne vs Payne. I wonder what he's going to come out with, one can already guess which way this highly uninformed and biased 'Dr' is going to go."

The funny thing about this comment is that I'm fairly clear in what I've written about relocation before, both in academic writings and here on my blog, that I think there's a good case for reviewing the law and asking more serious questions than the law does now about whether relocations ought to be allowed to go ahead. But hey, in order to know that, Mr Nicholls would have had to bother finding out something about me and my work before going ahead and making his defamatory remarks.

The delightful Mr Gaynor also features briefly on the facebook wall, asking if anyone has my contact details (though he seems to think I'm called Brown):

"Does anyone have Prof Brown's contact details. I would like to bombard him with up to date data regarding this issue and generally take him to task on what he intends to do in order to correct this cruel and damaging error."

So this was my Monday, basically. I spent 10 minutes on the radio and then much of the rest of the day getting abusive emails and disparaging facebook comments. Why have I put it all up here? Because I think it's important that people know that this is going on, and so you can see the extent to which people attempt to attack and discredit individual researchers in order to try to undermine sound research findings which happen not to fit with their own experiences and views.

The implicit and explicit threats made against me in those emails, and the personally and professionally disparaging remarks made about me on the facebook page, speak for themselves.


  1. All read with interest.

    In running we have had a few "run-ins" with F4J. They start and end with abuse.

    You can see such an example here:

    The day I wrote that most I received any number of tweets and emails that were abusive in nature. It got to the point that some of my twitter mates suggested I go to the police.

    I didn't. By and large the VAST majority of comments referred to my "lack of balls".

    ...why these men should be so interested in another mans testicular assets remains an question.

    Good luck!


    1. Bob, I beloved you had one comment about your balls. From Matt O'Connor. That's the vast majority of comments? As for your site, I no longer believe anyone that gets funded in part or whole by solicitors advertising their services. Clearly you have am agenda to help to to ensure the money keeps rolling in. I suggest you read a few of the accounts from the insider solicitors who have come out about what solicitors do to prolong the agony for all so that they can make a bit more money. Of course you'll deny that since that would mean you're another hanger on in the gravy train.

    2. Pete Nicholls27 June 2012 01:55

      I wouldn't have put it quite like that but I echo the motivation of the legal profession. I can make a few quid supporting mediation, or tens of thousands keeping the parties fighting over their kid. Hard choice. Made easier by stats that deny there's a problem that needs urgent remedy. I'll leave it to a barrister over at mumsnet to have the last word.

      "Taking legal advice, are they? In fairness, there is something to be said for F4J. If it wasn't for twats like them prepared to piss their money up the wall, my profession would be a great deal poorer than it is. more power to you, fuckwits."

  2. Hi Rob, as the main researcher for F4J I suppose I have to take responsibility for the figures we use, though not necessarily for the way in which they are used.

    The usual source cited when the 10% is rolled out is the Blackwell & Dawes study which, as pointed out above, measured something entirely different. This is why we treat this figure with such suspicion.

    The ONS study to which you refer may have started with a nationally representative sample, but by the time it was whittled down to 425 parents it is more difficult to argue they are representative. The study produced two figures of 8 and 17%, which, if the sample were representative, should be the same. The 17% figure is not far from our own estimate of 20%.

    I arrived at this simply by comparing the number of children looked after by CAFCASS in private law proceedings with the number affected by parental separation. There are other ways to get to a similar figure, but this is the easiest and probably most reliable.

    The point we are trying to make is that the official figure plays down the severity of the issue (and justifies governments in minimising resources and funding). It also enables opponents of shared parenting to argue that the parents who litigate are the most dysfunctional and unsuited to share parenting. We strongly resist this idea.

    I'm very willing to discuss these issues with you (and even accept I'm in error if you can prove it) peacefully and politely.

    Best wishes,

    Nick Langford

  3. you miss of the organisational details I gave you to help you read statistics and data, which you appear quite unable to do given your alledged position and status.

    Kind Regards
    Barry Gaynor

  4. Since you mix with the high and mighty could you give me an answer to the following question:

    If there are approx. 150,000 divorces every year where children are involved then only 15,000 cases of custody need to be sorted. But what are the numbers of court orders ?

    Kind Regards
    Barry Gaynor

  5. Why are you not reading the facts and standing by these Dads?? Too many of you're chums making too much money out the misery caused by the family courts.. What you snobs forget is that you are civil servants, paid for by us 'the taxpayer' so get off of you're perch, stop lining you're own pockets, and change things for the better..

  6. If he thinks this is 'bullying' wait until he has a Dad on his roof for a few nights!! ;0)

  7. pete nicholls27 June 2012 01:02

    Ok, less bullying as you put it. Although I have something to say on that too, but let's leave that for another time. Contrary to your assertions and extraordinary extrapolations (in fact you'd need at least 16,000 respondees to get a low enough margin of error) let's look at the numbers we know for sure. Cafcass report supporting approx 43,000 per year. There own figures. Yet we have 150,000 divorces per year. That does NOT include unmarried splits. If your inaccurate extrapolated figure of 10% were correct do you mean to say that there in fact 430,000 divorces and no unmarried disputes over children? It's basic failures such as this that and others to conclude you and your chums are either incompetent or ideologically driven to downplay the facts. Facts which result in tens of thousands of children being denied a father. And as mentioned Rob, I doubt you have much idea the agony that created. People like you with their trumped up numbers not only allow such abuses to continue but you actually encourage it by being a metaphorical holocaust denier. Like nick above, I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Real world experience however suggest that won't happen and that most academics funded to deliver 'ordered results' you'll be most interested in protecting your reputation than getting to any actual facts.

    1. pete nicholls27 June 2012 01:06

      Apologies for the spelling and grammatical errors. A consequence of fat fingers, touch screen and predictive text. The essence I stand by.

  8. Pete Nicholls27 June 2012 10:28

    Interestingly, as I sit here with my 15 year old daughter (10 year family law victim) discussing this 'thread', she makes an interesting point. Thought I'd share.

    If Rob you were not opposed to family law reform that would see children like her protected from the abuse of our system, why bother at all to come on a radio programme to oppose the F4J argument? Nothing wrong with that in principle; balanced debate is generally a good thing. However, by extension, what she is saying is why bother to use the 10% figure if you are not trying to deny there's an issue or to artificially downplay it.

    If, as I believe, that 10% is false, what then does that say about either your ability to grasp the facts or indeed your motivations in doing so? The F4J position is to request urgent reform, yours was to oppose it. That was the balanced debate. The issue however, and why you might perceive some 'heat' arises from the raw human suffering that is so widespread and acute for many that experience it. If you are going to take the stance that there is not an issue requiring urgent reform, then you should expect a few 'upset people' responding.

    As for bullying Rob, you might care to consider how this comes across to a father who through no fault on his own might have lost his children, home, income, pension and career. Perhaps we could throw in the loss of dignity and social circle through the all too common false allegation leading to effective excommunication. Your delicate constitution being offended by their irritation might seem a little 'weak' by comparison.

    Rob, we don't have a system designed to look after the best interests of children, we have a family legal process designed to protect the victim (read female) from the aggressor (read male). If you've been to family court to any real extent (I'll count over 100 visits this past 10 years, mostly the last 2) you'd likely realise that following the 'social agenda' has far more to do with decisions than do the facts. I strongly suspect that were you to open the courts to external scrutiny that would soon end. In the meanwhile, whilst they operate with impunity behind closed doors, we rely on academics like yourself to expose and help correct what goes on. Can you imagine therefore the raw nerve that you might just touch by denying there's any real issue of magnitude or urgency? It's just the minority, the 10%.

    What would you say to the children demanding immediate change Rob? They are the real victims here. The 10% figure certainly isn't cutting the mustard with my daughter.

  9. Having read the following article could you clarify if you are against shared parental orders as they hamper relocation, and do you favour relocation of the primary carer, please advice?

    Kind Regards
    Barry Gaynor

    1. By extension, it might be interesting if Rob you could advise of any research suggesting or demonstrating that shared care of children (most easily achieved by a presumption of such in law) is damaging to the child concerned. I only ask since there's a wealth of research saying the contrary ( yet you still make the argument (as does Nuffield) to oppose it.

      I believe you were commissioned by Nuffield to conduct research, which I find interesting. Particularly as their stance on family law reform is now subject to a judicial review on the basis of misleading government. Worth keeping an eye on that one.

    2. I note that you make your position quite clear here:

      "This post comments on the government's plans to legislate about parenting arrangements after separation or divorce. I talk about the research evidence and show that introducing a legal presumption that families involved in court cases should split their children's time between two homes is likely to be bad for most of the children involved."

      Kind Regards
      Barry Gaynor

  10. cannot see that you mention the word children which is what this is about mr george. i think its fair to say you like many of the others put yourself your job and this i want sympathy statement before the needs of the children and parents

    1. Course he won't mention the kids. We have a wonderful victim culture in family law of which Mr George is availing himself. It's how it works. Oh how my heart bleeds for Mr Georges hurt feelings as children are systematically destroyed by the very family law he goes on radio to support. A touch of reality upsets him. Lord help us if this is what Oxford produces.

  11. Media watcher27 June 2012 13:47

    I don't suppose Mr George you actually see this from the end users perspective do you? No doubt you'll be sitting there reading this upset, wondering how stupid us plebs are. If we are to look at valid research then we have two elements, the science and the scientist. They are two distinct and different things. The science is dispassionate, the scientist a human. I believe you are a legal academic and not a scientist but you do make use of 'scientific research' and like all humans have 'feelings'. You make reference to the bullying so the 'feelings' are confirmed. Your feelings cloud your judgement sir. The science paints a very simple and clear message, that children benefit from shared care. The solution therefore is also simple, a presumption of shared care unless that is proven to be damaging to the child. That, however,you oppose. Is it the science that others here are suggesting is rubbish that misleads you, or do you suffer that particularly human condition of having feelings, and therefore bias? I'm struggling to understand why an intelligent man would choose to promote himself on public broadcast taking such an obviously erroneous position. What's your motivation Mr George, struggling to keep the academic funding coming in if you don't toe the line and become the darling of the anti-family lobby perhaps? Or maybe such reforms as discussed here and that are much needed spells death of the family law industry? I can't imagine that's it simply because that's the very area in which you specialise. I'm sure you are 100% neutral, think only of the children that family law is supposedly there to protect and are not burdened with human frailties of bias.

  12. like i said media watcher his motivation is himself and the money he and the rest create from keeping this vile outdated family law system

  13. I don't understand why there's any arguing over the percentage. Really, the main issue is that if there's bias in the courts judgments and outcomes, it spills out into any out of court legal "negotiations".

    Lawyers negotiate based on what they believe would happen if it went to court.

  14. I believe your conclusions say it all in regards to your position on shared parenting and fathers who have to enter the court arena Rob, with many fathers encountering your opinion and advice from other paid professionals is it no wonder many fathers will not enter court (and it’s not because they have an amicable settlement as you imply):


    Constant moving from one household to another is hard work, physically and emotionally. The research shows that the kids who do well with split time find their living arrangements manageable and do-able if they feel at home in both houses, and where both parents work cooperatively and flexibly to make the arrangements child-focused. If the parents can do that, then great. But if the parents can’t even be cooperative and flexible enough to make arrangements without going to court, there is nothing that the court can do to help, and imposing shared time arrangements on uncooperative and inflexible parents will be damaging for the children concerned.

    Kind Regards
    Barry Gaynor

  15. I am not a father I am a grandmother
    I am not a member of F4J
    I never agree with threats or violence
    I want discussion to solve problems
    I do though fully understand the anger and frustration of fathers who pay every penny they should to support their children
    Must suffer abuse from the mother of their children or are put in prison for wanting and trying to achieve contact to children they love and have often been full time carers for
    They must watch as their children suffer mental health problems as mothers teach them hatred of their father
    The most important issue for me is that CHILDREN suffer Children are denied a basic right to know love and get support from THEIR FATHER
    Mother is half of a child
    Father is the other half of that child
    I don't hide my name it is Lydia Reid

  16. I did not read either of the two emails sent as being bullying and fail to see why any adult would be intimidated or offended by them. I think the blog post written by Rob George displays sign of emotional immaturity - it is devoid of compassion or empathy with others' suffering, depicts a preoccupation with his own ideas and standing and an over-reaction to implied criticism... Teresa Bourne
    p.s. 10% i.e. decimation is not an insignificant number when human suffering is involved

  17. The good doctor inhabits an industry in which men are dangerous and aggressive and women are always victims. It is natural he would interpret disagreement and well deserved ridicule as threats and bullying. Run to mama Rob, cause daddy is no longer around to protect you. No thanks to you and yours. Out of touch, out of date and perhaps soon out of a job. Roll on the judicial review that will expose these social engineers. If not the current one then the multitude that will inevitably follow. The turning Rob and your time is up buddy. Start putting the kids first or you might soon come to regret your lunatic ideas. Too many of the victims have had enough and the children are speaking out.

  18. Liberal lion? More like Lying Liberal. Reading his other material it's no surprise he's got it the wrong way around.

  19. Dr Rob George you say you have received abusive emails and disparaging Facebook comments, try being on the receiving end of a family court judgment thats abuse, abuse of mine and my daughters and human rights.
    You say you received "implicit and explicit threats made against you in those emails" i don't see any threats.
    Is it that you have now left the comfort of your interlectual ivory tower to make judgments about a world that you clearly no nothing about. You don't have children so you have no idea what if feels like to lose them. Maybe you would like to explain to my three year old daughter why she was taken from her home, her family and friends, her bedroom and toys and her father. To another country which she didn't know, to a one bedroom apartment shared with 3 people, without any toys other than a biscuit tin in the shape of a lorry. All because Payne v Payne uses the argument from Pole v Pole that a happy mother makes a happy child and that a mother can take her child anywhere if that is what makes her happy. This argument is 40 years out of date and that 40 year old case law allowed my daughter to be legally kidnapped again. When i say again thats because the first time she was returned under the Hague Convention to me, to then be allowed to be taken again with the full support of the state.

  20. The man is a baffoon. I think those at the coal face, the reality of family law, will never get through to him. There are none so blind as those that do not wish to see. I pity him. I hope my children find somet way to forgive this man. Like his Nazi predecessors he dares to use fake science to justify the social engineering he and his buddies promote. If there's one thing that gives me hope it is this; that on many occasions on history there have arisen social engineers that have attempted to rengineer the family. On every occasion they have failed. On every occasion the perpetrators have paid a high prove when their ivory towers collapsed. Dr George is no different, his time will come. His name will be remembered alongside others like that other monster Trinder. Mengeles the lot of them. And like him delusional that they are right.