About this Episode
Episode 38: Ian Maxwell
Ian Maxwell, founder of Shared Parenting Scotland, enters the fray to discuss the challenges parents, children and families endure in the broken family law system.
Greg challenges Ian Maxwell on how Shared Parenting Scotland is trying to help children and parents and, although well meaning, if they are causing more harm than good. Ian seems to support more bureaucracy, taking children’s rights from parents and placing them in the hands of *qualified* professionals, whereas Greg firmly believes it's a parents fundamental right (notwithstanding serious neglect or abuse) to determine the rights of their children.
Ian Maxwell has worked for charities supporting parents for nearly 30 years, part of that time working with a single parents organisation. In 2010 he set up the Families Need Fathers Scotland charity, which supports fathers who are having problems in seeing their children after separation and promotes the advantages of shared parenting. In 2020 the charity changed its name to Shared Parenting Scotland, reflecting the fact that increasing numbers of separated mothers are seeking their help and also removing the confusion with militant father’s rights organisations. He has two grown up daughters, who are amused that this professional “single parent” is still married to their mother after 30 years and has no intention of separating.
Greg Ellis: In this episode, I talk with the founder of Shared Parenting Scotland, an organization that helps parents navigate the authoritarian labyrinth of divorce court. He's been married for 30 years, and has no intention of separating and yet two grown up daughters call him a professional single parent. He's a father, a family man, and a proud Scotsman. This week, Ian Maxwell is The Respondent. Hi Ian, thanks for joining me on The Respondent. Where are you located in Scotland?
Ian Maxwell: I'm in Edinburgh, which is a very lovely city to live in and I'm particularly fortunate that I live in Portobello, which is on the eastern edge of Edinburgh. So we're close to a beach we're close to countryside and yet we're only half an hour from the center of town. So that's a rather nice place to be.
GE: Sounds idyllic. Did you grow up there?
IM: I did. I don't sound very Scottish I don't think but I'm certainly born and bred in Edinburgh. I have lived elsewhere. But I returned here, and I'm gonna stay here.
GE: Good for you. As a happily married man of 30 years with two grown up daughters, what led you to set up the Families Need Fathers and Shared Parenting Scotland charities.
IM: I've been working, supporting parents and working with families for a long time previously with a charity called One Parent Families Scotland. And that means that it does give me an understanding as a parent of these issues. I know a lot of the people who work for father's organizations and shared parenting organizations have had their own problems in their own life. But I think I can at least understand it's not... I'm not saying that I know what it's like not to see your children or to be kept away from them. Because I've never had that experience. But I do know an awful lot about the difficulties that people face, particularly fathers. And when the opportunity came to set up a charity in Scotland as an offshoot of a UK charity, which had been going for more than 40 years, I took that chance. And I found it really interesting to be involved with a very small organization. I like working with small charities because you get to do a bit of everything. And it's also, particularly if you're campaigning, it's really good if you're talking to a government minister or an official or something like that, to be able to say well, on our helpline I heard this problem yesterday from a parent. So I've got you know, I feel that I've got direct touch with the issues. But at the same time as a national charity, we can have some influence in what happens... we can't change everything, but we can certainly push.
GE: Well, some would say, I think as I alluded to, how can a married man, possibly, a happily married man, possibly understand the pain and anguish of the separated fathers that they are trying to help and support. Did you have a personal tragedy that impacted you to want to help parents and particularly dads?
IM: No, I think I just... I had been working for charities for most of my career, I moved to the charity that was supporting single parents. So I got to understand a lot of the issues. But I'm quite clear, I can't... I'm not saying to somebody, I share your pain, I understand what you're going through, because I don't, but I've heard from so many fathers over the last 10 years about the struggles, about the stress and the agony and the despair, that I can at least understand that that is such a powerful issue. Losing touch with your own child is such a horrible thing to happen. And it shouldn't... it should be far more difficult for that to happen and should be very, there should be a lot more effort put in to try and restoring conditions. At the moment we tolerate people being separated from their children for months, years, decades, sometimes, which is not good.
GE: Yeah it can't be good for the community collective of our overall familial tapestry if we are encouraging or at the very least tolerating the breakdown of the family. What challenges do separated fathers in Scotland face in ensuring that they are able to stay fully or more fully involved with their children?
IM: Like almost every country in the world, there is still a lack of understanding of the importance of fathers. And there's also still this feeling that mothers are the most appropriate people to bring up children. That's not to say that mothers aren't good for children, because obviously they are. But having both a mother and a father involved is really important for children and young people, because they get to different role models. Not even to say that, you could say that the stereotypical role model of the mother being sort of caring and loving and the father being active and adventurous. Now, some families it works completely differently and in some, some families the father is the caring, loving, close cuddly one... And in Scotland when relationships break down, and unfortunately, a lot of relationships break down. More than half and also more than half of children in Scotland now have unmarried parents. When the relationship breaks down, it is still so common for the children to stay with the mother. And if there is animosity, if there is hurt, it can be very difficult for the father to remain involved. And being involved isn't just visiting the children on a Saturday or Sunday or having them away for a week in the holidays. Because that's not parenting that's not bringing up their children that's not helping them with homework that's not wiping up their sick or mopping their heated brow when they're ill. And you know that there is this presumption that the father who gets every second weekend and half the holidays is okay. And that's just not the case.
GE: Yeah, I remember when I first looked into Texas here in America, there is a system in place that in family law in Texas that fathers who fight for the right to be involved and more involved who are good fathers who are good dads - they are involved and were involved before any kind of acrimony entered the situation. They fight to be involved in their kids’ lives. And what tends to happen is a success or a victory is seeing their kids every other weekend, the judges there really do focus on the matriarch being the sole provider of a safe home and nurturing a discipline and meeting the needs and dependency of younger children and slightly older teens as well. And it does speak to I think a more cultural phenomena that seems to have been taking place recently is this shift towards the devaluation of fatherhood, the good father and the eternal mother And I had Caitlin Flanagan, who is a writer for The Atlantic on my show recently and she, she talked about, it takes a mother to raise a boy, it takes a father to raise a man. And there is something in that rite of passage that that connectivity that's deep within the psychological sovereignty of the child that connects and needs to remain connected with the father for more than an every other weekend visit a, a distant image of dad at the back of the school play in the last row or the appearance, the solitary appearance on the sidelines of a footy pitch or soccer if we're in America. And the system that's set, and it seems to not just be an American phenomena, it's a British phenomena, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, European, even in the southern hemisphere, South America too, there is a distinct devaluation of the very idea of men. And men are expandable, they can work on job sites, hard labor, go down the pits in mines, go to war. All of the statistics support the fact that men and fathers and dads are seemingly dying at higher rates. That's not to mention mental health, and suicide, and the rates of suicide and the disparity of suicide. So what support does Shared Parenting Scotland provide to fathers who are in this situation or find themselves in, in the oftentimes, completely perplexing and very desperate straits of the family law system, and who and who don't know where to start in terms of accessing legal assistance, or psychological assistance and navigating the complex and often myriad biased ways the world of family law works?
IM: Well, you get the inquiry that comes into our helpline quite a lot, which is I've just split up, what are my rights? Because fathers, whether they're married or not married, often don't know what they're even entitled to. And it's a good thing if the father rings us up at that stage, because we can advise them on how the system works, we can advise them on what to do, and also what not to do. Because obviously, the last thing you want is to be shouting and bawling and showing your rage, even if you're the wronged person in whatever's caused to split up. Because if you do that, you may well find that you've got the police arresting you and taking you into the cells, because you're a man and you've made a noise. Now, that's one of the things that we can do to help people. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who come to us are quite a lot further down the line, they are having to try and restore a relationship and spend far more time with their children or have their children far more, and we can then guide them through the process. Now, I know from a lot of the discussions you've had with other people that the court process is probably not the place to put people unless you have to. But at the moment, if you aren't seeing your children, you can't negotiate any sort of agreement with your ex-partner and the children are actually living with your ex-partner, then unfortunately, you probably do have to move towards court. And we now have quite good working relations with a number of family lawyers in Scotland. And what we feel is that the lawyer has got a role in family court cases. That is quite different to in lots of other court action. If you're going to try and you know, let's say chase up a debt or a defective building, bit of work with somebody, then your lawyer is going to fight on your behalf as hard as possible and get a win. But in family cases, nobody really wins in court, because they're in court to sort out something which is not just a one off occurrence. It's about The family arrangements for the rest of the children's life. And if you've got two lawyers throwing things at each other, that doesn't help anybody. We come across some lawyers who will just engage in aggressive correspondence. And then will be throwing allegations backwards and forwards in court. That is, that is really the worst thing that can happen. What we would say to people is if you can agree if you can use a mediation service or some other dispute resolution, family, friends, whatever, to reach agreement, that's far better than ever going near the court. If you do have to go to court, you've got to come across as a father as a sensible, upright, child focused person. So it's not a case of going to the court and saying, I want my rights because you won't get them because you don't actually have the rights as such. But if you can go to court and show that you're a reasonable parent, and if you're lucky enough to get, well we call them sheriffs in Scotland, or a judge, who is slightly more modern and views the idea of fathers and mothers both having a strong role in families, then you may well get something reasonable out of court, but it might take you many months, and it might cost you many 1000s of pounds. And that's one of the other problems in the system.
GE: The system seems inherently broken, and it needs improving. And I do concur. I think we have to keep parents out of court. And that is the primary goal is to keep the legal system out of a family breakdown. And that's particularly difficult because at a time when families need assistance in two warring factions or parents who aren't getting along. The communication breakdown has become insurmountable a lot of the time and there are accusations or heated emotions flying around. How do we make that connection? And I think that that conduit to relief, that initial conduit to relief. It cannot happen through the legal system, because... but each part... there are two parties involved. And they are required by law to each be represented by a lawyer or an attorney. Yeah, so the challenge there of course Ian is how do we find a way to implement a program or a model that is an intermediate intervention between and betwixt the legal system, and the two parents who aren't getting along, can't communicate? Because, as you well know, just as well as I, a family system that comes together between a husband and a wife, they are inherently creating a new family system born of two other hierarchal family systems. So when these two parents family systems break down, it's not just the parents and the children who suffer, it's the entire family systems plural. And if a father is removed from the ability, and I'm not talking about the rare and it is rare. If we dive into the statistics, the rare situations where there is violence involved, or there is abuse involved, I'm talking about the vast majority of cases where a father has been involved, and many of whom have never had a criminal record. They are cast as the villain. And as I like to sometimes say The Respondent because we have the petitioner and the respondent
GE: And they are forced to respond when their entire lives are crumbling, because the meaning of their lives is their children. And they're used to the routine, the routinization of seeing their kids and being involved. So how we can better formulate a way because mediation is one way you mentioned mediation. Even mediation is rife with attorneys and lawyers who retired and became mediators and judges who retired and became mediators and their high priced and so the incentivized churning within the system to keep the money yeah, you know... it's almost like how highway robbery of family estates where sometimes the attorneys come together and the mediators come together and they look at the value because they have access to it. So the estates worth this much, we can keep this case going for five or six months, and then we'll sod off richer than before. And who cares about the family and you mentioned, the despair, the existential terror sometimes, of suddenly being accused of a crime that you haven't committed, and you don't get the presumption of innocence over. Having become almost destitute, maybe lost your livelihood and your job and access to the meaning of your life, which is your children. So the lack of concern I hear in society is so deep?
IM: Yeah well, let me be slightly more optimistic than this very bleak picture you're painting. There have been changes in the last 10-20 years moving forward. If you go back 20 years, you had fathers having to prove their worth to get even closely into the... get even slightly back into the family. Whereas now, you don't have to stand up and just prove how wonderful you are. But I would agree that the current courts in a lot of countries are not by any means ideal. There are a number of relatively simple changes that can be made. One difference between the courts in the UK and I think most of the American courts and the courts in Europe is moving from a confrontational system an adversarial system to an inquisitorial system, where a judge is examining what's going on, rather than opposing lawyers, putting up arguments and counter arguments. Now, that obviously requires that you've got judges who know what they're doing, who've got modern attitudes, who are willing to be equal minded. But that in a stroke would take out some of the mudslinging that goes on you may well still involve lawyers, because people aren't particularly good at understanding how a court works, what they have to do, but the lawyers role will be changed very much from being just the hired assassin, if you like, to being the facilitator. So that... and if you compare some European court systems with the adversarial courts that we have, you can see that immediately, you do get slightly different results. Another big change, and this is what we were trying to do in Scotland over the last couple of years, is to include in the law what's called a rebuttable presumption. And the word rebuttable, unfortunately, is something that very few people understand and quite a lot of people misrepresent. If you have a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting, that means that when you go to court, the first option is going to be a fairly equal split of the children's time between the two parents. Because and one can point to a lot of research evidence that shows that this is almost always the best option for children in separated families. There's now been a lot of research, including in some of the countries where there's already a reasonable amount of shared parenting. So you've actually got quite a large group of people to study. And both there've been studies with very young children, there've been studies with teenagers, and they will say that there are all sorts of benefits for the children of equal sharing, maybe not, doesn't have to be exactly 50/50. But you want to have, let's say at least 30/35% of the time spent with each of the parents. And that has got advantages in terms of the behavior, in terms of educational achievement. And some of the studies have even followed through to these children as they grow up and it helps them in their own adult life, in their own relationship forming if they've got a reasonable pattern rather than a very skewed pattern to model on. So the story as far as we're concerned in Scotland, we looked elsewhere. We looked particularly to Belgium, because Belgium has had a presumption of shared parenting in their law since 2006. And that has meant that the proportion of court disputes that end up with a decision of shared parenting still isn't 100%. But it's somewhere about 50/60%, depending on which of the Belgian courts you go to. And that is way far above the sort of results we would get from court in Scotland. We had a review of family law in Scotland last year. This is where I've got to be maybe clarified for for some people, Scotland, although it's still part of the United Kingdom, and still has comes under the Westminster government. Scotland has its own legal system, its own courts, its own judges, its own education system. And for the last 20 years, we've had our own Parliament sitting in Edinburgh. So the laws most of the laws that apply to people in Scotland are those coming from the Scottish Parliament. Some things like foreign policy and employment law are done at a UK level. But a lot of our family law is all Scottish Family Law. So we had a law that was passed in 1995. And which was, in its day, quite progressive, but 25 years on, a lot has changed in family systems. So we were lobbying during the course that this of this legislation passing through the Scottish Parliament last year, we were trying to introduce a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting into Scottish law. But we encountered a fair bit of opposition to this. And…
GE: From who?
IM: Well, from the domestic violence lobby, I would say primarily, because there is justice, you’ve come across the sort of very strong arguments that are going on at the moment about parental alienation, and about whether or not parental alienation actually exists...
GE: Which is frankly, utter nonsense.
IM: It is.
GE: When I found out that there was a... I recently found out there was a disagreement about the existence of parental alienation, like can we just move past that and actually talk about the pain that's going on, the psychological pain and children and children's human... basic human rights to be connected to their parents, and find ways to actually hold people accountable who are alienating and targeting the other parent, very difficult to do not saying it's easy on the legislative solution to the dilemma of separate parents, a concept of equal shared parenting time, or a rebuttable 50/50 parenting presumption, my feeling is it absolutely, and I say absolute in absolution, it should start from a baseline 50/50. Inherently what's wrong, I see, and we can discuss the different jurisdictions and countries and the laws, but inherently what I see wrong with the system, from the top down, is that there is no presumption of innocence. There is no due diligence, no note, no due process. And if you start from a place if there's any acrimony, and any situation that would bring law enforcement, the police into a family and into a family home, if someone has committed a crime, they should be arrested and charged with a crime. What tends to happen is people are detained, and they are questioned, and by that time, they may have been removed from their home have no access to their home. This is an issue. So what 50/50 shared parenting the baseline of parenting does is it says look, we the family law court, are not going to tip our hats one way or the other, to have someone wearing a whiter hat or a blacker hat, there's no bad or good. We start there. And that, to me is the crux of how the system should be so that both parents, both parents get to spend 50/50 time. If one parent wants or feels or needs or thinks they deserve, or there's reasons for getting more time that default presumption can be challenged in court, that would make it less likely to have false allegations of domestic violence because this is the misnomer that the... I think there's a difference between the equality feminists and the third and fourth wave feminists who trump up this agenda to get the money from the government to finance their organizations and campaigns, where all men bad or men are physically violent, and the statistics are all skewed. And ultimately, looking at the statistics here in America, upwards of 72% of domestic violence claims against fathers and men are false. What happens to those 7 out of 10? People who've made that false claim? I would hazard to say very little. And what happens to the father, most of the time, who's been targeted by that false claim, they are shackled in prison. lose their job, their reputation, and there is no way to come back. So I think this equal shared parenting baseline rebuttable presumption of innocence and the innocence of the child and how they shouldn't be involved.
IM: Yeah, yeah. Well, we were I mean, we had a lot of discussion with people in Belgium, we managed to get a Belgian judge to speak to some of our MSPs during the course of the legislation, and her message was that it's actually been helpful for the judges in Belgium, because it gives them a clear pattern rather than having to take every case from start and think well, how many days should we give him more or her and she also another change, which I think we've not quite got to. A lot of the judges in Belgium are younger, a lot of them are female in the family court. And they, I think, have a more up-to-date understanding of how society works. Unfortunately, we... men have become far more involved with their families over the last few decades. If you go back, a generation or two, men didn't... weren't allowed in the birth and they sat outside the delivery room with a cigar and that was that was their contribution to the process.
GE: Right. I cut the umbilical cord with my two sons. I was right there.
IM: Yes, yes. Well, this is happening. And when your families are still intact, men are more and more involved. And in fact, COVID will probably bring this even further on because employment patterns are changing dramatically. It may well be that women have got more chance of employment in reasonable jobs in coming years than men. But as soon as separation breaks up that family, you revert to this pattern of men as the providers and women as the homemakers. And this is this is but... some countries this has moved. We...
GE: So why does Scotland lag behind many other European countries in terms of levels of shared care found in separate separated families?
IM: Scotland is around about the average. I saw a study very recently, this was a study of adolescents. So it wasn't of whole families, but it was using quite large amounts of data. And it was showing that Scotland and the rest of the UK being about 5 or 6% of adolescents in separated families are in 50/50 care. Whereas you go to countries like Sweden, which usually comes top of the list. In Sweden, if you separate it has become the norm to stay involved for both parents to stay involved and to share the care some of the other Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Iceland, and so on, again, that seems to be more of the pattern. And it's... you can't change these things just by changing the law. There's a lot to do with the way that society works. There are factors like the fathers getting far more paternity leave when a child is born and getting paternity leave that's paid rather than well you can have the time but you're not getting paid for it. And you can you can almost chart the paternity leave provision in a country and correlate that with the levels of shared parenting. And we can I mean, we are moving in the right direction, but we're doing it in a frustratingly slow and ponderous fashion.
GE: The thing that's frustrating about the slow and ponderous fashion is I can speak to America every day in America, 10 divorced men take their own lives. Every 8 hours. The courtrooms are open and doors open for business and close for business 4000 children lose a parent. These are numbers that should be startling people in our society and shocking them into action and yet there is this lethargy of thought and I do agree with you about the societal change because once society starts valuing the family unit again saying, You know what? This this causality This is cause and effect, a ripple effect of behavior across every part of our society and the nations that aren't getting it and aren't getting it quick enough. What's the UNCRC? Can you explain the UNCRC?
IM: Well, we're about to implement the UNCRC, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish law. There's a bit of legislation going through the Scottish Parliament at the moment. What that means is that children will have a lot more say, they'll have a lot more chance to be told in in an understandable way how things work. And also lots of legislation and public services will be measured against a children’s rights perspective, they will be assessed as to whether or not they're improving the conditions for children....
GE: I wouldn’t have thought it's a good thing though Ian...
IM: Well no, I think there's a lot in the UNCRC that mean, for instance, one of the principles in the UNCRC is that children should remain in touch with both parents...
GE: What does that mean though, in touch? A quick email once every couple of weeks? We're bringing in another organization, another body or another establishment to suggest that they know better than parents how their children should be raised. I don't think that's a good thing. I mean, the Scottish government set out an ambitious plan in 2018 to implement the provisions of the UNCRC in its reform of children's rights and in September 2020, claimed that the UNCRC would be enshrined into Scots law. Current Scottish legislation effectively prevents implementation of Article Seven of view UNCRC, which states that every child has the right to be registered at birth, to have a name and nationality and as far as possible to know and be cared for by their parents. How come the Scottish Government claim to follow the principles of the UNCRC when they refuse to properly recognize that parental alienation exists?
IM: Well, the government has not refused to acknowledge it. The government usually sidesteps the argument. Certainly there are...
GE: Well isn't that refusal of acknowledgement? Sidestepping the argument?
IM: Yup. Well interestingly, we managed to get parental alienation, the wording, included into guidance that was in the family law to do with the people who prepare reports for court about contact cases. That the words were used in the guidance. And then there was a lot of backlash on that. And they now I think, tend to use alienation but not put the parental beside it.
GE: This is why everything moves so ridiculously slow, because it's seen as a victory to get the word parental alienation in, and then we remove parental and it's just alienation.
IM: Sure, well, I tell you, what is vital is that we deal with the problem. I don't think we should get caught up in the terminology, if we have processes that can deal with children who are rejecting a parent without good reason. And I think that the way forward as a campaigner, rather than take headlong this battle to get the words parental alienation included into legislation, or indeed, as they have done in Brazil and one or two other countries, they have made it parental alienation a criminal offense. I think it's far more important to get the proper processes within the law and within the courts to deal with it and to deal with it quickly.
GE: Well, you and I probably... I disagree with you. I think that when you say the it, we have to define what the it is. And it is parental alienation. The World Health Organization recognized in 2019. And if we're getting into the weeds of 'Well, let's not argue about what it's called. Let's give a little let's just call it alienation'. I mean, you were pushing for a change in terminology from residents’ orders, and contact orders within Scottish family law with reform to parenting or children's orders with a view to focusing minds on parenting rather than arguing. What were the proposed changes in respect to the provisions within the content of those orders that helped further promote shared parenting?
IM: I'm sorry, I've lost you,
GE: What were the proposed changes in respect to the provisions within the content of those orders that help further remote shared parenting because there does seem an oxymoron here. I understand why we want to shift focus to the children. Ultimately, it's the parents, as parents, we have a fundamental right, okay to see be be with our children, and our family. And the state should not be allowed to step into our home and trample our rights, whether we be a Scotsman, an Englishman, or a fine American or a Canadian, wherever we are. And yet, this is happening so often. And it is about parents’ rights to be the care major caregivers for their children, right?
IM: Is it parents’ rights, or children's rights, I think is an important question.
GE: Both. But who looks over the children's rights? The parents primarily. I don't want anyone else in front of me as a father, or if I'm a mother, stepping in with the right to tell me what my children, how my children should be raised? Primarily.
IM: Yeah, yeah. Well...
GE: You disagree? Do you think it's...
IM: Well I'm trying to take a route that as a campaigner, somebody who's trying to change a system, I've got to understand what the blockages are. You asked me this question earlier, one of the major blockages in us getting that that rebuttable presumption was this domestic violence lobby. And they made ridiculous statements such as saying that more than half of the cases in court are about domestic violence, completely forgetting that A) they were basing this on one isolated study from 2006 of about 300 families B) that the mention of domestic violence doesn't mean that domestic violence has happened. In a lot of cases, there's an allegation of domestic violence in order to gain an upper hand in the court case. And there is there are studies to show that this is I'm not saying domestic violence does exist, but it may be doesn't exist to the same to the level of some people are protesting. But the members of parliament who had to put that law through, they are not going to do something that they feel is dangerous, and unfortunately danger is the thing that has been really brought into this debate. The law as it stands, both in Scotland and in other places, is not saying you can't have shared parenting, but it's not saying it's a good thing. And while I think Belgium, and a number of other countries and one or two states in America have managed to pass shared parenting laws, I'm not going to put all my efforts into changing the law, because that's only one of the things that will affect the lives of these separated families. I am going to put a lot of effort into collecting the voices of children. And I think the voice... This is again where we're coming back to the children's rights argument. And this was the big mistake we made in our campaigning in Scotland. The domestic violence lobby used the voices of particular children who had experience of domestic violence. And were very effective with that, if we had managed to bring in children who had been separated from their parent and then had regained contact later in life and really regretted missing many years of that parent being involved with them. We could have presented a far stronger, more emotive argument and going back in it I should have spent far more time trying to rally the voices of children in the arguments we were making. If I just say that... use the argument that fathers have a right to see their children unfortunately that's not nearly as strong. So it is very much about using the arguments what have most force with the politicians you've got.
GE: Yeah I understand the nuances and look this is... I know you're discussing you know the messaging of a movement and an organization and how you counteract and the subtle yet important nuances of how you position statements and movements. I get all that. I do understand all that. My belief is there's just too much of that going on, and has been for decades, where we've beaten around the bush and I mean, you know, where we talk about what are we calling it now? Coercive control alienation parental alienation? Look, it's been the standard terminology for a long time parental alienation. I know it's difficult when we talk about rebuttal equal shared parenting 50/50 in a starting place, and we can all get the notion and I don't disagree with you about the stories that we can share in terms of educating people better, and getting people on the side of movements that are really in the... I believe, fundamentally and profoundly, are in the best interests of the children, and the parents, both mothers and fathers, because although fighting for fathers, it's not you know, demonizing fathers is not the solution. That's the problem. You know, and valuing fathers as well… Does changing the terminology make a real difference to parents, who are in a bitter dispute of the content of the orders, the legislation does not change sufficiently to reflect the intention of the terminology. For example, here in America equal shared parenting, finally, through groups like the Center of Parental Responsibility, and Women for Shared Parenting, they were able to get equal share parenting through the legislative branch in Arizona, and yet the attorneys and lawyers and family law firms pretty quickly found a way to get around the terminology. So I don't necessarily think this nuanced battle of verbiage and words and vocabulary and vernacular is as important as I believe some people, perhaps you, think it is. Because ultimately, there's going to be arguments made by the scurrilous group on the other side, who want to project that the statistics of domestic violence are way higher than they actually are. So there has to be some sort of way to cut through the rhetoric and say, nonsense, it's nonsense. And how we can get on the same page and move forward and say, This is not... parental alienation is brainwashing. So children have been brainwashed, whether they be four or seven or nine or 11 years old, when there's acrimony. And as a targeting parent who's doing that brainwashing and alienating, that child will have a distrust, a dislike and a fear and a sense of betrayal, if they talk about the other parent in a positive way. So of course, they're going to share stories. So yes, finding a path, finding a child that is then been reconnected or on a raised by the other parent or the targeted parent, those stories are important, but those children are going to be older. So it's not going to play at the heartstrings in terms of the media messaging as the other stories are. You have these huge challenges with it Ian...
IM: Well, let me tell you a couple other things that we're doing in Scotland, which I think are making a difference. One thing that is important is in changing this whole image of the role of men and women, is what happens in early years and childcare. If you look at the staff, the people who are working in nurseries and primary schools, a very high proportion of them are women. And for quite a long time now we've had a move in Scotland to train up men to work in childcare. Get round, the problems that often men faced where you've got one male student in a class of 30, childcare students. That's not an easy position to be in, because you're on your own, if you've got a bit of and we've got schemes to provide the support to encourage more men to get involved to help them with the pre-qualification needs. And that is gradually increasing the ratio of men in early years, because children who see all these caring working in schools done by women will get the impression it is one's job. Whereas if they have even one male carer in their nursery school or their primary school, that gives them the feeling that No, it isn't just a woman's job. It's a job for women and men. So that's one movement that's been going with you we've been gradually increasing the proportion in Scotland over the years. And we've seen from other countries such as the Scandinavian countries where they've they're quite a lot further on than us. They have managed to make a far more gender balanced workforce in that area. That's one thing. Another area that we have been using, we're at the moment, we have a petition system in the Scottish Parliament where anyone can raise a petition which will get debated and we we've got a petition going in the Scottish Parliament at the moment to try and ensure that the standard that are put into place for people who are supporting children in cases where the children are being supported, where children are... have been alleged to be part of domestic abuse. Our worry is that children are often being told that they've been abused when they haven't been. And...
GE: Leading back to the what I was talking about the rights you know, we've focused solely on the rights of the child. those rights should be the conduit through the parent. The parents know their children best the family. We Scotland's introduced the role of parent parenting coordinators, right. It's the I think our concept was developed in the USA, and it's now mirrored in Canada, South Africa, and England. Are these parenting coordinators given training in well, things like parental alienation. If not, how effective can such can such a role truly be if the issue is not recognized and addressed?
IM: Well, we don't have... Parenting coordinators started in the USA, and they've now spread to Canada, South Africa, a couple of... there are a few of them in in England alone, not very many. If the standards for parenting coordinators do include training in issues like parental alienation, and certainly if we if we brought in parenting coordinators in Scotland, we would try and make sure that that was a key part of their training, Child Welfare reporters who are preparing reports for court about children in Scotland. The legislation which passed last year includes standards for training and oversight of these people. And we're going to make jolly sure that the training that they do will include a strong element of understanding and awareness of parental alienation alongside all the other things that they're going to be trained in. Because yes, you're quite right. You know, if you don't give people that understanding when they're doing really important jobs trying to decide what's best for children, then they're going to come up with the wrong outcomes.
GE: Yes, of course, because children's minds, young minds are malleable, and you sit with an adult, and you are asked questions in a leading way, as much as the adult may not even think at times that they're being leading. And children want to appease the strange person of authority and power with a clipboard or whatever it is, comes in and sits down and starts asking questions. You want to satisfy them, you want to make them happy, you want to be seen that you're being a good kid. And that's when that's when really heinous groups of allegations are made about sexual abuse and domestic violence. And that's really, really terrifying. And we should be really mindful of that.
IM: We have we have very firm procedures for investigation of turf child sexual abuse in Scotland. It has to be done in particular ways that the whole nature of the questions that are asked are quite strictly regulated. I think that is that is a very important protective factor, because it's very difficult to ask a young child, what has happened to get anything approaching accurate results. And it's important for both the children who have been abused, to get that understood and dealt with and also for the children who haven't been abused, to have it clearly ruled out. And both sides of that are crucial.
GE: And perhaps we should spend some time actually interviewing the parent who's made the allegation as well to find out the basis of the allegation, the nature of the allegation, the family history, etc, etc. Because there's way too many false allegations taking place. And these silver bullets of child abuse and physical abuse and domestic violence are the easy quick win strategy many times in family law, and they ruin fathers and good fathers and parents and mothers sometimes as well. And steal the childhoods of the children away and that's horrific. How can advances be made in relation to advocating for shared parenting when it's all too easy for false allegations to be made often encouraged by family lawyers which inherently lead to one parent being alienated from their child?
IM: Well, you need to be acting on things quickly, because the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to undo the damage. One of the family mediation organizations in Scotland has been doing a lot of work on how you do... asking how you do investigate things with children. And they're very clear. They don't want to see a child once and ask them questions, they want to see the child several times, because they know quite clearly that if you talk to them... if a strange person, strange official, whatever, talks to a child, it's very likely that the child will say, whatever the child has either been prompted to say, or what the child thinks is appropriate to the circumstances. So if you're if you are interviewing a child, you need to see a child several times to build up a working relationship and to move on from that initial message to something that's closer to the truth. And you want to be able to explore with that child, why are they saying particular things? What it is, that might have caused them to say that I hate my dad, or I hate my mom. And I'm never going to speak to them. And...
GE: I realize as well that at times children say that, even when they love... that even just because kids are kids? Oh, yes, yes, yes. I hate you, dad. I hate you mom. I mean, that's kids being kids. So you know, this notion that we should step in as establishments of authority to interview children, based on hearsay...
IM: It has to be done in a very skilled and proficient way.
GE: Well, what would you say? What would you say is the evidence that required that the law enforcement or the police should be required for them to receive to actually do make an investigation? Should it just be hearsay evidence? Should someone be allowed to call in an accusation or go into the local police station? Say, my partner has done XYZ? Is that enough?
IM: Well, of course, I mean, hearsay is... never should be enough. Because heresay is...
GE: It is in family law, though. That's the line.
IM: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And I think courts in some parts of the world, and some jurisdictions are actually starting to understand this. I listened to a talk by some Canadian academics recently who were talking about a court system which brought together the judges, the lawyers, the social workers, the child psychologists to work together when you got a situation like that, to try and understand what is happening, and to try and support the children and the parents to move through a confrontation like that. And to restore the children's relations with the parent that they'd reject...
GE: Ian, the system is not set up that way.... I'm talking about the system. The legal system of family law is his hearsay evidence, which is guilty till proven innocent, or oftentimes more guilty. The burden of proof is not on the accuser. It's on the accused, this is Salem Witch trial time. This is Spanish Inquisition. So no matter how many people we bring together within a system, if the system doesn't structurally reform, it's piecemeal, and it's tiny. And this is the point I'm making unless we go unless we approach the systemic root of this issue, which is still mind boggling to me, that we have these minutia conversations about how we can fight to get one word or two words. It's alienation or privilege. Rather than having this discussion that says that there's a branch of law that does not afford due process, due diligence, and the presumption of innocence. And it's the branch of law we need it the most, which is family law. And why aren't people barking at the hilltops on mountaintops about that, rather than getting in the weeds of 'Well, you know, we've won a minor victory that it's now we've agreed it's alienation. It may not be parental...' Why aren't people? Are we going to just be prattling around having minor conversations with people and deciding the vernacular in the words or are we actually going to do something speak up and say, 'this is wrong'? We are literally and I mean, it literally stealing people's freedoms and liberties. Okay, parents in family units. We are kidnapping children we are allowing and enforcing laws that kidnap children. And we are murdering families. I know that sounds hyperbolic and dramatic. It's true. People are dying. So why are we having a discussion about the terminology of a word? It's consistently frustrating that there's this polite nature of skirting around the issues rather than saying no, it's wrong. If criminals and rapists get the presumption of innocence, why don't parents, can you tell me?
IM: I'm not sure I completely...I mean, I think that you're quite right that allegations are a major issue in these types of cases. And as I was saying before, changing the nature of the way the court deals with it, rather than incentivizing people to make allegations would be one on difference.
GE: Would you agree that's the major issue? How we deal with allegations. Because they are allegations. And how we approach them in terms of the accuser and the accused, the jurisprudence that is set in our society should be afforded to parents and families and children? No.
IM: And well, there is also a major problem, certainly in our country, and in quite a few others of even when you managed to get the courts to order something to order, the contact arrangements for a child, if that is flouted, if the child is not...
GE: Yeah, I know that comes down the line. Yes, we can't, we can't enforce it. I get that and people spend hundreds of thousands of pounds sometimes. And it seems to my point is going back to my point, would you agree that the major issue with family law is that there isn't the presumption of innocence? I mean, I'm trying to get a simple yes or no. Whether you... because it's the issue, as far as I'm concerned, it's the issue. And if we're going to be in this space, and we're going to talk, we're going to be real about it...
IM: Yeah. But what do you mean by innocence?
GE: The presumption of innocence. Jurisprudence. How we approach an allegation and a crime. Okay, so if there's an allegation of a crime...
IM: We're not but we're not talking about criminal courts here. What we're talking about is parents who have a dispute. And they go to the court in order to get a decision because they can't make that decision themselves.
GE: No Ian, frankly, listen. Frankly, if there's a dispute, and someone is claiming there is violence, domestic violence, whether violence takes place in the pub, on the beach, in the workspace or at home, particularly in the home in a domestic setting, that should be a criminal offense, and the perpetrator should be questioned and either charged or released. It should not be tried in family law. It's that simple. Do you agree with that?
IM: Yeah. Well, but you will get...
GE: Do you agree?
IM: Yes. But let's say for instance, that 20% of cases in the family courts are, there is domestic violence taking place, which it may be is a more is way below the estimates that get get get bandied around. You need to deal with that alongside making decisions about what's happening with children. And you've got you I would want one of the English that the head judge of the family division in the English courts, in a meeting last autumn, said that he reckoned that 30 to 40% of the cases that are appearing in court should never have been there because there were about people arguing about the minutiae of what their contact should work. Now. If you can take those cases out of court, if you can act quickly. If you look at in Cochem in Germany, there was a judge who decided things were not working well, he collaborated with the other lawyers, the social workers and so on. And he'd lay down the law. He said that if you've got a dispute, I want to have one page of evidence about it, not sort of 50 sheets of...
GE: You and I both know, this is not the norm. This is so so, so rare, and I understand why you're bringing it up and why it's important to you in the organization to bring it up. That's like one out of probably a million cases where that sort of thing would happen. And that's why you're bringing it up. It's so rare that a judge would change the system. I'm talking about them the majority of cases that doesn't happen and overall if there isn't a presumption of innocence and you say this should be tried side by side or alongside it, there's an allegation No. A criminal offense an offense of violence should be tried in criminal court. People should have their rights. You talk about children's rights and shifting the signaling and the messaging in terms of the organization, how you get the messaging out there. How about we talk about rights, humans' rights, citizens' rights, everyone should have the right to jurisprudence. If we are accused of a crime, we can be questioned, we can be detained and questioned, and then we should be charged. And if we're charged, we have our day in court in criminal court.
IM: Yes, yeah, I don't I'm not disagreeing with you at all. I think that that, and a criminal court will then use the evidential procedures to work out whether or not somebody has committed something. And although sometimes it's not easy in a criminal court, there are very well established processes for that. And I'd be quite happy to separate off the criminal processes from this civil decision making process that courts often get left with. And I would take a lot of these decision making out of the courts, I would it should be done in a far less film, relational way. Yes, yes, that's right. And but the reason I was mentioning Cochem and Judge Rudolph because he did actually succeed. He said that he wanted a single page of that argument. He wanted to hear the case within two weeks. And if it wasn't resolvable, within two weeks, he'd sit again in two weeks until it got it. And that is the contrast with so many court systems where it takes you several months to even get the case before a judge. And that's the difference. And we need family courts that work properly for the parents and children, not family courts are just offshoots of the general process. Because what you're trying to do in a family court is quite different to what you're trying to do in in a dispute or a criminal matter that goes to court. It's far more, and it requires, whether you call them judges or mediators or arbitrators, it requires people who are specialized in it, who are making very difficult decisions sometimes, and who have got the knowledge and the understanding. And we're moving in that we are getting some judges in the system and the fact that they you know that they are, but they are still in a minority. And I think we want... Countries throughout the world are looking at the way they run their family law system. Singapore is looking at it Australia's looking at it. Portugal's looking at it. A very good judge in Israel has been putting forward ideas like this. So it and that's why I'm saying I'm optimistic because that there is a wind of change going on. It may not be people marching in the streets, and I'm afraid I don't go with the argument that You know we need to have a revolutionary change in order to make this... I think it's slow. It's...
GE: I don't either I don't think a revolutionary change is is the way to go. I'm just talking about the rhetoric and the and the wording that we use in terms of let's be honest about this. Let's let's actually talk about this in an honest way of what's happening to families and children and parents and not beat around the bush and people's human... parents' human rights are being trampled. And they shouldn't be, you know, if two people have acrimony, and they want to end their marriage, why should the state step in with all its force and adjudicate and administer?
IM: That's where the Swedish system seems to show. It's not... very few cases end up in courts in Sweden, and in I think in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, they have specialist family courts, rather than the main all coming under the main system. Because...
GE: As usual we look to Scandinavia for the family law... the education system, Finland with introducing phenomenological based learning about four years ago. I mean, they're bold in terms of their social policy. And we need to more like that. So I commend you, you know, greatly commend you for the efforts that you've made that you're making, you continue to make. It's really noble of you, and I really do appreciate it.
IM: But you're right, you're right to push us as well because we shouldn't be complacent, and that's why I'm saying we didn't make the argument strong enough or use the right arguments when we were seeking to get the law changed and we've missed an opportunity which we won't get again for another...
GE: Well, you do you do the best you can and you're up against the system. I talked about it before. in America it's close to a $60 billion a year industry and the American divorce machine andnd the two major lobbying groups, one of which is the divorce in the attorney and family law industry lobbying groups of attorneys and lawyers. And the other one being the more radical, postmodern progressive third and fourth wave feminist groups who rail about men's violence and domestic violence. And you know, I've seen in England recently I think the last year there was a bill introduced, the domestic abuse bill for women and girls, and I'm like, Okay, so we're not going to protect baby boys and teenage boys and transgender and non-binary people and gay men. I mean, really, really that's how we how we're going to move forward? Don't we want equality? So no, we don't we're going to have a bill that just specifically speaks to women and girls, that's just that's just not equality, is it? So the last part of the show, I play a fun game. Hopefully you'll play along. It's called the philosophical Q. This is the part of the show where we get to know you just a little bit better. We go a little deeper. We get collected within the dialectic Don't be worried. I know you maybe are, we see what's in the philosophical Q with Socrates greatest axiom was Know thyself. In Maxwell. How well do you know thyself? Let's find out, shall we, as we play the philosophical Q. Okay, so the meaning seeker, everything happens for a reason we make up afterwards. That's our definition of meaning on The Respondent. Where does Ian Maxwell find meaning?
IM: I find meaning in helping others to him improve things. And I've campaigned on lots of things in my life. I've campaigned against smoking in public places, campaigned for more cycling and less motor traffic. And I think that that's maybe being very purist and idealistic. But I think it is worthwhile trying to change society in ways that look as if they're the best, the better way to go. So I would I was really encouraged because the people who were campaigning about public smoking 20 years ago, thought it was going to take forever to change and then almost overnight, things changed. Now I'm not sure that the issues that we're facing in Shared Parenting Scotland will be changed overnight, but I think there is there is a... we shouldn't assume that the current state is going to be sticking with us forever.
GE: What's the most meaningful moment of your life?
IM: Birth of the child. I think that's that is that is because you feel that you're contributing more than yourself.
GE: The urbane pioneer, I call this. Where do you go for your fantastic neuroplastic urbane monastic. Simply put, where do you go to find solace?
IM: I go on my bicycle. And I see countryside or whatever. I don't know what it is. But it's about being in control of something but not having to depend on a motor or public transport vehicle. You can you can move distances and see things on a bicycle,
GE: The enlightened Trailblazer. If you had one wish, what would it be?
IM: I would... well, I would like to see Scotland as an independent country because I think a country of 5 million should be in charge of what it's doing.
GE: Fair enough. The sense maker, how do you make sense of a family law system that is structured to further separate families?
IM: I don't think it is, but I think it should be... I think there are there's lots that could be improved in it. I don't think it's separating them. But it is the presumption that men are not equal with women in bringing up children is wrong.
GE: While I believe it's fundamentally structured to separate families. I think, and I say this respectfully, it may be a little naive to believe it's not structured to further separate families. The state has no business coming in and demanding to parents that they no longer are the decision the primary decision makers in their children's lives, you have a luxury that many parents, mothers and fathers don't have. I also commend you. It's astonishing to me and extremely, extremely impressive. That given the fact that you haven't, when I say you haven't been personally touched by this, I'm sure you've been personally touched in a myriad of ways through all the people you've encountered through this horrid system, you're a happily married, 30 years. And I'm sure when you say happily married... 30 years, it takes a bit of work occasionally, right? You have to, you have to put the graft in on both sides. And two daughters, you know, who are grown up and say that you are a professional, single parent. And which I think is brilliant. If you were... to wrap it up, the presence extender, if you could write your own epitaph, what might you wanted to say Ian?
IM: He changed things. I would like to change a lot of things.
GE: Well, I think it's clear you already have had a major impact in changing if not humanity, the community of Scotland, thank you very much for taking the time to join me on The Respondent
IM: Oh well come and come and visit us when they let you out of your country.
GE: I would love to I would love to one day, shake your hand and thank you for everything that you've done and continue to do for families. Be well.
Everyone is struggling with something so please try to be more positive, encouraging of those less fortunate than you. Be kinder to others, particularly yourself.