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Why McIntosh’s work should be ignored

December 11, 2011

By Robert Whiston FRSA 

To be credible, a scientific paper must not mislead or confuse. To gain traction it must be rigorous and unambiguous. It must deal even-handedly with the information and not seek to impose a “world view” on what it claims to be dispassionately examining.

The hypothesis has to be not only reasonable but sound; flexible and open to reassessment – and it is here that matters to often begin to fall apart. To take one example, that of supposed “conflict” posed by shared parenting in divorce situations.

Married couples never argue” is the implicit assumption underlying many of the comments, recommendations and conclusions. The insinuation is that parents only argues when they divorce and because of that need to justify why they should have a continuing role in their children’s lives.

This pompous, highhanded approach is a conclusion only the ‘never married’ can arrive at – albeit unconsciously.

The sub-text is that this form of custody represents a higher risk for children. Yet if this were remotely true it immediately poses three questions:

  1. Why have some countries decided upon shared parenting as a better form of custody sharing ? Are they ignorant of the data that advocates opposed to shared parenting continually point out ?
  2. Why are so many countries with sole-mother custody continually having so many problems and looking to countries with different regimes ?
  3. Why, when it is apparently so dangerous for children, have countries which have adopted shared parenting remained with it ?  What is the child abuse / murder rates in these countries ? Are they better or worse ?

These points, and especially the later one, are continually overlooked by commentators.

Alternative life styles

Conservative parties and any political party regardless of country which has the temerity to suggest Society reasserts the sovereignty of marriage as the basic building block of society is immediately rubbished by more ‘progressive’, i.e. leftish, voices.

Those that advance marriage as the centerpiece of Society and around which all state benefits should be structured are greeted with howls of derision and allegations of ‘discrimination.” They are accused of harking back to a golden age that never really existed. And to some degree they are right in what they say. There never was a golden age, when all was sweetness and light and with never a crossed word uttered between spouses.

That’s a fallacy we can afford to leave unchallenged for those elderly couples celebrating their Ruby, Golden, or Diamond wedding anniversaries (40th, 50th and 60th).  If they can come through 50 years of marriage without an argument tearing them apart we can indulge in a little embellishment – we owe them that much.

However, what is advanced now is consumer choice, a free for all, in the guise of “alternative life style.” Unfortunately, none of these alternative life styles are emotionally or economicaly viable and one has only to visit an ‘old folks’ home packed with lonely women to see the results not of widowhood but divorce and cohabitation.

What we cannot afford to let go unchallenged is the absurd idea that only divorced parents argue (with the implication that it is detrimental to children) and married parents never argue, and so that is why their children are so better “balanced.”

That is at the crux of McIntosh’s work; of Hunt’s work; of Neale’s work; of Wade work, and so on and so forth.

The other equally absurd notion is that their conclusions about shared parenting have any validity. The Australian government published a booklet entitled “Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms” and its opening pages reveal that: [1]

  • “Among parents who separated after the 2006 changes, 62% reported having a friendly and cooperative relationship with the other parent, 19% a distant relationship, 14% a highly conflictual relationship and 5% a fearful relationship (7% of mothers and 3% of fathers).”

To have 62% of couples enjoying the new arrangements is pretty phenomenal by anyone’s standards. At the other extreme, to have 14% a highly conflictual relationship and 5% a fearful relationship is, many would argue, a good trade-off over the previous regime. If one then adds in to the scales those children’s lives who will be saved by father involvement post-divorce, the argument becomes overwhelming.

Sample size

The 62% is sourced from data collected from some 28,000 people involved or potentially involved in the family law system—including parents, grandparents, family relationship service staff, clients of family relationship services, lawyers, court professionals and judicial officers. It was an analysis of administrative data and court files undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and paid for by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s ‘Department (‘Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs’).

By comparison, look at the figures for England & Wales from 1992 to 2002. The inexorable rise in ‘contact orders’ sought have, by today (2011), clogged up the courts. A large percentage of these contact orders will be breached and a second or even third contact order will have to be sought.

                      Private Law: Contact Orders per year.   1992 -2002                 [Source: Judicial Statistics]

In fact this is reflected in the above graph. The years 1992 to 2002 saw a rise in the number of divorces followed by a tapering off – when numbers plateau’ed.  However, the increase in the number of  ‘contact orders’ sought faltered only once – in 1999.

The figures for England & Wales (see left) could not be more conclusive. At the latter stages of the 1990s the number of divorces granted fell.

McIntosh and her cabal fall silent on the number of parents who embrace shared parenting and who think of it as a good idea – they focus only on the few who disapprove – and yes. There will always be a dysfunctional few and a few implacably obstinate parents (both male and female).

No negative impact

In the closing pages of “Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms” the following comments is made:

  • “Generally, shared care time did not appear to have a negative impact on the well-being of children except where mothers had safety concerns. Irrespective of care-time arrangements, safety concerns had a negative impact on children’s wellbeing. However, the negative impact of mothers’ safety concerns on children’s wellbeing was exacerbated where they experienced shared care-time arrangements.”

So “shared care time” according to this official report does “not appear to have a negative impact  . .  . on children.”

This is a far cry from the scenarios being peddled by McIntosh for Norgrove’s consumption. Her sample size was not 28,000, not even 10,000 but less than 150. And this is a pattern repeated almost everywhere by detractors – their sample sizes are simply not representative enough.

This is not to say that all of McIntosh’s work is entirely without merit. She does raise the valid issue of “safety concerns” which are also addressed by the Gov’t report (Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms). It finds that:

  • “Around two-thirds of these separated mothers and around half of the fathers reported that their child’s other parent had emotionally abused them prior to or during separation. One in four mothers and around one in six fathers reported that the other parent had hurt them physically prior to separation.”

At first sight this sounds dreadful but the ‘1 on 4’ and the ‘1 in 6’ figures merely reflects the level of adult inter-partner violence – and remember this is alleged violence during custody battles so elaborations are to be expected. It is also worth recalling that inter-spousal violence/abuse is far lower than adult inter-partner violence/abuse (statistically, cohabitees are mixed-up with married couples).

The same unspoken divergence between cohabitees versus married couples probably gives rise to the next comment in the text:

  • “Around one in five parents reported safety concerns associated with ongoing contact with the child’s other parent. Safety concerns were strongly associated with a history of physical hurt or emotional abuse.”

A first’ in domestic violence research was the ground breaking HORS 199 published in 1999. This was a really comprehensive and objective quantifying of domestic violence. It concluded and this is probably the factor that sealed its fate – never to be cited in the subsequent decade – that:

  • “In a 12-month period 4% of men and 4% of women reported being assaulted by their partner,”

In many ways the method in which we count violence and abuse is wrong. We  count the offence but not the offnder. We do the same with rape. We count each rape as if each rape was committed by one man when in actual fact the average number of rapes before capture is 4 and prolific rapists can offend 20 or more times before capture.

Transient relationships

Similarly, DV in a society which rewards fleeting relationships multiplies the number of DV incidents and the culprit is free to wonder off and set up home with another unsuspecting woman who will once again be a victim of abuse – and then we wonder why we can’t cut DV rates.

For instance, if there were 10,000 reports of domestic violence pa, and if it is true thatwomen suffer on average 35 abusive incidents, it is reasonable to suppose that this pattern is likely to re-occur, if not with the same couple, then with a different woman – and always supposing the man is the sole perpetrator.

Using this model there are 10,000 men perpetrating 35 assaults every year. But what if we could track the offender ? We might find out he moves from one relationship to another inflicting violence on each new partner. How would the number look then ?  In that scenario it would take only 285 men to achieve the 10,000 level of incidents per annum.

Finally, the Report gets around to what is, in the view of a growing number of people, the key ingredient that impacts child safety – mental illness / mental instability:

  • “Around half of mothers and around one-third of fathers indicated that mental health problems, the misuse of alcohol or drugs, or gambling or other addictions were apparent before the separation.”

Misuse of alcohol or drugs, is closely related to “comorbidity” and mental ill-health, e.g. bi-polar conditions and Borderline Personality Disorder. “Comorbidity” is the juncture within a person of two or more clinically defined mental illnesses – and as has been pointed out in another article women/mothers suffer 10 times the rate than that of men/fathers (see ‘Special dangers’ sub-heading at “Norgrove and McIntosh’sjunk science’”

This is not to suggest an airtight connection but the work surrounding the decade long Dunedin Study would indicate a close if not ‘interesting’ correlation. In old terminology it would be described as weakness of character leading to the adoption of vices, e.g. gambling.

But today we aren’t allowed to talk in such terms. Indeed, what feminist DV advocate is even aware of comorbidity ? Some might know of it and if they do they must know it destroys their central tenet, their article of faith based on man as the perennial oppressor of women.

Alcohol plays a very big role in DV, child abuse, criminal public assaults and in breaches of the peace. So why shouldn’t alcohol, weak character and mental ill-health (in some form) be the elephant in the room which many are desperate not to notice ?

One wonders if the Family Justice Review (FJR) in Britain was even made aware of the Australian Government Attorney-General’s report involving 28,000 people ? If the FJR were made aware of McIntosh’s work, did they invite the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) ?

There is a bad habit in Britain of mixing up private law cases with public law ones, i.e. divorce as opposed local authorities applying following poor/abusive parenting resulting in child neglect and/or abuse.

Parents have no legal rights  !

It only makes sense for the FJR to reject “the idea of parents having a legal right to access to their children after separation” if they have public law cases in mind. If they are instead speaking about private l aw cases then they fly straight into the EU Articles relating to family life. In the same paragraph the FJR speaks of “. . . large scale, longitudinal and/ or Government funded” research. But there is none for shared care, however, the suspicion must therefore relate to public law cases.

Norgrove, who chaired the FJR writes at page 148 that a ‘review by McIntosh’ had identified  conflict in two processes.

  1. Directly – with the child witnessing and possibly being implicated in or involved with the parental conflict; and
  2. Indirectly – with conflict having a negative impact on family functioning, particularly parenting. McIntosh notes specifically that persistent conflict damages parenting quality, styles of discipline and the affective response of parents to children, all of which influence child outcomes.[190]

For item 2 above she cites only her own work for the footnote [190]. Notwithstanding this Norgrove follows it with a Julia Brophy quote to support the opinion that the state has a real and actual interest in child custody matters. But Julia Brophy is best known for her public law research not her private law, indeed, all her citations relate to public law.

Nevertheless, Norgrove ploughs on regardless quoting her in this manner:

  • “Given the impact of disputes on children’s emotional well-being and the long-term individual and societal impacts the State also has a vested interest, and by necessity a role, in ensuring thatdisputes are resolved as swiftly, amicably and fairly as possible.”

Julia Brophy is probably right; the State does have a vested interest in children’s emotional well-being in public law cases. If that view is accepted then it has to be accepted thatboth parents but not the state have a vested interest in children’s emotional well-being in private law cases.

Witnessing violence is not the prerogative of divorcing partners nor is it widespread in married or divorcing couples. Witnessing violence is inevitable and a fact of life for a small percentage of children.

Take for instance South Australia’s “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign. It relied on domestic violence data shown below regarding slaps, kicks etc between men and women. The overall impression is that both sexes are pretty evenly matched in terms of aggression in most categories.



[1] Post-separation relationships,

[2]  “Supporting evidence for consultation paper”, Para 19.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2012 12:19 am

    An excellent article, based on scientific principles lacking in McIntosh’s work, who relys on misandry based pseudo science without any empircial support to fabricate evidence for fathers to be denied the same legal rights as mothers. Well done.

  2. Bruno D'Itri permalink
    January 21, 2013 8:17 pm

    Retired President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss has recently expressed her strong objections to Shared Parenting legislation:

    There are three major flaws in the views of the Baroness.

    Firstly, she makes the erroneous and very misleading presumption that those calling for Shared Parenting legislation want a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time.

    Most reasonable voices who have campaigned for Shared Parenting (such as Families Need Fathers and The Custody Minefield) have acknowledged for years that a rigid 50/50 split of parenting time would be impractical in many cases.

    Instead, they have called for the significant and meaningful involvement of both parents, in order that the child may benefit from being properly parented by both its parents. Theirs has always been a qualitative approach.

    Of course, in order for a child to have a significant and meaningful relationship with both its parents, it will need to spend some minimum quantum of time with both parents, but this need NOT be 50%.

    Many who are vehemently against Shared Parenting legislation are finding it extremely difficult to counter the widespread and powerful scientific evidence in favour of Shared Parenting. They have commissioned a couple of academics in an effort to discredit Shared Parenting, but the evidence in favour of Shared Parenting is overwhelming. The general consensus among social scientists is that Shared Parenting is beneficial to children. There are parallels with Oil Companies who commission selected academics to try to discredit the evidence for Global Warming.

    Instead, opponents of Shared Parenting are rather desperately (and mischievously) attempting to shift both the debate and their attack upon the notion of 50/50. The Baroness succeeded in getting the Express Newspaper to headline this 50/50 notion!

    Secondly, whilst the Baroness concedes that children benefit from Shared Parenting when their parents are behaving “sensibly”, she states that the children of parents who are not behaving “sensibly” cannot benefit from Shared Parenting, as this would be harmful.

    In the very common scenario in which the court-appointed Primary Carer (usually mum) is upset and aggrieved with any aspect of the separation or divorce, and refuses (or is emotionally incapable) to behave “sensibly” and refuses to facilitate contact , the Baroness suggests that the Secondary Carer (usually dad) should NOT be involved in the parenting of the child. The Baroness appears quite unable to perceive firstly, the injustice of her argument and, secondly, the long-term damage to the child in losing one of its parents. The Baroness gives paramountcy to the wishes and feelings of the Primary Carer mother.

    Thirdly, the Baroness appears completely out of touch with the current Zeitgeist concerning 21st century parenting. She is firmly wedded to the ideology of the 1960′s and 70′s which strongly held that children needed the nurturing of their mothers and the financial support of their fathers. In no other of the Baroness’s judgments is this out-of-date ideology so stark as in the judgment of Payne v Payne (2001).

    Bruno D’Itri

    • rwhiston permalink
      January 22, 2013 2:00 am

      Dear Bruno, “retired” is the operative word. The elephant in the room (and the lie ?) is that the past President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss retired before this shared parenting bill was aired. So how could she have heard a father claim ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’ ?
      Is she making her case ‘on the hoof’, as she did years ago to the Select Committee and Keith Vaz’s questions when she stated that her courts helped many fathers gain custody ?

      • Bruno D'Itri permalink
        February 2, 2013 5:10 pm

        Hello Robert

        The Baroness is quoted as having said:

        “I’ve heard one father who went into court saying, ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’. Well that’s ridiculous. The child has to live in one place…”

        Is she refering to a case over which she herself presided?
        In fairness, it’s not absolutely clear. She may have heard of the father’s comments from a third party, or she may have heard the father as he went into a court room, as she was hanging about in the waiting room!

        Of greater interest to me is the Baroness’s unflinching belief that “a child has to live in one place”.


        Should we start worrying about middle-class children who spend months each year living in their parents’ second holiday home?

        Should we be closing down boarding schools?

        Should we remove children from divorced parents who have happily agreed upon a Shared Parenting routine?

        For the two years prior to my own children being removed from Britain (due to the implemenatation of Payne v Payne – Baroness Butler-Sloss’s own handywork, no less!), they were perfectly happy having one bedroom at their mum’s and a second bedroom at their dad’s.

        Confusingly, the Baroness declares that Shared Parenting is fine when parents are behaving ‘sensibly’. How does she reconcile this statement with her belief that a ‘child has to live in one place’?

        The Baroness comes across as a confused old lady with very old-fashioned ideas. I think the anti-Shared Parenting lobby shoots itself in the foot whenever it decides to wheel her out

        Bruno D’Itri

  3. February 11, 2013 10:51 pm

    The Children Act of 1989 required the judiciary to serve the paramount interests of the child.

    Surely no one can disagree with this fundamental principle.

    The problem is that our senior judiciary has opted to interpret this paramountcy principle by adopting out-of-date suppositions which hark back to the 1960′s and 70′s. It has done so because of its rigid adherence to the system of ‘legal precedent’.

    Above all, a child needs the love and nurturing of its mother and the financial support of its father. Women are the emotionally weaker sex: if their wishes are thwarted by the court, their ability to parent their child will be adversely affected. A child can be raised quite satisfactorily without the nurturing of its father. A father may be permitted to share in the parenting of his child, but only if the mother is in agreement. If she is not in agreement, the father should not be involved in the parenting because this would upset the mother, and the resulting animosity would be harmful to the child. If a mother is found to have lodged false or exaggerated accusations of physical or emotional violence against a father, she should not be punished because this would harm her child.

    If these are the suppositions written into decades of legal precedent and indelibly ingrained in the minds of the senior judiciary – such as Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Thorpe and Sir Nicholas Wall – then it is quite obvious that these judges will opt to interpret the Paramountcy Principle of the CA1989 by adopting those suppositions.

    A perfect example is Payne v Payne (2001). Butler-Sloss and Thorpe decided that the paramount interests of a child would best be served by ensuring that the child’s mother should not be upset by a refusal of her application to remove the child overseas. The unfortunate consequence – that the child would lose its meaningful relationship with its father – was not as important a factor as ensuring the happiness of the mother. In Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, Nicholas Wall refused to permit any challenge to the ideology of Payne v Payne, despite having being presented with a plethora of powerful scientific evidence in favour of shared parenting. Wall relegated the importance of that evidence.

    Our senior judiciary has utterly misjudged the best interests of the child by remaining stubbornly wedded to an out-of-date ideology of parenthood.

    The forthcoming amendment to the CA1989 – inserting a presumption of shared parenting – will hopefully rectify that serious judicial error.

    Bruno D’Itri

    • rwhiston permalink
      February 11, 2013 11:10 pm

      I actually have some very real misgivigs about the ‘paramountcy principle’ based as it is on the flawed work of Anna Freud some 60 years ago. See my 3 articles on this women.

      • February 11, 2013 11:19 pm

        Are you sure? Surely it is purely and simply a fundamental principle to which all reasonable people subscibe and adhere: that in any parenting arrangement or judgement, the true best interests of the children should be given absolute priority over any other factor, including the wishes and needs of their parents.
        Surely the current problems lie entirely with those who misjudge what those best interests actually are, and pander to the wishes of the so-called ‘primary carer’.
        Bruno D’Itri

  4. February 11, 2013 11:34 pm

    Bruno, at one level you are totally right but think how that ‘truth’ is used against fathers. Therefore, it cannot be such a reliable or total truth. It is a worthy and fundamental principle but should children have an absolute priority over any other factor, including the wishes and needs of their parents when those needs etc are interpeted by other adults and not the chidlren themsleves ? And if we live in a ‘just’ society don’t parents have rights too ? Or are ‘rights’ things we can only enjoy as children – only to lose them when we become adults ? And returning to my earlier assertion of the flawed work by Anna Freud, it it is time to recognise the flaws and move on. For paramountcy read ‘the child’s best interest’ hemmed in as it is with the ‘indeterminacy’ of the phrase. And for CBI read the corrupting infleunce of Anna Freud.

  5. February 11, 2013 11:50 pm

    Hi rwhiston,

    Indeed, the point I was making is that “the truth is used against fathers” exactly in those instances when the best interests of children are incorrectly evaluated by the judiciary!

    Of course, adults (parents in this example) have rights. However, as is often the case in life, one person’s rights can be in direct competition with another’s.

    It is generally accepted by society that if children’s rights are in direct competition with their parents’ rights, the children’s should trump their parents’.

    I’m not familiar with the work of Anna Freud or of its direct relevance to the paramountcy principle, so I’ll certainly read your posts.

    Best regards,
    Bruno D’Itri

    • rwhiston permalink
      September 5, 2013 11:58 pm

      Bruno, Have you had a chance to read one, or all 3, of the Anna Freud articles ? i’;d liek to have your opinion on the ‘CBI’ and paramountcy after reading her foundation work which shaped it.

  6. February 12, 2013 2:01 am

    You can find ‘Anna Freud Part 1’ here =
    Go down the page and on the right you will find access to parts 2 and 3.

  7. February 28, 2013 1:17 am

    The ‘Children and Families Bill’ was debated in the House of Commons on 25 February 2013. A transcript of this Parliamentary debate can be found here:

    Tim Loughton spoke passionately and with much insight about the very real problems many non-resident parents (usually fathers) face in trying to maintain meaningful contact with their children. He was particularly scathing of resident parents who use the ‘system’ to exclude non-resident parents, and of the ‘system’ itself which fails to deter or prevent such abhorrent behaviour.

    In contrast, Sir Alan Beith appeared completely ignorant of these realities. He maintained that no shared parenting amendment was necessary.

    Beith suggested that the Paramountcy Principle would be undermined by the proposed shared parenting amendment.

    Loughton made it very clear to Beith that the proposed amendment plainly specifies that the paramountcy principle remains ‘paramount’ and that contact would not be ordered by the court if there was a verifiable risk of harm to the child. This plain explanation did not seem to satisfy Beith.

    Loughton recounted the fact that, of 3 million family breakdowns in one particular year, 1 million fathers lost all contact with their children. Plainly, this cannot be good for the welfare of those hapless children.

    Loughton explained that the shared parenting amendment was designed to serve the Right of a child to be parented by both its parents.

    In contract, Beith intimated that the amendment served the Rights of Parents rather than those of their children.

    Beith suggested that the amendment would cause non-resident parents to expect 50% parenting time with their children.

    Loughton made clear that the amendment was qualitative rather than quantitative in its design, and that it was plainly non-prescriptive regarding parenting time.

    Beith stated that the popular press was touting the idea of 50/50 time, and that non-resident parents would therefore arrive at the same understanding.

    Loughton stated that the misrepresentation of the amendment by the polular press would not prevent the Government from going ahead in the interests of child welfare.

    As the new legislation is enacted, the press and the general public will need to be educated as to exactly what it entails and what parenting arrangements can be expected by separating parents.

    Overall, I’d say Loughton won the argument.

    Beith’s position remains very closely wedded to that of the Law Society.

    It is no too difficult to speculate as to why the Law Society favours the current status quo and why it is against shared parenting legislation. Plainly, there are considerable vested financial interests in the continuation of non-resident parents going to court to re-establish or enforce contact with their children.

    Precisely why Sir Alan Beith follows the Law Society’s stance so closely requires a little more fanciful speculation, perhaps concerning the methodology and efficacy of lobbying by special interest groups!

    Bruno D’Itri

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