Why McIntosh’s work should be ignored
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:
- 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 ?
- Why are so many countries with sole-mother custody continually having so many problems and looking to countries with different regimes ?
- 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: 
- “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.
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]
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.
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’s ‘junk science’” http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/33/).
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.
- Directly – with the child witnessing and possibly being implicated in or involved with the parental conflict; and
- 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.
For item 2 above she cites only her own work for the footnote . 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.
 Post-separation relationships, http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/fle/executivesummary.pdf
 “Supporting evidence for consultation paper”, Para 19. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/childrensneeds/docs/supplementarymaterial.doc