Skip to content

McIntosh: mendacious meanings and multiple motives ?

May 20, 2014

by Robert Whiston  FRSA   May 20th 2014

 Warshak goes a-gunning for the “research cowboys” 

In the best traditions of the Wild West, a posse has been rounded up from among the honest and descent townsfolk to track down some renegade cattle rustler. But in this case the townsfolk are professors and heads of university departments and the quarry is a small gang, a rogue group, of research “cowboys” (in the pejorative sense of the word), who are inflicting inexcusable damage on this profession. When “brought to book” do we expect the villains to cry “Its fair cop” or weasel their way out of the charges ?

Academia should be an infinite font of knowledge – not a poisoned well.


Lest it slip from our grasp by way of a barrage of deliberate distractions, lets sum up what is McIntosh’s present position; she is in the dock of her peers charged with scurrilous academic behaviour. Let’s also examine what constitutes her defence and then compare it with her prior position:

  • “She is now claiming that when it came to young children staying overnight [sleepovers] with their fathers, she never said” never.”

To a point this is true – but only the most generous would give her that benefit of the doubt. When in reality nothing has changed, are we having the wool pulled over our eyes by such protestations forcing us to have a parallax rather than a detached view  ? Or is ‘McIntosh incident’ (involving the ‘Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ (AFCC) and Warshak) simply an ‘asymptote’ metaphor  – where a straight line and a curved one approach each other but never make contact ?

McIntosh was the ‘eminence gris’ of the Norgrove Report cited to excuse its betrayal of fathers’ and children’s rights to see one another. The Norgrove interim report was favourable towards a legal presumption around shared parenting but in the Final report was against it (quot. “. . . . our decision . . . . to step back even from the recommendations we made in this respect in our interim report”).

What is riveting is the crucial role certain Australia academics played in England’s affairs. At page 215 Associate Professor Helen Rhoades, (Melbourne Law School) makes her submission arguing to the effect that there should not even be any ‘meaningful relationship with both parents’:

  • “In response to Question 17 . . . .there should not be any formal legislative recognition of the importance of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents post separation for the following reasons . . . The risk that it will compromise children’s safety” (p. 216).

And just to round off the Australian dominance the reports she cites (including McIntosh and Chisholm) are all Australian and all so close to the 2006 law changes as to make their reliability suspect (see Appendix 1).

McIntosh and her Australian cronies sabotaged British efforts to bring equality to post-divorce settlements. The reactionary sabotage took the form of ‘scare tactics’, alleging inter-partner domestic violence will increase,but on other occasions it is more subtle.

In an otherwise balanced paper we might read the occasional generalising but giveaway remark such as; “ . . . what we are now discovering is that shared parenting is sometimes being used in a way that is harmful to children.”  To read what is really lurking in McIntosh’s mind (or probably lurks there, for who knows ?), we can do worse than to turn to the work of fellow Australian Zoe Rathus. In 2010 she wrote a paper that was rather less ambiguous than McIntosh, though their views are so similar one would be hard pressed to slide the proverbial cigarette paper between their outlooks on the matter of custody after divorce.

Rathus argues in her 2010 paper that a presumption [of shared custody / parenting] is an inappropriate legal tool to use in the discretionary culture of family law decision-making because it encourages a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Which is curious, if not factually incompatible, since the preceding decades of sole- mother-custody in over 90% of all cases no one has ever accused that regime of cruelly inflicting a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Rathus – and others – try to draw comfort from the apparent fact that:

  • “The amount of research commissioned by this government suggests a willingness to consider reform.”

This argument does not quite hold water. The legislation was passed in 2006 and even before it was enacted a campaign to discredit it had been launched. On the political front the opposition party agreed to a total and wholesale review of the law if they won the election – and they did one year later. So by 2007 there were several commissions, inquiries and reviews ready to start work on a law that had barely had 12 months of data to work with and certainly had not had enough time to settle down and iron out any of the bugs.

This was politician cowardice masquerading as expediency of the worst kind.

The Rathus’ slur of presumptive “lego-science” and of allegedly “meaningful relationships” is one she has not thought though as it must therefore equally apply to mothers seeking custody as it does to fathers. And by extension it must also apply to those opposed to more fatherly involvement, i.e. Rathus, McIntosh, Liz Trinder and their whole coterie.

What is shocking in the Australian example is not the amount of research commissioned by government but its alacrity and skewed funding which is heavily biased towards those opposed to shared parenting.

Hoisted on . . ..

It would be comical, were it not so tragic, that “lego-science” is how McIntosh’s peers and better view her “serious” work. One suspects that she is trying to be a giant among men and follow in the footsteps of the legendary greats such as Sir Isaac Newton. But McIntosh suffers from having one foot in one camp and her other foot in another camp. She is split between family law issues, social science paradigms and split still further by neurological considerations. Can anyone master all three ?

Is it wishful thinking to imagine herself replicating the rise of Newton (If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants”) ?

Or is it more a case of the original Latin translation, “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes” (‘dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants) ?

Righting wrongs

 Outside of the strict confines of academia’s occasionally esoteric bun fights, the ordinary working man oblivious to such shenanigans has to recognise that the menace posed is of a far wider and incipient nature.

The Warshak and Nielsen riposte to McIntosh’s misguided paper is far from being theoretical or hair-splitting and has nothing to do with ‘angels all trying to dance on the same pinhead’.

Profs. Nielsen and Warshak wish to point out to academics, and to professional and legal circles worldwide that their colleagues – a very august 110 of them – are in favour of stemming the McIntosh tide of misinformation, and want to replace such myths with science. Blue-collar and white-collar social classes (and their children) will all benefit greatly from Warshak‘s paper which advocates correcting such misinformation. Who but a Barbarian could turn their back on science that would improve the welfare of children and better their conditions ?.

Warshak’s paper reminds us that Meltzoff (back in 1998) warned that:

  • “Uncritical acceptance of invalid research can impede the development of the field and jeopardize human welfare” (p. 9).

And it is that questionable, if not invalid, research by McIntosh, plus its uncritical acceptance in some quarters, that have sounded the alarm bells. Differences of opinion, especially regarding shared parenting are to be expected and welcomed but only if they arise from a sound scientific basis. Analysis that fully meets the test of scientific validity and reliability should be treated as trustworthy and should be allowed to enter into the legal sphere. However, it would seem like a large body on opinion believes McIntosh’s results are not up to muster on this key aspect.

Policy-makers and decision-makers must be encouraged to take account of valid data and that the material is laid out in such a fashion to allow discernment and the careful distinguishing between balanced, accurate reporting versus biased accounts which rely on studies with questionable methods and results.

The attempt to correct misrepresentations in the state of science and the harm such misrepresentations threaten resulted on this occasion in 111 social scientists with impeccable credentials questioning he results of McIntosh’s findings.

After reading the many papers one can’t help but infer that to a large extent the alleged risks of harming the mother-child relationships are a mere foil to prevent measures aimed at strengthening father-child relationship. This can only be the explanation for the professed concern that perhaps spending too much time away from the mother, i.e. having sleepovers at Dads, will result in the child having poor rather than high quality relationships with both parents.

Excluding McIntosh’s ambiguous results, the three studies that are most often cited as evidence for the harmful effects of greater father involvement with young children actually found mixed or ambiguous results perhaps because the measures used were inadequate by scientific standards

Looking back

Counting back from the present (2014) it is clear McIntosh saw her main chance as affecting any legal reforms that might introduce shared parenting:

  • “These deliberations occur against a backdrop of increasing legislative support for shared-time parenting following separation.”
  • “Presumptions are being proposed in various states, provinces, and countries for both legal (decision-making) and physical (parenting time) care of children, yet the merits of such presumptions remain unclear, especially for families with very young children.” – – (“Parental separation and overnight care of young children, Part I: Consensus through Theoretical and Empirical Integration”, 2014. Pruett, McIntosh, Kelly). (See also Appendix 2 below).

Only a few years earlier, in May 2010, when Australia’s shared parenting law was still learning to walk McIntosh et al completed not one but three reports prepared for the Australian Government Attorney General’s Department (“Post – separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Collected reports”).[1]

In “Study 2: Overnight care patterns and psycho-emotional development in infants and young children” (p. 88) it asks “Why this study ?” and why when parents separate is shared parenting a good decision for infants and young children ? It correctly sums up the growing expectation that children’s overnight care (sleepovers) be divided between two households. McIntosh and her co-authors decide that this is a question in need of evidence:

  • “To date, there are few empirically grounded guidelines for Family Law professionals to follow when advising their clients and the court about the appropriateness of this expectation when making decisions regarding very young children.”

In stepping into this breach in empirically grounded guidelines McIntosh immediately overlooks, like so many others, the 1987 report by the Law Commission on joint custody, i.e. ‘Supplement to Working Paper No. 96’ [2]

Revealingly, McIntosh sees progressive thinking and equality as somehow “regressive”, which is usually the accolade awarded by ‘gender-supremacist-feminists’ to social groups reluctant to see the change or to accept the version on offer to them:

  • “One impetus for the current study arose from concerns about the rapid progression of family law reforms supporting this nature of shared care ahead of evidence about the developmental impacts of such arrangements for infants and young children.”

Which is also curious because she cites in her references John Eekelaar (now aged over 70) and co-director of the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy (in fact the majority of the actors are at retirement age save for McIntosh). His name is associated with the many family law reform issues – usually in tandem with Mavis Maclean – and usually blocking them. In 1977 he was at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Wolfson College, Oxford. There he co-authored “Custody After divorce: The disposition of custody in divorce cases in Great Britain.” And it was Wolfson College that undertook a large (for its day) study of joint custody awards in England and Wales which found their way into Supplement to Working Paper No. 96.

I tackled him about 10 years ago as to why he was opposed to joint custody / shared parenting when it had worked successfully and formed up to 35% of all awards prior to his report and the 198 Act (the two Wolfson Studies are cited very extensively in Supplement to Working Paper No. 96). His reply was that he was busy, could not remember that far back, and anyway the numbers did not show what I suggested. But the numbers do show exactly that. Between 1973 and 1985 joint custody – in the UK this is comparable to what is now called shared parenting – rose from 3% to 18% (see Table 6). [3] Thereafter, the 1989 Act which was supposed to legitimise and encourage the growing trend actually killed-off joint custody and it fell back to less than 4% of all court awards.

It would be all too easy to blame only women with  ‘feminist’ views for complicating and impoverishing the bulk of the population’s lives but as we can see above, John Eekelaar, and elsewhere, Michael Flood, Bruce Smyth, etc, are clearly men not women and yet are strongly against shared parenting. One group of women who are both feminists and in favour of shared parenting is the academic group known as “Leading Women for Shared Parenting.”


The ‘drift’ back to primary mother care over time probably happened in many countries but in the UK overnight it snapped back and struck like a cobra. And in so doing we also returned to the phrase “all else being well”. [4] For example, when applying for greater contact (or for ‘shared residence’ as allowed by the 1989 Children Act) more frequent overnight care was argued to be in an infant’s best interests when it was needed to ensure the primary parent’s physical or mental health but against the child’s best interests (CBI) when fathers applied. No where was this more apparent than in the speech given in Nov 2001 by Dame Butler-Sloss when head of the Family Division.[5]

  • “It is clear from the body of mental health and social work research and a long line of authority that the protection of the primary carer for the benefit of the child is of primary importance.”

An insight into some of the difficulties reformers face can be gained by looking at the networks many these papers must mask, e.g. ‘Legislating for Shared Time Parenting after Separation: A Research Review’ (Sept 2011). This is authored by Belinda Fehlberg, and Bruce Smyth (both from Australia), Mavis Maclean, well-known in the UK for her opposition to shared parenting, and Ceridwen Roberts, a slightly lesser known opponent of shared parenting.

An “insight” offer us the beginnings of future solutions and solutions present us with the chance of a resolution – in clinical evidence terms a complete remission of the disease which in this case is the obstinate “dog in the manger” attitude.

During this period from 2001 to the present day there have been academic coteries which not only cite mainly their close colleagues’ work but arrange for seminars to allegedly “explore the issues” but which in actual fact are used to raise consciousness and reinforce already held dogmas.

Everyone may not be aware that of the more than a dozen variations of feminism, one or two branches of it see no utility (i.e. benefit) in the man-woman “dyad” (i.e. two individual people linked as a pair).

‘Feminist psychology’, which embraces lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sympathies, shares an interest in dismantling social inequalities. The latter group (LGBT) has motives for the obvious expediency of entering mainstream society and enjoying what they see as heterosexual rights (family marriage adoption) denied to them for a long time.

Feminist psychology in cahoots with other allegedly ‘feminist’ splinter groups see one important way of dismantling social inequalities is to examine the very way in which inequalities are justified and legitimated in discourse. The family and the father’s role in the family are the most obvious targets to their progress (for this reason same-sex marriage is heavily supported by feminist academia and some feminist activists.).

McIntosh and her Australian chums are applying the same sort of feminist psychology to split fathers away from their children by inferring they are dangerous. Much as one might admire Machiavelli for his timeless, sage counsel on how power is wielded he is nevertheless attributed as coining “The ends justify the means.” It fell to Trotsky to humanise it with his version:

  • “A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified.”

In the eyes of the majority what is happening to fathers cannot be justified at any level save total power.

However, the gender divide regarding the abuse of children is counter-intuitive. Although there are many categories of child abuse certain types are predominantly populated by one sex rather than the other. For instance, sex offending is a predominantly male offence but neglect, starvation, homicide and child destruction, is a predominantly a female offence.

A prime example of an academic coterie favourable to McIntosh is Liz Trinder. She heads up ‘The Network on Family, Regulation and Society’ at Exeter university (formerly she worked at University and the University of East Anglia). At a conference sponsored on 25th May 2011 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), McIntosh was introduced as their prized keynote speaker and described in these glowing terms:

  • “ . . . .Dr Jennifer McIntosh, the very highly regarded Australian child psychologist and empirical researcher. She is widely acknowledged as the leading international expert on the effects on children of shared care and has recently completed two important studies for the Australian government. This is the first time that this research will have been presented fully in the UK.”

(The way in which JRF has awarded sponsorship in the last decade has led some to argue it has long been infiltrated by feminists of the inclination mentioned above).

After what has happened to her reputation following the Arndt newspaper critique one wonders just how highly regarded she is, and among leading international experts how widely acknowledged has she now become for all the wrong reasons ?

‘Presumption’ rejected

‘Shared parenting after divorce or separation’, the conference was told, ‘is a very high-profile issue at present, generating a lot of heated debate. The Interim Report of the Family Justice Review [i.e. Norgrove] decided recently not to recommend that the law be changed to include a shared care presumption after parental separation [McIntosh was afforded an intervention into the Norgrove Cttee denied to all others]. In contrast, a Shared Parenting Bill currently before parliament would enshrine such a presumption.’

Apparently, this ‘presumption’ in favour of shared parenting which would have enhanced the position of fathers was anathema to those attending – which rather casts doubt on McIntosh’s honesty when she claims she never opposed shared parenting (‘By their fruits shall ye know them’, KJB, 1611).

NB Current members of the Trinder led network are:

Professor Anne Barlow (Exeter),                  Professor Ian Butler (Bath),

Professor Gillian Douglas (Cardiff),              Dr Emma Hitchings (Bristol),

Professor Judith Masson (Bristol),               Professor Janet Reibstein (Exeter),

Dr Tess Ridge (Bath),                                          Dr Leanne Smith (Cardiff)

The kicker is the networks that such network have. Trinder’s network has “collaborative relationships with Family Law Bar Association, One Plus One and Resolution.”

But back to Trinder. She too stoops to conquer and a quick reading of her paper reveals research distortions. There are others but let’s pick out just one. Tinder cites Fabricius & Hall (2000) and then misrepresents their findings (see footnote 69):

  • “ . . . . Further there is no research suggesting that children for the most part like or thrive on the fall-back ‘80/20’ arrangement . . . “

What the Fabricius & Hall (2000) study found was this: of 344 men and 485 women who were under-graduates and whose parents had divorced ten years earlier, 70% chose equal amounts of time with each parent as the ideal scenario in response to a vignette. The authors pointed out that this was not an idealistic position, as 93% of those who had experienced equal time with parents endorsed that particular living arrangement (as a choice, one assumes, they would have preferred).

No one would say Trinder is being economical with the truth but her paper to the Children and Families Bill Committee (re for consideration of shared parenting) had references that were so dated and out of date it was embarrassing to read. These shortcomings are listed in Memorandum CF 100 submitted as a counter to Children and Families Bill Committee and can be found at: .

Is the average journalist during a busy day going to read both Trinder’s paper and Fabricius & Hall’s to check out the accuracy? The answer is ‘no’. World wide the average newspaper and journalist is supposing the researcher is always telling the truth in an unbiased way. That is why such a debt is owed to Bettina Arndt.

So, we have McIntosh, Trinder and the Network and the latter confirms that is “has taken a particular interest in ensuring that current policy debates on shared parenting are informed by rigorous research evidence on what works for children. Informed ? Rigorous ? Research led evidence ? You decide. (See ).

With Nielsen’s and Warsak’s intellectual broadside, every presumption and every deduction previously held by this Commissariat has been blown out of the water. Fellow-travellers such as Flood. M; Wade. A; Hunt. J; Maclean. M; Neale. B; Smart. C; Flowerdew. J; must be wondering where they can turn next.

Into this Commissariat has been admitted former family court judge Richard Chisholm. Well known for being ill-disposed towards shared parenting, he now co-authors paper with McIntosh (after having been taken up the job offer immediately upon his retirement).

Whatever McIntosh paper is reviewed – in any year – the unremitting drumbeat is a message that children are particularly at risk from one parent; from both parents; from conflict; from violence; from psychological pressure – the list goes on and on.

Slave to ‘monotropy’

Professionally, McIntosh’s train has run into the buffers down under. The smouldering wreckage now found on those buffers comprises her adherence to Bowlby’s traditional mother attachment theory of the 1960s. Her insistence in its validity despite John Bowlby later disavowing his early findings has caused her this collision with her profession.

In the social sciences, the mother attachment theory is termed “monotropy.” [6] Monotropy is the idea that infants form attachment relationships with a single caregiver. This leaves no room, in theory, for fathers to form any attachment relationships with their child. The primacy of this single caregiver trumps all other claims made by any other party since the 1989 Act with the exception of family courts which alone have inherited the powers of guardianship. [7]

The origins of monotropy thinking can also be traced back to Anna Freud’s work in the 1950s and the first of her three highly damaging books “Beyond the Best Interests of the Child” (1973). [8] See ‘Anna Freud: Part 1 -3’, ‘The curse is cast’ (Whiston. R, Sept 2009). [9] as if to reinforce this view Warshak, in a 2011 paper also points out that, “The concept of monotropy was predominant in 20th century child custody case law” and cites Freud, Goldstein, & Solnit, (1973 – 1979), in that context.

Bowlby and his limited version of monotropy have long been discarded by the profession which realises that care-givers are not limited to one person or one sex but can be two or more. But, of course, it remains a highly efficient tool for those opposed to shared parenting to access it to muddy the waters and obfuscate.

‘Multiple attachment relationships’, i.e. more than one person, have been found cross-culturally, including in Germany, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. What is more, the quality of these relationships was independent so that, for instance, neither the relationship with the mother nor with the father was a template for the other.

Violence gambit

In what was essentially are-run of ‘Legislating for Shared Time Parenting after Separation: A Research Review’ (by Fehlberg, Smyth, Maclean & Roberts, Sept 2011), McIntosh’s position that year was of emerging Australian research suggesting that shared care was more risky for children than other arrangements, with the caveat “where there are safety concerns” especially for “children younger than 4 years.”

In common with British counterparts, all well-funded and publicised papers of this era focused on what they termed ‘high conflict families’ and one has to ask why since they represent only about 5% of all separating families. In Britain the spectra of family violence was blown out of all proportion and used shamelessly to delay and deter any reforms.

The parallels are unearthly and the steps towards conclusions reached are eerily similar across a wide gamut of authors that one feels entitled to call them the Commissariat.

What is intriguing – and a giveaway – about McIntosh and her coterie is the way they always cite each others work whenever possible, thereby ensuring their papers go up the academic citation league table. But this is a fake legitimacy and is all smoke and mirrors.

The way in which some researchers carefully select papers and censor information is explored by Dr Pamela Ludolph’s contribution to Family Court Review in July 2012 (Vol. 50, Issue 3, p. 486 – 495), one year after the ‘Special Issue’ edited by McIntosh (pub’d July 2011). Appendix 2 (below) give the reader a rare chance to capture the flavour of academia’s rancor caused by McIntosh’s biased self-promotion.

McIntosh is not bashful in taking every opportunity to refer to her own previous works, e.g. McIntosh, 2009, McIntosh & Chisholm, 2008, McIntosh, 2003 etc, etc.  If, like Einstein, she could add to the sum of human knowledge every time this would be acceptable. On her website, ‘Family Transitions’ on a page headed “Statement on overnight care of infants in separated families” she adds nothing but cites a further four more of her own papers. The sum total of her self-quoting amounts to a positioning in her mind where:

  • “ .. . . enquiries into the efficacy of shared parenting have not had a strong developmental focus, with a dominant “for or against” narrative in the field drawing on politically and/or gender driven research agendas.”

In other words McIntosh is repeatedly asking over the years whether shared parenting a good idea and a good decision for infants and young children when parents separate. What is more than abundantly clear is that McIntosh is not going to change her spots any time soon. As for politically and/or gender driven research agendas, isn’t that a little rich coming from her ?

Alien processes

McIntosh outraged many of the 1,100 delegates when she delivered a speech at the AFCC 49th Annual Conference, held in Chicago (June 9, 2012) .  The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) was originally formed in California the 1960’s and has matured passing through many evolutions.

Delegates had not forgotten the 2011 ‘special issue’ and were infuriated because so much of what she said in this speech about other studies and of her allegedly “finding a pattern” was simply not true.

Her completely one-sided presentation against overnighting (see page 6) and mis-use of the editorial freedom Family Court Review’ (FCR) granted her provoked her 2012 defense which lead onto to a further defence in 2014. Without naming her (McIntosh) the AFCC has finally admitted they should not have given her so much control and that they took their eye off the ball and causing unprecedented conflict (see the Salem & Shienvold article).

Her cause was not helped by this total abrogation in her speech of what social scientists are all about:

  • “Can science help you predict what [is needed] ? I’m not sure … . To attribute the status of science to a field is to say we have attained a reliable level of disciplined knowledge, founded upon a wide, deep, rigorous and well replicated body of research. Let’s be clear: we do not yet have a science of overnight care. What we have are small and loosely connected pieces of psychological research. Psychological research examines underlying processes that contribute to certain outcomes.”

McIntosh utterly forgets that, yes, social science is designed to predict what is needed. Peter Salem and Arnold T. Shienvold writing about the conference in the professional journal described the flying fur in these terms:

  • “The conflict at the Chicago conference was palpable at times (both behind the scenes and subsequently through e-mails and list-servers) exposing divisions within the organisation that were unlike anything we have ever experienced, resembling some of the earlier tussles with victims’ and fathers’ rights advocates . . .”

No prosaic or flowery language could hide from delegates that she was speaking from a minority position and they would have every right to regard it as insulting drivel, if not gauche as she tried to portray the accepted scene in this way:

  • “Indeed – controversy about infant overnight care in family law matters has reached another crescendo. Assertions by stakeholders are passionate, and deeply felt, as academics and advocates, parents and professionals joust across a dichomotous divide.”

As recently as 2011 and 2012 (see above) McIntosh tried to legitimise her research findings by citing John Bowlby’s and Mary Ainsworth’s posture on ‘attachment’ theory. While their work is still acknowledged as a step forward in its time, circa 1950, it is by now seen by all thinkers as but the first among many steps towards a greater understanding.

McIntosh must know this for why else would she try to justify herself against a mountain of criticism by writing in the July 2011 issue of ‘Family Court Review’:

  • “Anyone in the divorce field wanting to understand what attachment is about, according to the Bowlby/Ainsworth attachment paradigm, can now find it in that issue of Family Court Review (FCR).” [10]

Surely every reader of the ‘Family Court Review’ will be more than a little acquainted with the dated Bowlby / Ainsworth attachment paradigm (many will even have read, for example, Rutter’s update and re-interpretation) ?

That ‘Family Court Review’special issue of July 2011 attracted considerable controversy within the profession but in the subsequent edition McIntosh was unrepentant and sought to justify herself stance.

  • “The value of this Special Issue will continue to lie in its generation of renewed interest and thoughtful debate about the place of the Bowlby/Ainsworth attachment tradition in family law matters.”

Of particular concern to some AFCC members was that in 2011 McIntosh came in for considerable criticism not because  of the people she included and interviewed but who she omitted, yet the AFCC then asked her to give a keynote speech at the AFCC conference in 2012 (an old girls network ?). The AFCC was criticised for allowing one side of a controversial issue to be represented in the FCR without counterpoint in the same issue. Also of concern to some AFCC members were several articles and presentations by ‘attachment theorists’ that suggested a more ‘traditional’ approach to parenting time, including restricting overnights with the non-residential parent for children through age three (what she refers to as the ‘Bowlby tradition’).

If McIntosh does believe that “children benefit from having both parents involved in their lives” albeit with multiple and heavy reservations, and if she also says and truly believes that:

  • “. . . but the problem for those involved in family law is to help the parties work out what is best for the children in each particular case.”

Then surely the first step to remedying those problems is to stop what we know fails and is worthless, i.e. mother sole custody – aka traditional attachment theory ? She should stop interfering and do as says, namely, let the family law help the parties agree what is best for the children.

Some recent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), for 2008 – two years after legislative changes – indicate that “shared care”, i.e. where over 35% of the child’s time was spent with the father, was amounted to only 7% of children.

Other statistics, from the Family Court of Australia (2009) and for the 2007 – 2008 financial year, indicate that “shared care” is more often attempted by those attending court for custody matters than is true for the divorcing population as a whole, with about 30% of recent Family Court cases resulting in equal or near equal shared parenting – presumably for fathers who attended.  In this sub-set of cases, Australian fathers were granted primary care awarded in about 20% of cases with 50% of primary care to mother (N = 4,167 cases) – the balance being split in various way including shared parenting (this is in line with the figures i.e. 30% – 45% achieved in the 1980s in Britain for joint custody prior to it being smashed in 1991 when the 1989 Act became effective. Comparison figures for the 1980s can be found at Table 6

Sad end

  1. Had McIntosh said that she accepted that ‘frequent’ interactions and exchanges between parents and grandparents was normal, but that up-front said she was looking a microcosm of dysfunctional families then she could have avoided all the ignominy and pariah status, and her reputation would not have been shredded.
  2. Had McIntosh said from the outset that, “Look here, I’m going to look at a known minority subset of high conflict dysfunctional families who do not reflect the majority of parents and then draw my conclusions”, no one would have had a beef with her. But she did not do that.
  3. Had McIntosh adopted the common standard meaning of ‘frequent’ rather than her own an idiosyncratic view of it being only once to twice a month, no one would have laughed out loud the way they have.


 E N D

Appendix 1

Cited reports used by Associate Professor Helen Rhoades, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne Australia, and quoted in the Norgrove Final Report, Nov 2011 (p. 215).

  •  Chisholm, R., Family Courts Violence Review (November 2009).
  •  Family Law Council, Improving responses to family violence in the family law system: An advice on the intersection of family violence and family law issues (December 2009).
  •  Kaspiew, R., Gray, M., Weston, R., Moloney, L., Hand, K. and Qu, L., E valuation of the 2006 family law reforms (Australian Institute of Family Studies: December 2009).
  •  McIntosh, J., Smyth, B., Kelaher, M., Wells, Y. and Long, C., Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children: Collected reports (May 2010).
  •  Social Policy Research Centre, University of NSW, Shared Care Parenting Arrangements since the 2006 Family Law Reforms (May 2010).


Appendix 2


McIntosh’s induced rancor

 An interpretation of Dr Pamela Ludolph’s article (July 2012)


In an article entitled “The Special Issue on Attachment: Overreaching Theory and Data”, Dr Pamela Ludolph is unusually forthright in her condemnation of McIntosh, stating at one point:

  • “Thus, it is of particular concern if the summary is incomplete or inaccurate.”

Michael Lamb also weighs in with the observation that: “The Family Court Review Special Issue edited by McIntosh provided a misleadingly narrow view of attachment theory and of previous attempts to explore the implications of that theory and related research for family court professionals.”

Ludolph shows how McIntosh selected the group for her edition of the journal – apparently they were acknowledged experts “ . .. who had published original attachment research” [but] “in the Bowlby/Ainsworth tradition” and had “published in high-ranking international journals.”

The field was further reduced by the criteria that candidate for inclusion had to have had “exposure to divorce-related issues, but for whom divorce was not their chief line of publication” (McIntosh, 2011, p. 421).  So the efficacy of ‘sleepovers’ (which was the issue) and which is divorce related in many instances was more or less invalidated from the beginning.

The group selected, as Dr Pamela Ludolph readily accepts, was, nonetheless, distinguished and more than met the McIntosh’s criteria but one is struck by the absence of ‘the greats’, e.g. Michael Lamb, or Ross Thompson, who despite their international reputations, having published ‘attachment’ research in excellent journals since the 1970s, were not included.

Other prolific and well respected researchers of ‘infant attachment’ include Sir Michael Rutter, Marinus van IJzendoorn, and Mary Dozier (the latter having extensively studied on the ways that foster children meet the challenges of forming attachments after lives of loss and adversity – certainly an area with conceptual ties to divorce).

Curiously, especially after all the kafuffle of McIntosh’s subsequent self-defense strategy, is the total omission (or mention) of scholars who have contributed work on infants and very young children of divorce – the precise area where McIntosh claims to have a unique supremacy (though these respected scholars do not regard themselves as primarily attachment theorists).

Their omission from the panel of interviewees might be understandable, in that attachment was the focus of the Special Issue; but their omission from the issue’s Reference list is inexcusable.

In the last decade or two, some authors, e.g. Marsha Pruett, Joan Kelly, have been undeniably persuasive among social scientists and in influencing family courts – something McIntosh says she did not have as her objective.

One can imagine McIntosh arguing that Pruett and or Kelly’s work was on young children and divorce and that they were not included because they had written only a few papers on infants and overnight parenting time (e.g. Pruett, Ebling, & Insabella, 2004).

However, after the criticism McIntosh experienced and possibly fearing being ostracisedshe was stung into action which took the form of co-authoring, in 2014, a paper with the said Pruett and Kelly (see “Parental separation and overnight care of young children, Part I: Consensus through Theoretical and Empirical Integration”, 2014. Pruett, McIntosh, Kelly).

This development could be a). a callous redemption ploy on her part to be re-assimilated into the fraternity or b). a complete loss of perspective by both Pruett and or Kelly’s in being associated with a renegade that had the capability of wrecking their careers (maybe common sense was overwhelmed by the imperative to preserve the ‘sisterhood’, who can possibly know ?).

But regardless of her motive the joint paper’s aim and content are clear – influencing shared parenting legislation.

  • “Presumptions are being proposed in various states, provinces, and countries for both legal (decision making) and physical (parenting time) care of children, yet the merits of such presumptions remain unclear, especially for families with very young children.”

Dr Pamela Ludolph’s lengthy article goes into several other aspects and sometimes in depth. Her article is well worth reading in full and below is a quotation that gives an example of her censure:

  • “There is also the matter of the kind of questions chosen for interviewees who, though they were a conceptually narrow group, represented a treasure trove of knowledge that could have been mined. Apt questions were often asked, of course, but again, it is the omissions that are of concern.
  • For the most part, the interviewees were not asked about the nature of their research and clinical experience with divorce, questions that would have grounded the naïve reader in the context within which the scholar answered, and helped the reader weigh the sufficiency of the response.
  • Controversial or difficult questions were largely avoided. An instance here is the questioning of Solomon and George about their research on overnight care. Their studies (Solomon and George, 1999a; 1999b) have proved beyond controversial in the divorce literature, given the authors’ acknowledgment of methodological difficulties in their work, and the fact that there are but a handful of studies of overnight care in the literature altogether.
  • In the Special Issue, Solomon was simply asked if she was “comfortable” with her conclusions that overnights with fathers were stressful to the mother-child relationship, to which she responded, “I am” (George, Solomon, & McIntosh, p. 522). The reader is not well-served, and even a little frustrated, when no follow-up question is posed.”

The unbridled arrogance of a junior academic is revealed in her reply aimed at both Lamb and Ludolph when she dismisses their disapproval of her work in these Mandy Rice-Davis terms:

  • “Given the stated topic of the Special Issue, it follows that much of the Lamb and Ludolph criticism about omission of research on other factors that influence child outcomes is irrelevant to the clearly defined focus of this Issue. Their disappointment seems to have arisen, in part, from their own generic use of the concept of attachment, referring broadly to parent–child relationships, rather than to the specific mechanisms of attachment-based interaction.” – Reviewing The Opportunities: Guest Editor’s Reply to Comments, by Jennifer McIntosh.




[1] See   May 2010

[2] ‘Supplement to Working Paper No. 96’, by J. A. Priest and J. C. Whybrow.

[3] Wolfson Study 1975 & 1985 Table 6

[4] In economic studies this caveat used to be termed “All things being equal”

[5] Regents Park conference 2001

[6] This is defined as enduring affectional ties between one person and another across time and space. Bowlby’s paradigm was that this first relationship serves as a foundation and template for all subsequent attachment bonds.

[7] Courts have this power since parents now only have ‘parental responsibility’ which, for all the literature, remains vague and easily overridden.

[8] Followed by “Before the Best Interests of the Child” (1979), and “In the Best Interests of the Child (1986).

[9] See

[10] ‘Reviewing the Opportunities: Guest Editor’s Reply to Comments’ by Jennifer E. McIntosh. Family Court Review (FCR) July 2011 Special Issue: Attachment Theory, Separation and Divorce: Forging Coherent Understandings for Family Law.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: