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Fathers' rights

From Academic Kids

The Fathers' rights movement is a loose network of interest groups, primarily in western countries, established to campaign for equal treatment by the courts in family law issues such as child custody after divorce, child support, and paternity determinations.

Contents

History

The Fathers' Rights movement has existed since the 1970s. No history of the movement has been written, but it can be viewed in the wider context of changes in family life during the 20th Century.

One controversial idea being mooted today is that the traditional western nuclear family no longer fits society's requirements and that single mothers, with the support of the state, can provide an equally viable or even better solution to the 'problem' of bringing up a nation's children. The state benefits and support provided to single mothers can be viewed as making the father's parental role redundant when the parents don't live together.

Children's and Fathers' rights campaigners oppose this notion and point to research showing that having an involved father is an important benefit for children, and that it is generally harmful to deny children the right to know and be cared for by both their parents when both parents are available to provide for the children's needs.

In the United States no-fault divorce, which has spread throughout the Western world since it began in California in 1969, has been followed by a considerable increase in divorce rates. Over 50% of all first marriages in the United States now end in divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages are higher. More than half of all these marriages that end in divorce involve children. Thus, whether these are contested divorces or not, the courts may be called upon to determine how the lives of these children will be controlled.

In the united Kingdon, the 1989 Children Act established a "no order" principle, under which a court has to justify making an order in respect the children on the grounds of their welfare. This enables parents satisfactorily to agree their own arrangements and a court will accept this. Unfortunately this does not always occur and frequently one or both of the parents apples to a family court to have the matter resolved.

According to the Americans for Divorce Reform, as the divorce rate soared, so did the number of children involved in divorce. "The number of children involved in divorces and annulments stood at 6.3 per 1,000 children under 18 years of age in 1950, and 7.2 in 1960. By 1970 it had increased to 12.5; by 1975, 16.7; by 1980, the rate stood at 17.3, a 175 percent increase from 1950. Since in 1972, one million American children every year have seen their parents divorce. " (Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum, citing Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1993.)

As the system attempted to deal with many broken homes there was a tendency for some fathers to be marginalised, and increased state support provided to take his place in single parent households. Numbers of single parent households increased after the 2nd World War, when there were a number of war widows, and it later became socially acceptable ro be a single mother. All this led to a tendency for some to believe that fathers aren't necessary in their children's lives, particularly if the mother believes this to be so. This tendency, illustrated by several court cases which showed how a doting father could be outmanoevred in the courts by a mother who no longer wished him to remain involved, led to the formation of the now worldwide fathers' rights movement.

Some of the major Parents/Fathers/Children's rights organizations include the

Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights (ANCPR), National Congress of Fathers and Children (NCFC), the American Congress of Fathers and Children (ACFC), and the Children's Rights Council (CRC). In the 1980s Parents Without Rights was formed by scientists at Kennedy Space Center. In the 1990s, the Million Dads March was formed in Topeka, Kansas, United States.

The Fathers' Rights movement received international press coverage following the formation of the group Fathers 4 Justice in the UK. This group claims to be the world's fastest growing pressure group [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/people_power/4319833.stm), and has started taking action in Australia.

Main beliefs and goals

The grievances of activists for fathers' rights typically stem from a perception that family court judges discriminate against men in granting primary custody of a divorced or separated couple's children to the woman, rather than making provision for shared residency and care of the children. Many of those affected have become interested in the Fathers' rights movement after being ousted from their children's lives, or reduced to a role where they cannot be effective parents.

Activists within the movement seek to restructure family law, arguing that children benefit from being raised by both parents, and that children should thus be allowed to interact with both parents on a regular basis as of right. The family justice system in England and Wales, according to a committee of Members of Parliament on March 2 2005, gives separated and divorced fathers a raw deal and does not give enough consideration to preserving the relationship between the father and the child [2] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,1428230,00.html).

Currently family law awards primary custody to mothers more often than it does to fathers, reducing many divorced fathers' involvement in their children's lives to the role solely of providing financial support, with minimal parental involvement when the mother demands this. The Child Support Act (http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1991/Ukpga_19910048_en_1.htm) in the UK aims to ensure that absent parents pay towards the support of their children. The payment amount is inversely proportional to the time that the child spends with the so-called absent parent. If a parent finds reasons acceptable to a court to restrict the other parent's involvement, then the banished parent has to pay more. Although family courts generally do issue decrees that allow fathers to provide some parenting time, many judgements have been criticised for not allowing fathers to be as involved as they would like to be, and the courts criticised for failing to enforce their orders. Pressure from the fathers' movement has influenced the UK Government, which published a draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill in February 2005 [3] (http://www.dfes.gov.uk/childrensneeds). This aims to widen judges' powers in dealing with parents who obstruct their ex-partner from seeing their children.

Fathers' Rights activists' views of Family Law Judges

The fathers' rights movement has existed since the 1970s. Fathers' Rights activists believe that the general public sees Family Court judges in a better light than the one in which they should be seen. The public, according to these activists, views divorce cases as generally not requiring a judicial decision substantially affecting children's lives. Again following the movement's description of how the broader public sees family law courts, in the rare exceptions when a ruling drastically affecting a child's life must be handed down, it is delivered by a high-minded, impartial judge. Such judges would thus be faced with difficult decisions and should be commended for acting out this difficult role. However, many Father's Rights activists contend that such judges are in fact mere functionaries in a "monstrous bureaucracy of Kafkaesque proportions," to use the colourful language which such activists often use. For support of this contention, some activists cite rulings such as the one discussed below.

In a ruling handed down in April, 2004, the Honourable Mr. Justice Mumby of the Court of Appeal in the UK wrote:

From the fatherís perspective the last two years of the litigation have been an exercise in absolute futility. His counsel told me that the father felt very let down by the system. I was not surprised. I make no apology for repeating here in public what I then said in private:

"He is entitled to [feel let down]. Ö I can understand why he expresses that view. He has every right to express that view. In a sense it is shaming to have to say it, but I personally agree with his view. It is very, very disheartening. I am sorry there is nothing more I can do." [4] (http://www.courtservice.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j2466/f-v-m.htm).

Despite such rulings, Fathers' Rights activists believe that family courts are in need of much reform. Additionally, family court judges are often seen by activists as not acknowledging the working men's roles.

Fathers' Rights Activists' views of British policymakers

Fathers' Rights activists argue that British government ministers have been loath to make changes in child custody law, instead simply asserting that family court judges know best and that their difficult duties should not be further complicated by new legislation. Fathers' rights campaigners attack the idea that there is no need for more oversight of family court judges. It is important to note that Fathers' Rights campaigners can be seen in the context of other British populist movements, for they argue that parents, not legal experts, Members of Parliment, or civil servants "know best" their own child's interests. Critics argue that family court officials are often forced to make such decisions when a divorced couple cannot agree on what their children's "best interests" actually are.

Bob Geldof's involvement with the movement

Relatively recently, Bob Geldof, a celebrity has become involved in the British Fathers' Rights movement. Geldof claims to be an iconoclast, calling his arguments rants which express his feelings towards British family law, as well as towards issues of a more personal matter.

Critiques of Separationist Custody Law

Fathers' Rights activists have been critical of "separationist" custody law, that is, the body of law that awards one parent primary custody, relegating the other parent merely to being visited by his or her children. Such activists argue that children tend to do better if they are not placed in such a situation, and that it is unfair thus to divide children's time between their parents simply because the latter are no longer married. Fathers' Rights activists argue that children's normal cognitive development (particularly that of very small children) and the formation of their identity is dependent upon the existence of a certain level of familiarity with traditional significant others, including their father. Longitudinal studies, such as those done by Drs. Eirini Flouri [5] (http://www.apsoc.ox.ac.uk/Biographies/Biography14.html) and Ann Buchanan [6] (http://www.apsoc.ox.ac.uk/Biographies/Biography6.html) at the University of Oxford, provide statistical evidence that a lack of fathers' involvement in their children's lives leads to increased criminality in males, and a higher incidence of depression in females independent of the level of mother involvement.

Certain Fathers' rights campaigners, including Bob Geldof, argue that without substantial changes, the application of current British custody law will lead to a generation of feral children. [7] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1958237.stm). Geldof has written:

The law must know it is contributing to the problem. It is creating vast wells of misery, massive discontent, an unstable society of feral children and feckless adolescents who have no understanding of authority or ultimate sanction, no knowledge of a manís love and how it is different but equal to a womanís, irresponsible mothers, drifting, hopeless fathers, problem and violent ill-educated sons and daughters, a disconnect from the extended family and society at large, vast swathes of cynicism and repeat pattern behaviour in subsequent adult relationships.

Critics of the movement have argued that since most men still earn higher incomes than do women, and most mothers stay at home with young children, it makes sense to award primary custody of young children to women more often than to men. Fathers' rights campaigners do not dispute the fact the men are frequently the main earners, but argue that to base what should happen on what does happen is sexist. Fathers' roles as caregivers increased considerably during the latter part of the 20th Century. The general acceptance of more equitable gender roles means there is no need to divide labour on the basis of gender. The extent to which household chores are divided in intact families on the basis of gender probably varies considerably between families in developed countries, ranging from traditional patriarchal models to very equal partnerships. The father's role after separation or divorce is frequently necessarily different. There is no division of labour in a single parent household, and when parents separate each necessarily has to perform all the duties necessary when caring for the children. Members of the fathers' movement argue that the promotion of shared parenting would reflect recent trends.

Abusive relationships and implacable hostility

Most problems arise when there has been a relationship which has become abusive. Aside from any allegations made by the parties concerned it becomes apparent to certain observers that the abuse effectively continues even after the partners have separated, perhaps in reaction to the hurt they feel. Any negotiations which should be taking place to ensure that the children are properly taken care of have to occur in an atmosphere where one or both ex-partners are in an emotional turmoil. Situations go awry when there is implacable hostility between the partners, or implacable hostility expressed by one partner against the other. That hostility frequently, it is claimed, manifests itself in a way that affects the children, with one partner obstructing the children's right to family life[8] (http://www.unicef.org/crc/crc.htm) in respect of that child's relationship with the other parent and extended family. One parent may initiate the use of the legal system for purposes for which, it is claimed, it is ineffective. This, it is claimed, is mainly because it is the nature of an adversarial legal process itself to increase hostility further in such circumstances, and thereby be counter-productive.

Parental alienation

This is a term, sometimes called parental alienation syndrome (after Stockholm syndrome), referring to the situation where it is alleged that one parent has caused the child to express hatred toward the other parent. Lady Justice Hale (in Re K (Contact: Psychiatric Report) [1995] 2 FLR 432) stated:

It is my unhappy experience, borne out by other anecdotal evidence and confirmed by the Official Solicitor's department that there seems to be an increasing number of cases coming before the family courts where contact between a young child and the absent parent has become bedevilled by stubborn opposition to contact being shown by the child which may, or may not, be evidence of some implacable hostility on the part of the other parent for good reason or for no reason at all.

Since The Children Act requires that the views of the child need to be made known to the court, fathers' rights campaigners claim that the mother sometimes alienates a child against his or her father and that this then supports the mother's case in court to banish the father. Lady Elizabeth Butler Sloss, President of the Family division, (the top UK family court judge) stated (in Re L, V, M, H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2002] 2 FLR 334 at 351):

There is, of course, no doubt that some parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for alienating their children from their fathers without good reason and thereby creating this sometimes insoluble problem. That unhappy state of affairs, well known in family courts, is a long way from a recognised syndrome requiring mental health professionals to play an expert role.

There has been much legal argument about whether the term syndrome should be allowed in connection with this distressing abuse of children, but fathers' rights campaigners have argued that it doesn't really matter what the condition is called, just that there should be adequate resources available to recognise the condition and to ensure that their children are protected against this form of emotional abuse.

What is rarely addressed or examined is the increasing incidence of non-custodial parents (often the fathers) who actively work on alienating the children from the custodial parent (the mothers). When this happens, the children sometimes request to live with the alienating parent, but more often the children are repulsed by the non-custodial's attempts to undermine the children's relationship with their primary caregiver. When the children seek to reduce time shared with the alienating parent, that parent then falsely accuses the non-alienating parent with PAS. It is a terrible thing when any parent places their own agenda before the needs of the children. If PAS is alleged, then the legal system needs to ascertain which party is engaging in alienating behaviors and not just assume that the custodial party is guilty.

Parenting time

Flexibility seems to be one of the keys to success in bringing about social change in this area. For instance, in at least one case in the US, an order has been made that the children should remain in the family home and the parents should alternate their presence there. In the UK, the contact model is that most usually adopted and pursued by the courts in private law cases. Whilst it is acknowledged that a system that gives one parent the limited opportunity, but not the obligation, to remain involved in the children's lives after separation might suit some situations (perhaps where the father's circumstances do not permit him to provide a full range of care for his children) this model does not suit all cases. Fathers' Rights campaigners argue that shared residency agreements or orders should become the norm.

Often the argument for shared residency or "equal timeshare" overlooks the obvious, which is that it is generally in the children's best interest to maintain for the children a living situation that comes closest to what the children have already known. In situations where mother was a stay-at-home mother who ended her career to raise children, equal timeshare would require that mother return to the workforce or that father quit working in order to maintain truly "equal" timesharing. In either situation, the children lose more that just a father in the home. They lose their mother, too.

When the two parents have earning's capacities that are inequal, then the lower earning parent becomes further disadvantaged in having to provide adequate "equal" housing for their "equal" custodial time without equal means (income) to do so. When remarriage occurs, especially when mothers remarry, is is not uncommon for Father's Rights activists to attempt to claim that the new spouse's income should be considered by the courts to offset the father's obligation to provide for the children.

In situations where the two parents are willing to collaboratively parent, equal or shared parenting is a distict advantage for the children. However, when there is acrimony between the two parents, shared "equal" parenting time may lead to increased friction, which is decidedly worse for the children.

Getting on with one's children

The relationship between a child and a parent is not always plain sailing, and to frame such a delicate matter in terms of rights may seem inappropriate to some people. One might argue that in some circumstances it really would be better for all concerned certainly that children should not be forced to be looked after by their mother when they are upset at the prospect.

Court judgments not open to public scrutiny

A full analysis of facts on the issues is made difficult by the in camera rule that prohibits any reporting [9] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,7369,1180238,00.html) of family law cases in England, Wales, Ireland and Australia. The Court of Appeal, however allows the reporting of certain cases, provided the family remains anonymous. Fathers' rights campaigners argue that extending proceedings yet further by taking a case to the Court of Appeal is undesirable and hence rare, and that, whilst it is important to preserve the anonymity of all people involved in a case, there would be better protection against abuses if family court judgments could be published in the same anonymised fashion as Appeal Court judgments, and as is allowed in Scotland, which has slightly different family laws. See Father and Mother Appeal Court Judgment (http://www.courtservice.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j2253/father&mother.htm) for an example of an English Appeal Court judgment and for some insight into what can go wrong and eventually be put right in a typical case. Statistics are not published about cases that pass through the courts, leading to claims that abuses of the system are not identified and that there are effectively no quality controls. Those who wish to see this rule lifted claim that justice must be seen to be done, and this is not applied to family law cases. It is observed that a rule which was put in place to respect the sensibilities of children involved in distressing circumstances may have become a cloak behind which considerable inhumanity can go unnoticed by society at large.

Early intervention and lawyers' vested interests

One claim is that early intervention (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1149787,00.html) is a far more effective approach, and that shared residency should be the presumed outcome of any agreement by consent or court order. Judicially led initiatives, such as have occurred in parts of Florida [10] (http://www.floridafamilylaw.com/parent.htm) and elsewhere, have demonstrated that where clear guidance is provided at the outset by the court about what the expected outcome will be, then this results in less hostility and therefore in a reduced workload for the courts. Fathers' rights campaigners claim that vested interests in the legal trade are politically operative to preserve lawyers' revenue streams from this type of business. Judicial powers already exist to endeavour to ensure that continuity is maintained in relationships between children and fathers. Interim contact orders can be issued before the establishment of a routine that excludes the father from the children's lives.

Terminology

Fathers' rights campaigners argue that parenting time should be used indiscriminately to replace contact and residence. The reasoning here claims that there is a stigma associated with treating one parent as resident and the other as non-resident. The term absent parent is felt by many to be particularly pejorative, since it implies that their absence from their children's lives is voluntary when it isn't. There is much strong feeling about language usage in the context of parental disputes and it is believed that the principles of political correctness can usefully be deployed to alter people's perceptions in much the same way that other groups, including feminists, have used these principles to good effect in their quests to eliminate discrimination. Other terms which have raised the hackles of fathers' rights activists include single parent family - the preferred term here being single parent household, based on the truth that there are always two parents to a child. Male role model and father figure are other terms which campaigners feel are used as unacceptable euphemisms for father, pointing out that step-fathers and casual partners might come and go, but natural fathers retain a unique position in the eyes of their children. One seldom hears the term mother figure. Some have also called into question the term biological father because the term natural father means the same thing, has been around for a long time, and doesn't have the clinical associations that the former has, though it may be that the association this term has with paternity testing will make it catch on.

Adversarial court system

The current adversarial system, also dubbed winner takes all, such as exists in the UK encourages each parent to identify their fears, real or imagined, about what will affect their children now that the parents have separated. Some hold that when a parent expresses these fears about the other parent in this circumstance, even when fears are unfounded, they can nevertheless be treated as fact. Fathers' rights campaigners believe this system is biased toward believing the mothers' expressed fears. The father must then try to demonstrate that he presents no risk to the children, and that the advantages that he will confer on them are real. Although such considerations can play a part in making compassionate decisions about children in the aftermath of a family break-up, the law as it currently stands in the UK takes on a wider remit by linking the interets of the child with those of the mother. In a case in the UK in 1999 (RE K (Contact: Mother's Anxiety) [1999] 2 FLR 703) the father of a six-year-old was granted permission by a court to see his child and things were going well. The mother indicated that she found this contact very stressful and her distress was very apparent to the child, who felt guilty for enjoying being with his dad - with the result that the court then ordered that the father should be disallowed from seeing his child again.

Fathers' rights proponents say that in such circumstances, the case can easily become a witch-hunt. Any aggression that the father may have manifested in the past is claimed to be treated as justification for limiting his involvement in his children's upbringing. If he is inexperienced at parenthood, or because this is a first child, the result may be that he is initially not trusted to provide basic care. In one case, for example, a father was restricted to visiting his child in a contact centre for six years, seeing his son only for two hours a week and therefore unable to fulfil the usually accepted role of a father, only because of the mother's fears that he might abduct the child abroad. Even when he is able to demonstrate that he presents no risk, the mere fact of the mother expressing imagined fears can be used to argue that her fears affect the child and that the father's involvement should be restricted or eliminated [11] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,961940,00.html).

Many fathers' rights campaigners have had experiences that follow a similar pattern, and they are aiming that the law should be changed to prevent situations such as theirs arising.

It is further claimed the whole idea of adversarial court cases to resolve family disputes has led to a sub-culture considered by people who have encountered it to be completely absurd. A typical outcome might involve a father who is a teacher, and therefore trusted to teach a class of children, but who is nevertheless not allowed to take care of his own children.

Fathers' Rights campaigners question the assumption that it can ever be legitimate for the state to collude in disrupting a loving and natural relationship between a father and his children. Bob Geldof has written evocatively on this subject: I cannot even say the words. A huge emptiness would well in my stomach, a deep loathing for those who would deign to tell me they would ALLOW me ACCESS to my children ó those I loved above all, those I created, those who gave meaning to everything I did, those that were the very best of us two and the absolute physical manifestation of our once blinding love. Who the fuck are they that they should ALLOW anything? REASONABLE CONTACT!!! Is the law mad? Am I a criminal? An ABSENT parent. A RESIDENT/NON-RESIDENT parent. This Lawspeak which you all speak so fluently, so unthinkingly, so hurtfully, must go.

Delay

Bob Geldof has written on this subject:

Upon separation, the system is slow and delay occurs immediately. This allows the status quo to be established. As the process labours on it becomes impossible to alter. This is unfair. It is nearly always possible for the resident parent (letís face it, the girl) to establish a pattern. It is then deemed in the childís interest not to break this routine. But at the cost of losing sight and touch of their father, we must really examine all our assumptions without fear. Then we can move to building a more equitable system benefiting all equally.

quoted from The Real Love that Dare Not Speak its Name: A Sometimes Coherent Rant

Fathers' rights campaigners point to cases where flimsy or dishonest arguments have been allowed by courts to result in unnecessarily long separations occurring between fathers and children during and after lengthy periods of court hearings. It is argued that effort would be better spent dealing properly with the trauma of the parents' initial separation and allowing the children to maintain their relationships with both parents continuously.

Legal issues

The system in the UK whereby the amount of child support that, in the vast majority of cases, the father pays, is acknowledged to be less fair than the old because it has ceased to take into account the other household's income. This is justified on the grounds that it saves administrative cost for the government agency concerned.

Also justified on the grounds of administrative convenience is the UK system whereby child benefit is only payable to one parent, even when both separated parents provide substantial portions of the childcare. In a Court of Appeal judgment in February 2005 [12] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1403513,00.html), in a landmark (HOCKENJOS v.SOS JGT) ruling, Lord Justice Ward declared "To allow a father nothing for the maintenance of the child when he shares care virtually equally is so unfair that no reasonable secretary of state should countenance it." He said that the practice of making just one parent responsible for a child under the benefits system was "grotesque ... It is degrading to fathers who actually - and lovingly - tend to their children. A law so framed is so far removed from reality that it brings the law into disrepute and justifiably fuels the passions of protesting fathers."

Distress

Fathers' Rights campaigners consistently note a higher rate of suicide amongst fathers who are forcibly separated from their children.

One could argue that men who would commit suicide over being separated from their children may very well be otherwise unstable. Perhaps in some cases, the reason they were separated from their children is because they were unstable.

In other cases, we see that non-custodial fathers have murdered either their ex-wives or their children over custody or child support disputes. Should we leap to the assumption that their violence was caused by the legal system? Is it not more appropriate to consider that at least in some of these cases these men were violent to begin with? It stands to reason that a suicidal or violent person should not have the responsibility for the care of children.

One could also argue that having everything you love and have worked for violently ripped out of your hand at the point of a GUN to be a devastating event possibly devastating enough to push a man/woman to murder or suicide. We have seen mothers drown their children in cars and bathtubs even shoot stab or hang or poison their children.

Allegations of domestic violence

A government initiative was started in the UK in 2003 to reduce the incidence of domestic violence. Fathers' rights campaigners have been concerned to clarify the definition of that term in a non-gender political context. They have argued that situations where assault has occurred should be dealt with by traditional courts, and only actual convictions taken into account in child proceedings. Social policy reformers have pointed out that domestic violence can be an insidious phenomenon and that evidence other than that of convictions might also be valid. It will be of interest to observe developments in this area, particularly now since the working definition of domestic violence in certain countries, including the UK, requires neither that actual physical violence has occurred nor indeed that any violence has been proven in a criminal court. Since it is acknowledged that domestic violence can be perpetrated by either party, observers are keen to see how relationship dynamics will be interpreted when assessed against the domestic violence paradigm. Fathers' rights campaigners believe that the lowered thresholds for what types of conduct can be construed as violent will be used in child proceedings to make allegations of violence against them on more tenuous grounds than would have been acceptable previously. Fears about the system held by some fathers are deeper rooted even than this, because a report called Contact and domestic Violence: the Experts' Court Report by Sturge & Glaser in 2000 indicates that contact can be denied even when no domestic violence had actually occurred, but where there was fear that it might. It is such recommendations that venal lawyers can latch upon and which father's rights campaigners feel will lead to even more good dads being driven away from their children. But it gets worse, the Sturge & Glaser report indicates that it is a risk to allow a parent-child relationship to continue where the application for contact results in stress to the child or child's carer: Proceedings often mean a standstill in the child's development while his or her carer's emotional energies are taken up with the case and the child is only too aware that he or she is the centre of attention and somehow responsible for this and the resulting distress. In other words, going to court to obtain parenting time with one's children can be used as a reason to deny it.

Some fathers rights campaigners hold that the falsification of domestic violence claims consists of a large trend - from an Australian perspective, there is evidence to disprove arguments that falsification of domestic violence claims are rampant and not genuine: the Domestic Violence Legislation Working Group of Australia have stated that there is no "firm evidence that misuse of the legislation is rampant", in the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics evaluation report of the apprehended violence order (AVO) system have concluded that a majority of women taking out AVOs in situations of domestic violence have done so genuinely. Furthermore, if evidence of perjury has become clear, they are punishable severely by laws in many countries, though perjury in family court cases is very seldom, if ever, followed up by family court judges in the UK, where the police will not usually act in cases of alleged criminal perjury without the say-so of the judge in whose court it was alleged to have occurred.

The scale of the issue

One can only really gauge the size of the problem that these issues present by the size of the fathers' rights movement itself. In 2003, a new group, F4J started an awareness campaign and obtains considerable publicity [13] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3475979.stm) for this issue by organising colorful demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.

  • Fathers Need Families, the longest established charity working in this area in the UK, gets about 1000 new members each year.
  • Fathers 4 Justice claims to have 7,500 signed up supporters in its year or so of existence.

Fathers' rights and support

At the local level, many father's rights groups spend a high proportion of their time providing support for newly separated fathers, most of whom are highly distraught and even suicidal due to missing their children, uncertainty, sometimes over long periods, about what the outcome will be, as well as loss of family home and their future income. In many cases these groups also campaign for a greater consideration of grandparents and women in second marriages.

Some resources are provided in the UK by the government in an attempt to 'soften the blow'. When agreement can't be reached about a father being with his children at home, contact centres, sometimes staffed by volunteers, are frequently ordered as a neutral location at which supervised parenting time can occur on specified occasions. Such centres are intended to be transitional, though where mutual or unilateral hostilities between the parents persist, it can require further court appearances in order to 'move on' from the contact centre. Fathers' rights campaigners argue that shortages of places at contact centres are used as reasons to prevent them seeing their children and that frequently the only reason given for using a contact centre in those cases is that the mother demands it. Rather than devoting funds to extend the network of contact centres, some fathers' rights campaigners argue that contact centres should only be used for a specific small minority of cases, such as where there are health reasons why the father cannot care for his children unaided.

Political lobbying

Father's rights groups in the UK were largely ineffective at political lobbying up until recently due in part no doubt to the ability of politicians not to maintain even sporadic consultations whilst never actually bringing about any significant changes. Effective lobbyists, however, have included Families Need Fathers, whose ideas were included in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2002/20020038.htm) regarding the automatic granting of parental responsibility to fathers when their name appears on a child's birth certificate. Tony Coe has been an articulate proponent of a singular message, and appeared in 2004 on a TV programme with Bob Geldof and Jim Parton, the editor of the FNF newsletter. The 2005 Children and Contact Bill addresses one of the expressed concerns of Fathers For Justice. If remains to be seen in the UK whether providing evidence to Select Committees is a more effective tactic than performing publicity stunts. Research into effective means of changing environment law in the US suggests that direct action can be significantly more effective than traditional political lobbying at being heard.

F4J achieved its main objective of bringing to the issues to the public's attention, creating fear in men who have not yet faced the dilemmas of divorce that their relationship with their children could be devastated if they fell out with their partners. By having generated this fear, campaigners are optimistic that governments must now be seen to be actually doing something that will palliate public conerns and fears. However there is also a "wait and see" mentality being applied within Government departments, as it is the judiciary, by using recent precedents, who have the greatest power to bring about change. The success of the charity, FNF, for instance, in advising members to act as a litigant in person and to work towards shared residency court orders, has resulted in changing judicial attitudes. It is capitalising on that success and has spawned an industry of providing information and help to fathers (and, increasingly, mothers [14] (http://purplehearts.f4jnorthwest.co.uk/)) facing family break-own.

The UK Labour Party has this to say on the issue in its 2005 Election Manifesto:

For those parents who do separate or divorce, both have a responsibility for a meaningful relationship with their children where that is safe. We are introducing reforms to minimise conflict and encourage conciliation by greater and early use of mediation. We stand by the principle that absent parents should make a fair contribution to the cost of the upkeep of their children, and we are committed to tackling the backlog of Child Support Agency claims as efficiently and fairly as possible. We also need to ensure court orders on access are enforced according to the best interests of the child, which ideally gives both parents an important role.

In 2004, it became very apparent (because of the qualification always provided by politicians that they were in favour of fathers' rights provided it was safe), that there was a desire to create an innuendo that men are intrincsically unsafe. This was then followed by the Metropolitan Police launching a large advertising campaign in erly 2005 explicitly decrying male domestic violence. Statistics from Canada show that step-fathers are more likely to kill their step-children than fathers to kill their own children, thus indicating that it is generally less safe to leave children with the mother. In a statement to the Select Committe hearing evidence for the Children and Contact Bill 2005, Dame Butler-Sloss indicated that she had not heard, having asked the UK family judges, of a case where safety was an issue in a case of contact denial by the mother.

It has been hard for law makers to reconcile the demands of fathers' groups with those of the domestic violence lobby, which also generates emotional arguments. A battle line could be drawn over to what extent the level of a mother's expressed anxieties about a father's child involvement should be the deciding factor. If she can show she has fears about domestic violence, and, in extreme cases, may have driven her partner into appearing to be a perpetrator, then she "wins" the children. Whilst fathers' groups make a unified plea for a child's right to a father and for a presumption of shared parenting, this is viewed cautiously by those in power as a potential threat to the advance of feminism, and possibly as a slap in the face to those who want any social engineering efforts to be focused against the scourge of male domestic violence.

The pace of reform in the UK

Whilst the line of government ministers has for a long time been one of denial that there is a problem, with no plans for new legislation, Lord Filkin[15] (http://www.politicallinks.co.uk/politics2/biog/LD_Biogs/bio.asp?id=2441), the family justice minister announced at the beginning of April 2004 that there will be a green paper outlining proposals intended to improve the methods used to settle child custody disputes[16] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1184913,00.html). See 2004 Green Paper. The November 2004 Queen's Speech before Parliament contained this:

My Government believes that the welfare of children is paramount. Draft legislation will be published to safeguard the welfare of children in circumstances of parental separation and inter-country adoption.

The publication of the Green Paper together with the item in the Queen's Speech may not deliver much immediately, but if it can be established early on in the process which aspects of any proposed new legislation will become retrospective then there is opportunity for it to start having an immediate social impact.

There was a debate on the topic of Family Justice on 13th December 2004 in the House of Commons. [17] (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmhansrd/cm041213/debtext/41213-22.htm#41213-22_head0). The motion:

That this House agrees that on the separation of parents, priority should be given to the interests of the children; believes that it is in the best interests of all children for both parents to be fully involved in their upbringing and hence that separated parents should each have a legal presumption of reasonable contact with their children, except where a child's safety would be at risk, so that children are able to benefit from being parented by both their parents, as well as from contact with any grandparents and extended family members able and willing to play a role in their upbringing; regrets the Government's opposition to such a legal presumption, which will lead to yet more children being denied access to both their parents and their extended families; views with concern the Government's failure to implement the Early Intervention Project; and calls on the Government to replace the legal term 'contact' with 'parenting time', to introduce a legal presumption of co-parenting and to introduce early intervention in parental separation, with court-backed mediation and guidelines on parenting-time.

was defeated by with 168 Ayes and 283 Noes voted by MPs.

A brief history of recent reform

Case 1

In 1998, Florida State Representative Randy Ball (R - Titusville) introduced reform legislation that was written by NASA's Dr. Peter Wilson of Parents Without Rights. Working in conjunction with the National Congress of Fathers and Children, Representative Ball successfully worked to pass the 1998 Visitation Reform Act.

Case 2

In 2001 Mr Justice Wall (now Lord Justice) chaired a Children Act Sub-Committee (known as CASC). They reported in March 2002 in a document called "Making Contact Work". It called for "urgent reform". It was a sort of Hutton Inquiry of family law reform. It is well known that Wall LJ was very vexed that nothing happened for a long time.

In fact a "Stakeholder Group" was created to discuss the CASC report, the "Facilitation and Enforcement Group". Stakeholders included a couple of district judges, a solicitor, a barrister, CAFCASS, Women's Aid, various academics, mediators... The report went to Minister Margaret Hodge in June 2003 and the response was a Green Paper in 2004. CASC, and the stakeholder Group could be called Prong No. 1 of reform, which was started off by the politicians, after pressure from several directions, including from the campaigning charity FNF. The impression formed by many involved at the time was that the government had no true appetite for reform, and hoped that the problem would just go away.

Case 3

Fathers 4 Justice have had remarkable success in bringing the whole subject to the nation's attention at a bottom-up grass-roots level, (rather than at the top-down political level of the CASC group, and the stakeholder group.)

However, the true size of Fathers 4 Justice is a matter of opinion. While the organization claims to have over 25,000 members in 5 countries, it's main base of operations is the UK and there appear to be fewer than 20 actual members who conduct regular civil disobience actions - namely Jason Hatch and Jolly Stansby.

The success of their visibile campaign remains to be seen. While they are a fixture in the UK, they have yet to pull of a successful action in the United States or in Canada. The Canadian branch of Fathers 4 Justice has been in existence for 15 months and has yet to make national headlines.

Case 4

This is the work of Oliver Cyriax. He has run two conferences about early interventions in 2001 and 2002. These were attended by high ranking members of the judiciary, including from overseas, where schemes that promote retaining both parents' involvement in childcare, but leave the courts as last resort, have been very successful. Notably in Florida and California. He has a strong alliance, made up of senior members of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), Hamish Cameron the child psychiatrist, Fathers Direct and the campaigning charity Families Need Fathers. Ex-president of the UK Family Division of the courts Dame Butler Sloss has said she supports this plan.

Observers indicate that there is currently a tug-of-war between Oliver Cyriax's early interventions pilot project ó which would be run by PESF (Parenting and Education Support Forum) in a low key way, probably at Wells Street (the family court in central London) ó and another plan, created by the civil servants.

The worry about the civil servants is that they are not expert in family matters at all, and their pilot plan might fail. The civil servant behind it, Bruce Clark, comes from a child protection background. He is said to be the man who drew up the discredited Munchausen's guidelines, and not a natural champion of fathers rights' campaigners demands, in particular to ensure that children will have adequate parenting time time with their fathers.

Fathers' Rights campaigners urgently want an "Early Interventions Pilot Plan" to test and develop compulsory mediation and parenting plans, etc. backed up by a strict enforcement regime, "Facilitation and Enforcement" as the stakeholder group was called.

It is not clear who will win the tug-of-war[18] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1173919,00.html), and campaigners argue that both initiatives are worthwhile. Duncan Fisher of Fathers Direct says Oliver Cyriax's PESF scheme could start immediately, although it is known that civil servants and politicians are prone to call for numbers of rounds of committee meetings and consultations, sometimes indefinitely.

Updates

Supporters

Supporters of the movement, which is particularly strong in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Italy, United States and Australia, include divorced (and subsequently widowed) Live Aid founder, Bob Geldof and Irish writer and journalist John Waters. Waters fought a legal case for access to the daughter he had by rock star Sinťad O'Connor, and highlighted what he saw as injustices in the treatment of men in his weekly column in The Irish Times. In the UK, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett's resignation on 15th December 2004, following his attempts to remain in touch with his youngest son, and the response of his ex-partner, which he mentioned in an interview with the BBC [19] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4099581.stm), have unwittingly made him a champion of the fathers' rights movement. Mr Blunkett said about his son, "He will want to know not just that his father actually cared enough about him to sacrifice his career, but he will want to know, I hope, that his mother has some regret."

The most prominent fathers' rights group in Ireland is called A-men.

See also

Research

See List of family separation research articles

Further Reading

External links

Australia

Canada

Ireland

Italy

United Kingdom

United States of America




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