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Saturday, 9 January

Fathers Custody Rights

Private Investigators/Detectives Specializing in Fathers Custody Rights Investigations

The Fathers’ rights movement is a stream in the “Men’s movement” primarily interested with family law and gender bias issues as it affects biological fathers. Historically related to the men’s rights movement, its advocates see it as a necessary corollary to the “Women’s rights” and children’s rights movements. It emerged in the 1970s as a loose social movement providing a network of interest groups, primarily in western countries, established to campaign for equal treatment by the courts in issues such as child custody after divorce, child support, and paternity determinations. It is also part of the broader Men’s rights movement and is related to the Masculists, which is more analytical and theoretical in approach.

The fathers’ rights movement received international press coverage following the formation and high profile style activism of Fathers 4 Justice in the UK.

Supporters

Supporters of the movement, which is particularly strong in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Italy, United States, 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, Sinéad 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 resignation on 15 December, 2004 of Home Secretary, David Blunkett, 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 has 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.”

Background

A contemporary controversy is around the status of the traditional western nuclear family of father, mother and their children. Has the nuclear family declined to the point that its social function of raising children can be met in other family or care arrangements? Particularly where social support and social security is available can single parents effectively undertake that task? This particularly relates to the historical situation where after divorce the mother had care, child custody and control of the divorced or separated couples’ children with alimony sometimes being paid by the father where the couple had been married.

Fathers’ rights campaigners argue that their own and their children’s rights and best interests are breached, they cite extensive research to argue that even after separation and divorce that children gain critical mental and emotional health benefits from continuing quality involvement by their father. Father’s rights activists state that it is destructive to deny children the right to know and be cared for by both parents when both are available.

There is no written history of the movement.

The father’s rights movement is generally viewed as the confluent result of a number of changes in both the law and in societal attitudes, including:
*  The introduction of no-fault divorce in 1969, resulting in a rise in divorce rates throughout the world.
*  The increasing entry of women into the public sphere, a situation which has upturned traditional gender roles, which view women as primarily domestic in nature.
*  The increasing social acceptance of single parents and their increased proportion of all families. The number of single parent (particularly war widow) households increased after World War 2, and more recently increased social welfare and income support arrangements became more generally available.

In the 1980s Parents Without Rights was formed by scientists at Kennedy Space Center. In the 1990s, the Million Dads March Network was formed in Topeka, Kansas, United States.

Marriage breakdown, family law, divorce and child support

Main articles: Family law, Divorce, No-fault divorce, and Child support

Traditionally, men had often instigated separation and divorce, with increased social welfare and income support arrangements available to women and more readily available divorce, women now initiate divorce more often.

Many first marriages in the United States now end in divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is higher than that of first marriages. More than half of marriages that end in divorce involve children. Thus the courts may be called upon to determine how aspects of the relationships of these children to their parents. Many couples resolve these issues without recourse to the courts, however where this does not occur for whatever reason the courts apply family lawin making their decisions.

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.)

Application of family law

See also:Advocacy and Sociology of fatherhood

As the family law system deals with marriage breakdowns it tends to continue existing arrangements in caring for children. Given the traditional view of mothers as the primary caregivers of the children, this change has lead to some fathers being marginalized from the lives of their children, having less, or in many cases no, ongoing relationship with their children.

In the United Kingdom, the 1989 Children Act established a “no order” principle, under which a court has to justify making an order with respect to the children on the grounds of their welfare. This enables parents to agree to their own satisfactory arrangements and a court will accept this. Unfortunately this does not always occur and frequently one or both of the parents appeals to a family court to have the matter resolved.

In continuing existing arrangements in care and income generation from the intact family unit, which have often been implicitly negotiated by the parents and strongly influenced by social mores, fathers can be denied a significant ongoing role. Traditionally men have had a stronger commitment to the work force.

The increased number and acceptance of single parent families has, in the opinion of some, led to a tendency to believe that fathers aren’t necessary in their children’s lives, particularly if the mother believes this to be so. This tendency can be seen in several court cases, and it is partly in reaction to these that the fathers’ rights movement has been developed.

After a relationship fails the men who are not living with their children may experience a sense of loss, and a reassessment of priorities is normal. Thus many seek an increased involvement with their children, some to the extent of shared parenting and shared residency in English law.

In response to difficulties in achieving satisfactory arrangements (perceived as being ousted from their children’s lives, or reduced to a role where they cannot be effective parents) a number of those affected men have become involved in the fathers’ rights movement.

Fathers’ roles as caregivers increased considerably during the latter part of the 20th century, especially in Canada. The general acceptance of more equitable gender roles means there is no need to divide laborer 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 laborer in a single parent household, and when parents separate each 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.

Critics of the movement have argued that since most men still earn higher incomes, 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.

Support provided by fathers’ rights meetings

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

Father’s rights group meetings have an ethos of self-help; they aim to ensure that fathers are informed on available options and they will support fathers with advice where the cost of prohibitive. Some fathers advocate their own cases with some success, but problems can easily arise at times where self-representation occurs with delays and attempts to address issues outside family law. The aphorism, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” does relate to some of the difficulties that can be experienced.

See O (CHILDREN), W-R (A CHILD), W (CHILDREN) for an example of an Appeal brought without the assistance of lawyers, but by members of Families Need Fathers and Fathers 4 Justice.

Main beliefs and goals Fathers’ rights activists typically believe that the application of the law in family courts is biased against men.

In family law and the family court

Many Father’s rights activists assert that the application of family law is Kafkaesque, with secretive in camera hearings and long delays which grant mothers initial custody, then delay final resolution.

Irish singer and political activist Bob Geldof has written on the subject of the extended length of time for family courts to resolve issues:

Upon separation, the system is slow and delay occurs immediately. This allows the status quo to be established. As the process labors on it becomes impossible to alter. This is unfair. It is nearly always possible for the resident parent (let’s face it, the girl) to establish a pattern. It is then deemed in the child’s 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. (from The Real Love that Dare Not Speak its Name: A Sometimes Coherent Rant)

These delays can result in unnecessarily long separations occurring between fathers and children during and after lengthy periods of court hearings. Father’s rights activists argue that that time 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.

On the adversarial court system

The adversarial system, such as currently 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, fathers’ rights activists believe the law as it currently stands in the UK takes on a wider remit by linking the interests of the child with those of the mother.

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 can be claimed 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 in the UK in 2003, a judge ruled that it was in a child’s “best interests” to have no contact with her father, because such contact caused the mother to feel depressed and anxious. A second judge, Mathew Thorpe, said that while he had “every sympathy” for the the father, he could not overturn the original ruling. Lord Justice Thorpe added “It’s also a tragedy for the child, who is being denied an ordinary right to know her father and develop understanding, interests and affection with him.”

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

Fathers’ rights activists further claim the idea of adversarial court cases to resolve family disputes has led to a sub-culture they consider to be completely absurd. They may also 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.

Kevin Thompson, a non-custodial father in Massachusetts, has written a book called “Exposing the Corruption in the Massachusetts Family Courts,” which details his journey through a judicial system he feels is “anti-father.” The book is highly critical of the judge in his case, Judge Mary McCauley Manzi. Judge Manzi later issued a order restraining the book’s distribution, on the grounds that it violated the involved minor’s right to privacy. It seems unlikely that Thompson will obey this order, and the book appears to still be available in both print and PDF formats.

On child custody/residence and parenting time

Main articles: Child custody, Shared parenting, Residence in English law, and Shared residency in English law

On child custody, a priority on continuity of care and/or residence leads to primary custody often being awarded to the mother. However the arrangements prior to the relationship breakdown presupposed a number of factors, stereotypically, fathers being the primary breadwinner and mothers the primary care giver and presupposed other things such as daily contact between fathers and their children. Currently family law in the U.S. and U.K. 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.

Fathers’ rights argue that children tend to do better if they are nurtured by both parents, they believe children’s normal cognitive development (particularly that of very small children) and identity formation are dependent on a level of relationship with traditional significant others, including their father. Longitudinal studies tend to support this.

The argument for shared residency needs to be seen against the view 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, the “single base” argument. In the increasingly rare situation where the mother was a stay-at-home mother who ended her career to raise children, equal timeshare would require that mother be encouraged to return to the workforce to support her children or that father worked less hours in order to maintain truly “equal” timesharing. Recent research (cf. Flouri and Buchannan) has shown that father involvement is more important to children’s welfare than having a single base, and the argument of preserving the status quo prior to the parents spitting can be based in part on how much time the father spent at home with his children before the split, as well as on how much involvement he is able to have in future.

When the two parents have earning’s capacities that are unequal, then the lower earning parent can become 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, it argued by Father’s Rights activists that the mother’s household income should be offset against his child support contribution in order to preserve equal living standards in both the children’s homes.

In situations where the two parents are willing to parent collaboratively, equal or shared parenting is a distinct advantage for the children, although the Court of Appeal has ruled (see A v A) that this advantage is conferred regardless of the prior level of collaboration between the parents when the perceived unequal distribution of power inherent in the contact model itself contributes to their hostility.

Where clear guidance is provided in a court at the outset regarding outcomes, the result is less hostility and 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 endeavor 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.

In abusive relationships, implacable hostility and parental alienation syndrome

Main articles: Child custody, Shared parenting, Residence in English law, and Shared residency in English law

On child custody, a priority on continuity of care and/or residence leads to primary custody often being awarded to the mother. However the arrangements prior to the relationship breakdown presupposed a number of factors, stereotypically, fathers being the primary breadwinner and mothers the primary care giver and presupposed other things such as daily contact between fathers and their children. Currently family law in the U.S. and U.K. 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.

Fathers’ rights argue that children tend to do better if they are nurtured by both parents, they believe children’s normal cognitive development (particularly that of very small children) and identity formation are dependent on a level of relationship with traditional significant others, including their father. Longitudinal studies tend to support this.

The argument for shared residency needs to be seen against the view 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, the “single base” argument. In the increasingly rare situation where the mother was a stay-at-home mother who ended her career to raise children, equal timeshare would require that mother be encouraged to return to the workforce to support her children or that father worked less hours in order to maintain truly “equal” timesharing. Recent research (cf. Flouri and Buchannan) has shown that father involvement is more important to children’s welfare than having a single base, and the argument of preserving the status quo prior to the parents spitting can be based in part on how much time the father spent at home with his children before the split, as well as on how much involvement he is able to have in future.

When the two parents have earning’s capacities that are unequal, then the lower earning parent can become 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, it argued by Father’s Rights activists that the mother’s household income should be offset against his child support contribution in order to preserve equal living standards in both the children’s homes.

In situations where the two parents are willing to parent collaboratively, equal or shared parenting is a distinct advantage for the children, although the Court of Appeal has ruled (see A v A) that this advantage is conferred regardless of the prior level of collaboration between the parents when the perceived unequal distribution of power inherent in the contact model itself contributes to their hostility.

Where clear guidance is provided in a court at the outset regarding outcomes, the result is less hostility and 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 endeavor 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.

Domestic violence

Main articles: Domestic violence and 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, 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 care: Proceedings often mean a standstill in the child’s development while his or her care’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.

On the importance of language

Some 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.

Main article: Fathers’ rights movement in the UK

Whilst for a considerable time father’s rights groups were largely ignored by the mainstream media and by governments for a number of reasons, the advent of Fathers 4 Justice in 2003 brought the cause into the mainstream media for the first time, and new legislation is being brought in the UK as a result in 2005. Another leading group Families Need Fathers is recognized as source of help by The Department of Constitutional Affairs, and regularly provides evidence to parliamentary sub-committees, resulting on one senior Family Court judge indicating that it was a key player in the debate about on-going contact and joint residence [9].

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 2 March, 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 [10].

The Child Support Act 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. Many judgments have been criticized for not allowing fathers to be as involved as they would like to be or at all, and the courts criticized 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 [11]. This aims to widen judges’ powers in dealing with parents who obstruct their ex-partner from seeing their children.

Criticism

As with many social movements, some of the strongest criticisms of men’s groups comes from other groups and activists. Feminists or pro-feminist men hold that father’s rights groups at times seem to seek to entrench patriarchy and oppose the advances made by many women in society. They believe that the bias in family law, family courts and under the various child support arrangements in different places either does not exist or are such that single mother’s in particular are not advantaged as a class to the extent stated, especially in the face of sexism, male privilege and power.

Critics, such as Michael Flood of the Australian pro-feminist men’s organization XYonline, see the men’s rights movement and fathers’ rights movement as the most extreme part of the broader men’s movement [12]. According to this view, most men’s rights advocates have joined the movement as the result of negative personal experience during a divorce or custody battle. Many advocates do not dispute this claim, but argue that this is due to the fact that many men do not realize legal discrimination after they have experienced it themselves.

(see Copyrights for details).