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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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HomeCulture WarWhere’s the justice for fathers? Part Two

Where’s the justice for fathers? Part Two

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In the first part of this series, which you can read here,  I detailed the institutional sexism in Britain’s family courts that separates fathers from children, makes fathers pay for children they don’t see, and assumes men are abusers to boot.

YES, Britain is institutionally sexist. The Government ruled earlier this year that separating children from both parents is a ‘national scandal’. But separating children from fathers is routine!

The Conservative government’s Pathfinder courts do not change that underlying institutional sexism. There are a number of legal aspects that need addressing if it is to be rectified.

First, the law specifies the child’s interest in the ‘primary carer’. The primary carer is almost always the mother on the grounds that mothers typically spend more time at home (even though the majority today are in full-time work, and millions of children spend long hours in daycare and pre- and post-school clubs, and you see nearly as many fathers as mothers doing the day care and school run). The problem, indeed inequity, is that parents other than primary carers have no rights, except to information on their child’s medical treatment and schooling. This imbalance hardly encourages parents to consult or to co-operate. Mother’s privilege is clear, but father’s access is not. Co-operation depends on her goodwill.

Second, there is the issue of ‘alienation’, when one parent deliberately turns the children away from the other parent. A survey of more than 1,000 estranged parents found that at least 59 per cent have experienced ‘parental alienation’. The academic definition of  parental alienation involves intentional displays to the child of unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent, to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent.  However the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refuses to recognise the concept, and courts rarely punish it. This needs to be remedied. It is my view that the Government should criminalise this.

An organisation called MatchMothers is campaigning for the legal recognition of this concept, because mothers too can be victims. However and worryingly, another group, the Survivor Family Network (misrepresenting itself as an All-Party Parliamentary Group, until quietly deleting its internet page), recommends a ban on what it calls ‘parental alienation theory’. This group simply assumes that male abuse is the root cause of relationship breakdown. It has no evidence other than a survey of fewer than 200 of its correspondents, all female.

Third, the government needs to stop courts from using separation to justify separation. Most cases start with the mother in charge of the child and limiting the father’s access. The law forces the father to attempt private mediation before he can petition the court. This mediation typically takes months, even if the parties co-operate. Once mediation fails (typically), the petitioner waits months before a first hearing. Some courts use these months of separation to justify years of ‘reintroduction’ – meaning hours of child-father contact, building up to days, sometimes supervised by the other parent. This is not conducive to the father’s relationship with his child.

Fourth, the government should de-mandate the involvement of social workers and teachers. Courts are obliged to order school reports and home inspections. But if children were known to be at risk, social workers and teachers would have reported already. These interventions are unnecessarily invasive and time-consuming. The average duration of child cases in 2023 was 46 weeks (up from about 30 weeks in the 2010s), not counting the weeks to get accepted by court. This cannot be in a child’s best interests.

Fifth, the government should encourage courts to make revisions easier. Court orders usually do not specify accommodations for contingencies as simple as a medical emergency on a day when the parent is supposed to see the child. Of course, the primary carer could accommodate, but she isn’t obliged. To change an order, the secondary carer must re-petition, at cost. Some court orders that I have read are utterly unworkable given an unco-operative parent. For instance, one order responds to a father’s complaint that the mother refuses to meet halfway during changes of custody by ruling that if the parties ever disagree the default location is five minutes from her home!

Courts are reluctant to correct themselves. Given the discretion granted in law, appeals courts will consider only procedural irregularities (such as a failure to consult the school). Journalists are not permitted. Parties are subject to criminal prosecution for discussing cases (even though local teachers know all details).

Worse, non-compliance with court orders is routine: 98.6 per cent of applications for enforcement orders fail. One British child was the subject of 30 court hearings, 60 court orders, and six judgements over ten years without preventing the mother carrying him off to North Cyprus, which has no extradition treaty with Britain. https://www.channel4.com/news/inside-one-family-court-battle-over-a-child-now-settled-in-northern-cyprus

To get to the bottom of the institutional bias against fathers, the government must make the various agencies involved with family court and child access proceedings accountable, and proscribe false accusations of abuse.

Too many statutory powers have been downloaded to unaccountable quangos, notably the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) whose abuse of power and outright encouragement of false accusations is so scandalous that I will need a third and final article in this series to expose them.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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