Fathers’ rights on the agenda for upcoming family justice reform

26 September 2010 by

Last week I posted on a speech given by Sir Nicholas Wall on family justice reform. The speech has been widely reported: see the BBC, Zoe Williams’ challenge to Sir Nicholas’ point that intelligent parents made worse litigants, and this thorough analysis from Marylin Stowe.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Sir Nicholas’ speech was to Families Need Fathers (FNF), a fathers’ rights lobby group – see the Wikipedia entry on the movement’s history.

There are two interesting articles on fathers’ rights in this morning’s Observer, the second of which comments on the speech. FNF is, according to the Observer, “at the forefront of a shift in tone in fathers’ rights – away from the notorious stunts of Fathers 4 Justice, which involved grown men dressed as superheroes unfurling banners on public monuments, towards a professional lobbying approach, deploying reasoned argument and concern for the child.”

For his part, Sir Nicholas said that fathers are not disadvantaged by the current court system, arguing that “courts are not anti-father and pro mother. The courts recognise the important role which any non-resident should play in the lives of his children.”

In Children and divorce: the father’s case, a father with experience of the family courts argues that there is still much to be done in order to ensure equal rights for fathers in the family justice system, but things may now be changing: “Lawyers are now more optimistic about your chances as a father. The work of Families Need Fathers, the intervention of [author] Louis de Bernières, the early word from the family justice review, all are changing the mood music, I’m told by lawyers“.

The newspaper also provides a more general overview of the fathers’ rights movement, in Childhood casualties of the family courts: “With the maturing of the “men’s movement” into more child-centred lobbying and support groups, and with rising numbers of divorce lawyers moving into mediation work and away from adversarial courtrooms, there is a growing understanding of the raw deal many fathers – and children – have been getting from the secretive British family court system.”

One controversial area which Sir Nicholas covered in his speech was child relocation. The current position adopted by the courts is that the child’s rights are paramount over those of the parents. A father’s account on Sir Nicholas’ views on Payne v Payne (the leading case on child relocation) can be found in the comments section of our previous post.

The family courts are currently being reviewed (see our post), and perhaps Professor Munro, the professor who is leading the review, will see this as an opportunity to recalibrate it in light of the rights of fathers. In its Families and Relationships Green Paper, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (under the last government) said that “the greater roles many fathers and other family members, including grandparents, play in caring for children must be recognised”. The Ministry of Justice have set up an online survey (closing date: 30 Sep) for those who wish to comment on the review. We would welcome the views of others affected by family justice in the comments section of this post.

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12 comments


  1. Tony Gooding says:

    Hi,

    This is currently all new to me but what a learning curve the last year. My son is one year old and he was born out of wedlock. The mother refused 3 DNA tests but during this time of delaying proceeded to go to the registrar and register the birth certificate without the fathers name on it which I have proved I am by DNA.

    From my research I have no parental rights once my name is not on the birth certificate only to pay maintenance each month which I am. This was shown recently when the mother just recently left him in Bulgaria with her mom and returned back to her residence with out my son for a month without me knowing and he attended the hospital without me been notified upon his return from Bulgaria.

    I have attended court to have my name placed on the birth certificate but I have been told she is protected by the Hague Convention and she doesn’t have too. What’s the rights of my son having the knowledge who his father is and not experiencing the “social embarrassment” of showing his passport as he grows up with “father unknown”..

    Be great to get your comments with valid points!!!!

    Off course I have serious reservations about my sons mother as I moved forward based on her actions above…

    Your help is very much apprecaited.

    Tony

  2. Steve Butler says:

    No, I’m sorry BD but you seem to have missed my point and the general complaint about FNF.

    Many people think that FNF are not forceful or public enough! To be honest, its as if they hardly blip up on the public radar. It took me months after my separation to even unearth the fact that FNF exists.

    To put it bluntly this is not about ‘educating judiciary and government by use of logic’ or ‘bringing them into the fold’.

    These people are the top brains of the Country and know exactly what they are responsible for. If logic and justice were capable of winning the day, FNF would have won the battle decades ago.

    Mandela did not defeat the injustice of Apartheid by turning his back on or criticising the ANC, he backed them forcefully and publicly and the ‘force of the people’ gained him access to the political arena.

    Many people would like to see FNF publicly supporting F4J whilst at the same time going about their business and conducting themselves as usual.

    The public support is definitely important as it shows unity and force and that is the only way to win.

    I don’t understand who the ‘trenchant flat-earthers’ are or the relevance to this argument.

  3. Mr BD says:

    So we all seem to be in agreement, then!!!

    FNF are an extremely respectable and respected charity, and should continue in their constructive, collaborative, reason-based approach, bringing both politicians and members of the judiciary into the fold. They ought not overtly “support” F4J, as this would permit trenchant flat-earthers to attempt to undermine their credibility.

    F4J continue in their “telling it as it is” approach, which will hopefully keep father’s and children’s rights firmly on the social and political radar.

    This nice cop/bad cop, pincer movement may just succeed…

    BD

  4. Steve Butler says:

    Why choose to ignore ‘The Black Pimpernel’s’ early years?

    “So the ANC began a sabotage campaign, with Mandela leading a new guerrilla army, Spear of the Nation. He then became the most wanted man in the country.”

    Seems NM merely used action appropriate to the circumstances and adapted as necessary.

    F4J have highlighted the issue of an hitherto hidden problem; (the mass semi orphaning of hundreds of thousands of children over many decades). It was no accident that the scandal was hidden. The Courts and successive Governments wanted it that way, hence the secret Family Courts and gagging orders.

    Behind the stunts are real rational, valid arguments. Arguments which F4J members are perfectly capable of articulating but no one wants to listen because they are an embarrassment. They are an embarrassment not because they dress as superheroes and scale buildings but because they make people realise how bad the situation really is and how ‘you could be the next victim’

    I see the need for both types of action and IMHO, F4J and FNF should support each other. Nothing will change until the groundswell is strong enough to force a change.

    1. Lassie says:

      Absolutely! We need both initiatives.

      1. Stuart says:

        Very much agreed. At the moment fathers’ groups spend more time slagging each other off than addressing the issue together. A bit like divide and rule.

  5. Mr BD says:

    To sum up the work of FNF as “applying bandaids” is quite unfair, to say the least!

    Unfortunately, the actions of F4J – however well intentioned and sincere – often give the ‘establishment’ a perfect excuse to ignore the important message and instead focus on the perceived unreasonableness of the messenger.

    There is good reason why people such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela (ignoring his early years!) and Aung San Suu Kyi have such a powerful effect on our hearts and minds. Their approach is calm, dignified and reasonable.

    If we are the win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Government and of the judiciary vis-a-vis the Right of post-divorce children to have meaningful relationships with both parents, we should adopt a similar approach.

    FNF do exactly that.

    BD

  6. Steve Butler says:

    Until such times as the Courts are prepared to recognise and deal with the issues of ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’, perjury and ‘Obdurate refusal to comply with Court Orders’; the system will never be sorted out. Currently, and for previous decades, it has been deemed ‘Not in the child’s best interests’ to punish the Resident Parent for perjury, obstructing contact or alienating the child/ren. However, as documented in the past the Courts are quite happy to impose draconian fines and terms of imprisonment on Non Resident Parents who breach Contact Orders even in minor ways, even to the extent of handing out prison sentences for ‘waving to your own children in the street’!

    FNF do good work in applying bandaids to parents chewed up by the system but need to be more outspoken and supportive of other groups such as F4J who are prepared to tell it as it is.

  7. I’ve heard the argument that Families Need Fathers are in some way corrupted by Government funding.

    In December 2009, the CEO and trustees of FNF backed a campaign which I am running to change relocation law, and signed their names to the Parliamentary Briefing Report I’d written. In that report, which FNF fully supported, Sir Bob Geldof had written the foreword. His words:

    “This report is important, timely and vital. To accept its findings, which could have and should have been conducted at any time in the past 30 years, is to accept the awful conclusion that rather than Solomon like resolving our tragically human disputes with understanding, compassion and logical pragmatism the courts have consistently acted against society’s interest through the application of prejudice, gender bias and awful impartial cruelty.”

    The new CEO of Families Need Fathers has similarly backed our campaign, and the charity invited me to their AGM to speak to their members. Hardly sitting on the fence.

    I still struggle to understand how people can say FNF isn’t prepared to speak out about the problems in the courts. It clearly isn’t true.

    Michael Robinson
    Owner of The Custody Minefield, and founder of the ‘Relocation: Children Welfare, Needs and Rights Campaign’
    http://www.relocationcampaign.co.uk

  8. Lassie says:

    I am a member of Families Needs Fathers and have been impressed about the constructive and professional approach they have. It is not a Father’s Right’s Organization, it is a Shared Parenting Charity and a name change is probably due after Shared Parenting hopefully has been achieved in England.

    As an immigrant from a “Shared Parenting country” I have been absolutely horrified about how family law is practiced and applied in England. It’s the Gulag of children. Children are put in the epicenter of the marital conflict as out-dated social views and gender roles are being forced down on the divorcing parents by the judiciary and CAFCASS. A malicious mother will have totalitarian control over the children’s physical, emotional and education lives by automation and only by fighting in the courts will a father possibly be able to restore his relationship with the children.

    Thanks.

  9. NNooXX says:

    The misguided, naive, bitter and ignorant comment from ‘Ellis’ attacking Families Need Fathers and its funding by government is symptomatic as to why dad’s are still at an appalling disadvantage in regard to their children.

    He prefer’s to attack with nonsensical rants FNF who are trying to change things and actually pushing the agenda now on family law reform than actually put the government and judiciary in the spotlight. Bizarre and rather sad of him.

    Funding makes our message stronger and crucially gives access to those who can make the changes.

    We (shared parenting groups) are taken seriously and cannot now be fobbed off by those who wish to undermine us, as we have been for many years in the past as mad, bad, angry & bitter dads.

    In Australia (one example) where Shared Parenting became law in 2006, the groups who were instrumental in changing the law to benefit children and fathers were CONSULTED and FUNDED by the Australian Government:

    •Shared Parenting Council of Australia
    •Lone Fathers Association of Australia

    The government handouts equals patsy argument is misguided and naive.

    It takes pressure of all types to bring change.

    P.S.
    Have mass government handouts over many years weakened Womens Aid effectiveness?
    The answer is ‘No!’
    It has given them the ability to grow and lobby successfully.

  10. Ellis says:

    Look let’s put the record straight, Family’s Need Fathers have been in existence for over 35yrs yes 35yrs during which they have not only witnessed the daily increase in disenfranchised fathers in their hundreds of thousands but also well over a million children denied contact with good wholesome fathers. There is an old saying where I come from “You can’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds” yet this FNF have done for decades with successive governments to the point of being funded by them regardless of the fact that they the government both past and present have and continue to destroy family life! As for Fathers 4 Justice I won’t get into the ethics behind such a group other than to say that for the best part its desperate members were exploited and as such wasted their membership fees on a pipe dream the like of which only benefited its founder.

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