Earlier this week, we ran a news piece on a rooftop protest by a new father’s rights group called Human Worth. A multinational group of six protestors had scaled a building in Hyde Park and unveiled a banner announcing their name and website.
Visit the still basic website and you find the strident declaration “Fighting the corruption and prejudice that family courts so cruelly promote.”
As a family lawyer myself, you might expect me to take issue with this claim – and it would be fair to say that I do. But I also recognise that the strength of feeling that drives such views. Clients in tears about their situations, furious with their partners, depressed and anxious about the future: all of these are routine in family law officers. Emotion comes with the territory.
What, after all, could be more personal than children and family? It’s the ultimate hot button issue.
The story about Human Worth has proved no exception to this rule, provoking a lively debate in the comments column. And I was pleased to see several of my regular readers expressing their appreciation under the same story for being allowed to air their views on the blog. I’m glad they feel this way and I take it as a sign of success. Within certain obvious limitations – such as, for example, libel! – I pride myself on providing a platform and a place to discuss these heartfelt issues in an honest (but respectful) way.
Many men – father’s rights activists especially – believe the family court are biased towards them, saying they rule too often in favour of mothers, and women in general. Of course I dispute that claim – what matters in the family courts is a) the welfare of children and b) fairness. Gender is not a factor. At least it should not be.
In an interesting case earlier this year, Mr Justice Holman went out of his way to make that very point. Luckwell v Limata concerned a prenuptial agreement which a husband had signed before marrying his wealthier wife.
His Lordship said:
“The court must be scrupulous to avoid gender discrimination or gender bias. Of course gender may, and often does, impact heavily on outcome. If in fact a wife, in her role as mother, is the primary carer for the children, then her need for secure and suitable accommodation may outweigh that of the husband.”
“If a wife, due to her commitments to caring for the children, is less able to work than is the husband, than that is likely to impact upon maintenance needs. So, too, if it is a fact of a case that a wife has lower earning capacity because of gender discrimination in the relevant employment markets. But there must be no discrimination or bias based on gender alone, nor on any stereotypical view that a wife may be dependent upon her husband but not vice versa.”
Do the family courts always live up to that ideal? I’ll leave that question to others.