Family law and family life: debating the issues

Stowe Family Law|August 15th 2014

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.”

He added:

“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.

Photo by lism via Flickr

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Comments(8)

  1. Master Judge Lord Almighty says:

    It almost sounds like Holman believes the nonsense that he speaks. He seems to be living in the 1920s. How old is he, I wonder? Families are no longer what they used to be, and most men now take an equal role in parenting where they are allowed to do so by controlling mothers and other meddlers, all of whom are persistently encouraged to discriminate and look down on fathers as incompetent creatures. Gender discrimination in the workplace these days is just as often directed at men, I’m afraid, except in those places where you would not want to work anyway. The needs of fathers and mothers are therefore not that different. It is only clueless octogenarians and malicious authorities who would say anything differently. Gender discrimination is just as alive today as racism and class warfare, and it is a shame that there are no lawyers gutsy enough to speak out against the way in which it manifests itself. For the way in which it manifests itself, you have to dig a little deeper. Politicians like Holman (because he doesn’t seem qualified to be a judge, only a politician) can talk themselvse into thinking they are right or righteous all they like. Doesn’t change the fact their blinkered view of the reality is still contributing to gender discrimination.

  2. james says:

    No they certainly dont!
    My solicitor warned that the sheriff was “old fashioned ” and took a “traditional view of Mother and Father roles”.
    Sure enough, his response to my shared care proposal was “Dont even contemplate it”.
    Im not a Father rights activist but articles like that make my blood boil. One guy making a statement of how things should be. Please get real.

  3. Pete says:

    “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.”
    ————————
    There are women who are prepared to use the child as a tool to get as much as they can with the aid of a system that is set up to give them what they want.
    I had to put up with tears and tantrums because my ex didn’t have a pension so after going to sort one out for her she said she wanted to think about it. while she was thinking about it she found out that if I died or she divorced me she would still get part of my pension needless to say she didn’t bother with a pension after that. After emptying her account when applying for the divorce the had no money declared on her E form, yet after buying a house, new car, solicitors fees and stamp duty it came to far more than what she got in court. When she can also get away with not declaring other things on the E form and even lying or is that telling a miss truth in court, I suppose you could say its a fair system especially when wedding jewellery is not taken into account (how many men do you know with engagement rings worth more than £1000) and when the child leaves home who still benefits from the extra Equity / house, pension as ” her need for secure and suitable accommodation may outweigh that of the husband.” rule NO longer applies.

  4. Luke says:

    “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.”
    ========================================================
    .
    Here are the 2 questions I would ask his Lordship after this statement:
    .
    (1) Does he seriously believe that the mother is in fact the primary carer in 19 out of 20 cases ? I ask this because that is what the courts are delivering.
    .
    (2) Why is it that in so many cases AFTER the children have reached the age of majority the need for the mother’s secure and suitable accommodation STILL outweighs that of the father ??? Why do we still have cases where spousal maintenance is paid for the life of the ex-spouses ?
    .
    I find his responses to the complaints made wholly unsatisfactory.

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  6. Stitchedup says:

    The family courts. like many individuals, do not practice what they preach. However in this case, Mr Justice Holman has effectively openly admitted that gender bias exists is the family courts and is a factor in determining financial settlements and contact arrangements. This is clearly going to be the end result due to his outdated views on the role of the mother as primary carer and women having a lower earning capacity because of gender discrimination in the relevant employment markets. Young women today enjoy positive discrimination in the workplace and girls outperform boys in education.

    Any residual pay difference in the employment market is almost certainly due to a catch-up effect, i.e. catching up in years/hours worked by the female population as a whole compared to the male population. Older women were not encouraged to work, and many years ago families were generally able to survive on one salary alone. This doesn’t mean that young or even middle-aged women have less earning capacity than men, in fact if both have followed a similar education and have worked since leaving school/college/University, it’s likely that the earning capacity of women is better than men due to their better performance in education and the positive discrimination they enjoy in the workplace. The stay-at-home mum is a lifestyle choice today usually reserved for the relatively well-off.

    All the politics, policies, funding etc surrounding the family courts and family breakdown is gender biased; not only that, it is wide open to abuse and manipulation with decisions made based on bogus allegations which are taken at face value with no burden of proof. Men are the easy targets here and often find themselves accused of all sorts of gross exaggerations and lies; unfortunately the courts are only too willing to believe such as they are preconditioned to perceive men as dangerous, controlling, abusive, violent animals and treat any divorcing/separating man/father as a potential murderer.

    Men are giving-up on the family courts and our politicians and for good reason. How does a man approach his MP or Assembly member when they have openly genderised views and policies on family and domestic matters. Why would any Welshman falsely accused of domestic violence approach their Assembly Member, Welsh Government Minister or Police and Crime Commisioner when they have views and policies such as this

    http://www.barryanddistrictnews.co.uk/news/latestnews/11393544.Jane_Hutt__39_s_Column/

    http://www.alunmichael.net/violence_against_women

    How can anybody claim such views and policies do not amount to gender bias and affect the way the Police and Courts deal with domestic issues???

  7. Stitchedup says:

    Has anybody heard of Domestic Violence Protection Orders before?

    http://www.south-wales.police.uk/news/first-domestic/

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