A “significant minority” of professional McKenzie Friends exploit fathers’ rights groups according to new research.
Writing for the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, Australian legal academic Angela Melville claimed that many professional McKenzie Friends who work regularly with members of fathers’ rights groups were “highly problematic” because they capitalise on “uncertainty and [a] sense of victimhood”.
The fathers involved were frequently vulnerable, lacking in other means of support and poorly educated Dr Melville insisted.
“I…some of these fathers may also feel that they have lost control over their ex-partner and children and believe that the family court and family lawyers are against them, and thus feel especially aggrieved and victimised.”
Dr Angela Melville, a Senior Lecturer at Flinders Law School in Adelaide, analysed the websites of 13 fee-charging McKenzie Friend organisations who have worked extensively with fathers’ rights campaigners. These sites present a very negative view of lawyers, she reported, insinuating that they would not achieve the outcomes fathers wanted and claiming that McKenzie Friends were a more “cost-effective” solution.
The sites sometimes also sometimes presented “misogynistic discourses” she said, suggesting “that women are vindictive manipulators, who make up false allegations in order to block fathers from fully realising their rights over children.”
She concluded that “the presence of McKenzie Friends aligned with FRGs may be highly disruptive, as well as potentially harmful to mothers and children,” but admitted that restoration of legal aid was unlikely, thereby leaving unrepresented litigants in person (LIPs) in a vulnerable position.
Dr Melville admitted that while improved guidance and simplified procedures could improve the situation, such measures were “hardly likely to be enough.”
She suggested that the growing practice of law schools encouraging their students to work as McKenzie Friends could alleviate some of the pressures on the system.
“Arguably, extending the pool of non-lawyer providers and greater regulation will not necessarily completely prevent agenda-driven McKenzie Friends, but in an era without other options for support for LIPs, these may be the only realistic solutions.”
Dr Melville’s article was entitled “Giving hope to fathers’: discursive constructions of families and family law by McKenzie Friends associated with Fathers”.