Save for a recent dabble (more of which in a moment), these days I don’t generally have time to read comments on this blog (let alone respond to them), but it has been brought to my attention that there are one or two commenters who, for reasons best known to themselves, seem to think that l am biased against fathers. I realise that it may be a futile gesture, but this post will attempt to put right that misconception.
Let me start with a basic statement of my position on the issue of contact (for the sake of simplicity I will refer to time a child spends with either parent as ‘contact’, but this includes residing, or to use the current terminology, living with, the parent). Behind this statement lies more than 30 years of experience studying, working in and writing about the family justice system.
My position is this: In the vast majority of cases there is no good reason why a child should not have contact with both parents after family breakdown. Every time such a child is denied contact with one of their parents that is a tragedy, both for the child and the parent concerned.
The courts strive to ensure that contact takes place in such cases. Could they do more? Of course they could. I am not complacent, any nor should anyone be. Judges are only human, and they make mistakes. But the courts have an extremely difficult task. For example, they cannot force parents to act in a reasonable fashion, and they cannot be on hand 24/7 to ensure that their orders are complied with.
I’ve never said that the system is perfect. I may be a representative of the system, but I am not an apologist for it. I’m sure it could be improved, and I have always been open to reasonable suggestions. What I cannot accept, however, is the suggestion that the system suffers from widespread bias, or even corruption. I spent 25 working in the system, and I never saw any significant evidence of this (certainly no evidence of corruption). What I did see was hundreds of dedicated professionals, most of whom were striving to do their best for those who came into contact with the system, especially the children.
As I said in a recent post in response to commenters, I know that the system can fail fathers. I explained in that post that I came across such failures early in my career, in particular in a tragic case that has remained with me to this day. But such failures are not evidence of a system that doesn’t care about children retaining contact with their fathers. My overwhelming experience was that most of the professionals working within the system do care deeply, and that is why I am quick to defend them.
As for myself, I am a father – why would I be biased against myself? During my time practising I acted for as many fathers as I did mothers – why would I be biased against half of my clients? It simply doesn’t make sense. I have also, for what it’s worth, provided a huge amount of free advice to fathers over the years, including in advice clinics, in blog posts, and yes, in response to comments, trying to help them achieve the contact they seek. And I continue to do so in blog posts. For example in my post here the other day about the lack of a connection between contact and the payment of child support (which I see has attracted some 42 comments, as at the time of writing this) I was merely giving advice as to the correct legal position, in the hope that it would prevent people from making the same mistake that so many have made previously.
I will end this post by very briefly setting out (and repeating) my views on three specific issues that I know are close to the heart of aggrieved fathers.
The first, and perhaps biggest, issue is parental alienation. Without wishing to trivialise the matter, my view is that, save for physical abuse, alienating a child against the other parent is one of the worst things that any parent can do to their child. It is also, however, a hugely complex and difficult issue for the courts to deal with (with limited resources), and that is why so many alienated parents feel that the system has failed to properly address it. Sadly, the problem of re-establishing contact between a child and an alienated parent often simply cannot be satisfactorily resolved, no matter how hard the court may try.
The second issue is the abuse of domestic violence protections by some mothers. This can take various forms, from simply ‘playing the domestic abuse card’ to try to stop or reduce contact, to mothers inventing or exaggerating domestic abuse allegations in order that they can get legal aid. As I wrote here just the other day, I agree with the observation by the fathers’ rights charity Families Need Fathers that more allegations of domestic abuse are of course likely when the system says that parents can’t get legal aid unless there has been abuse. And abusing domestic violence protections is not a new phenomenon. Many years ago I was so annoyed by the domestic violence ‘opening gambit’ routinely employed by wives, using trivial allegations to obtain orders forcing husbands out of the marital home and thereby ‘pre-judging’ who would have the house (and therefore the children) after the divorce that I wrote a letter about the matter to the periodical Family Law, which they published (in the case that prompted me to write we eventually succeeded in getting the husband, my client, back in the house, which he ultimately kept).
And the third issue returns to that recent post about child support. I suspect that many of those comments stem from the perceived unfairness of the system towards many non-resident parents, usually fathers, who are caused genuine hardship by the system requiring them to pay more than they can afford, or should have to pay. Again, I have written about this issue on many occasions previously, both here and elsewhere. It does happen and in my view is primarily the fault of a rigid formula-based system, which fails to take into account any factors not contained in the formula. The old court-based system may have had its flaws, but at least it had the flexibility to deal with all circumstances, and it gave the paying parent a chance to be heard.
OK, I’ll leave it there. I realise that none of the above, and indeed nothing I can say, will persuade some to believe that I am not biased against fathers, and/or dismissive of fathers’ rights issues. But then you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Photo by steven sim via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.