This post was inspired by a recent post on this forum which seemed to lead to some debate. Unfortunately that debate was somewhat off topic for the original post and it became a little personal. If things become unsuitable I may consider re-posting this as a blog.
This post is in the ''Change'' forum and I hope it will inspire debate but there is no original question to answer. As ever, please keep it respectful, supportive and within the WV rules.
Before I became embroiled in contact proceedings, my only exposure to F4J was TV news of superheroes scaling buildings. The underlying message that stayed with me was that the cause of a father trying to have contact with his children was a futile one.
So when my ex abruptly left the house with the children and refused to let me see them, it was with a very heavy heart and a fair amount of pessimism that I first approached solicitors.
I had a consultation with one that didn''t seem to give a damn (and told me a lot of things that I later found were plain wrong!) who I didn''t choose to go with. I wasn''t happy with his attitude so I phoned around a few more. The one that I eventually went with was rather more optimistic.
She told me that in her experience, fathers that try to get more than alternate weekends tend to get it. She had a fair amount of experience (15 years or so) so I don''t think it was not genuine.
My experience of the family justice system has been largely positive and much closer to my solicitor''s view than the preconception that I held from the news reports of F4J superheroes. I have not felt on the whole that I was discriminated against because I was a man. This is of course entirely anecdotal; I know there are some fathers on here that have had a terrible time through the courts and do feel that their exes were strongly favoured because they were women.
I very much feel that I was discriminated against because I did not have the children with me. CAFCASS seem to be overwhelmingly biased in favour of the resident parent. An example from my case, during the safeguarding checks, both my ex and I alleged mental health difficulties. I submitted evidence of my allegations but CAFCASS recommended that I have only supervised contact and that I needed to get a report from a psychiatrist to confirm that I am no danger to the children (£400) while they made no recommendations for my ex to do the same. For the record the mental health issues were depression for both of us, which while sometimes debilitating is not, in my opinion, enough to justify months and months of supervision.
I am inclined with the ''benefit'' of a few months experience of the family justice system, to believe that my solicitor was telling the truth.
I think that Fiona says it correctly, as I have often seen her point out - the biggest barrier to men being the primary carer post-separation is that they were not the primary carer pre-separation. Until this changes and more men start giving up their careers to look after the children I can''t foresee equality in the sense of resolution of residence disputes being equally in favour of men and women.
I should state that I am not a member of any fathers'' advocate groups (FNF, F4J etc). My views are entirely based on the preconceptions that I had as a result of their awareness-raising (I hesitate to say) antics. After finishing this post I''m going to go and read all about them to correct my ignorance so I''m only reporting my experience and views as an outsider.
One thing that concerns me with these groups though - by spreading the message that the system is irredeemably broken and biased in favour of mothers, could this put some men (as ignorant as I was) off trying the court route?
It is very interesting to read your outsider’s view, u6c00, not least because I am an insider and often too close to be able to evaluate F4J objectively. It is obviously true that some people’s experience of the system will be worse than others’ and inevitably the very bad cases are relatively few. I’ve been involved for nearly 10 years and in that time I have seen hundreds if not thousands of cases in which fathers, and quite a few mothers, have been treated appallingly.
F4J is run as a marketing campaign, which means that it has often relied on simple messages and sound-bites (two parents are better than one; a father is for life not just for conception; etc). This has the effect of simplifying and even trivialising a very complicated issue. There are many individuals and agencies forming the family justice system (legislators, judges, lawyers, CAFCASS, social workers, expert witnesses, etc); there are also numerous pieces of legislation, procedural rules, practice Directions, etc). Blanket allegations of bias, therefore, are not very helpful.
I believe that there is a general bias within society which sees fathers as second-rate parents and as potentially harmful to their partners and to their children. That bias is worsening and is the result of very successful, well-coordinated and well-funded propaganda. This is reflected within the agencies and individuals who make up the family justice system. In some areas (such as CAFCASS) the bias is worse and more evident than in others (such as the judiciary). There is a small number of individuals with an extremist ideology who have managed to become dangerously influential in the system, directing the course of legislation, influencing the outcome of cases and preventing effective reform; for example, John Bowlby, Baroness Hale (Brenda Hoggett), Liz Trinder, Joan Hunt, Bruce Clarke, Mavis Maclean, Claire Sturge and Danya Glaser, Jennifer McIntosh and Richard Chisholm, etc.
Some of their views have achieved mainstream status, despite, in my view, being profoundly misguided, and forming part of a generally anti-family agenda. One such is the primary carer doctrine which often leads to the parent designated the primary carer being given all authority over a child to the total exclusion of the other. Early proponents of this ideology, Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud and Albert Solnit, suggested choosing the primary carer by tossing a coin, but since Bowlby’s version of attachment theory the primary carer is normally taken to be the mother.
It is natural for couples who are together to divide their roles in more-or-less traditional ways, with fathers working longer hours than mothers and mothers doing more of the domestic chores. This does not mean, however, that when couples separate the same divisions of labour should apply, and this is where I disagree with Fiona. Fathers often seem to be punished for not having done more of the housework, but this is not child-focused. The task for separated parents is to respond to their children’s attachment needs and manage the transitions between them with consistency and flexibility.
This requires arrangements very different from married (or cohabiting) ones, and usually a shift in the division of time away from mothers towards fathers, so that children can spend a nearly equal amount of time with both. It can also mean that fathers have to renegotiate their working hours to give them more time for their children. Failure to do this effectively leads to children unable to deal with the transitions between attachments and the inevitable allegations of alienation from fathers and abuse from mothers, because they fail to understand what is actually going on with their children.
F4J has always argued that most parental disputes are not best resolved in the courts and need to be dealt with through what it calls ‘therapeutic mediation’. Parents need support and education to mediate their children’s transitions, not the blunt instruments of contact and residence orders.
I also am an outsider, maybe this will br useful to those involved in these groups.
The perception I have is probably quite poor, for a start I don''t know the difference between fnf and f4j, certainly when they do hit the news it''s usually for breaking the law, is that good publicity?, does it make them credible, or even is that just one group and the other is perfectly law abiding, I don''t know?.
Thinking about it, I know one group threw paint at an MP''s garage door, I know the guys played super heros, I know some guys walked in a public high street in their birthday suits, I suppose the old adage all publicity is good publicity comes into play, is it really though, I think one group also campaigns against a high street chain because they support a woman''s group, if I''m wrong with any of this remember its just what comes to my mind when they are mentioned.
It''s only a guess but I would think members write to MP''s maybe even lobby government and feel they go unheard, and that''s the way to make progress, even though for the most part they are self promoting money grabbing liers who change allegiance and tune to the bang of a drum, and deep breath, maybe if the public perception improves they could get some backing from those as powerful as baroness hale.
And the paint-throwing mob were from neither group.
Point taken, though; the public aren''t interested in distinctions which may be all-important to the participants but are trivial to others - like the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or - I don''t know - Wikivorce and Quickie-Divorce.
Just to add another twist to this access/contact was never an issue with my Ex, he makes no effort whatsoever to have any meaningful relationship with the children.
The end of our marriage and he now states time spent with our children is him babysitting and no I am not asking him to care for the children overnight but maybe tea ofter school. He can call them as much as he likes, but that is the extent of the effort he makes.
At times he says he will make more effort and I do realize as he works a rolling shift system that he cant have a regular day due to this, however, once a week ....no once a month is not too much to ask, he lives a five minute walk away.
Last time my daughter went to drop post to his house he made her wait on the doorstep.
Just as much as men feel badly off by the court system, if I could force him to spend time with the children I could.
Yes he pays child support, begrudgingly and reduces it the moment he thinks he has valid reason dispite a court order, but the lack of any effort made by him to nurture a relationship with my children saddens me.
Thank you for that information Forseti, you''ve certainly given me a host of reading material. I''m familiar with Bowlby, but little of the others so that will give me something to work my way through.
I read the pdf you linked to, were you the author? I thought I detected something of a Conservative bias, but then further into it I got the feeling that perhaps it was just anti-politicians - something that I''m sure dukey would also support
So I now know some of the history of the groups, which is always helpful to know.
I''d be interested to know what you think would change things for the better?
The abolition of CAFCASS perhaps? Is that just a sticking plaster though? It seems to be widely acknowledged that CAFCASS are improving (which frankly just isn''t good enough) so I can''t see too much political will for that right now.
A presumption of shared parenting? I would agree with this one. The evidence seems to suggest it ought to work, and common sense says that if parents know where they stand then there is less to fight about. Shared residence orders are already permissibly used to redress the balance of power in conflicts between parents, why can''t the theory be extended?
One more radical solution I have heard is to remove the status of the parents as parties to the proceedings. Children would be represented by a guardian with legal representation (and that''s where I foresee the flaw - what stops the guardians being as bad as cafcass?). Parents could submit statements but would not be in control of the situation. Since they aren''t parties they wouldn''t need legal representation themselves and that resolves some issues with legal aid. In short it would be a non-adversarial system.
Finally I have heard some political discourse on "good enough" parenting. This is close to my heart for the reasons discussed already. If a parent was classed as "good enough" to look after the child/ren alone before separation, why shouldn''t they be good enough afterwards? Perhaps implementation of this is something that would reduce the ongoing problem of spurious and irrelevant allegations. "You say he was violent and abusive yet you left him in charge of the children while you went on holiday with the girls? And now he''s unfit to parent?" This is something that could be tackled at first hearing and reduce the need for supervised contact.