The fathers' rights movement in the UK consists of a number of diverse pressure groups, ranging from charities (whose activities are regulated by the Charity Commission) and self-help groups to civil disobedience activists, who started to obtain wide publicity in 2003. The movement's origin can be traced to 1974 when Families Need Fathers (FNF) was founded. At the local level, many activists spend much time providing support for newly separated fathers, most of whom are highly distraught. Although some have been accused of being sexist by some commentators, these groups also campaign for better treatment for excluded mothers, women in second marriages, other stepparents and grandparents - all of whom suffer discrimination in respect of contact with their (grand) child(ren).
Whilst for a considerable time father's rights groups were largely ignored by the mainstream media and by governments for a number of reasons, the advent of Fathers 4 Justice in 2003 brought the cause into the mainstream media for the first time, and new legislation is being brought in the UK as a result in 2005. Another leading group Families Need Fathers is recognised as source of help by The Department of Constitutional Affairs, and regularly provides evidence to parliamentary sub-committees, resulting on one senior Family Court judge indicating that it was a key player in the debate about on-going contact and joint residence
Activists within the movement seek to restructure family law, arguing that children benefit from being raised by both parents, and that children should thus be allowed to interact with both parents on a regular basis as of right. The family justice system in England and Wales, according to a committee of Members of Parliament on 2 March 2005, gives separated and divorced fathers a raw deal and does not give enough consideration to preserving the relationship between the father and the child
The Child Support Act in the UK aims to ensure that absent parents pay towards the support of their children. The payment amount is inversely proportional to the time that the child spends with the so-called absent parent. If a parent puts acceptable reasons to a court for the other parent's involvement to be restricted, then the restricted parent has to pay more. Many judgements have been criticised for not allowing fathers to be as involved as they would like to be or at all, and the courts criticised for failing to enforce their orders. Pressure from the fathers' movement has influenced the UK Government, which published a draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill in February 2005 This aims to widen judges' powers in dealing with parents who obstruct their ex-partner from seeing their children.
Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) takes a proactive approach to generating awareness of fathers' issues. It generates considerable publicity through planned actions e.g. throwing purple (its campaign colour) flour at the Prime Minister, and Batman landing on Buckingham Palace. It organises stylish and colourful dress-up demonstrations as part of its campaign of direct action. Their antics have been described as totally irresponsible and yet the attendant publicity, coordinated by Matt O'Connor, has managed to inform the British public of an issue that others had failed to do hitherto.
Government ministers for a long time denied that there is a problem until 2004. Lord Filkin , the family justice minister announced at the beginning of April 2004 that there will be a green paper outlining proposals intended to improve the methods used to settle child residence disputes This paper, Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parents’ Responsibilities is seen by activists to not seriously address the fundamental issues, particularly the courts' generation of inter-parental conflict by making it necessary to have adversarial proceedings.
F4J achieved its main objective of bringing to the issues to the public's attention, creating fear in men who have not yet faced the dilemmas of divorce that their relationship with their children could be devastated if they fell out with their partners. By having generated this fear, campaigners are optimistic that governments must now be seen to be actually doing something that will palliate public concerns and fears. However there is also a "wait and see" mentality being applied within Government departments, as it is the judiciary, by using recent precedents, who have the greatest power to bring about change. The success of the charity, FNF, for instance, in advising members to act as a litigant in person and to work towards shared residency court orders, has resulted in changing judicial attitudes. It is capitalising on that success and has spawned an industry of providing information and help to fathers (and, increasingly, mothers ) facing family break-own.
The UK Labour Party has this to say on the issue in its 2005 Election Manifesto:
There are issues to do with the non-enforcement of Contact Orders - orders made by family court judges which oblige the so-called resident recalcitrant parent (usually the mother) to let the children spend some time with their dad. Such orders are not required if the mother is cooperative about letting the children see their dad, but generally speaking no action is taken if such an order is made and the mother is uncooperative.
The main issue, however, is to do with the adversarial nature of the system, in which most parents are dissatisfied, according to a UK government report published in 2004, and the only winners are lawyers.
Also justified on the grounds of administrative convenience is the UK system whereby child benefit is only payable to one parent, even when both separated parents provide substantial portions of the childcare. In a Court of Appeal judgment in February 2005 , in a landmark (HOCKENJOS v. SOS JGT) ruling, Lord Justice Ward declared "To allow a father nothing for the maintenance of the child when he shares care virtually equally is so unfair that no reasonable secretary of state should countenance it." He said that the practice of making just one parent responsible for a child under the benefits system was "grotesque... It is degrading to fathers who actually - and lovingly - tend to their children. A law so framed is so far removed from reality that it brings the law into disrepute and justifiably fuels the passions of protesting fathers."
It was defeated by with 168 Ayes and 283 Noes voted by MPs.
They reported in March 2002 in a document called "Making Contact Work".
It called for "urgent reform". It was a sort of Hutton Inquiry of family law reform. It is well known that Wall LJ was very vexed that nothing happened for a long time.
The Facilitation and Enforcement stakeholder group was however created to discuss the CASC report. Stakeholders included a couple of district judges, a solicitor, a barrister, CAFCASS, Women's Aid, various academics, mediators...
The report went to Minister Margaret Hodge in June 2003 and the response was a Green Paper in 2004.
CASC, and the stakeholder Group could be called Prong No. 1 of reform, which was started off by the politicians, after pressure from several directions, including from the campaigning charity FNF.
The impression formed by many involved at the time was that the government had no true appetite for reform, and hoped that the problem would just go away.
However, the true size of Fathers 4 Justice is a matter of opinion. While the organization claims to have over 25,000 members in 5 countries, its main base of operations is the UK and there appear to be fewer than 20 actual members who conduct regular civil disobedience actions - namely Jason Hatch and Jolly Stansby.
The success of their visible campaign remains to be seen. While they are a fixture in the UK, they have yet to pull off a successful action in the United States or in Canada. The Canadian branch of Fathers 4 Justice has existed for 15 months and has yet to make national headlines.
He has a strong alliance, made up of senior members of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), Hamish Cameron the child psychiatrist, Fathers Direct and the campaigning charity Families Need Fathers. Ex-president of the UK Family Division of the courts Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has said she supports this plan.
Observers indicate that there is currently a tug-of-war between Oliver Cyriax's early interventions pilot project — which would be run by PESF (Parenting and Education Support Forum) in a low key way, probably at Wells Street (the family court in central London) — and another plan, created by the civil servants.
The worry about the civil servants is that they are not expert in family matters at all, and their pilot plan might fail. The civil servant behind it, Bruce Clark, comes from a child protection background. He is said to be the man who drew up the discredited Munchausen's guidelines, and not a natural champion of fathers rights' that campaigners demand, in particular to ensure that children will have adequate parenting time with their fathers.
Fathers' rights campaigners urgently want an "Early Interventions Pilot Plan" to test and develop compulsory mediation and parenting plans, etc. backed up by a strict enforcement regime, "Facilitation and Enforcement" as the stakeholder group was called.
It is not clear who will win the tug-of-war , and campaigners argue that both initiatives are worthwhile. Duncan Fisher of Fathers Direct says Oliver Cyriax's PESF scheme could start immediately, although it is known that civil servants and politicians are prone to call for numbers of rounds of committee meetings and consultations, sometimes indefinitely.
The Liberal Democrats, the third major UK political party, has framed the issue in terms of domestic violence, but yet has to communicate its ideas widely.
And, there is considerable confusion surrounding the issue of "safety" by politicians in the context that is used to deny parental access, particularly as it is a fact that most children's injuries occur in the living room at home, according to statistics published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), and fewer malicious injuries to children are done by fathers than by mothers, according to an NSPCC report in 2000 called Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect , which stated that "most violence occurred at home (78 per cent) with mothers being primarily responsible in 49 per cent of cases and fathers in 40 per cent of cases".
Lord Justice Wall: A few years ago I went to address the annual general meeting of Families Need Fathers and I was actually very impressed by the strength of their feelings and their emotions. The message I gave them - and I was not the only one doing it - was that the way to succeed, the way to get into the system, is not to sloganise but actually to get on the committees, get in with government where there is lots going on and people want to consult you, and respond to Making Contact Work. We had an excellent response from Families Need Fathers, part of which we incorporated, and I think Families Need Fathers has become a key player in the debate about on-going contact and joint residence. We make progress with rational argument; we do not make progress by sloganising.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss: I cannot meet Fathers4Justice because they are not being sensible. As long as they throw condoms with purple powder and send a double-decker bus with a loudspeaker outside my private house in the West Country there is no point in talking to them; they are not going to talk, they are going to tell me.
Those present included Rt Hon Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss DBE, Rt Hon Lord Justice Wall and Hon Mr Justice Munby, His Honour Judge Meston QC, District Judge Michael Walker and District Judge Nicholas Crichton.
Lady Justice Hale (in Re K (Contact: Psychiatric Report)  2 FLR 432) stated:
Since The Children Act requires that the views of the child need to be made known to the court, fathers' rights campaigners claim that the mother sometimes alienates a child against his or her father and that this then supports the mother's case in court to banish the father. Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the Family division, (the top UK family court judge) stated (in Re L, V, M, H (Contact: Domestic Violence)  2 FLR 334 at 351):
Bob Geldof, and others, argue that without substantial changes, the application of current British custody law will lead to a generation of feral children. Geldof has written:
Fathers' rights campaigners question the assumption that it can ever be legitimate for the state to collude in disrupting a loving and natural relationship between a father and his children. Bob Geldof has written evocatively on this subject: I cannot even say the words. A huge emptiness would well in my stomach, a deep loathing for those who would deign to tell me they would ALLOW me ACCESS to my children — those I loved above all, those I created, those who gave meaning to everything I did, those that were the very best of us two and the absolute physical manifestation of our once blinding love. Who the fuck are they that they should ALLOW anything? REASONABLE CONTACT!!! Is the law mad? Am I a criminal? An ABSENT parent. A RESIDENT/NON-RESIDENT parent. This Lawspeak which you all speak so fluently, so unthinkingly, so hurtfully, must go.
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