British Family Justice Review: No Equality For Dads

England’s review of family courts continues the country’s long-term discrimination against fathers.  Here’s a summary of the interim report to the Family Justice Review Panel that’s the first of three legislative updates in this post (Family Law Week).

Fathers’ rights advocates had understood the Tory part of the coalition government to have promised, prior to the election that showed Labor the door, to guarantee fathers contact with their children post-divorce.  But that, as they say, was then and this is now.

Now there is no mention of fathers’ equal access to their children or any pretense of gender equality in the document.  It seems that when it comes to fathers’ rights in family courts or children’s rights to meaningful relationships with their dads, nothing will change.

And it should come as no surprise that it’s all couched in the language of the best interests of children.  Never mind that children do better post-divorce with two parents in their lives.  Never mind that mothers commit twice the abuse and neglect of children that fathers do.  Never mind that children don’t want to  lose one parent in the divorce process.  Never mind that studies show that children want both parents in their lives post-divorce.  And never mind that the current system accomplishes the opposite by effectively separating children from their fathers.

No, that’s all rational and fact-based and therefore has no place in the British government’s interim report on the Family Justice system.  As far as the government is concerned, the status quo regarding fathers and children is just fine, thank you.

The only exception to that rule is that the report spcifically mentions that non-custodial parents (90% of whom are fathers) can have their “visitation” satisfied via Skype.  “Just send the checks regularly and view your kid for 10 minutes on your computer screen.  That’s all the fathering you need to do and all your child needs.”  Such is the message to dads from the interim report.

Remember, it’s all in the best interests of the children.

The report makes some good recommendations about technical matters such as unifying the court system and ensuring that a single judge hears a divorce case from start to finish.  Those are good enough ideas that one is left wondering why they haven’t been implemented earlier.

But the bottom line for dads is that, beyond the money they provide, they’re still considered of no importance by the British family court system.

Here’s an entertaining article about a fathers’ rights advocate accosting Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in his driveway with some very pertinent questions about the interim report (Telegraph, 7/3/11). 

”How come, Mr Clarke, it states quite clearly in that review that fathers will not be given equal or shared rights over their children?

”Isn’t that against the law, Mr Clarke, gender discrimination?”

Strange, he didn’t get an answer.

Less blatant but still noteworthy is this attorney’s website informing us that, in Indiana, it will now be considered child abuse for a child to witness a domestic violence incident.  Any parent so doing will be entitled to only supervised contact with the child and will have to complete a “batterer’s intervention” program.

Indiana law for both paternity (I.C. § 31-14-14-15) and dissolution actions (I.C. § 31-17-2-8.3) currently creates a rebuttable presumption that the court shall order a noncustodial parent’s parenting time to be supervised if the noncustodial parent has been convicted of a domestic or family violence crime and said crime was witnessed or heard by the child.   A new subsection will be added to both the paternity and dissolution laws on July 1, 2011.  The new subsections will state that the court may require the noncustodial parent to complete a batterer”s intervention program certified by the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a condition of granting the noncustodial parent unsupervised parenting time.

What’s the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence?  Well, it’s an organization that, if it recognizes female-on-male violence at all, it doesn’t let on about it.  It also fingers the “patriarchy” as the primary culprit in causing domestic violence.

So it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what the coalition’s concept of “batterer intervention” must be.  “Batterers” will learn that any affront to one’s wife or partner is considered “battering;” men have the power in intimate relationships; men learn from early childhood that it’s OK to hit a woman if it maintains their power in a relationship; the only way to undo the above is to remake society so that “feminine” values predominate over “masculine” ones; non-violence is one of those “feminine” values.

So it’s the law in the State of Indiana that any man who is found, on whatever evidence, to have committed some form of DV, regardless of how slight, must now “learn” the above.  The fact that none of the above is true seems to be of no concern to the state legislature.

Finally we come here to Ohio in which the budget crunch has gotten so bad that they’re actually giving men behind on child support a slight break (NECN, 6/29/11).  Very slight.  This summary tells us that those men can now be sentenced to “community control, such as halfway houses instead of prison time.”

Well, thank heaven for small favors.  It’s too bad that entirely sensible change in the law was brought about by a desire to save money, but at least it’s now the law.  Now child support obligors can stay out of jail and look for work instead of being in the one place in which it’s impossible to provide the support their child needs.

Thanks to Don for the heads-up on the Ohio law.

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