Guardian Article Shows Way Toward Family Court Reform

If The Guardian is pro-father, can change be far behind? One of the United Kingdom’s most liberal publications, The Guardian has in the past had little time for the legitimate claims of fathers. But this article in the paper’s Sunday incarnation, The Observer, gets a lot right (The Guardian, 9/26/10).

It’s a piece about what everyone seems to think will be major changes to divorce and custody cases in the U.K. By autumn of 2011, the government’s review of family law will be complete and its recommendations made. What parliament will do with them of course remains to be seen, but from what we can gather from several publications and Lord Wall’s recent speech to Families Need Fathers, if anti-father advocates are having their usual toxic effect, it’s not obvious. Maybe they’re keeping their powder dry, the better to threaten MPs standing for reelection. Who knows?

But whatever the case, the article doesn’t channel the anti-dad claims we so often hear when it looks like fathers might actually achieve modestly greater access to their children. In fact it begins with the experience of a father who came home from a business trip to find

“My wife had changed the locks on the house I was paying the mortgage on, and my kids were inside with her new bloke.”

That was two years ago and he still hasn’t seen his two children. That’s not the way articles begin that don’t support fathers’ rights. Nor is this:

[N]ow there is growing evidence that family law has spectacularly failed to keep up with the changing role of men within the home and that children are suffering as a result. Judges are accused of stereotyping, making a legal presumption in favour of the mother and awarding meagre access rights to dads.

The result is that children lose their fathers and that comes less from fathers not caring about their kids than from a legal system that sees them, if at all, as afterthoughts, second-class citizens.

The government estimates that one in four children has separated or divorced parents. Despite all the evidence that children thrive best when they enjoy the support and love of two parents, only about 11% of children from broken homes will go on to spend equal amounts of time with each parent.

A significant number of fathers, some estimate as many as 40%, will within two years of the split lose all contact with their children. Previously this had been seen as a sign of male fecklessness, but now it is also being recognised that dads are being pushed away, not only by the residual conflict with ex-partners, but also by a legal system that works against them maintaining relationships with their children.

Finally, an article that says outright that family courts actively interfere in father-child relationships! For how many years have advocates for fathers and children been harping on that very thing?

And, as Adrienne Burgess, director of research for the Fatherhood Institute, points out, it’s not just the courts that must change, but mothers as well. After all, what we all know is that courts can order anything they want, but when litigants are determined to thwart those orders, there’s often little judges can do.

Burgess makes the point that shared parenting requires more than just more enlightened judges. “It’s interesting that in the past 30 years, men’s involvement with their children has gone up 800-fold, but there are fewer father-headed lone-parent families than ever as it’s overwhelmingly mums who get the children.

“The courts may prioritise mothers to a ridiculous extent, but it’s also going to be hard for us women to give up. True shared parenting means not getting your own way, which is tough…”

All true. But the nature of the anti-dad prejudice is cultural, which manifests itself in countless ways. Learned roles, learned behavior account for essentially all of the bias against fathers. That’s manifested in laws and the behavior of judges; it’s manifested in the behavior of some mothers and that of some fathers; it’s manifested in the way children are taught; it’s manifested in the way our mass communications media describe fathers and mothers. That’s why articles like the one in The Guardian are of such value; the simple truth, clearly told, can be of more importance than all the laws ever passed.

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