September 10th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In England, the anti-father forces are gathering for their fight against paternal involvement in children’s lives. This of course has been going on ever since the Cameron/Clegg government announced its intention to ignore the non-recommendations of its own commission that looked into the matter of child custody and, against all the odds, found everything regarding father-child access to be fine and dandy, thank you. As in so many countries, fathers in England are routinely kicked to the curb by family courts. First, they’re denied primary custody in all but 10% of cases.
Those 90% of fathers whom courts render mere visitors to their children find that even that modest status is too much for mothers and the courts that do their bidding. In England as in so many places, if a mother wants to impede or deny access by the child to its father, she can do so with all but complete impunity. Partly as a result of the behavior of family judges, 33% of British children have little or no contact with their fathers.
So the government announced plans to propose legislation to change current family law to make it clear that both parents were to have a meaningful relationship with their children post-divorce. Now, as changes to custody law go, that’s about as modest a proposal as I can imagine. It mandates nothing, it doesn’t require equality in anything and indeed, if it were enacted, may well not achieve even the slightest change to the status quo. After all, what does a “meaningful relationship” mean? I suspect a once-a-year wave by the child to the father from a passing bus would be deemed sufficient by some learned judges. Fathers in England have been fighting for their rights to see their children for years, and the government’s proposal falls far short of ensuring the type of real relationships children need with their fathers. It may be better than nothing, but it’s nowhere near to good enough.
But that doesn’t stop the anti-dad crowd from opposing it, and they trot out their usual long-debunked claims to do so. This article reports on two organizations’ fretting about the dire dangers of fathers having access to their children and the proposal that might move that ball millimeters down the field (Family Law Week, 9/7/12). As I’ve said before, their claims are so patently false, it’s amazing they can make them with a straight face, but hey, you play the cards you’re dealt.
Amazingly, both The Law Society and the Office of the Commissioner for Children proudly proclaim their fealty to the idea of father-child involvement. Neither, however, manages to find any instance in which the law might be changed to actually effect such a thing. They both claim they’re all for fathers and children, they just don’t want to do anything to bring it about.
The Society does not accept the premise that legislation is needed at all.
It says that courts already operate on the basis that the welfare of the child is likely to be enhanced by the continued involvement of both parents, and there is no evidence of bias towards either fathers or mothers.
Hmm. How many ways can you be wrong in so few words? There’s “no evidence of bias towards… mothers?” So 90% primary maternal custody is evidence of what, dark matter? What about the common refusal to enforce visitation? The Society doesn’t mention either. It simply makes the bald and frankly false assertion and leaves it at that.
The Society moves on to explain that the proposed change would lead to “confusion” on the part of parents and the belief that the new law would require equal parenting. It claims “the media” have encouraged this misconception. Funny, I’ve read many articles in the British press about the government’s proposal and not one of them said it required or even suggested equal parenting time.
The simple fact is that the Society lacks coherent reasons for opposing the change and reaches all the way to Australia for this particular canard. Ever since Australia’s Family Law Act was amended in 2006, anti-father forces claimed fathers generally were “confused,” believing the act mandated equal parenting time. It didn’t and of course only anecdotal instances of paternal confusion on the matter were ever cited, but that didn’t stop those who oppose even the most modest improvements to children’s rights to see their fathers. In short, The Law Society decided it liked that argument from the Land Down Under, and used it. After all, how much confusion can there be given the fact that there’s not even a bill before Parliament yet? That, plus the fact that the Children’s Minister has said that the proposal is “categorically not about giving parents equal right to time with their children” would convince any objective viewer that the proposal is what it says – about a meaningful relationship between both parents and their children. But of course The Law Society is anything but objective in the matter.
What both The Law Society and the OCC agree on is that the well-being of the child is paramount. Interestingly, they also both agree that, in general, children’s welfare is advanced by having continued contact with both parents post-divorce, and that children suffer from divorce because of the loss of the non-custodial parent. Indeed, The Law Society quotes with approval one case in which the judge said as much.
That of course raises the obvious point that, since children’s well-being is endangered by losing a parent, a result that current custody practice accomplishes with astonishing regularity, and since child well-being is paramount in custody cases, maybe courts should do more to ensure continued contact between children and both parents. And that of course is precisely what the government proposes to do, but both The Law Society and the OCC oppose it. Someone should acquaint them with their own positions on the matter so they can get their stories straight.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s opposition to healthy father-child relationships is more of the same, with this exception:
Parental responsibility is now available to most fathers through a range of routes. Furthermore even if a father does not have parental responsibility, it is expected that he should be consulted in decisions concerning his child.
Yes, fathers can retain some measure of responsibility post-divorce, but that’s not the point. The point is access and a healthy relationship with the child. That’s what fathers and children lose because courts fail to deem father-child relationships important enough to do much to support them. Since it’s children’s well-being that’s so important, you’d think these people would notice that whatever responsibility a father may have, it little benefits children if they never see him. And speaking of responsibility, the fact that the OCC expects “that he should be consulted in decisions concerning his child” is worse than useless. Expect anything you want, but that doesn’t make it happen, and it’s long been one of fathers’ complaints that, even though they’re ordered to do so by courts, mothers routinely ignore fathers when important parenting decisions are made.
The objections are spurious, but I suspect they’ll eventually carry the day. Cameron and Clegg have done nothing for fathers and I see no reason for that record to change. In fact, my guess is that nothing will change anywhere until those of us fighting for the legitimate rights of fathers and children make our power felt at the ballot box. When members of Congress, state legislatures and parliaments learn to fear our electoral power, they’ll start discovering the virtues of father-child relationships. Until then, we’ll continue to see nonsense like that bandied about by The Law Society and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner