Should fathers have rights?
Fathers currently have no rights in law and are not legally recognised in law. However there is a notion that fathers deserve no rights. In fact this was the outcome on the Family Justice Review Report in 2011 which concluded that fathers had no rights and deserved no rights. F4J supports the human rights of mothers, fathers and children. To apply the law in a discriminatory way against one parent on the basis of their gender is unjust and morally wrong. If race and sex discrimination is illegal, why is it acceptable against fathers?
Surely the rights of the child are paramount?
As soon as separating parents enter the family justice system, the state usurps the authority of those parents. The rights of the child are then what the state and courts determine them to be and are viewed independently of the parents. We believe you cannot separate a child’s right from its parents rights. A child’s rights can only be exercised through it’s parents. However In the absence of those defined rights, the courts apply the law in a fundamentally discriminatory way which treats fathers as second-class parents and a risk to their children. If the right’s of the child truly are paramount, why are 1 in 3 children growing up without a father?
The government and courts say they act in the ‘child’s best interests’.
The ‘child’s bests interests’ mantra is a grotesque, fraudulent and meaningless claim deployed as a smokescreen to protect the courts from greater scrutiny and accountability. Despite repeatedly challenging the government and the courts for evidence to support this claim, none has ever been provided. The claim is made without substantiation and is used to create the impression that the court system somehow works for the benefit of the children that pass through it. If the government was genuinely concerned about the welfare of children it would have taken steps to measure the outcomes for them, yet no records have been kept.
In 2003 the Department for Constitutional Affairs said, ‘In the absence of data, the identification of what might be best for any particular child in any particular case is fraught with difficulty’. Mike Stein, Co-director of the Social Work Research and Development Unit at the University of York said, ‘Every child has thereby become ‘the subject of an uncontrolled experiment’. When F4J Founder Matt O’Connor challenged the author of the Family Justice Review Report in 2011, David Norgrove feebly responded that ‘judges think they are acting in the child’s best interests’.
What is Fathers4Justice’s position on Cafcass?
No organisation has been more condemned than the court welfare service CAFCASS. The very first Fathers4Justice direct action protest was at the CAFCASS office in Ipswich in Feburary 2003 when the door of the office was painted purple. Three protestors including F4J Founder Matt O’Connor were prosecuted for criminal damage as a result.
CAFCASS was established in 2001 with a brief to to safeguard and promote the welfare of children; give advice to the court about any application made to it in such proceedings and make provision for the children to be represented in such proceedings. The haste with which CAFCASS was established was, according to a House of Commons report, “a serious misjudgement”; and breached ministers’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (House of Commons Committee, 2003).
CAFCASS came to be “perceived as the enemy of a quality service to children” (House of Commons Committee, 2003).
The 2003 DCA Select Committee report commented that “CAFCASS’ failure to establish even a minimum training and professional development strand appears to us to be one of their more serious shortcomings” (Department of Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, 2003c). Barely a single OFSTED report has found the service to be adequate and the organisation has been beset by institutional failings which have cause a huge backlog in cases and unacceptable delays to private law cases.
In 2004 the Conservative Party pledged to scrap CAFCASS but after the 2010 election, reneged on that commitment.
Family Court Advisors habitually express views beyond their professional expertise; they ignore CAFCASS guidelines on report writing; they do not differentiate between evidence and opinion; reports are poorly written, badly spelt and ungrammatical, exposing a lack of basic education amongst FCAs. In 2010, NAPO the union representing many CAFCASS officers produced a press release followed by a parliamentary briefing paper claiming that CAFCASS was in meltdown, and pointing out that the head office budget had increased threefold while delays lengthened and staff morale collapsed (NAPO, 2010).
In September 2012 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee launched an enquiry into CAFCASS; in November it reported; dramatically it proclaimed CAFCASS to be “not fit for purpose”.
According to our own records, CAFCASS has been complicit in at least one child abuse cover up in 2011 and the international abduction of a child from the United States in 2012. It has been universally condemned by OFSTED and continues to fail tens of thousands of children every year.
In 2007 CAFCASS Chief Executive Anthony Douglas confessed to F4J Founder Matt O’Connor that he was aware that the organisation was ‘not fit for purpose’ but refused to go public on the matter despite O’Connor’s requests. In 2008 he received a CBE for his work in family justice. In 2013 Fathers4Justice and Children4Justice abandoned all dialogue with the organisation on the grounds that it was meaningless and futile.
The majority of parents make arrangements themselves and don’t go to court.
The Government and some academics consistently claim that 90% of parents sort out post-separation child care between themselves; only 10% go to court. Estimates of the number of parents and their children who use the system vary wildly: the Family Justice Review panel’s interim report stated that half a million mothers, fathers and children go through the family courts every year (Family Justice Review Panel, 2011a); Harriet Harman put the figure at over 1 million (Harman, 2006); senior family judge Sir Paul Coleridge estimated that at any one time “3.8m children are to a greater or lesser extent caught up in the family justice system” (Coleridge P. , 2012).
CAFCASS represented 43,759 children in 2011 which represents 95% of children in private law cases; 46,000 children is 21% of 215,000: double the official figure. Whatever the reality, is much higher than the government concedes. The courts have created a culture, which extends far beyond the courtroom, in which mothers get custody and fathers get visitation. This arrangement is not stable, and deteriorates over time.
Only a minority of fathers are denied access to their children.
This is figure is often quoted in an attempt to diminish the scale of the crisis in family breakdown. The figure of 10% is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. Everybody knows somebody affected by family breakdown. The statistics themselves are testimony to the scale of this problem. The 10% figure derives from a misrepresented report by Alison Blackwell and Fiona Dawes from October 2003, Non-Resident Parental Contact, which was based on data from the National Statistics Omnibus Survey and produced for the Department for Constitutional Affairs. They quoted a very small sample of 961 parents and found that about 11% of those for whom contact was working had court-ordered arrangements for contact at the time that they were questioned. It did not take into account the majority of cases where contact wasn’t working.
Even the Family Justice Review panel’s report stated that half a million mothers, fathers and children go through the family courts every year. Sir Paul Coleridge estimated that 3.8 million children were affected by the courts. It is difficult to calculate the real figure because we don’t know how many cohabiting couples separate each year – unlike a divorce there is no record. There is no data recorded by the courts and the system knows nothing about itself.
97% of fathers applications end up with contact, therefore there is no need to change the law.
The majority of ‘Contact Orders’ establish fathers as second-class parents. Even the word ‘contact’ is offensive to many good, loving parents battling to see their children. There are many forms of ‘contact’ including indirect, supervised or very limited weekend contact.
Most applications result in an order of some sort, but none of the orders are monitored and few are enforced. Many fail to provide anything that could be considered to provide adequate levels of contact. Many applications are abandoned because fathers run out of money, suffer ill health or the ability to simply carry on. The cost of going to court can range from £10-£50,000 in a process that can take years. Many fathers cannot afford to go to court and spend thousands of pounds on a court order which has a 50% chance of being broken and will not be enforced by a judge. One study found contact decreases over time and breaks down entirely in over 20% of cases within 5 years (Simpson, McCarthy, & Walker, 1995). This has been confirmed by other studies (Bradshaw, Stimson, Skinner, & Williams, 1999) (Peacey & Hunt, 2008).
The law cannot state a presumption of any kind without incurring unacceptable risk of damage to children.
It already does, for mums. In fact, there is also a presumption of contact for mums new partner who is subject to no assessment whatsoever. Mum can bring home the next Ian Brady or Roy Whiting whilst the father can be denied access to his children with immediate effect. His only right is to apply to a court for contact.
If a mother denies a father contact with his children there is nothing a judge can do.
Incorrect. A judge can transfer residence from one parent to the other when faced with a recalcitrant parent. If one parent repeatedly and deliberately breaks the terms of a court order, then they should face jail. Some people argue you can’t jail mothers but we already send the mothers of truanting children to prison. On average 9,500 mothers a year are prosecuted for condoning truancy, but we do not prosecute mothers for committing the far graver crime of preventing paternal contact with impunity. Contact denial is a serious form of child abuse and children should not be used as human shields. The lack of consequences for those that deny their children a relationship with the other parent, simply enables and encourages a systemic pattern of behaviour in the system resulting in the epidemic of fatherlessness we see today.
How many children lose contact with their fathers in the family courts?
We estimate that at least 200 children lose contact with their fathers every day in the family courts. Total estimates for the number of children losing contact with a parent following family breakdown range from 15% to 28% (Blackwell & Dawes, 2003), up to 40% within two years (Bradshaw & Millar, 1991), to as high as 60% overall (Butler-Sloss, 2003). F4J estimates that 1,000 children a week lose all or significant contact with a parent.
Didn’t the introduction of Shared Parenting in Australia increased delays?
This question infers that the British family justice system is somehow immune to delay. Cases in British courts are catastrophic and can last entire childhoods and future cuts to legal aid will mean most parents will be unrepresented. The court system is in meltdown. However, the claims made about the Australian system have been comprehensively demolished by Patrick Parkinson, an Australian professor of family law. Litigation on child custody cases in Australia did not go up: it went down by a third. A study by former family court judge Richard Chisholm surveyed 24,000 parents and 500 grandparents and found that more than 70% of couples in shared parenting arrangements said it was working well.
Gingerbread claim Fathers4Justice are anti-single parents. Is that correct?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us either are or were, single parents. However we recognise the challenges faced by single parents and believe that the best parent for a child is the involvement of both parents in that child’s upbringing. Keeping fathers involved in the lives of their children statistically improves the life chances for those children and keeps them out of poverty.
Fathers4Justice supports open justice. Wouldn’t open courts damage children?
Firstly, fair and open justice belongs to the people, not the judiciary or government. Secret courts are an affront to open justice and our democratic principles. There is not a shred of empirical evidence to suggest ‘open courts’ would damage children. In fact in many jurisdictions around the world (In many US states for example) family court hearings are heard in public. The secrecy surrounding family courts is chilling and has more in common with the regimes in North Korea and Iran than a progressive, modern democracy. These courts undermine deep-seated principles of common law and open justice by holding hearings in secret and threatening and bullying parents with criminal contempt in the event they speak out about their cases. This code of silence or ‘Omerta’ only serves to protect the courts from scrutiny, not the child.
Lord Denning said in 1967 that “Every court should be open to every subject of the Queen. I think it is one of the essentials of justice being done in the community. Every judge, in a sense, is on trial to see that he does his job properly. Reporters are there, representing the public, to see that magistrates and judges behave themselves. Children’s courts should also be open… the public should know what happens to the child and proceedings should never be conducted behind closed doors.”
If the family courts believe open justice does not work they should test the concept and measure the outcomes for children using the open justice system. If there is nothing to hide, the judiciary should have nothing to fear from open justice. Many believe however that the scandal of our secret family courts and the continuing cover up will rival that of Hillsborough when it eventually becomes public. As a side note, closed courts were introduced under the Administration of Justice Act 1960, not to protect children’s interests, but to protect adults’ privacy.
Finally, there is no inspection of the family courts which tens of thousands of families pass through every year. If there is a ‘duty of candour’ in the NHS, why is there no such duty of candour in the family courts? There is nothing human, civilised, compassionate or humane about the treatment of families in our courts. The only way justice can work is if we let the light in and expose them to the disinfectant of sunlight.
Why are so many Solicitors, Barristers and Judges opposed to the Fathers4Justice proposals?
In one word, money. F4J is a lone voice swimming against a current of vested interests. If the proposals in our Blueprint were introduced they would overnight, end the conflict driven court system that has created an entire industry around the separation of children from their parents.
Why has Fathers4Justice rejected the government proposals for Shared Parenting?
Fathers4Justice has rejected the coalition governments proposals on shared parenting for the following reasons:
- The proposals introduce a dangerous and discriminatory assumption that all fathers pose a risk to their children.
- The proposals are meaningless without the enforcement of court orders. Currently 50% of all court orders are broken.
- A ‘meaningful relationship’ is not defined and presents the opportunity for further litigation.
- There is no right in law for fathers to see their children.
- There is no right in law for grandparents to see their grandchildren.
- There is no presumption of shared or equal parenting.
- There is no commitment to reform the family justice system, end secret courts and replace them with an open, transparent and accountable system of justice.
- There is no reform of the Child Support Agency to ensure both parents are treated equally in the eyes of the law and that benefits are divided equally according to the division of parenting time.
- The proposals breach the Conservative Party’s pre-election promises made to Fathers4Justice in 2012 and are significantly less than those proposed by the Conservative Party in response to the Green Paper of 2004.
- Finally, you don’t need a report to tell you your house is on fire. That’s why Fathers4Justice is sounding the alarm.
Why haven’t the government or church done anything about fatherlessness?
There are many reasons. Fatherlessness is a taboo issue politically. Ian Duncan-Smith has said it is ‘political suicide’ for any MP to raise this issue in parliament. All the main parties have denigrated and undermined fatherhood by demonising dads as ‘deadbeats’ as it plays well amongst the largest constituency of floating voters, single mothers. However, there is also a sense that they are apologising for a patriarchal past. The Conservative Party was badly scarred as a result of the ‘back to basics’ farrago in the early 90’s which was seen to attack single mothers. Equally the Archbishop of York has said the Church of England is equally uncomfortable tackling this issue because of it’s past treatment of mothers and it’s preoccupation with it’s own internal struggles. The General Synod hasn’t debated family breakdown since 1993. The Catholic Church has said it would be inappropriate for it to tackle the issue in the wake of the child abuse scandal. On this very serious social issue which touches so many families, there has been a catastrophic breach in the most basic duty of care to protect children and families during separation by the establishment.
What are the consequences of mass fatherlessness?
The economic and social costs of family breakdown and mass fatherlessness are catastrophic and cannot be underestimated. The direct cost of family breakdown to the UK economy has been estimated at £44 billion a year or £1,470 per taxpayer (Relationships Foundation, 2012). This economic black hole is larger than the entire annual defence budget for the UK. The epidemic of fatherlessness has also been mirrored by an explosion in anti-social behaviour, gang crime, and young offending with 1 in 4 teenagers now having a criminal record. The perverse paradox of family law is that many of the children whose interests it claim to protect, will end up back in court as juvenile offenders 20 years later. Britain now has the highest rate of young offending in Western Europe and locks up more children than any other European county. Mass fatherlessness is leading to the worst possible economic and social outcomes for children and families in the UK. Dysfunctional policies are creating a dysfunctional society.
Why does Fathers4Justice oppose the CSA?
Child Support is a tax on fatherhood. Fathers who fail to pay the CSA have driving licenses and passports removed, some are sent to jail and many tragically commit suicide. By paying child support you are supporting a broken, inefficient and unjust system that discriminates against you on the basis of your gender. It does not support children as the money goes straight to the government, not dependants. Child support sustains and encourages a system that denies children access to their fathers. The reality is that without equal rights and responsibilities for fathers, the child support system is doomed to failure even as the government prepares to replace the CSA with a new Child Maintenance Service. As the law stands, a father can abandon his children tomorrow, provided he pays.
Does Fathers4Justice think it is right to break the law?
Sometimes when democracy fails, new laws are made by breaking old ones, restoring balance and justice to society. In the context of civil disobedience, it is law-breakers who demonstrate the greatest respect and understanding for the law. Our democracy was forged by courageous law breakers from the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the Suffragettes. Lord Hoffman said ‘we have a long and honourable tradition of law breaking in this country.’ Though Fathers4Justice is now making history by being part of that tradition, it is worth pointing out that in 7 out of 7 jury trials relating to peaceful non-violent direct action, campaigners were found not guilty.
There are many other ‘Fathers4Justice’ groups around the world. Are these related to the UK group?
There is only one Fathers 4 Justice campaign group which is the one started by the founder Matt O’Connor in the UK in 2001. There are many copycat groups around the world who have no relationship with F4J and have little or no resemblance to our campaign in terms of approach, message, campaign.
How is Fathers4Justice funded?
F4J was initially funded by seed money from it’s founder Matt O’Connor when it was established in 2001. Since then it has become a successful self-funding model generating income from registrations and merchandise sales. The organisation refuses to take money from government, solicitors or other organisations that might compromise the integrity of its campaign.