The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

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Read an Excerpt From Phyllis Chesler’s Book — ‘Mothers On Trial’ By Phyllis Chesler

In domestic law on August 8, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Thank you Phyllis and Fox News for Getting this out.

Amplify’d from www.foxnews.com
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Editor’s note: Fox News Opinion presents the introduction and an excerpt from the completely revised second edition of Phyllis Chesler’s book “Mothers on Trial”: 

This is a book that cried out to be written. I first heard that cry in the mid-1970s and, after years of research, published the first edition of “Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody” in 1986. At the time, the book created a firestorm and was widely, if controversially, received.

In the last twenty-five years, there have been some improvements, but matters have decidedly worsened. The book you are holding has been revised and updated and brought into the twenty-first century.

Myths about custody still abound. Most people still believe that the courts favor mothers over fathers—who are discriminated against because they are men—and that this is how it’s always been.

This is not true.

For more than five thousand years, men—fathers—were legally *entitled* to sole custody of their children. Women—mothers—were *obliged* to bear, rear, and economically support their children. No mother was ever legally entitled to custody of her own child.

During the nineteenth century, pro-child crusaders gradually convinced the state that young children required maternal “tenderness”—but only if their mothers were white, married, Christian, and moral. The children of American slaves, of Native American Indians, of immigrant, impoverished, sick, or “immoral” parents—all were untenderly appropriated by slave owners and by the state. They were clapped into orphanages, workhouses, and reformatories or farmed out into apprenticeships for “their own good.”

By the turn of the century, a custodially challenged American mother enjoyed an equal right to custody in only nine states and the District of Columbia—and only if a state judge found her morally and economically worthy of motherhood. Until the 1920s, no American mother was entitled to any child support. Since then, few have received any.

The maternal presumption was never interpreted as a maternal right. The maternal presumption has always been viewed as secondary to the child’s “best interests”—as determined by a judge. This “best interest” was always seen as synonymous with “paternal rights.”

The contemporary fathers’ rights (or fathers’ supremacist) movement, which has been wildly successful in instituting joint custody and false concepts such as “parental alienation syndrome,” is also a throwback to the darkest days of patriarchy. It is not the modern, feminist, progressive movement it claims to be. Individual men may indeed be good fathers, and, like good mothers, they too may encounter discrimination and injustice in the court system. What I am talking about here is an organized political, educational, and legal movement against motherhood that has turned the clock back.

This book is about what it means to be a “good enough” mother and about the trials such mothers endure when they are custodially challenged. This book is not about happy marriages or happy divorces—it is about marriages and divorces that erupt into wild and bitter custody battles.

By now, many books have been written about the role of caring and responsible fathers, about male longings for a child, and about a child’s need for fathering. This book clarifies the difference between how a “good enough” mother mothers and a “good enough” father fathers. It clarifies the difference between male custodial rights and female custodial obligations.

Since Mothers on Trial was first published in 1986, thousands of mothers have called or written. “I’m in your book,” they say. “It’s as if you knew my story personally.” “You showed me that it’s not just happening to me, that it’s not my fault.” And, “Can you help me save my children?”

In the first edition of Mothers on Trial, I challenged the myth that fit mothers always win custody—indeed, I found that when fathers fight, they win custody 70 percent of the time, whether or not they have been absent or violent. Since then, other studies, including ten state supreme court reports on gender bias in the courts, have appeared that support most of what I say. (The Massachusetts report actually confirms my statistic of 70 percent.)

Although the majority of custodial parents are usually mothers, this doesn’t mean that mothers have won their children in a battle. Rather, mothers often retain custody when fathers choose not to fight for it. Those fathers who fight tend to win custody, not because mothers are unfit or because fathers have been the primary caretakers of their children but because mothers are women and are held to a much higher standard of parenting.

Many judges also assume that the father who fights for custody is rare and therefore should be rewarded for loving his children, or they assume that something is wrong with the mother. What may be wrong with the mother is that she and her children are being systemically impoverished, psychologically and legally harassed, and physically battered by the very father who is fighting for custody.

Today more and more mothers, as well as the leadership of the shelter movement for battered women, have realized that battered women risk losing custody if they seek child support or attempt to limit visitation. Incredibly, mothers also risk losing custody if they accuse fathers or physically or sexually abusing them or their children—even or especially if these allegations are supported by experts.

An ideal father is expected to legally acknowledge and economically support his children. Fathers who do anything more for their children are often seen as “better” than mothers, who are, after all, supposed to do everything.

The ideal of fatherhood is sacred. As such, it protects each father from the consequences of his actions. The ideal of motherhood is sacred, too. It exposes all mothers as imperfect. No human mother can embody the maternal ideal perfectly enough.

Given so many double standards for fit mothering and fathering and so many anti-mother biases, I wanted to know: Could a “good enough” mother lose custody of a child to a relatively uninvolved or abusive father? How often could this happen?

I first interviewed sixty mothers who had been their children’s primary caregivers, were demographically similar to the majority of divorced white mothers in America, and had been custodially challenged in each geographical region of the United States and Canada.

On the basis of these interviews I was able to study how often “good enough” mothers can lose custody when their ex-husbands challenge them. I was able to study why “good enough” mothers lose custody battles and how having to battle for custody affects them.

On the basis of these interviews and on the basis of additional interviews with fifty-five custodially embattled fathers, I was able to study the kinds of husbands and fathers who battled for custody, their motives for battling, and how and why they won or lost. 

I was also able to study the extent to which the custodially triumphant father encouraged or allowed the losing mother access to her children afterward.

To repeat: Seventy percent of my “good enough” mothers lost custody of their children.

Today the same experts who once tyrannized women with their advice about the importance of the mother-child bond appear, in the context of custody battles, ready to ignore it or refer to it, if it all, as of only temporary importance. They view the mother-child bond as expendable if it is less than ideal or another woman is available. Perfectly fit mothers are viewed as interchangeable with a paternal grandmother or a second wife.

In 1975 New York judge Guy Ribaudo awarded sole custody of two children to their father, Dr. Lee Salk. Their mother, Kersten Salk, was not accused of being an “unfit” mother. It was clear that Kersten, not Lee, had reared their children from birth “without aid of a governess” and that Lee would probably require the aid of a “third party” housekeeper-governess were he to gain sole custody. The judge used an “affirmative standard” to decide which parent was “better fit” to guide the “development of the children and their future.” Kersten Salk’s full-time housekeeping and mothering were discounted in favor of Lee Salk’s psychological expertise and “intellectually exciting” lifestyle. Lee was widely quoted as saying the following: “Fathers should have equal rights with mothers in custody cases and more and more fathers are getting custody…The decision in Salk v. Salk will touch every child in America in some way. It will also give more fathers the ‘incentive’ to seek custody of their children”
This case swept through public consciousness; it was an ominous warning, a reminder that children are only on loan to “good enough” mothers. They could be recalled by their more intellectually and economically solvent fathers.

Although mothers still received no wages for their work at home and far less than equal pay for equal work outside the home, and although most fathers had yet to assume an equal share of home and child care, divorced fathers began to campaign for equal rights to sole custody, alimony, and child support and for mandatory joint custody.

Fathers’ rights activists—both men and women—picketed my lectures, threatened lawsuits, and shouted at me on television. “Admit it. Ex-wives destroy men economically. They deprive fathers of visitation and brainwash the children against them. 

Fathers should have rights to alimony and child support. Joint custody should be mandatory. We’ve already convinced legislators and lawyers, judges and social workers, psychiatrists and journalists to see it our way.”

Indeed, as we shall see, they have.

By 1991, more than forty states had shared-parenting statutes in which joint custody was either an option or preference, and most other states had recognized the concept of joint custody in case law.

The mothers began to find me. Would I testify on their behalf? Marta consulted me as a therapist. She said she was “depressed” and “wanted to kill herself.” Weeping, she told me, “For fifteen years my children were my whole life. I did everything for them myself. Six moths ago a judge gave my husband exclusive custody of our children. How could this nightmare ever happen? At first, I thought they’d come back to me on their own. But they haven’t. Why should they? I have a small one-bedroom apartment. Their father was allowed to keep our five-bedroom house. He gives them complete freedom and the use of their own credit cards. I work as a salesgirl for very little money. Is this a reason to go on living?”

Carol, a complete stranger, asked me for money. “My husband kidnapped our six-year-old son two months ago. It’s what they call ‘legal’ kidnapping. We’re only separated, not divorced. I need money to hire a detective to find them. I need money to hire a lawyer once they’re found. I only have six hundred dollars in the bank. And I’m four months pregnant.”

Rachel, also a stranger, mailed me a description of her custody battle. She entitled it “A Case of Matricide in an American Courtroom.” Rachel had a “nervous breakdown” after she lost her battle for child support, custody, and maternal visitation.

In 1977, when I myself was six months pregnant, I decided to study women and custody of children. The theme had claimed me.
Over the next eight years, I formally interviewed more than three hundred mothers, fathers, children, and custody experts in the United States and Canada and in sixty-five countries around the world. On the basis of these interviews, I conducted three original studies and six original surveys for the 1986 edition of this book. I wanted to understand why we take custodial mothers for granted but heroize custodial fathers, why we sympathize with noncustodial fathers but condemn noncustodial mothers, and why we grant noncustodial fathers the right to feel angry or sad but deny noncustodial mothers similar emotional “rights.” I also wanted to compare what noncustodial mothers and fathers actually do and contrast it with how they perceive themselves and are perceived.

Must custodially embattled mothers be viewed only as victims? Can such mothers also be viewed as philosophical and spiritual warriors and heroes? Gradually I came to view them as such. Under siege, “good enough” mothers remained connected to their children in nuturant and nonviolent ways. They resisted the temptation to use violent means to obtain custody of their children. This is one of the reasons they lost custody. But they never disconnected—not even from children whom they never saw again.

The 2011 Update

What’s changed since I first started researching and writing about custody battles?

Documented domestic violence does get factored in somewhat more than before. Where real assets exist, judges have the power to award more of them to mothers and children. Fewer mothers and fathers automatically lose custody or visitation because they are gay or because they have high-powered careers. However, certain injustices (crimes, really) that I first began tracking in the late 1970s have now gotten much worse. For example, battered women are losing custody to their batterers in record numbers. 

Children are being successfully brainwashed by fathers, but many mothers are being falsely accused of brainwashing. Worse: Children who mandated reporters—physicians, nurses, or teachers—report as having been sexually abused by their fathers are usually given to those very fathers. The mothers of these children are almost always viewed as having “coached” or “alienated” the children and, on this basis alone, are seen as “unfit” mothers.

I understand that this sounds unbelievable. But it is still true. The mothers of raped children, who are also described as “protective” mothers, are seen as guilty of “parental alienation syndrome.” The fact that this concept, first pioneered by Dr. Richard Gardner and widely endorsed by fathers’ rights groups, has been dismissed as junk science does not seem to matter. Most guardians ad litem, parenting counselors, mediators, lawyers, mental health professionals, and judges still act as if this syndrome were real and mainly find mothers, not fathers, guilty in this regard. In 2010 the American Psychiatric Association was still fighting to include a new disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: the parental alienation disorder, to replace the debunked parental alienation syndrome.

In 2009 and 2010 more than fifty mothers from twenty-one U.S. states and a number of foreign countries all shared their stories with me. Their cases took place between the late 1980s and 2010. Some cases are still ongoing.

In some instances, I spoke with the mothers in person or at length on the phone. Some mothers filled out questionnaires, but many also sent additional narratives and documentation. Some mothers sent me eloquent, beautifully written, full-length memoirs. Some write pithy but equally heartbreaking accounts of their marriages and custody battles.

Custody battles can take a very long time. They range from only several years to more than fifteen or twenty. They may have profound legal, economic, social, psychological, and even medical consequences for years afterward, perhaps forever.

Going through a custody battle is like going through a war. One does not emerge unscathed. Yes, one may learn important lessons, but one may also be left broken and incapable of trusting others, including our so-called justice system, ever again.

With a few exceptions, most of my 2010 mother-interviewees said that the system was “corrupt” and that lawyers and judges don’t care about “justice,” are “very biased,” or can be “bought and sold.” These mothers said that social workers, mental health professionals, guardians ad litem, and parent coordinators—especially if they were women—actively “disliked” and were” cruel and hostile” to them as women. (Perhaps they expected women to be more compassionate toward other women. In this, they were sadly mistaken.)

Also, many mothers found that female professionals were often completely taken in by charming, sociopathic men (“parasites,” “smother-fathers”), dangerously violent men, and men who sexually abused their children.

Perhaps the mothers who sent me their stories were married to uniquely terrible men who used the court system to make their lives a living hell; perhaps mothers who did not write to me had the good fortune to have been married to and divorced from far nicer men.

Good fathers definitely exist. Some fathers move heaven and earth to rescue their children from a genuinely mentally ill mother but do not try to alienate the children from her. If the mother has been the primary caretaker, some fathers give up custody, pay a decent amount of child support (and continue to do so), and work out a relationship with their children based on what’s good for both the children and their mother. These men exist. They do not launch custody battles from hell.

And good fathers are also discriminated against in a variety of ways in the courtroom. For example, mothers who are independently wealthy or who come from powerful families can and do custodially persecute good-enough fathers. That is the subject of another book. And, when fathers do assume primary-caretaker obligations, traditional judges may view them unfairly as “sissies” or “losers.” Liberal judges will award them custody in a heartbeat.

For this 2011 edition, I also reviewed hundreds of legal decision, which I obtained through LexisNexis and which all commenced and/or were resolved in the last quarter century. I interviewed lawyers and judges. I clipped articles about custody battles that appeared in the media from 1990 to 2010. Some were celebrity cases; others concerned high profile international kidnapping cases; some were about one spouse’s murder of the other during the course of a custody battle.

When I was researching the 1986 edition of Mothers on Trial, joint custody was a totally new idea. Now, as I’ve previously noted, “shared parenting” or joint custody (defined in a variety of ways) is the preferred norm. Joint custody is seen as fair, progressive, feminist, and in the child’s best interest—even though a number of recent studies have shown that under certain conditions joint custody may be harmful to the children involved. Other studies conclude that we cannot prove that a particular custodial arrangement is either helpful or harmful to children.

For example, according to a 1989 study, “a link was consistently found between frequency of visitation/transitions between parents and [child] maladjustment.” The study also found that “children shuffled more frequently between parents were more exposed to and involved in parental conflict and aggression and were more often perceived by both parents as being depressed, withdrawn, uncommunicative, and/or aggressive.”

A 2003 study found that “alternating custody”—for example, week on, week off—“was associated with ‘disorganized attachment’ in 60 percent of infants under 18 months. Older children and adults who had endured this arrangement as youngsters exhibited what the researcher described as ‘alarming levels of emotional insecurity and poor ability to regulate strong emotion.’” 

Nevertheless, from the 1980s on, the entire national court system and its various helpers believed that joint custody was the preferred way to go.

As we shall see, joint custody research in the twenty-first century is a minefield of dangerous biases, conflicting conclusions, and outright lies.

The View from the Bench

While lawyers and judges are quick to say that joint custody should not apply where there is domestic violence and incest, they are often the ones who do not believe that domestic violence and incest exist all that much. And, although lawyers and judges also say that joint custody may not work in “high-conflict divorces,” that does not mean that they still don’t encourage or even order it.

From their point of view, if everyone walks away with something, there is less likelihood that their decision will be appealed or that the case will continue to stall. One judge said, “Maybe this will actually force these warring parties to grow up and learn to compromise for the sake of their children.”

Thus, the role of “parenting coordinator” and guardians ad litem has increased considerably. Many mothers view them as impoverishing agents because they are ordered to pay for their services.

Talk to some good judges—those who are hardworking, experienced, and not corrupt—and you will find that their concerns are far different from those who consume the mothers who appear before them. Judicial concerns are not those of the plaintiffs or defendants. What you will hear is about how important it is to move the cases along, how huge the backlog always is, and how impossible it is to spend too much time on any one case. Judges are annoyed, even contemptuous, when rich people can afford to pay for a long, drawn-out trial. They understand that the working poor have no such luxury, and, at both conscious and unconscious levels, the judges may resent this disparity and despair over the arrogance of the rich. One judge said, “Rich people fight over everything. Even if they don’t need it, they will prolong the case in order to ‘win.’ It can be a second boat, a third home, a million dollar piece of art over another. They are spoiled children and I only pity their real children.”

Talk to judges and listen to them speak, and you will realize that judges do not feel responsible for the perpetual logjams that frustrate, enrage, and impoverish mothers. In fact, judges feel that they too are victims of a system that does not pay them that well. They feel it does not allot resources for the necessary number of judges. The system is beyond bursting at the seams. In addition, the matrimonial bench is utterly devalued because it concerns “families,” “mothers,” and “children,” all of whom are not high on the priority totem pole.

Most judges are overworked and underpaid compared to what the lawyers who appear before them are paid. Judges are not given the proper time to really hear a case. They are forced into forcing plaintiffs and defendants to accept limited, far-from-perfect settlements, because that will close the case and get it off the judge’s roster. They opt for hard-and-fast compromises in the interest in moving a case along.

From the point of view of a “protective” mother whose child is being molested, there can be no compromise. Allowing a pedophile father or a domestically violent husband to have access to his former spouse or child endangers both mother and child. Such mothers protest. They will not play ball. Their relationship to their children is not a corporate-like entity. It is “all or nothing” as far as they are concerned. They resist for as long as their money holds out—and then they go pro se

Their resistance to compromise is viewed as proof of “narcissism” or “mental instability.” The mother who insists on not compromising is also viewed as annoying, difficult, impossible, unrealistic, and perhaps even dangerous to the smooth functioning of an already overburdened system.

Unless she has unlimited funds, it will cost her lawyer hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of dollars to fight for an uncompromised settlement. Some mothers fully expect their lawyers to do so, and when lawyers cannot, or refuse to do so, a mother will often turn on them and sue them for malpractice. “Protective” mothers view a lawyer who needs to make a living as a traitor and a sellout.

Mothers do not understand how to divide a baby in half or share parenting with an absent, neglectful, or abusive father. Judges do not see it as dividing the baby in half at all. One judge pointed on, very reasonably, that in order to keep the nonprimary caretaker involved in a nonembittered way, the judge must give him or her some things to do.

“But what if this father has never taken any responsibility and does not know what he is doing?” I asked.

“All the more reason to bring him in. It can’t be good for a child to have no contact with the nonprimary-caretaker parent.”
Please note the careful, automatically gender-neutral language that one might initially view as a feminist step forward. And it is—except that such language usually “disappears” the much harder work that mothers (primarily caretakers) have undertaken, the higher standards to which they are held, and the nonprimary caretaker’s failure to take primary-caretaking responsibility during the marriage, not just after the divorce.

The judge continued, “Why punish a child because their nonprimary-caretaker parent did not function as a caretaker in the past? 

As the child grows, nonprimary-caretaker parents can offer the child different opportunities.”

The judge was right, and yet she was absolutely committed to the following myths: (1) sane, good parents are ultimately going to do whatever’s in their child’s best interests; (2) all divorcing and custody-battling parents are equally crazy and have to be forced into better behavior; (3) mothers routinely allege battering falsely; (4) mothers are crazier and more difficult to deal with than fathers; and (5) mothers, not fathers, tend to “alienate” the child from the other parent.

These are all myths.

Myth 1: Are divorcing parents really “reasonable grown-ups”? Many parents are far from ideal, even far from adequate. What is known as a “high-conflict” divorce does not involve parents who have their child’s best interests at heart. They are often more concerned with their own interests.

Myth 2: Sometimes a father is a charming sociopath. Just as we have no way of distinguishing rapists from non-rapists, we have no easy way to “spot” a pedophile, a parasite, or a wife beater. Sometimes a mother is genuinely sadistic, abusive, or bipolar. This is more quickly spotted, diagnosed, or even assumed by laypeople in the court system. Thus, if a mother has been losing sleep over the possibility of losing her children and/or is exhibiting the normal human response to being battered or terrorized at home, she may also be stigmatized by the belief that women are naturally “crazy” and “impossible.”

Myth 3: Most mothers do not allege battering falsely. Some, a minority, do.

Myth 4: Mothers are not necessarily “crazier” than fathers; some are. However, facing the end of a marriage, the probable poverty it may entail, plus a possible custody loss, is a far greater stressor for mothers than for fathers. It does make them highly nervous, vigilant, overly demanding, unrealistic, and prone to engaging in self-sabotaging tactics. Men tend to recouple more quickly; women don’t.

Many fathers, on the other hand, are more capable of treating a custody battle as just one more businesslike venture. This style is more compatible with what lawyers and judges need. Thus, even if the father is a secret drunk or drug addict, an embezzler, an active philanderer, and a whoremonger and/or treats his wife and children coldly, sadistically, and abusively, these facts will not necessarily come into play in a custody battle.

Myth 5: According to most research and statistical data and my own interviews, it is mainly fathers who brainwash and kidnap children, not mothers. Fathers falsely claim “parental alienation” when it is not true; yet they are believed. Mothers claim brainwashing when it is true, but they are not often believed.

I do not view matrimonial lawyers as the main or sole problem. True—some lawyers are grossly incompetent and fail their female clients in every way: by misadvising them, sleeping with them, and prolonging their cases unnecessarily for monetary reasons. But it is also true that many lawyers serve their female (and male) clients effectively, even nobly.

Lawyers do not cause men to impoverish, batter, or abuse their wives and children; lawyers themselves are often hobbled by a system of laws and by a courtroom pace that is glacial. One cannot blame lawyers because it is enormously expensive to wage a high-conflict divorce. Some women expect their lawyers to actually pay for their divorces and feel betrayed when lawyers will not or cannot do so. With some exceptions, our government will not and cannot subsidize the cost of high-conflict divorces for the parent, usually the mother, who is without resources in a country where money does buy one’s chance to obtain justice, however imperfect.

Custody cases are also very stressful and difficult for the judges involved, many of whom try very hard to do the right thing. The law is not able to cure sociopaths or psychopaths; sometimes compromising with the devil is, unbelievably, the only possible solution. A judge might only be able to “save” one child—not all three. A judge might be able to save a child from the probable horrors of state care by allowing custody to remain with one far-from-perfect parent.

Having said this, I would like to stress that both judges and lawyers, as well as the entire courtroom cast of characters (guardians ad litem, parenting coordinators, mental health experts, social workers, state agency employees, and the police) have acted in tragically anti-mother and anti-child ways. While feminist progress led to more women on the bench and to more female attorneys, many female professionals have shown very hard hearts toward the mothers whose fates are in their hands. So have their male counterparts.

For this 2011 edition of Mothers on Trial, I have given honorable discharges to six previous chapters, although I’ve preserved some of the material throughout the book. I’ve also added eight new chapters in addition to this introduction. The new chapters include “Court-Enabled Incest in the 1980s and 1990s,” “Court-Enabled Incest in the Twenty-First Century,” “Legal Torture from 1986 to 2010,” “Contemporary Legal Trends, Part I,” “Contemporary Legal Trends, Part II,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Divorce: A Private Consultation with Divorce Lawyer Susan L. Bender,” and a section of resources.

Immediately after first publishing this book, I coordinated a Senate briefing in Washington, D.C., that was attended by some hand-selected custodially embattled mothers, as well as then Congress, now Senate members Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer. Together with the National Organization for Women of New York State, I also coordinated a national speak-out about women’s losing custody of children, which took place in New York City in the spring of 1986. Hundreds of mothers traveled from around the country to “speak out,” and many legislators, judges, and lawyers also participated in panels. I videotaped this event but, as yet, have not made these precious videos available to the public. I also appeared on network television programs together with “my mothers,” where we all said amazing things and were fairly well received. Women began organizing similar speak-outs elsewhere; I spoke at several in the United States and Canada the following year.

In 1984 a new nonprofit organization, ACES (the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support), was launched. It now has forty thousand members and one hundred sixty-five chapters in forty-five states.

In 1988 Monica Getz founded the New York-based National Coalition for Family Justice, which offers ongoing support groups for divorcing and custodially embattled mothers. Their mission statement reads in part as follows: “To identify problems and advocate for system changes in the divorce and family court systems in order to make them fair, user friendly, accountable, and affordable; to provide victims and children involved in domestic violence situations with crisis intervention, information, support, legal access, and advocacy.” They do not provide pro bono lawyers. But, in conjunction with the National Organization for Women in New York State, they have hosted important hearings and conferences.

In the mid- to late 1980s, “protective” and custodially embattled mothers also began running away from husbands who were sexually assaulting their child or children. Such mothers were almost all captured and jailed and lost custody of the children they were trying to protect.

By the early twenty-first century, custodially embattled mothers, including battered and “protective” mothers, had begun to form organizations that now meet annually and monthly. In 2003 Dr. Mo Therese Hannah began a new organization, an in 2010 Dr. Hannah coordinated and hosted the seventh national Battered Mothers Custody Conference. More than five hundred women travel from around the country each year to attend it. In 2010 they began a quilt project, Children Taken by the Family Courts, which is modeled after the AIDS quilt. They have asked mothers who have legally lost their children to provide a commemoration panel. Dr. Hannah has also published a book, Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues.

In addition, many mothers throughout the Western world have created listserv groups and websites in which they tell (and keep updating) their own outrageous and heartbreaking stories in the hope that this information might help other women. Some ex-wives have become divorce coaches. Some mothers (including those whose interviews are contained in this book) became matrimonial lawyers and mental health professionals dedicated to helping mothers and children. Some researchers have tried to document ongoing injustices in family court.

Yes, custodially battered mothers whose children are being sexually abused have organized more visibly than mothers who have “merely” been impoverished and legally tormented and who must also share custody of their children with men who hate them as ex-wives and do not respect them as mothers.

On Mother’s Day 2010, a peaceful, silent vigil was held at the White House. In the somber spirit of the U.S. suffragettes, American mothers—along with the Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared, Turkey’s Saturday Mothers, the German Rose Street Women, and the Liberian women who stopped a civil war—gathered at the White House to “ask our President to meet with us and to help stop the systemic removal and oppression of our children by family court.”

What Mothers Have to Say

What to Do When a Custody Battle Invades Your Life

“First, take a deep breath and calm down. Save your strength for the long haul. Find out what all your options are. Find a therapist for some immediate support.”

“Any mother involved in a custody struggle is the one who’s on trial. You’ll need people to hold your hand, to hold you, to take care of your kids, to cook a meal, to say ‘I care.’ You’ll need people to keep telling you that you’re sane and that you have rights. Find those people now.”

“Never leave home without taking your kids with you—not if you’re fighting over custody. Don’t leave your kids behind to take a weekend vacation. If you’ve just been beaten up and you’re on your way to the hospital, you’d better take your kids along.”
“You’ll need to be on permanent good behavior in order to fight this fight. Your husband or someone will always be breathing down your neck spying on you and trying to make your life miserable.”

“I allowed things to get very bad before I started fighting back. I would never have waited so long if I knew what I know now: that for me not fighting was worse than fighting.”

“If you open up a power struggle with your husband, be prepared to learn how to win. Don’t go on believing that your husband won’t lie and manipulate to cheat you. He will. If he doesn’t, his lawyer will. In order to win on their turf you’ve got to be as rotten as they are. Being fair means you’re going to lose.”

“Keep a record of how often your ex-husband visits and whether he’s on time or late. Tape-record your phone conversations with him so you’ll remember everything. Record any threats he makes to you. Record what he does with the kids. Do they come back unfed, unwashed, late? Are they suddenly critical or distant from you? That could be a sign of brainwashing.”

“Organize your family photos into a ‘Mom and Kids’ showpiece album. Reconstruct a diary of what you did with and for your kids from your old calendars or appointment books. You’ll have to prove that you’re a good mother.”

“No matter what happens, no matter what they say, never let any social worker or lawyer or policeman make you doubt yourself or your self-worth.”

“Believe that you’re stronger than you think you are. Become very assertive about getting what you need from others, but depend only on yourself. You have the most to lose and the most to gain.”

“Once you’re married and a mother, it’s too late to think about how to win a custody battle. The time to think about whether and how you should become a mother is long before you’re pregnant and definitely before you marry.”

“Read the marriage contract. Talk to previously married or still married mothers who are living in poverty or who have lost custody of their children. Maybe it’s more realistic not to have children at all—or to have them through woman-controlled anonymous artificial insemination. But the state can still take your child away if you forge a check, work as a prostitute, use dope, sell dope, kill your violent husband in self-defense, or refuse to do whatever your state welfare worker wants you to do—if you’re economically depended on the state. If your own mother doesn’t like how you’re raising your child, she can call in the state against you. This happened to me. I won. But I never sleep easy.”

“Consider adopting a child as a single mother. I know a number of women lawyers who have chosen this route. And don’t marry or partner up. Not with a man, not with a woman.”

On Hiring a Lawyer

“Get a copy of your legal bill of rights. Refer to it when you’re talking to your lawyer. Interview more than one lawyer. Be prepared to leave a lawyer who doesn’t treat you well and to sue him or her for legal malpractice.”

“Once you’re involved in the court system, you must ask your lawyer’s advice about everything. You can’t start a new job or love affair without first weighing the legal consequences involved. You must assume that everything you do can and will be used against you.”

“Your lawyer isn’t God. He or she is your employee. Don’t let your lawyer pressure you into anything ‘temporarily’ that you wouldn’t want permanently.”

“Talk to other women who’ve been through custody battles. Find a lawyer who’s experience in custody battles, not just in matters of divorce.”

“Don’t let your lawyer convince you that joint custody is the ‘answer.’ It isn’t. My ex-husband wanted to be the one who’d live with our kids in the house or, failing that, he wanted the judge to order that the house be sold. Then, once the cash from the sale of the house ran out, and I really had to struggle economically, that’s when my ex stopped paying child support. He told the kids that ‘he didn’t have to pay because they lived with him half the time.’ The kids had a much higher standard of living with him than with me. Gradually, they began to live with him full time. Then he moved two thousand miles away to take a very well-paying job. I still have joint custody. I just can’t afford to take my ex back to court or to travel four thousand miles a week in order to exercise my joint custody decree.”

“It’s important to find a good woman lawyer. Treat her with more respect than women usually treat each other. Don’t expect her to be your friend. Expect her to treat you with respect and to use the law vigorously and creatively on your behalf.”

What to Tell Your Children

“In a custody battle, children challenge maternal authority right away. Don’t let them do this. Remind them that you’re still their mother, even if you’re fighting with their father.”

“If one parent is blatantly destructive to the children, it’s the job of the other parent to say so, loud and clear. I don’t believe that cover-ups are good for children.”

“If the state takes you away from your kids, tell them that you love them and always will. Tell them that you’ll always be their mother. Tell them you’ll be out looking for them as soon as you can. Tell them whatever happens, it’s not their fault.”

“I kept quiet for too long. I didn’t believe it was right to involve kids in private adult matters. But my kids needed to hear my point of view too. They needed to know that I loved them too and would fight for them. They also needed to know that I would keep loving them no matter what happened.”

“My children really want to leave me. I fought this for a long time. I should have let them go. They already had my love. They couldn’t have their father’s love if they lived with me.”

CHAPTER 3

What Is a “Fit” Mother or Father? An “Unfit” Mother or Father? Who Decides?

What are our standards for parental fitness? Who determines such standards? Are they the same for both mothers and fathers and for all classes and races? Judith Arcana, in Every Mother’s Son, describes the “idealized mother [as] a woman who is boundlessly giving and endlessly available. She is truly present to her son. The idealized father is practically invisible; he is almost never available, rarely giving; his sparse favor and scarce presence to his son become miraculous and precious when they do appear. He is like the unknowable Judaeo-Christian father-god, who is the epitome of this idea.”

Mothers are expected to perform a series of visible and invisible tasks, all of which are never ending. Mothers are not allowed to fail any of these obligations. The ideal of motherhood is sacred; it exposes all mothers as imperfect.

Fathers are expected to perform a limited number of tasks. They are also allowed to fail some or all of these obligations. In addition, fathers who do anything for children are often experienced and perceived as “better” than mothers, who are supposed to do everything. The ideal of fatherhood is also sacred; it protects each father from the consequences of his actions.

Father-starved and father-wounded sons (and daughters) rarely remember, confront, or publicly expose their absent or abusive fathers. Arcana also notes that we mothers watch our young boys go from expecting to be cherished and nurtured  by their fathers to the sullen and bitter understanding that dad will not come across. And then, so powerful is society’s sanction of that “ideal” paternal behavior, we see our sons come to an acceptance so complete that they will defend their fathers even against the criticism and anger they’ve expressed themselves. And all along, the boy will not—or cannot—confront his father. Young sons will not push their fathers the way they’ll push their mothers—they learn early that dad’s affection, such as it is, is tenuous and conditional. Most boys understand all this before they are 12 or 13 years old.

When a father fails his paternal obligations, we don’t necessarily view him as an example of all fathers, nor do we automatically hold other fathers “accountable” for one father’s failure. We may be horrified when a father abuses or kills his child, but we first view him as the exception among fathers.

Or we make excuses for him. He didn’t mean to hit, molest, rape, hurt, maim, or kill his child. He is a man. Men are violent and don’t know their own strength.

Or we blame his wife. Perhaps she “drove” him to it. How could any mother leave her child alone with such a man? Where was she when her child was being hit, molested, raped, hurt, maimed, or killed?

When a mother does irresponsibly abandon or savagely abuse her child, we are truly stunned and terrified. How could a mother of the human race “act like a man”? How could both biology and culture fail to ensure maternal pacifism under stress?

When one mother neglects or abuses her child, we tend to hold all mothers accountable for her failure. One mother’s “crime” forces all mothers to prove—to themselves and to everyone else—how unlike Medea they are and how like the Virgin Mary they are.

After reading several news accounts of maternal suicide and infanticide, I read about a mother who failed in her double suicide attempt. She succeeded in killing her child but failed to kill herself. Plunging headlong out the window, she “merely” broke every major bone in her body instead.

I wanted to visit her in her hospital bed. After many phone calls, I was made to understand that her own mother refused to see her and that her husband had vowed never to speak to her again. Women who knew her and her husband tried to dissuade me from seeing her. Women said, “Don’t make a heroine out of her. She’s a real sickie. You wouldn’t have liked her. None of us did. She’s broken her husband’s heart. He’s a wonderful man.” Others said, “Her husband was about to leave her. She knew that her son would follow his father, sooner rather than later. The bitch just couldn’t let go. Why didn’t she die instead of her son?”

Voices without mercy; voices determined that no one comfort her on her cross. This mother was viewed not as human, or even as psychiatrically ill, but as an evil monster, a “loathsome thing,” a “Medea.”

I am always amazed that Medea’s knife, unseen onstage, looms so much larger in our collective memories than Agamemnon’s knife, with which he kills his daughter, Iphigenia, or Laius’s mountaintop exposure of his new-born son, Oedipus. The infanticidal fathers apparently leave no bloody footprint, no haunting shadow.

Are contemporary mothers and fathers as abusive to their children as parents presumably once were in the past? Historians have described medieval European and colonial American children as essentially their family’s “servants.” A girl was her mother or stepmother’s domestic servant and her father’s companion and nurse; a boy was his father or stepfather’s agricultural servant. Both boys and girls were often apprenticed out at young ages. Their wages belonged to their fathers. 

According to psychoanalyst Alice Miller, child rearing in the West was a form of “poisonous pedagogy.” Harsh parental punishment was defended for its being “for the child’s own good”:

A sophisticated repertory of arguments was developed to prove the necessity of corporal punishment for the child’s own good. In the eighteenth century, one still spoke of [children] as “faithful subjects” . . . child rearing manuals teach us that: “Adults are the masters (not the servants) of the dependent child; they determine in godlike fashion what is right and what is wrong; the child is held responsible for their anger; the parents must always be shielded; the child’s life-affirming feelings pose a threat to the autocratic adult; the child’s will must be ‘broken’ as soon as possible; all this must happen at a very early age, so the child ‘won’t notice’ and will therefore not be able to expose the adults.” 

In Puritan New England, child rearing was synonymous with “breaking” a child’s (sinful) “will”:

Every child was thought to come into the world with inherent tendencies to “stubbornness, and stoutness of mind”: these must be “beaten down” at all costs. One aspect of such tendencies was the willful expression of anger which was, by Puritan reckoning, the most dangerous and damnable of human affects. Children must therefore be trained to compliance, to submission, to “peace.” To effect such training, drastic means were sometimes needed. Puritan parents were not inclined to spare the rod; but more important than physical coercion was the regular resort to shaming.

Mothers worked hard and had little “child-centered” time to spend alone with each child. Although mothers (or women) were exclusively responsible for birthing and rearing children, they were not considered “expert” in this area. “Students of child-rearing literature in England and America tell us that in the 16th and 17th centuries the father was depicted as the important figure in the rearing of children, as well as being the ultimate authority in familial matters. In fact, most of the manuals of these centuries directed advice to fathers.”

In the mid- to late eighteenth century, male experts began to address mothers directly. Formerly viewed as vain and without souls, mothers were now viewed as their children’s moral guardians. 

Mothers of the middle class were encouraged to experience biological motherhood as the source of their greatest pride and joy. The influential Jean-Jacques Rousseau viewed motherhood as a personal religious calling:

The true mother, far from being a woman of the world, is as much a recluse in her home as the nun is in her cloister. . . . [A good mother] will not be willful, proud, energetic or self-centered. In no event should she become angry or show the slightest impatience . . . she must be taught, while still very young, to be vigilant and hard-working, accustomed at an early age to all sorts of constraints so that she costs [her husband] nothing and learns to submit all her caprices to the will of others. . . . She serves as liaison between [the children] and the father, she alone makes him love them.

Throughout the nineteenth century, male experts continued to urge women into motherhood as a religious calling. However, these experts insisted that “instinctive” (emotional, “soft”) maternality was harmful to children. They advised mothers to behave in more “manly” ways. 

By the twentieth century, male experts told mothers to give up breast- feeding, to feed their infants only at rigid intervals, not to pick up their crying babies, and to toilet train them as soon as possible. Some male experts advised mothers to “bond” with their infants immediately at birth. According to these experts, if mothers didn’t “bond” with or didn’t “let go” of children perfectly enough, they doomed them to “neurosis.” According to psychiatrist Ann Dally, mothers were tyrannized into believing that it was “dangerous” to leave their children “even for an hour.”

We do not know how many women actually succumbed to the tyranny of the male experts. Enslaved or impoverished mothers did not have the time, the literacy, or the resources to act on scientific opinion; wealthy and royal mothers continued to delegate their maternal responsibilities. (Perhaps some royal and impoverished mothers felt guilty about this.) Middle-class mothers were in a position to be most easily tempted by expert promises.

The church fathers always assured mothers that they were important and irreplaceable. They also tried to convince men that it was anti-God and anti-church to divorce their wives or abandon their children.

The scientific fathers shared these churchly beliefs. However, they also promised mothers “control” over the outcome of their maternal labors and over children at home in lieu of “control” over armies, parliaments, churches, or banks.

What about fathers? Did they matter at all beyond their legal acknowledgment of sperm and economic support of families? Did it affect children badly, or at all, if fathers were absent, distant, or tyrannical? What is a “good” or a “good enough” father?

According to our state and church fathers, a “good” father is someone who legally acknowledges, economically supports, and teaches his children to obey the laws of state and church. The scientific fathers failed to consider the paternal role. When pressed, one twentieth-century expert said, “The first positive virtue of the father is to permit his wife to be a good mother. In the child’s eyes the father embodies the law, strength, the ideal, and the outside world, while the mother symbolizes the home and household. . . . The only thing one can usefully demand of the father is to be alive and stay alive during his children’s early years.”

Some scientific fathers went to great lengths to deny the existence of “bad” fathers. Psychoanalysts, for example, were actually more eloquent about the rivalrous impulses of sons than about the murderous deeds of fathers. Most psychoanalysts rarely paid attention to real-world “facts” or held real fathers responsible for anything they did—or failed to do.

Psychoanalysts and other, more popular child-development experts failed to acknowledge their own expert fathering as “responsible” for an increase in maternal guilt and for turning mother blaming into a “science.” For example, the phrase maternal deprivation terrorized countless mothers in the twentieth century. A woman who “maternally deprived” her child was a “bad” mother. Dr. John Bowlby first used this phrase in 1951 to describe what happened to children whose state father had institutionalized them.

Bowlby did not condemn the state father for “depriving” his institutionalized children, nor did he (or his popularizers) hold the state responsible for the crimes such children might commit in the future. The sins of the state fathers were used to control maternal behavior. The specter of “maternally deprived” children kept mothers guilty and sleepless. (State orphanage employees and members of Parliament slept quite soundly.)

Popular accounts of child abuse invariably focus on the “sensational” episode as opposed to the more entrenched forms of child abuse. A male homosexual child molester makes ready headline copy; his more numerous male heterosexual counterparts remain invisible.

A single school or a large church involved in the sexual abuse of children becomes a scandal; the high incidence of male heterosexual abuse of female children, including paternal incest, is denied or minimized.

What exactly is child abuse? Is physical child abuse increasing in America? Most incidents of physical child abuse are probably never reported. Nevertheless, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reports a “dramatic increase” in child abuse.

Naomi Feigelson Chase found that, historically, “serious” child abuse was either underreported or atypical. Chase and Leontine Young attempt to distinguish between severe physical neglect—lack of adequate or regular feeding—and moderate neglect, which includes lack of cleanliness, lack of adequate clothing, and failure to provide medical care. 

They also point out that physical neglect is not the same as physical abuse, which, in turn, may be either moderate or severe. According to Young, the prolonged physical and psychological abuse of children constitutes a category all its own, as does child murder: “Severe [physical] abuse is consistent beating that leaves visible results. Moderate abuse occurs when parents beat children under stress or when drunk. [Those in the] severe category are unable to be helped. The abusing parents’ hallmark is deliberate, calculated, consistent punishing without cause or purpose.”

In 1978 Dr. David Gil analyzed the thirteen thousand reported cases of physical child abuse in the United States. Of these, 3 percent were fatal; less than 5 percent “led to permanent damage”; 53 percent (6,890 cases) were not serious; 90 percent “were expected to leave no lasting physical effects.”

These studies of reported child abuse were almost always correlated with extreme poverty, severely “deprived” parental childhoods, mental illness, overburdened and isolated single motherhood, and unrelieved or profound stress.

In view of the high incidence of and extraordinary stress associated with single motherhood  and the great amount of time mothers have to spend with children, it is significant that both Gil and Chase found no evidence that mothers “abuse” their children any more than fathers (or boyfriends) do. On the contrary. According to Chase, “a mother or stepmother was the abuser in 50 percent of the incidents and the father or stepfather in about 40 percent.  Others were caretakers, siblings, or unrelated perpetrators. However, since almost a third of the homes were headed by females, fathers had a higher involvement rate than mothers. Two-thirds of the incidents in the homes where fathers or stepfathers were present were committed by the father or stepfathers; while in homes with mothers or stepmothers, the mothers and stepmothers were perpetrators in less than half the incidents that took place.” 

Researchers studied pregnant mothers who were potentially “high-risk” physical child abusers. All these mothers were young, poor, unwed, and going through with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The study found that, as expected, one-quarter of the children was abused psychologically. The researchers explained this abuse in terms of the mothers: they had received no “maternal nurturance” in childhood. The psychologically abusive mothers “don’t know how to be nurturing. Instead of giving to the child, they look to the child to satisfy their own needs for nurturance and love, and the child cannot provide.”

This study actually shows that 75 percent of “high-risk” mothers do not psychologically or physically abuse their children and that “high-risk” mothers need emotional as well as economic support in order to mother properly. The study focuses on maternal, not on paternal, abuse.

Researchers have no control over how their work is viewed or used. This study (and others like it) are used to “indict” mothers in the public imagination, to incite middle-class or married mothers to paroxysms of time-consuming guilt, and to justify the state’s custodial or reproductive punishment of poor, unwed mothers. 

Mothers do not physically or sexually abuse, abandon, or neglect their children as often as fathers do. Several statistically sophisticated studies have confirmed that it is mainly men—fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, boyfriends, older brothers, uncles, and male strangers—who physically and sexually abuse both mothers and children.

How many fathers and adult men beat or rape mothers? No one really knows. Research suggests that anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of all mothers in America are physically battered and/or raped by their husbands or live-in boyfriends.

Some studies (and common sense) suggest that wife beaters also tend to abuse their children physically, sexually, and psychologically. The sons of wife beaters often become wife beaters; their daughters often become battered wives.

How many fathers sexually abuse their own genetic or legal children and grandchildren? No one really knows, though a number of first-person and clinical accounts about paternal incest have been published and publicized.

In the past, according to incest researchers, two to five million American women were paternally raped as children; one in every seven or one in every five American children was the victim of paternal incest or of male sexual abuse; 19 percent of all American women (one in six) and 9 percent of American men were sexually victimized as children. Other studies have shown that perhaps 20–25 percent of American girls were sexually abused in childhood and that 30–50 percent of their abusers were male members of their own family.

It is my impression that the majority of unfit mothers do not kill, torture, maim, rape, or abandon their children outright. The majority of unfit mothers seem physically to neglect and psychologically to abuse their children.

Mothers do spend more time with children than fathers do. Mothers also turn up in emergency rooms alone with battered children. The sight of a mother accompanying a child with a broken arm or a suspicious burn is sickening and impossible to forget.

We do not ask, “Why is she here alone?” or “Where is the child’s father or other adult member of his family?” We do not comment, “Maybe the father (or a man) actually beat this child, and she’s confessing in his place,” or “Perhaps the absence of a supportive husband ‘drove’ her to it.”

Still, it is my impression that when an unfit mother does physically abuse her child, she may do so less forcefully, less often, and less fatally than her paternal counterpart.  (There are many exceptions among drug-addicted and mentally ill mothers.)

Physically neglectful or physically violent mothers are more closely and critically scrutinized than physically abusive fathers are. Such mothers have also often internalized certain maternal ideals. Whether they achieve or fail them, they are aware of, and often guilty about, their imperfect or failed maternal performance.

Clearly, children are equally endangered by equally physically violent parents whether they are mothers or fathers. However, women in general are more rigidly socialized into nonviolent maternal behavior under stress than men are.

Female socialization, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, maternal practice, and the social “watchdogging” of mothers all tend to reinforce maternal physical nonviolence. Children tend to be physically safer with most mothers most of the time. Sara Ruddick observed that most mothers are (objectively) “powerless” women who find themselves

embattled with weak creatures whose wills are unpredictable and resistant, whose bodies [they] could quite literally destroy, whose psyches are at [their] mercy. . . . I can think of no other situation in which someone with the resentments of social powerlessness, under enormous pressures of time and anger, faces a recalcitrant but helpless combatant with so much restraint [author’s italics]. It is also clear that physical and psychological violence is a temptation of maternal practice and a fairly common occurrence.

What is remarkable is that in a daily way mothers make so much peace instead of fighting, and then when peace fails, conduct so many battles without resorting to violence [author’s italics]. I don’t want to trumpet a virtue but to point to a fact: that non-violence is a constitutive principle of maternal thinking, and that mothers honor it not in the breach, but in their daily practice, despite objective temptations to violence.

Children are potentially more physically endangered by fathers, whose socialization as men has predisposed them to flight or physical violence under stress and has forced them into a fierce dependence upon obedience from wives and children. Fathers, as men, are not closely “watchdogged” within the house; in a father-idealizing and father-absent culture, they are romanticized by children. (This dynamic allows children to deny paternal violence against them or to blame themselves when it happens.)

Both nature and culture have prepared women to mother in physically nonviolent ways under very oppressive conditions. Some observers romanticize the female ability to do this; others lament it as a virtue by default. Most mothers are usually able to absorb frustration, humiliation, unemployment, poverty, celibacy, and extreme loneliness without abandoning, seriously abusing, or murdering their children. As such, mothers as a group are rearing their children as well as can be expected of the human race to date.

Does a child physically need his or her father or father figure during pregnancy or childbirth, during infancy, or at some point later in childhood? Common sense and personal experience confirm that men and women do not have the same physical relationship to children.

It is crucial to remember that many children grow up without any fathers or father figures. Studies suggest that such children are no different from children with fathers—if severe impoverishment is not confused with paternal absence. Perhaps few children are physically fathered whether they live with fathers or not.

It is also clear that fathers have an effect on children whether they are absent or present, that fathers may influence a child directly or indirectly, and that paternal influence can be “advantageous, disadvantageous, or neutral.”

A number of feminist theorists and researchers have written about the psychological importance of “fathering” and about men’s potential ability to “nurture.” Such researchers have tried to show that a “good “father is potentially as good as (or similar to) a “good mother.”

These studies have essentially shown that white, middle-class, well- educated fathers can, under experimental conditions, “bond” with infants and can perform many of the physical and emotional tasks of “maternal nurturance.”

However, studies also show that “good enough” fathers tend to spend radically less time with infants, toddlers, preadolescents, and teenagers than mothers do; that fathers tend to “play” with children rather than physically to “service” them; and that fathers tend to “mother” children for comparatively short periods of time.

In real life, some (married) fathers are indeed physically “nurturant” to their children. However, unlike most nurturant mothers, such fathers are unwilling or unable to “nurture” children all day, every day, for all the years of each child’s childhood.

Fathers do not get pregnant. They do not give birth to, breast-feed, or routinely take care of newborn infants. Traditional fathers and mothers do not view these tasks as men’s province.

Researchers have found that “good enough” fathers are not able or willing to do what “good enough” mothers must do physically in related areas in order to maintain family life. For example, past studies confirmed that American wives did 70 percent of the housework, whether they were employed outside the home or not.

In their study of American couples, Drs. Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz found that married men had such an intense aversion to house- work that when wives insisted they do it, intense acrimony and a greater probability of divorce resulted.

Even if a “good enough” father is unemployed, he does much less house-work (and child care) than a wife who is a full-time employee outside the home. One of my interviewees said, “My ex-husband was once unemployed for about a year. I taught full time and rushed home at three, collected the kids, shopped, and cooked dinner. I was very tired by the time I put the kids to bed and finished the dishes. I begged him to cook dinner. He refused. After much battling he agreed to cook every Friday night. He finally cooked dinner about twice a month. We all had to praise him and eat everything. I had to clear the table and do the dishes. Everyone said I had to be very understanding because he wasn’t employed.”

Of course, a father may be able to earn more money or physically lift more weight than a mother can. Such (innate and cultural) abilities may have nothing  to do with satisfying the daily physical needs of children directly or with satisfying these needs in a physically nonviolent way, especially at times of parental stress.

Is physical punishment always a form of child abuse? Is a slap the equivalent of a broken arm? Is physical abuse the most serious form of child abuse? Is a child who is made to feel “unloved” or “unworthy” more severely abused than a child who is physically punished?

What do we know about psychological mothering and fathering? “Good enough” fathers may be psychologically cold, cruel, demanding, rivalrous, ambivalent, smothering, and abusive toward their sons and psychologically seductive and incestuous toward their daughters. A “good enough” father may also be infinitely more psychologically patient, understanding, relaxed, and generous to his children (especially to a daughter) than a mother may be.

“Good enough” mothers may be psychologically cold, cruel, demanding, rivalrous, ambivalent, smothering, and abusive toward their daughters (and to a lesser extent toward their sons). They may also be either more positively— or negatively—“maternal” toward their children than a father may be.

Drs. Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, and Albert J. Solnit have noted that the “best” parent-child relationship is both “positive” and “negative”; that it “fluctuates” over time; that “wanted” children may be “excessively valued” to their detriment; and that “good” parents cannot guarantee ideal child development even when they are their child’s psychological parents—that is, present and active in daily and physically caring ways.

Most parents do not view the psychological abuse of children as an epidemic with “devastating” consequences. According to psychoanalyst Alice Miller, most parents unthinkingly “murder their children’s souls.” Parents suppress their children’s “vital spontaneity” by the “laying of traps, duplicity, subterfuge, manipulation, ‘scare’ tactics, withdrawal of love, isolation, distrust, by humiliating and disgracing the child, scorn, ridicule, and coercion even to the point of torture. The former practice of physically maiming, exploiting, and abusing children seems to have been gradually replaced in modern times by a form of mental cruelty that is masked by the honorific term child-rearing.”

Miller may or may not be right. However, she rarely distinguishes between paternal and maternal behavior. She merges what mothers and fathers do (and don’t do) into “parental” behavior. Also, Miller’s psychologically high standards, while admirable, are rarely applied to fathers—or to mothers of all classes and races.

Unless or until we (and the “experts”) are prepared emotionally to judge all parents by the same standard, several conclusions are in order about how most mothers and fathers behave today.

Mental health experts, like the rest of us, tend to blame mothers, not fathers, for any problems a child may have; to praise fathers, but not mothers, for the good they may do; and to have one set of expectations for mothers and another, lesser set for fathers. Experts also tend to pathologize mothers when they fall short of idealized expectations of motherhood.

Seattle attorney Martha O. Eller notes a disturbing trend: “We are very disheartened by social workers’ and psychologists’ willingness to ignore issues of domestic violence, over-emphasize the value of a working father and under-value the contributions of a full-time homemaker, and [their] general tendency to despise a woman for having boyfriends without carefully inquiring of the father along the same lines. The [child] guardians ad litem, including psychologists, tend to evaluate the mothers harshly, even more so than the judges.”

Some mental health professionals have encouraged fathers to consider co-parenting or joint custody as their right and encouraged mothers to consider co-parenting or joint custody as their obligation, both of which are “in the best interests of the child.” Unbelievably, mental health professionals tend to trust what a father tells them and to distrust almost everything a mother says. They routinely minimize male violence and routinely pathologize the normal female response to violence. For example, read the following evaluation from a Michigan case:

The mother presents as a tense, suspicious person rigidly fixated on her ex-husband’s so-called potential for child abuse. She and the maternal grandmother, an overly intrusive, controlling woman, have convinced this child to fear her father. While the father admits to engaging in mildly inappropriate fondling behavior with his young daughter and to an incident of “joyriding” with her, I believe these were isolated occurrences and would not occur if the father-daughter relationship was stabilized. The father’s continuing inability to pay child support should not be used to deprive him or his child of their relationship. I recommend visitation to the father and therapy for the mother to help her deal with her pathological dependence on her own mother.

Here is an evaluation from a New York case:

The mother claims that her son has been terrorized by his father during so-called drunken rages. She claims that the father allegedly threatened to kill the boy’s dog if his son didn’t obey him. The wife claims she has been battered and that her husband tried to control her every waking hour. I don’t see this. She is too self-confident, too bossy. This woman has her own business and earns more than the father does. The father has been in treatment for alcoholism and says he is now recovered. He lives with the paternal grandparents, who are prosperous. The boy needs to live with male role models, his father and grandfather, especially since his mother has a career and is obviously hostile to men.

It made no difference to either evaluator—one a man, the other a woman—that both fathers were verified as having been treated for mental illness and alcoholism, had been fired from jobs for “losing their tempers” and for repeated absences, and had often “disappeared” from home. That both mothers had been their children’s sole support, psychologically and economically, and had sought help from the police, hospitals, and, in one case, a shelter for battered women. None of this impressed the evaluators. Incredibly, these reports—and they are typical—found the mothers “guilty,” the fathers “innocent.”

How can one fight such an incredible catch-22?

At some level, the evaluators do believe that the fathers have done some- thing “wrong,” but they don’t want to penalize them for their actions. In fact, when allegations of paternal violence are believed, the father is then exonerated by virtue of having a mental illness. While male mental illness is seen as either temporary or amenable to “therapeutic” intervention, women are often seen as suffering from near-permanent mental illnesses. Judges have been reluctant to order a wife batterer or child abuser out of the house or into jail; based on such psychiatric evaluations, they have instead ordered violent fathers into therapy or mediation. Violent or mentally ill fathers rarely lose their rights to visitation or custody; mothers, however, do. The following paragraphs are from an Illinois case and a Rhode Island case, respectively:

I guess I had a post-partum depression. I was always so tired, but I couldn’t sleep. What if I fell asleep and my babies needed me? I was all they had. I might not have needed pills or a two-week stay in a hospital if my husband had helped or allowed me to hire someone for the twins. When I put myself into a mental hospital, my in-laws persuaded my husband to move in with them, start divorce proceedings, and take custody away from me. Twice, when I and my parents, who finally decided to help me, tried to see my babies, my in-laws physically threw us out. The third time they had us arrested. The police threatened us. The judge said I was too sick to be a mother.

My ex-husband is charming, well-dressed, well-spoken, and comes from a very powerful family. He first beat me two weeks after we were married. The beatings continued. When I was pregnant, he kicked me so hard between the legs that he broke my water. I gave birth prematurely. During that beating I grazed his arm with a fork. I also pressed charges. He said I’d gone too far and I’d have to be punished. On the basis of his version of what I did with the fork, the custody psychiatrist stated that I was the abusive spouse. The psychiatrist pre- scribed a minimum of three years of therapy to cure my violence. He recommended that I have limited, supervised visitation and that sole custody go to my ex-husband and his live-in housekeeper. The judge agreed. I haven’t seen my child in three years.

“Good enough” mothers behave (and are trained to behave) differently toward children from the way “good enough” fathers do. Most mothers give birth to children after successful pregnancies.

Most “birth” and adoptive mothers do not physically abandon or physically abuse their children once they have gotten involved in caring for them.

Some mothers do physically neglect their children. A small (and unknown)  percentage of mothers  sexually abuse, torture, and kill their children.

All other things being equal, the majority of mothers physically nurture and support their children adequately, continuously, and in nonviolent ways.

All mothers are psychologically imperfect. Some are also psychologically abusive.

Most fathers are trained to neglect their children physically. Many fathers physically abandon their children. As we have seen, perhaps one in seven fathers (and stepfathers) sexually abuses his daughters; perhaps 50 percent of fathers economically abandon their children.

All fathers are psychologically imperfect. How many are also psychologically abusive? Most? Some? Few?

In a woman- and mother-hating culture, it is emotionally difficult or psychologically forbidden to acknowledge female or maternal superiority even—or especially—in the areas of female “specialization.” In a man- and father-idealizing culture, it is emotionally difficult or psychologically forbidden to acknowledge male or paternal inferiority even—or especially—in the areas of male nonspecialization. These are two of the reasons we “forget” that a “good enough” mother is different from a “good enough” father.

As adults, we respond “indignantly” to news of an abused child. We experience child abuse as something extraordinary, not ordinary; as something that other parents, mainly mothers, do; not as something that our own parents, or fathers, once did to us; not as something that we as parents do to our children; and not as something that fathers allow to happen to large numbers of children in their name and without their protest.

As adults, we confuse images of maternal psychological imperfection with maternal psychological and physical unfitness. For example, the idea of a mother’s locking her child into a room arouses our rage and a deep sense of heartbreak. (Why? Were we all once left in rooms alone? If so, do we think that this constitutes “child abuse”? Does it?)

The idea of a mother’s verbally tormenting or refusing to speak to her child at all or the idea of a mother’s neglecting or beating her child provokes the greatest fury and terror in us. (Why? Did our mothers or fathers beat us? If not, why do we so empathetically identify with the image of an abused child? Are we by nature altruists?)

As children, none of us could escape or protest whatever minor or major abuse we suffered at maternal and paternal hands. Now, in one mighty adult voice, we vent our long-suppressed fury at the mother in the child-abuse headlines. She is utterly evil and can never be rehabilitated. (How can she be? She is a “stand-in” for so many mothers.) She is very powerful. This time she must not escape us.

Given male violence (or indifference), how can our own mothers accept or defend the way things are? (And they do, they do. . . .) How can our own mothers bear to hear our cries and do nothing? How can they leave us alone in the tiny rooms of our lives?

Given male violence and our fear of it, we scapegoat mothers instead. (They are trained to “take it” without killing or abandoning us.) Given male violence and our fear of it, we ask: How dare any mother refuse to become pregnant? How dare any mother have an abortion or abandon, abuse, or kill a child—because if she can, then there is no respite on earth, no one to bear the brunt of our imperfections, and no one to save us. We, the innocent, are damned.

Medea—not Jason, not Creon—is still the one we blame.

In summary, an ideal mother is very different from an ideal father. A real mother is also different from a real father. Traditionally, an ideal mother is expected to choose married motherhood  for her future at a very young age. She is expected to become pregnant, give birth, psychologically “bond” with her children, and assume bottom-line responsibility for her children’s physical, emotional, and economic needs. She is also expected to behave in physically nonviolent and psychologically self-sacrificing ways.

Nevertheless, this female socialization into and practice of motherhood is devalued and taken for granted. We experience the same parental abuse as “worse” when a mother performs it. We condemn mothers more than fathers for failing the parental ideal, for performing parental work inadequately, for being psychologically imperfect, and for being physically abusive.

With such double standards and anti-mother biases, what kind of custodially challenged mother would automatically be viewed as a “good enough” mother? (A person might say, “There must be something wrong with her. Why else would her husband or the state challenge her?”)

Do judges, priests, politicians, psychiatrists, or social workers view unwed, imprisoned, or “career” mothers as maternally fit? Would they view their custodial victimization as unjust? Do white married mothers or white social workers view nonwhite or welfare mothers as maternally fit?

Most custodially challenged mothers blame themselves for being imperfect. What kind of custodially challenged mother would view herself, or be viewed by other challenged mothers, as a truly “good enough” mother?

I decided to study sixty custodially challenged, predominantly white mothers who had internalized the Western ideals of motherhood and were demographically similar to the majority of divorced white mothers in America. These sixty mothers were custodially challenged in every geographical region of the United States and Canada between 1960 and 1981. In addition, I interviewed fifty mothers who were black, brown, yellow, and red. Some, but not all, were part of this study. They are very much a part of this book.

In general, the sixty mothers I studied married as virgins—or they married the first man they slept with. They both married and gave birth at relatively young ages. They assumed the bottom-line domestic, emotional, and primary child-care responsibilities of traditional marriages. In general, these mothers stayed at home until their youngest children were of grade-school age. Both psychologically and physically they put “work” or a “career” second to motherhood.

During our interviews together, these mothers casually and  matter-of-factly described performing at least twenty-five very specific maternal domestic and child-related chores—quite separate from domestic chores that are husband related.

As I noted in the introduction, I was exploring a worst-case scenario.

Could a “good enough” mother ever lose custody? Could she lose custody to a relatively uninvolved or abusive father? Could this happen more than once? Could this happen often?

In my book Women and Madness, I allowed each of my sixty interviewees to establish what would ultimately be a collective portrait of the mental health profession. I employed this approach with custodially challenged mothers.

However, I also interviewed fifty-five fathers who battled for, won, or gave up custody. These independent interviews confirmed many of my conclusions about the range of paternal custodial motives.

The study you are about to read is a study of “good enough” mothers. Unbidden and silent, the mother Medea accompanied me to each interview.

Reprinted with permission from “Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody,” Revised and Updated Second Edition by Phyllis Chesler. Text copyright 2011 Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press. Published by Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press (distributed by IPG). Available in stores and online.

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It’s All About the Power and Control, I Mean the Kids

In domestic law on July 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Everyday we all hear about or read about divorcing couples fighting over who gets the kids.  Fighting over their own children like they are some sort of property to be traded back and forth.  There are many people that believe ALL mothers should always have custody with very little to no visitation for fathers; and likewise there are those out there that believe the opposite, ALL fathers should get custody and mothers should get little to no visitation.

Personally I don’t see how so many people can see this issue in such black and white terms.  Not ALL mothers are good parents and not ALL fathers are good parents.  For the most part the daily news will show us that most child abuse and child murders are committed by fathers, and yes, occasionally by mothers.  This still doesn’t prove that ALL fathers are bad or good or that ALL mothers are bad or good.

In the last few years I have learned more about the Father’s Rights Movement, and I can say that I’m more than a little shocked at what I’ve learned.  The Father’s Rights Advocates would have everyone believe that they are just concerned for fathers as a whole having shared or joint custody.  They would have us believe that their number one concern is actually the children in divorces and custody cases.  On the surface if one doesn’t dig too much that sounds wonderful.

However, when looked at further it is easily seen what the real agenda is for the Father’s Rights Movement.  The further abuse and victimization of their ex-wives and children.  Before I go any further here, I’d like to point out that I fully believe that good fathers have

sought out the assistance of the Father’s Rights Movement and one of two things happens… they either leave, frustrated and still alone in their plight OR they become enmeshed in the bitterness which abounds.

What I see out of Father’s Rights Advocates around the internet appears to be mostly just a bunch of men (and a few women that will do anything to get the attention or have a little power for themselves) who have been abusive in one way or another to the mother of their children and now feel that comfy rug of power and control being ripped from under their feet. 

What better way to continue to abuse and control your victim when they walk away than to take possession of their children?

One main reason that I’ve formed the opinion that I have of the Father’s Rights Movement is because only abusers would look at the news we see of fathers murdering and abusing their kids and deny that it happens, or make excuses for it happening.  The strict adherence to the ‘ALL fathers should have custody’ line that they feed everyone is the basis of my opinion that the majority of those in the movement are abusers grasping at keeping the power and control they had.

Here is an example, mind you… this is only one search, but there are many like this.

VISITOR ANALYSIS

Referrer
http://www.google.com/m?q=do wifes come back after losing custody?&start=20&sa=N

Search Engine Phrase
do wifes come back after losing custody?

Search Engine Name
Google

Search Engine Host
http://www.google.com

Host Name
74-82-64-35.rdns.blackberry.net

IP Address
74.82.64.35
[Label IP Address]

Country
United States

Why would someone look for this?  Other than because they are contemplating attempting to gain custody through the Family Court just to get their ex-wife back under their power.  This doesn’t sound like a man who loves his kids and wants the best for them, this sounds like a man who loves control and will use whatever means available to him to maintain or re-gain his power and control.

I never meant for this to be this long, so I will wrap this up by saying… not ALL men should have access to their children regardless of what the FR Advocates say.  Likewise, I can admit that not ALL women that give birth are the best parent choice either.  The natural equipment that we are born with which enables us to create life does NOT dictate how a person will be as a parent.

Since it is obvious that I have much more to say about this… there will be other posts on this subject.

Read more at denomshischaostheory.blogspot.com

 

‘Fathers’ rights’ and the defence of paternal authority in Australia

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm
Amplify’d from www.xyonline.net

Feminism’s achievements regarding violence against women are a key target for the fathers’ rights movement. This article provides an overview of the impact of the fathers’ rights movement on men’s violence against women. It documents the ways in which fathers’ rights groups in Australia have influenced changes in family law, which privilege parental contact over safety, particularly through moves toward a presumption of children’s joint residence. They have attempted to discredit female victims of violence, to wind back the legal protections available to victims and the sanctions imposed on perpetrators, and to undermine services for the victims of men’s violence.

Please see below for the full article, in PDF.

Attachment Size
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Flood, ‘Fathers’ rights’ and defence of paternal authority.pdf 233.73 KB

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The use of violence by fathers’ rights activists: A compilation of news reports

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm
Amplify’d from www.xyonline.net
Note: The following is a compilation of examples of bomb threats, other forms of abuse or harassment, actual bombings, and other criminal behaviour (such as planned kidnapping) committed largely in the UK but also in Australia, by fathers’ right activists. It also includes some cases where fathers’ rights activists have convictions for domestic violence, although it concentrates on the use of bomb threats and other forms of public violence.
I compiled this collection of news reports using the media database “Factiva”. I searched for relevant items over the period from March 2006 back to mid-2003, and I looked only in newspaper reports (rather than also in radio, television, and other sources). I have copied below the news items I could find about the use of violence by fathers’ rights activists. I have omitted news reports of fathers’ rights actions involving non-violent direct action, such as those by Fathers4Justice in the UK (such as throwing a flour-filled condom at Prime Minister Tony Blair in the British Parliament, scaling Westminster Abbey in April 2006, and so on).
These news reports demonstrate that fathers’ rights groups have used tactics of intimidation and violence, such incidents are well documented, they are being used now rather than only in the past, and at times they have resulted in injuries or deaths.
In the “short version” of this compilation below, I have deleted text from each report that does not pertain directly to the use of violence. In the “long version” below this, I have included the full text for each item. However, I have made no changes to the actual text of these news items.
—————————————————————————
SHORT VERSION
Howard’s family friendly court pick
Katherine Towers
25 June 2004
Australian Financial Review
[…] In 1980, Family Court Justice David Opas was shot dead in his Sydney home. Four years later, Justice Richard Gee was admitted to hospital after a bomb destroyed his Sydney home.
In July 1984, Pearl Watson, wife of Family Court judge Justice Ray Watson, was murdered when a bomb exploded on the doorstep of their home.
———
Family Court security ‘at risk’.
By Benjamin Haslem.
15 July 2003
The Australian
[…] Mr Rowley said there was now “a much higher chance of security being compromised” in the Family Court, which has lost two judges to assassination and has been involved in numerous stabbings, shootings and assaults.
[…] In 1980, Family Court judge David Opas was assassinated outside his Sydney home in front of his young family.
Four years later Justice Richard Gee was killed when a bomb exploded at his Sydney home.
A month later a bomb exploded at the Family Court in Parramatta, three months before the wife of Justice Raymond Watson, Pearl, was killed by a bomb at the couple’s Sydney home.
CORRECTIONS – IN an article headlined “Family Court security ‘at risk’’’ on Page 3 yesterday it was reported that the then Family Court judge Richard Gee was killed when a bomb exploded at his Sydney home in 1984. Justice Gee was injured, not killed, and is still alive. The Australian sincerely apologises to Justice Gee, his family and friends for any distress caused by the error. (AUSTLN, 16/7/2003)
———
Family courts under fire from angry parents and protesters
Jon Robins
11 January 2005
The Times
Jon Robins reports on how Cafcass is coping with some hostile campaigners
THE publicity stunts pulled off by campaiging fathers might make us smile, but the extremes to which some of the more militant protesters go are no joke to the staff of the Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
More than 100 hoax bomb warnings were sent to Cafcass offices in one year. The scale of the campaign against the troubled children’s court service was revealed recently in a dossier prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo).
[…] Over the past few months the campaign against Cafcass has increased. A package containing fish heads, rotting meat and maggots was delivered to the Portsmouth office in September. It was reported in the local press that one protester had said: “We have names and addresses” of Cafcass officers. In October, the following message was left on the answerphone at the Kingston office: “Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.” […]
———
Law frustrates mothers” desire to tell the other side of story
Maxine Frith
15 September 2004
The Independent
THEY ARE portrayed as scorned women who take out their bitterness over a failed relationship on the innocent fathers of their children.
But for the former partners of men in the Fathers 4 Justice movement, the high-profile protests are a source of frustration and intimidation which leave them no right to reply.
[…] But the women whose former partners have joined F4J are often plunged into an impossible position by the stunts. They are frustrated by what they say is one-sided reporting of their ex-partners” conduct..
If they speak out, they risk breaching court injunctions over naming their children in public – many of the men, including the Batman protester Jason Hatch, circumvent these rules by changing their names.
When details do emerge, it becomes obvious that in many cases, the circumstances are not as clear cut as F4J often portrays them. Mr O”Connor”s former wife Sophie has said – and he has since admitted – that he had affairs, drank heavily and failed to keep to the initial arrangements for access to their children. Another F4J member, Conrad Campbell, told how he was jailed last year for texting his son on his birthday. But he had been sent on an anger management programme for attacking his former partner, and was under a court injunction.
Lawyers who act for the women also tend to refuse media requests for interviews.
Some outspoken solicitors have experienced the more intimidating tactics of the pressure group. The buildings of the Parker Bird law firm in Huddersfield were stormed this year by more than 15 members of F4J, who graffitied the walls. They presented Karen Woodhead, the head of family law, with a golden petrol can, which they claimed represented her firm “pouring petrol on the flames in divorce and childcare cases”.
Last summer, David Burrows, who was head of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), was ambushed by a protest outside his home. Kim Beatson, who chairs the SFLA, said: “They claim they are non-violent but they are becoming increasingly militant.” […]
———
Poor, poor daddy. Nasty old mummy: The tactics now used by estranged fathers can only harm children
Madeleine Bunting:
6 February 2004
The Guardian
The tactics are those of the playground bully. Clever, attention grabbing, even witty: Batman, Robin, Superman and Spider-Man instigated traffic chaos this week in Bristol when they climbed Clifton suspension bridge to protest at the alleged systematic discrimination against fathers wanting contact with their children after divorce. Spider-Man pulled off a similar feat on London’s Tower Bridge last November when he sat in a crane for six days.
But it’s not just macho stunts. Fathers 4 Justice’s tactics are getting more personal and much nastier. A few days ago, they targeted the home of a third female family court judge. Judge Marilyn Mornington was away, so her two sons, 17 and 20, were left to face the demonstrators’ chanted threats. Last summer, there was a wave of 60 hoax bomb attacks on family courts across Britain. […]
———
Mail bomb hoax alert.
15 August 2003
The Express
UP to 60 packages made to look like letter bombs and chemical or biological booby traps were posted to courts and family law centres yesterday.
At least half were sent to Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service offices.
Many were postmarked locally, suggesting a campaign rather than a lone protester. The packages proved harmless, but Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch is investigating.
[…]
———
“I HIT MY OWN WIFE”
231 words
5 January 2005
South Wales Echo
Prominent fathers” rights campaigner Matthew Mudge has a conviction for assaulting his former wife, it emerged today. Mr Mudge, 41, is chairman of the Cardiff branch of Fathers Need Families and a member of the controversial Fathers 4 Justice campaign.
[…] In 1998, Cardiff magistrates were told Mr Mudge denied hitting his wife in their then home in Whitchurch.
Today, he told the Echo he has never made a secret of his conviction, and that all the groups with whom he is involved – including Match: Mothers Apart from Their Children – know of his past.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of because, as I said at my trial, I did nothing wrong,” he said.
“I had never been in trouble with the police before, and I have not been in trouble since. All my friends know that I simply would not have behaved in that way.”
In court, Ilone Mudge, a doctor, accused her husband of punching her after breaking in to their bathroom when she locked herself inside. […]
———
Welsh Fathers4Justice activist assaulted wife
By MARTIN SHIPTON Western Mail
5 January 2005
The Western Mail
The most prominent campaigner for fathers” rights in Wales has two convictions for assaulting his former wife.
During one of the assaults, which took place seven years ago, Matthew Mudge is alleged to have knocked his then wife unconscious.
Our disclosure comes after a network TV programme claimed several unnamed prominent members of Fathers4Justice had convictions involving domestic violence against their former partners. […]
———
Protesting fathers are accused of dirty tricks
31 December 2004
Western Daily Press
A West courtroom worker has been branded a “Nazi war criminal” while colleagues face a stream of intimidation from fathers’ rights protesters, it was claimed yesterday.
Probation officers’ union Napo sent Children’s Minister Margaret Hodge a dossier about incidents of verbal abuse and physical threats.
They included more than 100 bomb hoaxes sent to offices of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). It also claimed the names of family court staff had been published on websites, and their offices daubed with graffiti, locks glued, windows broken and banners unfurled on buildings calling them “child abusers”.
In one incident, a large, rotten fish was posted at a Cafcass office and another received a message saying:
“Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.” […]
A Cafcass spokeswoman claimed that Fathers4Justice was among the groups responsible for the intimidation.
She said: “We cannot go ahead like this. All our staff have the right to get on with their jobs without fear of intimidation.
“In the past, intimidating behaviour has been proven to have originated from Fathers4Justice.
“We have had the names of workers in Bristol and Taunton posted on websites.
“Following people down the street calling them child abusers, or saying ‘We know where you live’ is not acceptable.”
———
Dads’ rights campaigners suspended
8 December 2004
Portsmouth News
TWO Fathers 4 Justice campaigners have been suspended after a News investigation exposed racism, sexism and violence at the heart of the Hampshire branch of the group.
Hampshire co-ordinator Phil Osgood and his right-hand man Paul Robinson could now be thrown out of the fathers’ rights group after our undercover investigation.
Yesterday, after our reporter infiltrated the group for three months, we revealed how Mr Osgood of Beryton Road, Gosport, bragged about threatening his ex-lover’s new boyfriend with a baseball bat and how some members got drunk while on camping trips with their children and called for ‘Pakis’ to be sent back home.
We also revealed how Mr Robinson of Eastern Avenue, Milton, Portsmouth, condoned violence on a woman who stopped a father seeing his child.
Mr Osgood defended his words and actions but Mr Robinson denied making the comments.
But now Fathers 4 Justice’s co-founder, Matt O’Connor, has suspended the pair and launched an inquiry into their behaviour.
———
FATHERS 4 TERROR.
BY BECKY SHEAVES
25 November 2004
Daily Mail
HOW THINGS change. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an article in which I explained why, as a wife and mother, I passionately supported Fathers 4 Justice. […] But recent heavy-handed, intimidating and downright violent incidents by angry fathers’ rights activists have given me — and many others — cause for great concern.
It seems that the so-called ‘fathers’ move-ment’ has adopted similarly distasteful tactics to those used by animal rights protesters.
In doing so, the pressure group is in danger of alienating any moderate supporters it once had. In one of the worst incidents, an angry father poured petrol over a female solicitor’s car engine. If she had started the car, it could have exploded and caused enormous damage and injury.
In August, there was the occupation of Gloucester’s Cafcass (Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Service) office, when superhero- clad Fathers 4 Justice campaigners called the staff there ‘child abusers’ through a megaphone, identifying them by name.
The same office also came under attack when rotting meat and fish were pushed through its letterbox. Fathers 4 Justice has admitted it may have been involved. A senior member of Cafcass staff said: ‘The whole place was stinking for a week, the smell was revolting. And to be called child abusers is deeply insulting for my staff.’
In another unpleasant incident in the Midlands, Fathers 4 Justice activists invaded a Cafcass office and tied up an employee who suffered from a heart condition. Judges, too, have been targeted. Andrew Don, a district judge from Reading, gave a radio interview last month in which he said the law was not biased in favour of the mother, but aimed to serve the best interests of the child.
‘Almost immediately I received all kinds of aggressive e-mails with threats,’ he said. Days later, his office was invaded by ten men from Fathers 4 Justice in decontamination suits. So much for freedom of speech.
CAFCASS court reporters are members of Napo, the National Association of Probation Officers, and the organisation has been so appalled by the threats meted out to its members by militant fathers that it has compiled a dossier of incidents of intimidation. The union is due to present its claims to Government ministers this month.
And so it seems that what began as an earnest and heartfelt campaign is, sadly, now attracting the sort of men who are angry, aggressive and violent. The very men I would hope the courts do keep away from children.
Jason Hatch, the Batman who occupied the Buckingham Palace balcony for six hours in September, has four children by three women, all in relationships which have since foundered.
In January 2002, Hatch appeared at Gloucester Crown Court accused of threatening to kill his then wife Victoria Jones, mother of two of his children. It was ordered that the charges were to lie on file.
Despite this, Fathers 4 Justice refuses to condemn him and he remains one of the campaign’s leading lights.
‘What he said to Victoria was uttered in the heat of the moment during a time when he was very upset and distressed at not seeing his children,’ says the campaign’s leader, Matt O’Connor. Be that as it may, Hatch has subsequently not helped his cause by boasting to an undercover journalist that he has bedded more than 100 women in his life and revealing a worryingly misogynistic streak.
‘I just love ******* women,’ he told the reporter. ‘I’ve had more than 100 one-night stands in the past five years. They are all bitches.’
Matt O’Connor points out that a high number of lovers does not necessarily make a man a bad father. True, but in a battle for the hearts and minds of the British public, such information is hardly likely to boost the Fathers 4 Justice campaign.
The pressure group does have one man convicted of violence among its most high-profile activists. He is deputy leader Eddie Gorecki, 46, who recently scaled the Royal Courts of Justice dressed as Batman. He married his ex-wife, Kelly, in 1988. They have four children together, but it was a relationship marred by violence, so much so that Kelly several times took out injunctions against Gorecki.
In 1995, according to Kelly, he beat her so badly that she suffered two skull fractures and spent five days in intensive care. He later attacked her cousin at a barbecue during a heated family row.
KELLY has said: ‘I ended up dropping the charges. He then beat up my cousin, Shelly. He is a thug and he shouldn’t represent decent fathers.’ Shelly Johnson, Kelly’s cousin, suffered a broken nose and black eyes and didn’t shy away from pressing charges against Gorecki. He was jailed for nine months for affray and assault in June 2001. You would imagine that Fathers 4 Justice would want to distance itself from these violent, dangerous men. But Matt O’Connor refuses to do so.
‘I believe in rehabilitation and righting wrongs,’ he told me yesterday. ‘If a man has done his time and taken his punishment, he should be given another chance. These men can still be loving, devoted fathers. The violence issue is really peripheral to our campaign.’ […]
———
Fathers ‘terrorise’ lawyers
John Elliott and Abul Taher
21 November 2004
The Sunday Times
Campaigners accused of threats
MEMBERS of Fathers 4 Justice have been accused of inspiring a campaign of violent threats and intimidation against court staff and family lawyers.
A dossier compiled by the union representing family court staff shows its members have been sent fake letter bombs and hate mail, had rotting meat put through an office letter box and been subjected to verbal abuse.
In one of the worst incidents -for which nobody has claimed responsibility -a solicitor found her car engine and headlights doused in petrol, which could have exploded when she started the engine.
Fathers 4 Justice, which seeks to improve fathers’ access to children following marriage break-ups, denies involvement in this incident but admits staging attacks on the offices of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
It denies its members have carried out attacks on individuals. However, the union, Napo, accuses it of leading the campaign against Cafcass staff.
The union, which will present its evidence to ministers this month, claims Fathers 4 Justice and other fathers’ rights groups have in the past year adopted similar tactics to animal rights militants where staff have been “named and shamed” on websites. This is staunchly denied by Fathers 4 Justice.
[…] In one of the most serious attacks, 60 fake bombs were sent to Cafcass offices last year causing buildings to be evacuated and anti-terrorist police brought in to investigate. […]
———
Workplace Staff targeted in hate campaign.
Shirley Kumar
28 October 2004
Community Care
A small number of fathers’ rights “campaigners” are mounting a hate campaign against the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services.
In the past five months, rotting fish, decomposing meat and live maggots have been posted through the letterboxes of 20 regional offices in England and Wales.
Children and family court reporters have been followed home, received abusive phone calls and had personal property vandalised. Last year, around 100 suspect parcels were posted to regional offices. […]
———-
Police launch investigation as MP targeted in handbills
By BESSIE ROBINSON
384 words
15 October 2004
The Northern Echo
05
English
(c) 2004 North of England Newspapers.
HUNDREDS of handbills attacking one of the region’s most senior MPs were delivered to homes and businesses across her constituency in a co-ordinated night-time operation.
Police are investigating Tuesday’s leaflet drop, which was branded the work of cowards and bullies by their target, Government Chief Whip and North-West Durham MP Hilary Armstrong.
Over a few hours, residents in an area covering Crook, Wolsingham, Frosterley, Castleside, Lanchester and Langley Park, in County Durham, reported seeing young men in dark suits handing out the unsigned photocopies.
In Wolsingham, they were seen working in pairs in the Market Place at about 8.30pm before a group of six met up and moved to another part of the village.
The literature claimed to be “not from a political party, but from a mother whose family has been destroyed”, and criticised her stance on such issues as homosexuality, drug misuse, domestic violence, foxhunting, rural crime and fathers’ rights. […]
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Who’s afraid of the big bad dad? His idea of protest is to harass women and children, dressed in the black shirt of historical oppression. Meet the leader of the extreme wing of the father’s movement. By Julie-Anne Davies.
By Julie-Anne Davies
1,131 words
12 October 2004
The Bulletin
Volume 122; Number 41
[…] Abbott is the charismatic leader of the “Black Shirts”, a disparate group of middle-aged (mainly) men whose demands include repeal of divorce laws and the abolition of the Family Court. Their vigilante tactics – staging demonstrations outside women’s homes dressed in their heavily symbolic black uniforms and masks, and addressing the neighbourhood with megaphones – were last week described by a Victorian County Court judge as grotesque.
The judge’s comments came after Abbott was found guilty of stalking a Melbourne woman who was formerly married to an associate of his. During the trial, the court heard that Abbott and three or four of his masked cohorts staged two protests outside the woman’s home. The group also letterboxed the woman’s neighbours with leaflets that said, among other things, that she was involved in a child-access dispute and described her as a “so-called mother”. None of this impressed Judge Leslie Ross, who, in sentencing Abbott to four months’ jail (suspended for 18 months), equated the Black Shirts’ intimidating attire with European fascist oppression.
[…]
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Blackshirt gets suspended jail term
Chee Chee Leung
30 September 2004
The Age
The leader of the Blackshirts fathers’ group walked free from court yesterday after receiving a suspended jail term for stalking a divorced mother.
A County Court judge described John Abbott’s conduct as grotesque and frightening, before imposing a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.
The 58-year-old was found guilty on Tuesday of stalking the woman in September 2001 by holding two protests outside her eastern suburbs home.
Abbott and three or four other men wore black uniforms and masked their faces with scarves in what the judge described as “quite grotesque” behaviour.
Judge Leslie Ross said the Blackshirts’ intimidating attire was synonymous with European oppression, and led to a “most harrowing and frightening” situation.
He said it was unacceptable and unpardonable that the group used a loudspeaker and named the woman, who was formerly married to an associate of Abbott. The men also distributed leaflets to the woman’s neighbours that said she was in a child-access dispute and described her as a “so-called mother”. […]
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Abbott to put shirt on political push
Peter Ellingsen
592 words
3 October 2004
Sunday Age
Last week the law caught up with John Abbott. The leader of the Blackshirts fathers’ group was found guilty in the County Court of stalking, and given a four-month suspended jail sentence. It came two years after Abbott, 58, shocked the city by leading posses of masked men to protest outside the homes of often terrified women. […]
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Fathers 4 Justice to disband in wake of kidnapping plot
Jan Melrose
493 words
19 January 2006
THE fathers’ rights campaigner who carried out a flour bomb attack on Tony Blair has condemned a plot to kidnap the Prime Minister’s son.
Ron Davis, from Findon near Worthing, spoke yesterday before Fathers 4 Justice announced it was to disband in the wake of the furore over the alleged plot.
Mr Davis hit the headlines in 2004 when he and Guy Harrison, from Steyning, threw three condoms filled with purple flour over Mr Blair in the House of Commons.
The stunt was to raise awareness of the group’s view that fathers are unfairly treated by family courts.
But the kidnap plan, reported by The Sun newspaper yesterday to have been planned by a group of extremists on the periphery of Fathers 4 Justice, provoked widespread condemnation.
Mr Davis, who has not seen his 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son in seven years, said the plot to abduct five-year-old Leo was “horrendous”.
Later last night, the group’s leader Matt O’Connor told Channel 4 News the group could not continue in light of such negative publicity. He said: “I regret to say that three years after starting the organisation, we’re going to cease and bring it to a close.”
However, Terence Bates, of splinter group Real Fathers 4 Justice, insisted they would continue to campaign. He said Mr O’Connor should have wound up his arm of the group a year ago when it split.
[…] Special branch officers uncovered the plot as they investigated ex-members of Fathers 4 Justice expelled from the organisation for extremist behaviour. […]
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Family courts under fire from angry parents and protesters
Jon Robins
965 words
11 January 2005
The Times
Jon Robins reports on how Cafcass is coping with some hostile campaigners
THE publicity stunts pulled off by campaiging fathers might make us smile, but the extremes to which some of the more militant protesters go are no joke to the staff of the Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
More than 100 hoax bomb warnings were sent to Cafcass offices in one year. The scale of the campaign against the troubled children’s court service was revealed recently in a dossier prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo). Surely such sustained intimidation must take a toll on its staff? Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, insists that it has not affected their work. He has been in the job since September and since then has visited 112 of Cafcass’s 140 offices and met about 1,400 staff. He has been impressed by the “total commitment and love of their work”.
But he says: “Many staff, particularly in the private law work, feel a cumulative bombardment and attrition from angry parents and, in particular, from the pressure groups.”
It is hardly surprising. Over the past few months the campaign against Cafcass has increased. A package containing fish heads, rotting meat and maggots was delivered to the Portsmouth office in September. It was reported in the local press that one protester had said: “We have names and addresses” of Cafcass officers. In October, the following message was left on the answerphone at the Kingston office: “Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.” […]
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Breakaway groups no threat, despite kidnapping rumour;Fathers 4 Justice
Stewart Tendler and Lewis Smith
354 words
21 January 2006
The Times
35
English
(c) 2006 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
REAL Fathers 4 Justice and other breakaway groups are being monitored by police but are not thought to present a significant threat of extremist action.
Despite the reported plot to kidnap Tony Blair’s youngest son, security services regard fathers’ rights campaigners as likely to be a nuisance rather than a danger.
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, set up by chief constables, is still concentrating on animal rights groups and will start looking at fathers’ rights campaigners only if they become more of a threat.
Monitoring of known activists is being carried out by individual forces, senior police officers said yesterday, and Special Branch officers are briefed to watch for more extreme tendencies. […]
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End of the road for league of irate dads
James Button Herald Correspondent in London
783 words
21 January 2006
The Sydney Morning Herald
Blair kidnap plot is final straw
IT WAS 10 days before Christmas, not the best time in the lives of men separated from their children. The group of men had been to a demonstration in Londonof the fathers’ rights group Fathers4Justice.
Dressed in the Santa Claus costumes they wore to the rally, they were having a pint and talking tactics in Ye Olde London Pub, near St Paul’s Cathedral.
One of the men suggested: “What about kidnapping the Prime Minister’s son?”
Whether it was a serious plan or just the beer talking, word of it reached police. While The Sun, which broke the story this week, talked breathlessly of police “smashing” the plot in a series of raids, men who had been present said police had in fact visited their homes for a talk.
But police did reportedly tell them they would be shot dead if they tried to carry out the kidnap attempt on Leo Blair, 5.
So ended what was probably the world’s best-known fathers’ rights group. A day after the plot was revealed, the despairing leader of Fathers4Justice, Matt O’Connor, said he was disbanding the organisation he founded in 2002.
[…] Although the organisation pelted Blair in the House of Commons with condoms full of purple flour – prompting The Times to describe it as “the most prominent guerilla pressure group in Britain” – Mr O’Connor said he was non-violent and his heroes included Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Under his leadership the organisation grew to claim 12,000 members. It opened branches in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the US. In January last year GQ named Mr O’Connor the 92nd most powerful man in Britain.
But the group had a harsher side, what Mr O’Connor this week called a “dark underbelly”. Solicitors who took briefs for mothers in family court cases were bombarded with abusive emails; unpopular judges were visited at home.
In August 2003 anti-terrorist police investigated the posting of 60 hoax bombs to court offices. Former wives and girlfriends of some of the fathers told The Times of break-ups involving domestic violence and terrifying scenes of aggression in front of children.
A splinter faction, which resented Mr O’Connor for what they saw as his domineering approach, last year formed Real Fathers4Justice. This group is blamed for the kidnap plan but its director, Jeff Skinner, told The Guardian the idea that the plot was serious was ridiculous.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t we kidnap the Prime Minister’s son’. Everyone told him, ‘Don’t be stupid’.”
A police investigator agreed, telling The Times: “This bird was never going to fly.”
But the formation of the breakaway radical wing – along with fears that some militant fathers in Liverpool are planning violent direct action – prompted police to increase surveillance of the group. […]
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Plot to kidnap Blair’s son surfaces: Extremists in group advocating fathers’ rights suspected
Sarah Womack and George Jones
The Daily Telegraph; with files from Agence France-Presse and Reuters
904 words
19 January 2006
National Post
National
LONDON – Fathers 4 Justice, an advocacy group for men involved in child custody battles, was abruptly disbanded yesterday after allegations extremist members were plotting to kidnap the five- […]
The kidnap plan, apparently in its early stages, was revealed by The Sun newspaper yesterday and confirmed by police sources to the BBC.
Britain’s biggest-selling daily said “vigilante dads” aimed to kidnap Leo Blair and hold him hostage for a short period to “highlight the plight of fathers denied access to their kids.”
[…] The group has staged lighthearted stunts such as crane-top protesters dressed as comic-book heroes and climbing public buildings.
Campaigners have become highly confrontational: Lawyers have been bombarded with abusive e-mails, court offices stormed and judges visited at home.
These activities led to accusations from lawyers and former wives that the organization had created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.
Some former wives and girlfriends of the group’s members described the breakups of their relationships as involving violence and told of being forced to live in refuges and incidents in which their children witnessed frightening aggression by their fathers.
Two years ago, anti-terrorist police were called in to investigate the sending of 60 hoax bombs to family court offices around the country by extremists — denounced by Fathers 4 Justice — demanding more rights for fathers.
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Fathers 4 Violence
Rachel Richardson
322 words
6 November 2005
The News of the World
Dads’ army thugs shock
THE caring dads’ army image of the Fathers4Justice group is set to be blown apart as extremist members are exposed as VIOLENT BULLIES.
The group-who dress as superheroes to campaign for more fathers’ rights contains yobs who will stop at nothing to further their cause, a shocking TV documentary will reveal.
Prominent member Eddie “Goldtooth” Gorecki-who scaled London’s Royal Courts of Justice wearing a Batman outfit (right)-allegedly threatened to KILL his ex-partner Kelly to force her to allow him access to his four kids.
Beating
One activist boasted about planning a “HIT” on another member’s ex-missus, the ITV1 Tonight With Trevor McDonald show, will reveal.
And he crowed to an undercover reporter about how he “FLATTENED” his ex-wife’s nose.
While another member suggested plotting a SECURITY SCARE on the Tube -just a week after the July 7 terror bombs. Gor- ecki, 46, a well-respected deputy leader, is also filmed making sick racist and sexist remarks, and bragging about vandalising courts and children’s charity offices.
The hardliner-who has convictions for armed robbery and assault-allegedly beat his ex Kelly so badly she suffered a fractured skull and spent five days in intensive care.
Fanatics from the group-which once powder- bombed Premier Tony Blair-were the subject of a year-long secret investigation.
A TV insider said: “Many of the activists are happy to bully ex-lovers and threaten anyone in their way.”
[…] Dads’ Army: Inside Fathers For Justice, is on ITV1 tomorrow and Friday at 8pm.
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LONG VERSION
Family courts under fire from angry parents and protesters
Jon Robins
965 words
11 January 2005
Law 3
English
(c) 2005 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
Jon Robins reports on how Cafcass is coping with some hostile campaigners
THE publicity stunts pulled off by campaiging fathers might make us smile, but the extremes to which some of the more militant protesters go are no joke to the staff of the Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
More than 100 hoax bomb warnings were sent to Cafcass offices in one year. The scale of the campaign against the troubled children’s court service was revealed recently in a dossier prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo). Surely such sustained intimidation must take a toll on its staff? Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, insists that it has not affected their work. He has been in the job since September and since then has visited 112 of Cafcass’s 140 offices and met about 1,400 staff. He has been impressed by the “total commitment and love of their work”.
But he says: “Many staff, particularly in the private law work, feel a cumulative bombardment and attrition from angry parents and, in particular, from the pressure groups.”
It is hardly surprising. Over the past few months the campaign against Cafcass has increased. A package containing fish heads, rotting meat and maggots was delivered to the Portsmouth office in September. It was reported in the local press that one protester had said: “We have names and addresses” of Cafcass officers. In October, the following message was left on the answerphone at the Kingston office: “Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.”
It is a surprise then that Cafcass has now decided to speak to some of the militant protesters. Douglas admits that some of his colleagues view this as a form of appeasement. But he believes that he owes a duty of care to his workers and wants to prevent an increase in harassment.
“The fathers’ groups raise, quite rightly, the situation of non-resident fathers who disappear from kids’ lives and we know that’s not in kids’ interests,” he says. “But I don’t think we are part of the problem. I genuinely believe our practitioners are trying to facilitate contact for both mothers and fathers in situations of implacable hostility.”
Each year Cafcass deals with about 30,000 cases where separating parents cannot agree on what is best for their children. As for there being an anti-father bias, Douglas has reviewed 600 cases personally and denies it. “Where decisions go against fathers I have seen the reasons for it – usually to do with family violence and the pure fear that mothers have about particular fathers.”
The Napo report shows that only a tiny fraction of fathers involved in family court proceedings, 0.8 per cent, were given no contact. Whereas 42 per cent of fathers no longer had contact with their children at the start of proceedings, by the end of proceedings the proportion had dropped to 6 per cent.
Matt O’Connor, the founder of Fathers4Justice, is not impressed by the statistics.
“They assume that the contact orders are actually worth the paper they’re written on,” he says. “A lot of these guys only get to send a birthday card or Christmas card once a year and that’s not contact. That’s not a relationship with your child.
“Fathers4Justice deny responsibility for intimidating Cafcass staff. A trademark of our campaign is humour, hopefully.” But he adds:. “All you need is one angry father to go off at a tangent but all I can do is make sure our house is in order.”
He argues that the culture that prevails in Cafcass is “fundamentally discriminatory against fathers”. “What we need is a proper support service where there is mandatory mediation and early intervention from properly trained professionals and not from people who are still displaying the old myths and stereotypes about fathers.”
For many family law practitioners, Cafcass is an organisation that has yet to find its feet and, in particular, recover from the damning select committee inquiry just over a year ago that led to the sacking of its board. “It still needs time to get over the really bad start,” says Yvonne Brown, a national committee member of Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association). “The problems have now been ongoing for several years and they are about insufficient numbers of quality staff and delays in allocation of case reports.”
Against this troubled background, the Green Paper Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parental Responsibilities reveals ministerial plans for a new and improved service. It proposes that officers write fewer reports and adopt a more “active problem-solving” role such as in-court conciliation. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor,has made clear that there will be no more money available for Cafcass.
Cafcass is comfortable with the Green Paper’s shift in focus. But it is going to be a struggle to turn around the fortunes of an underfunded organisation without extra resources. Douglas plans to cut bureaucracy to free money for more frontline staff and to work with the judiciary on eliminating unnecessary report writing.
Although critics would like to see Cafcass scrapped, Douglas is convinced of its vital role. One of the reasons for this is that he was adopted. “When you grow up with multiple relationships and more than one parent, life is complicated and not many people ask what you think and what you want,” he says. “We are there for the children who don’t have a voice. The more noise that comes from adult groups makes me more concerned that the voices of children aren’t drowned out.”
(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2005
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Law frustrates mothers” desire to tell the other side of story
Maxine Frith
574 words
15 September 2004
6
English
(c) 2004 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, distributed or exploited in any way.
THEY ARE portrayed as scorned women who take out their bitterness over a failed relationship on the innocent fathers of their children.
But for the former partners of men in the Fathers 4 Justice movement, the high-profile protests are a source of frustration and intimidation which leave them no right to reply.
Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) was set up in 2002 by Matt O”Connor, a marketing consultant, when he became frustrated with the lack of access to his children after the breakdown of his marriage. He and a handful of men banded together after meeting through support groups and becoming disillusioned with their failure to change what they claim are fundamental inequalities in the family court system.
Using the idea that fathers are superheroes to their children, they dressed as cartoon characters and staged protests for maximum publicity. Membership has grown to an estimated 7,000, and protests such as the flour-bomb attack in the House of Commons in May, and the Buckingham Palace stunt made headlines worldwide. But the women whose former partners have joined F4J are often plunged into an impossible position by the stunts. They are frustrated by what they say is one-sided reporting of their ex-partners” conduct..
If they speak out, they risk breaching court injunctions over naming their children in public – many of the men, including the Batman protester Jason Hatch, circumvent these rules by changing their names.
When details do emerge, it becomes obvious that in many cases, the circumstances are not as clear cut as F4J often portrays them. Mr O”Connor”s former wife Sophie has said – and he has since admitted – that he had affairs, drank heavily and failed to keep to the initial arrangements for access to their children. Another F4J member, Conrad Campbell, told how he was jailed last year for texting his son on his birthday. But he had been sent on an anger management programme for attacking his former partner, and was under a court injunction.
Lawyers who act for the women also tend to refuse media requests for interviews.
Some outspoken solicitors have experienced the more intimidating tactics of the pressure group. The buildings of the Parker Bird law firm in Huddersfield were stormed this year by more than 15 members of F4J, who graffitied the walls. They presented Karen Woodhead, the head of family law, with a golden petrol can, which they claimed represented her firm “pouring petrol on the flames in divorce and childcare cases”.
Last summer, David Burrows, who was head of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), was ambushed by a protest outside his home. Kim Beatson, who chairs the SFLA, said: “They claim they are non-violent but they are becoming increasingly militant.”
Other groups formed to support men, such as Fathers Direct and Families Need Fathers, have distanced themselves from F4J. But the group”s campaign has also attracted an increasingly extreme element.
After the Commons attack in May, F4J and other groups were hoping that the Government would bow to their demands of automatic presumptions of 50-50 custody in all child access cases. But this was rejected in July, causing Mr O”Connor to warn: “This will just inflame the issue for our members.”
He has vowed F4J will continue with rooftop protests and security breaches until the law undergoes fundamental reform.
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Howard’s family friendly court pick
Katherine Towers
516 words
25 June 2004
Second
3
English
© 2004 Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited. www.afr.com Not available for re-distribution.
Top federal magistrate Diana Bryant has been appointed Chief Justice of the Family Court in a move likely to reduce tensions with the Howard government at a time when family issues and refugee policies loom as election issues.
Ms Bryant will replace retiring Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson who, during his 16-year tenure, clashed with the government on the mandatory detention of refugees, legal aid and homosexuality.
A highly regarded QC, Ms Bryant is understood to have developed a strong working relationship with government ministers.
As Chief Justice from July 5, she is expected to come under political pressure before the election, with Prime Minister John Howard being heavily lobbied by fathers’ groups and openly questioning the laws surrounding the custody of children.
Mr Howard has also launched an investigation into the possible establishment of a lawyer-free families tribunal to run alongside the jurisdiction of the Family Court.
The push evokes the establishment of the Federal Magistrates Court in 2000, which some said was designed to try to kneecap Mr Nicholson.
The new head of the Federal Magistrates Court will be John Pascoe, chairman of Centrelink and a member of the boards of Aristocrat Leisure and George Weston Foods. Mr Pascoe is also the managing director of the insurance and risk management division of Phillips Fox Lawyers and deputy chancellor of the University of NSW. His appointment has surprised the legal profession.
Ms Bryant was also a partner of Phillips Fox before joining the bar, as was Justice John Faulks, who was named yesterday as deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court.
In making the appointments, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has dramatically altered the leadership and direction of two of the four federal courts in one day.
The legal profession welcomed Ms Bryant’s appointment as safe and necessary to improve morale and unite the deeply divided court.
But colleagues said that while Ms Bryant would offer a different style of leadership than Mr Nicholson, she would not kowtow to the federal government.
As chief of the Federal Magistrates Court, Ms Bryant earned a reputation for lobbying strongly and persistently for greater resources.
The president of the Law Institute of Victoria, Chris Dane, said Ms Bryant would make her own mark but also be an important advocate for the court.
The head of the Family Law Committee of the Law Council of Australia, Michael Foster, said Ms Bryant had the experience and personal skills to navigate the sometimes tricky position.
Neither Ms Bryant nor Mr Pascoe were available for comment yesterday.
The highly political position of Chief Justice of the Family Court is considered a poisoned chalice and a potentially dangerous job.
In 1980, Family Court Justice David Opas was shot dead in his Sydney home. Four years later, Justice Richard Gee was admitted to hospital after a bomb destroyed his Sydney home.
In July 1984, Pearl Watson, wife of Family Court judge Justice Ray Watson, was murdered when a bomb exploded on the doorstep of their home.
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Poor, poor daddy. Nasty old mummy: The tactics now used by estranged fathers can only harm children
Madeleine Bunting:
872 words
6 February 2004
28
English
© Copyright 2004. The Guardian. All rights reserved.
The tactics are those of the playground bully. Clever, attention grabbing, even witty: Batman, Robin, Superman and Spider-Man instigated traffic chaos this week in Bristol when they climbed Clifton suspension bridge to protest at the alleged systematic discrimination against fathers wanting contact with their children after divorce. Spider-Man pulled off a similar feat on London’s Tower Bridge last November when he sat in a crane for six days.
But it’s not just macho stunts. Fathers 4 Justice’s tactics are getting more personal and much nastier. A few days ago, they targeted the home of a third female family court judge. Judge Marilyn Mornington was away, so her two sons, 17 and 20, were left to face the demonstrators’ chanted threats. Last summer, there was a wave of 60 hoax bomb attacks on family courts across Britain.
The wind is in their sails. Fathers 4 Justice skilfully play the media with their claims of large membership and threats of more demonstrations. They have benefitted from Bob Geldof’s advocacy of the issue; last summer he published an essay raging against the family law courts.
Most damaging of all, they find a receptive audience among the rightwing press, which devotes pages and pages to the horrors of the “vindictive”, “manipulative” mothers who stand between fathers and their beloved children. Throw in a few statistics on the appalling rate of fathers who maintain contact after divorce (67% of fathers see their kids less than once a fortnight) plus a diatribe against the family law court’s institutional bias towards women, and the story looks shockingly convincing. Poor, poor daddy; terrible, nasty mummy.
This is, of course, a grossly misleading presentation of the facts. Let’s put in a bit of context: the vast majority of custody/access cases are worked out by the parents themselves, and simply rubber-stamped by the courts. In a tiny minority of cases, fathers are refused contact: in 2001 it was 713 cases out of 55,000 in the family courts. There are a few truly dreadful cases where one or other parent, or both, fight all the way and use their children’s welfare to destroy their ex-partners’ lives. But it is not simply mothers who do this; fathers use the courts just as often to harass ex-partners.
The horribly tricky task for the judges in such situations is to avoid the court being used as a weapon in a revenge mission. All the more reason why it is unacceptable to target the judges society has tasked with this judgment of Solomon; their job is difficult enough, given the viciousness of some relationship breakdowns.
What Fathers 4 Justice wants is a change in the law to give fathers a right to see their children and a presumption of 50/50 split of custody. But this would mean putting parents’ rights before those of the children. As they say, a few hard cases make bad law. The difficult dilemma the courts occasionally face is whether the acknowledged advantage of the child maintaining contact with the father is greater than the disadvantage triggered by contact in that particular case. At what point does the parental conflict over arranging contact (the rows, distress, anxiety) outweigh the benefit of seeing the parent? It can be a very close call.
What Fathers 4 Justice and its media allies (who tip quickly into outright misogynists) choose to ignore is that a significant number of these hard cases include domestic violence and sexual abuse. One study found that after separation, 38% of parents with custody reported violence or the threat of violence from their ex-partners. Mothers complain of family law courts which rule that contact must be maintained even when there has been physical or sexual abuse of the child. No gender is the winner or loser in this battle.
The most misleading argument is to conflate a few of the awful cases with the huge proportion of fathers who lose contact (estimates vary from one third to half). The vast majority do not do so because of obstruction by the mothers. Research shows that fathers are less likely to keep in touch if they have subsequently had more children, if they never lived with the mother in the first place, if they don’t live nearby and so on. There are dozens of reasons, not a law system that discriminates against dads.
The moral of this tale is that mothers terrified out of their wits by violent ex-partners are unlikely to scale cranes or send hoax bombs. Law made by bully-boy tactics will serve no one’s interests, least of all the children to whom Batman and his mates profess such commitment. Unfortunately, we now divorce/split up frequently – and often very badly. In such circumstances, parental self-absorption makes victims of their children. Couples should be handed a formal government notice on the registration of their newborn babies: “Handle with care. In the event of relationship breakdown, this child is not live ammo.”
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Mail bomb hoax alert.
89 words
15 August 2003
6
English
(c) 2003 Express Newspapers
UP to 60 packages made to look like letter bombs and chemical or biological booby traps were posted to courts and family law centres yesterday.
At least half were sent to Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service offices.
Many were postmarked locally, suggesting a campaign rather than a lone protester. The packages proved harmless, but Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch is investigating.
Harry Fletcher of Napo, the union representing Cafcass workers, said it was likely “a grudge attack by an aggrieved parent”.
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Family Court security ‘at risk’. [CORRECTED]
By Benjamin Haslem.
457 words
15 July 2003
3
English
(c) 2003 Nationwide News Proprietary Ltd
THE marshal of the Family Court, responsible for its nationwide security and with nearly 40 years’ experience in the field, has quit, accusing the court’s management of jeopardising safety.
Colin Rowley resigned on June 4, citing concerns over attempts by the court’s administrative arm to place responsibility for security in the hands of court building managers.
“It’s fundamentally stupid,” Mr Rowley said yesterday when contacted by The Australian.
However, Family Court officials dismissed Mr Rowley’s concerns.
Mr Rowley said there was now “a much higher chance of security being compromised” in the Family Court, which has lost two judges to assassination and has been involved in numerous stabbings, shootings and assaults.
“In the US, because of September 11, they have created positions called chief security officers and they have done precisely what the Family Court always had: nominated someone specifically in charge of security,” he said.
“The Family Court is going away from that model.”
The role of the Family Court marshal, which is enshrined in the Family Law Act, includes liaising with state and federal police.
Mr Rowley said the court’s building managers already had a difficult job, and when security was “lumped in with other areas of responsibility, obviously it becomes a less important issue”.
Mr Rowley was deputy marshal for 2 1/2 years before becoming marshal three years ago.
But the court’s chief executive officer, Richard Foster, dismissed his concerns. “The people who work there (the Family Court) are satisfied the proper processes are in place. I think it’s improved,” Mr Foster said.
The court was broadening its approach to security, giving more responsibility to registry managers, making the marshal’s role more of an advisory one, he said.
The court’s new marshal is a former federal police agent who previously worked as a bodyguard for several federal MPs.
In 1980, Family Court judge David Opas was assassinated outside his Sydney home in front of his young family.
Four years later Justice Richard Gee was killed when a bomb exploded at his Sydney home.
A month later a bomb exploded at the Family Court in Parramatta, three months before the wife of Justice Raymond Watson, Pearl, was killed by a bomb at the couple’s Sydney home. CORRECTIONS – IN an article headlined “Family Court security ‘at risk’’’ on Page 3 yesterday it was reported that the then Family Court judge Richard Gee was killed when a bomb exploded at his Sydney home in 1984. Justice Gee was injured, not killed, and is still alive. The Australian sincerely apologises to Justice Gee, his family and friends for any distress caused by the error. (AUSTLN, 16/7/2003)
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Cops question husband after wife found beaten to death in River Forest ; Woman had filed order of protection against him in Dec.
RUMMANA HUSSAIN
543 words
18 March 2005
14
English
Copyright (c) 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
River Forest police were questioning a 53-year-old Harwood Heights man late Thursday in the fatal beating of his estranged wife, who had filed an order of protection against him three months ago.
Therese Pender was beaten to death with a 151/2-inch cross peen hammer Wednesday night at Lake Street and Park Avenue in the near west suburb, Police Chief Nicholas Weiss said.
Pender, 41, was a legal secretary for prominent fathers’ rights attorney Jeffery Leving. She died from blunt head trauma and cranial cerebral injuries, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
‘The entire marriage was torture’
Pender’s husband was arrested Wednesday night after police found him on railroad tracks behind a row of houses a block from his wife’s home. Pender moved there two months ago to escape the abusive relationship, according to authorities and Leving.
“She told me the entire marriage was torture,” Leving said. “She thought if she didn’t get away from him, he’d kill her.”
The man had been stalking Pender since a judge granted her an order of protection in December, the same month she filed for divorce, Leving said.
A warrant for the husband’s arrest was issued Jan. 21 for violating the court order, but authorities said they had a difficult time tracking him down because he had been living in his white Chevrolet Corsica for the last several months.
‘I will kill you’
Weiss said Pender had asked police for an extra watch during the Jan. 13 weekend, when she moved into the River Forest home. She had no other contact with police, he said.
Pender tried to leave her husband just two months after the couple married in Las Vegas in 2002, but was too frightened to take any action. “. . . He said if you ever get one of those protection orders against me, I will kill you. He has repeated this to me throughout our marriage,” Therese Pender said in recent court documents.
“. . . I am especially scared because he is not expecting this and has threatened me in the past (as I stated in paragraph above) with bodily harm ‘or worse’ to myself and anyone connected with me if I ever take an action like this.”
Another order of protection had been filed against him in 1996, and he was convicted of battery that year, but court officials said it was unclear whether Pender was the person who sought the order.
The jobless man spent most of his days playing online card games and often told Pender she gave him “bad mojo,” court documents said. When she got a book on spousal abuse, the husband said, “Abuse, I’ll show you abuse,” and punched her in the mouth. He also forbade her to take the medication prescribed to her by a psychiatrist.
Leving said the man took Pender’s money to buy his own meals and would not let her eat.
A counselor and minister consoled 50 staff members at Leving’s LaSalle Street office Thursday.
“There’s so much crying here,” Leving said. “I’m just emotionally drained.”
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“I HIT MY OWN WIFE”
231 words
5 January 2005
13
English
(c) Western Mail and Echo Ltd, 2005.
Prominent fathers” rights campaigner Matthew Mudge has a conviction for assaulting his former wife, it emerged today. Mr Mudge, 41, is chairman of the Cardiff branch of Fathers Need Families and a member of the controversial Fathers 4 Justice campaign.
He recently used a megaphone to address passers-by while protesters dressed as Batman and Robin scaled Cardiff Crown Court.
In 1998, Cardiff magistrates were told Mr Mudge denied hitting his wife in their then home in Whitchurch.
Today, he told the Echo he has never made a secret of his conviction, and that all the groups with whom he is involved – including Match: Mothers Apart from Their Children – know of his past.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of because, as I said at my trial, I did nothing wrong,” he said.
“I had never been in trouble with the police before, and I have not been in trouble since. All my friends know that I simply would not have behaved in that way.”
In court, Ilone Mudge, a doctor, accused her husband of punching her after breaking in to their bathroom when she locked herself inside.
Fathers 4 Justice have distanced themselves from Mr Mudge. “Matthew is a member of the group but is more active as chairman of Fathers Need Families,” said Jim Gibson, chair of the South Wales branch of F4J.
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Welsh Fathers4Justice activist assaulted wife
By MARTIN SHIPTON Western Mail
410 words
5 January 2005
1
English
(c) 2005 Western Mail and Echo Ltd
The most prominent campaigner for fathers” rights in Wales has two convictions for assaulting his former wife.
During one of the assaults, which took place seven years ago, Matthew Mudge is alleged to have knocked his then wife unconscious.
Our disclosure comes after a network TV programme claimed several unnamed prominent members of Fathers4Justice had convictions involving domestic violence against their former partners.
Last night Mr Mudge said he had never sought to hide his convictions from the organisations he was involved with, and saw no reason to step down from the groups.
But Plaid Cymru”s equal opportunities spokeswoman, Helen Mary Jones, said news of Mr Mudge”s convictions reinforced her scepticism about Fathers4Justice.
Mr Mudge, 41, has acquired a high profile as a spokesman for several groups including Fathers4Justice, the direct action organisation whose stunts have included throwing flour at Tony Blair in the House of Commons and getting a member dressed as Batman to hold police at bay for several hours while standing on a window ledge at Buckingham Palace.
Last May, when Fathers4Justice members dressed as Batman and Robin staged a day-long protest on a third-floor ledge at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre, Mr Mudge used a megaphone to address passers-by.
Two months later Mr Mudge, who chairs the Cardiff branch of another fathers” rights group, Families Need Fathers, told a Conservative Party summit how he had run up a legal aid bill of more than £150,000 during 84 court hearings involving access to his children.
When the criminal case against Mr Mudge was dealt with by Cardiff magistrates in June 1998, he was described as a 14-stone Territorial Army captain. His then wife, Hungarian-born Ilone, a qualified dentist, was said to be petite.
Mr Mudge, who admitted hitting her but denied that she passed out, told the court he had acted in self-defence.
The assault took place hours after a party to celebrate his being given command of a machine gun platoon.
Mr Mudge told Cardiff magistrates, “She was hitting me. I had no choice.
“It was self-defence. She may be petite but in her job she has to be extremely strong.”
He pleaded not guilty to two charges of assault but was convicted and sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
The assaults took place at the couple”s home in the Whitchurch district of Cardiff.
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Protesting fathers are accused of dirty tricks
363 words
31 December 2004
default
15
English
Copyright (c) 2004 Western Daily Press. All Rights Reserved.
A West courtroom worker has been branded a “Nazi war criminal” while colleagues face a stream of intimidation from fathers’ rights protesters, it was claimed yesterday.
Probation officers’ union Napo sent Children’s Minister Margaret Hodge a dossier about incidents of verbal abuse and physical threats.
They included more than 100 bomb hoaxes sent to offices of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). It also claimed the names of family court staff had been published on websites, and their offices daubed with graffiti, locks glued, windows broken and banners unfurled on buildings calling them “child abusers”.
In one incident, a large, rotten fish was posted at a Cafcass office and another received a message saying:
“Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.” But last night Jeff Skinner, the South West co-ordinator of pressure group Fathers4Justice, denied the organisation was responsible.
The group shot to infamy this year when its high-profile publicity stunts breached tight security at Parliament and at Buckingham Palace.
Mr Skinner said: “Individuals will not be targeted. Fathers4Justice does not even target mothers who consistently flout court orders.
“We target organisations, but you cannot stop people doing things then claiming it is under the Fathers4Justice banner.”
Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, said: “Staff need protecting, and the civil and criminal law must be used to contain this behaviour.
“There is no evidence of any systematic bias against fathers. Indeed the reverse is the case. However, the escalation in intimidation against family court staff has caused stress and is bound to lead to absenteeism.”
A Cafcass spokeswoman claimed that Fathers4Justice was among the groups responsible for the intimidation.
She said: “We cannot go ahead like this. All our staff have the right to get on with their jobs without fear of intimidation.
“In the past, intimidating behaviour has been proven to have originated from Fathers4Justice.
“We have had the names of workers in Bristol and Taunton posted on websites.
“Following people down the street calling them child abusers, or saying ‘We know where you live’ is not acceptable.”
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Dads’ rights campaigners suspended
170 words
8 December 2004
English
© Johnston Publishing Limited
TWO Fathers 4 Justice campaigners have been suspended after a News investigation exposed racism, sexism and violence at the heart of the Hampshire branch of the group.
Hampshire co-ordinator Phil Osgood and his right-hand man Paul Robinson could now be thrown out of the fathers’ rights group after our undercover investigation.
Yesterday, after our reporter infiltrated the group for three months, we revealed how Mr Osgood of Beryton Road, Gosport, bragged about threatening his ex-lover’s new boyfriend with a baseball bat and how some members got drunk while on camping trips with their children and called for ‘Pakis’ to be sent back home.
We also revealed how Mr Robinson of Eastern Avenue, Milton, Portsmouth, condoned violence on a woman who stopped a father seeing his child.
Mr Osgood defended his words and actions but Mr Robinson denied making the comments.
But now Fathers 4 Justice’s co-founder, Matt O’Connor, has suspended the pair and launched an inquiry into their behaviour.
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FATHERS 4 TERROR.
BY BECKY SHEAVES
1,981 words
25 November 2004
English
(c) 2004 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved
HOW THINGS change. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an article in which I explained why, as a wife and mother, I passionately supported Fathers 4 Justice. Indeed, I argued at the time, what right-thinking person could disagree with the assertion that a child needs to know and be loved by his or her father? And that, after a divorce or break-up, children should see their fathers as much as humanly possible?
Today, with a heavy heart, I find myself reviewing my opinions. It is not that I have changed my views on the principle at stake — far from it.
But recent heavy-handed, intimidating and downright violent incidents by angry fathers’ rights activists have given me — and many others — cause for great concern.
It seems that the so-called ‘fathers’ move-ment’ has adopted similarly distasteful tactics to those used by animal rights protesters.
In doing so, the pressure group is in danger of alienating any moderate supporters it once had. In one of the worst incidents, an angry father poured petrol over a female solicitor’s car engine. If she had started the car, it could have exploded and caused enormous damage and injury.
In August, there was the occupation of Gloucester’s Cafcass (Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Service) office, when superhero- clad Fathers 4 Justice campaigners called the staff there ‘child abusers’ through a megaphone, identifying them by name.
The same office also came under attack when rotting meat and fish were pushed through its letterbox. Fathers 4 Justice has admitted it may have been involved. A senior member of Cafcass staff said: ‘The whole place was stinking for a week, the smell was revolting. And to be called child abusers is deeply insulting for my staff.’
In another unpleasant incident in the Midlands, Fathers 4 Justice activists invaded a Cafcass office and tied up an employee who suffered from a heart condition. Judges, too, have been targeted. Andrew Don, a district judge from Reading, gave a radio interview last month in which he said the law was not biased in favour of the mother, but aimed to serve the best interests of the child.
‘Almost immediately I received all kinds of aggressive e-mails with threats,’ he said. Days later, his office was invaded by ten men from Fathers 4 Justice in decontamination suits. So much for freedom of speech.
CAFCASS court reporters are members of Napo, the National Association of Probation Officers, and the organisation has been so appalled by the threats meted out to its members by militant fathers that it has compiled a dossier of incidents of intimidation. The union is due to present its claims to Government ministers this month.
And so it seems that what began as an earnest and heartfelt campaign is, sadly, now attracting the sort of men who are angry, aggressive and violent. The very men I would hope the courts do keep away from children.
Jason Hatch, the Batman who occupied the Buckingham Palace balcony for six hours in September, has four children by three women, all in relationships which have since foundered.
In January 2002, Hatch appeared at Gloucester Crown Court accused of threatening to kill his then wife Victoria Jones, mother of two of his children. It was ordered that the charges were to lie on file.
Despite this, Fathers 4 Justice refuses to condemn him and he remains one of the campaign’s leading lights.
‘What he said to Victoria was uttered in the heat of the moment during a time when he was very upset and distressed at not seeing his children,’ says the campaign’s leader, Matt O’Connor. Be that as it may, Hatch has subsequently not helped his cause by boasting to an undercover journalist that he has bedded more than 100 women in his life and revealing a worryingly misogynistic streak.
‘I just love ******* women,’ he told the reporter. ‘I’ve had more than 100 one-night stands in the past five years. They are all bitches.’
Matt O’Connor points out that a high number of lovers does not necessarily make a man a bad father. True, but in a battle for the hearts and minds of the British public, such information is hardly likely to boost the Fathers 4 Justice campaign.
The pressure group does have one man convicted of violence among its most high-profile activists. He is deputy leader Eddie Gorecki, 46, who recently scaled the Royal Courts of Justice dressed as Batman. He married his ex-wife, Kelly, in 1988. They have four children together, but it was a relationship marred by violence, so much so that Kelly several times took out injunctions against Gorecki.
In 1995, according to Kelly, he beat her so badly that she suffered two skull fractures and spent five days in intensive care. He later attacked her cousin at a barbecue during a heated family row.
KELLY has said: ‘I ended up dropping the charges. He then beat up my cousin, Shelly. He is a thug and he shouldn’t represent decent fathers.’ Shelly Johnson, Kelly’s cousin, suffered a broken nose and black eyes and didn’t shy away from pressing charges against Gorecki. He was jailed for nine months for affray and assault in June 2001. You would imagine that Fathers 4 Justice would want to distance itself from these violent, dangerous men. But Matt O’Connor refuses to do so.
‘I believe in rehabilitation and righting wrongs,’ he told me yesterday. ‘If a man has done his time and taken his punishment, he should be given another chance. These men can still be loving, devoted fathers. The violence issue is really peripheral to our campaign.’
One woman who would dis-agree with that stance is Fiona Bruce, the BBC TV presenter, who has become the latest target of Fathers 4 Justice in a furious row over a documentary on custody battles screened earlier this week.
The programme featured several women who had been subjected to domestic violence. They told of their fears for their children’s safety during access visits to their fathers. But Fathers 4 Justice accused Fiona Bruce of having an ‘axe to grind’ against it because of her support for the campaign against domestic violence.
Matt O’Connor has said that the group would expel anyone who brought it into disrepute, but says: ‘We are a cross-section of society. We probably have the good, the bad and the ugly. We can’t do criminal record checks.’
To me, that simply is not good enough. For it is around the issue of children’s safety and well-being that the family courts have to perform their unenviably complex and delicate task — a task which would take the wisdom of Solomon to get right every time.
Judges have to decide if a father who is accused of violence or abuse is genuinely unfit to see his children. Who would envy them such a decision? I still support men who wish to see their children. After all, over the years I have interviewed dozens of divorced fathers who I have found to be decent, devoted and despairing. They had spent thousands of pounds on fighting through the courts for access to their children.
Time and again they had been treated like criminals and denied access to the children they loved.
THOUGH it is true that only two per cent of applications for access are actually refused by courts, latest figures show that 50 per cent of court orders for access are flouted or ignored by the children’s mothers. And very little is done legally to enforce them.
There was the man who was allowed to send his three daughters only six letters a year. He had to put up with this for a whole year before being allowed to see them for two hours every two months while being supervised by a social worker.
Eventually, his children were so exasperated by this treat-ment that they ran away from home and turned up on his doorstep. And they still live with him today.
I also spoke to a father who, after giving his ex-wife the family home to live in and hundreds of pounds a month in child support was living, practically penniless, with his parents.
This summer, when he tried to take his eight-year-old son away on a week-long trip to Italy with the cathedral choir of which he is a proud member, his ex-wife simply would not allow the little boy to go to the airport. The father spent his holiday heartbroken, thinking of what should have been.
And then there was the man who worked as a teacher — and a good one, too — in a Buckinghamshire comprehensive.
He had been charged with harassment for making a 30-second phone call to his 12-year-old daughter on Christmas Day. It was hard to find the words to comfort him when he told me he had not been allowed to see her for four years.
Until recently, such cases had been represented by a gentle but persistent support group called Families Need Fathers. It offered legal advice to frustrated fathers and wrote the odd letter to MPs about the unfairness of their situation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, little was done in reply.
So yes, I was encouraged when, two years ago, a new, more radical group appeared. Fathers 4 Justice did more than just write polite letters. It invaded a service for senior churchmen at York Minster and insisted on addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury from the pulpit.
It painted the doors of Cafcass offices purple, the international colour of justice. It occupied the lobbies of family courts.
Often, its protests were tinged with humour. I liked the idea of 200 men dressed as Father Christmas in an open-topped bus regaling the shoppers of Oxford Street in London with their slogans about what makes a genuine family Christmas.
And infuriating though it must have been for the thousands of motorists caught in gridlock, there was something very moving about the idea of the protesters who scaled and occupied the Clifton Suspension Bridge dressed as Spiderman, Batman and Robin, ‘because every dad is a superhero to his children’.
I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t even that sorry to see Tony Blair hit with an exploding condom filled with purple flour.
Like many who watched the incident on television, I have to admit my first reaction was: ‘Good shot!’
BUT AS the Fathers 4 Justice campaign has received an increasingly high profile, the truth about the personalities involved has, inevitably, emerged. And too often recently, the reality behind the jokey Father Christmas outfits and the Batman masks has turned out to be unsavoury, if not downright disturbing.
Why are Jason Hatch and Eddie Gorecki still allowed to be members of Fathers 4 Justice? Meanwhile, Matt O’Connor is unrepentant. ‘We’ve got 12,000 members in the UK and we’re about to launch in America. It’s a global issue and we’re not about to go away. This bad publicity is just a backlash, but we see it as an inevitable part of our growing campaign.
‘We’ve got the Establishment, the women’s groups and the police really worried now and they are all trying to conspire against us. That’s a sign that we’re making progress. And we will continue to do so.’
Fighting talk, indeed. But I can only hope that, in working so hard for its cause, Fathers 4 Justice does not lose sight of the people at the heart of this campaign.
And by that I do not mean the belligerent, sometimes violent, men whose voices are being heard at top volume through the megaphones. I mean their children.
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Fathers ‘terrorise’ lawyers
John Elliott and Abul Taher
770 words
21 November 2004
News 12
English
(c) 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
Campaigners accused of threats
MEMBERS of Fathers 4 Justice have been accused of inspiring a campaign of violent threats and intimidation against court staff and family lawyers.
A dossier compiled by the union representing family court staff shows its members have been sent fake letter bombs and hate mail, had rotting meat put through an office letter box and been subjected to verbal abuse.
In one of the worst incidents -for which nobody has claimed responsibility -a solicitor found her car engine and headlights doused in petrol, which could have exploded when she started the engine.
Fathers 4 Justice, which seeks to improve fathers’ access to children following marriage break-ups, denies involvement in this incident but admits staging attacks on the offices of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
It denies its members have carried out attacks on individuals. However, the union, Napo, accuses it of leading the campaign against Cafcass staff.
The union, which will present its evidence to ministers this month, claims Fathers 4 Justice and other fathers’ rights groups have in the past year adopted similar tactics to animal rights militants where staff have been “named and shamed” on websites. This is staunchly denied by Fathers 4 Justice.
It is an approach that belies the apparently harmless stunts by fathers dressed in superhero costumes, such as the campaigner dressed as Batman who climbed on to a ledge at Buckingham Palace. Last Friday, a Fathers 4 Justice protester handcuffed himself to Margaret Hodge, the children’s minister, as she was about to deliver a speech to a conference.
Harry Fletcher, a spokesman for Napo, said Cafcass staff were becoming increasingly alarmed by the tactics, which were being countered through measures such as CCTV.
In one of the most serious attacks, 60 fake bombs were sent to Cafcass offices last year causing buildings to be evacuated and anti-terrorist police brought in to investigate. So far nobody has claimed responsibility and Fathers 4 Justice denies it was behind the incident.
Cafcass’s Gloucester office, which deals with up to a 1,000 children a year, has been one of the worst hit by Fathers 4 Justice. The office has been twice subjected to day-long protests, with protesters scaling the building dressed as Batman. Other protesters chanted that Cafcass workers were “child abusers” through a megaphone, identifying staff by name.
One weekend rotten meat and fish were posted through the letter box, an incident in which Fathers 4 Justice says some of its members may have been involved. A senior member of staff said: “The whole place was stinking for a week, the smell was revolting. To be called child abusers is deeply insulting for my staff.”
In the Midlands, Fathers 4 Justice protesters invaded a Cafcass office and tied up an employee who suffered from a heart condition.
Judges have also been targeted. Andrew Don, a district judge from Reading, gave a radio interview in September in which he said the law was not biased in favour of the mother but aimed to serve the best interests of the child.
“Almost immediately, I received all sorts of aggressive e-mails with all sorts of threats. They said it was a disgrace, and they were interested in ‘meeting me’,” Don said. His office was invaded by 10 protesters in decontamination suits.
There is growing support for reform of family courts to give greater consideration to fathers’ rights. However, legal experts say Fathers 4 Justice is undermining its own case.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the family division of the High Court, has refused to meet the group. She told MPs: “As long as they throw condoms with purple powder and send a double-decker bus outside my house in the West Country there is no point. They are not going to talk, they are going to tell me.”
Fathers 4 Justice admitted its members have daubed purple paint on Cafcass doors and applied glue to their locks, but said it never launched any campaigns of intimidation against staff or individuals.
Matt O’Connor, co-founder of Fathers 4 Justice, said: “We are committed to a campaign of peaceful, non-violent direct action. Any of our members caught intimidating individuals will be expelled immediately.”
The group is also planning to complain to the BBC about a programme on domestic violence to be aired tomorrow, presented by Fiona Bruce. Fathers 4 Justice claims she is not impartial because of her connections with women’s groups critical of fathers’ rights campaigners.
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Daddy will stop at nothing to see you: fronted by Batman and purveyors of “flour-power”, the fathers’ rights movement has struck Britons as benign–but its methods reveal a more sinister side.(features)
Cohen, Nick
1,755 words
15 November 2004
31
ISSN: 1364-7431; Volume 133; Issue 4714
English
Copyright 2004 Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved.
The British “fathers’ rights” movement is a desperate, grassroots campaign undertaken by bitter men on the fringes of society. As you stare at their hatred and despair, however, you at least have an intimation of how American-style “backlash” politics could work here.
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Fathers 4 Justice is the campaign’s public face, and, more often than not, that face seems benign. In May, Ron Davis, one of its leaders, managed to hit Tony Blair with a condom filled with flour that he hurled across the Commons from the Strangers’ Gallery. The shot was more of a jape than an assassination attempt, and was rightly treated as a laugh by the press and by the Prime Minister, who carried on as if nothing had happened. Ferdinand Mount noted in the Sunday Times that Davis must have a fine arm; his long throw was “the equivalent of hitting a single stump from deep square leg”. In September, Jason Hatch dressed in a Batman outfit and scaled the facade of Buckingham Palace. He didn’t cause any damage and police marksmen didn’t shoot him dead, as they would have done in most countries. It was all very English, as we like to say–a bit of silliness with no harm done.
Yet away from Westminster, fathers are running a campaign of intimidation against the court staff and family lawyers who deal with divorce cases that is neither charming nor funny. If it is quintessentially English, it appeals to the side of the English character that likes to post dog dirt through letter boxes.
Napo, the union that represents family court workers, is keeping a logbook of what its members are facing. No one has been hurt yet, but that’s not for want of trying. In the south-west, a man warned his ex-partner’s solicitor that he knew where she lived and that there would be trouble if she didn’t drop the case. No one knows who was responsible, but a few days later the solicitor’s car exploded outside her home. Petrol had been poured with evident care over its engine and into its headlights, which suggests that the assailant hoped the car would explode when she got in and turned the headlights on. (Fortunately, she was unharmed.)
In Portsmouth, Fathers 4 Justice members hinted that they could turn violent in their struggle against the court workers whom they blame for preventing them from seeing their children. To date, their tactics have been peaceful, if unpleasant. Fish heads and rotting meat were posted through the letter box of the city’s Cafcass office one Saturday. (Cafcass is the court agency that deals with divorce cases.) By the time staff returned to work on Monday, the building stank and was crawling with maggots. Phil Osgood, a Portsmouth campaigner, warned that Fathers 4 Justice had the names and addresses of Cafcass workers. “How far is our campaign going to have to go before somebody listens?” he asked. “We have been very low-level, like Supergluing locks and other pranks, and I can say that it is gradually being increased.”
And so it is. On 1 April this year, when direct action against court workers began, it consisted of men dressing up in decontamination suits and throwing buckets of soapy water over Cafcass offices in the middle of the night. Calling it “direct action” is a bit strong. The action was so indirect that most of the court staff didn’t realise it had taken place.
Today the chatrooms and message boards of the fathers’ rights websites are filled with naming and shaming announcements that portend far more sinister action. I will quote one in full to give an example of the wild fury.
It gives the name of a local Cafcass officer (I don’t think it wise for me to follow suit), and begins by saying that she “didn’t listen to my son’s wishes to spend an equal amount of nights at his dad’s as well as mum’s. I believe [the officer] is a gender-biased, untrained, back-stabbing nutcase who, for a reason my son or I still don’t know, wanted my son to spend only five nights instead of seven out of 14 with his dad. I brought the proceedings after being asked to pay money to my ex in order for my son to stay with me. My son in his ‘secret’ interview with [the officer] asked for an equal amount of nights with Dad and Mum. She ignored his wishes. Has she been given a bribe? How corrupt is she? Why does she want me to pay for my son to see me?
“[Officer’s name] shame on you for playing with my son’s life like you have. You are an obscene waste of public money. Get a life!! Don’t take your personal frustration and low self-esteem out on children. You’re a first-class b@stard and I hope you rot in hell!!! … The truth will prevail and you are already guilty.”
This is typical of dozens of messages on the noticeboards, and suggests an anger far removed from the sub-Pythonesque urge to dress up in silly costumes and climb into Buckingham Palace. Note the pervading sense of justice denied; the just solution is for the boy to divide his time equally between his mother and father. Why has justice not been done? Has the officer been bribed? Is she mad, vindictive or stupid? Or does she have a gender bias against fathers?
These people see it as a given that an extreme feminist bias pervades the system. Glen Poole, a spokesman for Fathers 4 Justice, described Cafcass as being “stuffed from head to toe with ideological dinosaurs who believe that fathers are dispensable”.
In response to this, the government and Harry Fletcher, a spokesman for Napo, point out that in only 1 per cent of cases are fathers prohibited from seeing their children–and then it is nearly always because they are violent. Fletcher describes Fathers 4 Justice as a misogynistic movement, whose members see women and children as their property to do with as they please, and cannot accept that the patriarchal world has gone.
I am sure there is plenty of truth in this argument, but it doesn’t begin to cover the ground. For a start, some of the most heart-rending stories come from men who aren’t at all violent, who are perfectly entitled to see their children yet have all but ruined themselves in the effort to uphold their rights. The letters pages of the newspapers are a better guide to what is happening than the attention-seeking stunts covered in the news pages. Fathers speak of spending tens of thousands in legal battles. Even when they win many women refuse to obey contact orders, and judges do nothing because they say, perfectly reasonably, that the only good that jailing the mother would do is persuade the child to hate the father.
Beyond the specific cause of fathers’ rights lies the wider failure of permissive society, which Fathers 4 Justice is rather cannily exploiting. No one tries to pretend any more that children brought up by one parent do not, on average, suffer as a result; no one tries to pretend that, on average again, step-parents look after stepchildren as well as their natural parents; no one tries to deny that, for most people who aren’t blase to the point of being sociopaths (as many men and quite a few women are), break-ups are a crippling shock, both for the parent who is forced out of the child’s life and for the child itself.
There is fertile political ground here. However, the attempts by the British right to emulate the US Republicans by turning the collapse of the traditional family into an election-winning issue have so far been disasters. After the media had finished with John Major’s “back to basics” campaign, the moral lesson the public had learned was that a Tory MP was a man who would pick your pocket and steal your wife (or husband, in more exotic cases). William Hague’s decision to run in 2001 on a manifesto made up of Daily Mail cuttings was the worst of his many blunders. After this sorry record, everyone says that Britain isn’t like the United States; it doesn’t have its religious certainties and traditions of politicised evangelism. But just because the right has failed in the past doesn’t mean it will fail in the future. The best that can be said for Britain’s moral conservatives is that they face up to one of the great issues of the day. Their programme for reform is ludicrous–do they really think that twiddling with the tax system and giving subsidies to married couples can reverse a huge social change?–but it is a programme none the less.
The danger for the liberal left is that it has nothing to say, because it is stuck with an extreme individualist ideology that mirrors the pure capitalist economics of the right. What shoppers do in the free market in sex is their business; regulation would be an unwarranted restriction on the rights of the sovereign consumer of relationships. It would not only be wrong in principle but disastrous in practice, because regulation would prevent the invisible hand of competition between an ever-shifting cast of potential mates from creating ideal family structures.
Where Fathers 4 Justice makes its mistake is in assuming that the courts are infected with feminist bias. They are not, as anyone who has met a judge could tell the group’s campaigners. Rather, the law has a tendency to ignore fathers because it simply cannot cope with the great wave of human anger and misery that the free market in sex has produced. Giving in to the mother is the easiest way of coping with a mountain of work that would otherwise be overwhelming. The opportunity for the right and the danger for the left is that at least conservatives acknowledge the anger and misery, and don’t pretend that they don’t matter or don’t exist.
COPYRIGHT 2004 New Statesman, Ltd.
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workplaceStaff targeted in hate campaign.
Shirley Kumar
161 words
28 October 2004
13
English
(c) Copyright 2004. Reed Business Information Limited. All rights reserved.
Asmall number of fathers’ rights “campaigners” are mounting a hate campaign against the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services.
In the past five months, rotting fish, decomposing meat and live maggots have been posted through the letterboxes of 20 regional offices in England and Wales.
Children and family court reporters have been followed home, received abusive phone calls and had personal property vandalised. Last year, around 100 suspect parcels were posted to regional offices.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: “We support the view that fathers keep in touch with their children where it is safe to do so. But bullying and intimidation of staff is as unacceptable as it is of mothers and children. I won’t stand for it.”
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, which represents staff suffering abuse, said it would be meeting with Cafcass to discuss what could be done.
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Police launch investigation as MP targeted in handbills
By BESSIE ROBINSON
384 words
15 October 2004
05
English
(c) 2004 North of England Newspapers.
HUNDREDS of handbills attacking one of the region’s most senior MPs were delivered to homes and businesses across her constituency in a co-ordinated night-time operation.
Police are investigating Tuesday’s leaflet drop, which was branded the work of cowards and bullies by their target, Government Chief Whip and North-West Durham MP Hilary Armstrong.
Over a few hours, residents in an area covering Crook, Wolsingham, Frosterley, Castleside, Lanchester and Langley Park, in County Durham, reported seeing young men in dark suits handing out the unsigned photocopies.
In Wolsingham, they were seen working in pairs in the Market Place at about 8.30pm before a group of six met up and moved to another part of the village.
The literature claimed to be “not from a political party, but from a mother whose family has been destroyed”, and criticised her stance on such issues as homosexuality, drug misuse, domestic violence, foxhunting, rural crime and fathers’ rights.
Ms Armstrong’s office in Crook was bombarded with calls and messages of support yesterday.
She said: “It is easy to make allegations that are totally untrue when it is anonymous.
This is an act of cowardice.
“People like this see an election coming and try to frighten and intimidate people. It is the usual tactics of bullies.
“It was a co-ordinated operation that upset a lot of people, especially as it was conducted at night.
“It was upsetting, but you have to accept anything that is thrown at you if you care about democracy and you care about people.”
A Wolsingham resident said: “Two men tried to shove a handful of leaflets into the hand of a man going into the club. They covered the whole village. It was carefully planned “They weren’t polite. They were in their 20s and seemed like angry young men. If they wanted people to support them, they didn’t go about it the right way.
“They upset quite a few people, especially the elderly. The fact that it was dark made it even more sinister.
“Hilary has a lot of friends here and they are appalled that someone should do this.”
Police said they had received several calls from across the constituency and were investigating complaints.
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Fathers 4 Justice to disband in wake of kidnapping plot
Jan Melrose
493 words
19 January 2006
English
© Copyright 2006 Newsquest Digital Media.
THE fathers’ rights campaigner who carried out a flour bomb attack on Tony Blair has condemned a plot to kidnap the Prime Minister’s son.
Ron Davis, from Findon near Worthing, spoke yesterday before Fathers 4 Justice announced it was to disband in the wake of the furore over the alleged plot.
Mr Davis hit the headlines in 2004 when he and Guy Harrison, from Steyning, threw three condoms filled with purple flour over Mr Blair in the House of Commons.
The stunt was to raise awareness of the group’s view that fathers are unfairly treated by family courts.
But the kidnap plan, reported by The Sun newspaper yesterday to have been planned by a group of extremists on the periphery of Fathers 4 Justice, provoked widespread condemnation.
Mr Davis, who has not seen his 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son in seven years, said the plot to abduct five-year-old Leo was “horrendous”.
Later last night, the group’s leader Matt O’Connor told Channel 4 News the group could not continue in light of such negative publicity. He said: “I regret to say that three years after starting the organisation, we’re going to cease and bring it to a close.”
However, Terence Bates, of splinter group Real Fathers 4 Justice, insisted they would continue to campaign. He said Mr O’Connor should have wound up his arm of the group a year ago when it split.
Asked whether the campaign had failed because it had not brought about any changes in family law, Mr Bates said: “Mr O’Connor has failed. He failed to move it forward. Many many good people left last year and formed our splinter group.”
Mr Davis, 49, of Vale Avenue, was unavailable to comment on reports the group was to disband. But earlier yesterday he distanced his campaign from the alleged kidnap plot and said: “They are nothing to do with us and we absolutely condemn it.
“We are about reuniting parents. The thought of taking children away and the distress that would cause the children is just unthinkable.”
Special branch officers uncovered the plot as they investigated ex-members of Fathers 4 Justice expelled from the organisation for extremist behaviour.
In the past, demonstrators have dressed as superheroes and scaled St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. Last September, Mr Harrison, 38, spent five hours on top of the Houses of Parliament waving a banner.
Mr Davis denied the flour bombing paved the way for more extremist action.
He said: “There are many things we could have done which would have been worse. We played a schoolboy prank and threw a flour bomb at Tony Blair.”
Mr Davis also suggested like-minded campaigners could “form a different group to get away from the bad publicity”.
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Family courts under fire from angry parents and protesters
Jon Robins
965 words
11 January 2005
Law 3
English
(c) 2005 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
Jon Robins reports on how Cafcass is coping with some hostile campaigners
THE publicity stunts pulled off by campaiging fathers might make us smile, but the extremes to which some of the more militant protesters go are no joke to the staff of the Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
More than 100 hoax bomb warnings were sent to Cafcass offices in one year. The scale of the campaign against the troubled children’s court service was revealed recently in a dossier prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo). Surely such sustained intimidation must take a toll on its staff? Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, insists that it has not affected their work. He has been in the job since September and since then has visited 112 of Cafcass’s 140 offices and met about 1,400 staff. He has been impressed by the “total commitment and love of their work”.
But he says: “Many staff, particularly in the private law work, feel a cumulative bombardment and attrition from angry parents and, in particular, from the pressure groups.”
It is hardly surprising. Over the past few months the campaign against Cafcass has increased. A package containing fish heads, rotting meat and maggots was delivered to the Portsmouth office in September. It was reported in the local press that one protester had said: “We have names and addresses” of Cafcass officers. In October, the following message was left on the answerphone at the Kingston office: “Your days of abusing children and families are numbered – the day of reckoning is at hand.”
It is a surprise then that Cafcass has now decided to speak to some of the militant protesters. Douglas admits that some of his colleagues view this as a form of appeasement. But he believes that he owes a duty of care to his workers and wants to prevent an increase in harassment.
“The fathers’ groups raise, quite rightly, the situation of non-resident fathers who disappear from kids’ lives and we know that’s not in kids’ interests,” he says. “But I don’t think we are part of the problem. I genuinely believe our practitioners are trying to facilitate contact for both mothers and fathers in situations of implacable hostility.”
Each year Cafcass deals with about 30,000 cases where separating parents cannot agree on what is best for their children. As for there being an anti-father bias, Douglas has reviewed 600 cases personally and denies it. “Where decisions go against fathers I have seen the reasons for it – usually to do with family violence and the pure fear that mothers have about particular fathers.”
The Napo report shows that only a tiny fraction of fathers involved in family court proceedings, 0.8 per cent, were given no contact. Whereas 42 per cent of fathers no longer had contact with their children at the start of proceedings, by the end of proceedings the proportion had dropped to 6 per cent.
Matt O’Connor, the founder of Fathers4Justice, is not impressed by the statistics.
“They assume that the contact orders are actually worth the paper they’re written on,” he says. “A lot of these guys only get to send a birthday card or Christmas card once a year and that’s not contact. That’s not a relationship with your child.
“Fathers4Justice deny responsibility for intimidating Cafcass staff. A trademark of our campaign is humour, hopefully.” But he adds:. “All you need is one angry father to go off at a tangent but all I can do is make sure our house is in order.”
He argues that the culture that prevails in Cafcass is “fundamentally discriminatory against fathers”. “What we need is a proper support service where there is mandatory mediation and early intervention from properly trained professionals and not from people who are still displaying the old myths and stereotypes about fathers.”
For many family law practitioners, Cafcass is an organisation that has yet to find its feet and, in particular, recover from the damning select committee inquiry just over a year ago that led to the sacking of its board. “It still needs time to get over the really bad start,” says Yvonne Brown, a national committee member of Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association). “The problems have now been ongoing for several years and they are about insufficient numbers of quality staff and delays in allocation of case reports.”
Against this troubled background, the Green Paper Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parental Responsibilities reveals ministerial plans for a new and improved service. It proposes that officers write fewer reports and adopt a more “active problem-solving” role such as in-court conciliation. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor,has made clear that there will be no more money available for Cafcass.
Cafcass is comfortable with the Green Paper’s shift in focus. But it is going to be a struggle to turn around the fortunes of an underfunded organisation without extra resources. Douglas plans to cut bureaucracy to free money for more frontline staff and to work with the judiciary on eliminating unnecessary report writing.
Although critics would like to see Cafcass scrapped, Douglas is convinced of its vital role. One of the reasons for this is that he was adopted. “When you grow up with multiple relationships and more than one parent, life is complicated and not many people ask what you think and what you want,” he says. “We are there for the children who don’t have a voice. The more noise that comes from adult groups makes me more concerned that the voices of children aren’t drowned out.”
(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2005
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Breakaway groups no threat, despite kidnapping rumour;Fathers 4 Justice
Stewart Tendler and Lewis Smith
354 words
21 January 2006
35
English
(c) 2006 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
REAL Fathers 4 Justice and other breakaway groups are being monitored by police but are not thought to present a significant threat of extremist action.
Despite the reported plot to kidnap Tony Blair’s youngest son, security services regard fathers’ rights campaigners as likely to be a nuisance rather than a danger.
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, set up by chief constables, is still concentrating on animal rights groups and will start looking at fathers’ rights campaigners only if they become more of a threat.
Monitoring of known activists is being carried out by individual forces, senior police officers said yesterday, and Special Branch officers are briefed to watch for more extreme tendencies.
Jeff Skinner, one of seven regional directors of Real Fathers 4 Justice, promised a resumption of stunts in the coming months.
He promised, however, that the fledgeling organisation’s direct action campaign would be peaceful and humorous and that no one would get hurt.
The organisation was born out of frustration that the original group had run out of steam and was failing to make an impact on the public consciousness. In particular, there was frustration at a lack of protest during the general election campaign.
The aims of Real Fathers 4 Justice, he said, are the same as Fathers 4 Justice, in that members want to campaign using direct action for fathers’ rights to see their children.
Mr Skinner said: “It is imperative that everything we do is peaceful. But there will be direct action. There is no other way to make this Government listen.
“We don’t want to cause pain, we don’t want criminal damage, we don’t want violence and we don’t want bad language. But what we do will be high-profile and it will be done with humour. They will be stunts.”
Spokesmen for both organisations have denied knowledge of any kidnap plot involving the Prime Minister’s son, saying that it was made up to discredit their cause.
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End of the road for league of irate dads
James Button Herald Correspondent in London
783 words
21 January 2006
First
23
English
© 2006 Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited. www.smh.com.au Not available for re-distribution.
Blair kidnap plot is final straw
IT WAS 10 days before Christmas, not the best time in the lives of men separated from their children. The group of men had been to a demonstration in Londonof the fathers’ rights group Fathers4Justice.
Dressed in the Santa Claus costumes they wore to the rally, they were having a pint and talking tactics in Ye Olde London Pub, near St Paul’s Cathedral.
One of the men suggested: “What about kidnapping the Prime Minister’s son?”
Whether it was a serious plan or just the beer talking, word of it reached police. While The Sun, which broke the story this week, talked breathlessly of police “smashing” the plot in a series of raids, men who had been present said police had in fact visited their homes for a talk.
But police did reportedly tell them they would be shot dead if they tried to carry out the kidnap attempt on Leo Blair, 5.
So ended what was probably the world’s best-known fathers’ rights group. A day after the plot was revealed, the despairing leader of Fathers4Justice, Matt O’Connor, said he was disbanding the organisation he founded in 2002.
“After peacefully campaigning for three years to ensure children get to see their fathers, we condemn any individual who planned this appalling outrage,” he said. “We’re in the business of reuniting fathers with their children, not separating them.”
The 39-year-old public relations consultant always knew the value of a good line.
From the start Mr O’Connor wanted to take the group away from the fringe. He thought the only way to achieve its aim of getting a child’s right to equal contact with both parents written into law was to work in the mainstream.
With his knack for getting publicity, he popularised the term McDonald’s Dads, to describe men forced to snatch time in fast food outlets with children who no longer know them.
He helped stage the stunts that made the group famous: men scaling government buildings and Buckingham Palace dressed as Captain America, Batman and Robin. He reportedly came up with the idea of cartoon characters because he thought the men’s children might see them on TV and think, “My dad’s a super-hero”.
Although the organisation pelted Blair in the House of Commons with condoms full of purple flour – prompting The Times to describe it as “the most prominent guerilla pressure group in Britain” – Mr O’Connor said he was non-violent and his heroes included Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Under his leadership the organisation grew to claim 12,000 members. It opened branches in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the US. In January last year GQ named Mr O’Connor the 92nd most powerful man in Britain.
But the group had a harsher side, what Mr O’Connor this week called a “dark underbelly”. Solicitors who took briefs for mothers in family court cases were bombarded with abusive emails; unpopular judges were visited at home.
In August 2003 anti-terrorist police investigated the posting of 60 hoax bombs to court offices. Former wives and girlfriends of some of the fathers told The Times of break-ups involving domestic violence and terrifying scenes of aggression in front of children.
A splinter faction, which resented Mr O’Connor for what they saw as his domineering approach, last year formed Real Fathers4Justice. This group is blamed for the kidnap plan but its director, Jeff Skinner, told The Guardian the idea that the plot was serious was ridiculous.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t we kidnap the Prime Minister’s son’. Everyone told him, ‘Don’t be stupid’.”
A police investigator agreed, telling The Times: “This bird was never going to fly.”
But the formation of the breakaway radical wing – along with fears that some militant fathers in Liverpool are planning violent direct action – prompted police to increase surveillance of the group.
Mr O’Connor has had enough. He may also have personal reasons for quitting. After a bitter court battle with his former wife Sophie their relationship has improved.
Now he has plenty of contact with his two sons and a new baby with his partner. “I’m proud of the work we [Fathers4Justice] have done but if we’re going down this road with extremist elements then it’s come to an end,” he said. “I don’t want to be associated with an organisation getting headlines like this. I want to get a good night’s sleep.”
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Plot to kidnap Blair’s son surfaces: Extremists in group advocating fathers’ rights suspected
Sarah Womack and George Jones
The Daily Telegraph; with files from Agence France-Presse and Reuters
904 words
19 January 2006
National
A3
English
(c) 2006 National Post . All Rights Reserved.
LONDON – Fathers 4 Justice, an advocacy group for men involved in child custody battles, was abruptly disbanded yesterday after allegations extremist members were plotting to kidnap the five-year-old son of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Matt O’Connor, the group’s founder, said that after endless feuding and dangerous activities by those on its fringes he had concluded mothers were simply more mature than fathers.
“There may be a repeat of these sorts of antics and it would do serious damage to the debate and what we have achieved,” he said.
“My view is that fathers are not ready for the changes we want to see in this country. They are part of the problem, not the solution, and they are perverting the cause.
“This organization has come to its natural conclusion,” he added.
“I am almost past caring and want a good night’s sleep. I have a newborn baby.”
The kidnap plan, apparently in its early stages, was revealed by The Sun newspaper yesterday and confirmed by police sources to the BBC.
Britain’s biggest-selling daily said “vigilante dads” aimed to kidnap Leo Blair and hold him hostage for a short period to “highlight the plight of fathers denied access to their kids.”
Both London’s Metropolitan Police and Mr. Blair’s Downing Street office refused to confirm or deny the story.
“We’re not commenting on this at all,” said a spokesman at Scotland Yard. “We don’t discuss matters of security. We’re not prepared to discuss this in any way, shape or form.”
Mr. Blair’s office confirmed the government, police and security services were concerned about the militant tactics adopted by extreme fringe groups. But it denied a report on Sky News suggesting it had leaked the story to distract attention from a scandal engulfing Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, over sex offenders employed in British schools.
The BBC’s source said police were not convinced those involved in the plot had the ability to carry it out.
But Graham Dudman, The Sun’s managing editor, said the police were taking the plot seriously “because, of course, Fathers 4 Justice have been involved in some pretty spectacular stunts recently — breaching security at Buckingham Palace, at Downing Street and also the throwing of the flour bomb at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.”
The Sun cited an unnamed security source as the basis for its report. Mr. Blair and his wife, Cherie, were said to have been told and were “concerned.”
Protection for the Blairs and their four children — Euan, who turns 22 today, Nicholas, 21, Kathryn, 17, and Leo — was said to have been reviewed after the alleged plot was uncovered just before Christmas.
The rarely seen Leo George Blair has always been a focus of media attention, being the first baby born to a serving British prime minister in more than 150 years.
As with their other children, the Blairs have sought to keep Leo out of the media spotlight. Just weeks after the birth, they issued the first of several calls for privacy after pictures of a sleeping Leo taken by a group of schoolchildren were published.
Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch — whose functions include investigating extremism and terrorism — have been monitoring the “lunatic fringe” of Fathers 4 Justice, The Sun said.
Mr. O’Connor, 38, who is divorced with two sons by his former wife and a three-week-old son by a new partner, said he had expelled about 30 members last year for talking about carrying out extreme stunts. Police had told him anti-terrorism officers had visited former members of the group over Christmas.
“Anyone who considers kidnapping a five-year-old boy needs their head testing,” he said.
Channel Four News said members of the group claimed they had been infiltrated by a police informer and that he had proposed the idea of the kidnapping.
In the three years since Fathers 4 Justice was formed, the issue of fathers’ rights has been forced up the government’s list of priorities.
The group has staged lighthearted stunts such as crane-top protesters dressed as comic-book heroes and climbing public buildings.
Campaigners have become highly confrontational: Lawyers have been bombarded with abusive e-mails, court offices stormed and judges visited at home.
These activities led to accusations from lawyers and former wives that the organization had created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.
Some former wives and girlfriends of the group’s members described the breakups of their relationships as involving violence and told of being forced to live in refuges and incidents in which their children witnessed frightening aggression by their fathers.
Two years ago, anti-terrorist police were called in to investigate the sending of 60 hoax bombs to family court offices around the country by extremists — denounced by Fathers 4 Justice — demanding more rights for fathers.
Colour Photo: Russell Boyce, Reuters / British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his son Leo are at the centre of an alleged plot to kidnap the five-year-old to draw attention to the plight of fathers in custody battles. The Sun newspaper reported that a fringe element of Fathers 4 Justice was behind the plan.
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Fathers 4 Violence
Rachel Richardson
322 words
6 November 2005
Dads’ army thugs shock
THE caring dads’ army image of the Fathers4Justice group is set to be blown apart as extremist members are exposed as VIOLENT BULLIES.
The group-who dress as superheroes to campaign for more fathers’ rights contains yobs who will stop at nothing to further their cause, a shocking TV documentary will reveal.
Prominent member Eddie “Goldtooth” Gorecki-who scaled London’s Royal Courts of Justice wearing a Batman outfit (right)-allegedly threatened to KILL his ex-partner Kelly to force her to allow him access to his four kids.
Beating
One activist boasted about planning a “HIT” on another member’s ex-missus, the ITV1 Tonight With Trevor McDonald show, will reveal.
And he crowed to an undercover reporter about how he “FLATTENED” his ex-wife’s nose.
While another member suggested plotting a SECURITY SCARE on the Tube -just a week after the July 7 terror bombs. Gor- ecki, 46, a well-respected deputy leader, is also filmed making sick racist and sexist remarks, and bragging about vandalising courts and children’s charity offices.
The hardliner-who has convictions for armed robbery and assault-allegedly beat his ex Kelly so badly she suffered a fractured skull and spent five days in intensive care.
Fanatics from the group-which once powder- bombed Premier Tony Blair-were the subject of a year-long secret investigation.
A TV insider said: “Many of the activists are happy to bully ex-lovers and threaten anyone in their way.”
The Fathers 4Justice website blasted the sting as “a cynical exercise in manipulation”.
Founder Matt O’Connor added: “We haven’t seen the documentary, so can’t comment on the allegations. If members have behaved in a sexist, racist or violent way then they will be expelled.”
Dads’ Army: Inside Fathers For Justice, is on ITV1 tomorrow and Friday at 8pm.
(C) News of the World, 2005
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Blackshirts (Australia)
Blackshirt gets suspended jail term
Chee Chee Leung
30 September 2004
The leader of the Blackshirts fathers’ group walked free from court yesterday after receiving a suspended jail term for stalking a divorced mother.
A County Court judge described John Abbott’s conduct as grotesque and frightening, before imposing a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.
The 58-year-old was found guilty on Tuesday of stalking the woman in September 2001 by holding two protests outside her eastern suburbs home.
Abbott and three or four other men wore black uniforms and masked their faces with scarves in what the judge described as “quite grotesque” behaviour.
Judge Leslie Ross said the Blackshirts’ intimidating attire was synonymous with European oppression, and led to a “most harrowing and frightening” situation.
He said it was unacceptable and unpardonable that the group used a loudspeaker and named the woman, who was formerly married to an associate of Abbott. The men also distributed leaflets to the woman’s neighbours that said she was in a child-access dispute and described her as a “so-called mother”.
“An individual was targeted and it was humbug for Mr Abbott to argue that this was an exercise in democratic rights,” Judge Ross said.
He told Abbott he had no right to intervene on behalf of those involved in Family Court disputes, and said the offences had psychological consequences for his victim.
The woman, who was in court for yesterday’s hearing, said she was pleased Abbott had been found guilty, but declined to comment further.
In pre-sentence submissions, Abbott, of Upper Coomera, Queensland, said he never intended to intimidate or harass. “I don’t have a guilty mind because I didn’t mean any harm.”
He pleaded not guilty to the charge, and was acquitted of a second stalking charge relating to allegations made by another woman who was also involved in a child-access dispute.
Abbott called two character witnesses, including federal election candidate Gary Schorel-Hlavka of the Aged and Disability Pensioners Party.
Mr Schorel-Hlavka, who is running in the seat held by Labor deputy leader Jenny Macklin, said Abbott was genuine in his beliefs but “goes off the track”.
Judge Ross said that, in mitigation, police were advised of the protests, which were short and lacked physical aggression. He noted that Abbott had not targeted the woman since.
“I am well aware and I accept that Mr Abbott was driven by a personal zeal. What transpired here is he stepped over the line.”
Abbott later vowed that his group would continue protesting – but would no longer name those women they were demonstrating against.
A trial for three other Blackshirts was adjourned until January next year.
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Abbott to put shirt on political push
Peter Ellingsen
592 words
3 October 2004
Last week the law caught up with John Abbott. The leader of the Blackshirts fathers’ group was found guilty in the County Court of stalking, and given a four-month suspended jail sentence. It came two years after Abbott, 58, shocked the city by leading posses of masked men to protest outside the homes of often terrified women.
Smiling as he walked from the court, the most extreme figure in the men’s movement vowed to continue his vigilante action, and to launch a new political party. Despite looming prison time if he breaks the law in the next 18 months, Abbott said: “I’m not deterred in the least. It only strengthens my resolve.”
The new party, Southern Cross, will, he says, champion men’s rights and stand candidates at future federal elections. As for the demonstrations, they will go on. Abbott still has the rack of black shirts he used to evoke fear, and will employ them to shame the women he blames for marriage break-ups.
As owner of the Dane Centre, a recording studio in Brunswick, he has the money to fund his campaigns. He says he has spent $100,000 fighting what he sees as Family Court bias towards women and will spend more. “The fight has only just begun,” he insists.
It is perhaps not what State Attorney-General Rob Hulls had in mind when he branded the Blackshirts “gutless”. Mr Hulls said the Government would ensure women were protected from the violence of hate campaigns. Abbott, however, is not chastened. For him, men parading in fascist costume outside selected women’s homes amounts to a “crusade” to protect marriage, family and children.
Judge Leslie Ross warned him that the suspended sentence meant he was “walking on eggshells”. As the judge left the courtroom, Abbott embraced his backers and said: “There, they can’t have my body.” He said he was not intimidated by the court process. “This isn’t the end of the Blackshirts. Hell, no.”
Abbott was found guilty of stalking a woman involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband. He pleaded not guilty and argued that he had a democratic right to protest. The prosecution said he had harassed the woman with a leaflet referring to her by name and describing her as a “so-called mother”. The judge said he accepted that Mr Abbott was driven by “genuine zeal”, and had “overstepped the line”. He said the garb and insignia worn by the Blackshirts was synonymous with oppression, violence and aggression, and could be a “frightening sight”.
Abbott represented himself in court. He did not engage a lawyer because lawyers were reluctant to highlight political points in court, he said. “Barristers won’t put forward the message,” he said.
Abbott claims numerous supporters but, while mainstream men’s organisations know of the Blackshirts, most do not support their methods. Sue Price, from the national Men’s Right Agency, said protesting outside women’s homes was “going too far”.
Abbott’s wife left him 14 years ago and met another man. Abbott has remained single, and says marriage is forever and adultery is akin to murder. He laments the loss of his two children – although he did not contest custody – and believes the family will be reunited in heaven. In court, Judge Ross noted that the insignia of the Blackshirts had religious overtones, and that Abbott was fond of talking of crusades.
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Who’s afraid of the big bad dad? His idea of protest is to harass women and children, dressed in the black shirt of historical oppression. Meet the leader of the extreme wing of the father’s movement. By Julie-Anne Davies.
By Julie-Anne Davies
1,131 words
12 October 2004
Volume 122; Number 41
English
The Bulletin – © 2004 ACP Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. http://www.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin
John Abbott just doesn’t look the part. With his all black rock star get-up and his George Hamilton tan, this is a man who looks very much at home in his inner-Melbourne recording studio. How can someone who claims to have hung out with Freddie Mercury and Michael Hutchence also be the radical face of the Australian fathers’ movement?
Abbott is the charismatic leader of the “Black Shirts”, a disparate group of middle-aged (mainly) men whose demands include repeal of divorce laws and the abolition of the Family Court. Their vigilante tactics – staging demonstrations outside women’s homes dressed in their heavily symbolic black uniforms and masks, and addressing the neighbourhood with megaphones – were last week described by a Victorian County Court judge as grotesque.
The judge’s comments came after Abbott was found guilty of stalking a Melbourne woman who was formerly married to an associate of his. During the trial, the court heard that Abbott and three or four of his masked cohorts staged two protests outside the woman’s home. The group also letterboxed the woman’s neighbours with leaflets that said, among other things, that she was involved in a child-access dispute and described her as a “so-called mother”. None of this impressed Judge Leslie Ross, who, in sentencing Abbott to four months’ jail (suspended for 18 months), equated the Black Shirts’ intimidating attire with European fascist oppression.
Abbott is unfazed and unrepentant; in fact, he seems pleased the judge picked up on the link. “The Black Shirts as a name is well known through history, in fascist Italy and in England, and in my experience in the rock industry, the name says it all,” he all but smirks.
Yes, this is a man who lives by the axiom that any publicity is good publicity. “The Black Shirts were born to create ultimate interest, exposure is our goal,” Abbott says. But who is being exposed here? He and his “sympathisers”, as he prefers to call them, have been labelled goons and thugs, whose handpicked up-close and personal protests (he admits to carrying out dozens) have left children cowering in cupboards and women terrified to leave their homes. As the victim in last week’s case told The -Bulletin: “I know intellectually that he probably won’t come back after us but emotionally, even after the guilty verdict, I’m scared that he’ll do something else to us.” (A court order -prohibits identifying the woman.)
Try to imagine, she says, the terror of finding yourself the target of masked men outside your own home: “I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted or, worse, what they were going to do.” Both she and her boy, now 12, have received counselling but, three years on, her child still can’t shake the fear that the masked men are going to return one day.
Try telling Abbott about any of this. He shows no remorse, and scoffs at suggestions he and his offsiders have done any damage to the dozens of women and their children who have been subjected to his one-on-one protests. “We’ve had children come out of their homes to play with the Black Shirts when we’ve been demonstrating. They are attracted to the uniforms.”
What’s more, he claims he doesn’t hate women. “I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”
The vitriol and loathing dates back 14 years, to when Abbott’s own marriage fell apart – “When the betrayal occurred” is his way of describing it – but he refuses to accept the divorce and continues to refer to his ex-partner as his wife. He claims he was done over by the Family Court and has been waging his own vendetta against the institution ever since. He has stood for parliament twice and last year gave away the music business for good to devote his time to politics.
Being in Abbott’s presence is vaguely unsettling, probably deliberately so and not just because of statements such as this: “Paedophilia corrupts children but adultery is worse because it corrupts families.” During this interview, another middle-aged man sits silently alongside, nodding occasionally but never introduced. Other Black Shirt sympathisers drift around the sprawling recording studio, some falsely accused of child sex abuse, according to Abbott, and more than willing to explain themselves. No thanks.
While it is true that the fathers’ rights movement in Australia has gained some -powerful allies and elicited community support in recent times – John Howard has promised reforms to the Family Law Act if re-elected – everyone spoken to for this story is quick to dissociate themselves from the Black Shirts. One prominent men’s rights activist asked that his name not be mentioned in any story about the group. “I’m scared to talk to you now you’ve raised them; please don’t mention us in the same sentence,” he says.
Edward Dabrowski of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia is a little braver. “I understand what is driving their behaviour but I don’t approve of it.”
The Black Shirts organisation is also linked to the UK Fathers4Justice group, which has now set up in Australia. This is the mob that snatched worldwide headlines a month ago when one of its members scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace dressed in a Batman suit. Abbott, who now lives in Queensland, talks of expansion beyond Victoria, where until now most of his activity has been based.
The Black Shirts’ potential is enormous, he says, because there are so many disaffected men who are growing impatient with the appeasement tactics of the mainstream men’s movement. “I have a book full of names who I can ring at a moment’s notice and they’ll be there, ready to demonstrate, no questions asked, at whatever location I choose.”
Does this mean there will be a resumption of the targeted home protests? “Well, we won’t be mentioning names from now on and we won’t stop outside individuals’ homes – we’ll keep moving – but those with something to be ashamed of will get the message.”
Miscellaneous clippings on fathers’ rights activism
How fathers’ fight set off the mother of all battles;Fathers 4 Justice
Ben Macintyre, Alexandra Frean and Lewis Smith
1574 words
21 January 2006
The caped crusaders of Fathers 4 Justice pushed fatherhood to the top of the political agenda, but failed to win any reforms. Ben Macintyre, Alexandra Frean and Lewis Smith report
ONE September afternoon, a painter and decorator from Cheltenham in an ill fitting nylon Batman suit climbed on to the facade of Buckingham Palace, demanding that the courts enforce his rights to see two children he had not seen for five years.
Nine months later, Jason Hatch won regular access to the children. Today he believes that the stunt, which prompted a royal security review and established Fathers 4 Justice as one of the oddest protest movements of modern times, paid off.
“For 4 years I had been getting nowhere at all. When I climbed Buckingham Palace judges were starting to come round to us,” he said. “They are beginning to understand we have feelings too and love the children as much as the mothers do.”
Fathers 4 Justice, which disbanded this week after extremist members reportedly plotted to kidnap Tony Blair’s five-year-old son, were amateurish, angry and extremely annoying. But when historians look back on British society at the start of the third millennium they will accord a small but important chapter to the men in tights: Spiderman climbed Tower Bridge causing gridlock below, Santa Claus closed the Severn crossing, and two men hurled a powder-filled condom at Mr Blair in the Commons.
The caped crusaders succeeded in turning the issue of fathers’ rights from a lost cause into the mother of all battles. Whether this has ultimately benefited divorced and separated fathers is another matter.
Fathers 4 Justice followed the trajectory of many radical, direct-action protest groups. Not for nothing did they call themselves the Suffragents. The cause was not comparable, but like the suffrage campaigners of a century ago, F 4 J used modern shock tactics, provoked widespread public disapproval and suffered bitter internal divisions while drawing attention to genuine injustice.
Superman, Batman and the others were not superheroes. Many were embroiled in ugly custody battles; some of F 4 J’s antics were more aggressive than amusing. Some members had unsavoury pasts and a few had criminal records. Yet to some extent, F 4 J caught the spirit of the times: they reflected the Zeitgeist, and they changed it.
There is widespread recognition that F 4 J has put fatherhood firmly at the top of the media, legislative and political agenda, but it is also clear that they did not achieve the legal reforms they wanted.
The group was founded three years ago and clambered on to the battlements of public awareness at precisely the moment that modern fatherhood was emerging as a big cultural concern. Mr Blair had become the first new dad in Downing Street since Lord John Russell in the 1850s. Not to be outdone, Gordon Brown will raise the stakes by producing a second bairn in office. David Cameron will shortly become a father for the third time.
Then there was the spectacle of David Blunkett, resigning not over an adulterous affair but over his right to care for the child it had produced. This was not merely a population blip with politicians, like other professionals, having children later. Something had shifted. Fathers were already becoming increasingly involved with their children’s lives and demanding that they be listened to, in what will come to be seen as one of the biggest transformations in contemporary society.
Politicians were becoming fathers at an unprecedented rate, but the issue of fatherhood itself lacked a political voice. Into this vacuum stepped F 4 J, ready to take up the cause on the public stage by pulling a series of attention grabbing stunts, ranging from the merely irritating to the reckless. In October 2003, Dave Chick (who was not a member of F 4 J, but was supported by the group) clambered up a crane next to Tower Bridge while dressed as Spiderman to highlight his battle to get court orders enforced granting him access to his daughter. He spent six days 145ft up the crane and was accused of costing the taxpayer Pounds 5 million in snarled traffic and policing. In December 2004 contact with his daughter was resumed after 21 months.
“It has taken me risking my life and limb to get something done,” he said.
But as one might expect of an issue so fraught with emotion and conflict, the F 4 J story offers few simple happy endings. Ron Davis was one of two fathers who pelted the Prime Minister with purple flour bombs during Prime Minister’s Questions in May 2004, sparking a national security outcry. Mr Davis, from Worthing, West Sussex, was charged with a public order offence and fined. He has still not seen his daughter since 1998 and has had two brief meetings with his son in the past five years.
“Fathers 4 Justice may not have achieved all it wanted to but there aren’t many people in the country now who don’t know or haven’t heard of Fathers 4 Justice or what we campaign about,” he said.
The genius of the movement, founded in 2003 by Matt O’Connor, a divorced father, lay partly in its very silliness. The sight of grown men humiliating themselves as cartoon characters for the sake of their children somehow detracted from the blokeish militancy.
The protests were widely derided, but also, more quietly, applauded. That ambivalence perhaps reached as far as Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the High Court Family Division, who said that she would not meet F 4 J members until they stopped their antics. (At one point, a group of militants reportedly planned to snatch a dog belonging to Dame Elizabeth, because she was regarded as upholding laws biased against men.) Yet she also seemed to concede that the protesters had a point, when she admitted that the present family court system was open to valid criticism.
Jim Parton, of Families Need Fathers, which has campaigned peaceably for fathers’ rights for more than 30 years, conceded that F 4 J had “managed to get people talking about fathers in a way that had not happened before”. “Fathers were always on the back-burner until this group came along. We do not advocate direct action, but it is hard to disapprove of it because it very clearly works,” he said.
F 4 J sank as swiftly as it rose. In an organisation almost entirely peopled by bitter men, clashes led to splits and when the divorce came through it was accompanied by allegations of theft, drunken brawling and sexism. Last June, a breakaway group formed, Real Fathers 4 Justice.
The language of the break-up was reminiscent of every other political protest movement that has split between militants and moderates, from CND and the direct-action Committee of 100 to the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA, after which Real Fathers 4 Justice was plainly (and rather grimly) named.
Mr O’Connor believes that his organisation laid the foundations for radical changes. “We created awareness and stimulated debate about the institutionalised discrimination against fathers in the legal system. But we didn’t get the law changed,” he said. “What we have done is climate change. The debate has started.”
Jack O’Sullivan of Fathers Direct, the fatherhood information charity, points out that the issue of fatherhood presents huge political possibilities. “Now that the extremists have gone, there is a big space again. This is a huge opportunity for someone.”
As Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, puts it: “Family relationships are moving on even faster than F 4 J and all of us working with families are trying to catch up. The role of men is also changing fast and chaotically and F 4 J was another small window opening out on that.”
For all the flaws within F 4 J, the issue of fatherhood rights and responsibilities has a currency that would have been unimaginable three years ago.
That is some achievement for a protest movement whose most enduring symbol is a chubby dad in a Batman suit balancing on a window ledge.
Janice Turner, page 24
* PAST CAMPAIGNS
* 1950s Anti-nuclear
The CND was formed in 1958 amid widespread fears in Europe of nuclear conflict
Outcome Britain has not given up its nuclear weapons
* 1960s Anti-apartheid
The British anti-apartheid movement began when South African exiles and their supporters began a campaign to boycott South African goods on June 26, 1959
Outcome Nelson Mandela released from jail after 27 years and became President in 1994
* 1970s Feminism
The first National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in 1971
Outcome Successes include the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and the 1976 Domestic Violence Act
* 1980s The miners
The National Coal Board announced pit closures in 1984. The miners’ strike ended a year later
Outcome Pit closures in 1992 meant thousands of miners lost their jobs
* 1990s Poll tax and anti-globalisation
The decade began with the poll tax revolt, and ended with a new breed of activists turning their attention to capitalism
Outcome Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990.
Anti-globalisation protests continue
(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2006
——–
The Fathers’ Crusade
By Susan Dominus
8139 words
8 May 2005
Late Edition – Final
After tomorrow, I’ll have done everything there is to do, ‘‘Jason Hatch said one night in February, staring wistfully into a near-finished glass of beer at a bar in Shrewsbury, England. Just a few hours earlier, he and some friends were enjoying a raucous, boisterous evening, all but driving out the other diners at a decorous French restaurant. Now, after several drinks at the bar, the lateness of the hour and the increasing proximity of Hatch’s plans for the next day seemed to be catching up with him, and his mood took a turn toward the tense. By the following afternoon, Hatch, a 33-year-old former house painter and contractor, intended to scale a government office building near the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. His friends, many of them co-conspirators, had gone home, the revelry had died down and he was clearly trying to regain some focus. Was he getting nervous?
‘‘The police say Jason doesn’t have fear like other people,’’ he said, speaking of himself in the third person, perhaps hoping they were right.
If, earlier in the evening, others at the restaurant looked over to Hatch’s table (and given the noise emanating from it, they surely did), they would have seen that Hatch wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the purple logo of Fathers 4 Justice, a political group that is well known in Britain for staging high-profile stunts to raise awareness about the custody rights of divorced and separated fathers. (In one memorable incident, a member pelted Prime Minister Tony Blair with a condom filled with purple flour.) Some might even have recognized Hatch and made a note to mention their brush with semi-celebrity to their friends: this was the man who scaled Buckingham Palace last year dressed as Batman, unfurling a banner in support of fathers’ rights and spending more than five hours perched on a ledge near the palace balcony as security officers tried to talk him down. The event, which made news around the world, saturated the British media for nearly two days.
Hatch was arrested, but he was promptly released and never charged with a crime. ‘‘I even got me ladder back,’’ he likes to mention. Nonetheless, the police keep a close eye on him, even outside his own country. Several months after his Buckingham Palace stunt, Hatch, hoping to broaden his group’s support in the United States, flew to New York, where a team of police tailed him and his colleagues for the duration of the five-day visit. (The cops finally announced themselves, befriended Hatch and his fellow would-be protesters and ended up escorting them to various downtown nightclubs, passing them off as royalty — anything, apparently, to keep them from putting on capes and scaling the Brooklyn Bridge.)
At the bar in Shrewsbury, as Hatch fretted about the details of his next major stunt — could he get a lighter ladder by tomorrow? — he seemed overtaken by melancholy. He hadn’t been sleeping, he said; his head ached. Three and a half years ago, Hatch’s second wife left him, taking their two children with her. When he finally caught up with them, a family court granted him visitation rights. He later claimed in court that his wife regularly ignored the ruling, refusing to let him see the kids, but, he told me, the court did little to satisfy him. ‘‘It really takes it out of me,’’ he said. It had been so long since he’d seen his kids — Charlie, who’s 5, and Olivia, who is a year younger — that their mother now claims they didn’t want to see him, he said. They had started calling their grandfather Dad. (His wife has declined to speak to the press, other than to say that Hatch’s activism has disturbed the children.)
Hatch first contacted Fathers 4 Justice a year and a half ago, after reading about their protests in the newspaper. The group’s founder, Matt O’Connor, a 38-year-old divorced dad with a gift for public relations, visited Hatch at his home in Cheltenham to gauge his commitment — and, as it turned out, to scope out some possible locations for protests. Two weeks later, Hatch found himself with three other fathers, standing atop a 250-foot-high suspension bridge in Bristol, dressed like a superhero, hanging a Fathers 4 Justice banner. For the 28 hours that Hatch and his colleagues remained on the bridge, the police rerouted commuters, as reporters and curious pedestrians gathered below. After years of ineffectual legal struggle, Hatch could finally see results: traffic had literally stopped on account of his cause. He went on to scale a series of other targets, including several court buildings, York Minster Cathedral and, finally, Buckingham Palace. The grandiose, symbolic gesture had become more satisfying than the niggling, humiliating legal maneuverings that never seemed to pan out.
Hatch’s sense of despair about his estrangement from Charlie and Olivia has apparently swept away any concern he might have had about the most basic requirement of parenthood: his continuing good health. When he scaled the ladder at Buckingham Palace, the guards cocked their rifles, a sound captured chillingly on a videotape of the event. ‘‘I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want to,’’ Hatch, who now has a 14-month-old daughter with his current girlfriend, Gemma Polson, told me. ‘‘I feel sorry for Amelia, obviously — Amelia being me little daughter. If anything happens, she’s going to lose out, but I still have to do it. I still have to go out there and get the law changed, and when the law’s changed, you won’t see me again.’’
Now a full-time salaried havoc-wreaker for Fathers 4 Justice (the group raises money through membership fees), Hatch has a martyr’s self-righteousness but also an adman’s instinct to feed the media beast ever bigger morsels of a story. ‘‘If I got shot, but survived,’’ he said just before heading to bed for the night, ‘‘that would be brilliant.’’
Although some of the issues raised by Fathers 4 Justice concern quirks of the British custody system, most of them overlap with demands of divorced-fathers’ groups in other countries: stronger enforcement of visitation rights, more shared-custody arrangements, a better public and legal acknowledgment of a father’s importance in his child’s life. In the United States, the influence and visibility of those groups have waxed and waned since the mid-70’s, but they appear to be agitating now as never before. In the past year, class-action suits have been filed in more than 40 states, claiming that a father’s constitutional right to be a parent guarantees him nothing less than 50 percent of the time with his children. And on the legislative front, last spring Iowa passed some of the strongest legislation to date in favor of joint physical custody — the division of the child’s time between the two parents as close to equal as possible. The policy, which resembles some legislation that Maine passed in 2001, encourages judges to grant joint physical custody if one parent requests it, unless the judge can give specifics to justify why that arrangement is not in the best interest of the child.
There are dozens of fathers’ rights groups in the States, including the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Dads Against Discrimination and the Alliance for Noncustodial Parents Rights. They may not have the name recognition that Fathers 4 Justice has on its own turf, but they work quietly behind the scenes, pushing for custody laws like the ones Iowa and Maine have passed, lobbying Congress and generally doing what they can to improve not just the rights but also the image of divorced fathers. In this last task, oddly enough, these groups have benefited from federal initiatives designed to motivate divorced or never-wed fathers who care all too little about their kids, as publicly financed ad campaigns remind the public how indispensible fathers are. (‘‘Fathers Matter,’’ shouted ads on New York City buses last year.)
Fathers’ groups also benefit from a more general recognition that fathers, at least in some socioeconomic circles, are now much more involved in their children’s lives. Some of that involvement is born of necessity, given how many mothers work, but necessity also seems to have effected a cultural shift, ushering in the era of the newly devoted dad. The traditional custody arrangement, with Mom as sole custodian and Dad demoted to weekend visitor, may have been painful, but practical, in a family with a 50’s-style division of labor; but to the father who knows every Wiggle by name, the pediatrician’s number by heart and how to make a bump-free ponytail, such an arrangement could be perceived as an outrage, regardless of what might be more convenient or who is the primary caretaker.
On the other hand, divorced dads still face some serious image problems, a function of well-known statistics that are hard to spin. In the United States, in the period following divorce, one study has found, close to half of all children lose contact with their fathers, with that figure rising to more than two-thirds after 10 years. Although child-support payments have crept up in recent years, in 2001 only 52 percent of divorced mothers received their full child-support payments; among women who had children out of wedlock, the number was around 32 percent. Fathers’ rights groups have a tall order explaining those statistics, convincing judges — and the country at large — that if fathers skip town, or refuse payment, it’s a function of how unfairly family courts treat them rather than the very reason that the courts treat fathers the way they do. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, told me that fathers’ rights groups are ‘‘focused only on the rights of fathers, and not on the rights of children, and particularly, not on the obligations of fathers that should go with those rights.’’
Some fathers’ rights advocates in the United States fear that the Fathers 4 Justice approach to image overhaul will slow the movement’s bid for respectability, but others are ready to try some kind of major action. To date, none of the fathers’ groups in the States have managed to spark a sympathetic national dialogue in the way Fathers 4 Justice has done in England — striving to recast divorced dads, en masse, as needy and lovable rather than as distant and neglectful. Without that sea change, fathers’ groups here in America acknowledge, there’s only so far they can go in changing the way judges rule, no matter what the laws can be made to say.
In January, Ned Holstein, president of Fathers and Families, a Massachusetts organization committed to improving fathers’ access to their children, decided to devote one of the group’s bimonthly meetings to a debate about the merits of Fathers 4 Justice-style tactics. To date, Holstein’s organization has pursued its goals through traditional nonprofit pathways: hiring a lobbyist, an intern, a program coordinator, all financed by member-donated dollars. The group reached a milestone last fall, when it managed to put a nonbinding question about shared custody on the ballot for the November elections; 86 percent of those who voted on the issue supported a presumption of joint physical and legal custody. Despite the results his approach has yielded so far, Holstein told me before the Fathers and Families meeting, he was curious to see how his constituency would respond to the idea of following Fathers 4 Justice’s lead, opting for what he calls ‘‘the flamboyant route.’’
Holstein, now 61, resolved his own divorce amicably about 10 years ago, arranging for shared physical custody of his kids. But the court consistently treated him, he says, like a crank, and he started to collect stories from fathers who fared far worse. Before long he had a cause. A doctor who frequently testifies in trials, Holstein has an easy way with statistics and studies and evidently enjoys his public role. As he drove me to the group’s meeting at a private school in Braintree, Mass., he made an eloquent case for increasing fathers’ access to their kids. He has no problem with the existing ‘‘best interests of the child’’ guideline that judges follow in reaching custody decisions, he explained. He simply contends that, as a matter of practice, judges underestimate how important a father’s active involvement is to the best interest of the child — and weekend visits twice a month don’t constitute active involvement, in his view. ‘‘At that point,’’ Holstein said, ‘‘visitations become painful, because they remind parent and child of what they don’t have, which is intimacy.’’
Holstein arrived at the school to find 40 or 50 men and a handful of women (mostly girlfriends and second wives) already there — a fairly typical turnout, he said. After a short, rousing speech to start, Holstein turned the subject of the meeting to Fathers 4 Justice. Matt O’Connor, the British group’s founder, had declared purple the color of the international father’s movement, and Holstein said he was hoping the men in the audience would consider wearing a purple ribbon. ‘‘I hope you will join me, and won’t decide it’s too . . . whatever,’’ he said with a nervous laugh. ‘‘Now I need someone to go around with the scissors, so we can cut up and pass around some ribbons.’’
This apparently sounded suspiciously like sewing; there was an awkward silence. Finally, a woman in the third row raised her hand, but Holstein balked. ‘‘We can’t let a woman do this!’’ he said.
‘‘She wants it done right!’’ someone chimed in, getting a big laugh. Soon enough, a middle-aged man in a mock turtleneck and khakis rose to the challenge, and the ribbons started circulating.
Choosing purple was one of Fathers 4 Justice’s more savvy branding decisions. The color works for the group for the same reason Holstein worried his fathers might feel too ‘‘whatever’’ wearing it — it’s sort of a silly color, a kid’s color and definitely not macho. Given the particular American constructs of masculinity, it’s not clear how other elements of the Fathers 4 Justice aesthetic would play in the States: could a man running around in public in tights and a cape, mocking the law and defying security, ever be an emissary on behalf of American fatherhood? For some time now, O’Connor has considered starting a march of fathers in drag (‘‘It’s a drag being a dad,’’ the signs would read), which suggests the size of the gap between his sensibility and that of the average American.
Humor has clearly been a key to the success of the British campaign, distancing Fathers 4 Justice from overtly misogynist groups like the Blackshirts in Australia, masked men in paramilitary uniforms who stalk the homes of women they feel have taken unfair advantage of the custody system. O’Connor realized early on that men marching in the street and shouting look like a public menace rather than like nurturing caretakers deserving of more time with their children. In England, the group has managed to offset that threat with goofy playfulness while holding on to enough dignity to maintain respectability. That balance might be even harder to strike in the States.
In the auditorium, Holstein’s fathers sat for half an hour and watched video footage of Fathers 4 Justice, much of it set to a stirring soundtrack of U2 songs. ‘‘Would everyone who’s willing to be arrested please get on the bus?’’ Matt O’Connor called out during one protest. There were scenes of a father and his daughter playing with their pet sheep, which the father had dyed purple; scenes of dozens of men dressed as Father Christmas staging a sit-in at the children’s-affairs office of a government building; and scenes from two of the group’s largest protests: the Men in Black march (which featured about a thousand fathers, as well as supportive mothers and grandmothers, dressed in sunglasses and black suits, to symbolize their grief), and the Rising, a march through London that drew more than 2,000 protesters.
Afterward, Robert Chase, a 39-year-old clean-cut Dartmouth graduate who met with Jason Hatch and his colleague when they came to New York, led the group in brainstorming protest ideas of their own. Men started offering suggestions: they could protest from one of Boston’s duck boats; they could march to the harbor for a Boston Tea Party, only throwing their divorce decrees, not tea, into the water; they could dress up like Barney; they could dress up in burkas! The group seemed receptive to costumes, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm for storming court buildings.
‘‘I’m not in the mood to get arrested,’’ one man called out. ‘‘I got arrested enough during my divorce.’’ This got a laugh.
‘‘I like the idea of a parade, but it needs to be funny,’’ another man said.
‘‘Humor!’’ Holstein exclaimed. ‘‘Humor works better than anger!’’
For most of American legal history, the laws required judges to consider sex the most significant factor when making custody decisions, although which sex had the advantage changed over time. Until the mid-1800’s, under common law, a father’s right to custody in the event of a divorce was so strong that it practically functioned as a property right. Toward the end of that century, this principle was reversed by the ‘‘tender years’’ doctrine — the presumption that young children need to be with their mothers — which lasted in a handful of jurisdictions into the early 80’s. For the most part, however, by the late 70’s, the ‘‘tender years’’ doctrine had given way to the less prejudiced, but also less clear, directive that judges base their decisions on the so-called best interest of the child. Today many fathers’ rights advocates — particularly those who filed the 40-some class-action lawsuits demanding a 50-50 split of custody — would like to usher in a new paradigm: one that values parental rights as highly as the child’s best interest.
Michael Newdow is one of the fathers who have been trying to make that case. He is best known as the California emergency-room doctor who represented himself last year in a case before the Supreme Court, arguing that the words ‘‘under God’’ in the Pledge of Allegiance violated the establishment clause of the United States Constitution. Newdow, an atheist, brought the suit on the grounds that the pledge forced the government’s spiritual views onto his daughter, impeding her freedom of religious choice. The Supreme Court ruled that Newdow, given the particulars of his case and his custody issues, didn’t have the standing to bring the suit. For five years leading up to his appearance before the Supreme Court, Newdow had two driving passions in his life: fighting for more custody of his daughter and fighting to eliminate ‘‘under God’’ from the pledge. When the court dismissed his case, the two passions collided and combusted, the destruction of one cause taking the other down with it.
Though he still practices emergency-room medicine, Newdow finds time to tour the country, speaking at conferences and law schools about the separation of church and state. Last winter, I met up with him at the University of Michigan Law School just after he finished giving a talk to some students. He was carrying a guitar and looked a little flustered, two details that turned out to be related: during his talks, he likes to sing a song he wrote about the establishment clause, only this time he flubbed the lyrics.
Fast-talking and faster-thinking, Newdow, 51, is a tall, thin man who manages to look crisply dressed in even informal clothing. Conversationally, he toggles between two modes, aggrieved and outraged, and he has an expressive face that seems well designed to reflect those emotions. That evening, sitting in the lobby of the Michigan Union, he talked for close to two hours about his troubles — the custody battles he endured with his daughter’s mother (whom he never married); the impassioned exchanges that alienated the family-court judge; the injustices he feels he suffered at the hands of foolish mediators; the court appearances over all manner of arcane disputes, including whether he could take his daughter out hunting for frogs one night (no) and whether he could take her to hear him argue before the Supreme Court (again, no). Although the courts deprived him of final decision-making power over his daughter, who is now 10, he does spend about 30 percent of the time with her, a relatively generous arrangement. Nonetheless, Newdow, who has spent half a million dollars on legal fees, the lion’s share of those incurred by his child’s mother, claims that the family-court system has ruined his life. He’s a second-class parent, he said; he can’t do the things he’d like to do with his daughter. The system allows his daughter’s mother to stifle his freedom to care for his child the way he’d like. ‘‘It’s as bad as slavery,’’ he said.
As a spokesman on behalf of fathers’ rights — or rather, as he makes a point of stressing, all parents’ and children’s rights — Newdow is a brilliant, confident speaker, but sometimes he lacks a light touch. Hyperrational, occasionally tone-deaf, he’ll admit that he knows enough to know that his logic often offends people, sane as it seems to him. Early on in our conversation, when he started to digress about the imbalance in reproductive rights — women can choose to end a pregnancy but men can’t — he cut himself off. ‘‘That’s another issue, and it alienates people, and I don’t want to alienate you,’’ he said. ‘‘Although I will eventually.’’ It wasn’t a threat, or a joke, or a regret — it was just, to him, by now, a probability.
The following day, Newdow delivered a second talk at Michigan, this time on the subject of family law, to 50 or 60 students who filled a classroom. (Newdow himself attended Michigan Law School before becoming a doctor.) While the students listened, tossing back free pizza that a student group had provided, Newdow began discussing Troxel v. Granville, a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that has been warmly embraced by fathers’ rights advocates. In that decision, the court held that a grandparent’s visitation rights could not be granted without a parent’s consent, even if a grandparent’s visits were in the best interest of the child. In Troxel, Newdow noted, the court stated that parental rights are ‘‘perhaps the oldest of fundamental liberty interests recognized by this court.’’ If to be a parent is a fundamental constitutional right, he asked, how can the government violate that right without a showing a compelling state interest?
A hand went up. ‘‘Isn’t the best interest of the child a compelling state interest?’’
This is one of Newdow’s favorite questions. ‘‘How do you prove what’s best for the child?’’ he asked. ‘‘Somebody tell me what’s best for the child. Let’s take lunch. McDonald’s or make tuna fish at home — what’s best? O.K., lunch at home, you don’t risk a car accident, maybe the food’s healthier. McDonald’s, on the other hand, maybe it’s more fun, maybe the kid sees something new, gets the confidence to go down the slide for the first time. When you’re talking about two fit parents, who’s to say what’s best?’’
But what also worried Newdow, he continued, was not the problem of how to determine what’s ‘‘best’’ for the child, but rather the assumption that you can deprive someone of his or her fundamental parental right simply in order to make a child’s life more pleasant. Of course, he conceded, society has an obligation to protect those, like children, who cannot protect themselves. But there is a world of difference between protecting someone from harm and improving his life more generally. ‘‘We’ve gone from protection to suddenly ‘make their lives better,’’’ he said. ‘‘And that’s a violation of equal protection — because you’re taking one person’s life and ruining it to make another person’s better. If you can show real harm to the child, the kind of harm that the state would protect any child in an intact family from — abuse, neglect — sure, of course, protect it. But when it’s just what someone thinks might be better for the child, you have to weigh that compared to the harm suffered by the parent.’’
In short, forget for a moment about tending to a child’s optimal well-being: what about what’s fair? If a child’s parents are still married, courts don’t worry about whether it’s in the best interest of the child to go frogging late at night — so why should they have the power to weigh that issue the instant two parents separate? Split the custody 50-50, Newdow proposes, and let each parent make independent decisions during his or her time with that child.
A young woman with long dark hair raised her hand. ‘‘So you want to just split the kid 50-50, like Solomon?’’ she asked. All around her, students looked either amused or incensed by the argument Newdow was making.
‘‘Why is 70-30 so much better?’’ he countered. ‘‘And if 50-50 is so terrible, why do courts have no problem with parents who mutually agree to 50-50 arrangements?’’
A quiet girl in the front row had a trickier question. ‘‘What about when one parent wants to do something that permanently prohibits the other parent’s freedom to exercise their own constitutional right to parent the way they see fit?’’ she asked, searching for an example. ‘‘Say, getting her daughter’s ear pierced. You can do that on your own time, but it’s permanent.’’
For that kind of thing, Newdow conceded, you go to court. Here his logic seemed to be leading him to strange places: a father could take his teenage son to a strip club, but over an ear-piercing, he’d have to go to court?
The young woman’s question illustrated the particular thorniness of parental rights. By exercising his or her own right, a parent may end up negating the other’s. An accuser’s right to hire an attorney doesn’t complicate the right of the accused to legal defense; my right to free speech doesn’t inhibit your right to the same. But if two parents are at odds, parental rights become a kind of zero-sum game of constitutional freedom.
David Meyer, a University of Illinois law professor who specializes in the intersection of family and constitutional laws, agrees with Newdow that the courts have recognized a fundamental parental right. The problem, Meyer says, is that so-called strict scrutiny — the process by which the court determines whether there’s a state interest so compelling that it should override a fundamental right — is complicated when multiple people in a single family are asserting their fundamental constitutional rights. In Troxel, he notes, ‘‘the court was forced into a mushy kind of balancing test, balancing the interests of the children and the parents and all kinds of facts.’’ In his opinion in Troxel, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the question of why strict scrutiny wasn’t being applied. ‘‘None of the other justices answered him,’’ Meyer told me. ‘‘But implicitly the answer is: it just doesn’t work here.’’
Although Newdow rarely loses his temper, his complicated rationales for simple solutions can exasperate those who engage him in any conversation about the subject of custody. Joining Newdow at an informal law-school dinner the night before he spoke, Christina Whitman, a former professor of Newdow’s, lost little time on congratulations before challenging him. ‘‘Your [constitutional] right guarantees you equality in making your case before the judge,’’ she pointed out, ‘‘but it doesn’t guarantee you equal custody. You have the right to an answer, not an answer you’d like.’’ Only if the court’s decision was arbitrary, she pointed out, would it be a violation of his constitutional right.
Newdow replied that the judges’ rulings are, in fact, arbitrary, often depending on the expert opinion of psychologists to whom he grants zero scientific credibility. He cited textbook cases of judges making absurd decisions based on their own value judgments about what kind of parent would be the better custodian.
‘‘But just because unfair decisions happen doesn’t mean 50-50 is the answer,’’ she said. ‘‘That’s a child’s approach to equality.’’
The two went round and round until Whitman took a breather to ask how old Newdow’s daughter was. ‘‘Ten,’’ he told her. Whitman laughed. ‘‘Just wait two years,’’ she said, clearly speaking from experience. ‘‘You won’t want her anymore.’’
Standing on the plaza outside Boston City Hall, an observer had to take a close look, amid the sea of Red Sox caps, to see the signs of romance on Valentine’s Day. A teenager walked across the plaza with a handful of red and white carnations; a minute or two later, a man in a business suit passed by briskly, a Mylar balloon trailing behind him. As another man in a suit helped a young mother get her stroller down the plaza stairs, a deep chanting from the street below made its way to the plaza — the echoing, slightly eerie sound of shouted slogans magnified by a bullhorn: ‘‘It’s Valentine’s Day, and we can’t see our kids!’’ And then: ‘‘What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!’’
Robert Chase, the Dartmouth grad from the Fathers and Family meeting, didn’t have much luck persuading those fathers to take to the streets, but he had managed to round up 30 or so protesters, a few from New Hampshire, his home state, to march under the banner ‘‘Fathers 4 Justice US.’’ (Similar protests were organized in 11 other cities across the country that day.) An entrepreneur who runs his own consulting business, Chase has custody of his two sons every other weekend. Several years ago, he lost the right to a third weekend per month when a judge determined that it was logistically onerous for the kids, which is what their mother argued in court. It was the last in a series of outcomes over the years that disappointed him. Chase, who speaks in considered, wholesome-sounding phrases, says that he has made peace with the arrangement now, especially since his children are teenagers with lives of their own. But he mourns the opportunities lost.
‘‘We can’t reclaim the together-time we lost while they were growing up,’’ he told me. ‘‘When you’re spending only two or four days a month with your kids, you can’t really teach them values, the difference between right and wrong. All you can do is love them, provide a positive example and hope they’re getting what they need when they’re outside your influence.’’
In the years after the breakup of his marriage, Chase initially sought the help of various fathers’ groups, but he told me he felt that most of them ‘‘didn’t do anything but sit around and complain.’’ Like Jason Hatch, he got interested in Fathers 4 Justice after reading about the group in the news. A father for the first time at 22, Chase, now 39, said it suddenly occurred to him that his older son, now 17, could be a father himself in five or six years. He decided he should take whatever action was possible to make sure his sons and any future grandsons wouldn’t encounter the same custody system he faced, should they ever suffer an unhappy divorce.
Outside City Hall, Chase and his team, mostly men but including a few women, started shuffling their way down Congress Street, some of them blowing whistles and horns. One man wore a devil’s mask, with horns atop his head, and a judge’s robe; another man in a judge’s robe looked even scarier, with a mask of blue eyeballs, no nose, missing teeth, a misshapen skull and several well-placed boils. Other men, including Chase, were dressed in sunglasses and white decontamination suits that had purple hand prints (a Fathers 4 Justice symbol) smeared on them. Something about the mix of white and the flowing robes lent the men a vaguely Klannish aesthetic. As they whistled and bellowed their way down the street, they seemed to have lost sight of Ned Holstein’s exhortation to try humor, not anger. A mother with her child approaching them on the street crossed over to the other side.
After a half-hour or so of chanting and marching, the group arrived at the main family-court building in Boston. At the plaza of the courthouse, one protester started beating a drum. A compact man with a neatly trimmed beard, a green tie and a houndstooth cap left the courthouse and passed the protesters. ‘‘It could happen to you!’’ the protesters chanted.
‘‘It did happen to me,’’ the man said. ‘‘She went nuclear on me.’’ In the fathers’ rights community, the real weapons of mass destruction are false allegations of abuse. Fathers’ rights advocates claim it’s all too easy for women to use that strategy; feminists counter that too many family-court judges dismiss women’s valid concerns about domestic violence. ‘‘Two years and three-quarters of a million dollars later,’’ the man continued, ‘‘I got full custody of my kids, and was fully exonerated. But I’ve been living this for two years.’’ Now the man, who declined to give his name, watched as some of the protesters performed some street theater: a monster in a judge’s robe tearing up a kid’s photo, one of the fathers punching him to the ground, a man in a decontamination suit with a broom pushing at the heap of a human on the street. ‘‘I don’t know about this,’’ he said, gesturing at the protesters’ garish pantomime. ‘‘But the system does need fixing.’’
While they were marching, members of Chase’s group passed out fliers promoting fathers-4-justice.org and detailing all the harms that children without fathers are more likely to suffer — drug problems, depression, less education. Unlike Michael Newdow, Chase pays little attention to legal rights, arguing exclusively that the interests of the father are aligned with those of the child, given all the social-science research that suggests that fatherless children fare poorly.
But some scholars argue that this reasoning mistakenly assumes that children’s welfare works roughly on a sliding scale — that if children with no fathers at all suffer various emotional and social setbacks, then children who see their fathers only, say, every other week might suffer roughly half those setbacks. Margaret Brinig, a professor of family law at the University of Iowa, has examined a longitudinal study of a national sample of more than 20,000 junior-high and high-school children, close to 3,000 of whom had divorced parents and lived with their mothers. Studying that select sample, she found that there was only one sort of custody arrangement that noticeably harmed children: having the child visit the father for sleepover visits only several times a year. Children in such arrangements, Brinig found, were significantly more likely to suffer from depression and fear of dying young. But whether a child had a sleepover with his father a few times a month or a few times a week didn’t seem to influence that child’s well-being in any measurable way. (Kids who had sleepovers with their fathers several times a month were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than kids who didn’t, but Brinig posits that result as an exception to her overall conclusion.)
Fathers’ advocates like Ned Holstein argue that Brinig’s study might have found more positive results if more of the fathers in it had 50-50 custody, creating more intimate relationships, rather than measuring the difference between, say, one night a month and two nights a month. ‘‘It’s like prescribing one aspirin for cancer or two aspirin,’’ he said. But Brinig remains wary of a presumption of joint physical custody. ‘‘There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that joint physical custody is definitely not good for kids when there’s a high-conflict situation between the parents,’’ she told me. The more shared the custody, the argument goes, the more the parents have to interact and the more the children are exposed to nasty exchanges and power plays. Fathers’ rights advocates, by contrast, contend that it’s the current winner-take-all system that creates conflict by forcing fearful parents into vitriolic attacks.
Since the early 90’s, scores of studies on the subject of joint custody have been fired back and forth between the competing camps — studies suggesting that joint physical or even joint legal custody, which gives each parent some decision-making power, fuels conflict; studies claiming that sons fare worse with a mother’s sole custody; studies suggesting that children crave stability; studies suggesting that joint physical custody improves child-support payments; and so on. Some of the studies, accurate though they may be, can lead to difficult, even distasteful conclusions. Should policy really be based on studies that basically conclude it doesn’t matter how often a father sees his kid, so long as it’s more than a few times a year? On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to measure how a presumption of joint physical custody affects the motivations of parents on both sides, how that extra bargaining chip might be abused. In one particularly influential study, researchers at Harvard and Stanford found that even in cases in which joint physical custody was granted, the arrangement often devolved into a primary-custodian situation, with the mother taking more responsibility — but perhaps receiving less child support under the equal arrangement.
Robert Mnookin, director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project and a professor at Harvard Law School, is the rare expert who concedes that each side has legitimate concerns. A presumption of joint physical custody would have ‘‘some nice symbolic attributes,’’ he told me; but he worries about how it would play out in practice. He notes that the parents whose custody negotiations end up going all the way to court tend to be the parents who fight the most. In those cases, he argues, forcing judges to implement joint physical custody is a bad idea for the kids, since it only perpetuates their exposure to the conflict. He contends, however, that if divorced parents know that a judge is disinclined to award joint physical custody in circumstances with a high degree of conflict, it creates an incentive for a parent who wants sole custody to create conflict. Mnookin says he doesn’t favor the presumption of joint physical custody, although he concedes that without one, the system gives mothers an advantage. ‘‘In times of cultural transition like this,’’ he said, ‘‘the law struggles.’’
As Chase’s group was marching through Boston, men all over the city paused to nod grimly and unload stories of how they felt they’d been abused by the custody system, or of how a friend had been. They weren’t offering broad theories about constitutional rights or citing chapter and verse from social-science studies. Their complaints were mostly about the logistics of the system, its (to them) arbitrary rule over their finances, its judgments about their life choices, the punishments it doles out, its power to splinter into useless small pieces whatever relationship they’d struggled to build with their children — all complaints that probably would have been echoed by as many women, had it been women marching down the street protesting about mothers’ rights to custody.
One man in a blue oxford shirt ran down from his third-story office to get some contact information from Chase’s group — his brother-in-law, he said, was about to be arrested because he could no longer keep up with the child-support payments the court demanded. Another man said he had lost custody because he was home with the kids. ‘‘And a man who’s home with the kids isn’t a homemaker; he’s just unemployed,’’ he said. Another passer-by had lost custody of his kids, he said, because he wasn’t the primary caretaker; the child-support payments were killing him, he said (in Massachusetts, they can run up to 30 percent or more of gross income) and even still, he didn’t have nearly as much time with his kids as he would have liked. The court held his wife in contempt for blocking his visitation, ‘‘but she didn’t care,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a slap on the wrist.’’ A man with a Scandinavian accent, wearing a black zip-down sweater, said that he was supposed to see his kids every third weekend but that his wife moved out of state and uses every legal loophole she can to stop him from seeing them.
Boston that morning felt like a city of walking wounded — men who stopped on their way to or from their workplaces to compare notes with one another about their losses; men who seemed eager to get someone to pay attention to what they saw as the tragic absurdities of their lives. Their stories came out fragmented, no doubt one-sided, but moving nonetheless. They were short chapters in much longer novels that could be written, that have all but been written, in fact, by those who have best captured modern-day male alienation — Andre Dubus, Robert Stone, Richard Ford, David Gates — with their stories of imperfect men and frustrated women and misunderstandings and low expectations all around. The city blocks that Chase’s protesters walked must have contained thousands of divided families, and every one of the fathers in those families has hundreds of stories, every one of which he would happily tell to a family court, if only the judge had the time to really listen.
The morning Jason Hatch was scheduled to scale the building on Downing Street, Matt O’Connor, the Fathers 4 Justice founder, was sitting nervously at the coffee shop of the Thistle Hotel in London, a few blocks from Downing, waiting for a phone call. Leaders of social movements may have once hailed from the ranks of unions, sweatshops and churches, but it seems inevitable that in today’s culture, O’Connor, one of England’s most successful activists, had a career as a brand designer for hip restaurants. Sitting with his girlfriend at the time, Giselle, a yoga instructor, O’Connor left his cellphone out on the table, waiting for it to sound its customary ring: the theme song from ‘‘Mission: Impossible.’’ In the days before, whenever he spoke to me about Hatch’s plan, he would take the battery out of his phone to thwart the government agents he was convinced could otherwise listen in. The police, he suspected, had been given advance warning of a few recent Fathers 4 Justice stunts they had managed to disrupt. As he waited for the phone call, he rehearsed for me some of his sound bites: ‘‘Our government is turning a nation of fathers into a nation of McDads’’ was one; ‘‘We have a government of dysfunctional misfits who are trying to create a generation of dysfunctional kids’’ was another.
O’Connor wasn’t sure he’d have the chance to use his one-liners. Fathers 4 Justice had had a string of bad luck lately, and the security at Downing Street was thick. He was in the process of describing to me how Hatch had cased the building when his phone rang. It was a colleague on the scene at Downing Street calling from his cellphone. ‘‘He’s up!’’ he yelled. O’Connor, in his camel’s-hair coat and snakeskin boots, and his girlfriend, chic in oversize sunglasses and a broad hat, ran out the door of the coffee shop and hailed a cab. Heading for the site a few blocks away, catching their breath in the taxi, they could hear the sirens of police cars heading in the same direction.
When we arrived at Downing Street, the area surrounding the building had been cordoned off. High up enough that he looked quite small, Hatch, dressed as Batman, was standing on a ledge, along with two other men, both Fathers 4 Justice members, one dressed like Robin, the other dressed like Captain America. The three men had driven a truck up to the side of building and onto the pavement, mounted a ladder and, without a hitch, climbed up. They had made their way across the balcony to the corner of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building, where they stood on what looked like a fairly narrow perch. They hung a large banner, reading ‘‘Access Denied.’’ The police apparently didn’t notice anything until the men were already up and a crowd of onlookers had started cheering.
A cluster of boys in their school blazers waved wildly up to the men. Hatch put on his mask and twirled his cape. Six or seven teenage girls, also waving wildly, started screaming, Beatles-fan style, and blowing Hatch kisses. He blew a few back. Some more tourists and locals joined the crowd, and several large men in sunglasses and street clothes seemed to be keeping a particularly keen eye on the crowd. ‘‘How are you, darling?’’ Giselle said into O’Connor’s cellphone, looking up nervously at Hatch, who had his own phone pressed to his ear.
Reporters lined up to get their sound bites from O’Connor. The press turnout was solid but perhaps a bit perfunctory. The media in England had already addressed the security angle in previous coverage, and after Buckingham Palace, every possible angle on paternity in Britain had been thoroughly worked. ‘‘Right, we don’t need to hear their message again, do we?’’ I overheard a BBC reporter say into his cellphone to his producer. The press had also already exhausted its love affair with Hatch as Hero Dad. It had become public knowledge that Hatch had been convicted of threatening his second wife and that he had another child, with his first wife. After he scaled Buckingham Palace, his girlfriend told the press that she had dumped him because he was devoting too much time to Fathers 4 Justice and not enough to their baby. (The two have since reconciled — ‘‘I was very post-partum’’ at the time, she told me — but that story hasn’t received as much play.)
As the afternoon wore on, the already gray day turned a little grayer, and a cold, wet wind picked up. The reporters down below, in scarves and boots, complained about their chilled feet. Several hundred feet up, on the ledge, it could only have been colder and windier, with superhero tights providing little protection. The three men had brought a knapsack filled with chocolates and Red Bull, but eventually the cold and the fatigue got to Captain America, who came down around 5 p.m. An hour or two later, Robin capitulated, too. By then, the crowd of bystanders had pretty much dissipated, but Hatch stayed put, his cape wrapped around him for warmth. Long after everyone else had gone home to dinner and kids and, finally, bed, he was still on the ledge, an outraged father, determined, cold and alone.
Photos: Michael Newdow: For this California doctor, 50-50 are the only custody numbers that add up. Robert Chase: He has made peace with his every-other-weekend custody of his two teenage sons, but says he mourns opportunities lost. (Photographs by Michael Edwards); A Higher Profile: Buckingham Palace in September 2004.; Jason Hatch: His stunts at Buckingham Palace and York Minster Cathedral have made him a public face of fathers’ rights in Britain. (opposite: Associated Press. this page: Jillian Edelstein for The New York Times.)
Susan Dominus is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her most recent cover article was about adult children of gay parents.
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BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Jenifer Johnson
2,052 words
17 October 2004
1
15
English
(c) 2004 SMG Sunday Newspapers Ltd.
THE REMATCH;The arrival of Bob Geldof as asober champion may have given the men’s movement a new legitimacy after the flour bombing and superhero stunts. But beneath the bids for sympathy a bitter extremism refuses to go away. Jenifer Johnston reports
Twenty years ago next month Bob Geldof launched the crusade against famine in Ethiopia, which galvanised a generation. Today Geldof is still an articulate and passionate campaigner, but his cause is very different.
When Geldof shared his views on marriage and children on Channel 4 last week he became the acceptable face of an emerging movement more used to operating on the fringes.
When the former singer with the Boomtown Rats calmly and rationally dissected the flaws in a legal system that separated men from their children after the breakdown of marriages, he did infinitely more for fathers’ rights than the series of highly publicised stunts which have recently grabbed the headlines. Many women liked what he said. Critics liked what he said. Men were grateful for what he said.
While the purple flour bombs and Batman at Buckingham Palace did little to win the public over to the cause espoused by the Fathers 4 Justice group, Geldof’s quiet anger was much harder to dismiss.
His television broadcast may emerge as the moment when the arguments of the men’s rights movement finally struck a note with the public.
It is a movement that is gaining momentum. Fathers 4 Justice now boasts 16,000 members just two years after it was formed. Since the mid-90s there has been a steady rise in the number of support groups for male victims of domestic abuse, helplines for men caught in inescapable family law problems, and, more recently, political activism from men who want their gender to count for something, and not just on issues towards childcare.
Their list of grievances is growing and partly echoes the central planks of the women’s rights battle of previous decades. The four main areas of concern are education for boys, domestic abuse, fairness over divorce and access to children after a separation.
While access to estranged children has so far dominated the news agenda, education is the main bug bear of campaigners. Steven Fitzgerald of the Mankind Initiative, a charity which lobbies the government on male issues, calls the state of male education in the UK ‘‘awash with double standards’’. He believes the recent success of girls in the system has been at the expense of boys’ education.
In Scotland, 55% of this year’s Higher passes went to girls, a widening gender gap. First Minister Jack McConnell now supports a pilot scheme of boys-only classrooms at secondary level, and under-achievement for boys is now a serious subject of study by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, concerned because 57% of university students in 2001/02 were female.
George McAuley, chairman of the UK Men’s Movement (UKMM), a campaigning organisation based in Glasgow, says he was shocked at the length of time it has taken for the education of boys to merit proper discussion. ‘‘We were sneered at 10 years ago when we raised this with politicians. But now they are taking heed.’’ Domestic abuse and the image of men in the media are other issues some men are aiming to highlight. While Women’s Aid points out that over 90% of domestic abuse is carried out by men towards women, a group called It Does Happen claims thousands of men have contacted them after suffering domestic violence, and that already in 2004, 48 men have lost their lives to domestic abuse. Their slogan is ‘‘it’s not a gender issue, it’s a human issue’’ and they urge men to dump any residual macho pride – if they have been hurt they need help.
Many of the emerging men’s groups feel that the problems they face are reflected in the coverage of such issues in the media. Steven Fitzgerald highlights a recent primetime television programme in which a wife is seen slapping her husband. ‘‘Can you imagine if a man was shown slapping a woman there would be an outcry. Men are degraded to a huge extent in the media and nobody complains.’’ George McAuley agrees and claims the very real problem of violence against men and male domestic abuse are victims of a skewed media viewpoint. ‘‘Men get a raw deal in the media. A female prison suicide merits four pages of hand wringing, but a guy found dead in his cell gets about four lines,’’ he says. Writer Neil Lyndon is an unlikely hero of the men’s movement. Ironically, he was thrust into this position after the publication of his 1992 book No More Sex War, which argued that men and women were not, in fact, engaged in perpetual struggle for supremacy.
When Lyndon’s book hit the shelves, his argument was widely interpreted as an attack on feminism and he became the subject of intense media interest. Various columnists suggested he had either lost the plot or hated women. Work dried-up and he later wrote that ‘‘in the whole year of 1993, I earned less money in total than I had earned each month in 1989’’. His house was repossessed. His marriage collapsed, and his relationship with his 10-year-old son was placed in jeopardy. ‘‘It was a kind of carpet bombing. I was silenced. I was shut up. It was the intention that my ideas should be erased,’’ he recalls.
Lyndon is careful not to align himself with the men’s movement but says he’s grateful to Bob Geldof for airing his views on the subject on television. ‘‘I hope it opens the gates for more debate. The struggle for men’s rights to access their children is something that can only be compared to the suffragette movement.’’ The UKMM claims ‘‘a slow, strong groundswell of support for men’s issues, rising up faster and faster’’ – the UKMM lobbies the Scottish parliament on male issues and seek political redress in their perception that society has swung so far towards equality it now favours women over men. The totems that were once held up by the feminist movement as being symbols of oppression – unequal pay, sexism at work, stereotypes of ‘‘a woman’s place’’ – are now, it seems, being claimed by men’s civil rights groups.
It’s hardly surprising that their cause provokes a strong re-action. ‘‘There are a group of very angry men who believe they are the victims of reverse discrimination,’’ says Dr Michael Kimmel, an expert in men and masculinity at Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York. ‘‘Their feelings of powerlessness, of getting ripped off, are real, but you have to ask if those claims are legitimate. What are they angry at? Are they right to claim those things are real?’’ The facts on gender equality speak for themselves. Women in Scotland earn on average (pounds) 482 less a month than their male counterparts, and 35% of women do not belong to any kind of pension scheme because childcare commitments have intermittently taken them out of the workplace. More than 1000 women a year sue their employers for being sacked after falling pregnant. Education seems to be the only area of society where women excel over men, and that achievement is still not fully rewarded in employment.
The Equal Opportunities Commission is the 21st century result of the suffragette movement – the government agency has responsibility not just for gender issues, but also for equality in issues of race, disability and sexuality.
A spokeswoman for the EOC dismissed the claims that the equality fight had now resulted in discrimination against men. ‘‘The argument that boys’ education has been left to languish while girls have been pushed ahead is just not true. The amount of women in science and engineering is still woefully low, and at school level there is a huge amount being done to encourage boys in foreign languages and English.’’ Dr Kimmel suggests the current wave of men’s civil rights is a generational phenomenon that affects men of a certain age. ‘‘There are four areas these men are campaigning on – education, access to children, divorce and employment. They feel a loss of power in all these areas,’’ he says. ‘‘Younger guys have been brought up with mum at work, sisters at work, wives at work – they have no problem with equality. The problem is more apparent with older guys.’’ Despite the recent television coverage, the growth in membership numbers and an increasing public sympathy for at least some of the points it raises, the emergent men’s movement hasn’t yet managed to shed the extremism which undermines their cause.
Fitzgerald from the Mankind Initiative, which advocates gender equality in education and lobbies the government on real problems of male domestic abuse, effortlessly lurches into polemical sloganeering, claiming men to be ‘‘the new Jews’’. He damns Bridget Jones career women: ‘‘They might as well have ‘‘I want’’ tattooed on their foreheads – where has their maternal instinct gone?’’ McAuley of the UK Mens Movement goes even further. ‘‘It is whining crap that women have ever been oppressed in this country. The FemiNazi has been working to remove the father figure from the family. Single mothers have landed society in a mess because of that. ‘‘We would like to stop the propaganda of Women’s Aid and the political correctness squad over issues like rape, domestic abuse and child abuse, which have been grossly exaggerated by them and their continued denial of any female culpability in it,’’ he says.
It makes the ‘‘movement’’ an easy target. Claire Houghton, a children’s rights expert with Women’s Aid, is appalled by some of the comments espoused by groups seeking more rights for men. ‘‘To say that domestic violence has been exaggerated to elicit sympathy, is dreadful. I wish we were exaggerating the figures. The sad fact is that one in four women in Scotland has been a victim of domestic abuse. Across the UK, two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex-partner. And there is an undeniable gender bias in abuse – between 93% and 97% of abuse is perpetrated by men towards women. ‘‘It is very dangerous to suggest women are somehow playing up levels of abuse. Every person, man, women or child is entitled to help and support if they have been abused and we would absolutely support that.’’ McAuley, however, claims: ‘‘Our society is going to hell in a handbasket unless men start moaning and get politically organised. I recognise there is little electoral benefit to parties in courting a male vote. Women are the joiners and complainers and are politically active, men are stoical by comparison.’’ Making that move into mainstream politics are Father 4 Justice. In just two years of being an official organisation, their membership has swelled to 16,000. Dave Ellison, the international co-ordinatior of F4J says that men’s rights is now a ‘‘world wide phenomenon. I have contacts almost every day from a new part of the world that want to copy our methods and fight for the right to see their children’’.
Those methods still include ridiculous publicity stunts. Just yesterday two members of the group climbed to the top of a rollercoaster in Blackpool dressed as The Hulk and Batman, to attract publicity. But the group is also targetting the political system. Paul Watson, 35, originally from Glasgow, gained 139 votes for Fathers 4 Justice in the Hartlepool by-election (and was arrested after throwing purple powder over the LibDem candidate) in September. He believes F4J’s impact has been considerable. ‘‘There is not a judge or a politician or a senior civil servant in the UK today not aware of this issue – that’s the impact we’ve had. Tony Blair has told me himself that he knows the system is broken,’’ he says. ‘‘Basically guys are getting off their fat arses because of us. We’ve created real debate around a pressing issue and whether or not the public thinks we are nutters or irresponsible, or whatever, at least people are noticing that men are alive for a change.’’
———
The daddy of all dilemmas
Stephen Lewis
1520 words
8 October 2004
English
© Copyright 2004 Newsquest Digital Media.
york
“We’re just ordinary dads, desperate dads” – Martin Cottrell
Fathers 4 Justice have made headlines by flour-bombing the PM, climbing the walls of Buckingham Palace and invading York Minster. But who are they? With a Channel 4 documentary due to be screened on Monday, STEPHEN LEWIS tries to find out.
THERE are times when all very young children need a bit of comfort. When they fall over and bump themselves, say. Or when they wake up from a bad dream.
At such times, there is only one thing that Martin Cottrell’s four-year-old son Leon wants.
“He will say ‘I just want mummy and daddy together’,” says Martin. “That tears at you.”
It tears at him because, no matter how much Leon may long for it, Martin knows it is never going to happen.
Like so many marriages – as many as four in ten, according to some figures – Martin’s ended in divorce. It was a bitter, acrimonious divorce that involved lawyers and an emotional tug-of-war over access to Leon.
The emotional scars run deep. Martin’s own anger is such that when he talks about his ex-wife, he refers to her coldly as ‘the mother’.
None of that, however, has stopped Martin being Leon’s dad. His own parents separated before he was born, he says. “And to me, personally, being a good father is one of the most important things in my life.”
Which is why, when he found his role in Leon’s life being marginalised after the divorce, he became desperate.
Leon now lives with his mum in West Yorkshire. Martin, who moved to York from Ireland to be nearer to him, gets to see him every weekend – a full two days one week, a single day the next. But still he is left feeling more like a visitor than a dad, he says.
“I want to be involved in all aspects of his life, such as school, his health, teaching him right from wrong,” he says. “I want to help him with his homework, play football with him after school, do special things with him. But I feel I’m not allowed to be the father that my son deserves.”
What makes him really angry is the way he says the system is biased against him because he is a man. It was his ex-wife who wanted to end the marriage, he says. It was his ex-wife who, following the split, “blew up” every time he tried to discuss the situation. It was his ex-wife who constantly threatened to stop him seeing his son, so that he had to go to court to get a contact order.
And it is his ex-wife with whom their son now lives.
“It does not matter how good a dad you are,” he says bitterly. “The family courts make a presumption against the father. Lawyers will say that mothers provide the care for children, and that the child needs to reside in the matrimonial home. But that’s not true!”
It is this sense of anger and injustice that drove an ordinary man to become an activist. Martin is now the Yorkshire co-ordinator of Fathers 4 Justice, the campaigning group which over the last year has hijacked the headlines thanks to a series of increasingly audacious stunts.
In May, they chucked a flour bomb at Tony Blair during Prime Minister’s Questions, prompting an embarrassing debate about security in the Commons.
In July, a group of protesters dressed as priests stormed a Church of England synod meeting at York Minster, before holding a roof-top sit-in.
And on September 13, a Fathers 4 Justice campaigner dressed as batman evaded the royal police force, shinned up a ladder and edged his way on to Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony. To the embarrassment of the security services, he stayed there all day and the images were beamed around the world.
Martin won’t say whether he was directly involved in any of these but he will be taking action in future, he says.
Fathers 4 Justice has proved devastatingly effective at generating publicity, so much so that on Monday Channel 4 will be devoting a one-hour documentary to them.
But do they have a case?
There is no doubting the strength of their feelings of grievance. Gloucestershire painter and decorator Jason Hatch – aka the Buckingham Palace Batman – describes being unable to see his children regularly as a form of “living bereavement”. It’s a vivid phrase which captures well the desperate anguish of fathers who feel they are denied the right to play a part in their children’s lives.
All Fathers 4 Justice want, Martin insists, is for fathers to be treated the same as mothers after divorce or separation. They want an end to the automatic presumption that children should live with the mother, compulsory mandatory mediation following separation, and tougher action against mothers who arbitrarily deny fathers contact with their children, often in the teeth of court orders.
“Both parents should be treated as equals,” he says. “The starting point should be that the child should be allowed to spend equal time with both parents. From that position both parents should then be able to sit down, with the unbiased support of professionally trained mediators, and work out what is the ideal solution for the child in their particular circumstances.”
Marilyn Stowe, a top family lawyer from Harrogate who is chief assessor of the Law Society’s family law panel, concedes that Fathers 4 Justice do have a point.
She doesn’t condone their methods – some of their activities, she says, are very extreme. “But I genuinely do think there is a problem with the law. I have heard from a lot of fathers not involved with Fathers 4 Justice – civil servants, teachers, ordinary dads – who have had it tough.”
In theory, both parents have equal responsibility and obligations to their children after divorce or separation under the law, she says. But in fact, the parent with whom the child lives – and that is usually the mother – holds all the cards.
In most cases, the parents are able to amicably agree contact arrangements, she says. But in some cases the parent with whom the child does not live (usually the father) has to fight for contact. That’s when emotions can get out of hand, and the child can be caught up in a tug-of-love over access.
So Marilyn, head of family law at Harrogate solicitors Grahame Stowe Bateson, agrees that there needs to be change. She would like to see both parents being given equal time with the children as a starting point following divorce or separation – with the children moving between two homes, for example – and a parent who wanted to have them more of the time being required to argue the case for it.
The most important thing, however, must always be the interests of the child, she says. In the welter of emotion and anger that follows a painful separation or divorce, it is easy for the child’s needs to get sidelined.
“Everybody thinks they are acting in the best interests of the child,” she says. “But are they?”
Martin believes that the activists of Fathers 4 Justice are.
“We believe that the best for children is for them to have both parents,” he says. He dismisses the suggestion that members of Fathers 4 Justice are extremists. Nobody was hurt at Buckingham Palace or York Minster, he points out – and the bomb thrown at Tony Blair contained flour.
“Fathers 4 Justice is a peaceful, non-violent direct action group campaigning for the rights of children,” he says. “We’re just ordinary dads, desperate dads.
“Fathers have been campaigning for their children’s rights for 30 years. They have talked to governments, ministers, clergy, sent petitions to the Queen, set up self-help groups. But they have been ignored. Now it is time for dads to stand up against injustice.”
BATMAN: The Man Behind The Mask
The man who climbed on to Buckingham Palace’s balcony wearing a Batman costume was 32-year-old Cheltenham painter and decorator Jason Hatch.
Speaking to the Evening Press, he claimed that, despite court orders granting him contact, he had been denied access to his three children for three years and three months. It was, he said, a “living bereavement”.
He lived just 75 feet away from the home where his children lived with their mother, he said, and could watch the children walking to school every day, but did not dare approach them for fear of being served with a ‘molestation order’.
“I just feel desperate,” he said. “At least when they see me on TV, they know that’s their dad, and that I’m not giving up fighting.”
Dad’s Army: The Men Who Stormed The Palace is on Channel 4 on Monday, October 11, 2004 at 9pm.

Read more at www.xyonline.net

 

The New Battleground of Child Custody Reform: Shared Parenting

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

This article comes 99% of the way toward directly admitting that men want
“shared parenting” to eliminate child support!

Amplify’d from rightwingnews.com

Child custody and support laws have become more onerous over the last 50 years due to fewer parents staying together and women becoming equally as capable as men at earning a living outside the home. Instead of reflecting these changes, the laws have lagged behind, continuing to favor mothers over fathers. The laws generally award primary custody to the parent who spent more time at home with the children and less time working, even if the difference was miniscule. The other parent is then ordered to pay a crushing amount of child support, sometimes on top of alimony. In a small percentage of situations, usually where the father was the primary caregiver, this situation is reversed and the laws punish the mother.

Fathers have reacted over the years in different ways. Some fathers’ rights activists in Britain dress up as super heroes and scale public buildings to draw attention to the inequity. The founder of Fathers 4 Justice, Matt O’Connor, started a hunger strike for equal parenting earlier this month outside the home of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Some fatherstragically commit suicide. Last month, a distraught father immolated himself on the steps of a courthouse in New Hampshire, after mailing a 15-page “last statement” to the local newspaper detailing his final frustrations with the child custody legal system. The most high-profile victim of the child custody system, actor Alec Baldwin, helped bring exposure to the unfairness by writing a book about his experience.

Although a few small changes have been made to the laws within the last few years, due to exposure and the efforts of advocacy organizations, there has not been significant progress. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 84 percent of custodial parents are mothers, a figure that has not changed since 1983. This is unfortunate, because Canadian economist Paul Miller analyzed data on families and foundthat “parental gender is not a…predictor at all of any of the child outcomes examined, that is behavioral, educational or health outcomes.” The children often end up with “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” developing a dislike for the noncustodial parent bought on by the custodial parent. Long term studies of children in the U.S. and New Zealand have found there is a direct correlation between a father’s absence and teen pregnancy.

The latest effort to change the system calls for “shared parenting.” Although advocacy groups differ on how shared parenting would be implemented, it generally consists of making the default custody arrangement 50/50 joint physical and legal custody when parents split up, absent egregious circumstances. This would replace the current system which leaves it up to a judge’s whim to decide what constitutes “the best interests of the child.” Shared parenting bills are being introduced in state legislatures around the country, and several states now have some version of shared parenting. In those states, studies are finding that divorce rates are lower and the children are better adjusted.

In addition to passing shared parenting laws, there must be tougher requirements for issuing restraining orders and reform of child support laws. 50/50 shared custody should not include child support unless there are egregious circumstances. Child support creates an incentive to continue fighting. Neither parent wants to get stuck paying it, and some parents greedily want it as a source of income to use as they please, since there is little monitoring of how it is spent. Eliminate child support in all but the most egregious situations, and most of the fighting clogging our family courts will cease.

The “deadbeat dad” roundups by law enforcement of fathers who are behind in child support needs to stop. Many of them are fathers who were not lucky enough to be awarded custody, and are now working two jobs just to try and keep up with expenses and child support. Figures from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement solution lies in renewing the importance of marriage. He proposes eliminating no-fault divorce laws and requiring couples where only one spouse wants a divorce to work out the divorce agreement themselves. This would disincentivize divorce, since couples could no longer simply run to court to end the marriage, but would be forced to work with each other to come up with a custody situation they both agree to. Currently, marriage is about the only kind of contract where one party can unilaterally end the contract. The Center for Marriage Policy recommends shared parenting that would place a child primarily with one parent for the first half of their childhood, then with the second parent for their later years.

The small changes that have been made in recent years are encouraging. Thanks to organizations likeFathers and Families, last year Massachusetts, which has some of the most punishing child support laws in the country, reduced the interest on overdue child support by 50%. Legislation has been passed in several states around the country within the past year protecting disabled and military parents from child custody abuses. As families continue to modernize, and more women also suffer the effects of outdated child custody laws, the laws will be finally forced to keep up. It may just not be in our lifetime. This is a new kind of civil rights struggle, and one day our great-grandchildren will look back and remember their forefathers who fought so hard for their right to have meaningful time with both parents.

Read more at rightwingnews.com

 

Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody

In domestic law on July 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm
Mothers on Trial , by Phyllis Chesler
Reviewed by Talia Carner
Not since slavery in the USA were mothers punished by having their children taken away from them. Yet, in family courts all across America, judges and quasi-judicial officers of the court do just that: children who are abused or molested by their fathers are removed from their primary-care good mothers and are placed in the hands of their molesting fathers.

How this scandal can go on for decades with hardly any change, without any public outcry, and without any protest from human rights’ activists is due to the fact that outsiders to the gutter of our family courts’ justice simply refuse to believe it.

In her revised and updated milestone fact-filled book, “Mothers on Trial,” Phyllis Chesler fights to save thousands of children from becoming yet another generation of victims of a court system that betrays them time and again. She points out that while adult women often recount childhood sexual molestation at home by close relatives—and these women’s stories are believed—people tend to disbelieve when actually facing such cases as they happen in real time, right in front of them.

It is a documented fact that when fathers fight for custody, 70% of the time they obtain full or partial custody. People often assume that the reason these men who, in most part, have not been fully involved in their children’s lives—sometimes have been absent for months or even years—now gain custody is because the mothers are unfit. The naked truth is that in most of these cases, the father is emotionally and verbally abusive or outright violent. The mother, often the product of an abusive home, often abused for years in her marriage to the father of her children, now faces battle for which she is woefully unequipped to wage. Distraught, terrified, isolated, alienated in a system that scrutinizes her with the same critical and belittling attitude she’s encountered in her private lives, panicked over the fate of her sexually molested children, she seems “emotional” “unreasonable” and “difficult.” Her refusal to share parenting or give access to a man who sexually molest her children is viewed as her being “rigid” and “uncooperative.”

Furthermore, with limited or no financial resources, she comes to court either unrepresented by an attorney, or by an incompetent lawyer with little interest in the complexity of such a case. Or, as is often the case, she does not have the funds to keep the protracted legal battle a high-conflict custody case requires. Filing fees, transcripts, payments to evaluators and her lawyer’s hourly rate quickly rise to thousands of dollars.

In the 1990s I stumbled upon the phenomenon of protective mothers losing these battles in drove, researched it for a few years, and finally published a novel about one such fictional mother in 2002. (Puppet Child .) Since then, I became an activist, trying to find ways to save thousands of children each year from family court’s “justice.” What amazes me is how little has changed in the over decade in which I’ve witnessed more mothers enter the nightmare of family court, where they are discredited, disenfranchised and disbelieved.

Dr. Chesler has been at it a lot longer. Twenty-five years ago she published “Mothers on Trial,” a book that starts with the history of men’s ownership of their families and the lingering feudal notion of male supremacy as the head of the household. She pointed then—and continues to do so now in this excellent revised edition—that society and court hold men to much lower parenting standards than they do women. Mothers fail at every single check list (Does the divorced mother have sex? Is she overwrought with anxiety? Is she poor?) while men can be cold, disinterested, dysfunctional or even violent and they will be excused. In fact, fathers are given new chances time and again to foster their relationships with their children regardless of their abhorrent personal histories, while mothers’ contact with their children are not only curtailed or cut down to expensive supervised visitations, but all too often are severed completely.

If a father poisons a child’s mind against the mother, it does not enter into the question of his parenting skills. But all too often, a child’s fear of an abusive father is regarded as the mother’s brainwashing the child, rather than the father’s own doing. A judge will then chastise the mother for not encouraging enough the relationship with the father—and actually transfer custody to that abusive father. The notion of the best interest of the child and how much the child stands to suffer from cutting the bond with the primary caretaking mother while shuttling into a new life with a man the child fears, does not enter into the equation.

A chapter on Fathers’ Supremacist Movement, reports that fathers’ rights groups have also gathered steam in recent decades and have organized themselves in ways that mothers have failed to do. Some leaders in fathers’ groups have a recorded history of battering their wives or girlfriends, or are convicted pedophiles. Others may have a legitimate concern about shared parenting, but have been expressing strong misogynistic opinions. Common to both ends of the spectrum is the way fathers have been presenting themselves: as persecuted victims. They have been receiving media attention and courtroom sympathy with bogus theories (foremost is Parental Alienation Syndrome that is used almost exclusively against mothers,) and have been successful in passing legislation, due in part to Federal funding under the uncritical assumption that children need equal contact with both parents. Mothers do not have access to equal Federal funding.

In this revised edition, after editing out six chapters and adding eight more while updating the available research, Dr. Chesler examines closely many such cases of outright injustice that defy anything people know and believe possible in our society.

Phyllis Chesler’s book is a must read for every judge, court evaluation, guardian ad litem, social worker, psychologist and lawyer. But more importantly, it should be read by anyone who cares about human rights or about children, because it is time we raise our collective indignation to stop and reverse the life sentence without parole our courts inflict upon children placed in the hands of their molesters.

(To order the book, please click: Mothers On Trial  )

Read more at taltellstales.blogspot.com

 

Fathers 4 Justice: Meppershall fathers’ rights activist targets David Cameron’s office

In domestic law on July 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I think people might be shot and/or arrested for doing this in the US. If a women did it, she would be considered crazy. This is the Fathers Rights Movement.

Amplify’d from www.thecomet.net

A DAD has scaled the roof of Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency office to protest about fathers’ rights.

New Fathers 4 Justice demonstration

Roger Crawford, of Shefford Road in Meppershall, was one of three members of campaign group New Fathers 4 Justice who took part in the rooftop demonstration in Witney, Oxfordshire, last Thursday.

Roger Crawford of Meppershall has campaigned for the New Father's for Justice. He climbed onto the roof of David Cameron's constituency office in Oxfordshire.
Roger Crawford of Meppershall has campaigned for the New Father’s for Justice. He climbed onto the roof of David Cameron’s constituency office in Oxfordshire.

The 62-year-old said: “I haven’t seen my own daughter, Heather, for 17 years now and she’s my only child.

“I just wanted visiting rights but I had a torrid time in the family courts. I found them adversarial rather than helpful and that’s why I joined Fathers 4 Justice and then New Fathers 4 Justice.”

Dressed as a court jester, Mr Crawford protested on the roof of the PM’s constituency office for more than four hours. He was accompanied by Jeremy Pogue, 50, from Wales, and Archit Ssan, 46, and from London. They held up banners, with one reading ‘two parents are better than one’.

e some exceptions, but time and time again it has been proved that children are be

“Obviously there are some exceptions, but time and time again it has been proved that children are best brought up knowing both parents,” Mr Crawford said.

He said that, due to “parental alienation, with her mother having a great deal of influence”, his daughter, who is now 19, has said she does not want to see him.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said that officers were on the scene to observe the demonstration, but that no action was taken.

He added: “We are going to step up our campaign now. I will be up to more mischief before long.”

Asked if Mr Cameron’s office had responded to the demonstration, Mr Crawford said that the protest had been met with “a defeaning silence”.

“There is a review of family law, but it won’t include this.”

“He promised before the election that he would grant a legal status to parents and grandparents. He’s renaged on that.

“Parents – mother or father – have no right in law to see their child.

He continued: “I can’t understand how someone like David Cameron, who has lost a child himself and said it affected him so badly he almost gave up politics, can ignore us.

“It’s been very hard,” he said. “When she was 18 I wrote to her and said it was really up to her now but that I still care.”

Read more at www.thecomet.net

 

FATHERS RIGHTS to MURDER, MAIM and TORTURE their Wives and Children

In domestic law on July 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm

STOP THE FEDERALLY FUNDED GENOCIDE!!

Amplify’d from www.washingtontimes.com

fter another tragedy of children being killed by their father in the context of high-conflict custody litigation, court professionals, fathers-rights’ leaders and others have been engaging in excuses including: inadequate evidentiary standards, or insufficient evidence or biases against mothers, to avoid blaming the courts.

As the founder of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice (NAFCJ), the oldest grass-roots national group of protective mothers (since 1993) with a data bank of more than 1,500 intake callers, I know of many mothers with mishandled cases worse than that of Silver Spring’s Amy Castillo, except for the lethal ending. Her estranged husband is held in the drowning deaths

Afte

eaths of their three children in a Baltimore hotel.

Many mothers not only lost all custody rights but all visitation rights. Judges and court professionals routinely disregard and proactively work against mothers who make abuse complaints against fathers. Even the mother’s own attorney will tell her to keep her mouth shut because nobody want to hear about abuse.

Omitted from the debate are important factors:

(1) Widespread use in custody litigation of the discredited pro-incest/anti-mother Parental Alienation Syndrome (P.A.S.), a custody evaluation methodology that purports to identify manipulation by one parent against the other parent.

(2) Steering to judges who are cross-affiliated to fathers’ rights leaders, facilitated by a secretive judicial group.

(3) Organized case-rigging to ensure abuse complaints by mothers are discredited.

(4) Use of federal HHS-ACF (Health And Human Services Department — Administration For Children And Families — Access-Visitation) program funds, intended for parental counseling and resolving disputes but instead diverted to pay for pro-father custody evaluations.

Knowledge of this pattern has come from sources such as fathers’ rights literature, feedback from whistleblowers, documents mistakenly placed in court files, and threatening remarks by fathers demanding the mother agree to their litigation terms: (e.g., You better agree to joint custody, because the judge is on my side and will never rule in your favor).

Judges handling these pro-father rigged cases leave a trail of evidence — such as refusing to hear witnesses against the father as being prejudicial, then ruling against the mother on false grounds that she lied about the abuse because she had no witnesses to support her complaint while ignoring the fact the judge refused to listen to the witness or read submitted medical documents.

Other dishonest tactics include signing emergency ex-parte custody changing orders for the father on frivolous grounds, such as he ‘fears’ the mother will abduct the child — after she files an abuse complaint against him with CPS (Child Protective Services) or police.

The court never gives the targeted mother the required counter-hearing to rebut the father’s claim. Her child is summarily removed from her home by police for an abduction that did not occur, or wouldn’t have been a violation of any court order, law or prior agreement, even if she took the child on a short out-of-state trip. Many of the affected mothers don’t see their child again for years.

A good example is the D.C. case of Lillian Porter, who lost custody of her 2-year-old boy to the biological father on the dishonest grounds she was incarcerated after abducting him.

She never married or cohabited with this father, who hadn’t paid her child support and had pressured her with threats into signing an out-of-court joint custody agreement. He next proceeded to destroy her ability to work and pay for child-care by calling the DC government and have her benefits terminated by having his high income added as a factor. She moved to live with relatives in Arizona, but returned after he threatened abduction charges. Despite flying back to DC and turning the child over to him at the airport, he continued to pursue abduction and custody when she was incarcerated in the DC jail and not allowed to attend any of the court hearings. He claimed and got sole custody on grounds the child was with him and she was unable to care for the child because she was incarcerated.

Nobody cared that the father’s abduction and custody grounds were bogus and contradictory. Fortunately after some time, she got the case reversed and now has primary custody again, but this devious father continues to litigate on various frivolous points.

Fathers’ rights groups coach men on stalking, harassment and sabotage tactics. A whistleblower at one of their visitation centers quit in disgust and told about the pattern of set-ups against the mother. The fathers’ rights men working at the center tell a mother the visitation time had been changed or canceled by the father, then quickly go to court with the cheating father to get him an emergency ex-parte custody switch claiming the mother refused to bring the child(ren) at the appointed time.

This is not happening by chance. HHS-ACF family program grants are used for monetary incentives and kickbacks. Some mothers obtained written or taped evidence of the collusion between fathers and judges.

The founder of a judicial association by Los Angeles, Calif., family court judges, started in 1982, was also the founder of the leading fathers’ rights group, and the two groups are still heavily cross-affiliated. In Maryland, the Montgomery County Family Court’s evaluation unit is headed by a member of this judicial association along with leaders of the fathers’ rights group.

Many other courts and people all over the country in this group are involved in training custody evaluators and using the anti-mother PAS methodology against protective mothers to discredit abuse complaints against fathers.

Men and their co-conspiring court professionals are running custody mills to deliberately fuel high-conflict litigation to justify billings to HHS-ACF fatherhood programs intended to resolve these problems with nonlitigious counseling and mediation and not for paying custody evaluators and fathers attorneys. They are essentially running a litigation racketeering scheme funded by the federal government.

Shouldn’t we doing something about this, including congressional oversight investigations and in-depth discussions with HHS officials to stop these program misuses?

Read more at www.washingtontimes.com

 

Violent, Selfish Fathers vs. Violent, Selfish “Mothers on Trial”

In domestic law on July 13, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Phyllis Chesler is (again) 100% right on the money. While the media fixates on Casey Anthony (or Susan Smith or Andrea Yates), hundreds of fathers massacre entire families and nobody outside the local media market even takes note. It IS a total double standard. Paternal violence is continually excused (“he was frustrated”) while maternal violence is treated as prima facie evidence of maternal monstrousness.
See Dastardly Dads: http://dastardlydads.blogspot.com

See ” Mothers on Trial. The Battle for Children and Custody,” http://www.amazon.com/Mothers-Trial-Battle-Children-Custody/dp/1556529996/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1308166564&sr=8-2

Amplify’d from www.foxnews.com
Casey-Anthony-AP.jpg

During the time that Florida mother Casey Anthony was in custody and on trial, any number of American fathers, stepfathers, and live-in boyfriends killed their children. 

Daily, the local and national media dutifully report awful examples of paternal cruelty and infanticidal violence.

Most recently, on June 30, 2011, a single Texas father, Carlos Rico, choked his four-year-old son, and then left him for dead; miraculously the boy lived. This father faces attempted murder charges. One wonders whether he will become a media sensation. He should. His only motivation seems to have been that his son’s very devoted stepmother left him and changed her Facebook status to “single.” 

On June 13, 2011, a 37-year-old Maine father shot his wife and their two children (ages 12 and 13) inside their home. Angry and frustrated about an ongoing custody dispute, he resolved the matter by killing everyone, including himself. 

On May 8, 2011, a Los Angeles father shot his girlfriend, their two five-year old twins, and then himself. Precious little ink has been spilled about this.

On April 19, 2011, an Arkansas father ran over his two children, ages 18 months and 4 years-old; he was arrested and was charged with two counts of capital murder. 

Nobody knows his name. No petitions have been launched, no demonstrations held. For the record, his name is Robert Carter and he is 23 years-old.

In addition, during this approximately two month period, if we are to believe the existing studies, an untold number of fathers abused their wives and children both physically and sexually.

However, the American public did not launch any vocal campaigns against any of these violent and abusive fathers or against fathers in general.

Why not? People expect men to be violent. It is a given. When male-on-male, male-on-female, or male-on child violence erupts, people are not all that surprised and they do not condemn all fathers for the crimes of a few. In general, people want to forgive male sinners, or at least to show them compassion.

This is not true where mothers are concerned. In general, once a mother is accused—merely accused—the accusation itself psychologically convicts her. Unconsciously and automatically, people presume that she is guilty, not innocent. Her sexual and reproductive history is held against her, as is everything else.

We tend to have double standards when it comes to parenting. We expect much less of fathers and are ready to reward them for doing very little or to forgive them for failing one or two or three obligations: marrying the mother of their children, economically supporting the family, “helping out” from time to time. We do not expect fathers to fight for custody and when they do we are quick to assume that there must really be something wrong with the mother and that the fighting father is heroic.

According to an original study included in the updated and revised second edition of “Mothers on Trial. The Battle for Children and Custody,” which features eight entirely new chapters to honor its 25th anniversary—the kinds of fathers who battle for custody are wife batterers (62%) who willingly impoverished the mothers of their children (67%) and also kidnapped their children (37%). Few of the paternal kidnappers were ever found and when they were, they were rarely jailed or custodially punished. Paternal kidnappings continue to this day and are far more common than stranger kidnappings.

When mothers kidnapped their children (mainly in order to protect them from being beaten or repeatedly raped by their fathers), they were invariably hunted down, jailed for long periods, and punished with limited and supervised visitation.

Which brings me to Casey Anthony. I am not privy to any insider details about the case. Neither the jury nor I know who murdered poor Caylee. 

I have never met the mother. 

What I am familiar with is the lynch-like sentiments of strangers who wish this mother dead. Why? Because she is seen as a “slut?” This is not a capital crime. 

Or, more to the point, because she did not report her child missing within minutes as any normal, caring mother would do? This behavior is quite upsetting, troubling, but it does not mean she murdered her daughter. It does mean that her anti-maternal behavior has upset many grownups.

Why are people so upset by what they see as her lack of maternalism? Just as we expect men to be violent, we do not expect women, especially mothers, to be violent, and certainly not violent towards their own young and helpless children. Mothers are seen as civilization’s last line of defense against violence and anarchy. We each personally feel endangered, we each identify with the murdered or abused child, and our fury at the mother knows no bounds.

All women, all mothers, are seen as caretakers, and if even one mother turns bad, our species and culture as a whole feels endangered.

Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. She is the author of thirteen books, including the 25th anniversary edition of “Mothers on Trial” and may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com

Read more at www.foxnews.com

 

Custody Disputes Now Tougher for Battered Moms

In domestic law on June 28, 2011 at 11:11 pm

It’s been 25 years since Phyllis Chesler wrote “Mothers on Trial” to help women fight their child-custody battles. In this excerpt from her revised book, she reviews what’s changed, for better and worse.

Amplify’d from womensenews.org

Custody battles can take a very long time. They range from only several years to more than 15 or 20. They may have profound legal, economic, social, psychological and even medical consequences for years afterward, perhaps forever.

(WOMENSENEWS)–Going through a custody battle is like going through a war. One does not emerge unscathed. Yes, one may learn important lessons, but one may also be left broken and incapable of trusting others, including our so-called justice system, ever again.

What’s changed since I first started researching and writing about custody battles?

Documented domestic violence does get factored in somewhat more than before. Where real assets exist, judges have the power to award more of them to mothers and children. Fewer mothers and fathers automatically lose custody or visitation because they are gay or because they have high-powered careers.

However, certain injustices (crimes, really) that I first began tracking in the late 1970s have now gotten much worse. For example, battered women are losing custody to their batterers in record numbers. Children are being successfully brainwashed by fathers, but many mothers are being falsely accused of brainwashing. Worse: Children with mandated reporters–physicians, nurses or teachers–who report to them that they have been sexually abused by their fathers are usually given to those very fathers. The mothers of these children are almost always viewed as having “coached” or “alienated” the children and, on this basis alone, are seen as “unfit” mothers.

I understand that this sounds unbelievable. But it is still true. The mothers of raped children, who are also described as “protective” mothers, are seen as guilty of “parental alienation syndrome.” The fact that this concept, first pioneered by Dr. Richard Gardner and widely endorsed by fathers’ rights groups, has been dismissed as junk science does not seem to matter. Most guardians ad litem, parenting counselors, mediators, lawyers, mental health professionals and judges still act as if this syndrome were real and mainly find mothers, not fathers, guilty in this regard. In 2010 the American Psychiatric Association was still fighting to include a new disorder in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”: the parental alienation disorder, to replace the debunked parental alienation syndrome.

‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’

In 2009 and 2010 more than 50 mothers from 21 U.S. states and a number of foreign countries all shared their stories with me. Their cases took place between the late 1980s and 2010. Some cases are still ongoing.

eloquent, beautifull

In some instances, I spoke with the mothers in person or at length on the phone. Some mothers filled out questionnaires, but many also sent additional narratives and documentation. Some mothers sent me eloquent, beautifully written, full-length memoirs. Some wrote pithy but equally heartbreaking accounts of their marriages and custody battles.

With a few exceptions, most of my 2010 mother-interviewees said that the system was “corrupt” and that lawyers and judges don’t care about “justice,” are “very biased,” or can be “bought and sold.”

See more at womensenews.org

 

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