Continuing the fathers' rights theme of my last two posts, Lucy Reed at Pink Tape has posted about the relaunch of Fathers 4 Justice, but asks how they, as the 'official campaign' should "deal with the splitters and splinter groups that persistently damage its reputation and undermine the progress it is striving to make". Certainly, the general public is unlikely to differentiate between the various fathers' rights groups when it comes to attributing blame for defacing national monuments and similar 'extremist' activity. However, it would be quite wrong to characterise all fathers' rights campaigners as barely-literate thugs. Indeed, some are extremely well-read, not just in matters of law but also research into the issues - better read than many family lawyers (some seem to have an all-consuming fixation about the injustice that they feel they have suffered, such that they appear to devote their entire lives to the subject), and there is much merit in some of their ideas.
Take, for example, the proposal that there be a starting-point of shared parenting, a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interests of children that they share their time equally with each parent. Should it not be the right of the child to have an equal relationship with each parent, save where there are good reasons (by reference to the welfare of the child) where this should not be the case? Once such a starting-point became common knowledge, most separating parents would hopefully understand that they must negotiate arrangements for their children from a position of equality with the other parent rather than, as now, one parent so often dictating terms from a position of strength. At a stroke this could substantially increase the number of cases that settle, and therefore reduce the number that go to court. Now, I admit that after full consideration it may transpire that a shared parenting system may not after all be the best way forward, but surely it should at least be given such consideration?
The other great plank of the fathers' rights manifesto is, of course, the opening up of the 'secretive family courts'. I have to say that I am not convinced about this. Even if there were no good reasons not to open the courts, I think that very few cases (save, for example, for those involving celebrities) would be reported by 'independent' journalists, and any such opening is therefore unlikely to make much difference. I note with interest that the former President of the Family Division Sir Mark Potter has said in an interview with The Guardian that he only "reluctantly supported the change to more open courts because it had got to the point of allegations being made of secret justice and injustice taking place behind closed doors". In other words, the making of allegations against the system (by fathers' rights groups and others), rather than the truth of those allegations, had forced the government into action. As one who was until recently a part of that system, I have always taken great exception to the suggestion that there is some anti-fathers conspiracy going on behind closed doors. It may be true that the system sometimes appears to operate in a biased fashion, but I am certain that the vast majority of those working within it are not biased against fathers - why should they be? They are dedicated professionals working hard to achieve the best outcomes for the children caught up within the system. If the system is wrong, blame the system, not those who have to work within it.
By the same token, though, if there are some bad eggs within the fathers' rights basket, blame them, and not those who use legal means to put their views across.