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Father, or 'Male Role Model'?
Batman, Spiderman and Superman versus the family court system in the UK
James Osborne (osborne)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-11 10:29 (KST)   

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Fathers' Rights or Wrongs?

Approximately 40 percent of all marriages end in divorce here in the UK, with many divorces involving children. If you divorce and there are children involved (and things cannot be settled amicably) then things will be decided in the family courts. The family courts must decide:

  • who is responsible for the child (and therefore with whom the child will live),
  • who will see the child (and how often),
  • financial support for the child.

    Importantly, unlike other courts in the UK the family courts are "closed" and not open to the press or the general public. This is done in the "interests of the child".

    Traditionally the courts favour mothers, and often the child will live with the mother. . To highlight this point a few years ago in a case here in the UK, the father (who was actually the one who stayed at home and looked after the children) lost custody of the children to his wife.

    Fathers have no automatic legal right to see their children, but rather must apply to the court to be granted access to their children. The courts can award a father a "contact order." So the courts not only award custody of the children to the mother, but also limit the amount of time the father can see his children.

    In 2003 Matt O'Connor founded a group in the UK called Father's 4 Justice (F4J) after his experiences of the family courts. The initial aim of this group was to create a father's rights action group to raise the awareness of the lack of father's rights in the UK.

    F4J is well-known for its campaigning techniques of dramatic protest stunts, usually dressed as comic book superheroes (showing fathers as superdads) and frequently scaling public buildings, bridges and monuments.

    Their specific aims are:

  • To have an "open" family court and to end the secrecy of the system. (The group cites Florida family courts as a good example of what could be done).
  • To have a "bill of rights" for fathers giving them automatic access to children.
  • To let grandparents have rights to see their grandchildren.

    They see opening the courts to the public as the best way of reforming the system as it will open the courts decisions to scrutiny. It has been estimated up to 1 million people use the family courts every year.

    Since the original aims Matt O' Connor has added another one. It is more cultural, but he feels lies at the root of society's ills. He feels that up to 40 years ago fathers were respected, valued pillars of society who were looked up to. Today, he says that fathers are now seen as dodgy, demonised and deadbeats.

    He sees the feminist movement of the last 30 to 40 years as the reason why the father's image has gone down. The word father is now being replaced by "male role model." (He has a point as only two months ago the UK government passed a law relating to IVF treatment that removed the need for a "father," with "supportive parenting" so that lesbian couples could apply for IVF treatment and the chance to have a baby, without having to prove the need for a father for that baby).

    Most seriously he says that the result of the feminist movement has left modern women at the point of practically seeing no need for a father. He says the result of this is that too many children are growing up with no father in their lives and this is leading to teenagers and young people being more wayward and out of control

    Fathers 4 Justice now has international branches in the US, South Africa and Holland. It seems what started as a UK civil rights campaign is moving abroad as fathers in those countries feel the same injustices.

    This is a complex area and not everyone agrees with F4J. However, without doubt F4J is a cultural phenomenon here in the UK, having raised father's right and the family court system from nowhere on the political agenda to high up in five short years.

    What do you think? Are these superhero dads fighting injustice or should children more or less automatically stay with their mothers? Are father's being demonised and undervalued in your society? Would you wish the campaign luck or tell them to stop?

  • ©2008 OhmyNews
    Other articles by reporter James Osborne

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