ⓘ Fathers rights movement. The fathers rights movement is a movement whose members are primarily interested in issues related to family law, including child custo ..


ⓘ Fathers rights movement

The fathers rights movement is a movement whose members are primarily interested in issues related to family law, including child custody and child support, that affect fathers and their children. Many of its members are fathers who desire to share the parenting of their children equally with their childrens mothers - either after divorce or as unwed fathers - and the children of the terminated marriage. The movement includes men as well as women, often the second wives of divorced fathers or other family members of men who have had some engagement with family law.

Many members did not have experience in law or politics. However, as their goal of having equally-shared parenting time was being unjustly negated in their view by family courts, they took it upon themselves to become educated in all areas of family law, including child custody and child support.

Though it has been described as a social movement, members of the movement believe their actions are better described as part of a civil rights movement.

The movement has received international press coverage as a result of high-profile activism of their members. It has become increasingly vocal, visible and organised, and has played a powerful role in family law debates.


1. Demographics

The fathers rights movement exists almost exclusively in industrialized countries, where divorce has become more common. It emerged in the West from the 1960s onwards as part of the mens movement with organizations such as Families Need Fathers, which originated in the 1970s. In the late twentieth century, the growth of the internet permitted wider discussion, publicity and activism about issues of interest to fathers rights activists. Factors thought to contribute to the development of the fathers rights movement include shifting household demographics brought about by rising divorce and falling marriage rates, changes in the understanding and expectations of fatherhood, motherhood and childhood as well as shifts in how legal systems impact families.

Fathers rights groups in the West are primarily composed of white, middle or working class, heterosexual men. Members tend to be politically conservative but do not share a single set of political or social views and are highly diverse in their goals and methods. Members of the fathers rights movement advocate for strong relationships with their children and focus on a narrowly defined set of issues based on the concerns of divorced or divorcing men. Women, often new partners including second wives or other family members of men who have had some engagement with family law and mothers without custody, are also members of the fathers rights movement, and fathers rights activists emphasize this. Two studies of fathers rights groups in North America found that fifteen percent of their members were women.

The fathers rights movement organizations Families Need Fathers and the Lone Fathers Association have campaigned for fathers rights over many decades. Longer lasting organizations appear to result from the longterm dedication and commitment of key individuals. Other fathers rights groups have tended to form and dissolve quickly. Internal disagreements over ideology and tactics are common, and members tend not to remain with the groups after they have been helped.


1.1. Demographics Political and social views

The fathers rights movement has both liberal and conservative branches, with different viewpoints about how men and women compare. Although both groups agree on the victimization and discrimination against men, they disagree on why men and women differ nature versus nurture and traditional gender roles. The liberal version believes the differences between the sexes are due to culture and supports equality between men and women; in contrast, the conservative branch believes in traditional patriarchal/complementary families and that the differences between genders are due to biology. Ross Parke and Armin Brott view the fathers rights movement as one of three strands within the mens movement that deal almost exclusively with fatherhood, the other two being the good fathers movement and groups forming the Christian Mens movement – the Promise Keepers being the largest.

Warren Farrell, a veteran of the womens, mens and fathers movement since the 1970s, describes the fathers rights movement as part of a larger "gender transition movement" and thinks that, similar to women in the 1960s, fathers are transitioning from gender-based to more flexible family roles. Farrell also believes the movement helps children by increasing the number who are raised equally by both parents, which in turn increases the childrens social, academic, psychological, and physical benefits - in his opinion it becomes a childrens rights issue with fathers acting as advocates.


2. Movement

Members of the fathers rights movement assert that fathers are discriminated against as a result of gender bias in family law; that custody decisions have been a denial of equal rights; and that the influence of money has corrupted family law. The movements primary focus has been to campaign including lobbying and research for formal legal rights for fathers, and sometimes for children, and to campaign for changes to family law related to child custody, support and maintenance, domestic violence and the family court system itself. Fathers rights groups also provide emotional and practical support for members during separation and divorce. The fathers rights movement is considered to be a part of the manosphere.

Some fathers rights groups have become frustrated with the slow pace of traditional campaigning for law reform; groups such as the originally UK-based Fathers 4 Justice have become increasingly vocal and visible, undertaking public demonstrations that have attracted public attention and influenced the politics of family justice. Following protests, some fathers rights activists have been convicted of offenses such as harassment and assault. Fathers rights groups have condemned threats and violent acts, with Matt OConnor of Fathers 4 Justice asserting that his organisation was committed to "peaceful, non-violent direct action" and that members caught engaging in intimidation would be expelled. An example of this was in January 2006, when Matt temporarily disbanded the group after it was revealed that a fringe subsection of members were plotting to kidnap Leo Blair, the young son of Tony Blair, the former UK Prime Minister. According to the police, the plot never progressed beyond the "chattering stage". Four months later the group was refounded.

Some desperate members of the fathers rights movement, most notably Thomas Ball have advocated violent action to get the message across, just before he self-immolated himself on the steps of a courthouse in Keene, New Hampshire, he wrote in his 15-page "Last Statement" that fathers should burn down courthouses and police stations.


3. Main issues


Some fathers rights activists object to the term "visitation", which they see as denigrating to their level of authority as parents, and instead prefer the use of "parenting time".


3.1. Main issues Family court system

According to the BBC, "Custody law is perhaps the best-known area of mens rights activism". Members of the fathers rights movement state that family courts are biased against fathers and shared custody.

Stephen Baskerville is an associate professor of political science, president of the American Coalition of Fathers and Children and fathers rights advocate and defines court-determined custody as not a right to parent ones children but as the power to prevent the other partner from parenting. He states that the outcome of divorce is overly one-sided and is initiated by mothers in more than two-thirds of cases – especially when children are involved. He also states that divorce provides advantages for women such as automatic custody of the children and financial benefits in the form of child support payments. Members of the FR movement also state that family courts are slow to help fathers enforce their parental rights, and are expensive and time-consuming.

Baskerville has also stated that family courts are secretive, censoring and punitive towards fathers who criticize them. He also claims that employees and activists within the courts support and benefit from the separation of children from their parents and that family law today represents civil rights abuses and intrusive perversion of government power.

Others contest these conclusions, stating that family courts are biased in favor of fathers and that the lower percentage of separated fathers as custodial parents is a result of choices made by fathers rather than bias of family courts. According to sociologist Michael Flood, fathers rights activists have exaggerated the disparity in custody awards between mothers and fathers, and ignored the fact that in the vast majority of cases, fathers voluntarily relinquish custody of their children through private arrangements; either because they are willing to do so, or because they do not expect a favorable court ruling.


3.2. Main issues Shared parenting

Stating that "children need two parents" and that "children have a fundamental human right to an opportunity and relationship with both their mother and father", members of the fathers rights movement call for greater equality in parental responsibility following separation and divorce. They call for laws creating a rebuttable presumption of 50/50 shared custody after divorce or separation, so that children would spend equal time with each parent unless there were reasons against it. They point to studies showing that children in shared custody settings are better adjusted and have fewer social problems such as low academic achievement, crime, substance abuse, depression and suicide, and state that shared parenting is in fact in the best interests of the child. Warren Farrell states that for children, equally shared parenting with three conditions is the second best family arrangement to the intact two-parent family, followed by primary father custody and then primary mother custody, and he adds that if shared parenting cannot be agreed upon, children on average are better off psychologically, socially, academically, and physically, have higher levels of empathy and assertiveness, and lower levels of ADHD, if their father is their primary custodial parent rather than their mother.

Members of the fathers rights movement and their critics disagree about the correlation of negative developmental outcomes for children to sole custody situations. Social scientist V. C. McLoyd states that father absence covaries with other relevant family characteristics such as the lack of an income from a male adult, the absence of a second adult, and the lack of support from a second extended family system and conclude that it is the negative effects of poverty, and not the absence of a father, that result in negative developmental outcomes. On the other hand, Professor Craig Hart states that although the consequences of poverty and having a single parent are interrelated, each is a risk factor with independent effects on children, and Silverstein and Auerbach state that the negative outcomes for children in sole custody situations correlate more strongly to "fatherlessness" than to any other variable including poverty.

Members of the fathers rights movement criticize the best interests of the child standard currently used in many countries for making custody decisions, which they describe as highly subjective and based on the personal prejudices of family court judges and court-appointed child custody evaluators, and that courts are abusive when more than half custody is taken away from a willing, competent parent. Members of the fathers rights movement including Ned Holstein state that a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting is supported by a majority of citizens. Baskerville writes that proposals to enact shared parenting laws are opposed by divorce lawyers, and he says that "radical feminist" groups oppose shared parenting because of the possibility of domestic violence and child abuse.

Mo Yee Lee states that joint custody arrangements are good for children only if there is no conflict between the parents. Some feminist groups have stated that if shared parenting were ordered, fathers would not provide their share of the daily care for the children. The National Organization For Women also questions the motives of those promoting shared parenting, noting that it would result in substantial decreases in or termination of child support payments.

Stephen Baskerville states that shared parenting has been demonstrated to reduce parental conflict by requiring parents to cooperate and compromise, and that it is the lack of constraint by one parent resulting from the ability of that parent to exclude the other, that results in increased parental conflict. He further states that only when child support guidelines exceed true costs do parents ask for or seek to prevent changes in parenting time for financial reasons, adding that any argument that a parent is asking for increased parenting time to reduce child support is at the same time an argument that the other parent is making a profit from child support.

Stephen Baskerville describes no-fault or unilateral divorce based on no fault as a power grab by the parent that initiates the divorce and he also states that fathers have a constitutional right to shared control of their children and through political action they intend to establish parental authority for both parents and for the well-being of their children. Members of the fathers rights movement state that a rebuttable presumption for shared parenting preserves a childs protection against unfit or violent parents.

Pro-feminist sociologist Michael Flood states that supporters of shared parenting use it only as a symbolic issue related to "rights", "equality", and "fairness" and that the fathers rights movement is not actually interested in the shared care of their children or the childrens wishes, adding that fathers rights groups have advocated policies and strategies that are harmful to mothers and children and also harmful to the fathers themselves. In contrast, social scientist Sanford Braver states that the bad divorced dad image is a myth that has led to harmful and dangerous social policies.


3.3. Main issues Parenting time interference

Glenn Sacks states that some mothers interfere with the fathers parenting time and that such interference should be stopped. Sacks and Jeffery M. Leving state that parenting time interference can result from the custodial parents relocation beyond a practical distance from the noncustodial parent and they campaign for a rebuttable presumption prohibiting such relocations.

Fathers rights activists have also advocated for the inclusion of parental alienation syndrome, a proposed syndrome developed by Richard A. Gardner that alleges unjustified disruption of the relationship between a parent and a child is caused by the other parent. Neither PAS nor PAD are accepted by any legal or mental health organization. Despite lobbying, parental alienation syndrome was not included in the draft of the DSM manual that was released in 2010, though parental alienation disorder does appear as a "Condition Proposed by Outside Sources" to be reviewed by a working group.


3.4. Main issues No-fault divorce

Stephen Baskerville states that laws establishing no-fault divorce did not stop at removing the requirement that grounds be cited for a divorce, so as to allow for divorce by "mutual consent"; it also allows either spouse to end the marriage without any agreement or fault by the other. Phyllis Schlafly states that no-fault divorce should be referred to as unilateral divorce.

Stephen Baskerville states that laws establishing no-fault divorce can be seen as one of the boldest social experiments in modern history that have effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. He states that it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family, adding that government officials can, at the request of one spouse, end a marriage over the objection of the other. He states that no-fault divorce has left fathers with no protection against what he describes as the confiscation of their children.

Baskerville states that fault has entered through the back door in the form of child custody hearings, and that the forcibly divorced spouse "defendant" is presumed guilty. Similarly, other members of the fathers rights movement believe that men fail to get appropriate recognition of their innocence as a result of no-fault divorce. Baskerville describes a proposed amendment of no-fault divorce laws that would create a rebuttable presumption that custody of any minor children be awarded to the respondent regardless of gender. He also notes the predictions of Tim OBrien, the author of the proposed amendment, who states that the proposed amendment would result in a plummeting divorce rate and reduced negative consequences for children.

Stephen Baskerville proposes "reasonable limits" on no-fault divorce when children are involved. Some members of the FRM support the end of the no-fault principle in child custody and divorce decisions. Some members of the fathers rights movement state that the availability of divorce should also be limited.


3.5. Main issues Government involvement

Stephen Baskerville states that governments throughout the United States and other democracies are engaged, by accident or design, in a campaign against fathers and fatherhood, which in his view, lies at the root of a larger problem that threatens marriage, destroys families, devastates the lives of many children, and undermines parents, democracy and accountability. Baskerville also states that it is the removal of the father from the family through divorce that initiates problems for which the government is perceived as the solution rather than the problem, and that these problems are then used to justify the continued existence and expansion of the government. Members of the fathers rights movement state that modern divorce involves government officials invading parents private lives, evicting people from their homes, seizing their property, and taking away their children.


3.6. Main issues Parental and reproductive rights

Fathers rights advocates have worked for the right of unwed, otherwise fit, fathers to get custody if the mother tries to have their child adopted by a third party or if child welfare authorities place the child in foster care. Fathers rights activists seek a gender-neutral approach in which unwed men and women would have equal rights in adoption issues, an approach that critics state does not sufficiently acknowledge the different biological roles in procreation and pregnancy, and the disparity in societys social and economic structures. In the US, some states have passed laws to protect the rights of unwed fathers to custody. Courts have increasingly supported these rights, though judges often require evidence that the father has shown interest in, and given financial and emotional support to, the mother during pregnancy.

Some fathers rights advocates have sought the right to prevent women from having an abortion without the fathers consent, on the basis that it is discriminatory for men not to have the ability to participate in a decision to terminate a pregnancy. This option is not supported by any laws in the United States. Fathers rights advocates Jeffrey M. Leving and Glenn Sacks have stated that "choice for men is a flawed solution." Advocates have also expressed the desire to have a "financial abortion" in which the option exists to sever all responsibility for child support for an unwanted child. Commenting on this, legal scholar Kim Buchanan states, "The only way mens lack of a pregnancy opt-out can be framed as a gender injustice is to accept that men have a right to visit the consequences of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure exclusively on their female partners." However, some feminists, such as former president of the feminist organization National Organization for Women, attorney Karen DeCrow, have supported the "financial abortion" concept.


3.7. Main issues Parental leave

Pressure from fathers rights groups, among others, have in several countries resulted in gender-neutral programs eligible for parental leave. While historically, maternity benefits were given to mothers based on the physical biology of childbirth, including the need to protect the health and financial well-being of the woman and child, parental leave benefits emphasize gender-neutral child-rearing, the benefits of the participation of fathers in childrens care, and redress discrimination against men who wish to be involved with their infants.


3.8. Main issues Terminology

Some fathers rights activists object to the term "visitation", which they see as denigrating to their level of authority as parents, and instead prefer the use of "parenting time".


4. Criticism

Some legal scholars and feminist writers have accused the fathers rights movement of putting the interests of fathers above the interests of children, for example, by suggesting that it is acceptable for fathers to withdraw child support if they are not given access to their children, or by lobbying for changes in family law that would allegedly heighten childrens exposure to abusive fathers, and would allegedly further endanger mothers who are victims of domestic violence.

Another criticism is that fathers rights activists allegedly incorrectly maintain that the courts are biased against fathers while in reality the vast majority of cases are settled by private agreement and fathers voluntarily relinquish primary custody of their children, which explains the lower percentage of custodial fathers; and that the "bias" of courts is in favour of the primary caregiver, not mothers per se.

Researchers Martha Fineman, Michael Flood, and others have criticized the movement for allegedly perpetuating negative stereotypes of women as deceptive, vindictive, and irresponsible as well as the stereotype that women are out to take advantage of men financially.


5. Notable commentators

Public supporters of the fathers rights movement and their issues include Live Aid founder Bob Geldof, Irish writer and journalist John Waters and Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women. Other notable commentators include:

  • Asa Baber
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