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Lurid Headlines Hide The Facts
JASON HATCH hit the media headlines last week. Dressed as Batman he spent five hours perched on a ledge of Buckingham Palace. A member of Fathers4Justice, he said he was protesting about fathers having restricted or no contact with their children after separation.
Fathers4Justice is just one of a number of organisations fighting for fathers' rights. Their aims, methods and supporters vary. Some have reactionary attitudes towards women, some do not. Supported by Bob Geldof, Fathers4Justice has been particularly good at getting publicity via spectacular media stunts. But are their protests justified?
No doubt, the family court system is flawed. It is under-resourced, resulting in long delays and staff are often inadequately trained. The system is adversarial, which can exacerbate conflict rather than helping to resolve differences regarding child contact.
But to read some media coverage you would get the impression that thousands of manipulative, spiteful and vengeful women are unjustly denying their ex-partner's contact with their children. The real facts get buried beneath lurid headlines.
According to the government's Green paper on parental separation, in 90% of cases parents agree informal child contact arrangements. More than 80% say they are happy with those arrangements. There are around 60,000 applications to the court a year for contact orders. In 2003 just 2% were refused.
While a small minority of men feel unjustly frustrated in their desire to see their children after separation, there are also many women who fear violence and abuse towards their children or themselves if contact should take place.
We hear about women ignoring court orders but we don't hear about the 19 children killed over the last eight years by fathers after being granted visiting rights. Nor the women who have been murdered during child contact handovers.
A recent study found that children could be at risk in three out of five divorce cases coming to family courts. 61% of fathers had allegations of domestic violence made against them.
These women and children don't scale buildings in comic strip heroes' costumes and therefore don't generate the publicity of groups like Fathers4Justice.
New Labour are currently consulting on reforms to the family court system. Any changes have to take the interests of these women and children into account and not just those of a vocal minority of men whose activities seize the headlines.
In The Socialist 25 September 2004:
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