Men's Centre North Shore Inc

Meeting with Chief Family Court Judge Mahony 21st Aug 2001 (page 4)

Minutes of discussion held by Auckland fathers groups in the presence of Judge Mahony on 21st August 2001 at the Man Alive rooms. The meeting was between Auckland fathering pressure groups, service providers to fathers and the Principle Family Court Judge. Pictures of meeting here    Notes of the meeting here

Not all of the notes and points made were agreed totally by all but a general consensus prevailed. 

Judge Mahony agreed to meet again in 6 months time and consider the material. He indicated that there were already a number of changes taking place and that social norms and values around fathering had changed since the court's establishment.

The meeting was facilitated and these notes compiled by Warwick Pudney.

The following was advanced as key issues for those present.

Principle: Protect relationship of the Father/child

* Orders are taken out on insufficient evidence with the consequences that fathers are isolated unnecessarily from their children for insufficient reason.

* Testable evidence required for ex-parte orders.
* Ex-parte only if enough evidence for arrest, access to continue through the time of the order.
* The Temporary Protection Order to be in effect for 1 week - 10 days only.

* Counsel-for-the-child reports written after orders are issued, often suffer from the child having been traumatised by the split, suffering from loyalty issues, and one parent who having induced alienation during the time of non-contact.

* Counsel-for-child reports replaced or influenced by home video or evidence from the past. This may include previous history as a parent.

* Consistency of judgement by judges. 

* Training judges in attitudes and interpretation.
* The establishment of clear principles for judges to work from

Principle: Ongoing safety vs change and applicant/respondent/child relationship developments

* The grounds for some orders are questionable but their consequences on the child-father relationship quite far reaching
* Many orders are in effect long after they need to be.

* A Permanent Protection Order to be obtained only with good evidence.
* Permanent Protection Orders will need to be renewed after three years or a period in excess of that, specified by a judge, if the order has been broken. 

Principle: safety vs unaccountable abuse of safety precautions for power/control reasons

* Applicants are making false allegations to obtain orders and there is no disincentive to cease doing so. 

* That there be a penalty for false report, allegation, or perjury. 
* Higher standard of evidence be required for allegation of abuse.
* Acknowledge envy or revenge by the custodial parent, which may lead to a punishment motivation in interactions with the access parent and affect children's welfare.

Principle: Our children are too valuable to be hurt in parental disputes and parental emotional hurt

* Children and adolescents are being hurt in ongoing fighting, disrespect and incivility between separated parents.

* Mandatory Parenting Courses (how to be separated parents).
* Include content on effects and the need for two parent responsibility and participation

Principle: Balancing safety with ongoing relationship

* Fathers who have abused spouses are being prevented from free contact with children after separation due to policy of assuming that they are also being violent to the child.

* Not assume that the Father have been violent to the child if he has been violent to the partner.
* Children will not automatically go on the Protection Order
* Protection for child only if respondent is violent to the child (not just applicant)

* Respondent is often left for weeks without contact with the child due to allegations of non-safety. 

* Faster processing of hearing (i.e.-reports)
* Compulsory mediation quickly with penalty for non-attendance.

Principle: Equal rights and value to both parents

* There is a conscious and unconscious practice preferring the mother as the major caregiver and giving that person control over the child's welfare that is unequal to the father.

* The Principle needs to be Equal Shared Parenting as a starting place. There would be no Primary caregiver or custodial parent unless it is clearly damaging for the child to be with one of the parents.
* Assume 2 homes possible (Research this)

Principle: Equal value to both genders despite social stereotypes

* Men, apart from being reluctant to lay complaints, are not so easily believed by the police and the courts.

* Reduce the historical and sexist inclination to rescue women
* The police, Lawyers, court staff and the judges need to believe men who apply with allegations of abuse. The principle of equal believability of either gender needs to apply.
* Pay attention to women's violence to both men and children
* Do not assume that men do not hurt physically, emotionally, relationally, and psychologically. 

Principle: That the court serves the whole family unit which includes the child and siblings, the genetic parents, the caregivers, both sets of grandparents and the wider whanau.

* The court has been predisposed to deal more sympathetically with women than men. This has been evidenced by:
* Few or no men as Counselling co-ordinators
* No process for dealing with the specific trauma that men go through
* High male suicide rates of men waiting in the Family Court
* Few male or all female members of Regional D.V. panels
* Male respondent programmes that have a tone of punishment rather than stopping abuse. 
* Female respondent programmes that still blame men for women's abuse of men, women and children.
* No structured rights for grandparents to have time with children

* Staffing at F.C.
* At least 50% male staff
* Train staff to be more male empathic, knowledgeable and helpful
* Prepare male friendly material, posters pamphlets, videos.
* Set up a committee of father-wise persons to advise on court friendly measures for men.
* Have appropriate referral lists for male support.
* Have a father's representative on policy and procedures committees
* Have an hour paid session available from the Family Court for respondents with trained male personnel that assists with court procedures and personal situations to ensure safety, rights and wellbeing.
* Understand that written data and procedures does not work well with men. 
* Appoint male-positive men to D.V panels
* Have pro-family Respondent programmes that seek to hold the individual responsible while at the same time trying to understand them and help them build relationship skills
* Where at least one parent is supportive of contact the grandparents to have some rights of access to the grandchildren.
* Have free mediation available
* Acknowledge male PTSD and supply trauma support

Principles: Transparency and accountability plus respect for individual personal privacy

* The workings of the court are unseen and the outcomes appear inconsistent. 
* There are no statistics available. 
* Men feel disadvantaged by the proceedings

* That the Family Court proceedings be open or that the reasons for fear of unfairness and inconsistency be removed
* That the opening of the Court allow for:
* That there be no media in the courts
* That reports be open and accountable

Principle: The power of the custodial parent not be used to damage the relationship with the access parent vs the right for an individual to live where they want.

* Currently the custodial parent can move away from the vicinity of the access parent's residence.
* The custodial parent can move frequently which presents an additional problem if the father chooses to move also.

* Movement away by the Custodial Parent be prevented on the basis that the child's needs are paramount.
* The custodial pays all costs of the access Parent's access if that parent chooses to move away.
* All conditions of access to be honoured by both party or there is a penalty. The court needs teeth.
* Fathers who fail to take up the responsibility of access be penalised due to both the short-term and long-term disadvantage to the child. 
* Fathering courses for all fathers who go through the Family Court.
* Custody access disagreements have mediation available quickly.

Principles: Education creates changes, equality of gender better than regulation

* The last 40 years of eloquent feminism has left a system very educated as to women's perspectives and needs. There is a lack of awareness; articulation and advocacy of men's experience needs and perspective. Courts are then unwittingly delivering a one-sided service.

* Training for Family Court staffs, social workers, police, lawyers, counsellors, psychologists, and judges.
* Create a father-friendly Family Court engagement procedure. (1hour talk and briefing of respondent by court or external contracted workers)
* Family Court take notice of fathering research (especially the male positive research which has been largely ignored)

Principle: Equality of gender in research. Reducing bias in research

* The ratio of research projects generally on social issues runs at 20 to 1.
* Research largely sets out to prove what it wants to believe
* Much research on men [including fathers is done by women]
* The positive or negative attitude of the researcher is often reflected in the research and the topics chosen.

* Research on men and fathers is done by male-positive men.
* Social fora be established to mature the debate and issues. 
* Statistics on the Family Court and its judgements and outcomes be made available to the public.
* There be research on the following topics quickly:
* Effect on children of having 2 homes
* Length of wait by fathers in the Family Court.
* Attitudinal alienation pressure by either separated parent. (Parent alienation)
* What really is in the best interest of child. What do children want?
* The cost to fathers who are alienated from their children
* The costs to children of separation and alienation from their fathers. 
* Spousal violence by women on men
* Abuse of children not living with their father.

Pictures of meeting here                                                Notes of the meeting here

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