MENZ logoISSUES logo

MENZ Issues April – May 2001: Volume 6, Issue 3

Fathers Aided By Wizard’s Magic On 9th April in the Christchurch Square, watched by a large and attentive crowd, the Arch Wizard of Canterbury presented a spell to an Auckland Men’s group representative.

Raising Awareness Of Fathering Issues In their struggle to see each other, fathers and children are turning to substance abuse, crime and suicide. A Ministry of Men’s Affairs is required to promote legislation based on true statistics of the effects of father and child separation.

Fiction In The Family Court In the May 2001 edition of New Zealand Lawyer magazine, lawyer Terry Carson reveals how the Family Court offers great opportunities for budding fiction writers.

Guardianship Act Review Update Officials from the Ministry of Social Policy and Ministry of Justice are in the process of analysing the key issues that were raised in the submissions. It is expected that options will be provided for the legislative reform of the Guardianship Act 1968 later in the year.

Good Men Wanted by Mensline Once again, Mensline is looking for volunteers to staff its telephone counselling service. An increase in calls and volunteer turnover has generated the need for a new intake.

Fathers ‘Bitter’ About Custody Discrimination In Secret Courts Family Court proceedings have to be more open if the public is to know how fathers are being discriminated against in child custody disputes, a fathers’ spokesman says.

Government Policies The Cause Of Most Child Support Defaulting "Reports that there are nearly 100,000 liable parents in arrears with their child support are not surprising given the Government’s policies that favour sole parenting", FARE spokesperson Darryl Ward said today.

Women’s Progress Letter to the Editor Otago Daily Times 26th March 2001. Your editorial “Woman’s Progress” on 24th March was based on poor statistical research, and is plagued by the very gender bias that you are so critical of.

New Property (Relationships) Act A summary of information prepared by the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society.

Disrupted Fatherhood: Perceptions Of Anti-male Bias In The Areas Of Custody And Access A summary of a 57 page research report. The three respondents for this qualitative study were selected through investigation of the Christchurch area men’s support networks.

Middle-age Suicide Middle-aged men are killing themselves because they cannot cope after relationship break-ups, Tauranga’s Coroner has revealed.

One Less Fatherless Child Recently I met a young man who was an expectant father. Today this young man related to me his christening.

Read About Us In June North & South! Ten pages of solid investigation into claims of bias against fathers in the New Zealand Family Court reveal a significant problem. Dear Men’s Centre, I read about you in the latest North & South magazine and I just wanted to say that I, a teenage girl with no stake in this whatsoever, think what you’re doing is absolutely wonderful.

Who are ‘we’ to vote for? Men out there who have had their lives affected by current anti-male and anti-family social policies need to be clear about what it is they vote for in the next elections.

Wizard of Christchurch Photo: Karla Osmers promoting Shared Parenting in Christchurch as the Wizard prepares his spell.

Fathers Aided By Wizard’s Magic

On 9th April in the Christchurch Square, watched by a large and attentive crowd, the Arch Wizard of Canterbury presented the following spell to an Auckland Men’s group representative:

O God of Love

O Father above us

Soften the hearts

Of those who judge us

Many men would perish rather

Than see their children hate their father

O God of Love

O Father above us

Soften the hearts

Of those who judge us.

Video of Ben Easton casting the spell on the Auckland Family Court Download here (535 KB mpeg)

This spell was *cast* on government from the steps of Parliament on Wednesday 11th April, at 12.30 pm. Sue Bradford from the Greens Party accepted the hand-written scroll, and will carry this message of support and hope to our politicians.

A bouquet of flowers was extended to both Sue Bradford and Muriel Newman (ACT), to show appreciation for their public roles in speaking out and supporting the valuable role of fathers in their children’s lives.

Parents have both a right and a responsibility to be involved with their children. Divorce is a reality that we cannot escape in today’s society, and there are often men, women and children left wounded.

Sole custody with visitation places unequal power and responsibility onto one parent, and devalues the role of the other, sometimes resulting in one parent (usually the father) giving up, and absolving responsibility.

Strong emotions of hurt, anger, blame and guilt often arise from unfairness in the current family court system, and this makes it extremely difficult for many parents to move forward to a place where they can work together towards a shared goal.

It IS possible for parents to work together with respect for each other, outside the courts, to achieve solutions which are mutually beneficial to them both, and to their children. It becomes easier to agree when parents work together, rather than feeling they have to fight each other.

Many of us believe that the majority of parents want to see their children loved, cared for and supported by two responsible parents, and we think that supporting both fathers and mothers to be equally involved in their children’s lives will be beneficial for children, and in the longer run our community, and our country.

Beginning with a presumption of Shared Parenting places both parents onto a level playing field, where they can work together to reach compromise and mutual agreements for the sake of their children (with support if necessary). It is time for the public to be proactive and start talking about these important issues, so that we can move forward to find solutions.

Karla Osmers

Ph (03) 384 7388

email: karla_nz@ihug.co.nz

Shared Parenting Campaign Contact

Wizard's Spell

Raising Awareness Of Fathering Issues

The Wizard’s spell cast in the Christchurch Square on Monday 9th of April went to Parliament Buildings in Wellington to raise awareness of fathering issues, for dads to have their relationship with their children recognised, valued and supported, and for shared parenting to be acknowledged as the healthiest option for children.

In their struggle to see each other, fathers and children are turning to substance abuse, crime and suicide. A Ministry of Men’s Affairs is required to promote legislation based on true statistics of the effects of father and child separation.

At present there is no child friendly forum for children to see their dads. Children need to be given the choice from a very young age to maintain contact with both parents. At present over three quarters of all divorced children are separated from their dads without any reason.

This results in male suicides four times that of females. Boys 15 – 24 yrs are three times more likely to commit suicide than females, the very ages when these young adults need role models.

Greg Hallett Photo: Greg Hallett outside the Auckland Law Society Offices.

Some Statistics:

Boys from fatherless homes are:

* 20 times more likely to end up in prison;

* 14 times more likely to commit rape;

* 10 times more likely to abuse chemicals;

* 90 % of all homeless and runaway children;

* 85 % of all children who exhibit behavioural disorders;

* 71 % of high school dropouts. Fatherless America; Blankenhorn (1995).

Children from single-parent families (most of whom are fatherless) engage in:

* more delinquency;

*are more subject to peer pressure;

* suffer more psychiatric illness;

* are at a developmental disadvantage. (Statistics NZ 1999, cited in Fatherless Sons; McCann, 1999).

In 1998, New Zealand 15- 24yrs: 105 males and 35 females committed suicide. Total of 140 suicides, three males to every female. There were an additional 1,092 attempted suicides.

Greg Hallett

PO Box 109 624, Newmarket, Auckland

Fiction In The Family Court

In the May 2001 edition of New Zealand Lawyer magazine, lawyer Terry Carson reveals how the Family Court offers great opportunities for budding fiction writers. He says the main rule for drafting applications for temporary protection orders is to use plenty of adjectives and adverbs. It is much more effective for an applicant client not merely to be hit but to be "heavily punched". A fall during the course of a scuffle is more impressive if it is described as "the respondent violently threw me to the floor". If the respondent uses a few swear words during a verbal argument refer to it in the affidavit as being "a torrent of obscene abuse." It will catch the Judge’s eye better that way.

When the Domestic Violence Act 1995 came into force, Carson had been practising family law for about 26 years. He immediately noticed that significant numbers of men began coming into his office complaining about the orders served on them. Almost without exception they referred to acts committed by the applicant towards them which on the face of it would have justified them applying for a protection order. Real concern was often expressed about how mum would cope with the children on her own now dad was kept out of the home by the interim protection order.

Carson says: "You have to ask whether granting a temporary protection order to the partner who first rushes to Court and gives a one-sided view of the problem for the Court in the absence of significant physical violence is the appropriate way to deal with such situations. Sometimes a temporary protection order seems more a prize for speed rather than need."

He concludes: "We need to remember that the function of the Court is to serve the public. There is far too much unrest in part of our community for us to believe that all is right with the Court. A close look at the way temporary protection orders are applied for and granted would be a good starting point towards maintaining public confidence in the Family Court."

Guardianship Act Review Update

Hon Steve Mahary has asked me to respond to your request for an update on the Guardianship Act review.

The discussion document "Responsibilities for Children especially when Parents Part. The Laws about Guardianship, Custody and Access" was released in August 2000. When submissions closed on 30 November 2000, there were 376 submissions received from a wide range of individuals, community groups, interest groups, professionals, academics and government agencies.

The discussion document is available on the Ministry of Justice website: www.justice.govt.nz

Officials from the Ministry of Social Policy and Ministry of Justice are in the process of analysing the key issues that were raised in the submissions. It is expected that options will be provided for the legislative reform of the Guardianship Act 1968 later in the year.

The four main broad themes to emerge from the submissions have been:

* The need for/what are the guiding objectives and principles that direct guardianship legislation in New Zealand;

* The need for the recognition of diversity of cultures and family formation;

* Just exactly what does guardianship mean in and for New Zealanders today; and

* Custody and access applications and eligibility issues.

Chris Thompson

Private Secretary (Social Policy)

Office of Hon Steve Maharey

Minister of Social Services and Employment

Good Men Wanted by Mensline

Once again, Mensline is looking for volunteers to staff its telephone counselling service. An increase in calls and volunteer turnover has generated the need for a new intake.

Mensline is a telephone counselling service run by men for men operating as part of Lifeline Auckland. Our focus is in supporting men to work through their issues in ways that are safe, healthy and positive for them and those around them.

Mensline offers:

* ongoing training in counselling skills and personal development;

* an opportunity to be part of a diverse team of men;

* a chance to be part of a dynamic network of men’s services throughout Auckland and New Zealand;

* the opportunity to make a difference by supporting men as they work through the myriad of issues and challenges facing us in today’s complex society;

* a supportive environment for men to develop counselling skills.

We begin a new intake training on 6th July. Interviewing will take place on 20th June.

For more information contact Mensline coordinator:

Michael Crowther

Lifeline office: Ph (09) 524 3080

PO Box 74 010

Market Rd

Auckland

Fathers ‘Bitter’ About Custody Discrimination In Secret Courts

Family Court proceedings have to be more open if the public is to know how fathers are being discriminated against in child custody disputes, a fathers’ spokesman says.

Darrell Carlin, of Men And Their Children, said on the 8th May that opening the courts to public scrutiny was the first step in getting a full inquiry into the court’s decisions.

Family Court proceedings are closed to the public and cases can be reported only in special circumstances.

Mr Carlin said equal shared custody should be the starting point for parents. The court showed "huge bias" towards giving women custody, and equal shared custody was granted only if the mother agreed.

He said he knew of only one father who was granted equal shared custody over the mother’s objection – "In 2001, this is crazy."

Fathers who had the support of men’s groups were able to vent their anger, but some had borne their problems alone.

"Some men are very bitter and if they don’t talk to anybody they are likely to do something stupid."

An open debate was needed before changes would be made, Mr Carlin said.

MATCH

Darrell Carlin

PO Box 14063 Tauranga

darrell@carlinvalenti.co.nz

Government Policies The Cause Of Most Child Support Defaulting

"Reports that there are nearly 100,000 liable parents in arrears with their child support are not surprising given the Government’s policies that favour sole parenting", FARE spokesperson Darryl Ward said today.

"FARE does not support evasion of child support. However for every defaulter the public hears about, there is almost always a very different type of parent whose plight remains hidden. Typically, he has lost his children, and often the family home he paid for, to his ex-partner. He is more than likely now living in sub-standard accommodation, and despite having lost the family that matters more to him than any thing else, he is expected to pay and pay and pay.

"Is it any small wonder that he finds it difficult to pay a huge proportion of his income to an ex partner, who may be using the fact that she is the sole parent to exclude him from any meaningful part in his children’s lives? He may try to get emotional support for himself, but finds that most avenues are geared against him. Is it any surprise that often his lot becomes depression, destitution or even suicide?

"Most absent parents in this situation miraculously manage to cope, but some do not. They are the (mainly) men we read about who have become so marginalised that sometimes their rage overflows into anti-social behaviour. Such action is unacceptable. However, it is a shocking travesty that the public is encouraged to believe lies about the inherent evils of men without stopping to think what really precipitates such desperation in the first place.

"Both genders can be and are unfairly treated by the child support regime. However, most non-compliance with child support is easy to deal with. ‘Liable’ parents who have a meaningful relationship with their children tend to pay; defaulters are mainly those who have effectively had their children taken from them.

"Our advice to all those custodial parents who complain about their ex’s not paying child support is very simple. You may be denying them any meaningful relationship with their children. Stop doing this, and restore some of their dignity. Your children will be the chief benefactors.

"However, in saying this, we do not in any way wish blame ‘custodial’ parents for these problems. The principal fault lies with the Government, whose unwritten policy is to promote sole custody for children whose parents separate. The problems could have been resolved by adopting Dr Muriel Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill, which went before Parliament last year. Amazingly, the Government chose to vote down the Bill and ignore such common sense.

"So long as family law favours sole custody, there will be ongoing problems with Child Support compliance", concluded Ward.

Darryl Ward

54b Poplar Ave Raumati South

taliesin@paradise.net.nz

Women’s Progress

Letter to the Editor Otago Daily Times 26th March 2001

Your editorial “Woman’s Progress” on 24th March was based on poor statistical research, and is plagued by the very gender bias that you are so critical of. I note your closing statement “But women cannot be equal on their own and men still have a great deal to learn about gender equality”. It would seem now that woman are in power, and rule the nation that they also have a great deal to learn about gender equality.

When men do not make up 92% of work related fatalities and 80% of suicides, when men stop dying on average 6 years younger that woman, when there is equal funding for men’s health issues, when men are sentenced to the same degree as woman for identical crimes, when its acknowledged that woman are equally the perpetrators of partner violence and abuse their children more than fathers, when young juvenile men are given a sense of identity and direction in life, when post separation fathers are treated as equals and society recognizes the value to the children of their father, when there is a ministry of men’s affairs, then perhaps men may start to have some understanding of what equality means.

Your closing sentence perhaps best highlights my point. “We should not make the mistake of equating progress with equality”.

How can “society progress” with a clear policy of selective “equality”?

Yours faithfully,

M.J.Crosbie

Father and Child Trust Otago

engdraw@xtra.co.nz

P.O. Box 52, Dunedin

Ph (03) 4776560

New Property (Relationships) Act

The following is a summary of information prepared by the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society.

Family Court Judge from Hell Photo: The Family Court Judge from Hell – Auckland 8th May

The New Property (Relationships) Act will apply to anyone who has been married or who has lived in a de facto relationship for at least three years. The Act comes into force on 1 February 2002.

Property accumulated during the relationship will usually be shared equally between both parties, unless they have agreed to contract out of the provisions of the Act. The agreement must be certified and witnessed by a separate lawyer for each partner before it is valid. A simple short agreement is likely to cost between $500 and $600 plus the other partner would need to pay for independent legal advice before signing. If you enter into an agreement before 1 August 2001, the courts will have to uphold that agreement unless there has been duress or mistake or some other ground that would normally invalidate a contract. After 1 August 2001, that agreement must be made in terms of the new Act, which states that if the agreement is considered too one-sided, it may be subject to review by the Court.

In cases where there will be an economic disparity between the partners after separation, which is caused by the division of functions during the relationship, (eg: broken career to look after children, or to follow your partner to a job overseas), the Court can divide the existing property other than 50/50. In addition, under the Family Proceedings Act, one ex-partner can ask for spousal maintenance from the other, but only if that person cannot support him/herself because of caring for children after separation; or undertaking education to increase earning capacity.

Under the new Act, the partner who is the principal provider of care for the children can retain all or part of the other partner’s half share of the matrimonial home for a period of time necessary to prevent undue hardship. So it may be possible for the house to be sold and all the proceeds made available to the partner with the children until a fixed date in the future, such as when the youngest child starts school or turns 14.

If you contributed to a superannuation scheme after your relationship began then the value added during the relationship is shared as part of the relationship property.

Property transferred to a trust during the relationship can be taken into account if it is considered that the transfer has the effect of defeating the sharing of relationship property. The property can’t be transferred back out of the trust but compensation for it can be made to the disadvantaged partner out of the relationship property, the separate property of the other partner or the income from the trust.

Generally, property owned before the relationship began and inherited property (in both cases, except for home and furniture and

car) are not shared – but there are exceptions to this. If a person really wants to protect such property, it is better to have an agreement.

Relationship debts are shared. Relationship debts are those incurred jointly (eg, a joint HP agreement); those incurred in the course of a common enterprise (eg, a business both partners work in – they don’t both have to be legal owners); debts to acquire, improve or maintain relationship property (eg, a bank loan to extend or start a business); those incurred to manage the affairs of the household (eg, purchases of food, furniture, etc).

De facto couples can begin making agreements to contract out of the Act from 1 August this year. They will not be covered by the Act if the relationship breaks up before 1 February. However, if they make an agreement either before or after 1 August, the Court will enforce that agreement. If they split up after 1 February next year, they will be covered by the new Act.

A de facto relationship begins when both parties are over 18 years and they are living together as a couple. In establishing whether a relationship is a de facto relationship in terms of the Act and the date that it began, the Court will take a number of factors into account including: the duration of the relationship; whether they live in the one house; whether they have a sexual relationship; the degree of financial dependence or interdependence; the ownership, use and acquisition of the property; the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life; the care and support of children; the performance of household duties; the reputation and public aspects of the relationship.

Married couples who break up before 1 February will be covered by the existing Matrimonial Property Act. However, if their property agreement is not finalised or any court proceedings are not concluded by 1 February, then those incomplete matters will be covered by the new Act.

For more information:

http://www.justice.govt.nz/faq/property_relationships.html

The Pirate Judge Photo: The Pirate Judge – Auckland Family Court 27th March. Check out the hilarious video: download here (1136KB)

Disrupted Fatherhood: Perceptions Of Anti-male Bias In The Areas Of Custody And Access

This is a summary of a 57 page research report presented in partial fulfilment of the Masters of Social Work (Applied) degree at Massey University. The author Donald Pettitt is a social worker working with youth in both the youth justice and care and protection environment. He says this has left him profoundly aware of the disconnection many young people feel from positive male role models. The three respondents for this qualitative study were selected through investigation of the Christchurch area men’s support networks. Brent Gardiner and Don Rowlands are family counsellors with the Home and Family Society. Aaron Williamson is a community worker and administrator who works for the Father and Child Trust.

Introduction

The laws governing guardianship are currently under review in New Zealand. This report attempts to explore the performance of the Family Court as the principal administrator of the Guardianship Act 1968. In particular this study focuses on perceived patterns of anti-male bias directed at fathers involved in the process of obtaining/sustaining custody and/or access to their children.

What does society at large think of this issue? Julian (1999, p.18) in a random sample of New Zealanders found a common societal belief that the Family Court discriminates against fathers, with 41% of the respondents agreeing that this was the case. The researcher notes that those who do not have children or are past the child-rearing age were less likely to agree with this statement and that males were significantly more likely to agree with it.

Custody and Power

Much of the dialogue by the respondents about anti-male bias is focussed on the granting of sole custody to mothers. It can be argued that the granting of sole custody creates an extreme power advantage in a mother’s favour. One aspect of this power is that she is left in a position in which she can unduly influence the child(ren)’s desire to see their father through overt and/or covert coercion. This situation has been defined as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) (Burgess, 1997).

Blocks to Information

The confidentiality of the Family Court process is one of the blocks to change cited by a respondent in this study. The limited capacity to analyse the results and affects of the Family Court process has left those who are agents for change scrambling for data overseas or relying on that published by the Family Court itself. The Family Court has failed to respond to the question of anti-male bias with open dialogue.

The court maintains confidentiality on the basis that “the proceedings are essentially private family matters involving children and young people and there does not seem to be any wider public interest in the dispute” (Ministry of Justice, 2000).

Custody and patterns of perceived anti-male bias

All of the respondents identified patterns of perceived anti-male bias regarding custody for men involved with the Family Court. The workers with the Home and Family Society focussed more on the effect of current gender roles providing the basis for father’s perceptions of bias as demonstrated in the following. “The parent in the provider role is often disadvantaged because the criterion that is established in the legislation is that the court will take the best interests of the child. And often the person with the greatest psychological bond with the child at the time will be the one who is doing the caretaker role. And I see that as disadvantaging men, and sometimes, disadvantaging children because they are sometimes not getting access to the best parent”(Don).

Access and patterns of perceived anti-male bias

The three respondents shared the perception that the assignment of access involved significant delays for fathers. “The system is set out to operate very slowly as far as awarding access. Three, four or five months is standard” (Aaron).

“Pursuing access can be expensive as well as frustrating if the mother decides to challenge it. It’s been the experience of some men that after an expensive process through the Family Courts to gain access, the court decides that it’s safe and appropriate to have that access; but it might take a couple of years” (Don).

Don points out that the process of access assignment has been sped up in the case of fathers denied access through the use of a protection order. “There’s some consciousness of those delaying tactics in the Family Court now. There’s been an effort to bring cases that involve children to a faster conclusion but you’re still looking at 10 weeks. Protection orders… can be used to limit contact with the other parent. Which may not be a problem, but it’s also linked to what’s called 15b of the Guardianship Act which means that if the protection order is upheld the child is only to be given supervised access. The custodial parent pretty much has the say on whether that occurs… A small amount of verbal or psychological abuse can be a very effective excuse for an uncooperative and unfriendly parent to restrain access” (Don).

The respondents note that fathers attempting to enforce the existing access arrangement may unwittingly be ‘asking for’ further trouble. “Many men have found that in going back to court to enforce a warrant, …the police are unwilling to do that at short notice and that the courts may often, when they see the warrants, reopen the custody and access case which may have been going for years and years. So the male ends up in a worse condition going to court. In the meantime they are often without access at all. Often I think men feel very disempowered by that and they know that if any conflict happens, that if they stand up on some issues they’re likely to be used as sources of conflict and reasons to block any shared or substantial access” (Don).

All of the respondents expressed the belief that it was easy for a mother to not honour an access order. “Access orders are very rarely enforced. I don’t see them enforced. I had one client who went to court, as he wanted to see his children and he was having access at an access training day through the Father and Child Trust. The mother would come here and drop the child off and I had the Counsel for Child here. The father would come and pick them up 15 minutes later for an overnight visit. The mother might come down two consecutive weekends, then we’d have to go back to court and reapply. This went on for a couple of years before the Counsel for Child said he would initiate proceedings against the mother” (Aaron).

The period of separation can serve to both destroy the bond between the child and the father and entrench the custodial parent’s position as primary caregiver; “Parental alienation is much more common than is acknowledged. It can be very subtle, it can be the custodial parent saying the child is ill today, or the child doesn’t want to see you today. And it’s a subtle weakening of that relationship. That is very difficult for an access parent once they lose, if they’ve got a loss of contact. If they lose that it becomes difficult to maintain the relationship. It compounds itself” (Don).

Domestic Violence

The District Court is perceived to protect women from being challenged about their violence towards their male partner. A common theme for all three respondents was stories of spousal abuse by women that were discounted or ignored by the Family or District Court. “I had a case of a client who actually had videotape, they happened to be videoing a family occasion and his ex-partner arrived to pick up a child after an access visit and the video camera switched to her beating him about the head and the judge wouldn’t even hear the case when he tried to bring the case to court. He was applying for a protection order” (Don).

The Ghost of Due Process Photo: The Ghost of Due Process – Auckland Family Court April 24th

The police appear to share this attitude in their response to reports of domestic violence by women. “A fellow I’ve been seeing recently, he used to get beatings on a fairly regular basis from his wife. And the police had been called out on quite a few occasions. And they never arrested her but they arrested him several times. But he was bleeding and she had no visible marks on her” (Aaron).

The belief was also expressed that the police are less likely to respond in the event of violence by a woman on her male partner. “I’ve heard stories from guys who have phoned up the police to charge their wife with assault and had the police laugh at them. A friend of a friend on the police force says that if a male has been assaulted by a female they usually won’t go out and respond, maybe 15-25% of the time. In the case of female allegations they go out every time” (Aaron).

Perceived anti-male bias by administrators and others involved with the Family Court process is anecdotally evident with examples being cited by the respondents of admissions by judges, counsellors, lawyers, and social workers. “There’s one judge in particular. The lawyers would say you’ve got a good case, but if you get that judge you’re f**ked. They will not give that father custody or access unless they absolutely have to” (informant’s name withheld).

In addition, “I’ve seen CYPS social workers make some very biased remarks to the fathers in Family Group Conferences” (Aaron).

In particular, anti-male bias is noted as having a powerful affect on the interpretation of a father’s use of the Family Court process. “Men who don’t back down are considered by social workers to be controlling and manipulative. It’s ironic that for men who actually pursue custody, it’s a no-win situation. If you back out you’re irresponsible; a bludger deadbeat dad, while if you pursue it, you are controlling, dominating, and manipulative” (Don).

The respondents agreed that the court has responded somewhat to the concerns fathers have about the process and that in recent years proceedings are not as overtly anti-male.

“I’ve observed improvements both in talking to the guys who’re coming through the Family Court system and talking to Family Court lawyers who’ve come to talk to those guys. There is more understanding by Family Court judges about the issues that fathers and men face in the Family Court. There has been research done for example where sexual abuse is used as a false allegation… (many) more of them are proved to be false than in the other instances” (Brent).

Other organisations such as schools and WINZ were cited as producing environments that discriminated against separated men.

One worker at WINZ demonstrated standard role expectations of a father who was caring for his 3-year-old daughter. “He was at WINZ, I don’t remember why and they said to him, ‘when are you going to sort your life out and stop going to WINZ for family assistance – stand on your own two feet'” (Aaron).

This respondent clearly believed that such a degree of financial independence would not have been expected of a mother in the same situation.

Another clear example of perceived bias occurs with schools and the way they exercise the Guardianship Act. “If there is any indication of conflict, if the one parent doesn’t want info going to the other parent, they’ll just say to the access parent ‘sorry, there’s a custodial conflict we don’t want you here” (Aaron). As men are significantly more likely to be in the role of access parent this alleged practice becomes a gender issue.

The respondents shared the belief that the Family Court affects far more than those who appear before it. “It’s like saying that the traffic laws aren’t relevant because only 5% of the population get a ticket. It’s a valid analogy. The reality is that everyone else is influenced in their behaviour by what the laws are so you don’t speed, so you don’t seek custody, you don’t try for shared parenting because it’s not an idea that is supported by the system. And the lawyers say, well you’d want every second weekend wouldn’t you, because you’re the father. That’s what the culture is and that’s the pattern. That’s what the judges are likely to suggest or promote” (Don).

An acceptance of the status quo is perpetuated by the lawyers and judges involved in the Family Court process. Lawyers for fathers are said to think “He’s not going to get custody he’s only going to get access so I’ll only put a half-hearted effort in” (Aaron). Two of the three respondents spoke at length about the status quo having a momentum of its own. This was claimed to be due to the fear of judges to challenge it and lawyers not bothering to press more often for shared custody.

A recognition of the status quo even affects those who provide advocacy and support for men entering the Family Court arena. One respondent indicates that his practical advice to fathers separated from their children includes the following. “Basically I talk to them and try and identify their issues and whether they want to go to the Family Court. And if their relationship is within the realms of the norm I’ll try and talk them out of it. I give them examples of people that have been through court and it usually shocks them” (Aaron).

Such advice recognises the limitations of the situation for fathers but in doing so may perpetuate the existence of such a system. In effect, the advocates for men can potentially be a channel for the continuation of a system they believe to be discriminatory.

Particular groups of men perceived to be more vulnerable to anti-male bias

Rural men can experience longer delays in the court. “For ex-parte orders, Christchurch attempts to get into court now after ten weeks, while in the past they’ve been up to 6 months and some rural areas go beyond that” (Don). These additional delays further undermine the relationship fathers have with their children causing significant impact on the wellbeing of the child.

Middle class men in the non-custodial role find themselves in a potentially punitive position. “Partly it’s the child support tax. It’s the marginal tax they face. Keith Rankin (Rankin, 1999) studied it, of 60 to 70% with child support. …unless you earn well over the average wage your ability to have a second home is strictly limited” (Don).

One respondent pointed out that in many cases the mother was living off of the Domestic Purposes Benefit and as such was entitled to free or very cheap legal services. If the father is earning money and must supply their own funds for a lawyer this can leave him in a vulnerable position when court battles come up. The father may have to choose between assuming the costs and possible ensuing debt or lose access to the children.

Unemployed and working men are more vulnerable in access. They can find themselves in a position where they cannot afford the access and degree of custody they wish. “The reality is that if they are an access parent they may be having the children up to 40% of the time, two nights [and] three days. It’s still below that 40% threshold for care and they are paying substantial amounts… They pay full child support and pay double as they pay for the children while they have them. The reality is that for unemployed and low-income men that may not be possible. They cannot afford to have their children overnight” (Don).

Fathers with pre-school children are in weaker positions. “There is a belief pattern about pre-school children, that they need their mothers, that they are better in the care of their mothers than their fathers in most cases. That is a cultural assumption” (Don). This assumption based on gender again discriminates against the man. Delays in access affect younger children more. “You’re looking at a threshold of separation for a child who’s under two years, that’s a major trauma” (Don).

Often Anti-male bias is demonstrated by the use of comparison stories

“I see on a regular basis fathers become the respondent of a protection order. These are on subjective grounds. ‘I feel threatened, he’s been abusive to me, my doctor has given me Prozac because I’m under stress’. The court says ‘we’ll err on the side of caution and give you a protection order. You’re protected from the father; he’s not allowed anywhere around you or the children. He’s not allowed to phone, he’s not allowed to send presents’. And fathers do get arrested for sending Xmas cards. On the other hand, I’ve been to court and seen a father, who was subject to violence, and there were police witnesses. Police officers on the scene gave evidence that the mother assaulted the father with a pot of boiling water. The judge said this is terrible. She denied it. She had two officers giving evidence against her. She had his family testifying against her. The judge said the evidence is compelling, you’re guilty, but I won’t give you a conviction because that might interfere with custody and access with the children” (Aaron).

Sometimes it was generalised; “I’ve seen how hard it is for guys to get full custody if they think… the children are at risk with their mother. Normally if the mother is not… particularly safe with them the court will try and go more towards joint custody” (Aaron).

The impact of the perception of the experience of anti-male bias on fathers

The respondents agreed that men in the Family Court process perceived themselves to experience anti-male bias. Anger was a common theme. “A lot of the initial anger we see is based on the gender bias in the court system. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on with guys close to separation that is likely to generate some of that anger and frustration. And a lot of it has a lot to do with conflict with the ex-partner, which a fair hearing or an unfair hearing in the Family Court only exacerbates. Because there is this battleground and the battleground is seen to be not quite fair” (Brent).

The effect of the separation on the fathers

The emotional impact on fathers is claimed to be significant by the respondents. “Regardless of whether the wellbeing of the child is served by men being excluded there is still the emotional impact on men. This is one of the many factors in society resulting in men’s horrible health statistics” (Aaron).

The end result is too often that men give up and abandon further contact. “It seems that the lack of enforcement of access destroys the credibility of the courts. A lot of men will often at that point walk away and they’ll often be blamed for that. ‘This is costing me, and it’s not helping my children. I need to get on with my life'”(Don).

In New Zealand, as in overseas, men have organised to challenge the existing Family Court processes. “Men are getting together and doing lobbying to try to change things. They’ve moved on to try to effect changes, to help men in the future not have to experience what they experienced” (Brent).

Conclusions from this research

This report finds that a change in legislation is only part of what is required to address underlying anti-male bias. To create an environment that respects fathers in the role of caregiver (and conversely, mothers as providers), fathers in large numbers need to assume more of that role before a family breakdown.

They need to be perceived as caregivers, both by their children and by broader society so it is a normal thing for fathers to be appearing at pre-school with their children, dressing their children, to be seen wiping their children’s tears and to be seen to shed tears themselves over their children.

Recommendations

* That more training be provided in child development issues for the Counsel for Child with the hope of further helping them to understand the importance of input by the father, and the mechanisms of parental alienation syndrome.

* That research supporting and challenging the practice of shared parenting overseas be gathered for Family Court judges and other professionals involved in the Family Court with the aim of informing them on this approach.

* That research on fathers and their relationships with their children in the New Zealand context be carried out to address the comparative gap in knowledge that exists between fathers and mothers in this regard.

* That the Ministry of Education and WINZ conduct a review of their policies and behaviours around fathers who are separated from their partners.

* That the Ministry of Justice review the current arrest pattern of police in the event of domestic violence. This would be with the intention of addressing the discrepancy between research documenting offending by female partners and their resultant arrest/treatment rates.

* That publicity of the issue of domestic violence by women against male partners occurs with the intention of heightening public awareness of this issue. Education of men is critical to achieving this and support systems such as domestic violence hotlines for men would need to be established to support change.

* That the Family Court’s approach to privacy issues be reviewed recognising that the results of Family Court cases are of public interest, and that privacy has blocked public interest by making outside reviews of its operations difficult.

* That the current review of the Guardianship Act 1968 consider “friendly parent provisions” where custody or preferential conditions go to the parent who is likely to promote access and good relations. This would be with the intent to support co-operation between the separated parents.

* That the review continue with its tack of considering the approaches used overseas in England, Australia and the United States to create a system that is more equitable for the parents and provides the maximum benefit for the welfare of the child.

Donald Pettitt dontpet@paradise.net.nz

The full 52-page paper including references is available as a PDF file on our website here:

www.menz.org.nz/News archive/pettittreport.pdf [154KB pdf]

Middle-age Suicide

Middle-aged men are killing themselves because they cannot cope after relationship break-ups, Tauranga’s Coroner has revealed.

Commenting on the recent suicides of nine middle-aged men, Michael Cooney said although each case had its own circumstances, relationship break-ups emerged as a pre- eminent factor.

Mr Cooney said many women also attempted suicide, but were less likely to succeed.

Men often reached out for help but were ultimately unable to resolve the issues they faced, he said.

Mr Cooney said depression, coupled with alcohol and drug intake, was "certainly a feature". He was unsure whether such cases resulted from dual-diagnosis disease — where mental illness and addiction co-existed — or were attempts to alleviate the emotional distress caused by personal problems.

Police inquest officer, Senior Constable Wayne Hunter said there had been 11 suicides in Tauranga in the last two and a half months. All but two involved men

with an average age of 38, he said.

NZPA

One Less Fatherless Child

Recently I met a young man who was an expectant father.

Circumstances as they would have it, left the father and the mother living apart. A very insistent mother-in-law was doing everything possible to exclude the father, to the point that he did not know where the child was to be born until the last week.

With a little help he made himself present at the birth of his child.

Today this young man related to me his christening.

The child had not been sleeping well and the mother had become very tired. Last night he had taken care of his son so that the mother could sleep through the night. Father and son had a difficult night till finally at 5.30 am the little fellow finally succumbed to sleep. The father was not surprised, He said: “that formula stuff tastes horrible."

During the night the father had changed his son’s nappies. In the half light he was wiping the babies bottom, I assume at very close range, because at that instance he felt something warm running down the side of his face. He came to realise that his son had wet his head.

I am very humbled to have this father relate to me an intimate moment that might never have existed had he not received the encouragement and advice that was necessary to bring about the bond that now exists between this father and son.

That’s one less fatherless child in the next generation.

Bevan Berg

Separated Fathers Support Trust

PO Box 991 Manurewa

bigb@ihug.co.nz

Read About Us In June North & South!

Ten pages of solid investigation into claims of bias against fathers in the New Zealand Family Court reveal a significant problem.

Family Court of Injustice Buy a copy today!

Dear Men’s Centre,

I read about you in the latest North & South magazine and I just wanted to say that I, a teenage girl with no stake in this whatsoever, think what you’re doing is absolutely wonderful. I’m vastly impressed by the love and courage shown by fathers battling the courts for access to their children -it would have meant the world to me to know that my father cared enough about me to fight for me; that he didn’t hate me.

Thank you, for being proof positive that not all men are bastards.

Duchesse du jour.

Who are ‘we’ to vote for?

Please consider the following now, not after you vote. Men out there who have had their lives affected by current anti-male and anti-family social policies need to be clear about what it is they vote for in the next elections.

I do not think a single issue men’s party will gather enough support to achieve anything, given the fragmented nature of our associations. Men also have a propensity to grizzle about matters in the pub and then to shut up without taking action.

I have a record (yah ho!) of never having supported a winning party since I began voting in 1976. I have also never supported National or new right philosophies. What vaguely appeared a victory with my Green vote last time is now turning sour.

Greens are clearly tainted by the same radical/liberal feminist ideology that has served to create an anti-family NZ. ACT and their ilk (1984 new right) who seem to support us are responsible for creating much family misery through their economic directions and support of global economies.

If you vote for Labour or the Alliance you will get more of the same from Maharey, Harre, Wilson and that fine figure of womanhood Gordon, as well as "I’ll deal with gendered laws" Goff.

As for the multi coloured, man for all occasions, Winston Peters and NZ First, who knows?

So where does this leave us? If our hopes for the future include support and recognition of the family unit, perhaps we should be considering the likes of the Christian parties, a group that with our lobby faction may achieve the 5% threshold? I am not a church goer and have some problems with Christian condemnation of ‘sin’ and various views that in some perverse ways line up with those of the feminist PC and anti-fun brigades. However let’s see if there is a good connection here for those of us supporting the future of families as the basic unit of society.

Let’s get this debate going NOW.

Max Thomas

Social Equity Group

maxthomas@actrix.co.nz

Skip to toolbar