MENZ Issues January 2000 Volume 5 Issue 1
Another Prominent Judge Promotes Unequal Matrimonial Property Splits NZ Appeal Court Justice Ivor Richardson told an Australasian Family Courts Conference thatthe equal re-allocation of existing and usually limited assets at the time of separation often fails to produce true equality between the sexes.
Time-Use Survey “Flawed” Say Critics Feminist Marilyn Warring says the time use survey just released by the Ministry of Women”s Affairs provides information supporting the idea of unequal splitting of matrimonial property after a separation. The study however, has been criticised for it’s flawed methodology and conclusions.
Letter to the Prime Minister RE: Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill and De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill Dear Madam, We are concerned that the Government may attempt to pass the above Bills into law.
Criticism of OCC Suppressed Researcher Paul Callister submitted a paper to the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand criticising the Office of the Commission for Children for gatekeeping in the Fathers Who Care project. After months of discussion about required changes they finally reached an impasse over the publication of his paper in the journal, so Callister has published the paper on the internet.
The Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting Project: Does it matter that there was not a partnership in the research process? Does it matter that men, and especially fathers, played virtually no official role in planning the research, reviewing the literature, undertaking the data collection, interpreting the results and peer reviewing the findings? The title of the FWC project suggests that a partnership in parenting was being sought. It could have been reasonably expected that the researchers demonstrate this partnership in the research process rather than making one partner the subject of research of the other.
Father Hopes for Favorable Review After almost two years of full time work my ex partner decided that she would really rather be looking after her daughter. She resigned her position, a strategy designed to elicit a sympathetic response from the Family Court in response to her claim to become a sole parent. It was also a way of making herself eligible for legal aid to fight the custody battle. Ultimately the Court endorsed her actions. I do not think the Court would look as favorably on a father should he attempt to behave in a similar manner.
IRD Says No Child Support For Admin Letter from IRD to the Evening Post in reply to Katherine Asare”s article.
Father Unfairly Treated by TV3 As the programme disclosed considerable personal detail about George, and as this detail included serious allegations about aspects of his behaviour, the Broadcasting Standards Authority found that, in not giving George an opportunity to respond on these matters the broadcast was unfair, and in breach of standard G4.
Book review: The Decline Of Males by Lionel Tiger 1999. Men "fail to understand the implacably coercive breadth of what is in their faces."
Letter to MENZ I was totally devastated the day I left the Family Court. Unable to cope with what I had experienced, I sat in a chair for several hours not knowing what to think, what to do, or even how to begin to understand what had just happened to me.
Chairman”s Personal Vision of Men”s Centre North Shore Future I have a vision built from my needs during my time of crisis. I want to be part of an efficient organisation that will assist men / fathers to find themselves OK, powerful and strongly connected with their children, themselves, and their fellow males.
Photo: Protest at Auckland Family Court – Christmas Eve 1999.
Another Prominent Judge Promotes Unequal Matrimonial Property Splits
In October, NZ Appeal Court Justice Ivor Richardson told an Australasian Family Courts Conference that the 1976 Matrimonial Property Act is not always capable of achieving a just division. In a section of his presentation subtitled ‘The inequality of equal division’ he said:
"Problems arise because the equal re-allocation of existing and usually limited assets at the time of separation often fails to produce true equality between the sexes and economically handicaps the spouse with the lesser career prospects and primary responsibility for the care of the children of the marriage."
The Appeal Court has noted Government support for a review of the Act. They suggest that the review should look at:
Whether the partnership model adopted in the law is sufficient;
Balancing the requirement to obtain certainty with the need to ensure equity;
Re-examining the merit of the clean break principle and;
The desirability of resolving parties financial affairs by way of a property adjustment rather than periodic maintenance support.
Justice Richardson’s paper included an appendix which shows that awards for spousal maintenance are already being made by the Court. Here on the North Shore, Judge Green has ordered one man to pay his ex-wife $617 per week because her employment history had been disrupted by child-care responsibilities within the marriage. The ex-wife said she needed further qualifications and training to re-enter the workforce.
Richardson J supports his argument by referring to a judgement by Canadian Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dube (see MENZ Issues Dec 99), which cites numerous studies and statistical reports from North America documenting the economic effects of marriage breakdown on women. We can safely assume that this feminist Judge will not have included Sanford Braver’s study as reported in his 1998 book ‘Divorced Dads‘ (reviewed in MENZ Issues, May 99). When he factored in the tax code, Braver found that the financial effects of divorce are similar for both sexes, and may even favour the mother. In contrast, the Judge claims that whereas men tend to maintain or even increase their standard of living after divorce, women and children are more likely to slide into poverty.
The term inequality of equal division was referred to in a paper prepared by Warren Young and Caroline Bridge for the NZ Royal Commission on Social Policy in 1988. The Australian Family Court likewise is rejecting equal division of property because "experience shows it frequently does not result in equity of outcome."
The question Richardson J fails to address is the appropriateness of using the Judicial System to achieve ‘equity of outcome’ by forced transfers of wealth. In the Nov 1997 MENZ Issues we discussed an article by Cathy Young on ‘Feminist Jurisprudence’, where she pointed out that:
"The ideology of legal feminism today goes far beyond the original and widely supported goal of equal treatment for both sexes. The new agenda is to redistribute power from the "dominant class" (men) to the "subordinate class" (women), and such key concepts of Western jurisprudence as judicial neutrality and individual rights are declared to be patriarchal fictions designed to protect male privilege."
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that ‘equity of outcome’ is in fact a socially desirable goal, and that an individual person’s genetic heritage, educational achievements and lifestyle choices should be compensated for by the State. Many Men’s Centre members would be delighted if they thought they could expect to achieve an equitable outcome from the Family Court in terms of access and custody issues. Alas, it seems that in the eyes of the NZ Courts equity is something only applicable to women.
In the September 98 MENZ Issues we published the Men’s Centre Submission to the Select Committee on the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill 1998 and The De facto Property Amendment Bill 1998.
We told the Select Committee that we strongly endorse the stated principle “Equal Status For Women in Society” and pointed out that this is not consistent with the vastly unequal treatment women and men currently receive at the hands of the Family Court in regard to final custody orders. We submitted that this anomaly be corrected by the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill being extended to remove gender-bias regarding the custody of children.
We informed them that joint or shared custody is now the norm in many Western jurisdictions, and results in:
Improved welfare of children,
Dramatic lowering of the number of absent fathers,
Greater compliance in payments of child support,
Less workload for Family Courts because less incentive to argue,
Fewer sole parent families that need government support.
Time-Use Survey “Flawed” Say Critics
On December 15th, feminist Marilyn Warring was interviewed by Kim Hill about the release of a time use survey by the Ministry of Women”s Affairs, in partnership with Statistics NZ. Predictably, Warring claimed the survey provides information supporting the idea of unequal splitting of matrimonial property after a separation.
On the Ministry website (link) Warring says she regards this survey as the
"most sophisticated and conceptually advanced time use survey of all."
She wrote: "This will be the single most exciting information base established as a vehicle for change in my lifetime."
But as economist Stuart Birks says:
"The results are being distorted before the proverbial ink is dry. What is the real story?" On his website, (link) he outlines significant methodological problems with this survey. He is concerned that it aimed to show how much care-giving women do.
"Bunkle Talks Bunk", says FARE – the survey is merely an expensive propaganda exercise to justify ending the current policy of equal splitting of matrimonial property and make it generally unequal in favor of women." (more)
The NZ Father & Child Society put out a press release that said: "Divorced Dads Didn’t Count." They point out that "nearly a third of all fathers are non-custodial and the exclusion of their parenting work from the study means that the unpaid parenting work of two thirds of men has been averaged out to all men." (more).
Look for links to media reports here and to the survey results themselves (link)
Letter to the Prime Minister
FAMILIES APART REQUIRE EQUALITY INC (FARE)
RE: Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill and De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill
We are concerned that the Government may attempt to pass the above Bills into law.
Many of the groups providing support to families in New Zealand are concerned that the Bills were formulated without open public discussion. The Bills appear, amongst other things, to be vehicles for introducing more widespread unequal splitting of matrimonial property, replacing the preference for equal splitting of matrimonial property that has been in place since 1976.
There is a strong expectation in the community that there must be immediate introduction of preferential equal physical joint custody, given that preferential equal splitting of matrimonial property has now been in place for nearly a quarter of a century. If any attempt is made to introduce widespread unequal splitting of matrimonial property without first addressing preferential equal physical custody, a massive public backlash must be anticipated.
FARE asks that it be informed well in advance of any plans to further analyse or alter the above Bills, or to pass them into law. We also seek an immediate meeting with the minister responsible for the above legislation.
Bruce Tichbon, spokesman, FARE.
more on FARE here
Criticism of OCC Suppressed
In July 1999 researcher Paul Callister submitted a paper to the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand criticising the Office of the Commission for Children for gatekeeping in the Fathers Who Care project.
The journal is published by the new Ministry of Social Policy, which was previously part of the Social Welfare Department. The journal considered that the paper raised some important issues.
After months of discussion and a number of rewrites in reaction to suggested changes to the paper, further changes were suggested that Callister felt weakened the arguments.
MENZ Issues understands that the reasons for requiring these changes were purely political and that members of the OCC research team lobbied hard for the article not to be published at all. This is yet another worrying attempt at suppressing legitimate debate.
As they finally reached an impasse over the publication of his paper in the journal, Callister has published the paper on the Father & Child Trust’s [Now Fatherhood Foundation] website:
The Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting Project: Does it matter that there was not a partnership in the research process?
A summary of the paper follows this introduction.
It appears that the paper has been discussed behind the scenes and may have had some impact on thinking. MENZ Issues has heard that the OCC are considering hiring Professor James Ritchie from Waikato University to assess the project. This would be an interesting move because one of the arguments being put forward by the OCC why more men were not involved in the project is that they could not find suitable men – but they seem able to find one when needed. Presumably, given Ritchie’s long term commitment to promoting partnership between Maori and Pakeha he will understand the importance of partnership between men and women when studying fathers. We await his report with interest.
The Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting Project: Does it matter that there was not a partnership in the research process?
The Fathers Who Care Project
In 1995 the then Commissioner for Children, Laurie O”Reilly, with support from Save the Children Fund, initiated a research / advocacy project called Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting (FWC). The initiation of this project was in part influenced by the research on fatherlessness emerging from the United States but the project also emerged from a desire to develop ways of upholding the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and in particular article 18.
Parents have joint primary responsibility for raising the child, and the State shall support them in this. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.
Laurie O”Reilly, right up until his untimely death, was tireless in his promotion of the rights of children in New Zealand as well as promoting the benefits to children of having positive and involved fathers (O”Reilly 1997). It was largely due to his efforts that a fathers” forum took place in Christchurch in March 1998. However, in this paper I argue that the way in which he initially set up the FWC project was to prove problematic.
I attended the launch of the FWC project in 1995. At this launch I expressed my concern that while Laurie O”Reilly was the overall director of the Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC), there were no men actually involved in the research team, acting in advisory roles or even on the publicity team. I continued to make this point to various members of the research team throughout the research. At various stages of the project, a number of other individual men and fathers” groups expressed concern about the lack of involvement of men in the project (e.g. Father & Child 1998, MENZ Issues May 1998, Rowley 1999). The researchers were well aware of these concerns yet, over the four years of the project, and despite some turnover of research staff, it remained primarily a woman-only enterprise.
Does it matter that men, and especially fathers, played virtually no official role in planning the research, reviewing the literature, undertaking the data collection, interpreting the results and peer reviewing the findings? Similarly, would it matter in the late 1990s if a research project on mothers, such as the delivery of maternity services, involved almost only men? The title of the FWC project suggests that a partnership in parenting was being sought. It could have been reasonably expected that the researchers demonstrate this partnership in the research process rather than making one partner the subject of research of the other.
Identity Politics or Real Concerns in the FWC Project?
The concept that the gender, ethnicity and other characteristics of a research team might be important was not unknown to the researchers in the FWC project, many of whom have a long track record of research in New Zealand. For example, in the final report of the series, Kerslake Hendricks highlights the benefit of using the Bronfenbrenner "ecological" framework for research on children. She notes that "[t]his framework acknowledges the subjective interpretation of experiences and perspectives, and recognises the interactions occurring between individuals and their environment "(p.5). She goes on to quote one of the research advisors, noting that when researching the views of children that "the researcher”s age, gender and ethnicity might affect the children”s responses" (p. 14). She also acknowledges that her role may have affected responses from boys. When discussing why, at one school, no boys, but six girls, volunteered to take part in the project she says:
It is significant that so few boys initially volunteered to take part. This pattern was repeated at both schools and across both age-groups. Further research is indicated to explore why boys may be reluctant to take part in such discussions. For example, it is not known whether the subject matter (fathers), the process (group discussions), or the fact that the principal researcher was a woman were inhibiting factors (p. 74).
This conveys an acknowledgement that researchers” characteristics might have affected the responses of children in the discussion groups. However, despite criticism from some participants in the fathers” focus groups, there was no acknowledgment in the Julian (1998) report that having a female facilitator and, in most situations, also a female recorder might have influenced responses.
These are examples of how the collection of the data may have been affected by the composition of the research team. The following, drawn from the final report on children’s perspectives, provide examples of how the reporting of the results may have also been affected by the composition of the research team.
In this report there are sections on what makes a good fathers and what makes bad fathers. In addition, in the introduction comment is made that the voices of some children were not included. These were the children "whose relationships with their fathers have been affected by abuse or neglect" (p. 3). It is completely understandable that the issues of negligent and abusive fathers are raised. It is clear that not all fathers are good fathers.
However, in contrast, in all the reports the authors went to great lengths to say that an interest in fathers does not imply a criticism of mothers, and in particular sole mothers, and that any shift towards more support of fathers should not be at the expense of mothers. Few people would dispute that most mothers are good parents or many mothers need far more support than they currently receive. However, in much of the European literature on assisting fathers to become more positive and involved parents, particularly that which has been developed by mixed teams of researchers, a more realistic approach is taken to describing the roles of men and women in families and how both might adapt to change. For example, the European Commission Network on Childcare (1993: 4-5) notes:
Increased participation by men in the care of children means new roles, new identities and new relationships for men and women. Some women may not want change; many feel ambivalent.
At times, advocacy for a higher level of involvement of fathers in families will inevitably be seen by some women as disadvantaging them. For example, if joint custody was more common, this would generally reduce the amount of time mothers had with their children, so some women will resist this change. While there are a wide range of factors which inhibit men from taking a more active role in childcare, including many factors that are under their own control, international literature suggests women can assist or inhibit, through various gatekeeping behaviours, such change (e.g. Allen and Hawkins 1999, Burgess 1997, Doherty, Kouneski, and Erickson 1998).
The upholding of positive images of motherhood in the reports, tempered by the articulated need for a balanced view of fatherhood, is particularly surprising given the focus in national and international conventions on giving primacy to the welfare and rights of the child above the rights of either parent (e.g. United Nations, 1989). One of the roles of the New Zealand Office of the Commissioner for Children is to uphold such conventions.
Yet, even if there was no bias in the reports, if the target group of the research feel that they are marginalised in the research process then they may not take the results seriously no matter what the research says. A major aim of this project was to change male behaviour, so it would have been useful if individual men and men”s groups (who often work with men trying to change their behaviour) had felt that they had some real input into the research process.
Two overseas models of research on fathers
I now turn briefly to research on fatherhood undertaken in Sweden and Australia. These are projects that were developed with the primary objective of changing parenting behaviour.
In Sweden, there has been a long interest in promoting shared parenting and a number of initiatives have been launched to help try and achieve this goal. For example, the Government appointed a Working Party on the Role of Men in 1983. This working party, a mixed team of men and women, organised seminars, publications and projects (Ministry of Health and Social Affairs 1994).
The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (1995) also produced a book called Men on Men: Eight Swedish Men”s Personal Views on Equality, Masculinity and Parenthood. This book was part of the material Sweden produced for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Many of these writers were, in fact, quite critical about aspects of men”s lives, while also identifying various barriers to men”s greater involvement in childcare.
Many of the barriers are the same as those identified in New Zealand (Birks and Callister 1999) These include the Swedish equivalent to the family court as well as the attitudes of both mothers and fathers. However, of particular relevance in this collection is an article by Lars Gustafsson (1995) who, at the time, was Vice Chairman of the Swedish Save the Children Fund. As already noted, in the New Zealand context Save the Children Fund was a key sponsor of the FWC project. Gustafsson discusses ways to build bridges between men and women, which he sees as essential in supporting positive parenting by men. He was particularly concerned about male violence in families and wanted to find ways of reducing this. However, to do this he argues that men need their own voice, their own research and their own analysis. He notes that "research on men is just as important as research on women, and it should, primarily, be undertaken by men" (p. 64).
In Australia in January 1999 a report was published by the Department of Family and Community Services called Fitting Fathers into Families: Men and the Fatherhood Role in Contemporary Australia. (comment on report) The primary responsibility for this project was shared by Graeme Russell of Macquarie University and Lesley Barclay of the University of Technology, Sydney and had both men and women in the research team. Graeme Russell, in particular, has had a long history of research on fathers in Australia (e.g. Russell 1983, 1989). Unlike the FWC project the Australian study was put out to tender. This allowed researchers to put together teams they thought most appropriate for undertaking the research. The successful bidders felt it was critical to not only have a balanced team in terms of gender, but also academic discipline and location of research.
Given an increasing research and policy interest in the lives of men, it is important that there is a debate about the methodologies used for researching them. This will include establishing the situations where it is most appropriate to use a male-only team, the situations where a mixed team will provide the best results, and those where a women-only team might provide some useful insights. However, in general in research on men, and in particular on issues of shared parenting, I suggest that an “inclusive” approach to research is the most appropriate. The argument for inclusive research is especially strong when behavioural change amongst the group being researched is an anticipated and hoped for outcome of the research process. Target populations should generally be part of the research process, not just the subjects.
Photo: Warren Heap & Sons, Separated Fathers Support Trust Christmas Eve Family Court Protest 1999
The international research on fathers clearly shows that in order for fathers to be supported in new roles within families they need to be “included” in a range of institutions and institutional thinking. This can include such things as designing parenting rooms in shopping malls that are “friendly” to both mothers and fathers as well as printing gender-neutral resource material for parenting courses. European, American and Australian research on men and childcare also suggests that a key part of changing the behaviour of men and women is to provide role models at the level of individuals, families, workplaces, or research teams where more equal sharing has been achieved or is being seriously worked towards. The Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting project was not inclusive and the results of the research will have less impact on changing behaviours than if it had been.
The full version of this paper is here: (link)
Father Hopes for Favorable Review
An article from a new member who cannot be identified because of Family Court legislation:
In custody and access disputes it is a widely held belief that the New Zealand Family Court is guided by the principle of acting in the best interest of the child or children at the center of the disagreement. However I suspect that the Court philosophy is founded on a set of underlying cultural values which idealise the role of women as mothers and marginalise men”s position as fathers. These values portray women as naturally nurturing and men as inadequate providers of care, even a threat to the welfare of children. The Family Court reflects these fundamental beliefs by failing to make decisions that recognise men as successful nurturers of children or women as aggressive beings capable of harming their children directly or indirectly, physically or emotionally.
I became involved in the Family Court system when my ex-partner initiated proceedings to relieve me of the day to day care of our daughter. I was initially unconcerned. I had the day to day care of our child for the previous two years while her mother was working full time. I believed I was a good parent, and I wanted to carry on in a primary care-giver capacity which I was also providing for my older daughter from a previous relationship. I naively assumed that the Family Court would be loath to change my children”s well-established domestic situation and routines.
Although I considered my parenting abilities to be exemplary, my reputation was somewhat tarnished by the fact that I had on a couple of occasions been physically and verbally abusive towards my ex partner at the break up of our relationship. As she had also initiated and engaged in such behavior however, I presumed that the brief mutually-violent episode in our relationship would not be a major factor in determining the custody arrangements.
To my dismay the Court eventually decided on a shared custody arrangement that favored my daughter”s mother as the main provider of care. I was directed to attend Anger Management. Although I didn”t agree with the Court”s decision, I accepted it. It offered a respite from the conflict and tense emotional climate that had existed. I wasn”t surprised that the Court felt it had to address my violent behavior, but was confused as to why it ignored my ex partner”s contribution. Although I wasn”t prepared to accept the arrangements as being in the best interests of my daughter long term, before I returned to seek a review of the situation I felt I had to be seen to be responsive to the Court”s desire I address my violent behavior.
Three years on I am returning to the Family Court to seek a review of their Court orders. In preparation for what seems an inevitable courtroom conflict, I have been reading much about the origin of current family law and its practice, as well as psychological research on the effect of parental separation on children. I have also read commentaries on the nature of aggression and conflict and the effects it has on children. It appears there is awareness by researchers of growing popular disquiet about how the Family Court operates. Complaints from men unhappy about custody and access decisions are increasing. These complaints are validated by research that increasingly views a father”s and mother”s contribution as equally valuable towards producing a "healthy" child in the short term and a "successful" adult in the long term.
Psychologists and social researchers are cautiously adding their voice to the call for a presumption of joint shared custody after marital break-up. A growing number of prominent individuals have been prepared to publicly reclaim the status of fathers and father”s groups are forming to support men who have made the choice to care for their children. Taken together, this represents a substantial body prepared to question the assumptions on which the Family Court makes its decisions. More positively, it provides encouragement to men to value themselves as fathers to the benefit of their children, and ultimately the benefit of all children and society as a whole.
Few would challenge the Family Court”s guiding principle of acting in the best interests of the child. However many dispute that the best interests of the child are currently being served.
Mr M.P.M. Richards, member of the Child Care and Development Group, University of Cambridge, argues that the current adversarial approach which "encourages parents to display their skill in being economical with the truth as they try to reduce the moral standing of their erstwhile spouse" is woefully inappropriate in deciding custody disputes.
He acknowledges that in deciding a case, the welfare of the child should be foremost. He says:
"But instead of seeing this as a moveable feast, able to encompass a very wide range of judicial and social work prejudice about the moral worth of parents and the supposed benefits of conventional living arrangements, we should regard it more narrowly in terms of the quality of the relationship with both parents. In a straightforward dispute over custody where both parents are able to provide a reasonable living situation there would seem to be only one logical principle to use. To ensure that the children”s main home is with the parent most likely to foster and maintain the relationship with the other parent and indeed the wider family of grandparents and other relatives."
Richards also argues for a policy of a presumption of joint custody:
"It is not enough to treat joint custody as a consolation prize for a well behaved father – it should become a public expression of the role we expect all parents to play after divorce."
This call for a change in perceptions of the role of fathering and advocacy for a different approach in determining the best living situation for children after separation is also expressed by Australian Barrister Michael Green QC. In his book “Fathers After Divorce” (reviewed in Dec99 MENZ Issues), he argues for the adoption of what he calls the “friendly parent” principle. Expanding on Richard”s emphasis on extended family to include a consideration of the child”s social relationships, school and friends and their extra curricular activities, Green also goes further:
"Where one parent demonstrates and inability or unwillingness to allow the children to maintain relationships with both parents and when the other parent is reasonable there is a good case for making the latter the custodial parent."
I believe the friendly parent concept should be applied to all custody and access disputes. In their recent article “Making decisions about children after parental separation,” NZ psychologists Fred Seymour and Jan Pryor reached the conclusion that relationships with both parents should be maintained after separation and note that a recent review, showed
"the majority of studies, which have compared the impact on children of sole-mother and sole-father custody, have found few or no differences".
They also say that there is little evidence to support the notion that access and custody decisions based on the sex of the child are salient for the child”s outcome. They concur with Richards that parents should be educated about a child”s need to have ongoing relationships with both of them. They quote Richards” approach to solving custody/access disputes in the conclusion to their article. This suggests that his approach and hence Michael Green”s “friendly parent” principle are worthy of greater judicial consideration.
Seymour and Pryor”s research suggest other factors such as economic stability, the parents psychological contentment, and the containment or reduction of parental conflict as the main contribution to the long term well being of a child affected by parental separation.
In my case, the “right to mother” was put ahead of my child”s right to have the continuity of care she had been receiving for the previous 2 years, a time acknowledged by psychologists as important in forming trusting bonds between adults and children. Before the custody dispute my daughter”s mother had been working full time while I had her day to day care. After approximately a year of full time work my ex partner applied for and got a new more lucrative position which she held for approximately 12 months before deciding that she would really rather be looking after her daughter. Rather than apply for custody while still working she resigned her position.
I believe this was a strategy designed to elicit a sympathetic response from the Family Court in response to her claim to become a sole parent. It was also a way of making herself eligible for legal aid to fight the custody battle. Ultimately the Court endorsed her actions. I do not think the Court would look as favorably on a father should he attempt to behave in a similar manner. More importantly however was that as a result of the Court”s decision my daughter went from having a mother in full-time work with high social status and relatively high income to having a mother with low income and low social status. The Family Court didn”t entirely take the day to day care of our daughter from me. I still had her 2 days in 5, and whilst I was relieved of her care I was still responsible for the care of her sister. How could Counsel for child endorse and Family Court Judge order a second rate childcare option that interrupted the care my daughter was receiving? Why did they separate my two children from each other for significant periods of time and give priority to the mother child relationship over the parenting bond I had established?
I believe the status of mother as primary care giver is revered by the Family Court and not easily challenged. What about my daughter”s other family and social relationships – were they important in deciding the final outcome? The relationship with her sister, large extended family and friends counted for little. The application of Green”s friendly parent principle should have seen the balance of care remain with me. It is my hope that in a review of the custody arrangements that these relationships will be given greater consideration.
Perhaps at some level the balance of my daughter”s care was taken from me because I am a “violent” man and hence suspicion hangs over my ability to be a good parent. On the face of it a reasonable consideration. The issue of violence was certainly raised in the Court hearing. I was required to attend anger management counseling. I believe that her Honor the Judge acted appropriately in recommending this. What concerned me though was the judge”s uneven application of her powers. Evidence was before the Court that acknowledged violent behavior by both parties. Yet by treating us differently, I believe she demonstrated the gender-biased belief that male aggression is more serious that female aggression, that male violence is an expression of oppressive masculine power and female violence an expression of feminine powerlessness. Just as she overvalued the role of mother and devalued the role of father.
The judge”s punishment of my violent behavior while ignoring my ex partner”s reflects a social conditioning that trivializes and excuses female aggression. In her book “When She Was Bad, Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence” (reviewed here) Patricia Pearson takes a frank look at the issue of domestic violence. She says:
"The majority of couples embroiled in intimate power struggles engage in a spectrum of violent acts, which women are statistically as likely as men to initiate!"
Pearson explores the nature of direct and indirect female initiated aggression and demonstrates how Western societies deny its seriousness or seek to excuse it by a series of syndromes that turn female victimisers into victims, not fully responsible for their actions. Male aggressors however are rarely seen as victims themselves or not responsible for their behavior.
Australian commentator Bettina Ardnt says:
"Insight into the cause of male violence is seen as offering men excuses for their behavior. No excuse – never – ever is the slogan used to apply to men, while women are seen as eternal victims of their damaging environments."
The application of the Domestic Violence Act and recent comments by senior Family Court judges would suggest that similar strident attitudes prevail in the NZ Family Court system.
While resorting to violence can never be justified, a narrow focus on physical violence should not blind the Court from examining the wider issue of aggression that contributes to the conflict between parents and so seriously impacts on the well-being of children. It is particularly important to consider the use of indirect aggression, defined by psychologists as a
"Kind of social manipulation where the aggressor manipulates others to attack the victim or, by other means makes use of the social structure in order to harm the target person without being personally involved in the attack. The Family Court system itself can become a powerful instrument of abuse against an ex partner."
False sexual abuses allegations are another obvious example of indirect aggression. Michael Green writes:
"Very few people understand the pain suffered by a devoted father (not to mention the effect on the children) whose ex wife uses the children as a weapon to “punish” him for leaving home, or simply as an exercise of power. For him access becomes a hopeless impossible frustrating mess".
Pearson offers some insight into how women can justify such behavior and perhaps why the Family Court is reluctant to confront this kind of systemic abuse. The effect of cultural explanations for individual behavior tilts women toward an interpretation of themselves as fundamentally innocent. What they do (what we all do) is to equate powerlessness with innocence. In acts of violence, this is not only an expedient, but also a necessary means of self-justification.
Female writers like Pearson & Ardnt are challenging the notion that women are perpetual victims of abusive male power. Their preparedness to recognise and describe female patterns of aggression will lead to a more informed discussion of violence and conflict as it affects intact and separated families even though it might appear to represent an attack on the status of women as natural nurturers.
Increasingly, as women leave the nurturing role either by choice or economic circumstance, men as fathers are expected to contribute more to the psychological and practical needs of their children. The Family Court is slow to recognise the contribution that some men make in order to provide the best for their children. When I first approached my lawyer in regard to the custody issue I felt confidant that the Court would recognise my commitment to my children. I had looked after my eldest daughter since she was born and was proving the same high degree of care for my second daughter. My lawyer was right to warn me against expecting validation from the Court [none was forthcoming]. My choice to care for my children was in the end secondary to the mother”s right to nurture.
I am beginning to get a sense that my efforts are valuable through the statements of others prepared to declare the worth of men as fathers and celebrate fatherhood. Statements by the current Governor General, and the recent forums on fatherhood are sending very public messages that the role of fathers is important.
Men”s groups offering encouragement to fathers engaged in the nurture of their children and providing a male point of view on issues and legislation affecting men and their children are increasing in number and becoming more vocal. They are prepared to challenge what for them is an unacceptable status quo in the Family Court system.
I hope the combined efforts of these people and their advocacy of fathers” rights will lead to a favourable review of the custody arrangements that affect my children. I hope the Family Court will follow its guiding principle of acting in the best interests of the children I love. So far, I have been disappointed.
IRD Says No Child Support For Admin
Letter from IRD to the Evening Post in reply to Katherine Asare”s article (quoted in Oct-Nov 99 MENZ Issues) – published the next day.
Katherine Asare”s article in Friday Forum "Parents divided into winners and losers", incorrectly states that the "vast majority of (child support payments) goes to the state and very little goes direct to the mother", and further, that "the state uses up more than a third of (money paid by liable parents) in administration costs.
On the contrary, the full amount of money paid to Inland Revenue Child Support by the liable parent is paid to the custodial parent, unless the custodial parent is a beneficiary. In this case the payments are paid to the government to help meet the cost of any benefit paid. None of this money is diverted to cover Inland Revenue Child Support administration costs.
The child support scheme – in place since 1992 – provides an efficient means of assessing (by means of statutory formula) and collecting child support from liable parents and distributing that money to custodians for the benefit of the children. The service is provided free of charge for all parents and serves as an alternative to the former costly court process. There are around 419,000 customers and 280,000 children currently involved in the scheme.
At the end of June 1998 over 88,000 paying parents still owed $166 million in Child Support payments. Since Inland Revenue began administering the scheme the overall collection rate has increased to 90% – up from 34% under the previous administration.
Liable and custodial parents can however appeal the formula assessment using the Administrative Review process. This is a free and informal process conducted by an independent person experienced in law who can alter the assessment taking into account any special "special circumstances" affecting either the custodial parents” ability to support the child(ren) or the liable parents” ability to pay. Since 1994 there have been over 11,000 review decisions. A party not satisfied with a review decision may seek a departure order through the Family Court. Since 1994 only 65 applications have been made to the court, of which 42 decisions have been upheld.
Underpinning the policy behind the legislation is the principle that just because parents separate, their financial obligations to their children do not end there.
Inland Revenue Child Support”s current advertising campaign aims to encourage parents to continue to meet their children”s financial needs after separation
National Advisor, Inland Revenue Child Support.
Father Unfairly Treated by TV3.
On 15th November, the Broadcasting Standards Authority upheld a complaint by Bruce Tichbon that an Australian father called ‘George’ was treated unfairly, in breach of standard G4 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The programme "Prisoners of Law", broadcast on 20/20, TV3 Sun 13th June 99, examined the situation of ‘Emma’, a NZ woman who is required by an order of the Australian Court to live in Sydney to maintain custody of her three-year-old son. The item explained that because the boy had been born in Australia, the Hague Convention required him to stay living in close proximity to his father. He was allowed access to his dad from Monday morning till Tuesday evening each week. One changeover was secretly filmed and sound recorded for the programme.
As it was apparent that the father had not been informed by TV3 that he was being filmed, and was not given the opportunity to answer the remarks that Emma and her family made, Mr Tichbon complained that the item lacked balance. Noting that the parents were in a highly adversarial relationship, he contended:
"All three points of view must be presented to achieve balance, impartiality and fairness under these circumstances, and this can only mean talking to all parties or allowing agents for all parties (especially in the case of the boy Dylan) to address the controversial issues raised."
Mr Tichbon continued:
" George in these transcripts, is variously accused of having rejected his child, not paying for him, unfairly taking money from Emma, and using severe psychological tactics against Emma. These and other statements are highly controversial, and no opportunity is provided for George or anyone else to answer them. They are also very damaging public statements for Dylan, because George is his father. They are not adequately answered or balanced by brief statements in other parts of the item that George is a good father."
Mr Tichbon pointed out that although it was reported that Emma (who had broken International Law by fleeing Australia) had spent $35,000 on legal bills, it was not revealed how much her actions had cost George. He also wrote:
"It was cynical, unbalanced and unfair for TV3 to not interview George, yet to film and sound record him and Dylan at the hand over at Blacktown Station….These actions are a violation of George’s rights and Dylan’s rights and welfare as a child."
Mr Tichbon concluded:
"The real public policy issue underlying this item seems to be the right of the custodial parent to live where she pleases, taking the children with her. Australia has adopted policies that more strongly favour children having contact with both divorced parents, compared to New Zealand. The item seemed to argue in favour of the NZ policies and against the Australian policies. The item would have done the NZ public a great service if it had explained these policy issues and differences.
In its defence, TV3 said the reason they did not question George was because of Emma’s concern about the possible impact it might have on future proceedings. They said the purpose of the story was not to examine the minutiae of the case or the rights and wrongs of the Hague convention, but to look at how an expatriate mother and her son had been affected and constrained by a law they knew nothing about. They claimed that in regard to Mr Tichbon’s claim that there is a difference between NZ and Australian policies, similar rulings restraining the movements of parents are made in this country every week.
The BSA ruled:
"As the programme disclosed considerable personal detail about George, and as this detail included serious allegations about aspects of his behaviour, the Authority finds that, in not giving George an opportunity to respond on these matters the broadcast was unfair, and in breach of standard G4…It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint…Having considered the submissions, the Authority is of the opinion that this is not a case which calls for a penalty."
Book review: The Decline Of Males
by Lionel Tiger 1999
The author of this book is the Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He has written nine previous books including ‘Men in Groups‘ (1969), which developed the idea of male bonding. In his latest work, he discusses the unprecedented change in our social structure over the last few decades, and argues that the most basic cause of these changes is the spread of effective contraception. Women now have total control over reproduction, and men have been marginalized, having no way of even knowing whether a women is fertile or not. This leads to widespread withdrawal by men from family systems, with the government being forced to take their place as provider. Tiger calls this new family system “bureugamy”.
Tiger discusses the situation in Israel where cases of women deliberately getting pregnant without informing the man have become so common that a support group “Father Against Their Will Association” has been formed. He says "We are embarking on a social change as important as the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture, or from agriculture to industry. It is a shift from male-centred production to female-centred reproduction."
The impact of the contraceptive pill cannot be overemphasised, argues Tiger. He points out that it was only after the pill became available that pressure for liberal abortion intensified worldwide. He suggests the likely reason is that once men could not be certain the pregnancy was theirs because they can no longer know when woman is fertile, they became more likely to abandon the relationship rather than take part in an old-fashioned “shotgun wedding”. He advances the theory that the decline of male sperm counts in industrialised countries may be related to the chemically pregnant status of large numbers of pill-using women, and discusses fascinating research he took part in during the 1970s which studied the impact of chemical contraception on the sexual behaviour of stumptail macaque monkeys. This leads into a discussion of pheromones, hormones, neurotransmitters and their interaction with human sexuality. He maintains:
"New female-controlled contraception has had enormous consequences for the central social relationship of our species. Women have gained control. Men have lost it."
In his argument that the “Gender Gap” is fundamentally biological rather than political, Tiger places rather less emphasis on the effects of radical feminist activism than would many of us in the men”s movement. He does point out the contradictory nature of feminist literature. On one hand, it denigrates masculinity, and strongly objects to any notion that gender differences are natural and recurrent. On the other, many feminist writers claim that the genders are basically different and that women are naturally superior.
As a mainstream anthropologist, this author is in no doubt about the basic differences between males and females. He notes that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder Curiously, he uses an outdated term instead of ADHD, which includes hyperactivity. He says:
"This may simply mean they enjoy large-muscle movements and assertive actions, just as males in the other primate species do. Boys as a group appear to prefer relatively boisterous [what an appropriate word ] and mobile activities to the sedate and physically restricted behaviour which school systems reward and to which girls seem to be more inclined."
Tiger says the use of tranquillising drugs such as Ritilan is scandalous, and that the only disease these boys have is being male. He believes "the androgyny initiative was more a sign of sentimental sexual politics than of legitimate science."
The author paints a gloomy picture of the male condition. He says " The male is becoming such a problem for everyone that in the future, in societies willing and able to control such matters, he will be lucky even to be born."
He is unduly hard on divorced men at times, claiming that "countless fathers pay no child support." In his book “Divorced Dads – Shattering the Myths” (reviewed here), Sanford Braver showed that a high proportion of working divorced fathers paid regular support.
Tiger also uncritically quotes Lester Thurow writing in the New York Times that if fathers "abandon their family responsibilities, their income jumps by 73 percent." Braver”s figures on the other hand, show that economically, fathers and mothers on average fare almost exactly equal about one year after divorce, both quite close to their pre-divorce levels. The 73 percent figure will be uncannily familiar to readers of chapter four of Braver”s book.
Even if you don”t always agree with Tiger”s interpretations or analysis however, there is an overwhelming preponderance of persuasive argument that men are becoming a second-class gender. Tiger says men are currently enduring illusion, that they just don”t get it, and that they "fail to understand the implacably coercive breadth of what is in their faces."
In the 21st century, he suggests there should be an emphasis on "fostering a set of ideas and styles of cordiality so that men and women have ways of mediating their real ancient and new differences as groups. They will do better without the acrimony and the self-righteousness of the First World Gender War. A truce and then a peace are desirable. These are, after all, two groups that often willingly, even eagerly, exchange enormous physical intimacy, to say nothing of sharing nests together for decades on end."
Christina Hoff Sommers says this book will "change the discourse on sexual politics."
Letters to MENZ
In response to Jim’s article in MENZ Issues Oct-Nov 99.
So many questions, and to give you answers I think I will just talk about my own situation.
I was totally devastated the day I left the Family Court. Unable to cope with what I had experienced, I sat in a chair for several hours not knowing what to think, what to do, or even how to begin to understand what had just happened to me. I value personal experiences and interpersonal relationships very highly. The emotional sentence the Family Court issued me and my children, the total disregard for my experiences, my feelings, my opinions, and my situation, and the lack of natural justice was something I could not believe existed in my country. Yes, I did my 12 consecutive weeks “Anger Management”, but still you need to understand this about men – hurt me and hurt my children to get at me and one day I might just explode.
Photo: "I’m Grieving for my Kids" says the banner this father is carrying. Protest outside the North Harbour Family Violence Prevention Project Sept. 1999.
It is not what I desire, it is just that I am human. The Family Court is a disgusting and evil place that allowed her to perpetrate her crime, listened intently to her lies, and allowed her to feel justified.
It took me three months, of which I spent many nights alone in a dark lounge trying to figure out where I had gone wrong, What made me a criminal of this modern society, who was not fit even to have contact with his children?
In the end it came done to one question: how will my children suffer most? By not having a father, or by being abused by their mother for having a relationship with their father?
The only good thing about going to anger management was that I meet a father in anguish who handed me a copy of MENZ Issues. Feeling lost, socially deficient, off beat, I humbled myself and reached out for some help.
The last four weeks have been an experience of listening and learning and meeting people just like me, and hey guess what? – I”m not a criminal, I’m not socially deficient, I am not different or off-beat, I’m just a good old dad who like many others was put through the Family Court circus hoops, by a misguided Judge who must believe he is doing society a favour, otherwise his conscience wouldn’t allow him to sleep at night. The men’s group has been extremely important to me in acknowledging my belief structure, showing acceptance of who I am, and giving me the strength to move on.
At a recent meeting I attended I saw another man hurting, even more than what I had. He had seen himself as a failure as a father, so he devalued fatherhood so it had no importance in his life. To replace what he had lost he gave the limited friendship he has with his children a value greater than fatherhood. These are difficult times in a troubled world. In any war there will be casualties, victims, winner and losers.
Even if I am an idealist I can not agree with anyone who devalues fatherhood. My hope is that the strength of the Men’s Center might help acknowledge what has been lost, accept its true value and start to rebuild from what little is left. This is where I must start too.
There are two things I need.
Support so I can understand what has happened to me, know that my belief structure is acceptable and help to move on and try to get back what I have lost.
I need to join the fight against this tyranny. I need to see some justice for the crime that has been perpetrated against me by the Family Court. I need to see some change so that other men who are good fathers are not hurt and lost to a wilderness of disbelief and shame.
I think it is important to have two distinct structures so there can be no confusion between those that help men in anguish and those that fight
for political change. There will be many who will attack our politics. The first casualty of war is truth, let us be sure that the lies do not destroy
what has already been built, and the good that has been done. In time what we do have may become an alternative. Wouldn’t it be a victory if men in the Family Court were referred to the nearest Men’s Center rather than an anger management course?
Yes I have a passion – to win back my right to be a father to my children. To retrieve what has been stolen from me. Injustice breeds anger.
How can I not be angry? I will not waste my anger, nor will I add just my voice of complaint. I want to make a commitment to make a change.
Will you do the same?
Chairman“s Personal Vision of Men”s Centre North Shore Future
Most Men come into Men”s / Fathers” groups at a time of crisis.
I have a vision built from my needs during my time of crisis. I want to be part of an efficient organisation that will assist Men / Fathers to find themselves OK, powerful and strongly connected with their Children, themselves, and their fellow Males, regardless of any other party”s power and control issues.
We must also restore the Paternal and Male Mentor back into our society urgently. This includes lobbying for Law, Social Policy, and Society changes for the betterment of Paternal influence in Families and the return of the Male Mentor in society.
FAMILY = 50%FATHERHOOD + 50%MOTHERHOOD
FAMILY = MOTHER – FATHER
This last equation is the one currently endorsed through the daily workings of our social policies and Family law.
Combining “caring for Men” and “lobbying for Men”s Rights” in one organisation is a way to gain balance in perspective, emphasis, and vision.
HEALTHY SOCIETY = 50%MENS RIGHTS + 50%WOMENS RIGHTS
SOCIETY = WOMENS RIGHTS – MENS RIGHTS
This last equation is currently endorsed by our Family Law and Social Policies. Government and Local Body funding for health and community projects also endorse it.
Let us build an organisation that:
- Will respond to Men”s needs in a way that honours their Maleness, their desire to Father, their desire to Male Mentor in our society.
- Will offer safety and solace to Men and their Children.
- Has a powerful lobby for change in society, Law and Social Policy for the betterment of the Paternal and Male Mentor.
- Has funding independent of outside controls, and a large financial membership.
- Will encourage MENZ Issues to grow its distribution.
- Will encourage the use and growth of its website.
- Offers Men personal growth.
- Offers professional specialised Men”s health i.e. GPs, Psychologists, Counsellors, a Gymnasium.
- Maintains a healthy respect for Women.
- Owns refuges for Men and their Children.
- Has access changeover facilities.
- Has a Childcare facility.
- Has 4 / 5 meetings every week. Meetings that concentrate on: Newcomers, Information, Fathering, Male esteem building, Growth and Lobbying.
- Owns purpose built buildings to house its vision.
- Pays its dedicated workers, consultants, and contractors so that their income needs are fully met. So that they have the money to grow, stay healthy, be Fathers, be Husbands and Male Mentors in our society.
Remember that this is not the vision of MCNS, it is still my personal vision. It is presented to stimulate a collective vision to be gained from all members and meet all of our diverse needs.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION?
Have it published, contact the editor today.
Diary today to be at VISION BRAINSTORM 2000 Saturday 22nd April.
Please make sure your subs are paid. This day will be for financial members only. Be prepared to think about ways the constitution may be fine tuned to cope with 2000 and beyond and to elect a special purpose committee to present a fine tuned constitution to the members at a latter date. Be prepared to vote in, be part of and supportive to a bigger Management team.