MENZ Issues June July 2001: Volume 6, Issue 4
Family Courts Handicapped by Misinformation I recently attended a closed, secret meeting with Family Court Lawyers, to hear an address by Julia Tolmie on the threat from the “Father’s Rights Movement”. I was appalled at the degree to which fatherhood was condemned; the degree of consensus on the need to remove fathers from families; and the one- sided, purpose built research used to justify this.
New Zealand Father’s Union Formed Men have been fighting the Court and other institutions as individuals for the twenty years the court has been in existence and they have been picked off one at a time. We need a new strategy. We have gone about as far as we can as individuals. Ultimately, we aim to have Union of Fathers offices throughout New Zealand with paid staff to serve fathers’ interests.
Join the Family Court Protests! The first official reaction came on 17th July when a policeman told protesters that anyone across the road from the Court would be arrested.
Spinning the Feminist Line Julia Tolmie, a Senior Lecturer in Law at Auckland University who has published extensively on Battered Woman Syndrome and Father’s Rights Groups, spoke to an invited group of Family Court Psychologists and Specialist Report Writers on her research into Australian Father’s Rights Groups. The meeting was organised by psychologists Gail Ratcliffe and Susan Blackwell.
Judge Mahony’s Secret Meeting with Select Committee On 16th May, Principal Family Court Judge Patrick Mahony appeared before the Social Services Select Committee. He was heavily criticised in the media for insisting the press be excluded. MENZ Issues has obtained a transcript of his memorandum.
Father’s Complaint to Judicial Lay Observer Rejected The first complaint to the new judicial complaints lay observer Sir John Robertson has failed. Wellington father Craig Jackson told the Evening Post (13th June) that Sir John has compromised his independence by siding with the judiciary.
Call for Inquiry Into Family Courts Alleged injustices to men and children, first exposed in the recent North and South article on the Family Courts have galvanised pressure groups around the country to now call for a Commission of Inquiry chaired by an overseas Judge into the workings of the Family Court.
Support for Court Simon Maude, Deputy Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, said in a recent media release (20th July): “We are very disturbed by the current campaign to disparage the whole Family Court system. Stopping Violence Services also deny there is a problem. “The Family Court in particular has recently been subject to ill informed attacks,” says Executive Officer Paul Prestidge.
Knowing the Enemy – Extreme Feminism In March 2000 Minister of Women’s Affairs Laila HarrÃ© released a briefing which claimed Murial Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill was unlikely to improve child welfare. What the Ministry of Women’s affairs didn’t advise the government is that the report they refer to is extremely biased. In the ‘Current Controversies’ section of Nuance Journal No.2, a paper by Australian lawyer Michael Green QC, points out some of the report’s shortcomings.
Canadian Divorce Lawyers Seek Changes The Canadian Bar Association is pushing for sweeping divorce reforms, including empowering judges to deal with non-custodial parents who fail to keep up their relationship with their children post-divorce, and forcing all divorcing couples to take parental education before they can fight about their kids in court.
PANIC – Parents Against Negative Intervention by CYFS Last year saw the formation of a new group in Palmerston North to support parents whose children are in the care of CYFS. The April – May edition of the organisation’s newsletter says that the new Wanganui coordinator received over 150 phone calls from troubled parents following four full-page articles in the Wanganui Chronicle in April.
Welfare Agency Plan Pointless "The grandiose sounding new plan for the Department of Child, Youth and Family is a pointless waste of time and money that will do little to stop child abuse", FARE spokesperson Darryl Ward said today. (13th June)
War on the Family A close examination of the reports issued by U.N. committees monitoring the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Woman (CEDAW) shows that these committees are pushing an agenda that counters traditional moral and social norms regarding the family, marriage, motherhood, and religion.
Stay of Proceedings Lifted In 1998 a Men’s Centre North Shore member made an application to the Family Court for a review of the Custody Orders concerning his daughter. After matters dragged on for over a year, Judge Jan Doogue made an Order that the father’s application should be stayed and that no further application might be bought without leave of the court. We understand that this decision has subsequently been referred to in several other cases where a stay of proceedings has been ordered. In April of this year the father successfully applied to the Auckland Family Court for leave to seek a re-definition of the arrangements for the care of his daughter.
The Family Court Of Injustice Poem by Father of Baby M
Family Courts Handicapped by Misinformation
Letter published in Shore News1st August 2001.
The Family Court has the appearance of a Court of Collusion rather than of Justice, as a result of its secrecy. The calls for secrecy come only from the Judiciary, not from the children or their families.
The recent letter from Family Court Lawyers suggests that normal rules of justice should be cast aside because this Court "is not a Criminal Court".
Criminal charges are often involved, and fathers are sentenced to anger management, and the fates of families decided based only on malicious allegations.
Due process of justice should not be set aside for the justice of the lynch mob in this most important of Courts. The lawyers paint a reassuring picture of the nice judge and the nice lawyers all working (or colluding) together for the good of the children- as determined by them.
At Men’s Centre North Shore we find that fathers who represent themselves frequently achieve better outcomes for their children than fathers who employ lawyers.
Fathers are prepared to put their case strongly, and to challenge false information, and question the so-called professionals- the report writers and social workers. It took a father, representing himself, (I am not allowed to name the case because of privacy!) to show that the accepted practice of awarding custody to one parent, when there are two fit and willing parents, is in breach of the Guardianship laws, and is legally kidnap! His argument was upheld by the judge, and should serve as a guide in future cases. [refer to MENZ Issues Nov-Dec 2000, page 2]
Many cases hinge on supposedly independent and impartial reports by “professionals”. The reputation of CYFS speaks for itself. The specialist report writers claim to be impartial, and independent. However, I recently attended a closed, secret meeting with Family Court Lawyers, to hear an address by Julia Tolmie on the threat from the “Father’s Rights Movement”.
I was appalled at the degree to which fatherhood was condemned; the degree of consensus on the need to remove fathers from families; and the one- sided, purpose built research used to justify this.
If these people were independent and impartial as they claim, they would also hold seminars on "Radical Feminism" and refer to the huge body of reputable research available through the father’s and parent’s movements throughout the world.
The ‘professionals’ are in denial of the facts that –
A Women carry out child abuse.
B The safest place for a child can be with the protection of their natural father.
At Men’s Centre North Shore we deal with the tragic fall-out of these cases – not only men and fathers but increasing numbers of mothers and grandparents. We provide practical help, not indoctrination.
The court acts as if a woman owns her children, and she alone can dispose of them at her whim.
In the 20 years that the Family Court has existed, New Zealand has progressed from a great place to raise children, to a child abuse hell.
New Zealand has a future- it is with open family courts, return of due legal process, presumption of equal shared parenting, and dismantling of the multi- million dollar father removal industry.
John Brett, spokesman,
Men’s Centre North Shore
New Zealand Father’s Union Formed
Men have been fighting the Court and other institutions as individuals for the twenty years the court has been in existence and they have been picked off one at a time. We need a new strategy. We have gone about as far as we can as individuals.
The Union of Fathers has a clear strategy that will roll out in stages as resources are accumulated. The first step is to fund a full time lobbying and media office in Wellington led by Bruce Cheriton.
Membership building over the first six months will be a priority as it not only funds activities but it gains the attention of politicians. We need to draw in everyone – and we mean everyone – who has an interest in this cause and show key political influencers we are serious about demanding change and we have the numbers and resolve to back what we say.
The Union of Fathers has defined 15 tasks and is now looking for Task Leaders capable of pulling together people from around the country and driving that task to fulfillment.
Ultimately, we aim to have Union of Fathers offices throughout New Zealand with paid staff to serve fathers’ interests.
For more information contact: Union of Fathers National Office, Wellington
Bruce Cheriton – National Director Tel:04 232 7359
For media assistance contact: Darrell Carlin (021) 709 907 or (07) 574 7411
Join the Family Court Protests!
Photo: Protesters at Auckland Family Court 24th July 2001
Protests continue every Tuesday at midday at the Auckland Family Court in Albert St.
The first official reaction came on 17th July when a policeman told protesters that anyone across the road from the Court would be arrested. He said: "a member of the public" had complained that "a weird person" was disturbing the peace.
Supposedly, Police were concerned that protest supporters might get confused and think that a counter protest was happening. "Someone might decide to throw a punch", and then "violence could break out". (See photo here ).
Spinning the Feminist Line
Last year, a 29A report from a Family Court psychologist suggested a man should not have custody of his son because he belonged to a father’s support group whose “members are murderously angry over what’s being done to them and it would not take much encouragement to set them off…”
Curious about the quality of education these powerful professionals receive, John Brett went under-cover to investigate a recent meeting in Auckland.
Julia Tolmie, a Senior Lecturer in Law at Auckland University who has published extensively on Battered Woman Syndrome and Father’s Rights Groups, spoke to an invited group of Family Court Psychologists and Specialist Report Writers on her research into Australian Father’s Rights Groups. The meeting was organised by psychologists Gail Ratcliffe and Susan Blackwell.
Some of Tolmie’s reported findings:
* Father’s rights movement is international. Some USA websites in particular were characterised as misogynistic, sick, and hate-filled.
* The Father’s Rights movement has a growing degree of influence, particularly in the context of debate in the Media. Frequently Father’s Rights spokesmen are “dressed-up to appear to be from other organizations.”
* Chief Family Court Judge (in Australia) has spoken up against Father’s Rights tactics, seeing them as ‘not impartial’.
* Reforms in Australia in 1995 included the statement that- “except where it is contrary to the child’s best interests, both parents of the child should have the right of contact”. Tolmie claimed the presumption of contact constituted an increased danger to women from abusive fathers.
* Australian law reform has been ‘submission driven’ not ‘research driven’ (as it was considered that it should have been). The lack of submissions from women’s groups was lamented.
Father’s Rights consist of:
* Experts representing fathers.
* Non-custodial parents groups.
* Borderline groups e.g. Parents without Partners.
* Groups with social and/or political aims.
* Second Wives (laughter from the group).
Tolmie’s impressions of groups:
* Very high turnover; groups appear and disappear rapidly.
* Long-standing groups usually based on the efforts of a small number of men.
* Increasing involvement of women, usually second wives.
Supposed Political Agenda:
* Tolmie expected to find much diversity but was surprised to find the degree of commonality and consensus between groups. She considered all groups ‘right-wing.’
* The breakdown of male authority, and the erosion of the nuclear (father, mother, children) family unit.
* Custody issues and demands for a presumption of shared parenting. This is problematic, as research suggests that contact from both parents when the parents respect for each other has broken down, is worse for the children. The children are turned into “little emotional footballs.” From this it is deduced that “Court-ordered Shared Parenting is never appropriate” in view of the emotional distress to the children of dealing with parents who are at odds.
* Enforcement of access, tying child support payments to access, treating the children as property.
* Child support – considered too high, not 50/50, dispute about the fairness of payment demands.
* False allegations of domestic violence and child abuse based on mothers’ allegations.
Introduction of ‘Fault” divorce;
i.e. the parent considered at fault would presumably lose the children and have to pay.
* Secrecy of the Family Courts.
* Bias in family law proceedings. Mention was made of a system of ‘private orders’ used in Australia, which can avoid the need for Family Court involvement.
Devices reportedly used by the Fathers Rights Movement:
* Using the language of ‘equality’ (based on the simplistic notion that equality means treating both the same). Tolmie commented that rights are meaningless unless you give them context.
* Using the language of ‘rights’.
* Misuse of statistics.
* Appeals to notions of ‘father’.
* Negative depiction of women- and reconstitution of fatherhood.
* Law too far in favour of women
* Men are oppressed.
* Using the language of victimization
* (Most potent) removal of agency – saying that violence is not the responsibility of the perpetrator (male) but caused by circumstances). e.g. “He only did it because his home and family were being taken away- he just flipped- it’s not really his fault”. No mention was made of parallels with the claims of battered women’s syndrome. Extreme quotes from some Australian group called “Men’s Confraternity” were quoted repeatedly, to a response of laughter and incredulity.
* Denying Violence; claiming that allegations are false, claiming that women are as violent as men, using the “Conflict Tactic Scale” which can lead to this conclusion.
* Making analogies with other groups such as Aboriginals.
* Presenting opponents of fathers’ rights groups as very powerful
* Quoting anecdotal evidence, and atrocity tales (a very powerful tool).
* Use of unsourced statistics that cannot be checked.
* Conflation of children’s and fathers’ interests, and children’s rights with fathers’ rights, without any justification.
Miranda Kaye and Julia Tolmie’s report (with added coments) can be read on the Australian Men’s Rights Agency website here: http://www.mensrights.com.au/page24e.htm
Judge Mahony’s Secret Meeting with Select Committee
On 16th May, Principal Family Court Judge Patrick Mahony appeared before the Social Services Select Committee. He was heavily criticised in the media for insisting the press be excluded.
MENZ Issues has obtained a transcript of his memorandum, which can be downloaded in full from our website. Download PDF [37.5 KB]
Mahony told the committee:
“Public confidence in the Courts is just as important as it is for the law-making process through Parliament. It is in that context that I have been concerned at recent criticism of the Family Court aired in the media insofar as it has been ill-informed, exaggerated and couched in terms calculated to destroy the Court’s credibility, particularly when it has been directed at the personal and professional integrity of the Judges.”
Father’s Complaint to Judicial Lay Observer Rejected
The first complaint to the new judicial complaints lay observer Sir John Robertson has failed. Wellington father Craig Jackson told the Evening Post (13th June) that Sir John has compromised his independence by siding with the judiciary. Jackson had complained that Judge McAloon had shown "intemperate gender bias" and disregarded evidence in a 1998 Family Court hearing. Jackson appealed the decision in 1999 but this was rejected. He has asked the Crown for up to $50,000 compensation for loss of enjoyment of life, for humiliation and injury to feelings, and for being denied justice. Justice Minister Phil Goff says there’s no basis shown for payment of compensation.
A witness for Mr Jackson in the original hearing says: “I was surprised when the reference to my evidence in the subsequent decision appeared to distort the meaning and personal relevance of what I had said, although any misconceptions could have easily been clarified by questioning by the Judge concerned. My knowledge of Mr Jackson is of a quiet, family orientated person. His adult children were key eyewitness observers of what went on around them, yet like me, had their evidence discounted."
Sir John told Jackson that to bring the complaint within his role he had to show that not only was Judge McAloon’s decision wrong but that the handling of the case revealed some improprietary on his part. Jackson had argued that when any Judge "ignores half the evidence available to him his decision cannot be seen to be fair and unbiased, and based on the natural weight of evidence".
Sir John ruled that "these are arguable matters of opinion and do not constitute evidence of improper conduct, bias or prejudice by the Judge."
In the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Jackson played a prominent role in the activities of the Equal Parental Rights Organisation. He says he does not intend to remain a victim of the system second time around and is calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the Family Courts.
Call for Inquiry Into Family Courts
Alleged injustices to men and children, first exposed in the recent North and South article [see here] on the Family Courts have galvanised pressure groups around the country to now call for a Commission of Inquiry chaired by an overseas Judge into the workings of the Family Court.
National spokesperson, Robert Murray, said today, that so wide spread was the lack of public confidence in the courts, that a system breakdown was signalled. "Under its cloak of secrecy, gross abuses of Judicial power were occurring which would not be tolerated in an open Court."
Mr Murray said: "In today’s Society where women have gained gender-equality in so many spheres of life, the paternalistic protective sexism of Family Court Judges was both anachronistic and socially unacceptable… Nothing short of a complete reform and change of attitude is urgently needed. It has become a human rights issue, neglected by the Human Rights Commission as it has no jurisdiction over the Courts."
The Wellington groups were only initiating the call for an Inquiry but, groups from other centres were preparing to write in to the Attorney General to give their own reasons why an Inquiry should be held. They would be sending in details of cases known to their organisations which were totally repugnant to natural Justice and grossly unfair," Mr Murray said.
Inquiries to Robert Murray
(04) 970 2175
Support for Court
Simon Maude, Deputy Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, said in a recent media release (20th July): “We are very disturbed by the current campaign to disparage the whole Family Court system. The hard evidence indicates that the Family Court is working for the vast majority of people who use it.
“Of course there will always be some litigants who feel unfairly treated but comments arising out of individual grievances don’t reflect the vast majority of cases.”
Stopping Violence Services also deny there is a problem. “The Family Court in particular has recently been subject to ill informed attacks,” says Executive Officer Paul Prestidge. (Press Release, 12th July) “These have mainly been made by a small but vocal group men that (sic) have restricted access to their children because of their violence, and their supporters.”
Knowing the Enemy – Extreme Feminism
In March 2000 Minister of Women’s Affairs Laila Harre released a briefing which claimed Murial Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill was unlikely to improve child welfare. She said:
“A recent study of the Australian reforms shows that there has been a marked increase in the number of contested applications for contact orders since the reforms and an increase in the number of litigated disputes arising out of breaches of parenting orders.
“Many of these applications have been brought by unrepresented contact fathers, many are without merit and are used as a mechanism to harass the resident parent with much Court time being wasted in dealing with them. The study concludes that as there was no specific mischief that the reforms were designed to remedy, significant difficulties have resulted.
“The majority of calls for reforms to custody law had come consistently from aggrieved non-custodial parents, and in particular fathers’ rights groups who claimed that the legislation and the Family Court discriminated against them.”
What the Ministry of Women’s affairs didn’t advise the government is that the report they refer to is extremely biased. In the ‘Current Controversies’ section of Nuance Journal No.2, a paper by Australian lawyer Michael Green QC, points out some of the report’s shortcomings. What follows are some excerpts from:
Knowing the Enemy
The recently released Australian report "The Family Law Reform Act 1995: the First Three Years,” by Reg Graycar, Helen Rhoades and Margaret Harrison, fails to capture the new spirit and practice of shared parenting in the community. The research is diminished by a limited sample, by a concentration on negative outcomes, and by overt bias towards custodial mothers. Some of its conclusions are simply wrong or unjustified. In particular there is no evidence in the report that children are being placed at risk of serious violence in interim hearings. The report misconceives the purpose of legislation and fails to understand the real value of fatherhood for children.
Photo: Michael Green QC speaking at a North Shore meeting in September 2000.
The claim in the Report that the push for reform had come "consistently from aggrieved non-custodial parents, and in particular, fathers rights groups" is far short of the mark, and underestimates the part played by professionals and other stakeholders. The use of the term "fathers’ rights groups" is mischievous and should be seen as an attempt to diminish the bona fides of separated fathers as being more interested in themselves than in their children.
Far from promoting the practice of settling disputes about children away from court, the Report argues that the reforms have increased litigation by providing – in the right to contact provision – new ways "for an abusive non-resident parent to harass or interfere in the life of the child’s primary caregiver by challenging her decisions and choices."
This charge needs to be examined more closely (something that the Report fails to do).
Firstly, sometimes the decisions and choices of mothers need to be challenged! The researchers proceed on the basis that they are always wise and that the father’s challenge is motivated always by self-interest and a desire to interfere. There are instances when this is undoubtedly true. But those who work in the field know that it is not always the case, and that there are many situations where a mother’s decisions are seriously harmful to her children.
The Report points to the substantial rise in the number of applications for parenting orders and for contraventions of orders. What did the researchers expect? Given the increased awareness in the community of the value of fatherhood for both boys and girls, and given the large numbers of separated fathers who had been unjustly prevented from involvement in the lives of their children, it is not surprising at all that the right to contact reform has released a great flood of applications from frustrated fathers. The researchers attribute to them a selfish motive, namely to further their own rights and to harass custodial mothers. No statistical support for this is provided in the Report other than a quotation from one counsellor. The concept that a father could be driven by real concern for his child’s welfare is amazingly unknown to the researchers.
Children at Risk
The Report’s comparison of pre and post Reform Act figures relating to orders suspending contact in cases containing allegations of violence has produced an important conclusion: that the figures "suggest that interim contact orders are being made in circumstances where contact is not in the child’s best interests, and when it may well be unsafe for the child and the resident parent."
The Report indicates that interim hearings relating to children’s issues often contain allegations of violence, and that, since the reforms, judicial officers are reluctant to stop contact. Proceeding on the basis that false allegations by women are rare, and because proper evidence is not heard at interim hearings, the researchers "suggest" that children are being placed in unsafe situations. What they fail to acknowledge is that in cases where the allegations are untrue or trivial, an unjustified interruption in contact can lead to the destruction of any meaningful relationship between child and father, with consequent harm to the well-being of the child.
Like so much research in this area, the Report reveals a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that an unhealthy rupture of the relationship between father and child is damaging to the child and is in reality a form of child abuse.
It is clearly in everybody’s interests – mother, father and child – that a serious allegation of violence raised in any application in the Family Court, or in aprehended violence proceedings before magistrates, be laid to rest as soon as possible. The delays between first appearance and final hearing are unacceptable. It is surely not expecting too much in a
civilised society that an issue affecting the welfare of a child and the reputation of a parent be heard, tried and decided to an acceptable standard of proof within a period of two months.
The Welfare of Children
The survey of post reform judgements showed not only an increase in relocation litigation but an increased scrutiny by the court of the circumstances of the move and its effect on contact between child and non-resident parent. It appears that the Reform Act’s insistence on the right of the child to contact and to know and be cared for by both parents has had a positive effect on judicial officers.
This is encouraging because research, both scientific and anecdotal, clearly shows that the children of separated parents do better if they have good relationships with both their parents. A meaningful relationship can only develop through regular, frequent and involved contact. The idea that it can exist when children live far distant from a separated parent is nonsense and defies common sense and logic. The not uncommon instances of mothers ripping their children out of their communities, schools, and away from fathers, grandparents, and friends must be condemned. It is a significant cause of anger, anguish and resentment in children.
Given the Family Law Act’s insistence on the best interests of children, that the freedom to move could ever be contemplated as having equal status to the right of a child to close and easy contact with both parents is simply staggering. Both mothers and fathers ought to be restrained from leaving town.
The Colour of the Report
This Report displays clear evidence of bias. For instance, the cited examples of responses from the women surveyed emphasise their anxiety for "the impact on the children" of post-separation arrangements. Not so for the men! They are presented as being more concerned with "rights", "justice", "equality", and with the effect of residence on child support. Indeed the Report is redolent with the noble and unselfish attitudes of mothers while there is not one instance in the whole Report of a father displaying an untrammelled concern for the interests of his children.
In other words, the Report shows women to be always caring and unselfish, while men are self-interested, violent or harassing. Research of this nature serves the purpose of helping interested parties identify one of the enemies of true reform in the family law arena: extreme feminism, rampant in academia and its affiliates, which supports the interests of women through uncritical acceptance of the reports from mothers and women’s groups, uncritical rejection and denigration of men and fathers, and naive blindness to the true parenting needs of children. It is tragic to see the Family Court’s ready acceptance of writings such as these.
The researchers interviewed staff at women’s domestic violence centres and at three women’s legal centres. There was no attempt to interview anyone associated with fathers’ groups or with men’s resource centres.
The Real Picture
Yet the true picture gleaned from research and reports of professionals who have constant contact with separated families is very different from that presented in this Report. The concepts of motherhood and fatherhood have undergone enormous change. Attitudes to shared parenting are developing along healthy paths, encouraged by counsellors, mediators and lawyers themselves influenced by the letter and spirit of the 1995 reforms. Mediation is increasingly being used by couples anxious to stay away from the court’s adversarial system.
Much more has to be done, particularly in the area of parenting programmes for separated parents,possibly mandated by the courts. The scarcity of these in the Australian family law arena is scandalous. Intensive programmes can change attitudes and behaviour. Laws generally cannot.
It is to be hoped that judicial officers and other professionals will not be discouraged by this flawed study. It is also to be hoped that the researchers’ call for "shared parental responsibility" to be defined in the Family Law Act will be resisted by the legislature. Such proposals are to be seen as attempts to fetter judicial discretion and to turn back the clock to the system of sole maternal custody and paternal non-involvment.
Michael Green QC.
The entire paper is available at: www.nuancejournal.com.au
CanadianDivorce Lawyers Seek Changes
The Canadian Bar Association is pushing for sweeping divorce reforms, including empowering judges to deal with non-custodial parents who fail to keep up their relationship with their children post-divorce, and forcing all divorcing couples to take parental education before they can fight about their kids in court.
The group’s central recommendation is that the contentious terms "custody" and "access" be abolished in favour of the new, more child-centred concept of "parental responsibility."
In cases where couples couldn’t agree on how to split those duties, judges would be able to create customized "parenting plans" allocating post-divorce responsibilities to parents either jointly, or separately, according to the capabilities of the individual parents and the best interests of the children in each family.
"Moving away from the word ‘custody’ will help to push parents away from the mentality of winner and loser which currently permeates custody disputes," said Jennifer Cooper, chairwoman of the CBA’s national family law section, which represents the views of 2,200 divorce lawyers across Canada. She stressed that a massive public education campaign would be needed to ensure that the new language "really does transform attitudes and you don’t simply have people attributing old meanings to new words."
A cornerstone principle endorsed by the bar association is that children need, and have the right, to have meaningful relationships with both parents.
Therefore the association agrees that judges must have wide powers to remedy the improper, persistent denial of access by custodial parents (usually women) — a serious problem which has garnered massive publicity due to the protests of fathers’ rights groups.
The association notes, however, that the "equally important" problem of non-custodial parents (usually men) failing to exercise the access they have agreed to, or been awarded, has been virtually ignored.
"Whether the child is losing out on access because it’s being denied, or because we have a parent who is not interested, either way the child is losing a parent and that is extremely serious," observes Halifax lawyer Julia Cornish. "If people perceive that when the child is assigned to live primarily with the other parent as ‘losing’ their kids, in some ways they have already made the mental jump to the idea that they are less important parents, they have a lesser relationship with the kids, and are a second-class parent. So if at the end of the separation and divorce process you have got one important parent that counts and one auxiliary parent that doesn’t, it becomes easier to understand how some of those parents just drift away," Cornish said. She suggested that government-sponsored publicity stressing the importance of children maintaining strong relationships with both parents could reduce both access denial and abandonment.
In that vein, the association also urges the federal government to require parents to take mandatory parental education before they are permitted to pursue court proceedings involving their children. Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are experimenting with mandatory programs in some centres such as Toronto and Halifax, but Alberta blazed the trail in 1996 with a successful "Parenting After Separation" program that is now provincewide.
The association advocates legislating a list of parental responsibilities which a court can share between the parents, or allocate individually, according to the children’s needs and the parents’ abilities.
Such responsibilities would include maintaining a loving, nurturing and supportive relationship with the children; financially supporting the child; meeting the child’s day-to-day needs; making day-to-day decisions about the child; consulting with the other parent on major health, education, religious and welfare issues; encouraging the child to respect the other parent; providing financial support; and making the child available to the other parent or spending time with the child as agreed by the parents or as ordered by a court so as not to cause unnecessary upset to the child or unnecessary cost and inconvenience to the other parent.
Vancouver SunJuly 9th 2001.
PANIC – Parents Against Negative Intervention by CYFS
Photo: Four full-page articles in Wanganui Chronical April 2001
Last year saw the formation of a new group in Palmerston North to support parents whose children are in the care of CYFS. Parents Against Negative Intervention by CYFS (PANIC) now has active branches in Horowhenua/Kapiti and Wanganui.
The April – May edition of the organisation’s newsletter says that the new Wanganui coordinator received over 150 phone calls from troubled parents following four full-page articles in the Wanganui Chronicle in April. A public meeting was held on April 19th attended by 40 people who called for a Public Commission of Inquiry into the operations of CYFS and the Family Court.
One distraught father told the Chronicle that he spends evening after evening at the beach so that he can cry where nobody can see him. He says he is very close to "ending it all".
A woman says of her own case: "They have to be made accountable for what they do. They came into my house like Nazis, told me I was unfit to care for my children and took them away. Now they admit they were wrong and what redress is there? Nothing. What help has there been to help us rebuild our lives? None. I haven’t seen a CYFS worker since the day they took my children – how caring is that?"
Another woman whose daughter was taken by CYFS became concerned during a visit when she noticed bruises over half the child’s face and over her body. When she confronted CYFS about it she was told firstly that the child was pinching herself and secondly that she had fallen. The social worker has since admitted that the child was beaten by an adult while in CYFS care.
Chronicle reporter Simon Waters interviewed Wanganui Family Court Judge Anthony Walsh who said that while he could not comment on the individual cases he could talk about the system. The Judge noted that the law says CYFS must make an application in writing on oath to establish there are reasonable grounds. However he went on to say: "Now ‘reasonable’ grounds is a wonderful lawyer’s phrase. It is impossible to define precisely what are reasonable grounds. There are so many variations and permutations. That’s a real difficulty and that’s where there is real potential for people to feel aggrieved." He said: "I had a case just this week where a five-year-old was telling a social worker what was happening to a four-year-old. It is a difficult judgment call. But if on the face of the evidence there appears to be unacceptable risk to a child then you’ve got to act."
When asked how often applications for safety warrants are rejected, the Judge claimed they are rejected at times if the evidence in his view is not strong enough to raise reasonable grounds. He said: "Again it is just an instinctive judgment you make trying to assess the information that is presented to you. You don’t have time quite often with these applications to have a hearing."
Waters asked Judge Walsh if judges were open to the possibility that allegations may be maliciously made. The Judge replied "Oh yes. Time and time again… we often see it in custody cases… sexual abuse claims which cause havoc at times. We’ve been involved in custody cases in this Court where it appears to be a non-abusive custody dispute and for example suddenly an allegation is made that the child last weekend alleged dad touched somewhere he shouldn’t have touched him. Suddenly the whole process changes."
The Judge said that in his area care and protection work "has become a lot more complex, with a higher incidence of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and violence. A lot of violence. And that’s a worry. We’re seeing more solo parent families than ever. And those are situations that are often fraught with difficulties. You may have a mother with two or three or four kids, often with different fathers. All those stresses and strains add up."
When asked if he has any criticisms of the system, Judge Walsh replied: "I think there is an inherent problem where as a social worker you have to be both policeman and social worker. The destructive element in a defended hearing is significant because people often become defensive if they are challenged about [the care of their children]. After the Court says ‘we find that is so’ the social workers then have to go back and say ‘okay let’s work together to try and overcome these problems’. Human nature being what it is the parents are going to be a bit uptight with the social worker and that does not provide a good basis for ongoing cooperation."
Waters also interviewed site manager of Wanganui CYFS office Tuakeu Pilato. He said he accepts that sometimes CYFS does not get it right but was unable to provide statistical information to quantify how often this happens. He agreed that the system, as it stands, can be misused by people making malicious allegations of abuse. Children can and are removed from homes even where allegations, for example of sexual abuse, are telephoned into CYFS anonymously. He claimed that often it may only take a day or two to determine the malicious nature of the allegation and for the child to be returned to the parents, but admitted that other times their investigations may take substantially longer. He said CYFS does not pursue legal action against those who make malicious allegations. They make no attempt to identify people who contact CYFS anonymously. He said he wanted to remind people of the large numbers of children and young people who owe their current well-being, if not lives, to CYFS intervention although he didn’t have any figures that support this to hand.
In March 2001, a report on CYFS by Youth Court Judge Mick Brown painted a picture of dysfunction. He found that children were taken into care because agency staff saw this as the only certain way to secure adequate resources. Judge Brown said this showed a chilling disregard for the key issue – the interests of those children. He attributes most of the service’s problems to inadequate funding which has shown itself in staff shortages, excessive workloads and unallocated cases. Perhaps most seriously, he found it has skewed decision making.
PANIC says there needs to be a change of culture from an overly punitive and disempowering attitude towards a strengthening and family friendly approach wherever appropriate. CYFS needs leaders who will ensure about application of the Act which emphasises support of the family and keeping the child within the family wherever possible. Selection, training and practice of social workers needs to be upgraded. People applying to work in the department should be psychologically assessed. The Code of Ethics of members of the Social Workers Association should be the standard for all social work done by the department. The procedures in CYFS and the Family Court to uplift children need to be overhauled so that children are removed from families only after full investigation and reasonable grounds are established. The powers to remove children from their families should be operable only after full investigation by the Child Protection Teams of the police, i.e. the police become the monitoring body rather than CYFS. The initial Court hearing to examine the case for Care and Protection of children in the "care" of CYFS must involve contestability of evidence, i.e. the voice of the parents and wherever possible of the children must be heard. The hearings of the Family Court must become open to the public. This is essential for a big improvement and accountability to be made. There needs to be a strong publicly recognised CYFS Complaints Authority which can effectively and independently review family cases. (This could incorporate powers now exercised by the Children’s Commissioner and the Ombudsman). There needs to be a publicly recognised code of rights for children and parents such as the one existing for the Health and Disability Sector.
PANIC is encouraging its members to request their files from CYFS, and to contact them with details of their case so that the information can be used to assist efforts to expose damage the Department is causing children and their families.
PANIC John Tonson – Director
c/- 24 Sinclair Ave, Palmerston North, ph 06 355 5107 (work) 06 357 7402 (home) Email: [email protected]
Welfare Agency Plan Pointless
"The grandiose sounding new plan for the Department of Child, Youth and Family is a pointless waste of time and money that will do little to stop child abuse", FARE spokesperson Darryl Ward said today. (13th June)
"It is a window dressing exercise that will never solve the main causes of child abuse because officials refuse to see the wood because of the trees". He was commenting on the New Directions plan to restructure the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services announced today.
"The only way that we can reduce our horrific child abuse statistics is to change our appallingly destructive family law structure. Children are many times more likely to be killed in households where the caregivers are not their two birth parents. Yet social workers continue splitting up families for the supposed purpose of reducing abuse of children when it is obviously not working."
"It is well known that children who are denied a meaningful relationship with both of their parents are many more times likely to be the victims of child abuse, as well as commit suicide, become involved with drugs and crime, have teenage pregnancies or go on to behave abusively themselves".
"If the Department was genuine about solving the terrible plight of our more unfortunate children, it would take realistic steps to protect children instead of being more concerned with building its own empire", concluded Ward.
54b Poplar Ave Raumati South
War on the Family
The staff and board of the New Zealand Education Development Foundation believe the institutions that underpin private and public virtue are under attack in our society. By promoting intelligent debate they want to point out to as many New Zealanders as possible that a retreat from personal responsibility and the institutions of marriage and family will lead to child abuse, poverty, illegitimacy, rising youth suicide and crime, frequent divorce and sexual disorders; problems which increasingly characterise the social crisis of our time.
A close examination of the reports issued by U.N. committees monitoring the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Woman (CEDAW) shows that these committees are pushing an agenda that counters traditional moral and social norms regarding the family, marriage, motherhood, and religion. The advice that these agents of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and other agencies give individual signatories often violates the language of the U. N.’s own founding documents and undermines a nation’s sovereign right to determine its own domestic policy. The policies and laws they push also promote behaviour that ultimately will cause greater harm to women and children, increasing family breakdown and the many problems associated with it. The CRC was signed by New Zealand on 6th of April 1993 and CEDAW on the 10th January 1985.
In general, the social policy agents at these U. N. committees, working often with radical special-interest groups, advise nations to alter the very structure of their societies to decrease the emphasis on marriage, the nuclear family, parental authority, and religious beliefs; mothers are encouraged to find fulfilment by leaving their children in the care of strangers and entering the workforce, and social or legal restraints on sexual activity among adolescents are targeted for removal. Surprisingly, these committees ignore the mounting evidence that the basic family unit of married parents who worship yields far superior social outcomes for children’s health, intellectual development, and educational and income attainment, and lower rates of crime, welfare dependency, and teenage pregnancy. They also ignore polls that show most mothers would prefer staying home to raise the young children.
The full report: War on the Family – How U. N. Conventions on Women’s and Children’s Rights Undermined Family, Religion, and National Sovereignty prepared by the New Zealand Education Development Foundation can be ordered through their website:
Or send $10 to: 50 Acacia Ave,
Stay of Proceedings Lifted
In 1998 a Men’s Centre North Shore member made an application to the Family Court for a review of the Custody Orders concerning his daughter. After matters dragged on for over a year, Judge Jan Doogue made an Order that the father’s application should be stayed and that no further application might be bought without leave of the court. We understand that this decision has subsequently been referred to in several other cases where a stay of proceedings has been ordered.
In April of this year the father applied to the Auckland Family Court for leave to seek a re-definition of the arrangements for the care of his daughter. The application was opposed by the mother. She claimed that further involvement in the judicial process would be disturbing for the child and was accordingly not in her best interests.
Judge O’Donovan referred to two principles which he felt should guide him in making his decision. Firstly: "the right of the citizen of access to the Courts and that the Courts should be very slow indeed to refuse access in normal cases." Secondly: "the need to determine the application having regard to the best interests of the child."
The father pointed out that to a large extent he is responsible for promoting and facilitating many of the important interests which his daughter enjoys, such as music and other artistic pursuits.
The Judge noted: " What is a significant about this case is the continued desire by father to be more involved that he has been in [his daughter’s] life and in her development." He also noted that it had been almost five years since there was a thorough investigation of what regime of care was best designed to promote the child’s long-term interests. He said: "during those years she has clearly developed and matured and she now has interests which were probably not even contemplated when Green J (the first Judge who heard the case) made her Order."
In making his decision the Judge said: "I do not think in a case which involves the care of children, that in the absence of information which clearly reveals that further judicial involvement in the life of the child will result in positive detriment to the welfare of the child that it is appropriate to decide the question of granting leave on narrow legal grounds. In this case I have not heard anything which persuades me that it is likely to be harmful to [the child’s] best interests for the Court to at least in a preliminary fashion, consider father’s application for a review of the caring regime."
Judge Donovan directed that the registrar should convene both a directions conference to consider the next steps, and a mediation conference where the two parents are required to exchange "very detailed" written proposals for the future care of their child.
The FP Number of this decision is: 975 – N/95.
The Family Court Of Injustice
There is a court that sits in this land
Judges with their heads buried in the sand.
With the PC feminists they side
While Fathers and their children they divide.
Its existence splits families asunder
What a massive policy blunder
Lawyers, counselors and feminists abound
Baying like a bloodthirsty hound
Milking a living out of fathers misery
In the Family Court of Injustice that those fathers get to see
Don’t be fooled by the lawyers as they sing its praises
Beware my friend, your family may be the next it razes.
As it splits your family apart
I’m sure you won’t think those lawyers all that smart.
But it’s easy when a court can hide unseen
Behind a secrecy smokescreen
Hidden from the public gaze
All that’s seen is a foggy haze.
Afraid they are that the public will see
What us fathers know to it be.
A festering sore on the lives of men
Taking their families away from them
They say it all about the best interest of the child
That argument has driven many a father wild
Lost in despair and anguish
While they watch their family vanish
What would happen I would like to know,
If the Family Court opened up its secret show?
That’s the question I ask of you
Now tell me what are you going to do?
Brothers keep up the fight
Force the Family Court of Injustice into daylight
Father of Baby M
Read the August 2001 Metrostory by Nicola Legat: ‘Divorce; what women need to understand about the new gender war over children.’