Separated fathers often feel profound grief, distress, and anger at the end of their relationships with their partners and their children. Some participate in ‘fathers’ rights’ groups, a movement which claims to advocate on behalf of men and fathers who are the victims of discrimination and injustice in the Family Court and elsewhere. Yet such groups may do little to help fathers heal or to build or maintain ongoing and positive relationships with their children. Some men do find support in these groups, but they also may be incited into anger, blame, and destructive strategies of litigation. The fathers’ rights movement prioritises formal principles of equality over positive parenting and the well-being of women and children. Some groups seem more concerned with re-establishing paternal authority and fathers’ decision-making related to their children’s and ex-partners’ lives than with actual involvements with children. However, other responses to separated fathers are more constructive.
Citation: Flood, M. (2012). Separated Fathers and the ‘Fathers’ Rights’ Movement. Journal of Family Studies, 18(3): 235-245.
Please click on the link above for the full article, in PDF. Also see the summary below.
Three reasons to provide support to separated fathers;
- To assist them in healing from the negative effects of separation and divorce and to support them in dealing with other dimensions of non-resident parenting;
- To support them in maintaining or building ongoing relationships with their children;
- To help them to manage an ongoing and positive relationship with their ex-partners.
Why contact is desirable…
- Contact in itself is not a good predictor of children’s wellbeing.
- Instead, children’s wellbeing is predicted in part by fathers’ authoritative parenting
- No particular post-separation parenting arrangement is more advantageous for children.
- (Versus arguments for a presumption of joint residence.)
FR groups constrain the healing process of separated fathers
- Some men do find support and experience benefits.
- But FR groups also fix men in victimhood, blame, anger, and hostility. And intensify misogynist discourses.
- While FR groups defend traditional masculinity, this in fact leaves men ill-equipped to deal with separation and divorce.
- FR groups encourage malicious, destructive, and unproductive legal efforts.
FR groups fail to promote fathers’ actual involvement in parenting
- Focus on formal rights, equality, or status rather than the actual shared care of children
- Rhetorical shift in the early 21C, from ‘rights’ and discrimination to ‘equal parenting’ and parental ‘fairness’
- Neglect of actual shared parenting
- Focus on re-establishing paternal authority rather than shared parenting
- FR movement and feminism share the belief that men should be involved in parenting. But FR focuses on fathers’ control, not fathers’ care.
- Wants men to father, not to parent.
- Ignore the real obstacles to fathers’ lack of involvement with children, (a) before separation and divorce
- Fathers’ lack of involvement. Which is shaped by workplace practices and relations, government policies, gender inequalities, etc.
- FR groups have opposed the very measures that would encourage greater sharing of parenting, e.g. promotion of women’s economic opportunities.
- Ignore the real obstacles to fathers’ lack of involvement with children, (b) After separation and divorce
- FR groups
- Focus on mythical legal obstacles to shared parenting.
- Ignore what is required to set up shared parenting.
- Try to impose shared residence on parents who lack the capacity to sustain it and children for whom it would be harmful.
- Focus on ‘maternal gatekeeping’ and sanctions for resident mothers’ breaches of contact orders.
FR groups harm children
- Try to force parental (paternal) contact on children regardless of children’s desires and regardless of potential negative impacts.
- Reduce financial and material support for resident parents and children.
- Fuel interparental conflict.
- Privilege fathers’ contact over children’s safety.
- Try to wind back the protections available to victims of domestic violence and/or child abuse, and to lessen the legal sanctions applied to perpetrators.
FR groups harm fathers’ relationships with their ex-partners
- FR efforts fuel resident mothers’ hostility to their ex-partners and their reluctance to facilitate contact.
- FR discourse depicts women in general, and single mothers in particular, as parasitical, lying, and vindictive
- ‘sofa loafers’, ‘gold-diggers’, ‘access bitches’, ‘tramps’, ‘whores’, etc.
- Fuelling interparental hostility and conflict;
- Will lessen fathers’ contact with children and increase fathers’ use of the courts to enforce contact.
- Will lessen children’s wellbeing.
Developing positive responses to separated fathers
- Support, education, and other programs among fathers do have positive effects.
- The potential positive role of support groups and other interventions – depends on both process and content.
- E.g., teach motivation and skills in managing conflict
- Developing service responses to separated fathers…
- FR groups are harmful for separated fathers themselves and for their relations with children.
- We must work with separated fathers;
- For their sake;
- For the sake of their children and their ex-partners;
- To lessen recruitment into the FR movement.
- As part of developing positive service responses.