Lack of justice for fathers one of biggest scandals of our time
Published 16/06/2014 | 02:30
Father's Day was celebrated in many households around the country yesterday, with cards and gifts – but for some it was cold comfort, a bitter day with little to celebrate.
Last Friday Fathers' Rights Ireland held a public stunt outside the Four Courts where they used a medieval pillory to symbolise the legal torture dads can be put through when relationships with their children's mother turn sour.
Here in Ireland, a father needs to be married in order to get automatic guardianship of his children. When a couple isn't married, the mother remains the sole legal guardian until the father looks for guardianship.
However, if the mother objects to this, the father must apply to his local district court to be made a guardian.
It's an all too common scenario now since 33pc of all children born in Ireland are to unmarried parents.
Married men are entitled to guardianship of their kids but this can all change horribly when marriages fall apart.
A father might believe he has rights but then can find that he's expendable and faced with a horrendous and expensive legal battle on separation. A father has to fight bitterly to get what is automatically awarded to mothers.
And if he doesn't have the cash, he doesn't get to see his children. But even fathers who can afford it are stripped of their assets by costly legal battles and then might be told that they can't have their child to stay overnight because their humble bedsit isn't suitable.
In more unpleasant separations, a man might be falsely accused of all kinds of physical or sexual violence so that the court case drags on unnecessarily while this is investigated.
Just take a look at the many fathers' rights websites and you'll soon see that men today tend to be victims of an unjust system that benefits the mum as opposed to the dad when it comes to children.
In fact, judging by messages left on the websites, false allegations are rampant and our court system separates too many innocent fathers from children.
Family law researcher Roisin O'Shea observed 493 judicial separation and divorce cases in 2010 which are ordinarily held in private.
She didn't find a single case where the wife was ordered to pay maintenance for children or a spouse and had only seen the courts order joint custody in two cases.
Tina Rayburn, co-author of 'I Want to See My Kids! A Guide for Dads Who Want Contact with Their Children After Separation', writes: "Until people acknowledge the current system is flawed and has an overriding female bias, it will be difficult to see anything changing. There are two core problems. I don't think the courts recognise a child can live happily in two homes and they are loath to take a child away from its mother. There is still a perception that these guys have done something wrong and they don't deserve to see their children."
It seems that both women and men are more comfortable aligning themselves with campaigns to help the sisterhood, whereas nobody wants to be seen siding with the brotherhood.
Over the past few decades we have quite rightly been tackling issues like making sure that women have an adequate income after separation and patriarchal abuses like domestic violence. But doesn't it seem like the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction?
Meanwhile, the father's rights movement continues to be politically marginalised. But women aren't the only "natural" caregivers and men can and should play an equal role in raising their children. The horrible injustices suffered by many dads and their children go by without as much as a whisper.
The lack of justice for fathers is one of the biggest social scandals of our time.
We have a legal system that is utterly out of touch with the way we live now in a world where dads change nappies, push buggies and spend hours cuddling their children in exactly the same way that good mothers do.