Another step towards criminalising fatherhood

 

Family ‘contact centres’ will normalise the wrongdoings of a heartless, misandrist family law system

I COULDN’T help noticing the enthusiastic media welcome for the announcement by Barry Andrews, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, of the possibility of a pilot scheme for “contact centres”. The Minister was responding to a study carried out for the Family Support Agency, calling for the establishment of 37 such centres.

It is instructive to observe the constructions favoured by those seeking to put a positive spin on a deeply ominous development. We are told that contact centres are necessitated by the increase in “non-traditional” families. We are told that they will offer a solution in contentious relationships between fathers and mothers, and where “non-resident parents” may not have adequate accommodation in which to spend time with their children.

The implication is that these circumstances are unavoidable, the inevitable outcome of marriage and relationship breakdown and disputes over children. Such formulations are disingenuous and misleading. “Non-resident parents” are almost invariably fathers. It is hardly ever the mother who must seek “contact” or whose accommodation is inadequate.

Moreover, the issue in these disputes is rarely if ever a legitimate disagreement about how the parents might organise their now separate parenting functions. The “dispute” does not occur around some median point in an axis defining the total parenting roles, with a view to establishing exactly where, now that the parents are no longer a unit, a “line of Solomon” might be drawn. The “dispute” happens at the extreme end of that notional axis, where the father’s entitlements might theoretically begin. The dispute is not about parenting; it is about fathering. There is hardly ever any question but that the mother’s total “rights” are guaranteed. The “dispute” concerns the extent of the mother’s entitlement to become a gatekeeper between “her” children and their father.

And she holds all the cards.

If we examine the question of accommodation, we find that the mother is almost always deemed to have an automatic right to whatever accommodation resources the family has been capable of mustering.

The father has no entitlements, but is usually expected to pay for everything. Even when the mother is responsible for the break-up, the father must subsidise the abduction of his children.

The quality of the father’s accommodation is not something the family courts waste any time thinking about.

Lawyers like to talk about the “intractability” of these conflicts and the difficult job they face seeking resolutions. But what really happens is that the lawyers – those on the father’s “side” as much as those representing the mother – seek to bring about a “solution” which will satisfy the courts, which generally means acquiescing in all the mother’s demands.

The mother’s lawyers explain that it “upsets” the mother to have to meet the father, and this “upsets” the children. The judge nods gravely. The solution is obvious: forbid the father from seeing his children.

This is what passes for logic and justice in family law. Because the State backs the mother in every conceivable way, many mothers are able to get away with grossly sabotaging the relationships between fathers and children. The entire purpose of family law proceedings is to force the father to accept an outcome whereby he is stripped of his most fundamental rights, robbed of his assets and income and brutalised into a mindset whereby he is willing to accept any conditions so as to hold on to his sanity.

The establishment of contact centres would be a further step towards the total criminalisation of fatherhood.

Despite recent attempts at whitewashing, family law remains a running sore on the face of Irish justice. Instead of confronting the abuses of human rights routinely perpetrated against children and fathers, the Government now proposes a measure which would brush under the rug our most glaring denial of human rights.

Contact centres would also make it easy for an ignorant, prejudiced and heartless judiciary to normalise its wrongdoing, offering misandrist judges an alternative to adhering to the requirements of the Constitution.

The moral solution to situations where the father is denied a relationship with his child by the mother is not to create containment areas for the father to be supervised while he and his child seek to retrieve some semblance of a relationship. The moral solution is to compel mothers to stop using children as weapons of blackmail and revenge, and for the State to stop supporting these abuses.

Perhaps contact centres should be called “fathering reservations”. And why not have a uniform for fathers who are forced to use them? Perhaps something with stripes or arrows, denoting the criminal status that this society has conferred on fathers through the institutionalisation of its ugliest prejudices and the normalisation of its most flagrant trampling on human rights.

Each centre, I see, will cost upwards of €120,000 a year. There is an alternative: justice. If preceded by basic human decency, it comes free.

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