Fathers 4 Justice – ground-breaking or simply breaking the rules?

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Fathers 4 Justice, and the splinter group New Fathers 4 Justice, have long been hitting headlines for the radical stunts some of their members take part in. The group are formed of fathers, who feel that the Family Court system is unfairly biased against them, and actively protest against the courts and various mainstream cases.

The most recent of this activism, took the form of an illegal protest on the roof of Buckingham Palace, resulting in the arrest of two fathers for trespass.

This recent stunt will have caught the attention of many Family practitioners, who, like myself, will be asking the question – do these individuals have a point? Is the system unfairly biased in favour of mothers?

Under the Children Act 1989, decisions relating to contact, residence and other children-related matters must be decided according to the best interests of the child in question, this being the "paramountcy principle". In reaching this decision, the Court will consider many factors, perhaps also hearing evidence from the parents and seeking reports on the children's wishes and feelings from external agencies such as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to determine this. However, it will ultimately carry out a balancing exercise in light of all of the evidence to decide what is in the best interests of the child, without any bias in favour of or against either of the child's parents based simply on their gender.

The perceived imbalance against which the fathers' rights activists were protesting, may instead be that which arguably exists in wider society. The family unit traditionally saw a mother staying at home to adopt the position of primary caregiver for the children, with the father acting as the main breadwinner for the family. Whilst the traditional family unit has changed hugely, in recent years (indeed, to a point where there may no longer be such a thing as a "traditional" family unit), many may remain of the view that mothers are the primary caregivers who should naturally be given the responsibility of caring for the children in the event of a relationship breakdown. If this is the case, it would be this imbalance against which the activists should be protesting.

The legal system has been carefully and specifically created to ensure that decisions on contact, residence and any other child-related issues are decided by Judges who are guided by legislation which dictates how their decision should be made, and we have seen many cases since the legislation was put into place which demonstrate this in action. Whilst the activists are well-meaning in their actions, it may therefore be the case that they are forgetting the very thing which they argue increased contact, residence or otherwise will promote – the best interests of their child.