Why family separation is an equalities issue (again)

This is quite a moment in family separation politics and so, as the struggle to dominate and the struggle to be heard continues, I felt it might be useful to outline, again, why family separation is an equalities issue.  This might help all those who are busy doing their very best to ensure that this is all about bad dads and good mums to understand why, as feminists, it might just be a good idea to stop and listen for a change, because what is being fought for might just offer something to everyone.

Family separation is an experience that many people in this country are likely to experience.  A survey for the Centre for Separated Families, undertaken in 2007, suggested that around a third of the population are affected by it either directly as parents, grandparents or children, or indirectly as members of the wider family.

Currently, when a family separates, regardless of much or how little involvement a father has with the children, he is unlikely to become the ‘primary carer’.  This is because the status of primary carer is denoted by possession of Child Benefit, a benefit which is paid almost 100% to mothers because it was designed to be paid that way through a policy called ‘from the wallet to the purse.’  This policy, developed in the 1940’s, ensured that money for children was paid to mothers and not fathers.  This was because in those days, it was thought that women were more likely to spend money on children.

Thus, a policy which has its roots in post war Britain, a time when women’s liberation wasn’t even thought of, controls the outcomes of family separation in 2012, some 70 years later.

The payment of Child Benefit and the division of separated mothers and fathers into a carer and a provider, means that when the family separates, the outcome is almost certain to be that mothers will take up the role of primary carer and fathers will take up the role of provider.  It doesn’t matter how much parents would like to do it differently, these are the roles that are proscribed by our 70 year old legislation.  And, when mothers are forced, as they often are, by the idea that being a good mother means caring for children and not providing for them, they will conform to this requirement and do as they are told by society.

Fathers on the other hand are reduced to the status of payer of child maintenance and their value is judged only by their ability to pay, but not to care, for their children.

Those of us working to modernise this miserable state of affairs, would like to see a situation where mothers are liberated from the strait jacket of having to be a primary carer so that care can be shared with fathers.  We would like to see women liberated to be able to work without depending upon the state and to achieve all of those things that mothers, in other more enlightened countries, are free to achieve, alongside loving and caring for their children.

We would also like to see fathers liberated from being held only to account in terms of their payment of child maintenance.  We would like to see dads being able to care and provide for their children.

And we would like to live in a society in which mothers and fathers are valued for all of the wonderful things that they are, instead of divided into one over-burdened carer and one over-persecuted provider.

In a modern world, fathers who do not step up and take up their responsibilities before or after family separation, will face the opprobrium of our society as well as tough enforcement measures and mothers who seek to interrupt or prevent the relationship between children and their father will face the same.

In this way we will achieve a more egalitarian society, children will benefit from strong and positive relationships with both of their parents and mothers and fathers will be supported to achieve inside and outside of the domestic sphere.

The current state of affairs is men, women, different, equal…until it comes to family separation, upon which it is men, women, different and gender stereotyped roles.

I do not believe that a world in which women are tied to the kitchen sink as overburdened carers is an equal world and I do not believe that a world in which all men have to do to satisfy their parenting responsibilities is tip up at the end of every week is about equality either.

Family separation is an equalities issue because the legislation that surrounds it drives gender stereotyped outcomes and removes choices from parents about how they carry out their parenting responsibilities.

As I write this I can hear all of those voices piping up saying yes but what about the dads who do not step up, we all know them.

And I know them too, that particular disappointment was true for me both in my own father and my daughter’s father.  I grew up in a world of bullying men.  It made me a feminist but it did not ever stop me from being able to see that my own experience does not make every man a bully or every dad deadbeat.

Those of us unlucky enough to have had a dose of the worst that the opposite gender can offer must ensure that our experiences inform, but they do not seek to dominate the agenda.  Ensuring that legislation is modernised with the necessary safety measures is one way of doing that.  Preventing change based upon personal experience and expecting to control all attempts to modernise because of that, is not.

Because the world is made up of good and bad and life is not as certain as we would like to believe it is and, a modern society in which men and women are different but equal, reflects that.

15 comments

  1. Nicola Loughray · March 20, 2012

    I could not agree more, well said

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  2. Jeff Bull · March 20, 2012

    Another excellent article Karen. This is exactly the case that my 25 year old daughter has been arguing appalled by my ex wife completely alienating her youngest sister not just from me, but her, and the rest of my family. Women who do this further entrench the stereotyping of them as the ‘carer’ not ‘provider’ which rather than further actually harms their own quest for equality!

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    • M Hunt · March 20, 2012

      Why is it that people like this Jeff Bull do not take the responsibility for their alienation of their children. We can all blame others for the difficulty in relationships but ultimately have to take responsibility for our own mistakes. I am amazed by all the fathers about who are willing to stereotype the roles whilst that mother is fulfilling the part of that role which puts their meals on the table, their house clean and clothes washed and ironed, but, object to the stereotype when their wife chooses a better life for themselves.

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      • karenwoodall · March 20, 2012

        As M Hunt appears to be an alias, I presume that this person is trying to stir something up here. I have allowed the comment as it is always interesting to have conversations with people, however let’s keep it polite people.

        Jeff, don’t take it personally that someone has decided to use you to peg all of their grievances onto, if it weren’t you it would be someone else. The tone of the comment suggests to me that M Hunt has a grievance that is personal but which is being used to make generalised statements.

        M Hunt, whoever you are, it sounds like you know personally, the thousands of fathers across the land. I too am amazed, by the pain and the suffering that separated parents, mothers and fathers alike experience, that’s pretty much what they all have in common. Some recover from that and go on to build co-operative relationships, some manage to get by on parallel parenting and some get stuck in pressurising children into loyalty conflicts. A tiny minority get very stuck in deliberate ruination of children’s lives with the other parent. And regardless of who left who, who is to blame and who cares more or less, children are the people who suffer in this. Don’t presume to peg your personal grievances onto people you do not know.

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    • Jeff Bull · March 21, 2012

      I won’t take it personally Karen, although I suspect that I do know the person hiding behind the rather obvious alias. Irrespective of who it is, I am not exactly sure how they or anyone else would expect the ‘targeted’ parent to take responsibility for the alienation of their children, when that is the result of determined and deliberate acts by the ‘alienating parent’, or other individuals, to prevent those children from having any relationship at all with the targeted parent, typically the natural father. It is very difficult, in fact impossible to provide a child that you are never allowed to see with a balanced view, which is something that makes Parental Alienation so hard, if not impossible for the targeted parent to counteract. It is extremely painful having to witness this process taking place, knowing the potential harm it is causing your children.

      The interjection of this person, whether actually called M Hunt or otherwise, does raise another ‘equality’ issue. Thousands of fathers like me, who are perfectly able, prepared and willing to take on equal shared care, have had to fight ‘tooth and nail’ through the courts to try and get the merest scrap of ‘contact’ with their children, and all too often end up with none at all, especially in cases like mine where a child has been deliberately alienated not just from them, but also their elder siblings and entire rest of their family.

      Frequently in cases like this, the reason for the separation and subsequent alienation is the presence in the alienating parent’s life of a new partner, and the installation of them by the mother as a ‘replacement father’ to her children. No matter how those replacement fathers may have performed as parents to their own natural children, by default their new relationship allows them contact with the ‘stepchildren’ with no need for them to go through court to achieve that in the way that the natural father of those children is forced to do. In other words, the ‘system’ effectively and frequently grants stepfathers greater access to and thus ‘influence’ over children than their own natural father can ever hope to achieve, no matter how good the ‘real’ dad is.

      This is therefore yet another ‘inequality’ that is perpetuated by a system which considers mothers to be ‘the carer’ and fathers ‘the provider’. It is also an inequality that I know from my own experience makes it even more likely that a child may be deliberately alienated from his or her own paternal family, especially where the stepfather may have already become estranged from his own natural children as a result of his separation from their mother. This is a vicious circle within which the real losers are the children of both men, none of whom are able to have proper relationships with their fathers, and the resulting alienation and estrangements will undoubtedly cause the children to suffer lasting emotional harm.

      It is sad that a minority of fathers prefer to channel their energies in this way, into destroying the relationships between others, not just between father and son or daughter, but also between mother and son or daughter, and even between siblings, rather than using that energy to maintain the relationships that they had with their own children, which would be of greater benefit to all of the children caught up in these traumatic situations. Unfortunately, whilst such people continue to think only of themselves, thousands of children continue to be deprived of normal family relationships so important to their emotional development, and it can only be hoped that the damage this will cause them can be repaired over time.

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  3. Paul Manning · March 20, 2012

    You keep coming up with these reasonable and logical arguments Karen, like bags of quality pearls.

    Yes it seems, to some degree, that we are still living in the past when it comes to the roles of mothers and fathers. I can remember when my son was newly born and my ex wanted to keep her career going and to further her new business, I was keen to stay at home and be the domestic parent, and I did so with gusto and in fact came to like it. After shelving my own business we decided we didn’t want an outside child carer involved, I wasn’t going to miss the joys of seeing my son grow up, not this time. I have other grown up children and I remember not having the opportunity to spend as much time as I would have liked with them, in hind sight I feel I missed out somewhow in getting to know them more. in those days the idea that dad was the worker and provider was accepted as the usual norm. However, I really think we have moved on since then, and the roles of domesticity have shortened thier bridges. In 2002, when my son was born, I didn’t think twice about being seen pushing my son in the pram, or going to the babys room at Sainsburys to change his nappy, mentally I could see I was accepted now as the modern fathers norm to do so. That feeling of being accepted as a modern father in the role of the main carer, encouraged me to think that indeed things had moved on. Or have they?

    “Moved on”, to some degree yes, but as Karen suggests not MOVED ON ENOUGH! Even though fathers are quite capable of caring for a child and being the main carer, when it comes to equality in custody awards over our child, we are still seen as second rate parents and are forced into accepting the dregs of the word “contact”, (God I hate that word!) I am not saying that either parent should be seen as the automatic custodain of a child, not even the father, but it is clear that we dads are certainly not seen as equal to mums, even though we have proved, by now in these modern times, that we can be a mum too. I feel that this is where the 50-50 issue should be the courts ideal ruling towards our chldren. Im sorry if it sounds rather cold and badly put, but that ideal should be the starting point for every family court, unless there are good and proven grounds on safety issues why it should not be that way. Forget the genders, lets just be seen as parents, just parents fully equal to each other.

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  4. Yvie · March 20, 2012

    I am with you entirely Paul regarding the 50/50 shared care. Unfortunately many mothers see this as a threat to their income both from state benefits and child maintenance payments from the father.

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  5. mark dewison · March 20, 2012

    Yvie, it’s certainly true that some women see shared care as a threat to their income. My ex saw my wanting to vary the terms of a contact order to convert an evening stay to an overnight as a threat to her child maintenence, at least if what she said to our son is anything to go by. She told him she’d worked out that I’d pay her less maintenence if I was successful, and that was the reason why I was asking for the change.
    This is the woman who’s paid £90k a year! (some will remember her from a previous thread)

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  6. Nick Woodall · March 20, 2012

    Hi Yvie

    My experience tells me that many mums can struggle with their role after family separation and experience being separated from their children (even for short periods) as being something that is difficult to adjust to in a society that places such expectations on women to care for their children.

    Unfortunately, this is one of the issues that has to be faced up to and dealt with as part of most separations and, the more that fathers have become involved in hands-on parenting before separation, the more they quite rightly expect to remain fully present in their children’s lives after separation. (Research suggests that mothers look after their children for 2 hours and 32 minutes each day while fathers do so for 2 hours and 16 minutes – EOC, Completing the Revolution: The Leading Indicators, London, 2007.)

    What makes the process all the more difficult when mums and dads attempting to build collaborative co-parenting arrangements are the organisations that parents turn to for support and information. By way of example, Gingerbread’s leaflet entitled ‘Deciding where your child should live’ offers mums the following warning:

    “Sharing the care of your child may affect your benefits and tax credits. It may also reduce
    the level of child support the non-resident parent is required to pay you. Call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline free on 0808 802 0925 for more information.”

    Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why the issue of state benefits and child maintenance raises its head in the way that it does.

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  7. karenwoodall · March 20, 2012

    I am not actually for a presumption of 50/50 care as many will know. I think it is difficult for some children to manage and it can be difficult at different ages and for different reasons.

    I am in favour though of the presumption of a meaningful relationship and the legislative change that will support that.

    I am also in favour of a system where at the point of separation, parents are required to make parenting agreements that are framed around their children’s needs and that guidance and support in reaching an understanding of what those needs are is provided widely.

    And that parenting agreements should be reviewed on an annual or bi annual basis with the assistance of an educator/mediator if necessary to ensure that children’s changing needs are met.

    The problem for some children in shared care arrangements is that if their parents have not resolved their adult conflict, the child is put into a situation where they have to make transitions across the toxicity of that. Children live very much in a subjective world of relationships and their ability to sense the atmosphere is finely honed. Thus we see children experiencing difficulties in transitions and using the switching method of pleasing both parents (a child will tell both parents that they are unhappy with the other parent to make sure that they please the parent that they are with). This leads to increased tensions between parents as each seek to see the other as the problem.

    And so we need to be very skilled at being shared care parents. It doesn’t happen without some education and knowledge and paying close attention. This is why communication between parents remains a very important factor.

    I have worked with some cases where children are undressed and redressed in their ‘mummy clothes’ each time they arrive back from dads. And some children whose daddy wants them to be there on the platform ready for handover, even when they have measles and feel pretty lousy. This is not child focused shared care parenting, this is parenting from a parental rights based perspective and it damages children.

    Our drive at CSF is to get child focused shared care parenting onto the agenda and into the lives of separated families. When children spend regular time in both homes with both sides of their family, and when children feel that both sides of who they are are valued, loved and cared for, by both sides of their family, they do well. It takes a bit of getting there and currently there are so many barriers to this that many families fall at the first hurdle and retreat or get forced back into the standard for this country which is still based on the access model of the seventies.

    But the government is modernising and at a brisk pace too and so the years ahead look more positive than those behind us.

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  8. Yvie · March 20, 2012

    Its a fact of life that many parents seem unwilling to comprehend, that when a marriage breaks down there is only so much money in the pot. Two homes usually have to be maintained instead of one home. Of course if dad and mum are have lucrative well paid jobs it is less of a problem. When income is down at the lower end of the scale meeting all the various bills can become a real problem.

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  9. Paul Manning · March 20, 2012

    Yes Karen I agree with your last comment as to being child focused. At times it indeed may be neccessary for a father to back down on occasion, or could be the mother, if the child is ill or has measles as you say. That is why in my previous comment I used the words “The courts ideal ruling”. By ideal I meant that if, and only IF, the parents can agree on the 50-50 without confrontation and in a harmonius way. I guess 2 parents agreeing in this manner might be considered rare to find, but im sure there must be many. I can see circumstances though where it may not be in the childs welfare to have a 50-50, all sorts of factors come in to play here, work, schooling, location of each parent, etc etc. Each case would have to be worked out on its merits and for the childs needs. However, surely there has to be some figure put on the amount of time a father should have with his child for it to be considered “meaningful”. I would not consider, for example, 2 hours a month as a meaningful amount of time. But this is what is happening to many fathers, 2 hours a month can’t be right surely? There has to be same kind of genuine effort made so that the father is not demoted in the eyes of his child, It could appear to the child as if he is a lesser parent. And such a situation of 2 hours per month,, or even a little more, could suggest to the child that dad is secondry and lesser to mum. I haven’t put that very well Karen, but you must know what I mean? There has to be some attention paid to the time factor, or else the lack of quantity will certainly result in a lack of a quality in relationship to ones child.

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  10. dermot · March 20, 2012

    i think the time factor is important. i have reservations about 50/50 care and those i have met who have lived it as children have too i would’nt want it for my children although each parent and family will find their own way as it were. I would think it only really works where parents have co-parenting down to a fine art.

    i had to get through two sessions of mediation to get my weekly overnight on a monday. it works well. school is a buffer to conflict and tension and i get to parent them. shop, homework,play and reading at bedtime etc. mediation broke down when it got to weekend overnight contact. thats why i am going to court.

    i think the contact should be based on a mix of weekday and weekend where possible as that lets a child and a parent experience some “normality”. i had my children overnight on boxing day and one of their comments was its good to have a lie in at dads. i have them sat afternoon currently but the danger with that is clock watching. also you feel pressured to entertain the children. i have stiopped feeling that pressure and although we still do fun things sometimes we just stay in. the other element to restricted time is that its unfair of course on the other parent if dad equals fun and mum equals the domestic grind as most peoples lives are to some degree a lot of the time.

    i think parents after separation are often driven by fear.the system as it stands does little to address that if anything it promotes fear and conflict.it is of course also a nice little earner for the pinktape brigade. i work with one woman who struggles with the time away from her kids. my own wife did with our now adult stepson. most dads especially where there is conflict have a fear of losing their emotional bond with their children (count me in). the question is how do you address this conflict?

    well firstly a presumption of contact as in Norway would help. It would reduce the fears of most parents who leave and ask the other parent to step up to the plate as it were.equally the maintenance system is absurd as the comment on Gingerbread advice points to handing a loaded gun to people who are fragile and in many ways vulnerable. good for the kids eh?

    i have no problem financially supporting my children indeed i think its part of being a parent. why though should i potentially live in poverty while my counterpart can remarry etc and live well or better than that? its absurd. i have a friend who pays a hefty sum for his teenage son who he has not seen in years. mum is with a new partner and both are working and well paid.the system needs to be changed and the loaded gun removed from the equation.

    parents need more though than proper legislation and support to arrange finances. they need emotional support and perhaps accountability? community support linked in with schools perhaps would be worth exploring as in many respects the latter are the hub of local family life. this is where our children spend much of their time.

    i got my CAFCASS bumpf today and have a phone call coming soon. it was interesting the stuff they enclosed. I will keep an open mind despite the horror stories i have heard. Most of all it made me think why dont children and parents get some free intervention-the brightly coloured neat booklets and some child focused human contact (i’m hopeing!)before it gets to this? in my case i got a mediator charging £440 a session and a school mentor for my little one who is lovely but in many ways ill equipped to deal with the fall out as it impacts on the children.

    perhaps its cost?
    .
    The irony is that this madness crosses all boundaries-gender, race, social class. i have been on the Gingerbread forums (avoiding mumsnet!) and its there. Broken and fragile parents enveloped in their fear all reassuring each other that its ok and best for the kids. One mum can’t wait to tell the children the “truth” when they are older.one dad says his seven year old has strived since mum left. shes an alcoholic and why did she cry when she last saw her daughter? the daughter aged ten will of course decide when she sees her mum.Its an emotional powderkeg.

    its a cliche of course but this country has’nt just lost its moral compass. Perhaps it never really had one? Until you join this strange and surreal world of separation you will have been all but blind to the elephant in the living room. One thing is for sure-Gingerbread Pinktape and co wont help us stumble through the darkness to a new dawn.That would be too much to expect for our children…

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  11. Yvie · March 22, 2012

    I may have this wrong, but I read an article which suggested that neither the mother nor the father has the right by law for automatic contact with their children and so in that sense, both parents are equal.

    The State by paying child benefits etc to the mother, designates the mother as the parent with care, thus empowering one parent over the other. Many dads then have an uphill struggle to achieve meaningful contact with their children.

    I really believe that equal status in law is the only way to go to stop children being caught in the middle of this.

    I do agree however, that shared parenting works best when both parents are working together to ensure the children experience the love and care of both parents. Unfortunately when only one parent has the desire for this, the end result seems to be the Family Courts and all the trauma that this can bring.

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  12. avalon111 · March 23, 2012

    For those who flirted with feminism in the 1970s and 80s the idea that parenting roles should be gendered seems incomprehensible.

    Many modern feminists though have determined that the job of bringing-up children should be gendered – that the task is one for women and women-only. For the moment families, or former families only wobble into the range of this determination only when the parents separate, but there are substantial efforts to apply the theory to stable relationships – to in effect return the role of women in society to only child-bearing and child-rearing.

    How has this state been reached? In particular, how is it that the feminist community, particularly in the US and UK, have come to adopt a world-view that would have left previous generations of feminists spinning in their graves?

    For the most part the situation has been caused by two elements; the first is the one already discussed – the gendering of the child-rearing role is determined by fear that shared-parenting will result in reduced maintenance payments.

    The other element is a consequence of modern feminist dogma, which portrays all males as being by default rapists, pedophiles, domestic abusers (and sometimes, demons and/or satanists). In essence a rogue creature, barely restrained by society. Freed of the restraints imposed by family structure, the belief is that the male will be rendered a demonic creature – only too willing to give-in to his core desires – i.e. to sexually abuse his children, assault and rape his fomer spouse.

    Government and judicial policy, in response to such a well-documented world-view has adopted it wholesale. For the moment those families who suffer the trauma of seperation and divorce are regarded as being ‘fair-game’ for alienation of the male in the family, and for the automatic assumption that the female adopts the gendered role of child-rearer. Other influences, such as John Bowlby’s theories of attachment, centered upon the role of the ‘mother’ have had a part, but in essence the dogmatic view that males are insididously dangerous and it is the duty of the Court and executive (Government) to keep them away from their children has gained favour.

    This dogmatic view is the one that the likes of Mumsnet has chosen to support, together with other implicit signatures of modern feminism; a fear of science, intense collusion with religious fundamentalism, and poor standards of research.

    Dealing with it is and has been, tough. Having to challenge and oppose ‘feminists’ over efforts to gender child-rearing seems a bizarre concept, as the battle is with a group and over a subject that wouldn’t be expected to exist, let alone be one promoted by the very grouping expected to challenge gender stereotypes.

    The difficulty is perhaps addressed in acknowledging that modern feminism, particularly the version identified by those who oppose the concept of shared parenting, isn’t a ‘feminism’ that would be easily recognised by previous generations. Modern feminism is principally a world-view, beset with conspiracy theories, driven by a need to identify females as principally victims, easily bamboozled by a complex world of wily males who exist within a a huge invisible societal structure (the famed ‘patriarchy’).

    The vision of the dynamic, go-get-them female of the 1980s has been replaced with one when feminists present females as being beset by emotional and mental difficulties, constantly frightened and fearful of rapacious demonic males and their sexual and violent needs. Terms like ‘the rape society’ and ‘male privilege’ join the somewhat overused ‘patriarchy’ use, in a effort (mostly successful) to create a society of fear, where women lose their ‘edge’ and instead are portrayed as being little more than victims and bovine child-raisers.

    With restrictions on language and thought, modern feminists are unable to break-out of their current dogmatic closed-loop system, ensuring that those who realise they are now promoting the gendering of social roles (such as child-rearing) and the belittling of females, are unable to change their peers and have no choice but to abandon their identification with the movement.

    For the moment modern feminists can claim to have won a victory – by re-introducing gendering they have managed to reverse the social presumptions that previous generations of feminists fought against. But its an ill-gotten betrayal of their own sex.

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