The High Costs of Fatherlessness

 

Augusto Zimmermann

For years fathers’ groups have complained that whenever they request that fathers should have more time to spend with their children after divorce, feminist groups argue that those children will be exposed to more violence.

Contrary to social evidence, feminists think males raised without fathers will treat women better. And yet, most of the male perpetrators of domestic violence are the products of what once was called a “broken home”. They have been denied a meaningful contact with their biological fathers, and, as a result, denied experience of traditional fatherhood.

With first-hand experience of the great damage caused by divorce and family disintegration, these children have seen their fathers banished from the family home and their own contact with them greatly (if not entirely) reduced. Many have seen their fathers’ intense suffering and despair. Too young to understand, they are often left emotionally confused and their sense of security is severely damaged. And it is always important to consider what the best empirical research available unquestionably reveals: the absence of the biological father is directly associated with the rise in juvenile violent crime, child depression, child eating disorders, and teen suicide and substance abuse. [1]

Arguably, the arrival of easily obtainable divorce led not only to the breakup of families but also to a pandemic of fatherless children. In the lives of most of these children, fathers a re largely if not completely absent. And yet, hostility to traditional marriage is one of the hallmarks of modern feminism. Martha Nussbaum, a liberal feminist scholar, writes: “a woman who accepts the traditional tasks of housekeeping and provides support for her husband’s work is not likely to be well prepared to look after herself and her family in the event (which is increasingly likely) of a divorce or an accident that leaves her alone”.[2]

There is obviously some truth in such an argument. The question is what to do about the problems Professor Nussbaum describes, particularly when it is broadly recognised that feminists like her have decisively co-operated in supporting “no-fault divorce”. And yet the institution of marriage acts as a culture’s chief vehicle to bind men to their children and raise them with the mother in a stable fami ly home.

One of the most disturbing trends in contemporary society is the increasing distance, if not separation, of fathers from their biological children.[3] Radical feminism inflicts great damage on children in its reckless attempt to insist the differing roles of father and mother are not essential to the whole enterprise of raising a child. In feminist terminology, the idea of “reproductive freedom” means not only abortion-on-demand but also artificial insemination for lesbians who want to bear and raise fatherless children.

Ironically, contrary to common perception (and the wild claims of the powerful feminist lobby), the most likely abuser of a young child is not the biological father.[4] As noted by US sociologist David Popenoe, one of the greates t risk factors in child abuse, found by virtually every investigation that has ever been conducted, is children living in a “female-headed single-parent household”.[5] Although it is appalling that a child might grow up in a home terrorised by a violent father, according to US sociologists Murray Straus and Jan Stets “women not only engage in physical violence as often as men, but they also initiate violence about as often as men”.[6]

If our political and intellectual elites were really concerned about the protection of children and breaking the cycle of violence, they should at least be able to recognise that child abuse by mothers is part of the story of violence in the home.[7] In the United States, statistics reveal that mothers are almost twice as likely as fathers to abuse their children.[8] An official report released by the US Department of Justice found that mothers account for no less than 55 per cent of all child murders.[9]

In a well-known study using a sample of 718,948 reported cases of child abuse, the US Administration for Children and Families concluded that biological mothers (58 per cent of the child abuse perpetrators) are 1.3 times more likely to abuse their children than biological fathers. When acting alone, mothers are twice as likely to abuse their biological children as are fathers, and mothers are also the main perpetrators of infanticide, or child homicide.[10]

The evidence that biological mothers can be more abusive to their children is undeniable. It is confirmed by the US Department of Health and Human Services in its comprehensive report Child Mistreatment (2006). While fathers (including stepfathers) were involved in 36 per cent of all the mistreatment cases, mothers were involved in 64 per cent of them. Further, while the father was the sole perpetrator in 18 per cent of these cases, in 40 per cent of them the mother was the sole perpetrator, with the mother acting with someone else besides the father in 6.2 per cent of those cases.[11] The Department concludes:

On average, fathers who live in a married household with their children are better able to create a family environment that i s more conducive to the safety and necessary care of their children. Consequently, children who live with their biological father in a married household are significantly less likely to be physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected than children who do not live with their married biological parents.[12]

The reality is remarkably similar in Canada, where a study of 135,573 child maltreatment investigations carried out by Health Canada, and published by the National Clearing House on Family Violence, was able to examine all the cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment and other subcategories. The empirical investigation concluded that, compared to their biological fathers, biological mothers were considerably more likely to physically abuse their children (47 per cent, compared to 42 per cent), to neglect their children (86 per ce nt; 33 per cent), to engage in emotional abuse (61 per cent; 55 per cent) and to contribute to multiple other categories of abuse and neglect (66 per cent; 33 per cent).[13]

These statistics are similar to those obtained in the United Kingdom, where it has been demonstrated that fatherless children are substantially more likely to experience all sorts of physical abuse and neglect; that these children are less likely to live in homes that provide satisfactory levels of support, protection and stability.[14] The British data on child abuse reveal that rates of serious abuse are lowest in family units where the biological father is present, in particular where both of the biological parents are married and live together. By contract, the incidence of child abuse and neglect is thirty-thr ee times higher when the biological mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the child’s biological father.[15] What is more, children whose mothers cohabit with a non-married partner are seventy-three times more likely to suffer “fatal abuse” than those living with their married biological parents.[16]

In Australia the statistics are remarkably similar. It has been reported that “around the country there are government departments struggling to cope with daily reports of child abuse, most often by their mothers”.[17] For example, data gathered in Western Australia by its Department of Child Protection reveals that the number of mothers who are responsi ble for “substantial maltreatment” of their children rose from 312 to 427 in less than a ten-year period. In that same period the number of fathers reported for child abuse dropped from 165 to 155.[18]

The problem has not been restricted to English-speaking countries. After all, a comprehensive analysis of child abuse cases across forty-two nations of the Western world found that children raised in single-parenting houses are considerably more likely to become victims of physical violence and sexual abuse. By contrast, a father’s involvement in the life of a child has been proven beyond doubt to be directly associated with much lower levels of child abuse and neglect, even in families having to endure problems such as male  unemployment and poverty, which could place the child at some risk of maltreatment. Compared to their peers living with both of the ir biological parents, children raised in single-parent homes have a:

77 per cent greater risk of being physically abused;

87 per cent greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect;

165 per cent greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect;

74 per cent greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect;

80 per cent greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse; and a

120 per cent greater risk of experiencing some type of maltreatment overall.[19]

As can be seen, child abuse occurs disproportionately in non-traditional families. So it is quite extraordinary that the subject of family breakdown has failed to receive proper political, media and academic attention.[20] While it is widely re cognised that a positive relationship between a child and his/her biological father “contributes to the child’s development and may lessen the risk of abuse”,[21] studies also confirm that children living in single-mother households have a considerably greater lifetime exposure to sexual assault and mistreatment than those living with their biological parents.[22] Sociology professors Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew from the University of Virginia attempt to provide an explanation for these findings:

Mothers living in a married household are less likely to be abusive or neglectful of their children because they enjoy more support from a spouse. Fathers help mothers be better parents in a variety of ways. First, fathers can directly care for their children, thereby providing mothers with a break from the challenges and stresses of parenting. Second, by engaging in housework or other tasks associated with running a household, fathers can help decrease a mother’s stress, thereby lowering the risk of child maltreatment. Third, fathers can monitor a mother’s parenting, stepping in when she could be on the verge of engaging in abusive or neglectful parenting. Finally, married fathers can offer emotional support and advice to their wives, and both parents can strategize together about parenting. Such support is invaluable in reducing the odds that a mother ends up abusing their children. For all these reasons, then, mothers who are married to the father of their children are less likely to neglect or abuse their children, compared to single mothers.[23]

Whether or not this might be true, decades of research indicate that family breakdown makes society much less equal in areas such as health, education and employment. For example, single-parent households are substantially more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. Although it should be noted that most people living in poverty do not harm their children, “lower income, the increased stress associated with the sole burden of family responsibilities, and fewer supports are thought to contribute to the risk of single parents maltreating their children”.[24] A study carried out in the US about a decade ago concluded that 33 per cent of children in single-mother households had at least once lacked food or gone hungry, whereas only 11 per cent of their peers in married households had ever lacked food at home—a nearly 300 per cent difference.[25]

Above all, decades of research show that children who do not live with both their biological parents are at significantly higher risk of being sexually abused, especially by men living in their homes who are not their biological fathers. According to Jeremy Sammut of the Centre for Independent Studies, “girls living in non-traditional families have been found to be sexually abused by their ‘stepfathers’, either the married, cohabiting or casual partner of a divorced or single mother, at six to seven times the rate girls are sexually abused by their natural fathers in intact families”.[26]

The same conclusion has been reached by Robin Fretwell Wilson. She is the Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, where she di rects the Family Law and Policy Program and the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program. After carefully analysing more than seventy representative research papers on the subject, Professor Wilson concluded:

There is little doubt that the risk is indeed real. As difficult as it is to accept, a girl’s sexual vulnerability skyrockets after [her parents] divorce, with no indication that this risk will subside. As marriages continue to collapse at an extraordinary rate and the number of single-parent and remarried households soars, the number of girls put at risk can only increase.[27]

Professor Wilson also questions the abject failure of our legal systems to properly acknowledge the extent to which the children of divorced parents, particularly girls, are at a greater risk of sexual abuse. She writes:

The law has failed to grasp the extent to which girls in disrupted families are at risk of sexual abuse. In the custody arena, judges base their decisions primarily on the past and present conduct of each parent. Consequently, courts examine whether a parent has molested, or is molesting, his or her daughter before awarding custody to that parent. However, courts generally fail to consider the equally important question: could a daughter be molested after her parents part, either by them or by someone who enters her life after divorce? This failure on the part of courts highlights a glaring inadequacy in the law: a nearly universal absence of approaches designed to prevent, as opposed to remedy, a known repercussion of parental separation, sexual abuse.[28]

These finding s in no way imply that all stepfathers are potential abusers. Sexual abuse may occur in all kinds of family arrangements and configurations. It may be perpetrated by a multiplicity of offenders, including relatives, neighbours and family friends. Indeed, as explained by W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Rosenberg in their seminal work on the importance of fathers in the healthy development of children, “there are … countless stepfathers who step into the role of dad with both competence and caring. And many live-in boyfriends provide both love and structure for the children in the household.”[29]

Bradford and Rosenberg note that children raised by loving married parents can better learn how a man is to treat a woman in the context of a healthy relationship. They also note that children who see their fathers treating their mothers with love and respect learn that they are supposed to treat individuals of the opposite gender with love and respect. These children learn that behaviour towards the opposite gender that is not respectful is simply not acceptable. [30]

Above all, the undeniable fact remains that only a tiny proportion of sexual abuse is committed by biological fathers, although government statistics often lump in the statistics with stepfathers so as to make it appear that incest has become widespread.[31] For instance, statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) fail to distinguish between biological fathers and non-biological fathers.[32] This is extremely unhelpful, “given the scholarly interests in the relationship between non-traditional families and child sexual abuse, and the good international evidence that family breakdown is a major risk factor”.[33] The child protection data which is publicly available in the United States is far more comprehensive. The 2010 National Incidence Study of Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) reached the conclusion:

Children living with their married biological parents had the lowest rate of abuse and neglect, whereas those living with a single parent who had a partner living in the household had the highest rate. Compared to children living with married biological parents, those whose single parent had a live-in partner were at least 8 times more likely to be maltreated in one way or another . They were 10 times more likely to experience abuse and 8 times more likely to experience neglect. [34]

Patrick Parkinson is a professor of law at the University of Sydney and a specialist in family law and child protection. He was President of the International Society of Family Law from 2011 to 2014. His books include Australian Family Law in Context, Family Law and the Indissolubility of ParenthoodThe Voice of a Child in Family Law Disputes and Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches. After carefully reviewing the relevant statistics from Australia and overseas, Professor Parkinson concluded:

Children whose parents live apart are exposed to a greater number of risks and difficulties than children in intact families. They are significantly more likely to be subject to reports of abuse and neglect than intact families. Two of the most significant reasons for this are the presence of new partners who are not biologically related to the children, and the financial and other stresses of lone parenthood. Girls in particular are at much greater risk of sexual abuse from the mother’s new partner than from their own father. Single parents, and especially those who are working to support the family, also have less time to monitor and supervise their children. [35]

Although the media, government inquiries and pronouncements by infl uential public figures appear to suggest that domestic violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men, the disintegration of the traditional family (and the devaluation of fatherhood) is one of the leading causes of the growth of domestic violence.[36] Such a breaking down, at least in great part, is directly caused by the state’s influence and intervention.[37] Unfortunately our political class has hugely betrayed its constituency by utterly ignoring the massive role of state-sponsored initiatives in instigating family breakdown and fatherlessness, and how such factors directly contribute to the growth in domestic violence.[38] From a classical liberal perspective, most of the existing laws in Australia are gender-biased and they have made marriage a remarkably bad deal for men.[39] As noted by Patrick McCauley in an article in Quadrant about three years ago:

marriage failure for a man means losing the role of day-to-day fatherhood, his home, a big part of his income as mandated by the divorce settlement and enforced by the courts … The injustice is both palpable and bound to make an impression on men who have witnessed in childhood the disintegration of their own parents’ unions. [40]

Child abuse and neglect overwhelmingly occur in households from which the biological father is absent or removed (often as a result of involuntary divorce or restraining orders that violate even the most e ssential elements of natural justice and due process of law).[41] Mothers who kill their children are usually single mothers.[42] And since the biological father is precisely that person who the “domestic violence industry” wants to remove from the family unit, countless children have become the primary victims of an unjust legal system which often makes then unable to develop a meaningful relationship with their fathers, in such a way that could reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.

Sensible people would see these factors as pointers to the protective nature of the bond between a child and his/her father. Nonetheless, defending the important role played by fathers in the protection of their biological children is not part of the prevailing agenda, especially of th e lobby groups that have sought the obliteration of fatherhood through gender politics and gender fluidity.[43]

 

Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association and a former commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia.

[1] David Popenoe, ‘Life with a Father’, U.S. Department of Educa tion, Educational Resources Information (ED 416 035), November 2000.

[2] Martha Nussbaum, ‘Justice for Women’, The New Review of Books, October 8, 1992, p. 43.

[3] Donald S. Browning, Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to do About it (Grand Rapids/MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p 18.

[4] Patrick Fagan, ‘The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage, Family, and the American Community’, Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, June 3, 1997, p 16.

[5] Popenoe, above n.2, p 1 2.

[6] Murray Straus and Jan E. Stets, ‘Gender Differences in Reporting Marital Violence’, in Murray Straus and Richard Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families (New Brunswick/NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), p.154.

[7] Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 January, 2016, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/flirting-with-confected-outrage-fails-to-impress-women/news-story/13b5e0c486c037fce7f0a3fd625f801b

[8] Michael Weiss and Cathy Young, ‘Feminist Jurisprudence: Equal Rights or Neo-Paternalism?’, Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No.256, June 19, 1996, at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-256.html; See also: Murray Straus and Richard Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families (New Brunswick/NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990). See also: W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, ‘Protectors or Perpetrators? Fathers, Mothers, and Child Abuse Neglect’, Center for Marriage and Families, Institute for American Values, Research Brief No.7, January 2008.

[9] ‘Murder in Families’, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mf.pdf

[10] Dutton & White, above n.37, at 13.

[11] ‘Child Maltreatment’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Washington/DC: GPO, 2007). The mother acted together with the father as perpetrator in 17.3 per cent of the cases.

[12] Jeffrey Rosenberg and W Bradford Wilcox, ‘The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006, at 16.

[13] N Trocme, B MacLaurin, B Fallon, J Daciuk, D Billingsley, M Tourigny, et al., ‘Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (No. H49-151/2000E), Ottawa/ON: Health Canada.

[14] Fagan, above n.84. See also E. Thompson, T.L. Hanson, and S.S. McLanahan, ‘Family Struct ure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources versus Parental Behaviors’ (1994) 73 Social Forces 221-43.

[15] Patrick F. Fagan, PhD and Kirk A. Johnson, PhD, ‘Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children”, Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder N.1535 (April 10, 2002), p 3.

[16] Ibid., p 4.

[17] Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 January, 2016

[18] Bettina Arndt, ‘Flirting with Confected Outrage Fails to Impress Women’, The Australian, 7 Jan uary, 2016

[19]J Goldman, M K Salus, D Wolcott and K Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, p 31

[20] Jeremy Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, 30 January 2014,  at 4. See also: Diane Russell, ‘The Prevalence and Seriousness of Incestuous Abuse: Stepfathers vs. Biological Fathers,’ (1984) 8 Child Abuse & Neglect 1, pp 15–22.

[21] J Goldman, M K Salus, D Wolcott and K Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and N eglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003, p 30.

[22] For instance, research carried in the mid-1980s by Drs Daley and Wilson revealed that pre-school children who live with one parent and one stepparent are 40 times more liked to become a victim of abuse than were children living with the biological mother and father. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, ‘Child Abuse and Other Risks of Not Living with Both Parents (1985) 6 Ethology and Sociobiology 197-210. Michael Stiffman et al, ‘Household and Risk of Fatal Child Maltreatment’ (2002) 109 Pediatrics 615-21; William L. Mac Donald and Alfred DeMaris, ‘Parenting Stepchildren and Biological Children: The Effect of Stepparent’s Gender and New Biological Children’ (1996) 17 Journal of Family Issues, 5-25; Alan Booth an d Judy Dunn (eds.), Stepfamilies: How Benefits? Who Does Not? (Hillsdale/NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994). David Popenoe observes:  ‘Stepfamilies typically have an economic advantage, but some recent studies indicated that the children of stepfamilies have as many behavioural and emotional problems as the children of single-parent families, and possible more … Stepfamily problems, in short, may be so intractable that the best strategy for dealing with them is to do everything possible to minimize their occurrence…’. David Popenoe, ‘The Evolution of Marriage and the Problems of Stepfamilies: A Biosocial Perspective, in Alan Booth and Judy Dunn (eds.), Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who does Not? (Hillsdale/NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994) at 5 and 19. See also: Heather A. Turner, David Finkelhor, and Richard Ormrod, ‘The Effect of Lifetime Victimization on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents’ (2002) 62 Social Science and Me dicine 13-27.

[23] W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew, ‘Protectors or Perpetrators? Fathers, Mothers, and Child Abuse Neglect’, Center for Marriage and Families (Institute for American Values), Research Brief No.7, January 2008, p.5. See also, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, ‘Household Food Security in the United States 2004, ‘Economics Research Report No.11, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2005. See also: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, ‘The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect’, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.

[24] Jill Goldman, Marsha K Salus, Deborah Wolcott and Kristie Y Kennedy, ‘A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and N eglect: The Foundation for Practice’, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington/DC, 2003, p 27.

[25] Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, ‘Household Food Security in the United States 2004, ‘Economics Research Report No.11, Washington/DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2005.

[26] Jeremy Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, 30 January 2014, at 4.

[27] Robin Fretwell Wilson, ‘Children at Risk: The Sexual Exploitation of Female Children After

Divorce,’ (2000) 86:2 Cornell Law Review 251, at 256.

[28] Ibid., at 57

[29] Rosenberg and Wilcox, above n.12, pp 35-6

[30] Ibid.

[31] Stephen Baskerville, ‘Divorced from Reality’, Touchstone Magazine, January/February 2009, at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=22-01-019-f

[32] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey Australia 2005, Cat. No. 4906.0.

[33] Jerem y Sammut, ‘The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse’, Centre for Independent Studies, No.142, Sydney/NSW, 30 January 2014, p. 4.

[34] Diana Zuckerman and Sarah Pedersen, ‘Child Abuse and Father Figures: Which Kinds of Families Are Safest to Grow Up In?’, National Research Center for Health Research, Washington, DC, 2018, at http://www.center4research.org/child-abuse-father-figures-kind-families-safest-grow/

[35] Patrick Parkinson, ‘For the Kid’s Sake: Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People’ (2011) 32 (3) The Australian Family 23-32.

[36] Patrick McCauley, ‘The Br oader View of Domestic Violence’, Quadrant, no.5, 2015, at http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2015/05/broader-view-domestic-violence/

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Patrick Parkinson, Judith Cashmore and Judi Single, ‘Post-Separation Conflict and the Use of Family Restraining Orders’ (2011) 33 Sydney Law Review 1, 32-33.  See also: Patrick Parkinson, Judith Cashmore and Atlanta Webster, ‘The Views of Family Lawyers on Apprehended Violence Orders After Parental Separation’ (2010) 24 Australian Journal of Family Law 313, p.315. See also: Jennifer Hickey and Stephen Cumines, ‘Apprehended Violence Orders: A Survey of Magistrates’ (Sydney/NSW: Judicial Commission of New South Wales, 1999), p.37.

[42] S Hatters Fridman, DR Hrouda, CE Holden, SG Noffsinger, et al., ‘Filicide-Suicide: Common Factors in Parents Who Kill Their Children and Themselves’, (2005) 33 (4) Journal of American Academy of Psychiatric Law 496-504.

[43] Angela Shanahan, ‘Domestic Violence Beat Up’, The Spectator, November 10, 2015, at https://www.spectator.co.u k/2015/10/domestic-violence-beat-up/

 

Thanks to “Len” from the “Nuance” list for posting this.

 

 

Posted in Family Separation, Fatherhood, Feminism, Hot Topics, Social Commentary | Leave a comment

Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common – Fatherlessness

February 20, 2018 by Mark Meckler

Suzanne Venker’s recent opinion piece on FoxNews is very, very important, because she points out that almost all of the most recent deadly mass shooters have one thing in common: fatherlessness.

She begins by pointing out a tweet after the terrible shooting in Florida last week. Actor and comedian Michael Ian Black began a series of tweets in this way, “Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.”

Venker goes on to describe how his “tweet storm” strayed from the truth:

Unfortunately, Black quickly veered off course. “Men don’t have the language to understand masculinity as anything other than some version of a caveman because no language exists…The language of masculinity is hopelessly entwined with sexuality, and the language of sexuality in hopelessly entwined with power, agency, and self-worth…To step outside those norms is to take a risk most of us are afraid to take. As a result, a lot of guys spend their lives terrified…We’re terrified of being viewed as something other than men. We know ourselves to be men, but don’t know how to be our whole selves. A lot of us (me included) either shut off or experience deep shame or rage. Or all three. Again: men are terrified.”

Mr. Black is not the first to attack masculinity and suggest it’s at the root of all evil. Indeed, the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has become boilerplate language in America.

It’s not a hard sell, either. After all, it is boys and men who are typically to blame for violent acts of aggression. Ergo, testosterone—the defining hormone of masculinity—must be to blame. But testosterone has been around forever. School shootings have not.

Mr. Black is correct that boys are broken. But they’re not broken as a result of being cavemen who haven’t “evolved” the way women have. They’re broken for another reason.

They are fatherless.

Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes.

Fatherlessness is a serious problem.  America’s boys have been under stress for decades.  It’s not toxic masculinity hurting them, it’s the fact that when they come home there are no fathers there.  Plain and simple.  Add that to a bunch of horrible cultural trends telling them that everything bad is good (gang culture, drugs, misogyny, etc.), and we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.

Venker goes on to explain that of CNN’s list of the “27 Deadliest Mass Shootings In U.S. History, only one was raised by his biological father since childhood.

“Indeed, there is a direct correlation between boys who grow up with absent fathers and boys who drop out of school, who drink, who do drugs, who become delinquent and who wind up in prison,” she writes.  “And who kill their classmates.”

This problem can’t be solved by any policy, or any sort of gun control. It is time to have a serious discussion about the degradation of our cultural norms.

Image CreditTony Webster on Flickr

Hat Tip: Fox News 

Posted in Fatherhood, Hot Topics, Men's Issues, Parental Alienation | Leave a comment

Break-up is so hard to do

What to do about the children after a divorce continues to trouble the family courts.

The slow and dysfunctional family law system is set for a significant shake-up if the government and Australian Law Reform Commission get their way. For the exhausted litigants who use it, change cannot come soon enough. But at all levels, the grown-ups are fighting while the kids suffer.

The government has unveiled plans to restructure the family courts to improve efficiency but it is pitted against a powerful legal lobby opposed to the changes.

Separately, the ALRC has been working on a comprehensive ­review of the family law syst em.

But even within the legal advisory body, there has been disagreement about the best way to fix a system struggling with a backlog of 20,000 family law cases.

Cynics argue that the fierce ­opposition to court reform from some lawyers may be related to the income they derive from drawn-out divorces.

However, lawyers warn that the government’s plan to merge the Family Court and lower level Federal Circuit Court will hurt litigants, especially women and children, by dismantling a court with specialist expertise in family dynamics and violence.

In a new book, Inside Family Law, released this week, a family law judge spoke out against lawyers who fuel conflict between ­divorcing couples, motivated by profit. Others criticised the ­“aggressive and combative” ­approach of some lawye rs, espec­ially in Sydney, while in Melbourne people were “falling over themselves to settle”.

The head of the Law Council of Australia’s family law section, Wendy Kayler-Thomson, says the criticism is unfair and the vast majority of family lawyers help their clients to resolve disputes outside court.

“Most separating couples never go to court and of those who do, 84 per cent of Family Court cases settle,” she says.

But there is deep anger among many litigants at “parasitic” lawyers who “milk” their clients for “blood money” — as some readers put it this week.

Legislation to restructure the courts, which is stalled in the Senate, includes new powers for ­judges to hit lawyers with personal costs orders if they fail to help ­resolve disp utes efficiently and if their fees become disproportionate to the issues in dispute. Litigants face similar penalties.

It will be up to judges to use those powers to force change on those who abuse the system — if the laws make it through the ­parliament.

At the same time, the government has appointed a respected legal academic, Melbourne Law School professor Helen Rhoades, to lead the wide-ranging ALRC ­inquiry into the family law system. It is understood there have been strong disagreements among those involved in the inquiry over the proposals.

A retired Family Court judge, a former family law section head and the chair of Relationships Australia have been appointed to assist Rhoades on the ambitious review.

Last month the ALRC set out its grand proposals for reforming the sector in a discussion paper. Some of its ideas have been warmly welcomed — including better triaging of cases as they come into court. But other suggestions have been rubbished as “bat-shit crazy”.

Separating couples would be able to visit Families Hubs to ­access a range of services, including dispute resolution, counselling and legal advice, and other ser­vices such as health, gambling help and financial counselling.

The hubs could build on the network of 65 family relationship centres nationally.

Rhoades tells Inquirer the package of proposals is aimed at reducing the financial and wellbeing costs of engaging with the system. “We’ve seen the way to do that is through ‘front-ending’ — to try to help people before conflict escalates and they might end up in court,” she says.

But the h ubs could cost vast amounts of money. Family law ­expert Patrick Parkinson, dean of the University of Queensland’s school of law, questions whether any extra money could be better spent on the courts and existing services.

The ALRC also risks reigniting a bitter political fight between mothers and fathers groups over shared-parenting laws. The laws were introduced by the Howard government in 2006 in response to fierce lobbying from fathers who wanted more time with their children.

However, the law is so convoluted that it trips up even judges and has created a mistaken belief that parents are entitled to equal time with their children.

Instead, it creates a presumption in favour of equal respons­ibility (or decision-making) for parents in cases that do not involve violence. Judges also must consider whether equal time is in a child’s best interests and reasonably practical if an order for equal responsibility is made.

In its discussion paper, the ALRC has proposed simplifying the long list of factors judges have to consider when making parenting decisions. A child’s “safety and best interests” would become the paramount consideration (rather than best interests alone).

Rhoades says the changes are merely about simplifying the law. But Parkinson — who helped to write the 2006 changes — is not convinced.

He says it is “troubling” that under the rubric of simplification the ALRC is proposing “a radical departure” from the shared-­parenting philosophy. “While there is a strong case for simplification … the ALRC team goes far beyond this to propose ­removing most references to the importance of both parents in children̵ 7;s lives, or at least qualifying those statements heavily,” he says.

Kayler-Thomson also has concerns. “We think ‘best interests’ encompasses a whole range of ­factors that relate to a child’s welfare, including their relationship with their parents and their safety,” she says. “We’re worried the introduction of the phrase ‘safety’ is going to lead to more legal ­arguments about what ‘best interests’ means.”

Ahead of the ALRC’s final ­report, due in March, Attorney-General Christian Porter is ­attempting to merge the Family Court and lower level Federal ­Circuit Court, which both handle family law.

A key benefit would be to stop about 1200 cases a year bouncing between two different courts.

While opposition legal af fairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus has ­argued any merger should be ­delayed until after the inquiry, Rhoades says the structure of the courts is not relevant to her review.

“It was always clear to us that wasn’t part of our terms of reference,” she says.

Some have described the courts restructure as a “surprise” but it has long been on the cards.

Both sides of politics have recognised that running three separate courts — the Family Court, Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court — is not the most efficient way to structure the federal ­judiciary.

In 2008 then Labor attorney-general Robert McClelland (soon to become Family Court deputy chief justice) tried to disband the lower level court and send its ­judicial officers to new second tiers of the Family Court and Feder al Court. But the move was derailed by the then federal magistrates.

More recently, in October last year, then attorney-general ­George Brandis announced the government was open to “radical change” to the structure of the courts after having merged their back offices in 2015. He chose a new Family Court chief justice, John Pascoe, who would retire after a year and have no vested ­interest in any structure.

When Porter replaced Brandis in December last year, he took the reform ball and ran with it.

On paper, at least, Porter’s ­restructure proposal is relatively modest.

Both the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court would continue their present roles but as two divisions of the same court. The Family Court would become Division 1 of the new court and the Federal Circuit Court would ­be come Division 2.

Porter managed to put the legal profession offside, however, when he revealed he planned to phase out the Family Court.

As he told The Australian back in May: “The intention is that we won’t reappoint into Division 1 … Over time there will no longer be a Division 1,” he said.

The Family Court was created by the Whitlam government in 1976 as a specialist court for divorcing couples. It is a proud Labor achievement. There has long been suspicion that the conservatives wanted to dismantle it because it was viewed as overly favourable to mothers.

In 1999 Liberal attorney-general Daryl Williams opted to create the Federal Magistrates Court as a quicker, cheaper alternative to the Family Court — rather than giving the Family Court more ­resources to deal with its expa nding workload.

Now known as the Federal Circuit Court, it has grown to handle almost 90 per cent of all family law disputes.

For Porter to announce he planned to phase out the Family Court was arguably a misstep; he could not even control whether ­future governments appointed more Division 1 judges.

But he told The Australian ­recently he did not regret the ­comments.

“I want people to know what we’re doing, and why. My view is Division 1, or the Family Court at the moment, is the less efficient of the two jurisdictions, so naturally you’d want to rebalance and shrink that and grow Division 2, (but) that may change over time.”

Both Pascoe and Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge Will Alstergren (who will replace Pascoe when he retires next month) support the courts restructure but have made it clear in recent speeches that they believe there will ­always be a need for superior-level judges to handle complex family law cases.

For the family law silks and high-end solicitors, the Family Court is where most of their business is conducted. The judges there are called on to decide big-money cases involving complex trusts and tax arrangements, and particularly difficult parenting cases. They also interpret the law, applied by lower level judges and lawyers working in the area.

A report by PwC — hotly contested by Family Court judges — found that litigants’ party/party costs in the Family Court were about $110,000 per matter, while in the Federal Circuit Court they were closer to $30,000.

Some say results in the Federal Circuit Court can be unpredictable — but Porter says there is no evidence to support this.

The Attorney-General also has angered Family Court judges by using the PwC report to argue they are less efficient than the lower level judges.

The judges have been furious that their chief, Pascoe, has failed to defend them over the attacks.

The data has been used to just­ify a controversial aspect of the ­reforms — to strip appeals from the Family Court and hand them to the Federal Court, which now does not do any family law. The move will free up Family Court ­appeal judges to handle trials.

Commercial and family law barrister Bridie Nolan, a former ­associate to now Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop, ­believes it will also provide rigour to family law and commerciality, which is sorely lacking.

It shocks her, she says, that family lawyers “do not blink” at charging clients $250,000 for a fight over 20 per cent of a $1 million property pool in a no-costs jurisdiction.

She says Federal Court judges, who also handle migration law, are empathetic and well-equipped to handle appeals.

Family law partner Peter Magee says having Federal Court judges involved could prevent family law from being “insular”, and a single pathway for litigants will provide some efficiencies.

However, the Law Council’s family law section argues the plan will not achieve the efficiencies Porter promises and families are best served by a specialist court.

As Kayler-Thomson says: “At a time when there are calls for greater specialisation, experience and training in the complexities of family dynamics and violence, it is strange the government would seek to reduce (that).”

Porter has tried to allay some of the concerns by maintaining a requirement that all Division 1 judges have specialist expertise — although that is little comfort if he is not going to appoint to the division.

He also has added a new ­requirement that lower level and appeal judges have “appropriate knowledge, skills and experience”.

However, the government has offered no new courts funding.

Unless the courts dramatically change their case management — which Alstergren is trying to ­improve — it will be difficult to clear the crippling backlogs.

Lower level judges have 350 to 600 cases in their dockets, according to the court’s annual report.

The wait to reach a trial in the Family Court has blown out to 19 months, up from 11.5 months five years ago, and 17 months ­earlier this year, while in the Federal Circuit Court it is 12 months (down from 15 months earlier this year).

Some judges are also taking far too long — in some cases four years — to deliver decisions.

For now, Labor, the Greens and crossbench senators, including Rex Patrick, have managed to delay the restructure — meant to take effect on January 1 — until at least after parliament resumes next year to allow extra time for consultation.

For Labor, delay is politically expedient — it could shelve the restructure if it is elected next year or deliver the reform itself.

Whether the court changes and the ALRC reforms — which are a long way off from beco ming reality — can fix the serious problems in the system remains to be seen.

Nolan, for one, would prefer more radical change. She believes all parenting cases should be heard in an inquisitorial tribunal, similar to the Guardianship Tribunal, with a counsel assisting in relation to the children.

Other groups, such as the Family Law Reform Coalition, want to do away with an adversarial system altogether.

Pascoe has suggested a royal commission if the public is still ­dissatisfied after the restructure and ALRC review. It will probably happen at some point.

But the misery of the present system is set to stay for at least a ­little while yet.

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