Do Children Need Fathers
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
David Blunkett is currently in the news for wishing to have contact with his unborn child. It is hoped that times will have changed by the time the child is born, or shortly thereafter, so that he will not have the type of problem in having little or no contact with his child as many fathers have today. I will not give a direct answer to the question posed in my title but the answer will become clear as I go along.
As an expert witness for many years I have acted as an independent psychological consultant to the courts, requesting mostly that fathers, but also mothers, are given opportunities for contact with their children. Very often the parties are in dispute over contact, especially fathers. In most cases those seeking contact and wishing to play a vital role in the life of a child have been fathers. Some fathers have sought such contact over many months and even many years. In some cases after a great number of attempts of seeking to play a role in their children’s lives they have given up. This is unfortunate and damaging to the child, especially in the long-term.
In most cases the separation between the partners has been hostile and this hostility has been maintained long after separation and divorce and passed on to the children, usually by the mother. The custodial parent, usually the mother, has tended to make it difficult, sometimes impossible for father to maintain and build upon a relationship with a child or children due to the implacable opposition which many mothers have for such contact.
There has often been a process of ‘alienation or ‘poisoning the mind’ of the child against the father by denigrating him in the eyes of the child. This tends to be denied by the mother. She claims to have made every effort to encourage a child to be receptive to being with the father. But suddenly or gradually the child who was previously so close to the father is now disinclined to meet with him!
If contact is provided, it tends to be minimal or very restricted. Sometimes a mother will insist, with no valid reason, that a former partner should only have contact by post, supervised contact or unsupervised contact but fairly restricted contact. In the extreme mothers have changed the name of the child without the father’s knowledge or permission when the mother has formed a new relationship.
The judicial system has gone along with the unfair and unjust procedures over many years. It is for this reason that there now exist such organisations as “Fathers 4 Justice” and also “Shared Parenting” etc. Some of the measures employed have not been to everyone’s satisfaction when they have reached the headlines in recent times. However, I and many others, whilst not always condoning the methods, have understood and sympathised with the frustrations endured by many fathers. It is because fathers have been unable to achieve justice by legal or legitimate means that this behaviour has developed into more extreme forms of rebelliousness.
My own position as an expert witness has equally been frustrated by the implacable and outmoded legal system in place today which does not adequately deal with these matters. It is my view that the child needs to maintain positive contact with both loving parents. The exceptions are when one or both parents are violent or abusive either sexual, physically or emotionally towards the child. The fact that one parent may have to resort to being the litigant does not give that parent a positive persona to the child or to others. It is unfortunate that the custodial parent will sometimes use the power of control as an argument when accusing the father of assertions of abuse, these being false.
I favour both natural parents providing time, guidance, and love towards a mutually conceived child or children. Ideally this should be on a 50/50 basis. One cannot, however, hold to this precise sharing of time in every case. One should however, use this as a starting point. (It must be said that there are a few judges who agree with me at this time. It is encouraging however, that a few do agree.) This view however, is not normally accepted by the judiciary. They still cling to the opinion that mothers should be the most prominent, or even the only, care providers. Fathers are considered to be at the periphery, virtually rejected from family life. At present there are numerous single parents, both male and female who are care givers. At least one third of these care providers who have custody of a child or children are now men. These men are as capable as mothers in caring for their children.
After many years of seeking appropriate or even any contact with a child some fathers unfortunately give up the struggle, despite the sadness they feel in having to do so. When some contact exists, this contact is not only restricted and therefore unnatural, such as no overnight stays with father being allowed, but often unsatisfactory in many other ways. It is also tragic that the father sometimes has to overcome the reluctance of the child to be with him because of the “brainwashing” against himself which has been perpetrated by the mother and often her family. It is also very difficult for fathers to develop a long-term relationship when they have not seen their child for a considerable period of time, or the interval between seeing their child is too long.
Not only are fathers excluded or limited in contact with their children but also the child is prevented from having contact with father’s extended family. Judges, it appears, are loathe to treat mothers in any punitive manner. This is even when mothers actively prevent contact for non valid reasons. Such obstinate behaviour by mothers occurs even when courts state that mothers must co-operate.
One Judge, who will be nameless, stated “What would you have me do if a mother refuses to obey the ruling of the Court…..Imprison her?”
To this I replied with a similar question: “What would you do if the father had custody and the mother wished for equitable contact. Would you not then consider some punitive action?”
The same Judge then considered the matter: “Would penalising or imprisoning the mother in the final analysis not be harmful to the child who we must most importantly protect?”
To which I replied: “Of course the child must be protected, but does it not also harm the child in the short and long-term to be deprived of a loving and caring father?”
The Judge had no answer to this.
Therefore, based on my experience, wobetide any expert witness who supports a father in seeking contact, especially on a 50/50 basis, that is shared residence, when a mother is implacably imposed to such an arrangement. I have sought fair and equal contact for fathers with their children in cases in which I have been involved but my experience with some judges has been disappointing.
I deem it most important for a child now and in the future to be cared for by two loving parents. The ideal is for both parents playing an equal part in the child’s upbringing. Much of the troubles of society today are due to the fact that many children do not have the benefit of two loving parents being involved in their lives. This results in educational problems, truancy, delinquency and future problems in their own relationships. Father’s role with their sons is of particular importance in preventing delinquency as much research has indicated. Daughters also who have a positive relationship with their fathers are more likely to be able to establish a good relationship with males as adults.
In some cases I have been viewed as being a biased psychological expert when I have recommended joint residency. I could not understand, and neither could the fathers, why I was not seen as being “independent” in my conclusions and recommendations because of this opinion that fathers and mothers have both rights of an equal nature for the care and love of their children.
In at least one case, irrelevant allegations have been made of my own derelictions by a biased mother and her solicitor with the objective of discrediting me, my judgement, my recommendations and my good name. Some Judges fortunately have the good sense to note these irrelevant ploys as they were merely for the purpose of denigrating me so that my views would be discounted. It was especially unfortunate that one well-prepared report which I considered to be independent was considered to be biased and was not even considered by the court. I personally could not see where one recommended equal partnerships in rearing a child could be considered as “biased”. In one recent case, a whole report was discredited, as I suspect was I because of my recommendation to equal contact. I was not even allowed to be present at the hearing. My message therefore to expert witnesses involved in family matters and parental alienation especially to beware!
There is no room in our current judicial system for new and better ideas regarding justice and fairness for fathers with some Judges. Indeed why does the case of access or contact have to be a judicial issue? Might this matter be better served outside of such a forbidding, worrying and costly scenario? Despite this, I will continue to represent fathers seeking contact with their children and hoping that with time and good arguments, views will change and fathers and indeed mothers will be justly treated by the courts on a 50/50 basis or as close as possible.
In this way, children will in future benefit in the short and long-term. Children need both parents to have the best possible chance of growing into emotionally healthy and adjusted adolescents and adults. This is also a vital way of improving society on the whole in the future.