Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Separated Fathers and the 'Fathers' Rights' Movement

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Separated Fathers and the 'Fathers' Rights' Movement

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Separated fathers often feel profound grief, distress, and anger at the end of their relationships with their partners and their children. Some participate in fathers" rights' groups, a movement which claims to advocate on behalf of men and fathers who are the victims of discrimination and injustice in the Family Court and elsewhere. Yet such groups may do little to help fathers heal or to build or maintain ongoing and positive relationships with their children. Some men do find support in these groups, but they also may be incited into anger, blame, and destructive strategies of litigation. The fathers' rights movement prioritises formal principles of equality over positive parenting and the well-being of women and children. Some groups seem more concerned with re-establishing paternal authority and fathers" decision-making related to their children's and ex-partners" lives than with actual involvements with children. However, other responses to separated fathers are more constructive.

KEYWORDS: fathers, fathering, separation, divorce, fathers' rights


The fathers' rights movement comprises groups or networks of fathers (and others) who act in support of the collective interests of fathers, especially separated fathers whose children do not reside with them. A critique of fathers' rights groups and their harmful impacts on family law is already visible in scholarship (Crowley, 2006a; Dragiewicz, 2008; Flood, 2010; Kaye & Tolmie, 199a, 1998b; Rhoades, 2006). This critique notes the significant harms experienced by women and children, especially those living with domestic violence or abuse, as a result of 'reforms' encouraged by the fathers' rights movement. This paper proposes that fathers' rights groups may be vulnerable to a further critique, that they are harmful for fathers themselves. Using a simple framework of three domains of impact fathers' responses to and recovery from separation, fathers' relations with children, and fathers' relations with their ex-partners--I draw on public sources of fathers' rights discourse to suggest that such groups are detrimental for fathers themselves.


The fathers' rights movement is defined by the claim that fathers are deprived of their 'rights' and subjected to systematic discrimination as fathers and as men, in a system biased towards women and dominated by feminists. Fathers' rights groups overlap with men's rights groups and both represent an organised backlash to feminism. Fathers' rights groups can be seen as the anti-feminist wing of a range of men's and fathers' groups which have emerged in recent years, in the context of profound shifts in gender, intimate and familial relations over the past four decades (Flood, 2010). While fathers' rights groups share common themes, there are also diversities in their degree of opposition to feminism, their involvements in political advocacy, their reliance on Christian frameworks, and so on.

Three experiences in particular bring men into the fathers' rights movement. Painful experiences of divorce and separation, as well as accompanying experiences of family law and the loss of contact with one's children, produce a steady stream of men who can be recruited into fathers' rights groups.

Separation and divorce

Among heterosexual men, separation and divorce represent highly traumatic experiences with both short- and long-term negative effects. From two Australian studies, men who have undergone divorce and separation feel acute distress at and soon after the time of separation, reactions of guilt and depression are common, some experience long-term impairment of their psychological well-being, and health problems are worst among men who do not repartner (Hawthorne, 2005; Jordan, 1998). American studies corroborate that separated fathers experience considerable emotional and practical difficulties in the wake of separation (Braver, Griffin, Cookston, Sandier, & Williams, 2005b; Lehr & MacMillan, 2001). …

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