They are pilloried as feckless deserters who don't want their children. Or they are castigated as publicity-obsessed eccentrics who block the traffic and harass politicians because they are denied access to their kids.
But between the extremes portrayed in the Channel 4 drama Shameless or acted out by Fathers 4 Justice protestors in the news, there is a middle way trodden by dedicated dads who work to reduce conflict.
Families Need Fathers (FNF) is a respected, national campaigning organisation which puts bitterness aside – and children first.
Plymouth-born member Ian Tyers has been through his own protracted, tortuous and hurtful contact-time battle which left him temporarily clinically depressed.
But anybody speaking to him today would be struck by his conciliatory tone and sheer reasonableness.
"Families Need Fathers is not just about dads," says Ian. "Children need both parents and both parents matter.
"That's not to say that single parents cannot do a good job.
"What we are saying is that if there are destructive relationships around children, then they suffer."
Ian's own experiences led him to become a leading member of FNF in Exeter, where he works, and to help set up a branch in Plymouth. "One person we have helped is on a large five-figure salary, another is a traveller," he says.
The 44-year-old police detective sergeant prefers not to talk about his struggle to maintain contact with the children from a previous relationship. He concentrates instead on his own circumstances today – happily married with two sons aged four and two – and the help that FNF can give to both parents in a split and to new families that develop after a separation or divorce.
Nationally, every year 100,000 children lose contact with one of their parents and 40 per cent of children lose all contact with the non-resident parent within two years of divorcing.
So there are a lot of children 'missing' a parent, Ian says – and ordering the sentence that way round is important, he insists.
"This is about putting the children first," he says. "At Exeter Families Need Fathers has key principles.
"First, whatever decision you make, you must be able to say that you have made that decision in the best interests of the child; and second, seek first to understand before being understood.
"Many fathers say, 'I am being denied contact with my kid.' They should be thinking, 'My kid is being denied contact with me.'"
Fathers' anger can be understandable, though, given the Family Court's perceived presumption that a child's place is with their mother, Ian adds.
"We think the presumption should be 50/50," he says.
"There are definitely issues with the Family Court process and the lack of openness.
"But the courts are being opened up. Families Need Fathers has campaigned on that and we helped get the law changed on parental responsibility in 2003."
Before the legislative change six years ago, a father who was not married to the mother of his child had virtually no rights if the couple split – even if he was resident and fully involved as a parent. Now, if the father registers the birth he is regarded as having parental responsibility (PR). If he does not, he can ask the mother to give PR by consent. If she refuses, the father can apply to the court and will get it if he can demonstrate consistency and commitment.
Ian believes reasoned and consistent campaigning is more effective than protests and stunts staged by the pressure group Fathers 4 Justice.
He does not, though, look to criticise F4J, merely to make clear that Families Need Fathers has no connection with the organisation famous for high-profile protests by angry dads dressed in superhero costumes.
The FNF methods are quite distinct, too. The group, founded in 1974, is principally a social care organisation, with the mission of helping parents whose children's relationship with them is under threat. The registered charity offers information, advice and support services for parents on how to do the best for their children.
Priorities include getting court orders for shared residence, improvements in the time children are allowed to spend with their 'second parent' and more effective action when one parent defies a court order requiring them to allow their children a relationship with the other parent.
A further guiding principle ties with Ian's earlier comment about putting the interests of the child first and taking the conflict out of the system: the organisation pushes for the replacement of adversarial court hearings with child-centred discussions and mediation.
The result is better, stronger ties throughout the family, including with new domestic arrangements that develop – FNF welcomes the involvement of grandparents and new partners.
Such an inclusive, calm and well-argued approach has helped Families Need Fathers earn praise across the board from Dame Elisabeth Butler-Sloss, former President of the Family Division of the High Court and Deidre Sanders, trustee of the National Family and Parenting Institute to high-profile politicians; former Home Secretary David Blunkett is one of the charity's patrons.
Ian hopes that the developing Plymouth branch can expand to follow the model in Exeter where the organisation has close links with Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. The Exeter branch organises regular workshops and talks with judges, Cafcass, police officers who work in child protection and domestic violence, and mediators.
In September FNF is planning an event involving education, health, police and young offender workers. The latter group is a reminder of the costs to individuals and society when a parental split goes badly wrong.
"All the research shows that if children thrive and do well there is less chance of them getting involved in crime and other problems like teenage pregnancy," says Ian.
"If we can remove conflict that has got to be good.
"The ideal situation is that (after a split) both the father and the mother stay involved and their parenting complements each other."
The benefits of achieving that goal, and providing positive role models on how to behave as a parent, can feed through for decades to come.
Families Need Fathers understands that the children being fought over, tugged at and even occasionally used as weapons between hate-filled ex-partners are more than just tomorrow's adults and leaders of society.
They are the parents of the future.
Families Need Fathers meets at the Conservative Club, Mutley, at 7.30pm on the first Wednesday of each month. For more details call Peter Pojuner on 01395 270665.
You can learn more about the national organisation at www.fnf.org.uk; or by calling 020 7613 5060.
Thank you for your comment.
However, FNF branches also offer something different - support and guidance to those being denied / limited contact with their children. The FNF branch support network, telephone helpline and e-fora help members deal with the reality of the current system/processes and assists them to plot a course through, around and over the EXISTING hurdles. Members need to deal with the here and now if their children are to benefit NOW. They don't have time to wait for the change to be effective when we all arrive at some imagined utopia.
As regards the question of 'right's - there is an arguement (sic) to be had that arguing for 'rights' can dissolve our responsibility to resolve relationships. We all have different things that drive us and my personal passion is to help those who walk through the FNF door achieve better parenting time with their children. I've seen it happen time after time over the years, for example: the dad who's ex made false allegations against him, denied contact and moved into a refuge (to help her housing application). He came to branch, got a McKenzie Friend and a couple of weeks later he was sat at Home Park with the lad watching his first live footie game with his dad. Priceless.
Thats the value of FNF - active, passionate, knowledgeable, committed volunteers drawing on their own experiences and giving their time and energy to sort out the here and now for the benefit of the kids. Thats why I'm comfortable with my choice of bedfellow and suspect I always will be.
- The comments add a great deal of perspective to the article. Ian Tyer's perspective is interesting but incredibly passive and he sounds a great deal like Justice Harvey Brownstone over here who just wrote a book "Tug of War". Brownstone's premise is only children have rights not parents. If we all bought into that notion then governments, including their appointees in the judiciary, could walk all over every aggrieved parent. What I don't understand is the lack of passion.
I'm a dad who was convicted to 14% visitation but like Mark says a strange man, of statistically much greater danger to our children, could see them 24/7. Where is the logic in that. Your right - there is none! Groups like FNF can provide support for dads and that is good but they need to stop pretending they are change agents. They are not. They are a tax and member supported passive group who should focus on support of dads and stop pretending they are some sort of lobby group. Governments only change things if enough pressure is brought to bear to show it should and then they stick their fingers up to see which way the wind is blowing. (AKA public opinion) The operative word is pressure!
If you are not playing in the court of public opinion you are not a player who will get change. Its not rocket science but it is closer to marketing 101.
- Report abusecommented on 26-Apr-2009 15:40
- In reply to Jim Bailey from New Zealand, the reason why Families Need Fathers has such a negative input to fathers rights campaigning is that new victims, fathers who have just seen their family life end join up in the false belief that FNF are doing something proactive to end the misery.
The truth is FNF are doing nothing other than supressing fathers from getting off their back sides in taking to legitimate protest. FNF discourages peaceful protest. FNF tell these new victims that 'change' is coming and that (as Mr Tyers tries to say) FNF are bringing that change. Utter nonsense, FNF is now a business that would no longer exist if fathers had the enforced right to see their kids.
Years ago, FNF talked all excitedly about the scrapping of The Court Welfare Service' and it's succesor, CAFCASS. All that change in name was just that; a name change. Same people writing these corrupted reports, same hidden agendas, same attacking the father while ignoring the mothers behaviour and same recommendations that just happen to coincide with what the mother wanted.
Only the letter headed paper and shop signs changed, but at the time FNF saw the change as good-and tried to take credit for it.
No, fathers rights campaigning would be better served WITHOUT Families Need Fathers, what FNF was originally set up for in 1974 has long since gone.
To try and turn the 'fathers rights' issue into 'the child's rights' plays straight into the hands of the politically correct disease infecting the UK. If you as Dad have done nothing wrong to your or any child, then what's wrong with saying you have a right to see your child?????
While the mother can move any new man into the home of your child, no questions asked, then there can be no reason to stop the natural Dad from the right to see his child if he has done nothing wrong,Report abusecommented on 26-Apr-2009 09:48
- It is my view these days that one should value all input of those re-building the **Whole Natural Biological FAMILY** - Particularily those working toward preferential **Equal Parenting**, even better HandsOnEqualParenting from conception - There are many ways to skin those who damage our FAMILIES - Onward - JimReport abusecommented on 25-Apr-2009 18:11
- I concur with both Mark Harris & Adam Richardson, their portrayal of FNF is spot on. Suffice to say such an organisation should hang its head in shame in that through their complicity over the past 35 yrs not only have they failed generations of children but also made a lucrative living out of the thousands of distraught fathers who paid their membership fee's in the firm belief that FNF could and would deliver. Being a detective I would have thought that Ian Tyers would have done his homework re FNF, then again perhaps FNF fits in with his profession, for without question or doubt he will reflect back after yet another 35 yrs have passed by and say yes we remained forever passive and in the pocket of government agents and yes we let all our members down along with innocent children and yes I should have been much more proactive. Sorry Ian but trust me whilst your quest is one born out of a fathers love denied, your choice of bedfellow leaves much to be desired, for deliver FNF will surely not.Report abusecommented on 25-Apr-2009 09:35
- It saddens me to say this, the collected view is that (FNF) Families Need Fathers is now a government poodle (or Uncle Tom Direct 2) with a nice DfES donation of £300K, a new Chief Exec (£50K plus perks) and are now seen as an impotent joke.
If I was in FNF I'd get out quick before you get sold down the river.
That's why NewFathers 4 Justice , like Greenpeace would never take money from Government.
So the reality is this corrupt government will not take any notice of a few of us writing letters and moaning about the persecution and abuse of our children, and parents fighting for the rights of our children to be allowed a balanced upbringing by both their parents after separation.
Direct action is the only way forwardReport abusecommented on 24-Apr-2009 21:12
- I read what Mr Tyers says with bemusement.
I left Families Need Fathers after six years as a member because of their opposition to lawful protest about the corruption of the family courts. I and 17 other aggrieved fathers stood peacefully outside Plymouth Family Court with a couple of banners (April 2000) and I had the then FNF chairman phoning me up asking me to stop doing it!
FNF have achieved nothing at all in 35 years of it's letter writing and talking about the disgusting treatment fathers get in family law. The Jack Straw changes to opening up the family courts which comes in this month is nothing at all; the judges will decide what it's own accredited reporters can report, can take matters without reason back in secrecy and still remain completely unaccountable. At present, family court judges operate in secrecy but can take anything they like into public if it suits, like one judge did in my case back in 2001. So the 'new' openness Mr Tyers speaks so excitedly about is simply a mirage, nothing in reality has changed at all, it's just window dressing.
Families Need Fathers, originally set up to campaign for change has become controlled by government ever since it was given charitable status; if they rock any establishment departments their charitable status will go, along with all the tax perks it brings. FNF no longer worries about fathers rights, reform of the corrupt family courts or even just bringing some sort of accountability to the corrupt family law system.
All the public awareness of the evil injustices of the family courts belongs to only one thing; the actions and campaigning of Fathers 4 Justice, which have now been replaced by Newfathers 4 Justice; ps; Watch this space, NewF4J are at it again very (very!) soon,
author, Family Court Hell, Dad in Britain's worst ever access case (133 hearings, 33 Judges between 1993-2003 all heard in secret at Plymouth County Court) . My three kids now live with me, no thanks to any family court judge or Families Need Fathers.Report abusecommented on 24-Apr-2009 19:02