Father’s rights groups mobilize for shared parenting

Arif Michael Vega, Staff Writer

The Forum, Apr. 2016

Fathers’ rights movements across the country have seen increased activity since the passing of HB 2372 in the Iowa House of Delegates. It began with a round of petitions circulating on facebook single-parent support pages.

This tactic, typically reserved for the most popular movements, interrupted the typical atmosphere of group therapy, and offered a novel alternative to non-custodial parenting: force judges to consider primary care only in the event of an unfit or unwilling parent. With an argument based on studies showing an increased rate of suicide, violence and drug use among children raised by a single parent, the bill passed the house of delegates on Mar. 2. Immediately upon the news, national and local organizations activated their networks, requesting hosts to organize local meetings.

A second petition was written, hosted at The Fathers Rights Movement, targeting the state senate, where the bill now resides.

Numerous national groups have called for action, including the National Parents Organization and Fathers for Equal Rights.

In Virginia, The Virginia Fathers’ Rights Movement is the largest of these groups. Their slogan “Having a Father is a Human Right”, states their position as a child advocacy firm. Organizers advocate the meetings as a time for discussion—debate, planning, and support.

Meetings have been  held for Toano, Hampton, Roanoake, Richmond, Norfolk and Grafton. Emails and notices have been sent out to potential hosts in cities across the state and country.

Nicholas Pollak is a regional administrator and the organizing host in Frederick County. Pollak says “With there being so many new bills, so many changes, just in this year alone, it is starting to make a group of people that have been silent, feeling all alone, they feel like they finally have a voice.”

The three aspects of the meetings encourage a strong community of activists. There are many disagreements within the meetings, including stances on no-fault divorce and the relation of custody to child support. These issues are debated.

They plan actions when issues are agreed on, the most important of which is shared parenting. These are developed into a list of talking points for engaging the public. Participants also debate on methods of delivery, such as outreach or protest, civil disobedience or organized marches. Letter writing, petitioning and networking to support interstate efforts, such as the shared parenting bills in Texas and Florida, are top priorities. Similar effort is put into developing similar legislation for Virginia.

The third aspect, support, is intended to offer a safe haven to parents who need to speak out on a taboo or sensitive subject. One activist, who wishes to remain anonymous, says “Whatever you do, you can’t respond to emotional or angry outbursts, you just have to take them. Resentment is really bad for your relationship with your ex. Piss them off and you don’t get to see your kids. Dads have to put everything on the line just to tell people they are hurting, but we still need somewhere we can talk.” The fathers’ rights movement is especially good at facilitating this, he says. “Our two favorite sayings are ‘children need both parents’ and ‘you are not alone’.

Even with all the personal stories and taboo subject matter, diverse participation is stressed. Pollak describes the movement as complementary to that of the feminist movement of 50 and 100 years ago. “The feminist movement is for equality.” He says. “I think fathers’ rights and shared parenting almost fits into the feminist model and mindset.” Pollak describes gender bias in litigation from a feminist view. “If you just default into child custody because you are a woman, you are being discriminated against.” “It really needs to be recognized across the board. We need the feminist message in this aspect as much as anyone else.” “I also feel like nobody is going to think of fathers’ rights movements as a whole in their day-to-day life unless they are being discriminated against.”

Presumption of primary custody, incarceration, and suspension of driving privileges are the three most contended issues for participants. There are those in strong disagreement, however. Roger Hawkes is the owner of Hawkes Law Firm, in Washington State. Speaking on incarceration for failure to pay child support, he says “Those who bring children into the world have an obligation to support them.”

At the most recent meeting of the Virginia Child Support Guidelines Review Panel, Sep. 29, 2015, Craig Burshem, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement, said 3200 individuals are jailed for failure to pay child support in Virginia, annually. He was not aware of the length of sentencing, or its efficacy, and referred the panel to DCSE Counsel to answer those questions.

Rallies are expected to grow as well. There is a Parental Alienation rally Apr. 25; Fatherless Day rallies June 17, and June 20; and a Motherless Day rally on May 9.

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