Let’s fix it: fathers keep getting short end of stick
A number of concerns in Bermuda have risen recently about abuse on the increase while the root causes go unaddressed.
According to empirical research, these mores of conflict are usually caused by divorce/separation in most cases, with no allegations before divorce. This is according to Linda Nielsen, the author, researcher and professor in Journal of Divorce & Remarriage (2018).
Since, we don't have any empirical local data, I have compared the United States and Canada with regards to family conflict and violence. Edward Kruk's meta-analysis tells us that “data from the US National Family Violence Survey reported that 28.6 per cent of married couples experiencing family violence were female-violent (with a non-violent male), and 48.2 per cent were physically mutually abusive”.
The author, researcher and professor further states that “Canadians' data showed similar patterns. According to statistics, Canada's analysis of Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics data, in a national sample, 8 per cent of women and 7 per cent of men reported abuse by their intimate partners over a five-year period” (The Equal Parent Presumption: Social Justice in the Legal Determination of Parenting after Divorce), 2013, p88-89.
Family dysfunction in Bermuda has been a concern. Therefore, I have involved myself with many local and overseas organisations to assist with these dynamics.
Along with experiences and knowledge from ChildWatch Bermuda, including many overseas organisations such as Parental Alienation Organisation, I am also a member of the International Council for Shared Parenting, a widely known organisation of highly qualified global scholars and researchers.
In the past, some of these researchers were brought in by ChildWatch Bermuda to facilitate workshops for judges and psychotherapists to help children and families. A recent ICSP conference and workshop titled “Best Interest of the Child and Shared Parenting” was held last month, on December 2 and 3 in Spain. Researchers shared their knowledge and empirical research in many workshops related to families, dealing with divorce/separation.
One workshop facilitated by Sandra Ines Feitor, of Portugal, focused on abuse. She stated that “We cannot deny the existence of false accusations of violence and abuse, especially in the cases of parental alienation aimed at contaminating factuality and proof in a wild pursuit of the exclusive relationship with children.
“In 2017 and 2018, the Judiciary Police warned that about 40 per cent of allegations were false and occurred in the context of child-custody disputes. Nor can such a pretext be used to refute the application of alternate residence as the preferred regime for children of separated parents, which should be analysed case by case against the child's best interest in keeping both parents actively present and participating in their lives, and the fundamental right to family life, integral development and the free development of personality, since situations of abuse, violence and neglect, provided that they are substantiated, are protected by law ... under the Istanbul Convention”.
In another ICSP workshop, Silvia Danowski-Reetz, a psychology expert from Germany, states: “Most of the family judges and other professionals are indecisive on or ignorant about the phenomenon. In most judicial cases over lost access between a child and a parent, the historical time-out argument of Anna Freud (1940s) is still the base for court decisions. The rejected parent is ordered to step back from the access request, ‘give it time' and to meanwhile write letters to the child.
“In almost every case this course of action, which is non-intervention, finally cements the complete loss of access to a former primary bonding person for the child. The long-term, psychological consequences of the child are not taken into account. Later teenagers and young adults of parental alienation tend to have psychological or behavioural problems, or even get in conflict with the law. Parental alienation has widely been recognised as a form of psychological and mental abuse in the international research community.”
In addition, a workshop by German Mauricio Alexander Piper tells us that “it is about building up a wall from the side of one or both parents. With the raised wall, there is no chance for communication, decision-making, inclusion, mutual respect. The whole idea of gender equality is designed to fail if we show our children that — in case of separation — one gender dictates the rules. How can we tell them that there is something like gender equality if it's still possible that one parent gets lost just because the other part decides to do so?”
He further says: “How can my son learn about equality as an adult, when his childhood was full of rules made by women. Every year 200,000 children in Germany face different problems because of separation. Almost 25 per cent of them lose their fathers with an active role in their lives. At the same time, women lose their sparring partners in raising their kids and face problems in their work-life balance. On the other hand, many of these fathers get depressed because of the wall towards their children touches all aspects of their life, in a very negative way.”
Through the years, many ChildWatch members have reportedly been falsely accused of abuse or are alienated from their children. Therefore, their chances of obtaining custody through the courts, or being allowed any means of having a relationship with their children, becomes challenging or non-existent. Society and our system call these men “absentee fathers”, with the only concerns being finances, which is considered by many courts to be more important than building relationships with their children.
When a parent is cut off or is not allowed to have a relationship with their child, this is “parental alienation” (Richard Gardner, Parental Alienation Syndrome, 1985).
William Barnett, president of the Parental Alienation Study Group, along with its many members, was instrumental in the implementation of “Parental Alienation” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), released by the World Health Organisation on June 18, 2018. The disease was defined as “alienation and estrangement”.
According to the Bermuda Department of Statistics in 2006, mothers are 85 per cent custodians of children. Mothers are rarely alienated from their children, as Bermuda custody laws usually favour mothers as the custodial parent. This is in contravention of the child's rights to have both parents in their lives. Meantime, the court and psychotherapists do nothing about these abuses. Thus, these traumas go unaddressed.
Bermuda's custody laws leave our vulnerable children open to abuses daily. These preventable abuses are allowed to continue and our children's rights are being violated, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles, 3, 5-16, 18-19). In addition, Bermuda's Human Rights Act 1981 (section 2ii-iv) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 6, 8, 13-14).
ChildWatch calls upon those entities such as our court system, the Department of Child and Family Services and others who usually deal with our most vulnerable children that seek assistance regarding their care to be trained in all aspects of abuse, as parental alienation is a form of emotional and mental health abuse upon a child and their alienated parent.
With these forms of abuses going undetected, and thus unpunished, the child suffers, which causes all sorts of multigenerational traumas, including behavioural issues, drug abuse, lack of educational achievement, and psychological and emotional problems.
These situations also cause unintentional father disengagement owing to the father being alienated and demonised for being so-called “absent” in the lives of their children.
Now more than ever, society sees the importance of fathers in the lives of their children, leading to better achievements. Marches have sprung up, calling for more paternal involvement in children's lives. Also, there have been calls for male role models. However, in most cases, there is no one more important, better suited or equipped than the child's father to claim this role.
Historically, Bermuda's laws have been against fathers, and still are far from equality.
To better serve our vulnerable children, Bermuda requires reform, with equitable laws such as “Presumption of Shared Parenting Responsibilities” as declared in the Council of Europe's Resolution 2079, dated October 2015. This was to be implemented into law by all member states, including Bermuda.
• Edward Tavares is the cofounder of ChildWatch Bermuda