Early in December 2017, the Texas Attorney General’s Office held a private meeting with a group from the Texas Father’s Rights Movement (“FRM”) at the Capital B Room E1 012 from 9 am- 12 pm. The meeting was called to discuss “how destructive the collection process child support is” and that it is damaging men and their “new families”. To conceal the event from public view the OAG requested that the FRM group remove an outreach video that it had posted on the internet as an invitation to the enthusiastic fathers of their base, who wish for and are in search of legal methods to prematurely end and decrease support to their minor children. They needed the meeting to be an invitation-only affair. The press was not to be invited. The public was not to be invited. It was made clear that this was NOT to be an open meeting.
At the helm of it all was Jeff Morgan, a resident of Dallas, the said coordinator of the event, and of the video invitation which had to be taken down. Morgan deleted the post and later posted another video while reading a letter, indicating that it was from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. The letter informed him that while there would be no guarantee of “safe harbor” for non-custodial fathers who attended the meeting with active outstanding warrants for child support evasion, but that, per his request, no one would be “checked” for warrants, either.
Defining the Father’s Rights Movement
The father’s rights movement (FRM) is a term coined by grassroots advocates for men who are primarily interested in family law issues including child support, custody, parenting time, and paternity of their children. Members are usually the dads themselves but also often are second wives of divorced fathers, significant others of unwed fathers, and other family members who partner with the men to take up the fight.
Warren Farrell, a veteran of the women’s, men’s and fathers’ movement since the 1970s, and who is more so generally considered to be “the father of the men’s movement”, describes the movement as part of a larger “gender transition movement” and thinks that, similar to women in the 1960s, fathers are transitioning from gender-based to more flexible family roles and that the courts are lagging in their support of this transition. Ross Parke a psychologist at the University of California and Armin Brott a several-time author on books about fatherhood, both view the fathers’ rights movement as one of three strands within the men’s movement that deal almost exclusively with fatherhood, the other two being the good fathers’ movement and groups forming the Christian Men’s movement – the Promise Keepers being the largest. The movement has both liberal and conservative branches, each with different viewpoints about gender roles between men and women and that is where the trouble begins.
While both sides of the groups agree on what they see as victimization, discrimination, and bias against men within the court system, the liberal version believes in equality between men and women; in contrast, the conservative branch believes in traditional patriarchal families. The vast majority of the members are composed of white, middle or working-class, heterosexual politically conservative men.
FRM Chief Complaints
Initially, the movement began with social conversations about issues such as discrimination allegedly experienced by fathers in family court over parenting time with their children due to alleged bias within the court system and custody decisions favoring women. The groups quickly began to state that fathers were being denied their civil rights when denied equal time with their children. “Children need two parents” and “children have a fundamental human right to an opportunity and relationship with both their mother and father”, became dog whistles. Calls were made for new laws creating a rebuttable presumption of 50/50 shared custody after divorce or separation. Among the chief complaints are that family law represents an intrusive perversion of government power, that family courts are secretive, censoring and punitive towards fathers who criticize them, that family courts are slow to help fathers enforce their parental rights, that they are expensive and time-consuming, the outcome of divorce is overly one-sided, and that divorce provides advantages for women such as automatic custody of the children and financial benefits in the form of child support payments.
Legal scholars and others who have observed the FRM and its members criticize them for putting the interests of fathers above those of their children. One example would be their lobbying for the changes in family law that would allow for that 50/50 rebuttable presumption of shared custody after divorce or separation. Domestic violence advocates say that would heighten children’s exposure to abusive fathers and would possibly further endanger mothers who are victims of domestic violence.
The FRM asserts that the courts are biased against fathers. In reality, the vast majority of cases are settled by private agreement and fathers voluntarily relinquish primary custody of their children, which explains the lower percentage of custodial fathers; and that the “bias” of courts is in favor of the primary caregiver, not mothers per se.
Those in the FRM movement have also been known to seek the right to prevent women from having an abortion without the father’s consent, on the basis that it is discriminatory for men not to have the ability to participate in a decision to terminate a pregnancy, stating that “choice for men is a flawed solution.”
Some FRM advocates express that if not a medical abortion then men should have the right to a “financial abortion” in which the option exists to sever all responsibility for child support for an unwanted child, allowing them to opt-out of a pregnancy. This suggests that men have a right to place the consequences of unprotected sex (or contraceptive failure) exclusively on their female partners.
Attuned to their Base
The resurgence of male patriarchy taking over the national stage has indeed become terrifying. Pairing anger with word salad manipulations and the power of male privilege, they perpetuate negative stereotypes of women as deceptive, vindictive, and irresponsible, as well as push the stereotype that women are out to take advantage of men financially. They insist that joint custody arrangements are good for children, ignoring the fact that they are only good if high-conflict does not exist between the parents. Feminist groups, scholars, and others that advocate for women and children believe that if shared parenting was required, not all fathers would provide their share of the daily care for the children.
The movement continues to grow. It frequently receives international press coverage because of high-profile activism of their members. The groups have become increasingly vocal, visible, and organized. They now play a powerful role in family law debate and control the legislative narrative with regards to child support and custody. They have their own government-funded website, fatherhood.gov. No equal counterpart exists for mothers. With that increased vocalization has come public demonstrations with some father’s rights activists being convicted of offenses such as intimidation, harassment, and assault. If you ask them, they will claim to be committed to “peaceful, non-violent direct action”. Some desperate members of the fathers’ rights movement, most notably Thomas Ball have advocated violent action to get the message across. Some years ago, just before he self-immolated himself on the steps of a courthouse in Keene, New Hampshire he wrote in his 15-page “Last Statement” that fathers should burn down courthouses and police stations. The rage is not limited to the United States. Ten years ago, it was revealed that a father’s rights fringe subsection was plotting to kidnap Leo Blair, the young son of Tony Blair. The plot was discovered and never went beyond the chattering stage. They disbanded and four months later they regrouped. The FRM has evolved in many countries with the focus continuing to be more on anger and less on the children and reasonable approaches to solutions that divide parents.
Simone Spence is not a lawyer and she does not provide legal, or advice. She was a child support collections consultant for over 20 years and has written three highly regarded child support collection books. She designed the collections platform “Athena” and is the CEO/Founder of Don’t Get Mad Get Paid.
In general, only a licensed attorney can give legal advice, but there is a distinction between “legal advice” and “legal information.” Any non-lawyer can simply recite laws, but it is illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice.
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Some of this material is available in Deadbeat vs Deadbroke by Simone Spence