Objectives

Our objectives are to stop parental alienation, prevent custody harassment, and encourage equal treatment of parents and equivalent parenthood

Custody harassment

Custody harassment means oppressing the other parent and marginalizing his/her parenthood. It can start if the parents cannot agree on their child’s custody and/or visiting rights with the other parent after divorce. Custody harassment is often incorrectly seen as an argument between two equal parents. It is often said a divorce crisis explains the inflamed relations between the parents. However, in a majority of cases one of the parents uses the other parent’s love to his/her child as a weapon to pressure a better agreement for him-/herself. That is, for him-/herself, not necessarily to the child. Custody harassment is reprehensible regardless of the gender of the tormentor.

Custody harassment can continue or start also after an agreement is entered. In practice this can occur in multiple ways. For example, the connections between the parent and the child are hampered and/or complicated, a parent does not communicate with the other parent or communicates with him/her only via the child, the other parent is denigrated in the eye of the child, family, vicinity or authorities. The agreement on visiting rights can be interpreted in arbitrary ways for self-interest in the name of the child’s best interests, phone connections with the child are hampered, visits between the child and the other parent are prevented and in worst cases the child is totally isolated and alienated from the other parent. The authorities should intervene to stop custody harassment as an act that is against the child’s best interests in a lot more emphatic way than they do today.

Alienation

Alienation of a child from his/her other parent is a crime against the child. It should be clearly stated as such in the law. In practice, an alienating parent steals a half of the child’s identity by preventing and hampering the child’s connection to the other parent. There are no proper practices to restore and remediate the connections between an alienated child and the other parent. For example, in controlled visits the target parent can be left alone with his pain to reconstruct a relation to the alienated child. The child can be so manipulated as to believe worst about the target parent and want no contact to that parent or may insult or even physically attack that parent. The only thing that helps in carrying on with these visits is the parent’s love to the child and awareness of that there is nobody else to protect the child’s right to the other parent. In addition, it is well known that the target parent and the child lose that time together and never receive that time back in their life. Those moments are taken away from them without any remediation for the loss of time and liberty. The child and the target parent’s right to a private life is effectively marginalized or taken away altogether.

The authorities often think it is the parents’ business to deal with their conflicts. However, it is hard to agree and believe in obeying an agreement if the intent of one of the parents is to isolate the child from the other parent’s life. This may look like an argument in the eye of one that is not familiar with the characteristics of alienation, but it is really a show targeting at playing time. Restricting time with the child works in favor of the alienating parent. For this reason that parent does not care about court’s judgments or meaningless penalty payments. Alienation is almost a risk-free activity. In the alienating parent’s point of view the worst case is that the child gets to meet his/her other parent according to his/her rights and possibly to maintain a good relationship with the other parent.

It must be written in the law that when a child is sick and does not go to visitation with the other parent, that the visitation must be rescheduled within the next week and realized for that week. Otherwise the child and that parent are punished for the sickness and the time is lost forever. When time is lost from the visitations, it benefits the near parent and is not in the best interest of the child. It is in the best interest of the child to be with the parent that has visitations, and those visitations must be realized.

The court orders are only a minimum baseline for visitation, and the near parent should allow the child free access and contact with the other parent. Custody court cases where the lawyer(s) and/or court(s) have made mistakes against the best interest of the child must be retried and corrected. Otherwise, the child is being punished because of egregious legal errors and court decisions that may not support their best interests. For example, if a lawyer did not represent to the court the wishes of the parent regarding visitation rights, the case must be retried.

Responsibility of a tormenting and alienating parent

Custody harassment and especially its extreme forms should be clearly noted as a more important factor than so-called status quo in determining the child’s residence. No one, for example, would want a child to remain at a home where he/she keeps being physically assaulted on the grounds that it is the child’s stabilized condition. A stabilized condition reached by isolating and tormenting is not humane treatment, and is never in the best interest of the child. It is particularly onerous to the harried parent if the authorities and/or the judiciary do not recognize harassment or who the bully is. In practice, the passivity of the authority is felt by the harassed parent like accepting the harassment and canceling the parenthood.

When the child refuses to visit the other parent, the possible influence of the parent with whom the child resides with should be especially investigated. It may be a question of psychical controlling of the child. Psychological control reflects the parent’s intrusive and manipulative activities, examples of which include blaming, manipulation, cancellation and denial of love (Barber & Harmon, 2002). Regarded as a negative control as a form of psychological control can thus be distinguished clearly from behavioral control, which is designed to regulate the child’s behavior in a way that supports the child. Psychological control is thought to be due parent’s need to protect their own power in relation to the child (Kumpulainen, 2010). Finnish Supreme Court 2004:76 ”It is commonly known that a child may easily go along with the perceptions of the parent with whom he resides especially if the contact with the other parent has for one reason or another been infrequent or occurred under adverse conditions. The longer the negative perceptions continue the harder it is to manage the situation and the relations between the parents become worse.” Interventions to protect the child from alienation should be at the earliest possible point for the best interest of the child. If one spouse has completely decided to divorce the other, the arrangements for the child should be agreed upon before any divorce is granted by the courts.

In everyday language, the concepts of the near and the target parent create at least an impression of parental inequality even if the parents have joint custody. Equality is not supported by agreements that mainly state only the child’s right to see the target parent either. So, in practice, the target parent’s rights are limited like those of a criminal, although the purpose of the agreement is to protect the child’s rights. It should be acknowledged that a child without any reason may choose not use his/her right to visit the target parent at the age of 12. At this late point the target parent’s chances to ensure the child’s right to both parents run out in the case of alienation. The spirit of the agreement gives power to the parent with whom the child resides with over the other parent. The parent with whom the child resides with should be the one that can separate their own feelings and needs from those of the child. The starting point of practical interpretation of the law should be equality of both parents and that the child deserves both parents after a separation. Primarily the parents should agree on the child’s matters (custody, place of residence, visiting rights and child support) with each other after divorce. It is in the best interest of the child to agree on matters concerning the child before the divorce. Regulatory decisions should be based on parents sharing child’s custody, residence and visits in an equal way. There should be a standard arrangement that the child has access to both parents in an equal fashion to protect their rights unless there would be proven parenting deficiencies that are not in the best interest of the child.

Particular responsibility should be required from the parent who the child resides with. The position of the target parent and the child is very weak in practice, if the parent disallows the child to visit the parent the child does not reside with. Regardless of an agreement or court decision the visits may not materialize due to the other parent blocking them. It is noteworthy that any similar activity by the target parent is already criminalized as a high-handed custody taking. In practice, there are no effective legal means to deal with prevention of visits. Not at least quickly enough to protect the rights of the child. This can lead to the visits being kept blocked for a long time. According to the instructions in the quality project of Helsinki Court of Appeal, 2007, this does not necessarily lead to any remedies. Conversely, this kind of activity can be awarded sole custodian and even ending the child’s visits at the target parent totally. As a result, violation of the child’s rights can be sentenced to be the child’s best interests if it has lasted long enough. Continued infringements of the child’s rights result in the debilitation of the child’s natural development.

Equality in the court and with the authorities as an objective

Approximately 30 000 children experience parents’ divorce annually. In the divorce a great deal of children lose their connections to the other parents either completely or partially. According to analyses this happens to 2/3 of the children. The ambiguity of child’s best interests in the law costs a lot to the society in the form of extensive custody disputes. There are about 2 500 custody dispute cases annually and the number is on the rise. If the starting point of the law, social work and judiciary was a real equality and objective an equivalent parenthood, the number of custody disputes would be a fraction of that. This would save society millions of euros a year. It would also provide a more fair and just system that would protect the rights of the child and not enable one parent more against the other. Presently, the legal and social systems are allowing and even enabling one parent to manipulate and abuse to system to achieve their own selfish interests against the best interests of the child.

It is a fact that most often the target parent will be the father. Even when tormented, many fathers have at least a psychological barrier to apply for the child’s residence with him as he feels the mother has in practice at least an attitudinal advantage in our society if the custody is challenged. The realization of equality between the sexes in determining the child’s matters should be emphasized, monitored and investigated. The question is ultimately of children and parents’ fundamental and human rights that are not realized in practice. The right of children to know and keep in touch with both parents must be taken care of a lot better. Parenthood does not need to and it should not end at divorce. It is unacceptable that in many respects the national legislation does not directly support these rights. Hence in many respects these rights need to be demanded on the grounds of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN treaty on children’s rights.

Finland is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights whose Article 8 is deemed to guarantee everyone the right to a family life. Through this Finland has become bound by also the parent’s right to see his/her child. It would be most evident to openly record the right to see one’s own child in the Finnish law (unless there are clear deficiencies in the parenthood of that parent).

Objectives in a nutshell

The association of Fathers for Children consists of fathers concerned about their children and of members supporting our mission. The association has set the following items as its main objectives:

  1. Alienation must be identified and corrected
  2. Custody harassment must be identified and prevented
  3. Current legislation must be obeyed in practice and deficiencies and ambiguities of the law must be corrected. Parents found guilty of alienation should be prosecuted with criminal charges.
  4. The authorities’ activities, education, and mandates must be changed and the weak position of fathers improved and equalized with that of mothers in family matters
  5. In cases the child refuses to visit the target parent, in particular the influence of the parent with whom the child resides with must be investigated
  6. The equal treatment of parents and their parenthood must be monitored more effectively
  7. Research on matters related to child’s custody and visits with the other parent must be increased
  8. Social services employees should be held accountable for their negative actions against children and parents, and restricted from giving the mother’s interests priority. Social services employees should be fined for discriminating against and/or marginalizing fathers and favoring the mother’s interests over the best interest of the child.