Is the family justice system biased against women?
By:8 commentsAugust 21, 2017
This blog is full to overflowing with arguments about how the family justice system is biased against men, i.e. husbands and, in particular, fathers. But have those putting forward those arguments got it all wrong? Is the system actually biased against women?
Whilst they may not be quite so vociferous as men (more of which in a moment), one still does not have to look very far to come across wives and mothers complaining of their treatment at the hands of the family justice system.
For example, there are many wives who believe that they are unfairly treated in financial settlements following divorce. How can this be, in the country with the system reputed to be the most generous towards wives? Well, I’ve seen various arguments, but perhaps the most persuasive relates to the failure of the courts to take into account, or to sufficiently take into account, the financial disadvantage that many wives suffer compared to husbands following divorce. Various studies have shown that wives can be worse off than husbands for many years.
Back in 2008 a study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex found that divorce makes men, particularly fathers, significantly richer, with their available income increasing by around a third. On the other hand, women suffer severe financial penalties. Regardless of whether she has children, the average woman’s income was found to fall by more than a fifth, and remain low for many years.
The ISER revisited the subject in 2014. One of the authors of this new study found that:
“Women continue to see living standards fall by more after separation than men, especially when children are involved, but even for couples with no children. Mothers and children from high-income families see especially large drops in living standards, because the loss of the man’s earnings is in no way compensated for by higher income from alimony, child maintenance, benefits and tax credits, and having fewer mouths to feed.”
Which brings me on to another very common complaint by mothers: the utter inefficiency of the child support system in the collection of child support maintenance from fathers who refuse to pay. As we all know, this failure of the system can leave mothers (and of course the children) in poverty for years after the relationship breakdown.
And there have been other complaints from wives. In 2010 the Court of Appeal did away with the ‘Hildebrand Rules’, which had previously allowed spouses, usually wives, to use documentary evidence belonging to their husbands that they had obtained, provided that they had not used force to get this. The Court of Appeal said that this kind of ‘self-help’ was not allowed, as it breached the privacy of husbands. The ruling was described as a “cheat’s charter”, making it far easier for husbands to get away with hiding assets from the court.
I could go on, but I think the point is made: it can be argued that the family justice system (in its broadest sense) is biased against wives and mothers. The reason why we don’t hear the argument as often as the argument that it is biased against men could, as I indicated above, be put down to the fact that women simply don’t shout as loudly as men. Quite why that might be, I will leave the reader to speculate.
Now I don’t believe that the family justice system is actually biased either way, in favour of men or women, although mistakes are made, on both sides, that can make it seem that that way. Both men and women can also be the victims of the inefficiencies of the system, such as the poor response to mothers disobeying contact orders, and the failures of the child support system to chase recalcitrant fathers. These things do not amount to bias.
OK, so if I don’t believe that the system is biased against women what, then, is the purpose of this post? It is simply to demonstrate that it is quite easy to construct an argument either way in the debate as to whether the family justice system is biased. The fact that an argument is constructed, however, is not of course proof of its veracity, any more than the fact that many people believe it to be true. Many people can be equally wrong. I guess what I’m saying is that minds need to be opened, not fixed in some self-made cage. Only that way will we have a proper debate about how we might improve the family justice system.
Oh, and before I go please do NOT leap to your keyboards to comment about how the system is not biased against women. As I have just explained, the point of this post is that is not.
Photo by Till Westermayer via Flickr
August 21, 2017
Categories: Family Law