- "No-fault divorce is unconstitutional and denies citizens due process. It is imperative to introduce the presumption of innocence into family law; otherwise, due process is dead." Tweet This
- "[T]he average father must fight within this gender-biased construct. Most lose before they ever walk into a courtroom and walk out mere visitors in their children’s lives." Tweet This
Those sued in divorce court are often called respondents. When British actor, producer, and author Greg Ellis got married over 25 years ago, he had no idea that one day he’d be cast in the role himself—without a script. In his memoir’s opening scene, The Respondent: Exposing the Cartel of Family Law (Koehler Books, June 2021), Ellis is lying on his back, semi-conscious, naked, and caked with blood, attacked by a fellow inmate in the psychiatric hospital where he’s been incarcerated. Eight hours before, he’d been singing to his two sons when the doorbell rang and police shackled and led him away based on an anonymous tip that he planned to harm his children. Overnight, he became homeless. Friends and Hollywood colleagues abandoned him. Lawyers drained him financially. Although he was later vindicated on the abuse allegations, he ultimately lost custody of his children. His wife became the enemy: “The person who I thought was my umbilical cord to the outside life I had been hijacked from was not a lifeline after all,” he writes.
Ellis’ book is a harrowing, yet eloquent, portrait of life on the inside of America’s family law system—the lack of due process, the despair and disorientation, and the degradation. An ode to forsaken fathers, for him it’s also the means for “deploying” what he’s learned in service of uniting families and reforming our divorce system. I spoke with Ellis about his experiences and insights (the following interview has been edited for clarity).
Beverly Willett: Your memoir discusses America’s fatherless crisis where one in three children live without their biological father. You acknowledge reforms that made divorce safer and more equitable for women, but maintain this over-correction resulted in a system favoring mothers, at the expense of fathers. How did this happen?
Greg Ellis: Since the 1970s, the advancement of women’s rights has, for all its virtues, authored a virulent strain of third and fourth wave feminism determined to emasculate men. This aggressive advocacy seeks to transcend mere equality and achieve social dominance by dismantling the nuclear family. It places men in a position every bit as destructive and oppressive as the one women faced in the 1950s, albeit in different ways.
In 1960, 8% of children lived with only their biological mother; today more than 23% do. Women initiate [the vast majority of ] divorce proceedings. Mothers wind up with custody [most] of the time. Are they the overwhelmingly worthier parent? Of course not. But the average father must fight within this gender-biased construct. Most lose before they ever walk into a courtroom and walk out mere visitors in their children’s lives.
Willett: Let’s talk about suicide and the shocking statistics about divorced men. You point out that our cultural conversations about men are often focused on the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Stories of men caught up in the family law system who take their lives isn’t something we often hear. Why must we broaden our conversations, and how can we avoid sparking another gender war?
Ellis: Nothing tells the story of what fathers face more starkly than suicide statistics. Fathers ensnared in the divorce system kill themselves eight times more than women. That means that for every child of divorce who loses their mother to suicide, eight lose a father.
The traditional male role is to project strength and hide vulnerability. Men fall victim to the canard that we should avoid discussing the emotional shrapnel that comes after traumatic events. Society’s admiration of this kind of stoicism has waned rapidly, now more often seen as toxic, leaving adult males confused and adrift. If masculinity is under assault, fatherhood is the inherent bull’s-eye with the traditional role of a family patriarch severely denigrated. The virtuous and foundational thread fathers have played in a healthy Western society has increasingly been pulled out of the modern tapestry through pop culture, feminism, and our broken family law system. Fatherlessness has grown to epidemic proportions few are willing to talk about. But we must. Demonizing men is not the solution. It’s the problem. In these cancel culture times, we must find ways to extend more grace and redemption to those judged in the court of public opinion. The #MeToo monologue must evolve to an inclusive #MeToo dialogue.
Mothers and fathers are vital to the well-being of our society. Both add balance to parenting. Children with involved fathers score significantly higher on important measures of well-being. A war between the sexes is a battle to the bottom.
If masculinity is under assault, fatherhood is the inherent bull’s-eye with the traditional role of a family patriarch severely denigrated.
Willett: Many mothers, including myself, have also suffered family court abuse. Is there an injustice at work here beyond gender bias?
Ellis: Yes, a systemic rot if you will. No-fault divorce is unconstitutional and denies citizens due process. It is imperative to introduce the presumption of innocence into family law; otherwise, due process is dead. But the divorce business, conservatively a $50 billion a year industry, lacks accountability and is incentivized to maintain the status quo, with children used as leverage.
I talk about the “six silver bullets of high-conflict divorce” in my book. The first two are "The Incarcerating Incident" and "The Order of Restraint." They cripple the opponent before the legal conflict begins. These domestic violence reforms, built as shields for women, have been fashioned into bullets for disgruntled spouses to rid themselves of partners immediately. This playbook evolved from passage of the Violence against Women Act. [We] shifted focus away from relationship problems to a law enforcement approach, which almost ensures destruction of the relationship and family. The grief suffered by parents is devastating, and the cost to future generations incalculable. And false accusations of domestic violence are an affront to real victims.
False allegations need to be dealt with in a way that protects relationships, dissuades the making of false accusations, and safeguards constitutional rights for the accused. They should be tried in criminal court with accountability for perpetrators (prison time) and for those who make false accusations (perjury charges).
Willett: How did this play out in your own life?
Ellis: In the span of 24 hours, I was ushered from my home in handcuffs, incarcerated against my will (the first of five), subjected to a temporary restraining order, became homeless and almost destitute, and watched helplessly as my professional reputation was irretrievably destroyed and my sons lost their father. I migrated from a world of presumed innocence and respected privacy to one of assumed guilt and immediate and ruthless judgment. Ten false anonymous words ruined my life. This was notwithstanding that I’d been examined extensively by multiple psychiatrists and psychologists who gave me clean bills of health. (I append these reports to my book.) In the process, my sons were denied the basic human right to have me as a father, and I was denied my right to be a father to them. I am now an erased parent.
Willett: With the injustices you suffered, it would have been easy to pen an angry screed. Don’t get me wrong. Your book is a strong indictment of our divorce industry. But you also turned the camera on your own shortcomings as a husband and recount how you’re building your life. Did good emerge from your ordeal?
Ellis: I learned a tremendous amount about our broken system and how it can be fixed. I want to help parents and children who are trapped and suffering through divorce courts with the charitable extension of The Respondent—Children and Parents United (CPU). CPU’s mission is to promote and improve child well-being by providing information and resources to policy makers, legislators, practitioners, and the public, resulting in enhanced relationships and reduced conflict for children and parents navigating the current family law system. We’re also developing programs focused on mediation and legal support for parents who want to stay out of family court. Writing The Respondent was also part of my therapy. I wrote it to make sense of the government-sponsored devastation of my life, to let my children know that I had not abandoned them, and to tell other similarly situated men they’re not alone. Most of all, I wanted to ring the alarm about our broken system and call for social change and family law reform.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.