The Man Kind group, which under its former name of the UK Men's Movement ran a guerrilla campaign against the Equal Opportunities Commission, has petitioned the court, arguing that men are left in penury while women routinely take both the children and the cash.
Fathers win custody of children in only 1 per cent of cases, the group claims. "The current divorce laws reward women for desertion and adultery by giving them custody of children and maintenance payments," said Barry Worrall, the national secretary of the Cheltenham-based group. "Meanwhile, men get punished financially. A man's life is wrecked in the process and a woman's life is materially enhanced."
Mr Worrall, a 52-year-old lecturer in computer studies at Newcastle's Northumbria University, has filed two complaints to the court in Strasbourg. He wants divorce settlements to take account of which party is at fault, ensuring that women who precipitate a break-up do not "benefit" by gaining custody of the child as well as financial support. He also believes it is wrong that divorced men receive no share of child allowance money, despite sharing the cost of their upbringing.
Man Kind says there are 11 discrimination cases before the human rights court, mostly filed by men caught in the mesh of the divorce or benefits system - an experience common to most of its 300 active members.
The resort to law is a new departure for the group, which has previously attracted a reputation for aggressive anti-feminism. Its leadership is anxious to shed that image. It will not be easy. The group's Scottish chairman, George McAulay, a 50-year-old fitter, is currently barred from phoning or visiting the Equal Opportunities Commission - under threat of police action - because officials said he was harassing them. The commission had accused the robustly masculine group of "gumming up the works", bombarding its switchboard with complaints about the treatment of men.
Mr McAulay, who said he would "give them equality until the pips squeak", remains a potent source of embarrassment. Last week he repeated his view that, as natural leaders, men should take charge of their wives and families. Too many British men were "addicted to mummy-pleasing", he declared.
That is a long way from the language used in the group's weighty submission to the European Court of Human Rights or its complaint to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"We don't want to come across as cranks or as misogynists," said Mr Worrall. "We don't want men to be the head of the family, although we might have one or two members who, individually, do think that. We are concerned about the well-demonstrated grievances men have in almost every area of life."
He points to the fact that the national cancer programme is weighted towards women, who also benefit from women-only courses in education.
Earlier this year the group told the Scottish Parliament that all boys from eight to 15 should undergo rites-of-passage training at girl-free camps to help them do better at school. There would be lessons in integrity and heroism, as well as outdoor adventure activities. The movement also called for an equal gender balance of primary and nursery school teachers.Reuse content