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August 30th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
There’s not a lot of good news to report in the fight for children’s rights to have a relationship with their fathers.  There are just too many laws and courts that marginalize fathers, and much of the zeitgeist is openly anti-dad.  So it’s always a pleasure to report something positive, and that something is Rhythm and Blues icon Usher’s win in family court.  A Georgia judge gave the singer primary custody of his two sons, Usher and Naviyd, who are four and three years old respectively.  Here’s one of many articles on the subject (Examiner, 9/27/12).

The case has been in the news for months and, to many who follow his career, it looked like a naked money grab by Usher’s ex, Tameka Foster.  Essentially, she had primary custody and he paid child support, but apparently she decided she could get more out of him than he was paying.  She filed for an increase and he countered for custody.  Months of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth later, the judge saw things Usher’s way and changed custody to him.  Foster vows an appeal.

But before the judge ruled, Usher showed a part of his personality that revealed a thoroughly decent person.  Only a short time ago, Foster’s oldest child was severely injured in a jet ski accident.  He died from his injuries and Foster, understandably was devastated.  Usher offered to put off all proceedings in the custody case until such time as Foster could recover from her shock, but she refused, insisting that the case plunge ahead.

So far, the reporting on the case has indicated little about  what moved the judge to change custody to the boys’ father.  I call that strange, given the fact that paternal custody is such a rarity, but throughout the case, Usher consistently said Foster was unfit to take primary care of the children.

The former couple currently have a co-parenting agreement for Usher Raymond, 4, and Naviyd, 3, which they both have admitted has failed to work. Raymond is accusing his former partner of being a bad mother.

“We believe the evidence is that Ms. Raymond is incapable of being a proper parent to these children,” said Usher’s attorney John Mayoue. “That she does not have the emotional stability or capacity to bond with them, and therefore she is handicapped.”

That’s a quotation from this article (Atlanta Black Star, 8/17/12).

In the course of the trial, Foster admitted to theft offenses and a minor incident of domestic violence against the singer, but what looks like the real reason she lost custody was her problem with anger management that made parenting little boys difficult for her.

That’s speculation on my part, but a couple of things do stick out about this case.  First, from what I can tell, Usher’s custody claim was not the sort of obvious, slam-dunk matter that we’ve come to associate with fathers getting custody.  The case of basketball star Dwyane Wade comes to mind.  He too is a father who’s much in the news.  He like Usher travels a lot due to the demands of his career.  But unlike Usher, his ex is unquestionably incapable of even pretending to get along with him or facilitate a healthy relationship between him and his two sons.  That Dwyane Wade got custody surprised precisely no one.

Usher?  Not so much.  His case looks a lot closer on the merits and so it’s good to see a judge who can rule that way – on the merits, not on the sex of the litigants.  I’ts long been a truism in family court that fathers have to be at least twice as good to even be considered for primary custody.  Far too many deserving fathers have been deprived of even minimal contact with their children for it to be any other way.  But Usher’s case looks like one in which the judge played it straight, looked at the evidence and the law and ruled accordingly.

Now of course this is not an outcome many fathers can count on.  What’s also true of Wade’s and Usher’s cases is the fact that both dads have plenty of money to hire lawyers, private investigators and the like to prove what they need to prove to overcome the pro-mother bias of family courts and get custody of their kids.  Few fathers are that fortunate.

Usher’s case clearly didn’t turn out the way it did because the judge was pro-dad or pro-Usher.  After all, the singer was held in contempt for cancelling Foster’s Saks credit card, so how biased can the judge be?

The second interesting thing about the case is the blatantly pro-Foster nature of the news coverage.  Article after article quoted Foster at length, often devoting 60%-70% of the word count to quotations from her.  Meanwhile, the far more famous of the two remained almost voiceless.  In most articles, Usher was lucky to get a word in.  That’s par for the course.

Meanwhile, although Foster is now a non-custodial mother, there’s no mention of how much she’ll be paying in child support.  The U.S. Census Bureau shows that only 30.4% of non-custodial moms are under a court order to support their children.  Those who are do a somewhat poorer job of child support than do non-custodial fathers.  Will Tameka Foster be ordered to contribute to the support of her sons?  We’ll see, but she should be.

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