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man repairing girl bike smallJune 3, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

If we’re reading an article about heroic working moms “doing it all” both at work and at home, but still losing custody to fathers who apparently do nothing all day long, then it’s a good bet we’re reading the Huffington Post.  And sure enough, we are here (Huffington Post, 6/1/13).

This time it’s family attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer whose piece utterly misrepresents the known facts about child custody, who gets it and why.  In the finest HuffPo tradition, 90% of her article is nothing but a series of unsupported assertions that would embarrass an 8th-grader.  But Meyer’s goal is to paint working mothers as, in some way, shorted by divorce courts.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth, so I emailed Meyer to learn her sources.  Er, no word on that as yet.

You know you’re in for a dicey read when an article begins like this:

According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 70.5 percent of mothers are now in the workforce. Not only are the number of working moms at near record levels, but also nearly 30 percent of working wives now outearn their working husbands, making them the primary breadwinners while dad is more frequently at home with the kids. These statistics have led to dramatic reversals in who gets primary custody and spousal support (aka alimony) when couples divorce.

Hmm.  In the first place, Meyer doesn’t let her readers know the nitty-gritty of the BLS data.  For example, she allows readers to believe that being “in the workforce” means you have a job.  It doesn’t.  The BLS counts you as part of the workforce if you’re either employed or looking for work.  So, of those 70.5%, 8.3% aren’t actually working.

Then there’s the fact that a whopping 23.3% of those workforce moms only work part-time.  Out of the total population of mothers with kids under the age of 18, only 48% work full-time.  Meyer’s not about to let on about that.
The data for dads?  Over 84% of all fathers with kids have a full-time job; 93.3% are in the workforce, of whom almost 90% have a full-time job.  Only 5.2% are unemployed.  Under 7% of fathers aren’t part of the workforce, i.e. unemployed and not looking for work, while almost 30% of mothers are.  Only 5% of fathers work part-time and 89.6% work full-time.  Meyer isn’t about to let on about that either.

Her next claim that “nearly 30% of working wives outearn their working husbands” is true (the actual number is 28.1%), but Meyer fails to note that working wives and working mothers are two different animals.  Overwhelmingly, women with children tend to work less than their childless counterparts.  So recruiting data on childless women to support a thesis about mothers is unsound.

In short, Meyer’s thesis that mothers with minor children are seriously competing with fathers in the workplace has no basis in fact.  As usual, there’s a great divide between the work-life balances of mothers and fathers.

So it comes as no surprise that what she concludes from her inaccurate suggestions about working mothers is, well, inaccurate.  Or, to be accurate myself, it’s just wrong.

It comes as a shock to many divorcing working moms that the tide is turning and dads whether or not they are the primary caretakers are being awarded at a minimum 50 percent because they don't work.

OK, I know what you’re thinking.  That’s a nonsense sentence.  “Awarded” what?  “50 percent” of what?  Still, Meyer gives a hint at what she’s talking about a bit later.

In the 1980s, in recognition of the growing number of women in the workplace and fathers assuming more parental responsibility, a trend towards 50/50 custody became more the norm.

Assuming that she’s actually claiming there’s a trend toward 50/50 custody, or course that’s just false.  There’s no data I’m aware of to back it up and the data that do exist refute it outright.  For 20 years, Census Bureau data show a steady state of mom’s getting primary custody at an 84% rate.  Washington State data show no significant trend toward paternal custody, but the state has only been keeping those records for about four years, so they’re effectively meaningless regarding trends.  Nebraska shows dads getting primary or sole custody 10% of the time.

Where does Meyer get the idea that there’s a trend toward 50/50 custody?  Beats me, and she cites nothing to back up her claim.  Funny, she’s a lawyer and lawyers usually think in terms of evidence.  After all, it’s hard to win a case without it, but attorney Meyer produces none.  Case dismissed!

But Meyer’s main point is one we haven’t been subjected to in a while — that of “The Second Shift” — and it’s there that she shows her true anti-father colors.

While assuming the breadwinner role was a comfortable arrangement during the marriage, this situation can have consequences for a mother contemplating divorce. More often than not, the working mom is doing double duty in the family. In addition to her job outside the home, she is likely performing substantial childcare duties. She gets the kids up and ready for school, arranges playdates with friends, helps with homework, and organizes kids' sports and other extra-curricular activities. This mom manages her kids' schedule with the same precision that she brings to her professional life. Yet pursuing her professional dreams and financial success can put her at a distinct disadvantage in divorce if she has not physically been at home during the day. The hard reality is that while mom may be "doing it all" at home and in the workplace, it is dad who is being rewarded because he is physically at home during the day — even if he is not performing the majority of caretaking responsibilities.

Truly, dad-hating doesn’t get a lot more frank than that.  Notice that, according to Meyer, even when Dad’s home with little Andy or Jenny all day, he’s actually not doing anything.  That’s because Mom, who’s at work, is in some way, “doing it all.”  And of course, in that utterly fictional situation, the courts nevertheless “reward” the father.  Needless to say, she cites no evidence — not even an anecdote — in support of her claim that even the rare stay-at-home father is really just catatonic, about as useful as a three-legged chair.

My guess is that Meyer makes up the scenario of the stay-at-home father who does no parenting because she suspects some of her readers might point out that stay-at home moms almost always win the custody battle, so why shouldn’t stay-at-home dads.  So she has to try to make the case that a father without a job is still a father who does no child care.  It’s a sham, but when your goal is to denigrate dads, sometimes that’s the best you can do.

Of course, this is what Meyer was leading up to with her misleading first paragraph — the one that told us that 70.5% of mothers are “in the workforce,” without mentioning their relatively low rates of actual employment or the fact that they’re highly likely to work only part-time if they do at all.  Those cherry-picked factoids were meant to convince readers that working moms work all day and do all the childcare as well, and in the final indignity, get shafted by a family court that only cares how much time Dad was physically present in the household.

It would be a joke if she weren’t serious.

As much as know-nothings like Meyer try to make us believe otherwise, little is changing in family court.  That’s because judges and laws remain stuck in a mindset that holds mothers to be saints and fathers to be suspect at best.  They’re not trained in the social science regarding family structure and child well-being, so they fall back on their sexist prejudices.  We see it every day.

Meyer’s nonsense takes its place among the body of shoddy work that seeks, against all that we know to be true, that it’s mothers, not fathers who get the short end of the custody stick.  Lacking any evidence whatsoever for the proposition, those people fall back on a few misleading statistics and a lot of just making stuff up.

Fortunately for them, the Huffington Post is always there to provide a forum.

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