June 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Back in the 70s there was a cartoonist named B. Kliban whose stuff had a somewhat surreal slant to it. I recall one two-panel piece of his particularly. The title of the cartoon was “Bugs Kept Away,” and purported to be an instruction manual for, well, keeping bugs away. The first panel showed a kitchen counter covered with black bugs with the caption “Bugs.” The second panel was the same kitchen counter with no bugs and the caption “Bugs Kept Away.” How do you keep bugs away? Just draw them out of the picture.
And so it is with Hanna Rosin here (Madison Capital Times, 5/29/14). Rosin, who’s fast developing a reputation for information-free misandry does nothing to dispel the notion in her piece that first appeared (of course) in Slate. The theory of her article is that all this whoop-di-so about fathers’ rights is just so much fluff. According to her, fathers get an even break in custody cases. Like Kliban, the nasty things she doesn’t want to see, or her readers to see, she just draws out of the picture.
For some time now I’ve marveled at the many ways the anti-father crowd has come up with to oppose children having a meaningful relationship with their fathers after the moms file for divorce. There was the domestic violence dodge that worked well until everyone figured out that women are as or more likely to commit DV as men. Of course before that there was the Tender Years Doctrine that frankly removed any father regardless of how fine and loving from the life of any child up to the age of seven and gave it to the mother regardless of how incompetent, abusive or neglectful. Then there was the bad dad scare that held that fathers just didn’t care about their kids and so shouldn’t have contact with them post-divorce. But of course that didn’t survive scientific scrutiny either.
I thought Jennifer McIntosh’s claims that fathers shouldn’t have their children overnight up to a certain age (she never told us what age that is), was the last gasp of the folks opposed to children maintaining contact with one of the two most important people in their lives, particularly when Richard Warshak and 110 imminent scientists around the world went on record to destroy McIntosh’s claims. Since then, McIntosh has considerably backed off her previous statements.
Little did I know. The anti-dad crowd is far from done as Rosin’s article shows. What’s the latest? It seems that, quite apart from what millions of fathers know to be true, family courts are actually entirely fair and even-handed toward fathers. Really. According to Rosin, a dad has little to worry about when Mom files for divorce. Everything’s just hunky dory in family court custody cases.
Now, Rosin admits that this is really true only for fathers with the money to fight the legal fights required to prevail in a custody battle. And then it’s only true if the man is married to the mother of his child. So, if you’re keeping count, that’s – what? – 58% (the percentage of children born to married mothers) of the 1% of wealthy dads? So, if you’re a member of the other 99.42% of fathers, you’re in trouble, but Rosin’s not concerned with you and doesn’t want her readers to be either.
OK, admittedly that’s a bit of snark, but the point is that Rosin’s message, to the extent it holds true at all, only does so for the narrowest sliver of the population of dads who happen to be married to the mother of their child and have the money to overcome the anti-father bias so apparent in so many courts. And of course even they often fail at getting reasonable custody or parenting time. If the only fathers who can get a fair shake are the ones who can pay the tens of thousands (sometimes much, much more) of dollars for lawyers, custody evaluators, guardians ad litem, psychologists, etc. then the overwhelming majority aren’t getting that fair shake.
Anyone who’s at all familiar with Rosin knows that, when she takes on issues of child custody, the likelihood of intellectual honesty isn’t high and sure enough, Rosin doesn’t disappoint. She gives a pretty good idea of what we’re in for in her very first paragraph when she refers to actor Jason Patric as “part of a movement of vigilante fathers” contesting the maternal bias of family courts.
“Vigilante?” Maybe someone should refer Rosin to the dictionary on her word processing software. Truly, if you’re going to be a writer, knowing the meanings of words can be so important. “Vigilante” of course refers to a person who substitutes his/her own power for that of the law. So whites who lynched black men alleged to have assaulted white women were rightly called vigilantes because they didn’t allow justice to take its course. That of course makes Patric and the millions of other fathers who fight for their legal rights in family courts the very opposite of vigilantes. Fathers work within the legal system to try to keep contact with their kids. Now, a mother who abducts her child to another country can rightly be called a vigilante, but Rosin scrupulously applies the term only to fathers.
Rosin’s peculiar use of language doesn’t stop there. She refers to unmarried fathers as “fathers who never married the mothers,” and “A father who never married the mother.” It’s a common rhetorical ploy of the anti-dad crowd suggesting, as it does, that marriage or not is solely up to the father. If he hadn’t been such a cad, he’d have married her, you understand. It’s undiluted Victorian sexism fabricated for the purpose of making fathers look bad. It may have worked 150 years ago, but not now. Most of us now grasp the notion that no father can force the mother of his child to marry him. Again, Rosin hopes her readers won’t notice. It’s the kind of device you fall back on when you don’t have anything real to work with.
But rhetoric aside, Rosin does make a few assertions about family courts and, unsurprisingly, they’re essentially all either outright wrong or misleading. So, to back up her claim that fathers and kids make out fine in family courts, she cites a study of Wisconsin custody data for the proposition that fathers’ custody outcomes are dramatically improving. She neglects to mention however that Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with custody laws that truly benefit fathers. The other 49 states escape Rosin’s mention, again a fact she hopes no one will notice.
That was merely misleading, but she immediately moves on to outright fabrication.
And a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers shows a rapid increase in mothers paying child support.
No, actually it doesn’t. What that survey shows is the perception on the part of lawyers of a rapid increase in mothers paying child support. Unfortunately for Rosin, the lawyers, fathers and children, those perceptions aren’t borne out by facts. As usual, Rosin doesn’t trust her readers with pertinent facts, but I do. Here are the percentages of non-custodial mothers with an order requiring them to pay child support, every two years from 1993 through 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census: 42.2, 40.0, 38.3, 39.2, 38.6, 39.8, 35.4, 40.4, 30.4, 28.8.
Hanna, that’s not an increase, it’s a decrease, and a pretty remarkable one at that. After all, under 29% of non-custodial mothers being ordered to support their kids is astonishingly bad. We say paying to support a child you bring into the world is important to us, so why isn’t it important that mothers do so?
Rosin baldly asserts that the system of ordering custody is one that “has evolved to recognize equal, interdependent parents.” Her evidence? None. It is in fact one of the signal features of our current child custody system that it has utterly failed to keep up with fathers’ hugely increased parenting role.
As government figures in Canada and the U.S. show, fathers, particularly those in families in which both adults do paid work, do essentially the same amount of hands-on child care as do mothers. The numbers in Canada, according to data from Stats Canada, are 11.1 hours per week for mothers and 10.5 hours for fathers, a 52%/48% split. Even when mothers who do no paid work or who only work part-time are included in the data, fathers still take on 40% - 42% of the parenting time. Indeed, the Families and Work Institute not long ago pointed out that it was fathers more than mothers experiencing the stress of trying to balance work and childcare.
The problem being that courts in no way reflect those parenting roles in the orders they make. If they did, the fathers’ rights movement wouldn’t exist. But unfortunately for Rosin’s sunny thesis, the percentage of mothers with sole or primary custody has come down from 84% in 1993 to 82% in 2011, again according to the Census Bureau. The recent study done of Nebraska custody outcomes revealed that maternal sole custody runs to 42% while paternal sole plus joint custody with paternal residence totaled just 12%. Non-custodial fathers there averaged being allowed to see their kids just five days a month.
How this represents good news for fathers, much less a system of custody that recognizes” equal, interdependent parents” is anyone’s guess, but of course Rosin hopes no one will notice how at odds her claims are with the facts.
Rosin’s piece is a pathetic piece of work, long on shaky opinion unmoored from the reality fathers face every day and that’s abundantly recorded in data that’s a matter of public record. Her theory that all is basically well in custody cases will do nothing to stem the tide of pro-father, pro-child, pro-reform sentiment. Eventually, the worm will turn and state legislatures and judges will start realizing the value of fathers to children.
The likes of Hanna Rosin will continue to fight their anti-father rear-guard actions, desperately trying to stave off the inevitable. But they long ago ran out of plausible arguments and longer ago ran out of facts to back them up. In the meantime, over a million men get divorced every year in this country, and over a million more get married, some for the second or third time. A huge percentage of them experience the frank bias of the custody and child support systems, and their second wives do too.
No article in Slate, no matter how scurrilous and farfetched will convince many people that all is well with the fathers of this country. Solving the problems faced by men and children when they set foot in divorce court is harder than simply drawing them out of the picture. That’s what Hanna Rosin wants to do, but, as the Kliban cartoon suggested, it’s really just not that easy.
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