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October 17, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Guardian’s article on law firms that specialize in representing fathers in child custody cases is more antagonistic to dads than I could fully demonstrate in yesterday’s piece (Guardian, 10/15/16). But, weirdly enough, it also makes a show of representing fathers in an at least a somewhat sympathetic light. That is, it goes all-in on the big picture: fathers’ rights firms are both useless to men and sexist because they present mothers in a bad light. The article attempts to make that case without resort to even a single fact, while simultaneously using anti-male and pro-female stereotypes itself. It’s a sort of virtuoso performance of hypocrisy.

Given that the article appears in The Guardian, none of that comes as a surprise. And of course it trots out many of the standard, off-the-shelf claims those opposed to children having real relationships with their fathers post-divorce rely on in lieu of principled argument based on fact.

According to recent census data, 82% of mothers have primary custody of their children and 53% collect child support, compared with 29% of men. The numbers certainly suggest the need for men’s divorce attorneys, but they lack important context: less than 5% of child support cases are actually settled in court, which means most parents decide themselves that the mother should be the primary caregiver.

Apparently, the fact that dads prefer to settle out of court can mean only one thing – that they’re fine with being marginalized in their children’s lives, that going from fully identifying with their role of father and provider to being persona non grata fits them to a T.

People like the writer of the linked-to piece, Angelina Chapin, invariably manage to miss the obvious that essentially any divorce lawyer or divorced father could tell them.

First, waging a child custody battle costs a lot of money. Mothers and fathers alike say they spend tens - even hundreds – of thousands of dollars, dollars that could have gone into their child’s college fund, on trying to get a reasonable amount of parenting time. Those cases often drag on for many years and are emotionally and physically exhausting. And for dads at least, there’s far from any guarantee of success. They may well spend the time and money and end up with what they could have gotten just by signing an agreement with their ex.

The obvious truth is that very few dads can afford such a donnybrook. They just don’t have the resources, either monetary or psychological, so they agree.

And then of course, if they receive counsel from an honest lawyer, they’ll learn that the chances of significantly improving their situation by fighting for meaningful parenting time are slim-to-none. Stated another way, dads can pay a lawyer a lot of money and have X result or they can pay him/her none at all and receive X result. If Mom isn’t seriously deficient as a mother in some way – an alcohol or drug abuser, a felon, a child abuser or otherwise unfit – Dad can save a lot of money and heartache by negotiating the best deal he can with her and try to make a meal of what crumbs she allows him.

But for every anti-dad activist ever, the fact that the vast majority of child custody cases settle out of court means only that fathers don’t really care about maintaining real relationships with their kids. This time, it’s The Guardian and, needless to say, misandry is rife.

Which is where it gets weird. Chapin takes a dads to illustrate her piece and, unlike so many anti-father screeds we see, actually gives him a pretty fair hearing.

Andrew Jones was shocked when his wife started a child custody battle in 2014. The couple had separated five months earlier after, he says, he caught her in a series of extramarital affairs. They had agreed on an informal settlement: he moved from their 2,700 sq ft home into a mobile home, paid her $500 a month in child support and could spend equal time with their five- and three-year-old kids. When he received the letter with a court date, Jones was not hopeful.

“I felt like I wasn’t going to have a life,” says the 46-year-old who works as an HVAC technician. “I heard so many horror stories of divorce and how pretty much women get all your paycheques and you have no way to live.”

Jones (his last name was changed to protect the identity of his children) represented himself in court while his wife hired an attorney who he says is “well-known” in their North Carolina county for “getting women anything and everything they want in court”. The attorney, he says “kind of gives you the feeling that she hates men. That all men are dogs and men don’t want to be in their child’s lives.”

Jones nervously told the judge all he wanted was equal time with his kids. The following month, he received a letter from the court saying he owed $1,300 a month in child support – a payment that would be big stretch on his wage of $26 an hour. He had already cleared out his savings to pay off his and his wife’s combined debts, so to keep up with payments Jones sold his truck, $4,000 worth of tools, and stopped eating out or having a social life. But the money wasn’t even the worst part: he was only allowed to see his kids eight days out of the month.

“When you have kids it changes your life,” he says. “You can’t go without them and [when you do] it wears you down emotionally and physically.”

See what I mean? Chapin doesn’t sugar-coat the facts about Jones’s case. His wife cheated and yet he was the one to leave their home for a mobile home. He was the one to pay her $500 a month despite having 50% parenting time. By any stretch of the imagination, he gave his unfaithful wife a lot.

But, as Chapin shows, it wasn’t enough. And the court was happy to oblige her in her every wish. A few minutes in court and Jones saw his child support more than doubled and his parenting time cut from 50% to 26%. The blows – both financial and emotional – were devastating to him.

Having included Jones’s story in her article, does Chapin notice that it directly contradicts her claim that men settle out of court because they don’t care to see much of their kids? Does she listen when Jones says of his kids “you can’t go without them,” or later in the article when he says what should be emblazoned on plaques in every family courtroom in the country, “I’m home alone and have no money to go nowhere,” he says. “I can’t … even get my kids something. I don’t wish this for nobody. I feel like a homeless guy with a job?”

A homeless guy with a job. That’s about the size of it, but does Chapin even notice? Does she see that Jones had a deal with his ex that benefitted her far more than it did him, but even so was far better for him than what the judge ordered? Does she see that his agreement with his ex-wife was one that he probably could have lived with, particularly because he didn’t lose contact with his children, but that when he was forced into court, his life, his sense of self, his ability to provide and his ability to be a real father to his kids were all but entirely destroyed? Does she hear why dads stay out of court if they can? Does she hear, in Jones’s words, why so many fathers take their own lives following divorce?

I don’t think she does, but many of her readers will. For that reason, her article, strange as it is, dismissive of fathers as it is, illogical and hypocritical as it is, still serves a purpose. For once in The Guardian, not all men are scoundrels.

 

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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