January 9, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
I’ve seen a cartoon recently on FaceBook. In the first panel, a man is sitting at his computer working. His wife comes into the room and says “Honey, I need help with the kids.” In the second panel Dad says something like “The kids only need me every other week. Get back to me in 11 days.”
The meme raises a salient question: Why is it that fathers are considered so important during marriage and all but irrelevant afterwards?
After taking down slow-moving targets like Maureen Dowd, Suzanne Venker moves on to the nut of her piece – family courts (Washington Examiner, 1/4/17).
Sadly, this [dismissive] attitude toward fathers isn't just evident in our culture. It is also evident in our family courts. When it comes to child custody, mothers are the default parent.
That may have made sense when mothers were home. But in a culture of dual-income families and hands-on fathers, the rules must change.
Women can't have it both ways. They cannot choose full-time work over mothering and insist on sharing child care "equally" with Dad, and then pull rank in a divorce. Yet that's what's happening.
Indeed it is. For at least 23 years now, child custody patterns in the United States have remained statistically unchanged. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1993, 84% of custodial parents were mothers. By 2011, 81.7% were. In short, over all those years of the culture’s raising awareness of the importance of fathers to children, family court practices regarding child custody have changed not one bit. Multiple studies of bias on the part of family court judges reveal not only a profound pro-mother/anti-father bias, but that many judges admit being so. Other surveys find family lawyers frankly acknowledging the bias they see every day.
Unsurprisingly, when family courts kick fathers to the curb, kids lose contact with them.
In a divorce, the physical custodial arrangements determine whether the bond between a child and one of his parents will flourish or die. And nine times out of 10, the bond that is severed is the one between father and child. The most recent figures from Pew Research found that only 22 percent of dads who don't live with their kids see them more than once a week.
And that’s bad for all concerned.
Indeed, father absence is a national epidemic affecting millions of children. Almost every major social pathology has been linked to father absence: violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, unwed pregnancy, suicide and psychological disorders.
Venker doesn’t delve into the matter, but everyone suffers from fatherlessness. Kids are hardest hit of course and they show it. The deleterious effects of fatherlessness on kids, long into their adulthood, have been explained countless times. They’re well known, but, in what ranks as the single most dysfunctional failure of current U.S. society, we lift barely a finger to address the problem.
But it’s not just children who suffer. The suicide rate for divorced fathers is roughly six times what it is for other dads and custodial mothers suffer the loss of income, the stress and energy drain that is 24/7 parenting. Finally, all those social pathologies end up in higher governmental spending to try to fix what the government broke in the first place.
Keeping fathers in children’s lives post-divorce is the single best thing we could do for all of us. We know this; we’ve known it for decades. And yet we ignore what we know and, like the walking dead, just stumble along, oblivious.
Venker rightly points out that, in Washington and in fact in state houses across the country, Republicans are in power. Republicans miss few opportunities to tell us how “pro-family” they are. It’s a dubious proposition as Florida GOP Governor Rick Scott demonstrated last summer when he vetoed a bill that would have encouraged the Sunshine State’s judges to order more closely equal parenting time.
Republicans now control all three branches of government in 25 states. Given the overwhelming research in favor of shared parenting, they should enact such legislation and address court-created fatherlessness.
Divorce is tragic enough for children. A subsequent forced separation from their father simply drives the nail in the coffin.
Establishing a presumption of shared parenting would extricate that nail.
We’ll see what they do. As usual, the National Parents Organization will give many states the opportunity to do what they so far have only talked about doing – strike a blow for family cohesiveness and children’s welfare.
But just because family law is mostly a matter for the states doesn’t mean Washington can sit on its hands. One simple improvement would be to budget real money for the OCSE to enforce visitation orders. As it stands, the federal government pays states $5 billion per year to enforce child support orders but a mere $10 million for visitation. That second figure needs to be greatly increased. Doing so would not only help to keep fathers in children’s lives, it would help to collect child support too, since fathers who get unimpeded access to their children are far more likely to pay what they owe.
As I said, we’ll see if Republicans make good on their pro-family claims or if it’s just so much empty rhetoric.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
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:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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