September 4, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Meanwhile in New Zealand, this article tells the story of one father’s experience with family courts (Stuff, 9/2/17). It’s only what we’d expect.
(As an irrelevant aside, I must say that I am now the only person on the planet who knows the difference between the verb “to lie” and the verb “to lay.” The only one. When I die, this knowledge dies with me. Be advised. I say this because the linked-to article gets it wrong every time.)
The house is horribly silent and everywhere he looks he sees his children.
Crumbs lay on the kitchen table where his eldest enjoyed a biscuit. A child's painting, hanging proudly on the fridge, is tugged at gently by a breeze coming in the window.
Outside, the toys lay discarded on the lawn and, with a lump in his throat, he forces his gaze away. It will be another 11 days before this Blenheim father-of-two sees his children again and he is already counting the minutes.
The father, who has not been named to protect the identity of his children, says he is at his wits' end.
And why wouldn’t he be? He’s apparently a fit and loving father, but the court gives him time with his children only every other weekend and every other week during the summer months. This is called “shared custody.” That of course is misleading. It’s technically correct, but many people who read it might conclude that he and his ex have something like equal time with the children. They don’t. By my calculations, that’s about 23% of the time. The unnamed father, like the rest of us, doesn’t understand why he should have so little time with the kids he loves.
I feel like a second-class citizen. When a mother and father split up, unless there's a strong reason why it shouldn't happen, then they should share time with their children 50-50.
"Why does it always have to go the mother's way? If no-one says anything, then nothing will change."
He doesn’t seem to know it, but people have opposed the extreme pro-mom/anti-dad bias of family courts for decades. In places like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Great Britain, little seems to be changing. In the U.S., we see rays of sunshine. Here, laws are changing and it may just be that judges are too.
But for the man’s information, he doesn’t just “feel like a second-class citizen,” he is one. All things being equal, Mom gets primary or sole custody of the kids, Dad sees them little and pays a lot in child support. That all militates in favor of mothers being the ones to file for divorce which, unsurprisingly, his ex did.
That’s all driven home by facts he cites.
"When we split up I was working fulltime. I have no family here and no support so it seemed right then that they did spend more time with their mum.
"Now I work part-time and she works fulltime and I can help but it feels like what I think doesn't matter. I'm only their dad.
Yes, when he worked full-time and she didn’t, it made sense for her to have the children more than he did. But now the situation is reversed but the parenting time has remained the same. What that of course means is that Mom leaves the kids with people who aren’t their father. When she’s at work, someone cares for them at least part of the time and when she goes out on weekends, she calls a baby sitter or relative to do the job. Why not Dad? Better yet, why not reverse the parenting time, since he’s got more hours in which to do more?
The reason is that
He would like to spend as much time with his children as their mother does, but says she will not agree.
That of course raises the question of why mothers are given veto power over children’s right to a meaningful relationship with their fathers and vice versa. But until she agrees, he’s stuck. She’ll have to prove herself to be a demonstrably unfit or dangerous mother for him to have a chance at more time. That was the unambiguous finding of researchers Harding and Newnham in the U.K. two years ago. There, in order for dads to get custody, mothers had to be so defective due to mental illness, illicit drug use, crime and the like that child welfare agencies were called in. Frequently enough, caseworkers actually told the fathers to apply for custody or their children would be taken into foster care.
What’s also unsurprising is that, like so many fathers, trying to fight the system has drained his bank account and he’s now stuck representing himself in a never-ending struggle to see a little more of his children.
Like everywhere in the English-speaking world, all of this is done while courts intone the mantra of “the best interests of the child.” The fact that, in all but fairly rare cases, the best interests of the child are served by equal parenting, seems to occur to no one involved in the family court system. Dozens of studies demonstrate the fact, but judges, guardians ad litem, attorneys, custody evaluators and the like ignore them entirely. As economist Paul Millar wrote about the data on child custody and children’s well-being, the paradigm of maternal custody “is not only unsupported by evidence, but, worse, appears to promote harmful outcomes for children through the legal support given the destruction of one of the important parental relationships for the child.”
That’s what the unnamed father is experiencing. His children are being harmed by the system that loudly proclaims to be acting in their interests, and he is powerless to help.
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