It’s hard to know how to feel about this CNN piece on fathers and the family court system (CNN, 11/7/18). On one hand, the writer seems to be sincere about advising men, so he consults family court experts – a lawyer, a judge and a mental health expert – for their tips. On the other hand, it’s a piece that could have been written 40 years ago, entirely lacking in the long-established realities fathers face. It’s like writer Thom Patterson is a latter-day Rip Van Winkle, newly awakened from a long, long sleep.
So he seems to want us to believe that fathers haven’t been complaining about their treatment in family courts for those four decades.
Mothers often complain about getting the short end of the stick in divorce cases involving child custody, but so do many fathers.This is news? And how is it that, in Patterson’s iteration, it’s mothers who are the main complainers. They’re not. They’re not because they’re treated on average far better by the courts than are fathers. They get about 82% of the child custody and the child support that goes with it, plus 97% of the alimony. According to a Massachusetts study, 98% of parents jailed for child support are fathers despite mothers being somewhat less likely to pay what they owe. Some half dozen studies indicate a pronounced pro-mother bias on the part of family court judges.
So Patterson’s “Oh, by the way, Dads complain too” is misleading at best.
Then there’s his assumption that, when divorcing parents can’t sort out their difficulties, courts are there “to help.”
Sometimes disagreements escalate into messy legal battles that require judges, attorneys and therapists to step in and help.Or they can make matters profoundly worse, making off with vast sums of money, exacerbating conflict and wrongly deciding often simple, straightforward cases. But for Patterson, all is anodyne in family courts.
Child support? Patterson’s similarly uninterested.
One is a divorced father who has spent time in jail because he said he couldn't pay his court-ordered child support.
"I'm currently at $680,000 worth of arrears, at 9% interest," said Dr. Carlos Rivera. "I will never be able to get out of this hole." Rivera, a pediatrician, says he went bankrupt, was let go from his medical practice and now makes about $100 per month.Does it occur to Patterson that the Department of Commerce not long ago said that it takes about $280,000 to raise a child to age 18? If so, how is it that Dr. Rivera can possibly owe almost 2 ½ times that? Could it be that child support isn’t entirely for the child? Could it be alimony masquerading as child support? And what about that whopping 9% annual interest? Where does Patterson think he or anyone else can get that type of interest on an investment? So why is a state charging child support obligors such an extravagant rate? None of those questions occurs to Patterson, so his readers likely won’t think about the realities of family courts.
Patterson does a bit better in touching on restraining orders and the fact that so many fathers only see their kids four days a month. But then he wonders if maybe, just maybe, courts don’t treat fathers equally with mothers.
Is it harder for men to get a fair shake in custody cases involving children? Do laws and courts favor women because of a traditional presumption that women are better care-givers for children?Indeed they do, as multiple studies have demonstrated.
The rest of the piece is just a series of softball issues addressed by the aforementioned experts. In a nutshell, their advice to fathers is “Don’t complain, just tough it out.” Regardless of how unequal, unfair and bad for kids the situation may be, keep a stiff upper lip. That may be sound advice for not riling an already irascible judge, which is all well and good.
But if Patterson had really wanted to give some good advice to dads, he’d have told them a few additional things. He’d have told them to contact their state legislators and demand reform of courts that, far too often, create parenting plans that are bad for all concerned. He’d have told them about the science those fathers can present to courts to prove that equal parenting is best for kids. He’d have told them about the many organizations that promote equality in family courts and family laws. And on and on.
But no, his is an article that firmly endorses the status quo – sole/primary maternal custody, large transfers of wealth from fathers to mothers, kids who rarely see their fathers and of course the damage to children that goes with all of it.
You’d think we’d be further down the road toward sensible family policies. News organizations like CNN are one of the reasons we aren’t.