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Dads Against Discrimination
Four out of five divorce cases with children under 18 involve a dispute over child custody. More than half the time the mother is awarded guardianship, even if the father wants to be involved. Now, I’m not talking about the deadbeat dads that don’t want to pay child support or pick their kid up from a soccer game. I’m talking about the honest, caring, hardworking fathers who genuinely care about being a participating parent. Judges in the family court system have confused the majority of the males in custody battles with irresponsible father figures.
Susan Dominus goes in depth of the constant battle between fathers and custody law in “The Fathers Crusade” in the New York Times. She elaborates greatly on the strides Fathers 4 Justice, a father’s rights movement group, has made in order to spread awareness on equal custody rights. The article was published in May of 2005, just approaching Mother’s Day. The subtitle reads: “Sure Happy Mother’s day. But… I Want to See My Kids”. The title itself establishes its stance on the subject of the father’s custody movement.
There are very few females who are backing up the movement, especially since it’s unsupportive of their own holiday. However, Dianna Thompson is an ally to the father’s rights’ movement who believes that the law is penalizing men in child-support decisions. Bonnie Miller Rubin confirms that seldom are women actually in support of the movement in her Chicago Tribune article, “Child Support Laws Get New Foes: Women”. She indicates that men aren’t the only ones that have a problem with the unequal distribution of rights. Women are supporting the fathers that are trying to connect with their child. Not to mention, the author of “The Father’s Crusade” is female. In previous articles, Dominus writes about issues and controversies that people talk about a lot, but from a different perspective. She adds color to her writing which makes it so much easier to follow along and actually become interested in the topic. By having a dynamic writing style, Dominus can pull just about any reader in and see her side of the spectrum.
Again in “Child Support Laws Get New Foes: Women”, Rubin says that “the system took a good man who, for 15 years, never missed a payment, and turned him into a deadbeat”. In response to this movement, a number of lawyers and law firms hold themselves out as "fathers' rights" firms, appealing to represent only men, and to have special expertise in litigating custody cases on only the behalf of fathers.
Dominus describes Fathers 4 Justice, a European father’s rights movement, as a group that has staged colorful protests and stunts to gain awareness on the injustices being made in the court room. Jason Hatch is a member of this advocacy group who has scaled the top of Buckingham Palace in a batman costume with a sign reading “Access Denied” in order to gain media attention. According to Dominus, Hatch first contacted Fathers 4 Justice when his access to his children was denied in 2003. Why might you ask? In 40 different states, constitutional rights guarantee a father less than 50 percent of time with his child. It’s hatch’s mission, along with the other supporters of the group, to change these statistics. Before the movement was apparent to Hatch he seemed to be lost in hopelessness that he would never have a valuable relationship with his kids because the odds aren’t in his favor. However, two years later and an article in the New York Times Magazine, Hatch is now stopping traffic on bridges because of the attention his superhero costume has attracted and his revolutionary banner. Risking imprisonment, Hatch says that he won’t stop until there is a change in the system.
Groups like: Fathers and Families, American Coalition for Fathers and Children and the Alliances for Noncustodial Parents Rights, are just a couple of groups that have been pushing for the change in custody laws. When a man first walks into a custody battle there is a 70% chance that child custody will be handed over to the mother. These groups have argued that this is discriminatory under the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment is due process and equal protection under the law. They argue that different burdens are being placed on parents undergoing the same situations. The Tender Years Doctrine says that younger children need to be with their parents. According to Dominus, many father’s rights advocates would like to usher in a new model in custody laws that value parental rights as highly as it values the best interest of the child, which is the current legal standard. When choosing the best interest of the child, why aren’t judges considering that the father’s involvement is a huge contributing factor? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “children’s whose fathers are absent are 75% more likely than others to develop emotional problems and are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school.” The best interest standard is obviously not being used effectively. Not to mention, the best interest of the child is only considered after parents get separated. When the parents are still together this standard isn’t used in any court case.
The legal system makes it seem like it’s the woman’s job to always be the one to take care of her children. They portray the female as the one who should have the child’s welfare their main priority, when in fact it could be the father’s. Traditionally fathers were seen as just financial providers, especially in the 50’s. However, “The Fathers Crusade” was written in 2005 and times have changed. A Chicago Attorney in favor of the movement says “In 25 years, I have never once had a father say, ‘Find me loopholes . . . get me out of paying child support’”. The role of fatherhood needs to be seen as a nurturer rather than being a bread maker. Policy changes are showing acknowledgements for dads who are taking on greater parenting responsibilities. The National Fatherhood Initiative is a nonprofit group that has 100 million dollars in free advertising to promote the message “It takes a man to be a dad!” on billboards and the importance of fathers, not just as an economic role. The same way women feel about gender issues in employment, men will feel there’s a gender issue in custody. Dominus makes it clear that since the father’s rights movement the number of single fathers is on the rise, and not all dads are deadbeats.
Women request 75% of divorces which leaves a baseline of anger for these father activist groups. Typically the cases have to do with the mother’s faking domestic abuse. If she’s mad because he cheated, or even if he didn’t, these problems are between the parents, not the kid. Lying about abuse because they were upset about marital problems is a huge cause to fathers losing custody/visitation rights of their children. In one situation, a mother hit the father while he was holding his daughter and then she proceeded to call the cops and he had his kids taken away from him. This is proof that the family court system is flawed. Ofer, a separated father from Israel, was once told to pick up his son after school by his wife. Only after a couple of hours of waiting, he was informed that his son was never even registered at the school. He didn’t even know where he could find his son after trying to get into contact with his mother. This is just an example of the many flaws in our legal system. Unfair law practices will keep father’s apart from their children.
In times of cultural transition, the law struggles. Kate Zernike also discusses the mother’s ability to move to a new area after separation in “Mistreated Divorced Fathers are Gaining Political Clout”. Mother’s legally being allowed to move after separation takes away the little visitation rights that a father has. Activists want proof that mothers are moving away because of economic necessity, not just to keep dads from their kids.
A parent’s decision to leave would interfere with the best interest of the child because they would have limited access to the other parent. Regular contact with both parents promotes stability for the child. However, the law doesn’t restrict the father’s right to move away but as soon as he misses a scheduled visit he can lose contact with his child, but must continue to pay child support.
Deadbeat or not, child Support payments have increased over the years making it harder for divorced fathers to be financially stable themselves. 30% of their checks have been taken out to go to child support, after taxes. 85% of the time single-parent families are headed by women, meaning that 85% of the time the man is the one paying child support. Current child support policies serve to criminalize and alienate fathers when they should be trying to incorporate fathers into their children’s lives. If legislators concentrated on promoting responsible fatherhood rather than enforcing strict child support laws, this wouldn’t be as huge of an issue. Sometimes the fathers don’t even know if the child support checks are actually going to the kid’s needs.
However, the CSE, Child Support Enforcement Program, tries to keep track of all the child support orders, establish paternity, locate parents who owe money, and enforce child support orders in court. The part that catches me the most is the establishing paternity. The process of determining paternity is believed to be drawn out and viewed as demoralizing and disrespectful to a father. Imagine losing your kids in a custody battle, and then having to take a paternity test to establish that they are in fact your kids.
Some believe that the father’s right’s movement is motivated by anger and revenge. Well if you ask me, it should be. I would be pretty upset if my chances of winning a custody battle for my kids were slim to none. 82% of children from divorced families have barely more than a visitation relationship with their father. 37.9% of divorced fathers have NO access to their kids at all. Employment action centers in Minneapolis serve 300 men a year to keep men stable and connected to their kids. It doesn’t help that judges who preside over domestic cases have almost unlimited authority. This makes it nearly impossible for a father to gain equal opportunity. The difference in cases being awarded is huge. Courts and legislatures need to modernize custody arrangements so that fathers can gain more access to their children. A revolution because of these statistics is continuing to happen and will just become stronger until it’s changed.
According to Dominus, Robert Chase in “The Fathers Crusade” when talking about quality time with his children said, “Spending only two or four days a month with your kids, you can’t really teach them values, or the difference between right and wrong. All you can do is love them, provide a positive example, and hope they’re getting what they need when they’re outside your influence.” Not having enough visitation rights doesn’t help maintain connection with their kids. Handing over a child support check every month doesn’t constitute as a beneficial relationship. Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University show that boys that come from fatherless families are more likely to spend time in jail, rather than boys from two parent families. Also, the Education Department found that students are 40% more likely to receive A’s in the classroom if both parents are at least somewhat present.
The fathers’ groups’ complaints are old, but their impact is new. Not everyone is going to agree with them, but their message is at least being considered. It has been almost seven years since the beginning of the crusade and a lot has been done. These young dads are becoming more political by holding protests at courthouses, local county board meetings and state child support offices. The National Fatherhood Initiative, a non-profit group, has received $100 million in free advertising to run a public service campaign on fatherhood. The message says: “It takes a man to be a dad”. By 2030, the number of single families is expected to increase from 6-55 percent. A new bill called the “Richard Bill” tries to prevent situations where not only married fathers but Fatherhood Initiative, another non-profit group, has received unmarried fathers can establish their parental rights with the Department of Children and Family Services. It takes two to make a child; don’t you think two should take part in raising it?
Overall, the fathers participating in the movement give great reasoning as to why they’re angry. When I originally picked up the magazine, “The Fathers Crusade” was just another article to read about someone complaining. However, Dominus pulled me in a battle that is still going on to this day. By the time I finished the article I was angry, intrigued, and curious: angry about the discrimination, intrigued by the power and curious about what’s going to happen to these men. Being so interested on the topic, I continued to research and even gave a speech in my Communications class on the movement. After learning about the unequal rights for men during custody battles, I am a supporter of the crusade as well. I believe that that was what Dominus’s main point, to convince her readers. The timing of the article was impeccable itself. Why else would you put an article about Father’s rights during the time where we should be thanking and appreciating our mother’s? To get the message out. The father’s crusade is going to change the odds of a father losing custody, whether the courts are ready for it or not. Dominus pinpointed one specific audience: the angry separated fathers. Her article could in fact bring together more underprivileged fathers to fight the cause. Judges are going to have to understand why fathers contribute to the best interest of a child; until then children are going to continue growing up without one.