Media Distortions by Fathers’ Rights Advocates
Glenn Sacks has complained about recent responses to his and other fathers’ rights advocates’ comments about joint custody. In one of his columns of August 1, 2006, ” Feminist Columnist Slams Glenn, ACFC Over North Dakota Shared Parenting Initiative,” he attacks Trish Wilson’s recent commentary with distortions and misrepresentations.
The joint custody advocates’ primary claim is that men are not being treated equally as parents by the courts. But let’s look at what that word “equality” actually means in the law, and not the propaganda and rhetoric.
“Equality before the law” means that persons who are in similar positions will be treated similarly. Thus, for example, if a father is a child’s primary caregiver, that fact will be given the same weight as it would if a mother is a child’s primary caregiver. And, for example, if a husband is a dependent homemaker spouse, he would be as entitled to alimony as a wife in the same position.
However, a contrived equality of outcome when persons come before the law in dissimilar positions would be tantamount to disparate treatment. It would require taking persons who were not equally situated and treating them differently in order to effect “equality.” That’s not what “equality under the law” means; in fact it’s the anti-thesis of it.
Leaning on his erroneous premise of “equality,” Sacks criticizes Wilson’s point that “ninety percent of parents settle without the need for court intervention in deciding what form of custody is best for them and for their children.” Sacks claims that her “statement is misleading because it implies genuine agreement between parents.” Sacks writes that “such accords aren’t made in a vacuum — they’re bargained in the shadow of the law. What happens in most cases is that fathers must agree to having a very limited role in their children’s lives because they don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars (or more) necessary to fight for shared parenting in family law proceedings which are heavily stacked against them.”
But Sacks’s position is specious. Not only are the fathers coming into court without a marital track record of having been equal carers of the children and household, but when it comes to litigation, it is the men who generally have greater access to funds to litigate, more time to litigate, and more sophistication and ability to network, hire lawyers, and make a case. And be this as it may, the reality is that most men simply don’t want joint custody. They don’t want it for the very same reasons they were not doing half or more of the housework and childcare when they were married. Their careers and habits don’t suddenly alter merely because they are getting divorced. And that’s why the vast majority leave “custody” where it de facto was during the marriage, changing as little as possible in their and their children’s lives.
Sacks also criticizes Wilson’s statement that “when dads make an issue of custody, they get some form of it more than half the time.” This was the finding of every single state gender bias commission who looked at the issue (there were 40 of them.) Sacks pretends that Wilson’s statement is based on one small study of 60 women, and purports to debunk that as nonrepresentative. But it wasn’t. The reality simply is not debatable. Sacks also claims that the Massachusetts gender bias task force findings by lawyers and scholars have been discredited, based on speculations made by libertarian men’s rights journalist Cathy Young in an opinion piece. But she did not get her facts right or conclusions correct then. Repeatedly citing to secondary opinion sources that were wrong to begin with is not tantamount to documentation. It doesn’t matter how many times a claim is made, such distortions just do not gain veracity with repetition, any more than the children’s game of telephone.
The reasons mothers more often end up with custody after divorce encompass all of the same reasons that mothers end up being the majority of child caregivers and homemakers while marriages are intact. To the extent the factors moving this include bias, it’s bias that’s occurred long before anything that ever happens in connection with a divorce. In fact, that more men post divorce end up with far more custody time than they ever spent caregiving, homemaking, or with their children during their marriages attests to a divorce court bias that far and away favors fathers.
BEST INTERESTS OF CHILDREN:
The following factors are the only ones that consistently have been related to positive child adjustment post divorce and are consistent with the findings of all relevant research:
1. Positive “custodial parent” adjustment (i.e. maternal adjustment — most “custodial parents” in the research were not androgynous parent units but mothers), which is associated with effective parenting;
2. A positive relationship between the “custodial parent” (i.e. mother) and child; and
3. A low level of conflict between parents (more likely when post-divorce parenting arrangements mirror the patterns set in the family prior to the divorce.)
See Marion Gindes, The Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce, AAML Journal, Vol. 15 (1998), pp. 144-145
The following factors are the only ones that consistently have been related to positive effects of father involvement, and are consistent with the findings of all relevant research:
1. How the child perceives the father to feel about the child (which is not related to how much time he spends with the child, and not necessarily related to how the child feels about him, a factor that is comparatively insignificant vis a vis the child’s well-being); and
2. A father who emotionally cares for, financially supports, respects, is involved with, takes some of the work load off of, and generally makes life easier, happier and less stressful for… his children’s mother.