January 29, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Here’s a good piece that makes the important point that, like men, women can be controlling in their intimate relationships (The Sun, 4/15/19). That of course is no surprise and nothing new. But the article does what few others do; it focuses on individual men who’ve been in those controlling relationships. It lets readers see the realities of those relationships from the inside.
But, for our purposes, it does something else at least as important.
IF Matthew Wrightson didn’t do as his ex-wife wanted, she’d disconnect his computer, hide the cables and force him to do housework.
Even worse, she’d threaten to limit his access to the children if he dared to even think about leaving her.
Aye, there’s the rub. Wrightson stayed for years in a relationship that he eventually came to understand was abusive, because he knew how much power his wife could wield in family court. Specifically, if he divorced her, she’d get custody of the children and could limit his contact with them, or deny it altogether. Wrightson understood that, so he stayed and took the abuse.
In short, family courts contribute to abusive relationships. British men know to a certainty that, in the event of divorce, they’ll be relegated to the sidelines in their children’s lives. British women know that too. Of course most women don’t abuse the power the courts grant them, but some do and all men know they can. And no man knows whether his wife or partner will be one who’s fair or one who uses the power the system gives her.
So, what’s a man to do? He stays the course for as long as he can because the alternative is losing his children.
Years ago, in a study of 40,000 court cases in the U.S., Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen concluded that the fact that 70% of divorces are filed by women is explained by the fact that “they know they won’t lose their kids.” Stated another way, men don’t file because they can be reasonably certain they will.
The same is true in Great Britain, but more so. American courts may be slowly turning toward greater shared parenting and, to the extent they are, doing less to promote abuse by mothers. Unsurprisingly, that seems to mean fewer divorce filings. The National Parents Organization successfully promoted the first equal parenting law in Kentucky in 2017 and, since then, divorce filings are down, as are claims of abuse in those filings. When both parents know they won’t lose their kids, the impetus for divorce lessens.
Obviously then, the answer to Matthew Wrightson’s problem with his ex would have been a court system that assured him that, if he weren’t proven to be an unfit father, he could look forward to enjoying 50% parenting time with his children. Had the court system provided him that assurance, he could have avoided much of the abuse his wife was dishing out. For her part, his wife would have known that the courts wouldn’t grant her the power over his parenting time she rightly assumed she’d have in the event of divorce. In that case, she may well have concluded that her abuse of her husband was pointless and either stopped or at least slacked off it a bit.
Courts have the power to reduce the type of abuse Matthew Wrightson endured. They can exercise that power by establishing equal parenting as the default arrangement in child custody cases. That they fail to do so, despite all the evidence militating in favor of shared parenting, means that, however much they may protest to the contrary, family courts not only find abuse acceptable, in many ways, they promote it.