May 24, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
As apologists for the status quo in family courts go, John Bolch is one of the weakest and most transparent. He routinely posts nonsense that it’s hard to believe even he takes seriously. Why Marilyn Stowe gives him a forum on her blog remains a mystery. The man simply has nothing to offer except giving a bad name to the causes for which he fights. Who knows? Maybe that’s Stowe’s ulterior motive.
His most recent effort asks the burning question, “Are the family courts biased?” (Marilyn Stowe, 5/19/14). Now to some, that would require looking into the facts of child custody outcomes. After all, simple data can be a strong indicator of whether bias may or may not exist. Simple ratios, like for example, the percentage of the U.S. prison population being male, versus the male population at large, don’t by themselves prove bias. But if the discrepancies are too extreme, they certainly argue for investigating in greater depth.
Not for Bolch. He’s not interested in information, and it’s easy to see why. Given that well over 90% of child custody cases in the U.K. give primary or sole custody to mothers makes for a fact that’s inconvenient to Bolch’s sunny take on the matter.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. It’s not easy to promote a system that’s so bad for all concerned, particularly children, and Bolch is clearly hard-pressed to do so. Even so, his effort is uniquely feckless. His first foray informs us that the law is gender-neutral as written, so all must surely be well.
The job of the family courts is of course to apply the law and the starting point must therefore be the law, as laid down by Parliament: is this biased? The answer is a simple and resounding “no”. There is nothing in our family law that discriminates against either men or women.
Looking closer, our divorce law does not discriminate between husband and wife: either party may commence the proceedings, and either party may be the respondent. The ground for divorce (irretrievable breakdown) says nothing about husband or wife, and nor do any of the five ways of proving irretrievable breakdown. As to disputes over arrangements for children, the law says nothing to favour mother or father — the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount concern. Similarly, the law relating to financial remedies following divorce does not favour either husband or wife.
Jolly good. Now, if anyone had ever claimed that British family law contained gender-specific terminology, Bolch might have a point, but since they haven’t, he doesn’t. We can all read the words, John; your argument is a straw man.
Moreover, it’s a straw man that’s particularly easy to topple. For example, many southern states of the U.S. used to have “poll taxes.” Those were laws that were designed specifically to deny African-Americans the ability to exercise their right to vote. They imposed financial and educational burdens that blacks often couldn’t meet. And of course in practice, whites were usually excused from meeting the legal standards. But there was nothing racist in the language of the laws. Their language was scrupulously race-neutral. It just so happened that white precinct judges applied the laws in a way that disenfranchised blacks, but not whites. Funny how that happened.
Bolch pretends to be unaware of the many ways in which judges can interpret a law that’s facially neutral in discriminatory ways. He can’t imagine judges bringing their own biases to bear on child custody cases. It’s a simple concept, just too difficult for Bolch.
So he moves on.
Of course, the law must be interpreted by the courts. However, so far as this is concerned, the courts surely come out well. Whereas at one time, following the norms of society, there may have been some bias, for example in favour of mothers in children disputes and against wives in financial disputes, in recent times the courts have moved on.
Oh well, that takes care of that. The courts used to be biased against fathers in custody cases, but now they’re not. They’ve “moved on.” See? That was easy.
Needless to say, he offers not the slightest evidence for the proposition for the good and sufficient reason that there is none. Of course all the evidence that exists is against him. Fathers get sole or primary custody in the U.K. between 5% and 10% of the time. That can mean one of two things — that 90% – 95% of U.K. fathers are so incompetent and/or dangerous to their children that the kids are better off without them or that British judges are biased against them and in favor of mothers. Of course it also means those judges, like Bolch, are blissfully ignorant of what actually contributes to the best interests of children, i.e. equal parenting post-divorce.
But, since the great majority of fathers in the U.K. are perfectly fit parents, the numbers strongly suggest bias against them and in favor of mothers in custody cases. Bolch declines to address the obvious.
More astonishingly still, he next attempts to prove his claim of no anti-dad bias with an example of, well, anti-dad bias. Really.
Now, for example, the courts are quite clear that in financial remedy cases the contribution of the homemaker, usually the wife, is equal to the contribution of the breadwinner, most often the husband.
So the person who stays home, earns no income and lives solely off the earnings of his/her spouse automatically contributes equally to the family. It’s an interesting concept. Suppose in family A, the husband earns $40,000 per year. When the pair divorce, his wife’s contribution is deemed to be $20,000 per year. But in family B, he earns $1 million per year, meaning that his wife’s contribution was $500,000 per year for doing roughly the same things the wife in family A did. To Bolch, this makes sense.
To everyone else who understands that the principal breadwinner in the family is usually the man, it’s a punishment for his own success. It encourages traditional sex roles and deems women incapable of earning their own living. But since it’s a plus for women, to Bolch, the law is the very soul of justice.
And of course he utterly fails to notice that, if the law were truly egalitarian, the presumption he notes about the financial aspect of marriage would also apply to that of child custody. So, since whatever the wife actually did to contribute to the family, she gets half of the husband’s earnings and the family’s property, surely the same should apply to the man when it comes to children.
Under that theory, we should admit that his going to work every day financed the wife’s decision to stay home with the kids. It also paid for the roof over everyone’s head, the food on the table, the electricity, the gas, the water, the insurance, the clothing, the school tuition and supplies, the medical bills, etc. Therefore, Dad’s contribution to childrearing has clearly been equal to Mom’s. Obviously, she couldn’t have done it without him. So just as obviously, applying the logic of the financial aspect of marriage, Dad should get half the parenting time.
But of course he doesn’t. The very thing Bolch cites as proof of non-discrimination actually constitutes discrimination against fathers. Two different assumptions apply, one to finances, one to custody; both benefit mothers. Bolch doesn’t notice.
Which brings us to his “bottom line.”
And that is the point: the law reflects society. If there are biases in the law, that is because there are biases within society. In other words, it is not because the law is biased, it is because society is biased.
Let’s see. Having denied all along that family courts treat men and women differently, he belatedly suggests that they actually do exactly that. Odd.
What’s stranger is that Bolch apparently has never noticed the statues of Lady Justice blindfolded with her scales, weighing the claims of litigants. You see, John, that’s an allegory for what’s supposed to happen in court. People who enter there are supposed to be treated equally, i.e. without regard to class, race, sex, etc. We all know that society isn’t egalitarian, but the courts are supposed to be. So if society discriminates against blacks, blacks are supposed to be the same as anyone else when they’re in court.
I’m aware that that’s rarely the case, but it’s the way courts are supposed to work. They’re supposed to be the levelers of all those inequalities everyone knows exist. So Bolch’s blithe acceptance of bias on the part of judges is the weakest of all possible cop-outs. Yes, the rich get justice and the poor get prison. Hey, that’s the way society is so, according to Bolch, it’s OK. Sure children lose their fathers to divorce and suffer the loss terribly, but what of it? Society is biased against fathers and there’s an end to it.
Anti-dad sentiment doesn’t get much more blatant, or much dumber than that. Read the comments to Bolch’s piece. They’re far more reasonable and better-informed than the article is.
The simple truth is that Bolch defends the status quo because it satisfies his own anti-father prejudices. Don’t believe me? Check out the first of the links to my pieces on Bolch at the beginning of this post.
There Bolch sought to demonstrate how difficult child custody cases are for judges to decide. He utterly failed because the example of the “tough” case he provided was in fact the easiest of cases. There the mother had made allegations of abuse against the father that the judge found to be false. She was a drug addict who apparently had exposed their child to pot. She’d made every effort to keep the child away from her dad and, to top it all off, had lied to the court and police.
The father, by contrast, had no black mark against his name and seemed to be a competent and caring parent.
To Bolch, deciding custody in that case was the toughest of decisions. To the rest of us, it’s obviously anything but. Dad should get primary custody, Mom should get supervised visitation and the requirement to attend parenting classes until she can prove she’s a better parent than she’s been to date. Mom should pay child support. It’s an easy and obvious outcome.
But not for Bolch. The only reason he presented the case as a tough one is that he can’t conceive of any outcome but maternal custody. If that’s the goal, then yes, the case is admittedly difficult. Rationalizing maternal custody given those facts would be hard. But the fact that Bolch calls it a tough case reveals his anti-father bias. It literally never occurred to him that the father might get the child.
And that truly is the bottom line on Bolch. He’s anti-dad and so is the British system of child custody. No wonder he sees it as unbiased.
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