So I just reported on Dr. Sanford Braver’s latest study showing that, when asked to judge hypothetical custody cases for themselves, his subjects showed a “strong preference” for equally-shared parenting. Their custody arrangement of choice was 50/50. Like so much social science, that should give legislators and judges a nudge in the ribs; it should give them a gentle hint that what they’ve been doing all these years is wrong. Decades of social science have shown that kids do better with two parents in their lives than with only one. The funny thing is that Braver’s subjects seem to have gotten the message.
They’ve also gotten the “gender-equality message. The only ones out of the loop are those who make the laws and those who interpret and enforce them. Well, this article suggests that pretty much the same holds true for our neighbor to the north (C News, 4/29/11). It’s mostly about the Canadian advocacy group Victims of Violence. Interestingly, the group connects at least some child abduction cases to conflict in family court.
Canadian advocacy group Victims of Violence says the family court system is often adversarial, leading some parents to take extreme measures to see their children.
That’s true in some cases although far from all. Still the group has some clear ideas about how to reform the family court system to make it fairer to all and lessen the chance of abduction.
The group wants the way custody is decided to be changed so it is fair to both parents.
“Both the mother and father should be given equal custody and equal responsibility for the child, so long as both parents are able and willing to care for the child.”
Say, that sounds a lot like what Sanford Braver’s subjects were saying. Their “strong preference” for equally shared parenting post-divorce might be a direct quotation from the above. And Canadian MP Maurice Vellacott agrees. Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott is trying to change family law.
His private members bill, C-422, called for equal parenting, financial support for separating couples, and mediation. “Canadians want equal shared parenting to be the presumption in our courts when marriages break up because it is in the best interests of children and because it is part of an enlightened equality agenda” Vellacott said in a statement.
And that’s true. Indeed, only a few months ago I reported on the Canadian Green Party’s embrace of Vellacott’s bill. At the same time, the National Post’s Barbara Kay noted that that event meant that all of Canada’s major parties had endorsed the equally-shared parenting presumption. Combine that with the fact that Ontario’s chief judge announced recently that the family law system was seriously dysfunctional and in need of repair, and you might conclude that a mighty wind was blowing change to Canadian family courts. But nothing could be further from the truth. Anti-father forces have kept Vellacott’s bill bottled up and the judge’s proposed changes were so weak and ineffectual that I called them “shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Not once in his impassioned speech about the dire nature of family law in Canada did he even mention fathers’ rights or the concept of equally-shared parenting. It’s not as if elite disdain for popular wishes is without consequences of its own, as Victims of Violence tacitly acknowledge.
Dave Flook said the court system treated him like a criminal when he and his wife divorced. “You’re reduced to being a wallet. You have to prove that you are a father, you have to prove that you can raise your child. It’s a horrible situation for everyone involved.”
Flook founded the website NotAllDadsAreDeadbeats.com, and was overwhelmed with pleas for help. “I have heard thousands of stories, and they are all horror stories. I’ve heard suicides by fathers who don’t get to see their kids,” Flook said.
But what’s a few dead dads when there’s big money to be made in the family law industry. More and more, in the U.S. at least, it’s becoming clear that the old shibboleth of domestic violence is being discarded as a weapon in the war against fathers and their children. What I’ve observed about the losing fights in North Dakota and elsewhere is that the anti-dad crowd is letting the family law state bars carry the banner for them. Afraid that equal parenting might cut down on divorces generally and conflict within divorce, and thereby theaten their paydays, lawyers and judges with money at stake are lobbying against equal parenting legislation. So however impassioned Dave Flook and millions of fathers like him might be or, for that matter, how desperately their children may need them, other things like attorney’s fees take precedence. You might think about that the next time you hear some judge opining sagely about the best interests of the child while doing the one thing we all know is bad for children – keeping it from its father.