Annapolis, MD–“I”m also the child of divorced parents…my life would have been living hell had there been a presumption of joint custody, because to avoid non-custodial child support obligations [my father] certainly would have pursued it.
“I can say with surety that I would have been a very, very damaged person by the time I reached adulthood.”
The purpose of The Feminist Dissident is to give feminists a chance to speak directly to my audience, and my audience to debate the issues with them in a civil manner. To read previous entries, click here. Lisa recently wrote about research on child custody–to read her previous post, click here.
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The Parents or the Children: Who Should Be the Priority in Custody Awards?
By Lisa Kansas
What is my opinion about child custody? Well, the way I see it is, you can look at it from two different perspectives. One, you can consider it in terms of what”s most fair to the parents, and/or two, you can consider it terms of what”s best for the children.
In terms of what”s fair for the parents, it really depends on if you find more fairness in absolute equality, regardless of any mitigating circumstances, or if you find more fairness in terms of equitability related to input.
To use a related example, the state I grew up in was an “equal property’ state–any marital property was to be split 50/50 between spouses upon divorce, period. The state I currently live in is an “equitable property’ state–any marital property is to be split proportionally between spouses, taking into account who actually spent time directly generating the income used to acquire the property.
This can be directly translated into two corresponding child custody arguments–50/50 presumption of custody period, or proportionally split custody depending on who actually spent time directly raising the child. My understanding is that in terms of child custody, Men”s Rights Activists favor the first, and that the National Organization of Women (I can”t say “feminists’ in general, because feminists are actually all over the board on this one) favors the second.
I can”t say I favor either one, because I tend to weigh in heavily in terms of what”s best for the children, regardless of what the parents might think is “fair’ or not. Basically, I think (and the study I”ve been parsing here agrees) that the most successful outcome is the one that is reached without litigation—parents who do this seem to be much more interested in what”s good for their children as opposed to what”s just good for themselves.
If litigation rears its ugly head, in my opinion this is proof already that at least one of the parents, if not both, aren”t good parents. I would personally favor that litigating parents get a presumption of “joint custody’ all right–0/0. Then get up in front of the judge and prove, each of them, that they have some genuine and serious reasons for their stated and conflicting custody desires, and also that the judge spend some time speaking, in absolute privacy and confidentiality, to the children themselves if they are old enough to be able to speak.
In case anyone is interested, I do have two sons from my first marriage. Their father and I agreed to joint legal and physical custody prior to our separation, if we can even call what we did “agreeing;’ one of us (don”t remember which one now) said that that was what we ought to do, the other nodded, and that was that. It hasn”t been perfectly smooth, but given the obvious happiness, health and success levels said sons are currently displaying, I can”t believe that it could have turned out any better for them with any other custody arrangement.
If that were my only experience, perhaps I”d be more of an advocate for 50/50 presumption…but it isn”t. I”m also the child of divorced parents, and my mother had sole physical and joint legal custody with my father of me–it was what she asked for and as he didn”t show up to the divorce proceedings, it was what she got.
He did a year later attempt to take her back to court to obtain full physical custody of me, but the judge, luckily for me, was unimpressed by his sudden discovery of paternal passion and denied the motion. I did see my father a few times a year for the next several years–my mother immediately put me on the phone with him whenever I expressed a desire to see him and, if my father agreed, sent me out for as long as my father would take me–but frankly, I”d have been much better off if I”d never seen him at all.
Without going into too many details as to the whys, my life would have been living hell had there been a presumption of joint custody, because to avoid non-custodial child support obligations he certainly would have pursued it. I can say with surety that I would have been a very, very damaged person by the time I reached adulthood.
In short, not all parents are good parents. A child is better off with two goodparents than with just one…but not better off with one good parent and one bad one, than with just one good parent. And frankly, not better off with two bad ones than with no parents at all–my best friend in grade school went to live with her grandmother as soon as she was old enough to legally choose herself for a reason.
So–I think parents should try, between themselves, to share custody as much as each parent”s desire and the practical details of their lives allow, with the understanding that children love both their parents and want to see both of them as much as they can. If the parents can”t resolve it between themselves, then the legal status of both as parents should be suspended, with neither any assumption of custody at all, and they each should have to prove, quite thoroughly, that whatever each of their disputes is, is merited. Or Grandma gets Junior and Janey. Or Uncle Bob gets them. Whoever it is that really cares about the kids…think of it as Solomon”s wisdom.