As a father, do you think you have less parental rights? The flood of divorces have become rampant. This, no one can control or predict. Despite the efforts some couples make to save their marriages and the many hours spent in couple’s counseling even with the best of therapists and marriage counselors, marriages come to an end.
Back in 1975, Willowbrook and other psychiatric institutions were permanently closed after journalist Geraldo Rivera did an undercover investigation finding the conditions deplorable. Governor Carey decreed the end of these facilities. A flaw in this thinking was the lack of provisions made for the mentally ill, leaving them to the streets with little to no programs or safe havens. Not unlike the institutions few provisions are made for the decree of divorce. Divorce is final, but now what? Like the mentally ill many non-custodial parents are left to the streets with very little to no support. The mentally ill have more programs regardless of the holes to reach out for help and stability than many parents who have to leave their home and children behind.
What will those parents, who love their children, do?
Fortunately for the mentally ill years later there are many programs and mandates that protected this population. Individuals now have resources and a safety net. For the new population of parents without custody of their children, it may take years to create the resources that protect their rights and relationship with their children. There are many organizations starting to gain momentum. One in particular is Fathers and Families in NY. On June 15th, 2012, they held a rally protesting their rights and the rights of all parents to have parenting time with their children.
The system remains bias towards women who automatically get custody of the children upon the separation of the marriage. According to the McNabb study, “Mothers win sole custody 91.2% of the time”. The remaining fathers have either joint custody or no custody of their children. How is this? One reason, as soon as the child is born, the mother immediately has legal and physical custody of the child. The father has to step in to add himself as a custodial parent.
Although, unless the mother is found unfit, generally society assumes mothers are the more nurturing and better caretakers. Traditionally, fathers went to work and mothers stayed home. However, now more mothers are working and a new study shows that more women hold higher degrees than their male counterparts. See the new release from the census bureau on April 26th, 2011 “More Working Women Than Men Have College Degrees, Census Bureau Reports”. The news report states of all employed people, those ages 25 and older, the 37% of women and 35% of men hold higher degrees.
Due to this shift in responsibilities, custody will probably change. Or at least be challenged. As time progresses, more and more fathers are standing up for their rights to be a parent and the mothers want more freedom to follow their careers.
If you are in the process of starting a custody battle, the following are a list of ideas and identifying characteristics that a family court magistrate might look for:
• Which parent has the most suitable character and temperament to serve as custodian?
• What is the child’s current relationship with each parent?
• What child-rearing skills does each parent have?
• Does either parent have an illness or habits that may harm the child?
• Which parent will provide the best home environment?
• Does the child have stronger emotional ties to one parent?
• Is one parent better suited to meet the child’s special needs?
• Who has the child been living with?
• What is each parent’s employment status?
• What is the financial status of each parent?
• What is each parent’s apparent motive for seeking custody?
• Is either parent unfit to have custody?
• Which parent is the most likely to allow the child to continue his or her relationship with the other parent and extended family?
Given this criteria the award to the parent is no longer based on gender, the good news is that father’s have the right and the opportunity to raise their children, share and be a part of their lives, if there is anything that is poignant in this article it is the idea that father’s who have left the marital home can feel there is hope and support. Father, you are encouraged to be more than just the “visitation”. Fight for the right that is legally and socially yours.
Dana Greco, LCSW Family therapist
Qualified social worker NYC courts
Don Desroches Board member of Fathers and Families.