A regrettable truth in family law often finds one parent unilaterally removing a child from the other parent while dissolving a marriage without any grounds or evidence of wrongdoing. Not surprisingly, disturbing numbers of children are routinely separated from loving, responsible parents for reasons that have nothing to do with their wishes, safety, health, or welfare and many times have to do with a lack of proper legal counsel.
In 50% of the marriages that end in divorce, 80% of these are over the objection of one spouse (close to 100% when children are involved). I am sure you have heard about “custody battles,” but you probably do not know that many start out with one parent taking a child from the other and refusing visitation until a court orders possession sometimes months down the line. You have heard about the witch hunt for “deadbeat dads,” but did you know that many of these fathers are well educated men who have lost their jobs due to a downtrodden economy and still love their children and want to play a leading role in their lives and upbringing. You have heard the hysteria over “child abuse,” but did you know that many accusations against fathers are shown to be false and used by one parent as a weapon to alienate the children from the other parent.
David Popenoe in his book “Life Without Father” tells us that negative consequences of fatherlessness are all around us. Evidence indicating damage to children growing up in fatherless homes has accumulated in near tidal-wave proportions. Fatherless children experience significantly more physical, emotional, and behavioral problems than do children growing up in intact families.
Children from fatherless homes are:
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 32 times more likely to run away
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
- 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
(Information from Mark Hall, Father’s Manifesto).
In “My Rewar, My Punishment…My Son, Sons of Divorce,” Steven Manchester describes the situation many dads are dealing with when exercising visitation:
“I’d take my son for our court-ordered visits, only to drop him off two hours later, so another man could bounce him off his lap. Ironically, each new boyfriend was given all the time he wanted with my son. At first, it killed me, but I decided, “Whatever’s best for my boy. His happiness must come first!” Though it stung terribly, that attitude sustained me all the way to Christmas.
I waited in my old driveway for 4 excruciating hours, while three inches of snow muffled the screams from the cab of my truck. When they finally pulled in, my ex-wife snickered, “I must have lost track of time?” and handed over my son. I was livid! My boy was dead tired and half-asleep. And the EX…well…she just grinned, confident that there was nothing I could do about it. It took everything I had left to conceal my tears. I didn’t plan to give her anything for Christmas and was doing my best to stick to the plan.”
It is a sad scenario.
In divorce court, many fathers are left feeling that everything they have done, years of hard work, years of tender love, years of unstinting devotion to their family and children count as nothing.
In the 1960’s women fought hard to get laws passed to protect them against family violence, stalking and sexual harassment. The shame is that women of the 1990’s now use these same needed and appropriate laws wrongfully to their advantage and feel justified in punishing their spouse for wrongs they feel have been done to them by misusing the legal system; and in the process erase fathers from the lives of their children!
The facts are that many times the courtroom becomes a legal battleground. Inadequate counsel or absence of counsel can result in decisions that negatively affect children and the family for years to come.
The number of fathers caring for their children is growing at a rate almost twice that of single mothers. The bottom line is more men are choosing to be hands-on fathers. In addition, presumed joint custody — or shared custody by both parents of children of divorce — is now the law of the land in most states.
Scores of research have documented the positive effects of a father’s involvement in a child’s life. Regrettably, currently approximately 30% of American children live without their father’s involvement in their life.
As the number of women in the work force has increased, some men appear to have become more involved in fatherhood and show greater interest in child-care responsibilities. With more women in the workplace than ever before — 68% of women with children under 18 — divorce courts in most states are not simply awarding custody and care of children to mothers by default. In some cases, the mother has neither the time, nor the will, to care full time for her offspring. In other cases, she may not have the financial means. The gradual progress towards leveling the playing field for women at work has resulted in slowly leveling the playing field at home. The law is beginning to catch up as well. Divorce laws of more and more states are taking into account the importance of children maintaining relationships with dads as well as moms after divorce.
Following is a sample of what other sources have had to say about the risks faced by fatherless children:
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)
- 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Source: Center for Disease Control)
- 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26, 1978.)
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.)
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
- 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992)
After economic factors are excluded, children reared in fatherless homes are more than twice as likely to become male adolescent delinquents or teen mothers.
Recent studies have suggested that children whose fathers are actively involved with them from birth are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident in exploring their surroundings, have better social connections with peers as they grow older, are less likely to get in trouble at home and at school, and are less likely to use drugs and alcohol. Children with fathers who are nurturing, involved, and playful also turn out to have higher IQs and better linguistic and cognitive capacities.
The divorce process is difficult for all involved. It is far better for the children if the parents are able and willing to place them outside of difficult divorce issues. Children want to run and laugh and play. In many cases they are not mature enough to process adult issues. Keep heated issues between the adults and away from hearing range of the children. No matter how angry a parent is, they should promote the children viewing the other parent in a positive light. Children need positive role models. Even if a parent feels the other parent has wronged them, it is just as wrong for that parent to take away the ability for their children to have a parent they can be proud of and look up to.