25 January 2010

Turning the Tide in Custody Battles

It's no secret now that the number of working mothers who are considered breadwinners in their households is on the rise, but Working Mother Magazine recently reported another new trend on the upswing: the number of working women losing custody battles to fathers who either work less or not at all.

At first blush, it seems a 1 - 2 punch. First, here we are, working ourselves to the bone to support our families. Many of us work long hours and miss out on time we may rather be spending at home. Then, to top it off, that very fact is increasingly being used against us when the unthinkable happens and our marriages dissolve...with kids in the balance.

It's not a uniquely American trend, either. In June 2008, the UK's Daily Mail reported on this very thing happening in England. I'll be the first to say that I am skeptical of any British News source with the exception of the BBC, but hey - it's still relevant to this discussion.

Yet...is this really punishment? I'm going to put out an unpopular viewpoint, as a working, "breadwinner" (I really hate that term for some reason) mother and say, NO. According to an article published by Lewert Law Offices in early January, more and more states are trending toward adopting custody laws that are focused on gender equality - and acknowledge that providing for the best interest of the child or children in dispute does not always mean granting custody to the mother.

To that, I say, it's about time. In my own life, I've seen wonderful men and loving fathers destroyed by custody battles that automatically grant custody to the mother, even though her fitness to parent...isn't. Two separate cases, both involving drug addicted, partying mothers jump to the fore of my mind. In one, my friend picked his kids up at Logan Airport only to find that they'd been sent for a visit in rags. He and his S/O bought them a whole new wardrobe and cried. These were the same kids who, in talking to them one night, were by told by the eldest child (age 5) that she and her brother (age 2) home eating Cheerios for dinner because Mommy was out. This wasn't unusual.

That was an extreme case, even I'll grant that, but the bottom line was that, in spite of being armed with mountains of evidence toward unfitness, custody always went and remained with the mother in question. Because she was a mother. She didn't work. He did. End of story.

So, are working women receiving disparate treatment in custody disputes or are they finally being held to the same standard that fathers have been since time immemorial? I would say that this is one of the effects of pushing for a more equal ground as women. I've always held that, with equality comes things that we, collectively, may not want. For instance, the draft. I think it's a travesty that only males have to register for selective service, yet we women want equal ground and footing in the military. Similarly, I think it's wrong that we're held to a weaker physical standard than our male counterparts. So, why should we expect to be rewarded for the same things that so many men have been punished for in the history of divorce and custody issues?

The article by Lewert Law cited above does note that,
"While the laws surrounding divorce custody issues are changing generally toward increased equality, the treatment of delinquent parents will not."
Does this also mean a potential rise in the number of "deadbeat moms"?

Equal rights is not always sunshine and rainbows, equal pay and respect. With it comes the dark side of equality and that is, simply put, being treated equal in every aspect.

What do you think? Punishment or a new coming of age in equality?


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