Posts tagged ‘Custody’
By Jeffery M. Leving
The death of Duncan and Jack Connolly, two Illinois children allegedly murdered by their father Michael Connolly, touched many people’s hearts. I lament this terrible tragedy. However, as a fathers’ rights advocate and attorney, I regret that this case is now reinforcing the malicious stereotype of the brutal father, potentially sabotaging the efforts of many good fathers who love their children and want to be a part of their lives. The media coverage of this case has pushed the fathers’ rights movement back 10 years.
The fact is that most fathers do not harm their children. Domestic violence is not gender specific. Some mothers have also committed similar unnatural acts. For example, I am currently representing a soldier, formerly deployed in Iraq, who is now struggling to rescue his daughter from the alleged abuse of her mother in Chicago.
Without a careful review of the entire file and transcripts of court proceedings, it is hard to say why the judge in the Connolly custody case made his decision to give unsupervised visitation rights to this father. With hindsight, it appears that the judge’s decision was clearly wrong. But, the current petition to remove that judge from the bench does not seem to solve the problem. The correct method of seeking accountability in such a matter is done through the Judicial Inquiry Board.
Until we know all the facts, I caution against unrestrained emotions which may militate against the rights of good fathers struggling to protect their children. A mother has lost two children; let us support her but not lose our sense of reason.
By Amy Belair
There is nothing more devastating for parents than their own children being used as weapons against them. The worst part is that many men never see it coming. Few expect the cute, sweet woman they fell for to be the devil in disguise – willing to do whatever seems necessary to punish – but it happens. Unfortunately, in this situation, the children often become the victims as much as their dads.
Take for example a real story of Dan and Rhonda, who were married when Rhonda became pregnant three months into their relationship. The marriage was doomed from the beginning, as Rhonda was jealous and resentful of just about everything in Dan’s life, including his son from a previous relationship. As the marriage disintegrated, the couple lived under the same roof, but separated from the marital bed. One day, Rhonda took off with the child, now five years old, not telling Dan where she was going or how she could be reached. Dan called everyone he knew, and searched until he finally located her and his child.
Rhonda began a classic pattern of what is known as “parental alienation” – when a custodial parent turns his or her children against the non-custodial parent. She reluctantly agreed to allow Dan to see his daughter, but on her terms only. For a while, Dan was allowed to visit the child at the mother’s house, but the mother insisted on being present during the visitation. Then, Rhonda changed her mind and would only permit Dan to see their daughter in a public place for an hour or so once a week. During this time Rhonda would sit at the same table with Dan and their daughter and glare. Phone calls were not allowed between father and daughter. Rhonda taught the child that her father was a bad man and was to be feared. The child was not permitted to hug or kiss her father during visits and instead only extended her hand for a handshake.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner first identified and labeled Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in the 1980’s. PAS is the programming or brainwashing of a child by one parent to denigrate the other parent. It is compounded by the child’s own contributions to support one parent’s campaign to alienate the other parent. The child may be rewarded by the alienating parent for a job well done, with the bestowal of toys, a coveted video game or an extra hour of television watching.
It is believed that PAS parents have become stuck in the first stage of child development, where survival skills are learned. Since these parents do not know how to please others outside of themselves, they must instead exercise complete control over others. The struggle for control is life and death for them. The concept of allowing their child liberal time with the “enemy” and trusting that the child will return happily and willingly to them afterwards is utterly foreign to them. This explains Rhonda’s insistence on a constant vigil over Dan and their child during his brief visitation
One of the more common – and heinous – manifestations of PAS is when one parent will falsely accuse the other parent of physically and or sexually abusing their child. Often, this tactic is used by one parent to gain leverage in a custody dispute. The use of false sexual abuse allegations to win custody suits has become almost a standard tactic in some cases. In recent years several controversial cases have brought the issue of false abuse allegations in custody disputes to the forefront.
One of the most high-profile and most frustrating custody decisions (at least for fathers’ rights advocates) involved a former Playboy Playmate Bridget Marks and millionaire casino mogul John Aylsworth. In 2005 the New York Appellate Court found that Marks had coached her twin 5-year-old daughters to make false sexual abuse allegations against their father, Aylworth, and still awarded her custody. There is no argument from the Appellate Court that the abuse allegations were false. In fact their ruling states: “There is ample support in the record–that the mother coached the girls to make false accusations that their father sexually abused them.”
While this outcome may seem outrageous and discouraging to parents facing false abuse allegations, it should be noted that the Appellate ruling reversed a lower court ruling that had granted the father sole custody of the twin girls because of the mother’s alienating behavior. So many courts do recognize PAS and punish parents who engage in this kind of behavior, but it is often an uphill battle.
The problem is, the concept of PAS is a relatively new one, and not all mental health professionals are able to identify it when it is occurring. Some judges miss the signs of PAS and, along with a number of social workers, frequently jump on the alienator’s bandwagon and believe the false allegations against the alienated parent. With a network of support, personal and professional, including a dedicated, competent lawyer, the alienated parent can prevail and the child and he can be reunited with liberal visitation, or even a change of custody to the formerly alienated parent.
But, depending on the extent of the alienation and the resulting hostility of the child against the alienated parent, PAS can be difficult to reverse. It is unlikely that the alienator will change, particularly if their pathology is extreme. The goal would then be to re-introduce the child to the alienated parent and gradually restore an affectionate relationship between them. This can be a frustratingly slow process, but it can be effective.
Yet many non-custodial parents have successfully maintained their parent-child relationships. In fact, after less than one year of successful litigation, Dan now has regular, frequent, unsupervised visits with his daughter. He has taken her on many weekend trips out of town, plus vacations, with his son, her half-brother. Dan and his daughter speak on the phone to each other every day before her bedtime. She expresses her love for her dad regularly, both verbally and with spontaneous hugs. He attends her basketball games and cheers the loudest at her achievements. His daughter is a sweet, spunky ten-year-old who shares her dad’s love of animals.
By Beth Neuman
Although both men and women can face a tough period of transition following the break-up of a marriage, men often have a more difficult time reorganizing their lives after divorce. Because women typically retain custody of the children and residence of the marital home, men face the dual challenge of adjusting to their new parental role and making a new home.
Men who have had little or no input into the day-to-day household decisions while married often find the latter task to be the most perplexing. For some men in this situation, the last time they were responsible for maintaining their own home, their apartments were decorated with empty liquor bottles and furniture from their parent’s basement.
While reliving these days – and décor – may seem at first like a romantic notion or an expression of lost youth, this is not something that often works out in the long run. A messy or unfurnished home could hurt a guy’s chances with new relationships because women often see a man’s living space as a reflection of the whole person and his potential as a mate. But most importantly, divorced men need to provide a comfortable and appropriate living environment for visitation with their children.
Unfortunately, getting your life and living space together after a divorce takes time – something many men who work long hours just don’t have. Although many men have the resources, they simply don’t have the time or knowledge to get their lives on track.
A new company, Hemancipation Interiors for Men (HIM), focuses exclusively on guiding men through this transition. The company’s select group of consultants taps into a nationwide network of resources and experts to help men find a new residence and create a comfortable new home after divorce. Because Hemancipation Interiors for Men employs interior designers, architects, lifestyle consultants and relationship managers, they offer divorced men a variety of experts that can assist them based on their own specific needs.
According to the company’s founder, Akilah Kamaria, the inspiration for Hemancipation Interiors for Men came from an item in the society section of a newspaper. The note was about a successful businessman whose wife had filed for a divorce. He was spotted in the lobby of the luxury hotel where he had taken up residence. The notation was not kind – he was being ridiculed because he was living in the hotel. Kamaria said that although she did not know the circumstances of the divorce she felt compassion for the man whose life had evidently been turned upside down.
“That’s when my journey began,” said Kamaria. “I needed answers so I initiated discussion with men – a lot of men – everywhere I went. I wanted to know what choices and services were available to them. So I talked to therapists and attorneys, I talked to men in barbershops, in taxicabs, in elevators, on the street and at grocery stores. I also searched the web, read books, magazines or any relevant literature that I could find on the subject. One thing was soon evident: no matter the socio-economic scale, from CEO’s to the security guard in the lobby, the male experience was consistent. They did not have a resource.”
Kamaria said all the stories were unique, but had a common thread. One gentleman said it has been five years since his divorce (his wife was cheating while he worked two jobs) and he was still struggling to get his life back on track. Another gentleman went to church one Sunday morning and came back home to an empty house, his wife had taken all their belongings and he was left with nothing. One divorced man moved into the couple’s second home when the divorce was final and quickly discarded everything in the home because he always hated his ex-wife’s taste. According to Kamaria, these men had the financial resources, but were living in empty unfurnished houses because they lacked the time, inclination or knowledge to create a comfortable space.
Kamaria said she was surprised to find many women were not supportive of her endeavor.
“The general female population was not interested in my newfound desire to assist men,” Kamaria said. “They expressed an odd displeasure with me as if I was betraying the gender by even caring what men were experiencing. As if men somehow deserved the hardship and punishment of divorce. No matter the fact that maybe he was the ‘good’ guy in all of this.”
The fact is everyone, especially men, need support during the transition that follows divorce. And there are many issues newly single fathers have to consider that may have previously been their ex-wife’s domain: food allergies and food preferences, medicine, clothes shopping, decorating, favorite toys, doctor’s information, hobbies and school functions.
The following are six tips developed by Kamaria for dads looking to make their new homes kid-friendly. More information on Kamaria and Hemancipation Interiors for Men can be found online at www.hisdesigner.com.
Private Space: Ensure that child has their own space in your home. Sleeping on a sofa/floor or in an open area is not conducive to having your child feel stable in your home. For teen girls, make sure there are little mini containers in the bathroom for her personal affects.
Decorating Dad: Invite your children to help with decorating their room in your new home. Your child can pick paint colors, posters, and toys to decorate the room. If you keep a second set of their favorite items, clothes, toys, games, etc. it eliminates the drama of forgotten toys and clothes while transferring from mom’s place to dad’s place. It helps the child to feel secure and make visits less traumatic.
Leather Love: Men’s preference for leather works well with children because it is a great fabric that is easily cleaned of minor spills. Leather is great to create a comfortable masculine space and your child can bring their dog or cat for the weekend because leather does not collect pet hair.
Safety First: Men and women see things differently and mothers are on the lookout in the father’s space for safety issues, items that may pose a danger to children. Look around your home; is it clean and comfortable? Take an inventory of items that may be issue- Glass tables, sharp edges on furniture, cleaning supplies under the cabinet, stairs without a stair guard, etc. If you have toddlers, crawl around on the floor to see what they see at their eye level. Ex-wives I have spoken to did not want the children visiting Dad’s new residence because they were concerned about perceived safety issues although they never mentioned it to the ex-husband.
Image is Everything: Make sure there are images in your home of your children, especially if you have remarried and have children with your new wife. Children notice if they are not represented and will feel unwanted and forgotten even if they do not mention it. For dads handy with a computer, use your children pictures to create the screensaver on your home computer. It’s a nice touch; and if you are not computer literate, you can ask your child to do it. They will enjoy the task and appreciate the attention from dad.
Create School Space: Ensure that your children have space to do homework in your new residence, even if you are living in a small space. Make sure there is a desk or area for the child to work. This shows that you have thought of their needs even if you are no longer with them each day. Sign up for your child’s’ school newsletter to stay involved in their activities. Most schools have online sites, so check out the school calendar.
By Jeffery M. Leving & Glenn Sacks
“I miss you daddy!”
“I miss you too, princess. Daddy loves his little girl.”
“I love you too, daddy”
“How’s my smart little kindergarten girl?”
“I want to see you, daddy, I want you to come over, couldn’t you come over soon? I want….”
The phone is wrenched away.
“This conversation is OVER!”
Dad hears the phone slammed down on the receiver. Almost.
“How DARE you talk to that man!”
The phone must have hit the receiver off center. The line is still open.
“How DARE you do that to me!”
The little girl begins to cry.
“I just wanted to talk to daddy.”
“How DARE you!”
“I miss daddy!”
A four year-old boy is jumping up and down with joy.
Dad gets out of the car.
“Daddy’s here! Daddy’s here!”
The boy is behind a locked screen door. He tries to open it.
“Daddy’s here! Mommy, look, daddy’s here!”
Dad knows he shouldn’t open the door. He waits for his ex-wife to open the door. She doesn’t do it.
“This is my visitation time,” Dad says, waving a court document.
Mom still won’t open the door.
The boy jumps up and down, saying “daddy, daddy.” He yanks on the screen door handle but still can’t get it open.
Dad looks at his little boy. He pauses, takes a deep breath, and walks back to his car.
The little boy doesn’t understand. Why won’t daddy come? Why is daddy walking away from him?
The little boy disappears inside the house.
Dad calls the police. When the officers arrive he shows them his court documents. The officers go inside to investigate. They come out a few minutes later.
“Your son says he doesn’t want to see you,” the officer says. “There’s nothing I can do. You’ll have to deal with it in the court. I can’t make him go with you if he doesn’t want to.”
Dad finally gets to see his kids three months later. The children spit on both him and their grandmother. Almost in unison they repeat “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home with mommy, I don’t want to be here. I want to go home with mommy, I don’t want to be here. I want to go home with mommy.”
After Jim L.’s wife divorced him and moved his daughters out of state, she sent the two girls fake or altered e-mails purporting to be Jim. Afterwards, Jim’s daughters refused to see him, explaining only “you know what you’ve done, you know what you said, you know what you wrote.”
Once when Jim flew to see his girls for his scheduled weekend visit, his ex-wife decided at the last minute to block the visit. Jim flew home on Sunday without having seen his girls. When he arrived at the airport back home he checked his messages and found a message from his ex-wife. On the recording his girls could be heard crying in the background. His ex-wife said:
“Jim, the girls are here at the restaurant waiting for you to come pick them up. You said you’d meet them here for breakfast and spend the day with them, and you didn’t show up. The girls are very upset. Jim, where are you?!?”
Bill, a divorced dad, is a retired fireman. When his kids were young he occasionally had to work unscheduled weekend shifts with little warning. If an unexpected schedule change meant he had to work the weekend of his visitation with his children, his ex-wife would have his kids pack for a weekend with dad anyway and sit on the curb outside their house to wait for him. Hours would pass waiting for dad to come, but when the kids would knock on the door and ask mom if dad was going to show up, all she’d say is “he’ll be here.”
In the LaMusga case decided by the California Supreme Court last year, Gary LaMusga’s son’s kindergarten teacher testified about the tactics LaMusga’s ex-wife, Susan Navarro, used to try to turn his children against him. The kindergarten teacher testified that Navarro asked her to keep track of the time Gary spent volunteering in his little son’s kindergarten classroom so it could be deducted from his visitation time with his son.
According to the teacher, the LaMusga boy told her “my dad lies in court…if you tell the judge…he could talk to you” and said that his mom had told him this. The teacher testified:
“I finally sat down with him and told him that it was OK for him to love his daddy. I basically gave him permission to love his father. And he seemed brightened by that…”
The teacher continued:
“The next day that Gary had seen the kids he came to me the following morning and said,’what did you say to him?…He was so happy. He just greeted me with open arms…we had one of the best evenings that we have had in a long time.’ And I just shared with Gary at that point that I had given his son permission to love his father….I’m not sure that he was aware that he could do that.”
In a highly publicized Houston, Texas case, a 10 year old boy shot his father in the back after his father came to pick him up at his ex-wife’s house. The mother, Deborah Geisler, had made numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse against Dr. Rick Lohstroh, an emergency room physician. All of them had been found false or unfounded by investigating authorities. Geisler’s own mother and brother testified against her in court, and before his death Lohstroh taped Geisler threatening to report spurious child abuse charges against him.
Despite this, and despite the fact that the mother had been jailed numerous times for domestic violence, she nevertheless enjoyed shared custody of their two sons. Geisler allegedly gave the boy large doses of an age-inappropriate drug, and the boy may well have been drugged up when he used his mother’s handgun to kill his father. Geisler, a registered nurse, made no attempt to render aid to Lohstroh as he sat bleeding to death in his SUV in their front yard. The boy goes on trial for the murder in January.
All of these cases are examples of Parental Alienation Syndrome–the phenomenon of a parent (generally the mother/custodial parent) turning his or her children against the noncustodial parent after divorce or separation. PAS is the focus of the controversial new PBS documentary Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories.
The filmmakers assert that PAS “has been used in countless cases by abusive fathers to gain custody of their children” by accusing the mothers of PAS. They claim PAS is “junk science,” and family law attorney Richard Ducote states that “All experts have disavowed” PAS.
The documentary airs this week on Public Broadcasting Service stations in dozens of major cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, St. Louis, Baltimore, Denver, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Despite the film’s claims, research shows that parental alienation is a common facet of divorce or separation. For example, a longitudinal study conducted by Stanley S. Clawar and Brynne Valerie Rivlin and published by the American Bar Association in 2003 followed 700 “high conflict” divorce cases over a 12 year period. Clawar and Rivlin found that elements of PAS were present in the vast majority of the cases studied.
There are many factors which create PAS, including the “hell hath no fury” axiom as well as personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder. However, the family court system encourages these types of behaviors. Judges are very hesitant to give joint custody if there is conflict between the ex-spouses. For this reason, many mothers create conflict because they know that conflict will sabotage joint custody. If the judge must award sole custody, it will generally be the mother who wins. Most post-divorce conflict is created by the person who stands to gain from it.
The most extreme examples of PAS are false allegations of sexual abuse. Canadian Senator Anne Cools, one of the few elected officials in North America knowledgeable about family law, calls this tactic “the heart of darkness.” The accusations are often used—very effectively—to deprive fathers of a meaningful role in their children’s lives after divorce or separation. Reginald Brass, president of My Child Says Daddy, a parenting organization which works with young African-American fathers in Los Angeles, says:
“We have many young fathers who are fighting in the courts to see their children or to get joint custody over a mother’s hostility or objections. If the man has a daughter, we always warn him that at some point the mother will probably accuse him of sexually molesting his daughter. We see it every day.”
When a father who has daughters does succeed in getting a desirable custody arrangement over the objections of a recalcitrant mother, it is common practice among family law attorneys to advise the father that a charge of sexual abuse may be coming. According to a study conducted by Douglas J. Besharov and Lisa A. Laumann and published in Social Science and Modern Society, the vast majority of accusations of child sexual abuse made during custody battles are false, unfounded or unsubstantiated.
Cools, a prominent feminist who led Canada’s battered women’s shelter movement during the 1970s, explains:
“There’s a plethora of cases where the mother falsely accuses the father of sexually abusing the child. The accusation is made in order to gain advantage in custody disputes. Governments are enormously reluctant to look at it. I’ve studied this extensively and I’ve placed on the Canadian Senate record 52 cases where there was a finding that the accusations were false, and there are countless more. Studies have shown that under these circumstances false accusations far outnumber truthful ones.
“It’s a terrible, terrible thing–for the fathers and for the children who’ve lost their fathers. Some of those men will never recover and they have spent every penny left to them to try to extricate themselves. And I’ve seen elderly parents who’ve spent every dime of their retirement to try to help their sons get out of these horrible situations.”
In a strange reversal, in Breaking the Silence the filmmakers claim that the real problem is that mothers are being punished for “revealing” that their husbands have molested their daughters. The documentary centers around Karen, who lost custody of her three children to her husband after a court-appointed evaluator found that she had falsely accused him of sexually abusing them. The filmmakers claim that the family law system “forbids” mothers from protecting their children.
Mothers like Karen are increasingly vocal and visible. Yet despite the film’s claims, in the few cases where a mother has lost custody for making allegations, the courts usually had good reason for acting as they did. The two most famous cases of mothers losing custody of their children after making an accusation of sexual abuse—those involving model Bridget Marks and sociologist Amy Neustein—are illustrative of the point.
Marks became a cause celebre and appeared on Dr. Phil, Larry King Live, PrimeTime Live, and The O’Reilly Factor after she briefly lost custody of her twin four year-old girls last year. While she has been treated as a hero and a victim by the mainstream media, every judge who heard her case—all five, both male and female–concluded that Marks had coached her girls to believe that they had been sexually molested by their father.
Neustein, who lost custody of her young daughter in a highly-publicized New York custody battle during the 1980s, is the co-author of the new book From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts and What Can Be Done About It, and is perhaps the leading intellectual of this movement. Yet Neustein’s now adult daughter, Sherry Orbach, publicly refuted her mother’s claims earlier this year. In her article “Silent No Longer: The Other Side of Abuse Allegations” (Jewish Press, 5/27/2005), Orbach says that as a child her mother made her rehearse false allegations “for hours.” She writes:
“She would begin by telling me a sordid–and false–story about my father, such as a detailed account about how he had molested me or about how he had thrown me violently against a wall. She then instructed me to repeat the story word for word until she was satisfied with my rendition…my mother spun lie upon lie about my father and me…my father never sexually abused me…reporters and alleged victims’ advocates who supported my mother chose to retell her lies without adequately checking the facts.
“I…owe my existence as a normal young adult to the family judges…who helped me reunite with my father in the face of considerable opposition in the media.”
Mothers who use false allegations of sexual abuse are playing a game they often win and rarely lose. Cools says that of the cases of false accusations of sexual abuse she studied, “there were absolutely no consequences at all for the women who knowingly made the false accusations. Of the 52 cases in only one case–one—was the woman punished, and in that one she was only charged with mischief.”
In Breaking the Silence we are told that “All over America, battered mothers are losing custody of their children,” and that between 1/3 and 2/3rds of abused mothers lose custody.
In reality, mothers rarely lose custody of their children to anyone, ever. For example, a Stanford study of 1,000 divorced couples selected at random found that divorcing mothers were awarded sole custody four times as often as divorcing fathers in contested custody cases. An Ohio study published in Family Advocate found that fathers seeking sole custody obtain it in less than 10% of cases, and a Utah study conducted over 23 years found similar results. According to researcher Robert Seidenberg, a study of all divorce-custody decrees in Arlington County, Virginia over an 18 month period failed to find even one father who was given sole or even joint custody of his children unless the mother agreed to it.
In the study “Child custody arrangements: a study of two New Jersey counties” published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Law, New Jersey mental health experts researched hundreds of custody cases in two New Jersey counties, Bergen (one of the wealthiest) and Essex (one of the poorest). Rich man or poor man, for these New Jersey fathers it didn’t matter–in either county they won custody in only one out of every 20 cases.
Breaking the Silence makes many sensationalized claims about fathers winning custody, but provides little evidence for its claims. Misguided women’s advocates often claim that fathers usually win custody when they pursue it, and that the reason few fathers have custody is because few of them want it. Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young examined the research upon which these claims are based and concluded that they belong in the “Phony Statistics Hall of Fame.”
For example, feminist psychologist Phyllis Chesler claimed in her book Mothers on Trial that fathers win 70% of custody battles. However, this widely cited factoid was based on a biased, pre-selected sample of 60 women who had been referred by feminist lawyers or women’s aid groups because they had custody issues.
Other claims are based on the 1989 Gender Bias Study of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which reported that when fathers seek custody, they win primary or joint physical custody 70 percent of the time. Yet this figure does not separate contested from uncontested custody bids, and showed that in bids for sole custody mothers were still far more successful than fathers. The study also notes that “women who lose custody often [have] mental, physical, or emotional handicaps”—in other words, when fathers win it’s usually only because the mother has obvious problems.
Family courts are sharply biased against fathers, to a degree that would not be acceptable to any other group in any other facet of society. One could fill volumes with outrageous court decisions wherein fathers and their love for their children are held to be of no value whatsoever.
One example is the noted California case De Brenes v Traub. In that case a divorced Northern California custodial mother has moved to new cities with her 13 year-old daughter twice since her divorce. In each instance, the girl’s father generously uprooted himself and moved to the new city to be with his daughter. Mom then remarried and sought to move a third time–to Costa Rica, her new husband’s native country.
The girl’s father, Eric Traub, contested the move, arguing that it would be harmful to his daughter because she does not want to go, and because the move would: remove her from the special school she attends because of her learning disability; force her to move to a country and an educational system where she does not speak the native language; and damage her bonds with her father by moving several thousand miles away.
The father, who is judged by all sides to be very involved in his daughter’s life and in her schooling in particular, has clearly demonstrated that he will not be able to see his daughter very often after the move. He must stay behind in part due to the “child support” he must pay to the woman who is taking his daughter away. Though stipulating a short delay, the trial court granted the mother’s request to move. The family law system was willing to throw away Eric Traub’s 13 years of fatherhood the moment the loving bond he and his daughter share became inconvenient for mom.
In Breaking the Silence the filmmakers emphasize the need to protect children from abuse, and say that children are “most often in danger from the father.” Yet according to studies from the US Department of Health and Human Services and others, the vast majority of child abuse, parental murder of children, child neglect, and child endangerment are committed by mothers, not fathers.
The filmmakers also ignore the large body of research, including data from the National Violence Against Women Survey in 1998, which shows that women also frequently abuse their husbands or male partners. While women’s violence against men is in general not as severe as vice versa, studies show that women often employ the element of surprise and weapons to balance the scales. Yet in the film “divorced dads” and “batterers” are practically synonymous. The film claims without any evidence that the vast majority of divorced dads who refuse to cede sole (or de facto sole) custody to their ex-wives are “abusive.”
Breaking the Silence is a direct assault on American fathers, and the minimal, hard won gains they have made in protecting their children’s right to have their fathers in their lives. Courts still reflexively side with mothers and remain reluctant to grant fathers joint custody. Many allow mothers to deny visitation, make false allegations, and drive fathers out of their children’s lives. Most of the alienating mothers mentioned above, including Bridget Marks, Susan Navarro, and Jim L.’s ex-wife, today enjoy full custody of the children they psychologically abused. According to the Children’s Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than five million American children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents.
As a society we pretend that broken families are all men’s fault, pay lip service to the importance of fathers, andlose our eyes while millions of children are separated from the fathers they love and need them. Because that’s what mom wants. Because it’s easier to blame everything on dad than it is to confront mom on her destructive behavior. Because trying to hold a divorcing mother accountable for her behavior is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Because there’s a high political cost to be paid for crossing mothers and none to be paid for crossing fathers. Throwing objectivity, fairness and reason to the wind, PBS and Breaking the Silence don’t merely ignore or minimize this problem, but instead turn it on its head.
Jeffery M. Leving is one of America’s most prominent family law attorneys. He is the author of the book Fathers’ Rights: Hard-hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in a Custody Dispute. His website is www.dadsrights.com.
Glenn Sacks’ columns on men’s and fathers’ issues have appeared in dozens of America’s largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at www.GlennSacks.com or via email at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.
By Beth Neuman
When a dad’s relationship with his children’s mother ends, there are only two ways for him to (legally) ensure that he will remain an active, involved parent: a negotiated custody settlement or successful litigation. In either situation, the father must be prepared to demonstrate his competence, character and commitment as a responsible parent. No court will approve a sole or joint custody agreement, unless the custodial parent provides a clean, safe home and effective and attentive child care. So, despite the emotional chaos and legal wrangling that surrounds him, divorcing dads must find the time and energy to maintain or strengthen their relationships with their children.
For many fathers, the advice to become more involved in child-rearing is unnecessary. These dads have been significantly involved in every aspect of their children’s growth and development. Unfortunately, economic forces, misplaced priorities, or outdated notions of fatherhood have kept some dads from proving they can be effective parents.
There is no official checklist or magic formula for fathers seeking to prove they can be responsible caregivers, but there are some basic do’s and don’ts for any newly single father:
1. Spend time with your children and get involved in their after-school activities, such as athletics, music, dance, etc.
2. Take an active role in the children’s academic development by helping them with their homework and meeting with their teachers regularly.
3. Foster positive moral development and encourage attendance at church, synagogue or mosque.
4. Assist in helping solve your children’s problems, whether they be large or small.
1. Lose your temper in front of your kids. Despite the stress of divorce, you must try to control your emotions.
2. Try to be your children’s buddy. Impose and enforce (but not with corporal punishment) reasonable rules of behavior.
3. Interfere with the children’s relationship with their mother.
The bottom line is: get involved. If you have been hovering at the edges of your children’s lives, it’s time to get down on the floor or out in the park with them. Meet their friends and their friends’ parents. Take the kids biking, to the zoo, ballgames, to plays. Read to them, play games, fly a kite, go sledding. Reinforce a sense of belonging together. To the extent possible, share your hobbies with the kids and become involved in activities that interest them. Adjust your schedule to spend more time with your children. Talk, and listen to them.
Prepare for single fatherhood right now, even if you are still living with the children’s mother. Improve (or develop) your performance of child-care chores, such as cooking, laundry, housework, and grocery and clothes shopping. Learn by doing, or enroll in one of the numerous parenting classes at a community college or an adult education center.
The work and responsibilities of solo parenthood sometimes can cause a father to lose heart and doubt his parenting skills. These anxieties can lead to fathers accepting the role of a secondary parent with limited involvement in their children’s lives. But research shows that fathers need not worry. Several studies comparing the child-rearing skills of single fathers with those of single mothers found no difference between the two groups. If you think you can’t be an effective parent because you are a man, think again!
Many divorcing fathers will find that the transition from married dad to single dad can be accomplished with only a minor increase in effort and commitment. For others, a major realignment of priorities and lifestyle. In either case, when compared to the value of fatherhood to children, to fathers, and to society, the price is small.
By: Timothy E. Rogus, J.D.
Young Father Keeps Son Close to Him
Last year, I was retained by a client whose ex-wife was trying to move their 7-year-old son with her new fiancé from Illinois to Massachusetts. So the mother petitioned the court for the required order, saying that the benefits of removing the child far from dad outweighed the advantages of the child remaining in Illinois in the present custody arrangement.
As we began to aggressively prepare for the case, I was shocked to see how quickly the court had fast-tracked the hearing. We filed for a continuance, on the ground that more time was needed for proper discovery, but this motion was denied by the court. The week leading up to the trial was filled with countless hours of preparation. My client and I spent the entire pre-trial weekend in the office preparing and interviewing witnesses, reviewing exhibits and formulating strategy.
At trial, I strategically presented many witnesses and evidence, showing that my client was a very vital part of his son’s life. He was not just an unnecessary and disposable part of his son’s life, but was a full-time dad. Moreover, the father had a large extended family in Illinois who had always been a large part of the life of his young son.
After three days of trial, the trial judge, after careful deliberation, could not look past our evidence and our witnesses. It was clearly evident that my client was an extremely loving father and that he played a major role in the life of his son. The trial judge denied the mother permission to remove the child from Illinois. The mother has since married her fiancé and they have remained in Illinois where my client is still a very active and very happy father.
As someone who has spent more than 20 years as a domestic relations attorney, fighting in the trenches for fathers, I have seen how too often society has failed in their duty to protect the family unit and instead seeks out punitive measures against men.
Some would say there is an unwritten, “anti-male” bias that exists in many of today’s family law courts, especially in child custody cases. Too often in our current system husbands and fathers are viewed as biological necessities, but social accidents.
But even in the face of bias, fathers must never give up when it comes to protecting their children. So in an effort to help give fathers some hope, each edition we will spotlight a case in which a father has beaten the odds in family court and gained extended custody or related rights with his children.