June 02, 2004

Finish What You Started

If there's a topic that's close to my heart - closer than firearms rights, closer than government's role in our lives, closer than anything - it's the topic of divorce and father's rights.

A few weeks ago, James Lileks wrote a piece - per usual, a great one - that included this line:

This isnít a big cause of mine - it strays perilously close to that whole insistently pissy Men's Rights issue
There's a reason some of us guys are insistently pissy; the system is insistently, dehumanizingly, endlessly pissy to an awful lot of us.

This is the first in what will likely be a long series of pieces I've been chewing on for a long time.

Listening to feminist activists, you'd think California just made female circumcision mandatory.

The California Women's Law Center called the decision "a huge step backwards."

"A tragic day for children, a tragic day for the rule of law and a tragic day for scholarship," said Carol Bruch, a University of California, Davis, law professor.

What is Carol Bruch talking about?

A California Supremes ruling that makes it harder for divorced, custodial parents - almost always women - to destroy their children's relationships with their noncustodial parents - almost always men.

It's about damn time.

Full disclosure: I'm a divorced father of two. I have joint custody of my two kids - my ex-wife and I were able to settle on a custody arrangement, short-circuiting the legal system in the process. Due to a variety of circumstances that are not for public consumption, the kids have spent the vast majority of the time with me. I wouldn't change much - and, compared to the vast majority of divorced fathers, have very little to complain about.

Because life for a non-custodial parent - which, in 85-90% of contested divorces is the father - is a medieval state; the father is essentially a paycheck and glorified babysitter, while the custodial parent has immense control over the lives and situations of the children.

One of the most noxious provisions in most states' custody systems is the relative ease with which a custodial parent can move - even across the country - and disrupt, even destroy, the non-custodial parent's relationship with the children. It varies from state to state - many, even most states at least nominally require parents to make sure the non-custodial parent has the same access to the children as they would have had without a move. However, getting such rulings enforced is requires immense determination - and more money than most people have. And legal systems - especially the family court system - are fundamentally prejudiced against non-custodial parents (and I say this as someone who is not at all bitter about his own case). The upshot, in most cases? What the mother wants, the mother gets. Combine this with a child-support system with vast, unchecked power to punish non-compliance - even against non-custodial parents whose access to children has been illegally curtailed (even against non-parents, for that matter) - with loss of professional licenses and drivers licenses, and you have a system that is fundamentally unfair at its root.

The California Supreme Court's ruling today nipped about the edges of this grossly perverted system:

Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the court's majority, set forth a list of factors that judges "ordinarily should consider when deciding whether to modify a custody order in light of the custodial parent's proposal to change the residence of the child."

Those include stability and continuity in the custody arrangement, the relationships of both parents with the children and with each other, the distance of and reasons for the proposed move, and the children's wishes.

The decision changes the focus in move-away cases "from a parent-centered to a child-centered analysis," said Garrett Dailey, who argued on behalf of LaMusga in the Supreme Court...To assure that they don't lose that right, he said, "the best thing they can do is to be a good parent and foster their children's relationship with the other parent." The evidence indicated Navarro had failed to do that.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, you can expect the defendant's lawyer to quibble:

On the other side of the case, Tony Tanke, who argued for Navarro, called the decision "fundamentally lawless." It gives local judges the power to forbid custodial parents from relocating "because they were not sufficiently friendly toward an ex-spouse," he said.
OK, that's his job.

But the National Organization of Women - which institutionally regards children as a mother's property and believes that mothers' and childrens' interests are one and the same - reacted predictably:

The National Organization for Women said the decision "binds the lives of many women and men, for that matter, who are trying to provide safety and economic opportunity for their families."
Too f*cking bad.

Hey, couple; if you have kids together, your first obligation is to them. Not your career. Not your next spouse. The kids. Don't like it? Don't get divorced. Or don't get married. Or grow up and put your kids' interests in front of your own until they're 18. Or - and this is the tough one - let the more responsible parent raise them.

If you have to choose between keeping your kids close enough to their other parent to have a meaningful relationship, and a cha-cha job across the country (or your new spouse or boy/grrltoy's wishes)? You stay put. Or agree to be the commuter parent. The status quo is what's best for the kids (*)

Of course, to the National Organization of Women, the children's interests are secondary to those of the mother; they've gone on record opposing joint custody as an onerous intrusion on the lives of women.

Unlike a lot of conservatives, I don't necessarily think divorce should be harder to get; I think it should be much harder to get married. As part of this, the fallout from divorce shouldn't be attenuated for anyone; for custodial parents (almost always mothers) they usually are. There's a reason that women are twice as accepting of divorce as an option; men are the ones that pay, financially and, usually, in terms of loss of access to their children. If the toll of divorce were equal - and putting the children truly first would tend to even things out - then perhaps people would work harder on their marriages - or avoid the bad ones.

Was this ruling a good one, all in all? It may serve to enrich the huge, rapacious divorce industry - lawyers and psychologists.

Still, men have a long way to go before they are equal in family court. Maybe today's ruling is a start.

(*) At this point someone will say "But what if the ex-spouse is an abusive jerk?" Well, that's an exeption, now, isn't it? In the vast majority of cases, it's a strawman; while every divorced person spends at least part of the time thinking their ex-spouse is the worst possible influence on the kids, if you haven't bothered proving it in court, then it really shouldn't count.

Or course, that brings up the problems in our Domestic Abuse industry - which is fodder for another screed, someday soon.

Posted by Mitch at June 2, 2004 06:10 AM

The Matt Welch article you linked to was fantastic.

I can even further confirm the gender bias in custody/support cases. In rare cases like mine, when the father receives full custody, the system is virtually inert when it comes to assisting in collecting support. My ex is over $22,000 in arrears, hasn't called the boys in over a year, and has spoken with them less times then digits on my hand over the last several years.

She drives around in a 2003 Mustang convertible and lives comfortably off her new husband's salary. She claims medical disability for not working anymore, after hopping from one job to another every time the garnishment would kick in. She's healthy enough to live a swinging bondage a go go lifestyle, but is not well enough to sit at a desk and process credit application. You do the math!

If i were the mother, and she were the dad, she'd probably be in jail, watched like a hawk, and forced to maintain a livable income to provide for the kids. Since she is not, she walks! Repeated calls to the California County she lives in gets the same results as talking to the wall.

Not to fear, tho. The kids are in good hands, are much better off, and are well taken care of. Even if 'The Elder' tries to slip my youngest a National Review now and then *grin*


Posted by: Flash at June 2, 2004 09:38 AM

Flash, your case - with which I'm obviously very familiar - was much on my mind as I wrote this. Even when you "win" - you in court, me by not fighting - you have a brutal fight.

I skirted the child-support system - a disgraceful nation-wide scam - on purpose; it's the subject of an upcoming screed.

This post is the first of many.

Posted by: mitch at June 2, 2004 09:44 AM

The notion that it is "the decision," and not the fact that the parents have made a child together, that binds the parents together, says all that needs to be known about NOW.

Posted by: Brian Jones at June 2, 2004 03:29 PM

So now it's an abuse to women that they are tied to the man they were so desperate to marry and have kids with? *Oh no! That would mean forethought and responsibility!* Since when is it NEW to have kids "bind" the parents together?

Listen, if he's such a creep, don't obligate a kid to have him as a father FOREVER.

And thanks for only devoting one paragraph to the abuse exception. I'm sick of reading articles like this that have to repeatedly mention it as an exception to sound sensitive.

Posted by: LT at June 3, 2004 08:04 AM