"EVEN IF you have pictures of her as a topless dancer in a bar, with a hypodermic needle sticking out of her arm -- you still wouldn't get custody. The mother always gets the kids."
Those were the words of my attorney. The year was 1984. I met with him to discuss my pending divorce. The only thing I really wanted was custody of our two children, ages four and one. According to my attorney, that would be impossible.
It did not matter that I wanted to raise my children and my wife did not. The only thing the courts were concerned with was gender. Motherhood had a priority with the predominantly male, senescent judiciary.
Eventually I obtained custody, but only after giving my wife everything we owned: the house, savings accounts, furniture, etc., in exchange for custody. I did so against the advice of my attorney and everyone else who knew me. My attorney cautioned me that while property settlements were final, custody was not. My ex-wife could go to court the next day, after we signed the papers, and sue for custody. Disregarding his advice, I entered into the settlement to obtain custody.
I became a single parent $40,000 in debt, without child support (also part of the settlement) and unemployed. Essentially, I was in circumstances similar to many women. There was one tremendous difference: I did so by choice.
During my days as a poor, single parent, I met many women with whom I shared similar burdens. These women, however, had no control over their circumstances. They either could not collect child support, or the father of their kids had abandoned them. They did not have the option of giving custody to the father. Conversely, I have met many men who, if given the opportunity, would have gladly taken custody of their children – men who had endured watching their children being abused and neglected, as their former wives entered into one relationship after another, searching for financial prosperity or emotional security.
This is a tragic part of the child custody issue. For men it represents a different range of challenges than for women.
Men have to prove to the court not only that they would be a better parent, but also that the mother is not a fit parent. And there is little sympathy for the male single parent. Most employers take the position that a man should not let being a parent interfere with the job. (As opposed to the allowances many employers offer women … for fear of being sued.)
When it comes to dating, many single or divorced women are extremely reluctant to date a man who is a single parent. They do not want to be considered a prospective stepmother. They also resent the intrusion into the relationship that kids may cause. Several women stopped dating me as soon as they found out I had children.
It is time society recognizes that fathers are also parents. We are not just sperm donors. We are not just a paycheck. We love children. We want to raise them. We have definite ideas how to do so. Scholarly studies have established that fathers have an essential role in the healthy development of their offspring.
Child custody laws need to be revisited. Men want and need custody of their children. It is vital to our nation that present-day American culture stop reducing fatherhood to visitation and child support. The courts across the nation must ensure that each parent’s ability be evaluated. Once the evaluation is complete, the judge can issue an informed ruling on who should have custody.
As Don Corleone said in The Godfather: "A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never truly be a man."