Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. The Rhode Island Divorce Coach℠
Are the family courts slanted against fathers? The answer may not seem as simple as one may first think. Obviously, a divorce and the disassembly of the family unit has to, by necessity, result in the separation of living arrangements for children and their parents, as well as an increased financial strain on the parties and an acceptance of a lowering of the standard of living which the family unit had come to enjoy while it was still intact.
It may strike many men as ironic that a culture such as ours, where women enjoy the many hard-won rights of equality and recognition as equals of their male counterparts, suddenly reverts back to the archaic position where woman are considered the only naturally qualified caregivers of children and therefore, entitled, merely by their gender, to have placement and primary care-giving rights to their children, trumping the rights of fathers. Many of these fathers, previous to the break-up of their families, took active roles in parenting and care-giving, in addition to providing income for the sustenance of the family. The mothers of these children may have also had jobs outside the chores of the home, or they may have stayed at home in a capacity of what is now colloquially known as “Stay-at-Home Moms”.
Those women, who have stayed at home to provide particularized parenting and individual attention to the children of the family, have a compelling argument to, not only have primary placement, but to have the father continue to financially bear the entire burden of the expenses associated with the children and herself as well. She would argue that her services are indispensable to the continued welfare of the children and her primary function was traditionally to care for the children and not to earn income for the family. By implication, she would argue, this arrangement should not change merely because of a divorce.
Dissimilarly, so-called working mothers will also argue that they should be deemed the primary caretakers and awarded placement of the children. While their argument, that they should not have to provide a source of income toward the maintenance of the children, will be diminished (especially the older the minor children are and the longer they have worked outside the home), their traditional roles of cooking, cleaning, laundry and being the tender hands of motherhood, will come flooding back to elevate their argument to a pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child. A culture that has touted itself as democratic when it comes to the need of children, and the equal importance of having both parents participate in the upbringing of children, backpedals drastically in the context of a divorce and allocates an unfair advantage to women.
So what is a father, contemplating separation from his children, to do? Change the system? Not likely. Cry foul? Unhelpful. Understand and work within it, arguing for as much participation in his children’s lives as possible and also, as much financial accountability from the children’s mother as well? Yes. And know the law. Know the possibilities. And be realistic.
The problem needs to be broken into components: custody, placement, visitation and child support. Each of these topics is dealt with separately by the courts and each issue is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Each case is factually driven, dependent upon the judge who hears it, and reliant upon the attitude of the parties and the representation of the attorneys who represent them. Know the law and the arguments on behalf of fathers.
Co-authored with Attorney Norbara Octeau (Feb 2007)