Current Family Court Laws Harm Parents and Children

Father’s Day is June 18th this year and across the United States, Fathers and children will be celebrating their relationship with each other. For my husband, this is a bittersweet celebration with his kids, since they have to be returned to their mother that evening. We won’t see them again until Wednesday.

We follow a set of guidelines, every other weekend for 48 hours, Wednesdays for 3 hours, alternating holidays, and half of Summer break. Indiana is good enough to lay out their minimum guidelines for divorcing parents. Unfortunately, this is no where near enough time.

My husband is a good father. He tries to get involved in school activities, he goes to see performances when he learns about them, he encourages their interests and he tries hard to help mold them into good people. This is a difficult task for a man who sees his kids, on average, 100 days a year. He is only allowed to see his children for the minimum amount allowed by Indiana because their mother, his ex-wife, feels she should not have to “permit” their father to see them.

She tries to stymie him at every turn, twice keeping the children from programs when she learned he was going to attend. When she learned of his plans to remarry, she made it clear that she was not going to allow the children to attend, despite the children being in the wedding. In the end, their father and I kept the date of our wedding a secret from the kids so that they could attend without fear that their mother was going to keep them away. We paid for it later however. She kept the kids from us for five weeks.

At that point, my husband became fed up and decided to stand up for himself, his kids, and his rights. His initial mistake was a matter of being soft-hearted. He backed away from interactions with his ex-wife because he felt it would be easier on the children. When it became obvious that things weren’t easier on the children and he realized that his ex-wife was taking his distance as an opportunity to tell the children lies and misrepresentations of the truth about their father, he knew it was time to take action. He became informed, he retained a lawyer, and he began to take back his relationship with his children.

In today’s society, almost half of all marriages end in divorce. More and more children come from step-families. However, our court system is still geared towards a time when women stayed at home and cared for the children. They receive more time with the children and they receive a hefty sum of cash. My husband has been ordered to pay over 50% of his salary to his ex-wife in “child support”. And, while I think everyone can agree that money is necessary to raise children, should these children eat at restaurants every week while their father can’t afford food or shelter?

In addition, the child support system is a catch 22. In order to make the money necessary to pay child support, fathers are required to forgo time with their children. This, in turn, raises their child support since they spend less time with the children, requiring them to work even more. In the end, the child support system becomes a punishment for non-custodial parents, relegating them to the status of paycheck instead of parent.

Most mothers will read this and gasp to themselves: “I would never be able to give up custody of my children. I could never spend DAYS away from my children.” And yet, this is what the family court system tells fathers they must do. I have watched the effect separating a parent from their children has on someone. I see it every week and have comforted my husband when it becomes too much and he cries over the loss of his children.

The court system does not care about what is fair. The only thing that matters is what the law says. Right now, the law is still biased and grants primary physical custody and high amounts of child support to the mothers, ignoring the positive effects that fathers have on children as they mature. Primary custody is rarely awarded to a father, unless the circumstances are dire enough or the child is of an age where the judge will take their wishes into consideration and child support is rarely granted to those fathers. When child support is granted, the mothers are more likely than their male counterparts to be “deadbeats” and are less likely to be punished for it.

The current laws ignore the strides we have made in gender equality over the years, granting special considerations to women due to their gender and the stereotype that women are better caretakers and more likely to stay at home. Instead, the court systems need to welcome the 21st century and households where both parents work. Joint physical custody and joint legal custody need to become the rule rather than the exception, and child support needs to be abolished. We are raising our children to believe that the only value a father has is due to his paycheck. Boys are falling further behind in school due to a lack of positive role models, due to their mother’s choice to disenfranchise the children from their fathers. People look at each other and the demise of our society and say ‘This is horrible! How did this happen? It needs to be fixed!”

So, how can we fix it.

Petition the lawmakers. Have them get involved in changing the sexist and biased laws that are tearing apart what remains of divorced families. Institute shared custody models with no child support granted to either side. Make it difficult for one parent to eliminate the other parent from the lives of the children. People are intrinsically flawed, and in the death of a marriage, hurt feelings abound. Some people, like my husband’s ex-wife, don’t care about raising happy healthy children, but rather keeping the pawns in a game to hurt their ex-spouse.

If you are a non-custodial parent, I cannot stress the importance of knowing what your rights as a parent are. Had my husband known, from the beginning what his rights clearly were, he would be in a better position to raise his children. He would be in a better position to fight for their right to be raised free from the stress of parental hatred and free to love both parents equally. Check to see what the guidelines are for your state. Indiana, for example, has a copy of their parenting guidelines online. Most libraries will also carry legal information on such issues.

If you are the custodial parent, evaluate your position. Are you behaving in a manner that shows your children they are able to be free with their emotions? Are you making disparaging comments to the children about your ex (i.e. “Daddy was a very mean man.” Or “Mommy is just so irresponsible and dirty.”)? Children should not be part of the problems you and your ex may have and should never be exposed to them. If you can’t be civil in front of the children, you will deal with anger later on. Children don’t forget and they will blame the parent who caused the divided loyalties.

Both sides of the family court divide need to take immediate steps to rectify the wrongs in the system. The current system is abusive towards non-custodial parents and destroying our children. Our society is collapsing from within because as the divorce rates skyrocket, so does the number of one parent homes. As human beings, we are incapable for the most part of separating our feelings from a situation. This is why we have blind justice. But the legalities of the current system are corrupted and need to be replaced.