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Who will speak for the fathers? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lily Robertson   

Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece by Seacoastonline.com columnist Lily Robertson. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts (you can stay anonymous, we won't print them or share them unless you give the OK) by e-mail to features@seacoastonline.com.

On Friday, March 27, I wrote a column online ("Father knows bitterness") about the blatant disregard for fathers when it comes down to a custody battle.

Saturday morning, my inbox was full of horror stories related by both men and women describing cases where the child had been awarded to women with drug problems, women who neglected their children, and one woman who referred to her own child as her "golden ticket."

There were heartbreaking tales of mothers saying out loud that the child support money better show up on time so they could party. There wasn't a single letter saying the mothers were being maligned.

Legal advocates are fond of saying, "We speak for the victims." It's a statement that summons visions of cavalry charges, protection for the weak, and acts of heroism. These people are firm in their convictions and our faith in them is reinforced by the fact that most of them work for peanuts. What nobody seems to want to recognize in a child custody case is that sometimes the child is being victimized through the disregard accorded to the father.

In some cases, where both of the parents are determined to gain sole custody, the courts, CASA, or DCYF will appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL). It is the duty of the GAL to interview the child, both of the parents, and other individuals as needed to present an informed recommendation to the judge. The final determination in this decision will affect the child's entire life. It's a weighty task that should require extensive training and the ability to walk into the investigation with an unbiased perspective.

Here's what it takes to become a guardian ad litem: $100 and 44 hours of seminars. Would you trust your child's future to someone with those qualifications?

Thomas, a firefighter in Newington wrote, —¦the GAL when I finally got one appointed interviewed just me and one neighbor as to my character and how I was with my kids, yet when she interviewed my ex-wife's side, she interviewed my ex-wife, her mother, her sisters, friends, co-workers, even my mother, but only in regard to how my ex was with the children if it was positive. She actually told my mother that she didn't feel comfortable depicting another mother in a bad light."

Thomas also had to disprove to the court that he'd tried to run his ex-wife off the road in an attempt to kill her. Luckily for Thomas, his ex-wife didn't check schedules when she lied. He'd been busy putting out a fire at the time he'd allegedly attempted to murder her.

Traditional thought leans heavily toward trusting a child to the mother based on maternal instinct. Maternal instinct is neither universal nor inevitable. A lot of baby-related Web sites will tell you that a woman may not have maternal feelings when she's young, but let her give birth and she'll become an entirely different person. This is not necessarily so.

In his paper, "The History of Infanticide," Dr. Larry S. Milner wrote, "And just as infanticide was described as a crime that was committed by the mother in medieval times, such a likelihood remains true today. Although men are more likely to murder in general, statistical review of prosecutions show that infanticide is usually committed by the mother."

This excerpt from his paper was focused on modern-day America. Milner goes on to state, "Most of the murders today are committed with the use of the mother's hands, either by strangulation or physical punishment."

Yet, by default, a child in a divorce will rarely be awarded to the father because the mother is considered the safer parent.

Sandra wrote, "I worked for the New Hampshire Probation Department in Portsmouth and then Exeter in the good old days for four years. Regardless of the home investigation, the mother always got to keep the children." Now her son has had to change jobs and relocate to another state so he can spend time with his own daughter. "The courts not only awarded her custody, but they also gave her permission to move 3,000 miles away. The chance of a father being allowed to relocate a child that far from the mother is astronomical."

There's the further issue of consequences for actions. If a father is late with a child support payment, his paycheck can be garnisheed and his reputation transformed into that of "deadbeat dad" regardless of the situation. He can also lose visitation rights as well as face formal charges. Mothers can play fast and loose with a father's visitation rights and in a worst-case scenario, get a finger wagged at them.

Theresa writes of her husband's battle for his daughter by his first marriage, "(The daughter) has begged for therapy, which we put her in, when she comes to visit us during summer and school breaks. Her mother's only obligation in the divorce was to provide (the daughter) with health insurance, yet after five years she has just now done it and we had to take her to court in order to enforce it. She also never took the child impact seminar, also a court order, but was simply slapped on the wrist, and took an online course instead. She recently refused to send (the daughter) out to us because she felt the 'school break' we referenced on the calendar was really only a long weekend. This, after we purchased a ticket, and were on our way to the airport to pick her up. Again, the court did nothing. Her actions have been nothing short of contempt yet there is no consequence. As a result, she feels untouchable."

The fathers in these letters are fighting overwhelming odds to give their children safe and loving homes. The fathers are fighting against gender bias. Where are the civil liberty advocates in these cases of prejudice? We Americans are so proud of ourselves for becoming more enlightened about racial inequality, gender inequality in paychecks, and acceptance of religious freedom. We form support groups, advocacy groups, and send battalions of lobbyists to Washington to speak for them. Yet, when it comes to child custody awards and father's rights, we blindly rely on traditional thought and claim it's the best way to protect the children.

What we aren't doing is taking an honest look at whom the children should be protected from. When it comes to child custody cases, we may as well be holding them in Salem, Mass., ...; in 1692.

 



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