Monday, December 13, 2004

Article by Cathy Young?

To see where I found this article click here. I was looking for info on Karen DeCrow, a former President of NOW, who is apparently for presumptive joint custody after divorce. The article is attributed to Cathy Young who currently writes for Reason Magazine. There was no title to the article and I will reprint it entirely below:

The often bitter debate over women, babies, and careers got a new twist last week when Michigan circuit court Judge Raymond Cashen gave custody of a 3-year-old named Maranda to her father, Steve Smith, in part because the mother, Jennifer Ireland, has placed the child in a day care center while she attends the University of Michigan. Smith also studies and works but his mother, who is not employed, is willing to help him care for the little girl at home. (Both mom and dad were 16 when Maranda was born.)

"Under the future plans of the mother, the minor child will be in essence raised and supervised a great deal of the time by strangers," Judge Cashen wrote. "Under the future plans of the father, the minor child will be raised and supervised by blood relatives."

Predictably, this has sparked an outcry from feminists who see a backlash against mothers who do not fit the 1950s mold. "A kind of Donna Reed cultural terrorism," columnist Anna Quindlen called the decision.

But others argue that 69-year-old Judge Cashen is no enemy of working women: his own wife taught at a community college most of her life and some of their children were in day care. Moreover, the decision was influenced by other factors: the judge felt that the child would generally have a more stable environment with her father. "Under the mother's plan, the child will not have a specific residence, being moved periodically between the University of Michigan and the maternal grandmother's home," he wrote. "Under the father's plan, the child will reside at the paternal grandparents' home for an indefinite period." (This reasoning should not endear him to fathers' rights groups that favor joint custody arrangements under which the child lives with each parent part of the time.)

Michigan attorney Kay Schwarzberg, who handles many divorce and custody cases, believes that concerns about the possible negative impact of day care on very young children can't be dismissed as mere backlash. But mainly, Schwarzberg is amused that there should be such outrage over Judge Cashen's reference to day care vs. home care in giving custody to the father, when for decades judges cited that issue in awarding custody to moms: "No one got excited about all the wonderful men who couldn't have custody because they were working and had to put their children in day care."

This theme is echoed by Al Lebow, founder of the Michigan- based Fathers for Equal Rights of America, one of nearly 300 fathers' rights groups across the country: "The real crux of this issue is that if the situation were reversed, there would be nobody from the media making inquiries." There are, he says, "thousands upon thousands of horror stories" of men denied not only custody but any meaningful access to their children. Though custody laws are now gender-neutral on the surface, fathers' advocates -- and most family law attorneys -- contend that a double standard lingers: a father has to show that he is a better parent (sometimes, a much better parent) to get the kids; a mother has only to show she's not a bad parent. Women are still presumed, particularly by older, traditional members of the bench such as Judge Cashen, to be naturally possessed of superior parenting skills.

Fathers' rights activists claim that just five percent of divorced dads get custody. The figure may be too low; since there is no system of tracking custody decisions, precise numbers are hard to come by. (According to the Census Bureau, 13 percent of children in single-parent families now live with their dads.) Some feminists claim that fathers win two-thirds of all contested custody cases, due to their greater resources and male bias in courts. But they apparently get that figure by counting joint- custody decisions as unilateral male victories. And some divorced fathers' advocates say that men rarely ask for custody unless they feel they have a very compelling case (and can afford huge legal fees), because they believe the deck is stack against them.

Indeed, the motives of fathers who seek sole or joint custody are often treated as suspect. Quindlen transparently insinuated, as did a New York Times editorial, that Smith had no interest in his child and started the custody fight to avoid paying Ireland $8 a week in child support -- as if anyone could think that $8 a week was worth the inconvenience of having an unwanted child in the house, not to mention the expense of raising her! (Some activists in the battered women's movement promote the even more sinister notion that most dads who fight for custody are abusers who want to use the children to continue controlling the mother.)

Those who are up in arms about Jennifer Ireland losing her child should ask themselves if they would have been as upset if Jennifer had been James. According to Lynne Hecht Schafran, an attorney with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, "Women should not be penalized for working outside the home." True. But if taking a child away from a parent is a penalty, are good fathers who lose custody of their children penalized for being male?

"We don't understand why, in this day and age, the women's movement is not interested in equality," says Lebow. Supporters of broader custody rights for fathers include former NOW president Karen DeCrow. Yet pro-maternal custody feminists argue that the child should live with the mother because she is usually the "primary caretaker." Day care clearly seems to undermine this argument: as DeCrow once quipped, if this standard were consistently applied, the children of women lawyers would be living in the Caribbean with their nannies.

Perhaps the only way to avoid biased and arbitrary decisions, and the destructive win-lose mentality of custody battles, is to institute the presumption of joint custody as the norm. No fit parent should be penalized -- whether for his gender or for her career -- by being reduced to the status of a visitor in his or her child's life.

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