Saturday, January 15, 2005

Dads fight for parenting rights

Daily Camera

Dads fight for parenting rights
Fathers sue state demanding equal custody
By Christine Reid, Camera Staff Writer January 15, 2005

David Arnsberger left several successful enterprises in Texas and became a stay-at-home dad in 1998 when he and his wife moved to Colorado so she could pursue her career.

Three-and-a-half years later, Arnsberger said, their 15-year marriage crumbled and he was kicked out of his Boulder house because of a temporary restraining order. More traumatic for the man who had been the primary care-giver for his then-5-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter was the possibility he might lose the right to see them because his estranged wife wanted sole custody.

"It's like I was in Oz," said Arnsberger, 53.

In less than three years, Arnsberger said he has spent more than $100,000 for attorneys, mediators, arbitrators, special advocates and therapists and his fight to get equal joint custody continues without an attorney because he is out of cash as a substitute teacher.

Arnsberger said one Boulder County magistrate agreed his circumstances would be different if he were the kids' mother, instead of their father.

"The judge said 'If you were a woman, you'd get half the house, the car, the kids and child support,'" Arnsberger said.

Arnsberger's plight is not an anomaly. Thousands of Colorado fathers sued the state in November, demanding they get an even split in parenting duties with their childrens' mothers.

The class-action lawsuit is similar to the nearly 50 filed in other states last year, claiming men's civil and constitutional rights are being trampled when family courts grant anything less than equal parenting time in contested divorces when neither parent has done anything wrong.

"We want the problem to be recognized," said Troy Kramer, a Highlands Ranch man who is heading up the Colorado suit, which continues to collect names. "Ultimately, we want a change."

Kramer, who gets to see his daughter four nights a week, said studies have shown kids who have both parents in their lives are happier and better adjusted than those who don't. He said he doesn't understand why the courts don't get it.

"It's really, really scary," Kramer said.

Melinda Taylor, the state's judicial education coordinator, said equal parenting time and other fatherhood issues will be addressed at the next conference this spring for judges rotating into family court. She said it wasn't in response to the plethora of lawsuits, but rather because it's a "hot topic" nationally."

In reality, (judges) are making decisions in the best interest of the child, regardless," Taylor said. "Every year we try to focus on getting balance and educating them."

Robert Muchnick, who in 1998 founded the Center for Children's Justice in Denver, said children have the right to be raised by both parents, and family courts have too often stripped them of that right.The problem is extensive, he said.

Nearly two-thirds of marriages that end in divorce involve children. Even the 10 percent of divorces that end "amicably" tend to result in the father getting the kids every other weekend and one night a week, Muchnick said.

"It's the quietest catastrophe that's ever occurred in human history," Muchnick said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Christine Reid at (303) 473-1355

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