Wow. I am just blown away by the incredibly sexist premise and alarming tone of Sally Abrahms' article in Working Mother magazine about supposed changes in divorce and family law. The magazine considers dads' increased involvement in parenting to be an shocking, unfair, new threat to women because family court judges might not be granting moms, particularly working moms, automatic custody of their kids as much as they used to.
The reality--surprise--turns out to be more complicated, but you wouldn't know it from the article. If I didn't know what a hopeless traffic-generating strategy it would be, I'd think Working Mother was deliberately flame-baiting dadblogs with an unnecessarily provocative attempt to discredit dads as either equal or primary caregivers.
Because that's exactly how it sounds. The only two anecdotes are uncritically and unabashedly spun from the mom's POV. Could you imagine the outrage that would rightly ensue if a mom who "had agreed to stay home with the kids so [her husband] could build [his] business" was painted as a lazy, unemployed deadbeat "for failing to help support them"?
And yet Working Mother's editor in chief was on NPR's "Tell Me More" yesterday when the guy was called exactly that. Then Mommy Warmonger Leslie Morgan Steiner cited her own kidless divorce from her crazy first husband as evidence of an epidemic of overburdened courts granting sole custody to child abusers. [Abrahms' article doesn't address abuse at all, actually; its claim is primarily that women will be "punished" in divorce court for working.]
Abrahms' most incendiary experts are celebrity divorce quote machines like Raoul Felder and--seriously--Britney Spears' lawyer. As amusing as it would be to see someone argue that K-Fed getting custody and child support constitutes a looming crisis for American Families, I can't see how Brit-Brit's lawyer has any credibility on large-scale cultural or legal shifts that affect real people.
Here are the three actual, factual changes Abrahms hangs her argument on:
The "tender years doctrine," a court presumption that mothers are the more suitable parent for children under 7, was abolished in most states in 1994...Actually, the tender age ranged from 10 to 13, but it actually started disappearing in the 1970s, when courts repeatedly found it violated the equal protection clause of the constitution. The abolition of the statute on paper, if not in practice, led to the "best interest of the child" standard and the creation of joint custody. In other words, the basic divorce landscape of the last thirty-plus years. A history of these changes and how they are so closely intertwined with the rights and fights of working mothers might have been interesting and illuminating. So would a look at how divorce and custody has changed since all our parents did it. But that's not what Working Mother wanted.
...And, due in large part to the recession, women are poised to outnumber men in the workforce for the first time in American history. Job layoffs affecting more men than women have yielded a burgeoning crop of Mr. Moms.This is the real hook, the recession, and a warning to working women thinking of divorce that they might get "a raw deal."
"Men are now able to argue that they spend more time with the kids than their working wives do," says veteran New York City divorce attorney Raoul Felder. "This is one of the dark sides of women's accomplishments in the workplace--they're getting a raw deal in custody cases, while men are being viewed more favorably."
Today, it's not uncommon for fathers seeking sole custody in a contested case to prevail at least 50 percent of the time. And Dad is asking for joint or primary custody more and more: Over the past decade, the number of fathers awarded custody of their children has doubled, according to the latest data. In the current generation of dads, gender doesn't dictate who changes a diaper or consoles an infant. And as fathers become more entrenched in their roles as cocaregiver, they're less willing to hand off that role when a marriage breaks down.This is the crux of the crisis for Working Mother: the insidious "entrenchment" by dads into their kids' lives leads dads to want to stay involved after a divorce. Not that there is any actual study cited, or any detail about the data referred to, or any detail or context about other factors in these unnumbered custody cases.
The last paragraphs of the 6-page article feel like they're from an alternate universe i.e., they have actually positive, constructive advice for parents going through divorce: avoid court, especially for custody issues. Don't let anger at your ex drive your custody decisions.
Since it's obvious from the article but unacknowledged, I would add: "muzzle the lawyers who are the source for the most denigrating, combative, retrograde characterizations of the parents in question. Like Britney's lawyer, who literally whipsaws from "A mother's career can be a liability in custody battles... I have made that argument myself: 'Mom's not home--she's out working.'" to sounding like the sweet voice of reason: "[Their dad] is the one other person in the world who cares most about your kids." Too bad the editors of Working Mother only see dads as the deadbeat demons plotting with the courts to steal a mother's children.
Family Focus | Custody Lost [workingmother.com via their publicist]
Working Mothers Sometimes Frowned Upon In Custody Battles [npr.org]