"fathers' Rights" Means More, Not Less, Time With Your Kids.
Thursday, June 18, 1998
Most Fathers'' Rights organizations in this country are working to increase--rather than decrease--fathers'' involvement in their children''s lives. They advocate a man''s right to be a better father, not a man''s right not to be a father.
Although social mores are changing, Fathers'' Rights advocates say the divorce system is still prejudiced against men, reflecting the deeply entrenched belief that children belong with their mothers more than their fathers.
In California divorce cases where child custody is contested, the mother is awarded custody 85 percent of the time, says Richard Bennett, legislative vice-president of the California group Coalition of Parent Support (COPS), which represents non-custodial parents and their children.
And when fathers are awarded sole custody of their children, they usually don''t get child support. It''s assumed that men make more money than women, despite US census figures showing that 29 percent of married women make more money than their husbands. In California, according to the California Department of Social Services, just 3 percent of those parents who are awarded both sole custody and child support are men.
More and more studies show, Fathers'' Rights advocates point out, that children need both parents'' presence in their lives. "We must now grant to fathers the same right to be in the family as we have granted to women in the workplace," states the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, a federal lobbying group.
California in 1981 became the first state to adopt a "presumption" of joint custody, stating that joint custody should be awarded in divorce cases unless either parent shows compelling reason to oppose it. Today, 14 states have such policies, and joint custody is a legal option in 47 states.
Even with joint custody, children live primarily with one parent, usually the mother, while the non-custodial parent (usually the father) has regular visitation rights. It''s pretty easy for a mother who doesn''t want her kids spending time with dad to block visitation, says Bennett. "It happens in 50 percent of the cases," he says.
And unlike non-payment of child support, which is enforced by local DAs, a parent denied court-ordered visits with his children must take his case back to court. That takes time, money and the will to engage in yet another legal battle.
"Fathers call our office all the time to say they have joint custody, but they haven''t seen their kids in two years," says Dianna Thompson, California spokeswoman for the American Coalition of Fathers and Children. "Joint custody has to be enforced. When you have a custodial and non-custodial situation, one parent has all the power, and where is the incentive for them to permit access to the other?"
Enforcing visitation rights, encouraging joint custody and reviewing the formulas for deciding child support payments are the main fathers'' rights issues in California, Bennett says.
"There is still a double standard," he says. "The mother is going to get custody unless she''s found to be an unfit parent."
Salinas CPA Louis Frizzel was awarded sole custody of his two sons six years ago. He believes that''s because his ex-wife, who had sole custody previously, wanted to separate the siblings, keeping one and sending the other to live with his father. Frizzel wanted to keep the boys together. He "won."
In his testimony, a court-appointed psychologist told the judge it would "do no damage" to have the boys live with their father.
"That''s an interesting approach," Frizzel comments. Some people look at him "funny," he says, because he fought to have his boys live with him. "I think it''s cool," he says. "But their mother thinks I''ve stolen them from her. That''s the way society expects us to react. The man vacates the house, leaving the kids with the mother."
Salinas resident Cory Welch and his first wife divorced 13 years ago, when their son was 2 years old. They were awarded joint custody. But when Welch moved to Monterey County from Southern California, he went back to court to get sole custody, claiming his ex-wife was an alcoholic. He lost his case, and now his ex-wife has sole custody.
He says he has never missed a child support payment. But he says his wife has sued him repeatedly through the county DA''s office for non-payment. "The burden of proof is always on the father," he says. "I know that at any time, I could be taken back to court."
As if that weren''t enough, Welch was also sued by the Lake County DA for non-payment of child support in a case of mistaken identity: He had the same name as the real deadbeat dad. "Luckily I was able to straighten it out by phone, otherwise it would have meant taking time from my job to go to court up there, plus a lot of money for lawyers and phone bills," he says.
"I''ve never minded paying child support," he says. "But there''s no accountability as to how it''s spent. My ex-wife has bought a house, and she makes no bones about where she got it."
Welch''s second wife, Robin, was so incensed at what she deems the court''s prejudicial treatment of her husband that she went to law school in order to fight the system from within.
"Fathers want to be seen as more than wallets," she says. "Their emotional contribution is undervalued."
Barbara Sauret, coordinator of the Monterey County chapter of the Association for the Children for Enforcement of Support (ACES), believes fathers owe their children emotional as well as financial support. But recognition of the former doesn''t mean the latter can be ignored. She believes the county DA is not enforcing the laws against deadbeat dads energetically enough. And the DA''s office takes a hefty cut from every payment recovered, much like any private collection company, meaning less money ends up helping the kids.
In Monterey County, she says, with 27,000 deadbeat dads on the roster, child support is recovered through the DA in just 14 percent of cases. Most of the time, she says, just part of the money owed is recovered, through tax intercepts done once a year. Full support is recovered in just 1,200 cases. Her group plans to bring a class action suit against the DA''s office this fall.
Robin Welch suggests taking a different look at the county''s list of deadbeat dads. Many of them, she says, are men who can''t pay their child support because they don''t make enough money to meet payments set artificially high by the courts.
"When a women gives birth to a child she can''t support, the state gives her money," she says. "When a man does the same thing, we put him in jail."
For more information, contact Robin Welch at email@example.com