A New York Times Blog called my attention to Working Mother Magazine on Tuesday called “Custody Lost ,” about the new reality of divorce and child custody for working mothers.
According to articles in this magazine, many women who are the primary wage earners in a marriage are losing custody of their children to their husbands when the marriage ends. Working Mother Magazine says that there are now 2.2 million divorced women in the United States who do not have primary physical custody of their children, and that an estimated 50 percent of fathers who seek such custody in a disputed divorce are granted it.
As the writer Sally Abrahms describes it:
Not long ago, men usually paid the child support and doled out the alimony. Moms (working or not) almost always got the kids in messy divorce wars. Years of changing diapers, wiping noses and kissing boo-boos gave them the edge. But now the tide is turning.
The “tender-years doctrine,” a court presumption that mothers are the more suitable parents for children under 7, was abolished in most states in 1994. And, in large part because of the recession, women are poised to outnumber men in the work force for the first time in American history. Job layoffs affecting more men than women have yielded a burgeoning crop of Mr. Moms.
“Men are now able to argue that they spend more time with the kids than their working wives do,” says the 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.”
But look at this from the father's perspective. Did the mom just get a raw deal? Or has the presumption that the parent who is out of the house working harder does less hands-on parenting — a presumption that men have faced for years — merely been turned on its head to operate against some working mothers?
Either way, the percentage of fathers with primary custody will likely increase, one more example of shifting social views about parenting. And there will be more stories like the one Abrahms tells of Julie Michaud was the primary support for her family. She ran her own business, while her husband who had been unemployed for years cared for the couple’s 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. As Abrahms writes:
Julie sat helpless as Mark’s lawyer argued that he was the one who arranged the playdates, took the kids to the pediatrician and volunteered at their schools. Affidavits from teachers and neighbors attested to his hands-on involvement in their daily lives. Meanwhile, Julie’s long hours at work meant that people in the community didn’t witness just how much parenting she did out of view. No one saw the lunches she packed every morning, the all-nighters she pulled when the kids were sick. “If I could have done things differently,” Julie says today, “I would have made myself supervisible.”
After a brief hearing, Julie received the bad news from her lawyer a couple of days later. She'd get her children on Wednesdays, Fridays and alternate Saturdays. In addition to paying child support, she was also ordered to pay her husband $450/week in spousal support.
As the economy worsens, many mothers are working more. Many, if not most of the jobs that are being lost are in construction trades and other male-dominated work force areas. Does this mean that more mothers will be in jeopardy of losing custody?
Here is some sound advice from Barbara Glesner Fines, a noted law professor at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. She says that many of us are looking at custody the wrong way and that “The question shouldn’t be ‘How can I get or win custody?’ but rather ‘How can I make sure this re-formed family will function in a way that is good for the kids?’ Divorce is just the beginning of a lifetime of parenting your children with this other person. You’ve got to make that work.”
Review some of the legal terminology here and check to see if your state is one that has enacted statute with a presumption in favor of joint custody.
Need help with a child custody issue?