Equal custody and parental rights are important, Ken Solin writes, especially for the children.
I generally write about men and relationships, but when my article, “Divorced Dads Deserve Better,” received impassioned comments, I was reminded that divorced parents are still in a relationship, frequently lasting many years. But just because a couple didn’t get it right while married, they can still have a respectful parenting relationship after divorce, right? Not very often. With all the bitterness and anger surrounding divorce, children frequently become POWs in the civil war of a custody battle.
Child custody is a grievously contentious divorce issue. The differences and animosities that drive a husband and wife apart don’t necessarily reflect their parenting abilities, though, and shouldn’t be projected onto their children or figure at all into their custody rights. Moving on emotionally after divorce is difficult for everyone, but a critical aspect of healing the pain is letting go of the underlying anger. Unfortunately, many men and women fail to let go, and drag their unwitting children through the swamp that is a custody battle.
I believe that mothers and fathers play equally important roles in childrearing, and that a father’s time with his children is equally critical for their development. In fact, I consider the level of a man’s level of involvement with his children to be a measure of his manhood. A father’s rights to his children are as sacred as a mother’s.
However, women frequently are awarded majority custody, sometimes because the law mandates it, and sometimes because men don’t ask for their fair share. Women have a pivotal role to play in righting this inequity, and both women and men have to be willing to put aside their personal animosities and do what’s best for their children. And what’s best for their children is equal shared custody.
Too often, though, the battle over child custody becomes about revenge, and women shouldn’t be allowed to use custody as a tool to punish their ex-husbands or for financial gain. Those vindictive women and the cowardly, selfish men who don’t care a whit about their children and ignore them won’t be able to get past their own issues to focus on their children. But those misguided parents are a small minority, and it’s the majority of divorced parents I’m talking to.
And if you think children aren’t affected by how men and women treat each other after divorce, think again. Children are permanently scarred, no matter what, and the degree to which they suffer long-term emotional damage depends to a large degree on the way divorced parents treat each other. Mutual respect between mothers and fathers requires the courage to put your children’s feeling ahead of your own. And if you can’t get past your anger for your own sake, then do it for your children’s.
An attorney recently suggested to me that one way to address the issue of unequal custody would be for the courts to treat it and child support as two separate issues. And I agree. That way, granting their ex-husbands equal custody wouldn’t affect the child support women received or had to pay. And it would give each parent equal time to care for their children and to rebuild their own lives as individuals. The myth of ex-wives being able to sit home and eat bonbons on their child-support is patently false. In fact, nearly all divorced mothers are out working to help pay for their children’s needs. If it took two incomes to support a family when you were married, it’s going to take two once you’re divorced.
It’s critical to stop the legal carnage of custody wars for our children’s sakes. One of the benefits of agreeing to equal, shared custody would be eliminating the need for divorce attorneys who feed on the carrion of failed marriages and stir the pot of discontent to keep our money flowing into their bank accounts. Sending our own children to college should be more important to us than sending a lawyer’s children to college. It’s time to stop feeding the beast, and feed our children instead.
So I appeal to women to voluntarily share equal custody with their ex-husbands, and to men to stand up for their parental rights. Put your children first.
Originally appeared at Huffington Post.
—Photo Bes Z/Flickr