By Michelle Greer
Gender roles, particularly when it comes to parenting, have always been viewed through a biased lens. And although, the modern world has arguably birthed a more balanced playing field between men and women in education as well as socio-economic opportunities; some things remain the same. In fact, such tremendous strides in gender equality have done very little to reshape how we view the roles of men and women when considering their importance in the lives of children. As a family law attorney, I am often disappointed, but never surprised to observe the devalue of fathers both outside and inside the courtroom. Despite disputes that exist primarily between the parties themselves, more often than not, both parents are fit and proper to have custody of their children. However, mothers are still often viewed as caregivers, while fathers are still commonly associated with the role of financial provider. As such, the enforcement measures taken to ensure the payment of child support far outweigh those taken to ensure visitation. To be clear, child support is essential for the care and welfare of minor children. However, I have yet to witness a direct or indirect correlation between child support payments and the building of good character. Simply put, there is a significance that a father’s presence plays in a child’s life that can never be measured monetarily. I have often wondered if shared custody guaranteed an increase in the amount of child support being received by mothers, would they then be willing to permit fathers to play a more active role in the lives of their children? Additionally, would there then be far less custody disputes absent the existence of true threat, harm or danger to the mother and/or children of the parties.
The painful reality is that break-ups do happen and divorce is never easy, particularly for the party who has been allegedly wronged and/or who desires to preserve the relationship. Nevertheless, gender bias in matters pertaining to custody only serve to deprive deserving children of the love and stability that each parent provides. Contrary to common practice, children should never be used as pawns or vehicles to exercise control over the other party. They should never become the bearers of a parent’s feelings of desertion, abandonment, or betrayal. Even in the midst of ending marriages and painful wounds that haven’t yet healed, common ground can and should be found in the mutual love and respect for shared children.
Consider for a moment, mothers and fathers alike, the pain that your child must feel each and every time that he or she is left to ponder the possibility that dad doesn’t want me or never truly loved me. Then pause once more and really ponder the damage that one causes his or her child by creating and feeding such a false negative, self-serving belief. Here is the most challenging thing for some parents to accept; "mom or dad in most cases didn’t leave the child, he or she left you". And equally challenging is the belief that although he or she left you, your child still needs you both and co-parenting is possible when the best interest of your child is the absolute shared priority. Making and receiving timely child support payments is important, but its not the only thing that matters. Fathers matter, and I challenge each of my readers to acknowledge this truth in thoughts, words, and actions. Begin to encourage and support, rather than discourage and interfere with a father’s desire to have a relationship with their children.
As a family law attorney, I’m a tough negotiator and I have a reputation for playing hardball, but children should never be the subject of negotiation. Instead, when possible they should always be the source of fair and reasonable compromise. I once heard a judge of the highest caliber refer to children in divorce and ending relationships as casualties of war. All too often, parties and even their attorneys are so focused on winning the battles that they fail to consider what is truly necessary in order to win the war. Divorce, custody and visitation disputes, and child support proceedings are all battles to be fought and won inside the courtroom. However, rearing children, building character and self-esteem, and providing stability and security are best accomplished through co-parenting outside of the courtroom. The average domestic dispute between parties who share children can result in attorneys fees between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars. This amount doesn’t reflect the time lost from work to attend court proceedings, or time and money spent on counseling that many children require as a result of being placed in the middle of disputes that truly aren’t about them or simply have no merit. Litigation in the context of family law disputes should in most cases be a last resort, not the first. In fact mediation, when sincerely sought, can quite often successfully resolve these disputes when children are the shared concern and priority. In an effort to avoid the adversarial impact of litigation and to preserve meaningful relationships between parents and children, most domestic courts have adopted procedures requiring mediation and co-parenting classes. Sadly enough, the court’s efforts are all too often met with opposition from one or both parents. And in my experience, the benefits of these efforts are stifled by an inability to separate personal feelings and resentment from what should be a joint commitment to preserving the welfare and well-being of their children. It is for this very reason that, when feasible, both parents and children are often best served by acquiring counseling prior to seeking legal representation.
Unfortunately divorce will always exist and the children shared between the parties will experience the pains associated with no longer having their parents together in a relationship or under the same roof. They will face the challenge of wondering if they did something wrong or could have done something differently. They will miss seeing both parents every day, sharing meals together, and other special moments. And at some point, they will have to adjust to seeing one or both parents with a new partner and/or developing meaningful relationships, that were once shared with them exclusively, with other children. But in ways that only an adult can truly understand, they may also begin to experience a home free of daily arguments. They may now have a better opportunity to experience the depth of their relationship with each parent free of distraction. And maybe, if truly supported and given the opportunity, they will learn that changes in relationships doesn’t always mean or have to be experienced as a lack of love. In fact, maybe now seeing and experiencing one or both of their parents in happier relationships, they too will receive the benefits and joys of having more loving relationships around them and in their lives. True parenting is void of gender roles and bias. Both mothers and fathers are caregivers and providers. Absent threat, harm or danger to the mother and /or child; fathers just like mothers, play an important essential role in the lives of their children. However, the very moment that a father’s time is defined as visitation and then followed by a lack of compliance and/or enforcement, is the moment that he ceases to play any meaningful instrumental role in his child’s life. It is the moment that for many mothers, the battle is won, but the war as it relates to the best interest of their child is all but lost.
Fathers matter, and when possible children deserve the benefit of having meaningful relationships with both parents. Communication is tough, particularly in the presence of divorce and/or a prior inability to work together, but a shared desire and commitment to the welfare and well-being of your child certainly provides a strong incentive.
For more information on mediation and other valuable co-parenting resources, please send inquiries to: Mgreer@Jeffreylondonlaw.com.