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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Gender discrimination in custody battles

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Author Topic: Gender discrimination in custody battles
Saint_Sithney
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I've been wondering about this a lot lately, not only because I've seen it in the news, but because it's happened to some of my friends. What do you all think of the practice of assuming one parent is better suited to raise children based on gender alone?

I know in the past, a divorced woman was so shunned by polite society that she may as well have been a murderess. The husband was almost always given the children, unless he had abandoned his wife, in which case he wouldn't have to pay child support. But over the past few years, there's been a complete switch- favoring the mother severely over the father. Do you believe that the courts should be gender-blind in this issue and choose the parent to raise the children and the one to pay child support based solely on the case?

For a real-life scenario that happened to friends of mine:

After abandoning her husband, Mrs. N decided she wanted full custody of her children, with no visitation rights. When her former husband said he would take her to court over it, she attempted to kill him. She was convicted of attempted murder (she tried to gas him to death in a trailer, but was caught by a friend of Mr. N who was over at the time), found to be mentally disturbed, and put in psychiatric care. She also had a restraining order filed after she threatened the family of the friend who had caught her trying to murder Mr. N. However, she continued the custody battle, and apparently won based mostly on her gender. She then took the children and ran several states away so that they could never see their father.

There are of course the famous cases of the fathers in England who are demanding a gender-blind family court- if you remember the gentleman who dressed up as Batman and sat on the eaves of the Parliament building for six hours? God forbid we return to the days when the divorced mother would never see her children again, but is it truly fair that many divorced fathers must face that same horrible situation? I especially think courts should eliminate any gender bias when one parent has proved to be unfit, as in the case of Mrs. N.

Thoughts? Opinions? I've been thinking about writing a paper on gender bias in courts, and while there's loads of stuff about biases against women, this trend towards bias against fathers is interesting. I've read some articles praising it, and some condemning it. While I know my political opinions are very much in the minority here, I really am interested in hearing any side I can.

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'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
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LilBlueSmurf
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Your example seems a little far fetched to me ... I can't understand for the life of me why a judge would give a woman who was convicted of murder (did she not serve time for this?) her children back. It just doesn't make sense.

I don't think this is ALL based on gender ... There are other issues that need to be taken into account.

I think the major issue family courts look at is who the primary caregiver is; who spends the most time taking care of the children. A lot of times, especially in younger families, this is the mother. If the primary caregiver can be deemed unfit (ie, attempted murder), then they will look at turning custody over to the other parent. Should the 'default' parent be the mother? Maybe not, but i think this is only the case because so many mothers ARE primary caregivers.

It also need not be an all or nothing thing ... My parents split when i was 5 and i had, and still have, a good relationship with my father. My aunt and uncle are also divorced and my cousin spends alternate weeks with each parent. I don't think it's as easy for one parent to stop the other parent from seeing their child as you seem to think. Often times, i think it is wanting the 'all or nothing' that leads to all the problems, and guess who pays the most then? The children, of course.

This is not an attack on fathers. This is not solely about gender and taking rights from men.

For a gender that often has more rights and resources than they know what to do with, i'm unsure of why you keep bringing this (men and their lack of 'rights') up here.

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Gwaihir
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Discrimination is discrimination no matter that the genders have been switched. For some reason, the thought of a branch of the government, a courtroom full of strangers that don't even know the alleged family deciding on what's best for these kids that aren't even theirs. . . .it just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth and frankly I don't think the government should have ANYTHING to do with marriage and divorce. AKA: Marriage should be completely privatized.
This doesn't seem to me to be so much a "oh, woe to men and their lack of rights" post so much as a why should an outside authority decide which parent is better-suited to raise the children?

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logic_grrl
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There are of course the famous cases of the fathers in England who are demanding a gender-blind family court- if you remember the gentleman who dressed up as Batman and sat on the eaves of the Parliament building for six hours?

Well, in fact, they're not demanding a "gender-blind" court - in practice they're mostly demanding a right for fathers to have access to their children, no matter what.

It takes a huge amount for a father in England to be denied access - if anything, courts tend to be over-generous when it comes to granting access rights even to parents who may be a physical threat to their children.

As journalists have commented, the reason why most of these "activists" don't have access to their children is because of repeated violent or abusive behaviour, towards the mother, children or both.

Incidentally, the group you're thinking of has now been disbanded, after it was found that a number of its members had decided that their next "protest" should be kidnapping the very young son of the Prime Minister. I think that should be enough to dispel the idea that w're talking about responsible, caring or reasonable parents here.

[ 04-22-2006, 01:09 PM: Message edited by: logic_grrl ]

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"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." - the Talmud

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dailicious
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quote:
Originally posted by Gwaihir:
Discrimination is discrimination no matter that the genders have been switched. For some reason, the thought of a branch of the government, a courtroom full of strangers that don't even know the alleged family deciding on what's best for these kids that aren't even theirs. . . .it just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth and frankly I don't think the government should have ANYTHING to do with marriage and divorce. AKA: Marriage should be completely privatized.
This doesn't seem to me to be so much a "oh, woe to men and their lack of rights" post so much as a why should an outside authority decide which parent is better-suited to raise the children?

Well, the problem with this is that Marriage CANNOT be completely privatised like you are suggesting, without also taking away or seriously changing any sort of benefits that come with taxes, property ownership, income/monetary sharing, etc.

On a more important matter, and to stick to the subject at hand- in the case of something such as a divorce, unless one parent or the other wants to completely have nothing to do with his or her children, there is almost always going to be an issue of who gets what sort of custody over them, and in the case of many divorces, things can get INCREDIBLY ugly and potentially dangerous or seriously damamging to children during these types of battles, as well. Kids have a hard enough time with divorce when things DO go realtivly smoothly (and I know it first hand), but to throw in something such as a battle that has no outside mediation over who is better suited to raise and support the children? The reason outside agencies NEED to be in place for this sort of thing is because there does need to be an unbiased party to look at the facts and decided what is the best situation for the children at hand.

Yes, sometimes there are bad decision made, or decisions not everyone agrees with, but especially in the case of serious control or abuse- do you think the parent who is controlling or abusive to their spouse and/or children is going to make the decision to seperate from the family for the good of the children by themselves?

With the way divorces happen, 99% of the time there is no possible way things can be settled without outside intervention or mediation of some sort. (Seriously, show me a divorce that can operate smoothly without it: "I think we should get a divorce. -Alright, I'd really like the house. -Okay, I'd like to keep the car. -Fair enough, you get the kids on even weeks, I get them on odd? -Yep, that's settled, nice knowing you!" Sorry if I sound cynical, but honestly)

There will ALWAYS be arguments about custody, about property, about money- they cannot sort themselves out, and often times legal action DOES need to be taken, ESPECIALLY when it concerns the well being of children.

Having seen my parents divorce, when I was old enough to understand it on a deeper level than that a nine or ten year old might see it, I think I'm a bit biased in my opinion that there DOES most certainly need to be outside influence, but it's a bias that I at least feel has serious backing. My parents had a fairly civil divorce, considering (and I was 16 at the time and neither had had issues with abuse/anything else, so custody wasn't a big deal and they decided to leave it more up to me), but there WERE some issues with money and there were some things that needed to be settled with the help of their lawyers that would have just fallen apart and caused a lot of unneeded hurt and chaos otherwise. Without having that outside, official/legal part of that I can't see how seperations would not be increidbly more destructive to everyone involved, especially the children.

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Jean
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Gwaihir
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Ok. I have to remember not to shoot my mouth off about what I think the world should be like, since I often forget to mention to people that this world would only be possible if there was a MASSIVE global change in culture, politics, education and what have you.
What's always been ideal to me is to have people living in community groups (kind of like tribes) so everyone knows everyone else, thus knows often what's best for them and we're no longer governed by people in some distant faceless government who don't know us at ALL making laws deciding what we should do with our lives.
I think in my ideal world, everyone that lives in these communities would have a huge backup of support from extended family, friends, outside observers, etc. So I think in that scenario with the help of all these people, a couple that wanted to divorce would be able to do it with the help of this third party.
This is MY world, though. . .and it probably won't be reality anytime soon, unless I decide to head into the Canadian wilderness and start my own community, or something. . . I hate this world so much it seems even less real to me than my own.

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dailicious
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I didn't mean to jump on you at all, but the topic is a little bit sensitive to me as someone who has seen my parents go through divorce and knowing a lot of the really bad times people can go through who went through a lot worse than my parents.

I do agree though that it is really unfortunate that even something near an ideal does not seem reachable anytime in the near future. But part of being active and feeling strongly about what you do is finding ways to help influence change, to make people aware of it, etc. So it's not something that should be given up on, either [Smile]

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Jean
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Heather
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quote:
After abandoning her husband, Mrs. N decided she wanted full custody of her children, with no visitation rights. When her former husband said he would take her to court over it, she attempted to kill him. She was convicted of attempted murder (she tried to gas him to death in a trailer, but was caught by a friend of Mr. N who was over at the time), found to be mentally disturbed, and put in psychiatric care. She also had a restraining order filed after she threatened the family of the friend who had caught her trying to murder Mr. N. However, she continued the custody battle, and apparently won based mostly on her gender. She then took the children and ran several states away so that they could never see their father.
That's certainly some case. Have any news pieces on that? I'm not finding any, which is pretty odd, given its gravity.

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Beppie
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I think that an important thing to remember here is also that in most nuclear families, the mother is the primary caregiver to the children in the first place, making it more logical to grant primary custody to the mother in the case of divorce. If people want gender-equality in custody cases, then we should look at gender-equality in terms of time spent with the children, encouraging more dads to be stay-at-home-dads etc.

Furthermore, I have to say that in the divorce cases that I know of which are close to me, there were not any huge battles regarding custody initially going to the mother-- a lot of the time this arrangement is accepted by both parties with little or no intervention. (And in one of these cases, when one of the children was a little older she ended up going to live with the father by her own choice).

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Heather
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quote:
If people want gender-equality in custody cases, then we should look at gender-equality in terms of time spent with the children, encouraging more dads to be stay-at-home-dads etc.
Amen, sister.

Though, of course, you have to bear in mind that the one fly in that ointment is that those same groups would then ALSO have to start working harder to get women pay equity, to make it as workable financially to swap those roles.

Wanna bet on if THAT'D ever happen?

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Gwaihir
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quote:
Originally posted by dailicious:
I didn't mean to jump on you at all, but the topic is a little bit sensitive to me as someone who has seen my parents go through divorce and knowing a lot of the really bad times people can go through who went through a lot worse than my parents.

It's ok. You're right, though. I probably won't ever be able to truly understand divorce as my parents are still happily married, but the strange thing is that as I think about it, I'm starting to think that I don't even believe in marriage. . odd, from someone who's parents are still together, but I just don't think marriage is necessarily a good thing. . .for me at least.
See in these little communities I cultivate in my imagination, (heh. .it's like the SIMS, only much more interesting to me) the parent or parents may be the primary caregivers, but more than anything there's more of a "the whole village raises the children" convention going. To me that would be ideal.

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Saint_Sithney
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quote:
Originally posted by Miz Scarlet:
quote:
After abandoning her husband, Mrs. N decided she wanted full custody of her children, with no visitation rights. When her former husband said he would take her to court over it, she attempted to kill him. She was convicted of attempted murder (she tried to gas him to death in a trailer, but was caught by a friend of Mr. N who was over at the time), found to be mentally disturbed, and put in psychiatric care. She also had a restraining order filed after she threatened the family of the friend who had caught her trying to murder Mr. N. However, she continued the custody battle, and apparently won based mostly on her gender. She then took the children and ran several states away so that they could never see their father.
That's certainly some case. Have any news pieces on that? I'm not finding any, which is pretty odd, given its gravity.
I'm trying to find any articles on it. This happened in a very small town (around 200 residents), and it happened about 6 years ago. Once I find an article on it, I'll post it. I just really got to thinking about this as one of my friends families had the mother abandon her family, then tried to take the younger children with no visitation rights, even though the ensuing court battle swallowed up the families meager savings, so three teens with part-time jobs were supporting six people.
I've never had to deal too directly with divorce- my sister is getting divorced, but after less than two years of marriage, no children, not much mutual property, and no arguing.

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'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
-T.S. Eliot The Waste Land

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Heather
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quote:
I just really got to thinking about this as one of my friends families had the mother abandon her family, then tried to take the younger children with no visitation rights, even though the ensuing court battle swallowed up the families meager savings, so three teens with part-time jobs were supporting six people.
Okay, but what has that got to do with gender? In other words, if the father wanted custody, where was he at? Where was his income? And given that DCFS would in no WAY allow children to be supporting the whole family -- if they were called, which they would have been in something like this, or the father could have -- well, aspects of this just sound spurious at best. If it was the father who had done the abandoning, and he ended up seeking custody, would that have been about gender?

And yes, I would be interested in seeing the news item on the story you reported earlier: if the town was that small, and things as you stated, given you know the names of the parties involved, it should be pretty easy to find some documentation.

Logic mentioned this before, but it is really important to remember than more often than not, abuse is involved in a lot of these cases. With domestic abuse occurring in 25% of all relationships or more, it's impossible for it not to be a frequent issue. And while women can be abusers as men can, more often -- pretty substantially -- it is the men who are abusive, either to their spouses or to the children. And winding through all of that can be exceptionally complex, especially second-hand, because often only some aspects of these stories are reported/shared. Often, hidden aspects of these stories only come to light after the fact.

From a personal perspective, I very, very much wanted to be in my father's custody as I child. Eventually (though many, many years fater my parent's early separation) I was. And what eventually became key in that happening was abuse from another man my mother remarried, and all of us making an agreement taken care of outside the court system (though if it had gone there, it's insanely likely my father would have been awarded custody).

However, at the time custody was denied, while from the outside it wouldn't have looked to be for sound reasons, it actually was: while both my parents were poor, my father likely would NOT have been able to handle my expenses and full-time care, and his child support reflected that.

Suffice it to say, I'm hardly insensitive to these issues. But more times than not -- as also mentioned here, and as it bears out if you really do a lot of research on this issue from a wide variety of credible sources -- things don't boil down to gender, but to who HAS been the primary caretaker through the partnership, who HAS shown the ability to support, and what truly appears to be in a child's best interest. Usually, both parents have been observed. In the case of childern who can speak, they generally are asked questions about who they'd prefer to be with, who they feel safe with, etc. Even in cases where a judge might have bias, most courts now appoint a totally independent child advocate for difficult cases whose ONLY allegiance is to the child.

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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quote:
But over the past few years, there's been a complete switch- favoring the mother severely over the father.
For the record, too, I haven't seen any data to bear this out. In fact, quite the opposite: most law agencies are reporting that where before, there WAS more bias -- notably, when children were under Kindergarten age, what was generally referred to as the "tender years" - towards choosing the mother, that bias has been removed in nearly all states.

And historically, custody almost always went FIRST to fathers, for most of our legal history in these matters, because children were seen as the father's property.

Cornell Law School, FYI, has a pretty exhaustive page on custody issues, recent precedents, etc: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php/Child_custody

[ 04-24-2006, 03:29 PM: Message edited by: Miz Scarlet ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Saint_Sithney
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I mentioned that I knew historically that men were almost always granted full custody. This is an issue that I find interesting, and wanted to get more in depth opinions on. But yeah, searching for documentation, and though it may sound a bit paranoid, searching mostly for documentation that doesn't list a specific town ^^;
Sorry, but I've had some issues with being e-stalked, and I know for a fact that someone's been following me from board to board. I don't think he's been here, but he's followed me to at least three places already making harassing topics, and I don't want to give him any idea of where I am geographically.

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'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
-T.S. Eliot The Waste Land

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Heather
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quote:
Sorry, but I've had some issues with being e-stalked, and I know for a fact that someone's been following me from board to board. I don't think he's been here, but he's followed me to at least three places already making harassing topics, and I don't want to give him any idea of where I am geographically.
Sorry to hear that. OT, but on this, just know that we have no problem banning anyone who harasses a user here immediately, and should that ever happen, all you need do is notify us, and we'll be on it. We also will tend to report that activity to that person's ISP directly.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Saint_Sithney
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Appreciated. It started off being kind of funny, as his typing is near illegible, but seeing him popping up on random places I frequent with 'UR UGLY 4ND IM W4NT U TOO K1LL URSELF U F4T P1G!11' is a little disconcerting, and doesn't make me eager to post the name of a local small town...

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'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
-T.S. Eliot The Waste Land

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