Thursday, January 18, 2007

What can you do?

In a comment to my last post, Myra relates her experience being raised by her father after a civilized divorce and her husband's experience with a savage one and asks a series of questions. She says that they are rhetorical, but they desperately need answers:
How do we make a balanced equation in custody battles?
The courts are designed to assign blame, and family courts, denied a criminal charge, sublimate this by assigning custody. They might as well assign "blame" to the non-custodial parent, make him or her the bad guy, and hand the custodial parent a rod to beat him with. The children would be better off for their exclusion from the warfare. But then, of course, you've got to do something about the kids. My answer to Myra would be that we need to assert basic parental rights equally to each parent from the get-go, to be lifted only when either parent is proven inadequate by sufficient evidence (the word of the other parent being considered the epitome of insufficient). We need to make it a crime to obstruct contact of the children with their other parent in the absence of a court order to the contrary. Some would say that this provides an additional weapon to the abusive ex-spouse. But what if that abusive ex-spouse is the mother? She already has that weapon by default and the abused spouse is completely disarmed. Oh, but that's a really good alternative, isn't it?
How do we find compromise?
Compromise is something the parents have to find. The court only lays down the rules. But if the court is set up as an arena, arms the combatants unequally, and declares "let the battle commence", then it becomes a modern spectacle where profit for the venue, the handlers and the hangers-on is the only result, not compromise, peace and safety for the combatants. The family courts need to develop a new philosophy, one which gives highest priority to avoiding conflict, not fostering it.
How do I get up on my soapbox and tell the matriarchal family courts that I am all the better for being raised by my dad?
Getting up on a soapbox these days is a easy as starting a blog. More pro-actively, you might contact your local fathers' rights group; be careful, many of them are deeply wounded and might come across as somewhat angrier than you're really happy with. Some of them deserve forgiveness and understanding, and they are why the group exists. (Some of them really are pretty nasty and these should be identified and neutralized as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, too cautious a group cuts out the very activist element that they need.)
What expert do I tell my story to?
Try writing to some of the local services, telling them your story. The worst that can happen is that they throw the letter away, but someone has to read it first.

Write to some of the "experts" you find on the web.

Write comments on the patriphobic blogs pointing out the inevitable holes in their reasoning. Be prepared to be flamed and banned - they're closed minded, they won't like you, and they will spit on you, then slam the door. What that achieves is to show the world their hypocrisy; a negative step for them, a success for reason.
And on the other hand, who does my husband tell his story to?
The same people. To be silent in this game is to be complicit. Most of the general public haven't a clue how unpleasant family court can be. They think divorces should be amicable and if they aren't then it's the fault of both parties. They don't see how this attitude gives an advantage to the more combative party. They don't see how one side, the one with the kids, has a powerful advantage over the other. Mostly they objectify the money, assuming that's the whole story. They simplify the thing into soap opera terms with a very limited set of default assumptions. Question the assumption that the more hostile parent is right, question the assumption that either side has a default right to deny access of the other to the children, that either side has a monopoly on what's best for the children.
Who's to answer for the unconscionable behavior he witnessed from his father?
The easy answer is "his father". But that's too pat, isn't it? All too often the ugliest behavior by either side is gotten away with, even encouraged. Sometimes it can even be hard to see who is the "bad guy" especially if there isn't one, just two angry, frightened people shouting at each other. But there are others who should be answerable also - inadequate judges don't help, lawyers who build up the conflict to a level sufficient to maximize profit, but not enough to completely scare them off. Court officials who react from prejudice and sabotage one side or the other just because they don't like his face or she's the half-sister of that boy who got into trouble once at school. Mediators who don't. Politicians who distort the data to get votes which are all too often working from even baser prejudice. Social and behavioral researchers who want to find a specific result and therefore do. All these are answerable for the bad behavior we see in the courtroom.

Would the gladiators fight if they were not forced into the arena with an audience baying for blood? In those circumstances, it can feel like self defense to strike the first blow.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind, thoughtful response. I'm off to see how best I can help.

invisibledad said...

I've seen the comment made that conservative judges believe in traditional sexual roles, which reinforces the status quo. Liberal and feminist judges appear to have an anti-male bias. The consequence appears to be a lose / lose situation for divorced fathers.

In my opinion, all of the hatred and anger these men feel is more than justified. It's system that deprives men of their children and their livelihoods to the point of creating a society with ever-present news of father suicides.

It's an outrage.

I think these angry men need to be told that their feelings are valid and justified, then they need to be shown how to effectively fight for change. When elections come around make sure anti-male judges are aggressively targeted and unseated. Conduct effective media campaigns, etc.

IMHO, Matt O'Connor was on the right track in successfully harnessing all of the anger and passion around this issue and directing it into a snowballing movement, but selling out the organization leaves him far beneath contempt. He had the right idea, but he didn't have the character or vision needed to carry it through, and he didn't know how to keep it under control.

When sufficient passion and brains are combined, an amazing force can be created. The success of Ralph Reed's army in banning the teaching of science in science classes in the year 2006 is a shocking testament to that. If fundamentalists can manage to do that, it should be child's play for a well-organized group of divorced fathers to get this system changed.