PERHAPS WE NEED A FATHERIST MOVEMENT
By Sari M. Friedman, Esq.
The feminist movement, backed by both men and women, has done much to advance the cause of equal opportunity for women in the workplace. But it has provided other benefits as well. As a growing number of women, starting in the sixties, began to take on work outside the HOME, fathers were assuming an increasing responsibility inside the HOME and developing stronger and closer relationships with their children.
But while women continue to work for equal opportunity and equal pay, fathers find, despite their increasing role in the HOME, they are not equal under the law in Family Court. Forty three states have shared custody requirements. Sadly New York is not one of them. That¹s why a majority of mothers in New York are easily granted sole custody.
Perhaps fathers need a "fatherist movement" not unlike the feminist movement to help them achieve equal rights in parenting. Most people would agree that all children need and deserve to have two parents. The purpose of divorce is to separate husband and wife. It should not separate parent and child.
All recent custody legislation in New York calls for settlements based on the best interests of the child. It is certainly not in the best interests of the child to be separated from either parent. Nevertheless, these same courts continue to award mothers sole custody. In sole custody, the custodial parent alone makes all major decisions. The only obligation is to keep the non-custodial parent informed. With sole custody, the non-custodial parent is reduced to a "checkbook role," someone who pays support but has no say in decisions relating to the child.
What does joint custody mean? Most people think it means an equal sharing of time. In fact, joint custody is less concerned with time, and more concerned with equal responsibility and shared decisions.
In the State of New York, joint custody is obtained only on consent of both parents. As a practical matter, voluntary joint custody agreements are not as common as they should be. That¹s because litigants do not want to give the other parent greater rights than the law demands. Is this in the best interests of the child?
The New York courts must send out a clear message to couples seeking divorce or separation, that raising children is a team effort. With divorce, children need the cooperation of their parents more than ever before. The responsibility of the mother or father in child rearing cannot end with divorce.
Would a New York law make a difference? I strongly believe it would. It sends a message to parents that cooperative parenting is required. Most people are law abiding. They will obey the law.
Fathers, in increasing numbers, have been joining support groups in their localities. But perhaps they also need a larger group of both men and women who believe children need both their mothers and fathers. A fatherist movement in New York, could be just as effective as the feminist movement, and visible enough for the governor and state legislature to see and hear. It is certainly about time.
About the author: Sari M. Friedman is president of her own law firm in Garden City, NY., a family law practice that specializes in child custody issues.