PERHAPS WE NEED A FATHERIST MOVEMENT
By Sari M. Friedman, General Counsel
Fathers' Rights Association (NYS & Long Island)
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
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.
"Best Interests of the 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.