The Thinking 

More on Paternal Custody

August 28, 2010


WESTERN SOCIETY is steadily reverting to matriarchy and witnessing the progressive erosion of democracy. The two developments go hand-in-hand because it is impossible to maintain democracy with large numbers of female-headed households. Formal recognition of paternal authority is necessary to reverse this trend. Men should have primary custody of their biological children, as was commonplace in Western democracies two hundred years ago. This is one of the most basic means of checking the expansion of socialist government and the decline of the family.  Here are continuing comments from readers on the issue of presumptive paternal custody, which was discussed in this entry.

Jeanette writes:

I read this article with interest since I do have custody of my children. I admit I was a bit concerned about James P’s remark at the end: 

Unrepentant infidelity on the part of the wife is not held to be an obstacle to the mother obtaining custody, so it is difficult to see why this should be an obstacle to the father obtaining custody. Furthermore, the entire divorce industry exists to defraud and defame innocent men, so one example of a woman who was defrauded and defamed during a divorce is hardly compelling.

I respectfully disagree. I think it needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. I filed for my divorce (there is the statistic) but I waited for a year and a half for my husband to quit cheating on me before doing so, and he refused. He wanted me to wait until he was ready to come back to us. The church was involved and eventually excommunicated him for his infidelity and abandonment of us. He went on to lose job after job, which made it difficult to continue the choice we had made before our children were born for me to stay home with them and homeschool them. By God’s grace and the help of church and family and occasional jobs I’ve had, we have managed to make it work. I’ve stayed home with them almost the entire time and homeschooled them. About five years ago, my ex-husband finally stabilized his life and is now supporting us financially, talks to his children every night, sees them as often as possible, and is doing what he can to be a good father although he doesn’t want me as a wife even now. Even he admits that he never could have handled having custody of the children all this time and that they are much more stable living with me full-time and having him be as large a part of their lives as his work and schedule allow. 

I don’t know that we can solve society’s problems top-down (through the courts) but rather will have to work on people’s hearts and minds, one by one, until divorce is once more seen with horror (which is the feeling I still get in the pit of my stomach every time I think of my own life and marriage). There are no easy answers. Wholesale giving children to the fathers isn’t necessarily the answer but neither is automatically giving them to the mothers. Again, I think it needs to be a decision made on a case by case basis, depending on the facts of who is the more responsible, stable, and innocent party (and, yes, the innocent partys do sometimes file first when we are forced into it in order to protect our children from starvation and homelessness). 

Perhaps the divorce courts are different in James P.’s state but where I live, custody is often given to the father when he is the more stable parent. I know several single fathers with full physical custody of their children. I agree that there are many lawyers who seek to defraud and defame men, but there are honest ones, too. Our society’s problem is one of selfishness, greed, and a lack of honor for marriage. That can only be remedied by hearts and minds being changed, not merely by laws changing. 

Laura writes:

This is a terrible situation you describe.

However, I disagree that these things have to be decided entirely on a case-by-case basis. Again, there must be some presumption of what is best. The burden of treating each case as entirely new is too great and given the close ties between mothers and young children, too likely to be discriminatory against men and fail to recognize that children have more than immediate emotional needs. Furthermore, the expectation of receiving custody of the children leads too many women to frivolously file for divorce. And, face it, a man is the head of his household, regardless of whether he is a good man or not. A government that fails to recognize paternal authority destroys paternal authority. Desertion or infidelity can be officially prosecuted. 

The presumption of paternal custody does not mean that men cannot award custody of their children to the mother or that whatever authority adjudicates disputes cannot award custody to a mother. For instance, in your case, you would still have gotten custody because your husband did not want to care for the children and was clearly unfit to care for them. Most men in the situation you describe would likely have waived their rights to custody.

Jeanette writes:

Yes, I see what you mean about the presumption of paternal authority and if the judge is able to award custody to the mother in an extreme case, then I can agree with you, because I do agree that fathers should have authority. I have attempted to make sure that my sons know that there father is a main authority figure in their lives (if Dad says no, then it is no, even if I don’t necessarily agree with him on an issue). 

It should be about what is right and good for the children long-term and I am happy to say that the Lord has given my sons’ father and me the ability to get to an ongoing working relationship which allows us to raise these boys in a godly way despite the ugliness that sin has caused. There is a lot for which I can be thankful but the ability to be at home with my children and have an influence on their lives despite our circumstances must be the greatest blessings of my life after Christ’s salvation of my soul.

Elizabeth Wright writes:

Robin writes in the previous entry: “There are many fathers today who would use this to control and manipulate the divorced woman for the rest of her life, in the name of ‘equality.'”

What exactly does “manipulate” and “control” mean here?  In the intact marriage, could it mean expecting certain behavior from the wife as his marriage partner?  Is it only men who attempt to manipulate? After divorce, aren’t there women who take delight in having the power to control the divorced spouse? 

Women were always calling Dr. Laura and complaining of “controlling” husbands.  The specifics were always fuzzy. If no control by the other partner is desired, why get involved in marriage?  Doesn’t the wife also manipulate and control certain aspects of the marriage and certain behavior patterns of the husband?

Robin writes:

As I stated in my post, the situations that I spoke of regarding the women who suffered in the “family” court system are certainly not the majority or the norm. However, I certainly find it “compelling” that these types of cases would occur, because it illustrates just how far the pendulum has swung in the opposite extreme in the “Men’s Rights Movement.” 

Is it not compelling that both of the children in the situations are being taught to have great disdain for their absent parent ( in these cases, their mother)? Is it not compelling that the very thing that demonizes men in the “family” court system is becoming the catalyst for the reverse? Without oversimplifying this: do two wrong behaviors make a right choice? Forgive me, for I do not wish to sound condescending. My point is that we have strayed too far to simply institute the extreme in all situations by applying blanket presumptive custody to fathers. There are too many fathers (ex-husbands) who are angry at women in general, and see no other alternative than to attempt to destroy the women at the cost of the children in the name of “Men’s Rights”: a kind of reverse feminism. 

Somewhere in the middle is the answer; I certainly do not pretend to have it. My mind wanders and imagines a world in which fathers protect their daughters from marrying this type of man in the first place (abusive and philandering), and then we would not be having this conversation. However, that would require that fathers return to their rightful place of honor and authority in all homes: the gatekeeper of his daughter’s chastity. This is hardly something that I notice in practice, even in the homes of Christian couples. It seems the daughters flounder around without any real knowledge of what true femininity is are often not guided by their fathers in choosing a husband. Rare is the young man who asks permission of his girlfriend’s father to even court her properly. 

So we arrive at this sad and endless circle of destruction. Without strong fathers, we have these types of marriages in the first place. Yet, to award custody of children to fathers such as the two I mentioned, we certainly do not prevent another type of damage to the children, who will grow up and likely carry great wounds into their marriages just as they would have had they been raised in typical single-mother households. 

I find it equally as compelling because it damages children, no matter how infrequent this type of custody award may be in America. As Laura stated, there is no perfect justice.

Laura writes:

The sort of anger you describe by a man against his wife, to the point where he takes her children away, is routinely exhibited by women and has led to many millions of men losing custody of their children. In the age of presumptive paternal authority, cases of men taking children away from mothers were relatively rare. Women want to end their marriages much more often than men. That is a proven fact. Therefore, the likelihood of the scenario you describe, in which women are the victims, is much less common because men do not want to terminate their marriages, to oversee the daily care of their children alone or to break up their families as often. Women file for divorces by a margin of three to one.

I do not deny the abuses you mention. There are evil fathers too. But negligent men tend to not want to take care of their children full-time and in these cases they could award, or courts could award, custody to the mothers of their children, who would be secondary guardians under the law. 

The high rate of illegitimacy is caused by the decline of paternal responsibility. I don’t see how this benefits women in the aggregate.

Jesse Powell writes:

Presumptive father custody of the distant past made sense, not only made sense given the cultural circumstances of that time but made sense in terms of human psychology and the different roles of men and women in general. The idea, I imagine, behind father custody is that, from the man’s point of view, when he creates a family through his own initiative and hard work, he has in his mind that he wants to continue the species, further the race, by having children, and he wants to provide for those children the best life possible, by supplying for them their material needs and by providing to them a good, caring, nurturing, dependable mother of good moral character to look after them and tend to their day-to-day care. 

The important point in this is that, from the man’s point of view, he is providing to his children a mother, his wife, to care for and raise his children. The project of starting and maintaining a family is the man’s project, to fulfill his purpose on earth, his role in continuing the society, and the woman, as his helpmate and partner in this project, provides the feminine nurturing that his children will need. To a large extent, the man chooses the woman he wishes to marry based on her desirable qualities as a mother-to- be. 

I’ve given a rough estimate of 1850 as being the beginning of the trend towards mother custody, exemplified by the Tender Years Doctrine in the United States. The shift towards mother custody in the case of separation between the mother and father represented a decline in the father’s investment in children. The mother’s investment in the children was still strong, as shown by the tendency to award custody to mothers, but the father’s investment began to decline, as the idea that the father was the party primarily responsible for the well-being of the child regardless of his marital circumstances declined. 

The good thing about father custody as practiced before 1850 was that it involved a high level of investment by both mother and father. The father was heavily invested as he viewed the children as his responsibility and his charges, no matter what happened, and the mother was heavily invested as the father provided to the mother the means and the social environment most conducive to allowing her to rear children. With the shift to mother custody, children were increasingly viewed as a “womanly concern” with the man, supposedly by nature, detached from, or an accessory to, child-rearing.

 Paul writes:

Judges should award the children custody of the family home. I recall a judge doing that decades ago in my law career; I don’t know the outcome, but he admitted in open court that he was breaking new ground. (I was waiting to be heard on a motion in another matter.) 

This would provide the kids a home and an incentive to the parents to stay in touch with the children. 

Ideally, a double house would be best. The judge would require each parent to live on opposite sides, with an unlocked door for the children to pass. The parents would be barred from entertaining sexual partners for fear of sentencing at hard labor. This would not cure the current problem of disposable fathers, but it sure would help.

Laura writes:

Not all divorcing couples have a family home, but I like the idea of essentially not recognizing divorce. Hard labor is an excellent suggestion. Chain gangs of fathers and mothers who had violated their marital vows could do great things for this country.

Brendan writes:

What Paul was referring to actually is becoming something of a microtrend among couples where (1) there is a nice family home and (2) they both are professionals and (3) want to share custody. Basically the way it works is that the kids stay in the house with the same friends and school and so on, and Mom and Dad share weeks in the house — maybe alternating each week or two weeks or each month. This requires both Mom and Dad to maintain separate residences as well, which limits it to higher earning couples, but where there is that kind of income on the table, it strikes me that this arrangement is better for the kids than what is currently happening in most cases, even for couples who are in that economic bracket.

Laura writes:

Yes, it is a much better arrangement for the children (I even know of one couple who lives together with their children and are divorced). But it is not a practical arrangement for the majority, not only because of the money required but because it necessitates a high degree of cooperation for divorced spouses to communicate and share their house in this way. Second spouses don’t fit in so well with this set-up and many divorcees want second spouses.

Generally, divorce is a much less unpleasant affair for affluent children (though it is still harmful). The well-off ignore the standards they create for the rest of society, letting the chemicals float downstream. The elite drink bottled water. The less fortunate drink the polluted stuff. 

James P. writes:

Laura writes,

“Western society is steadily reverting to matriarchy and witnessing the progressive erosion of democracy. The two go hand-in-hand because it is impossible to maintain democracy with large numbers of female-headed households.”

I disagree — though it depends on what one thinks “democracy” is. Our traditional Constitutional republic was not a democracy; if you replaced “democracy” in these sentences with “our traditional Constitutional republic” then I would agree. The fact is, however, that there is no contradiction at all between “democracy” and female-headed households. Politicians are perfectly happy to buy women’s votes with men’s money.

Jeanette expressed her disagreement with what I wrote. I am unable to see how what she said refutes – or even addresses – my statement that the entire divorce industry exists to defraud and defame innocent men, and therefore one example of a woman who was defrauded and defamed during a divorce is not compelling. She does not even claim that she was defrauded or defamed during her divorce! She goes on to say, “where I live, custody is often given to the father when he is the more stable parent.” Census statistics [for 2002] say the mother was the custodial parent 5 times out of 6 (which I suppose is nationwide but it is hard to imagine there are any great exceptions to this in any individual state). This is clearly the case because the system, as a whole, is stacked against men — and includes the lawyers who defame and defraud men, as I said.

Robin writes,

“I certainly find it “compelling” that these types of cases would occur, because it illustrates just how far the pendulum has swung in the opposite extreme in the “Men’s Rights Movement.””

Frankly, I am extremely skeptical that the pendulum has indeed swung back at all. The overwhelming majority of injustices inflicted in divorce cases are inflicted on men. Until more than one father in six gets custody, and fewer than 75% of all divorces are initiated by women, it is ridiculous to talk about the pendulum having swung to the “opposite extreme”. This simply smacks of the usual Leftist formula that any form of resistance to Leftist political “progress” in any realm represents “extremism.”

Laura writes:

Yes, James is correct that matriarchy does not destroy democracy and, in fact, reflects a trend toward radical democracy. I should have said matriarchy leads to the progressive erosion of constitutional freedoms, to socialism and unrestrained government. It leads to soft tyranny, and yet does not disenfranchise anyone. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned, participatory government can become despotic, and threaten basic freedoms. Matriarchy destroys that countervailing force that de Tocqueville said was essential to healthy democracy: a moral citizenry. 

Without an explicit presumption of paternal custody, courts will always favor women, though obviously there will be numerous exceptions. Without formal recognition of fatherhood and its claims,  the family comes to be seen as revolving around this maternal dynamic. This becomes an ingrained cultural attitude. That’s what matriarchy is: the rule of mothers, not at the highest level, but at the most fundamental.

Laura adds:

Some people believe that presumptive paternal custody is not necessary to restore fatherhood, that making divorce more financially punitive for women will do the same thing. This shows a basic misunderstanding of female psychology and circumstances. Making divorce more financially punitive for women is difficult if they receive custody. And, women will take financial ruin to have their freedom. History shows that women will choose relative poverty but not social isolation from children, family and friends. 

Again, presumptive custody does not mean women would never have guardianship over their children in the event of marital dissolution.

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