Holly’s Letter from America: Women rescue divorced fathers fighting to see their children

It’s a sad fact that in the US, we have a broken family court system. It fails the children of divorced parents by essentially alienating them from one of their parents through unfair child custody arrangements. The good news is that there are several national organizations gaining serious traction in trying to change this.

One of these organizations is Leading Woman for Shared Parenting (LW4SP). Founded on Father’s Day in 2013, LW4SP is an ‘international child advocacy organization’ which supports ‘the implementation of a presumption of shared parenting as a standard in child custody determinations’. Boasting influential women from a range of disciplines, political parties and all walks of life (including the recently deceased Karen DeCrow, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1970s, and the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly), LW4SP raiseseyebrows because fighting for ‘shared parenting’ has, until now, mainly been a ‘father’s rights’ issue.

The essence of shared parenting can be gleaned fairly easily from its name: divorced parents should be able to ‘share’ the parenting of their children, specifically in the sense that they should have shared physical custody of the child as much as possible. The US arrangement of ‘joint custody’ is not good enough, since in this arrangement the child is assigned to live with one parent, while the other parent is consigned to a much lesser share of access to the child.

The result is that children of divorced parents are very often ‘raised without the benefit of meaningful engagement with both parents.’ Children grow up without the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their non-custodial parent, not to mention the relationships with the grandparents and others on that side of the family. It is usually the mother that is granted physical custody, leaving the father more or less an alienated ‘visitor’ to his children.

This has been a terrible tragedy for children. There has been a growing amount of research highlighting the vital role that both the mother and the father play in a child’s life, which has been ignored by our judges and lawmakers until now.

Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. How to Bring the Dads We Need to the Children We Love, and one of the biggest advocates for shared parenting, has been at the forefront of explaining why children need their fathers. He argues that fathers are vital for a child’s psychological, social and academic development. For instance, children raised without their fathers are more likely, among other things, to have poorer grades, run away from home, wind up in jail, and struggle with aggression. Another study, by Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider in 2013, has shown that a father’s absence makes kids ‘angrier, sadder, and more stressed,’ thus increasing their behavioral problems, which decreases their ability to achieve in other areas.

Yet, even though fathers benefit their children enormously, ensuring that our court system allows children to spend equal time (or, in some cases, any time at all) with their fathers has, until now, been considered a task for angry, alienated men.

The problem is that feminists have worked against shared parenting arrangements for years. The National Organization for Women (NOW), since the mid-1990s, has been openly hostile to the father’s rights movement. In 1999, they made it their official policy to ‘champion women’s interests in divorce and custody cases and counter the “undue influence” of fathers’ groups.’ Women, they argued, ‘were the real victims of bias in family courts,’ and apparently this victimization would ever be thus.

This feminist high-jacking of common sense and fairness set up a perpetual stand-off between men and women in the matter of divorce and child custody. The result was that many concerned women did not feel they had a platform to raise awareness of the devastation caused to children when separated from one of their parents, and men were left to fight the court system alone.

LW4SP has changed all of that. As women, they see themselves as stepping up and fighting for fathers (and for mothers) who have suffered the painful injustice of losing their children for no good reason. As LW4SP argues, ‘forced separation from one’s own flesh and blood in the absence of abuse is morally wrong and socially irresponsible.’ How thrilling to see a woman’s group motivated by a vision of justice and goodness, rather than by notions of victimhood and power politics.

Holly Hamilton-Bleakley

  • lw4sp

    Thank you Holly. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that shared parenting is best for children, extremists still oppose it, mostly for personal financial reasons. As LW4SP has a growing contingent of Leading Women in the UK, we very much appreciate your letting readers know of our organization. More information on our organization, the amazing women of LW4SP, research and polling on Shared Parenting and more is available at http://www.lw4sp.org

  • scott01634

    good stuff im a single father been practically shut out of my child’s life my crime my ex partner decided to cheat on me get pregnant with another man then make me a single father on fb and has restricted me seeing my little girl its just so wrong

  • Mark

    Thank you Holly for your support and fighting for Father’s Rights and equal shared parenting! As a single father … I appreciate your support in highlighting how important a father is in his children’s life! There are many of us great fathers out there that just want to be allowed equal time in our kids lives and love them with all our hearts! Keep up the great work! We will make a difference!

  • Jim

    Thanks Holly

  • mensadvocate

    Thank you. Please write more about such things. Boys and men matter. Children need their Dads. Seems like most people know that except for elected officials and judicial officers. Please write more about such things. Maybe the followers we elect as leaders and offer black robes will read it. Thank you.

  • Marie

    Readers may be interested in the work of UK’s Families Need Fathers http://www.fnf.org.uk/news-and-events/press-releases In their press release they support the report from Centre for Social Justice – Breakthrough Britain II – to see the role of fathers strengthened in society http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/UserStorage/pdf/Press%20releases%202014/CSJ-family-breakdown-release—Final-Version—13.07.14.pdf Of course support for fathers/men ALSO means supporting family units better – at the moment couples raising children together are heavily penalised in taxation as care responsibilities are not taken into account. A father/mother/main earner on X income supporting dependents at home pays the same level of tax as his/her single colleague in the office who has no dependents to support, often meaning parents have to work even harder /longer than childless colleagues just because of our ‘family unfriendly’ tax system in UK. In fact we’re about the only country NOT to factor care responsibilities for dependents into taxation. We need Income Splitting and a serious debate about ‘Fair Family Taxation’ . Basically it would really help parents to cope if they were allowed to keep more of their household income whilst raising children to independence. One of the key drivers of separation has to be financial stress whilst trying to take good care of the family. Our tax regime is making matters much worse, preventing people from working towards new stable family life if their previous relationship has sadly broken down.

  • Streben80

    I had to choose between watching my child be told off relentlessly for daring to look like he was enjoying my company and walking away. In the end the long term harm the treatment from his mother was doing meant for his sake I had to walk away – there is no support for children or fathers in such a circumstance, it is all about the mother and what she wants, just the way my ex likes it funny enough. The only silver lining for me was that a step father came on the scene and he seems a decent guy – a weird feeling to be glad some other bloke is playing dad to your child, but in the end it has to be about the child, better I feel the pain than he does. Life is rubbish sometimes.

  • jc

    Thank you Holly. I have spent close to 120,000 of my children’s future to fight to stay in their lives. My ex-wife and her lawyer have had me in court too many times to count trying to bankrupt me into quitting. The family court system is a 50 billion dollar a year industry and it disgusts me. The school system refuses to acknowledge me as primary parent even though my children are with me 80% of the school week. Is there anywhere I can turn to to help me with some of these issues instead of having to pay a lawyer $375 an hour and 30 dollars everytime she mails me anything?

  • purley quirt

    There is definately ample proof now that the ” family unit” is needed for the healthy development of EVERYONE involved. .
    We need to capitalise on the movement toward ” team interventions” AND with the collaborative perspective of ” everyone” included.
    1,We do ?not throw away people with broken bodies…we nurse them back to health.
    2. We do ?not throw away humans that cannot fend for themselves * e.g. babies or elderly
    3. We do ?not treat humans as possessions … or pets.
    4. We do ?not imprison the children when the parents fail each other

    ooooops… that was a flashback to 40 years ago……. I forgot…
    …….we NOW have the conditions that existed in the 5th century B.C. ( when the Hippocratic Oath emerged)
    we “DO” …. DO ……all of those things 🙁

    1.do you think a simple ” change of mind” will correct it?
    2. do you think a simple “change of lifestyle” will correct it?
    3. do you think that even if it seems impossible to change it…. that you should STOP trying?

    Do I hear a NO? …. now that is something I can agree with 🙂

  • Alex Bruce

    This is not only a US issue – its international!! Canada is no better than the US. Australia, UK etc. are all bad. Basically men are disposable.

  • Sandy Stewart Bouzianis

    Thanks Holly, I watch in pain every day the fight over my granddaughter and how it is effecting my little sweet grandchild. This could be the “Best Law for The Child” Shared Custodity ( my spelling isn’t that great but my heart is in the right place) my son is a wonderful father and his daughter cries her heart out from so little time he gets her. When Oh when is going to be all about the ” Best interest of the Child”??

  • Shantá Smith

    I am badly in need of rescue. I am a woman. A mother. I have been almost completely alienated from my two daughters (11 & 14.) Although I understand I am partially to blame for trusting my ex husband would never swindle me like this. I should have had a legal agreement drawn up. However, in my defense, it’s hard to find the money for that when you’re braced for a life of homelessness. I refused to allow my girls to experience that lifestyle. So I flew them across country to live with their father until I was stable again. Worst day of my life. I flew back home with worried prayers in my heart and tears flooding my eyes. My girls rarely ever left my side. Life has never been the same since.

    When I managed to get grounded again, I was optimistic that our verbal agreement would be upheld and my could come home to me. Sadly, I was mistaken. My ex decided to file for custody and won. He never let me know there was court date. Papers he did have served to me were sent to my former address. So he won his case by default. I knew nothing of any of this until well after everything was done.

    Eventually, I moved across the country to be closer to my babies. Although, I was stable again, I could not afford the battle from where I was. I have lived 20 – 25 mins away from them, going on 4 years now. I have seen the 5 times this and twice was accidentally or by chance. I pay an outrageous amount in support that can’t afford. But I pay anyway even though he makes 5 times my salary. On top of that, I can’t afford a lawyer. I’ve had 3 pro bono lawyers walk away, saying this case required more time than they can offer. I have to be understanding of that but it’s always a hard pill to swallow. Not sure what to do at this point.