Many people strongly believe that there is still a gender bias against fathers in the family court system when it comes to child custody. Is there any truth to this belief? What do divorce statistics show? And what can a father do to protect himself from the court’s prejudice and remain bonded with his children after divorce?
If a father believes that he has been treated unfairly in court, this podcast on child custody and gender bias offers steps he can take to remain an equal parent after divorce.
In this podcast, Cathy and Dan share their experiences with custody and parenting after their own divorce. They offer opinions from the perspective of both genders, including the importance of divorced fathers in their children’s lives.
You’ll hear tips to help you handle conflict, frustration, and differing co-parenting styles – as well as some of the secrets to successful co-parenting. Finally, Cathy offers a list of critical questions to ask yourself before making any decisions regarding divorce and parenting.
Host: Dan Couvrette, CEO and Publisher of Divorce Magazine and DivorcedMoms.com
Speaker: Cathy Meyer, Master Certified Coach (MCC), Certified Legal Investigator and Marriage Enrichment Coach
Cathy Meyer‘s main focus is to help create positive change for those experiencing divorce. Cathy is an original founder and the Managing Editor of DivorcedMoms.com, where she works closely with other divorce professionals and divorced moms who also write about divorce. DivorcedMoms.com is the Internet’s largest community dedicated to empowering women through the divorce process and has 5,000,000 page views per year. She has blogged for the Huffington Post and appeared on several Huffington Post Live segments.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
Child Custody Gender Bias in the Family Court System
Dan Couvrette: My name is Dan Couvrette. I’m the CEO of Divorce Magazine and Family Lawyer Magazine, And today I’m meeting with Cathy Myers, who is the editor of www.DivorcedMoms.com. She has also been a divorce coach for 10 years. Today we’re going to talk about whether there is bias or not for fathers having custody of their children as they go through a divorce. Cathy will share some information about the statistics on this matter, and we’ll talk about how fathers can grow their relationships with their children, even if they are divorced.
First, I’ll give you a bit of my background, I started publishing Divorce Magazine in 1996. I’ve been in the divorce area for 20 years, I’ve worked with many professional lawyers, accountants, mental health professionals, etc. I’ve developed a great amount of knowledge to help divorcing people, which you’ll find on www.DivorceMagazine.com. You’ll also find information on www.DivorcedMoms.com, which we also own.
Cathy, welcome to our seminar and please tell the folks a little bit about yourself.
Cathy Meyer: My name is Cathy Meyer. I am a certified master coach. For a little over 10 years I’ve worked with coaching clients and individuals who are going through the divorce process. My work there was related to helping people navigate and accept and process the divorce process itself and come out the other end and in a better frame of mind. Now I am the managing editor of www.DivorcedMoms.com, which enables me to work with divorce professionals, divorce experts, and divorced women curating content and resources and tips. And we, of course, publish it all online for any divorced mom or woman who needs help.
You wrote an article a couple years ago for the Huffington Post, and it was called Dispelling the Myth of Gender Bias in the Family Court System. We’re going to give you an opportunity just to give our listeners a brief overview of what the article was about and what conclusions you came to as a result of your research in this area.
I wrote the article based on research that I had done. There’s not much research out there. There was one particular research study done by Pew Research. It talked about not only custody issues but the behaviors of fathers after divorce. One interesting thing I found out about the gender bias towards mothers in family court was that the statistics don’t hold that to be true. 91% of all custody cases are decided in negotiations between the parents without any interference of the court. That leaves 9% that are decided either after a custody evaluation or after a judge has heard the case. We don’t know what percentage of that 9% provides custody to fathers. So after thinking about it, you have to come to the conclusion, is that gender bias with the court? Or is it self-inflicted gender bias?
What do you mean by self-inflicted gender bias?
Are father’s not seeking custody because they think they’re not going to win custody? Fathers who are going through a divorce, they go online, and they do research and they find the men’s movements groups, and it’s all about the gender bias and the courts and they’re going to shy away because they’re being told that there’s this bias, so they’re not going to win, they might as well not even try. There’s also this patriarchal attitude that men are breadwinners, women are caretakers. You have roles in marriage, and even in today’s society, we still have those different gender roles in marriage. The women are caretakers and nurturers, the men are breadwinners. That role has a tendency to carry through to the divorce process. I think that 91% of men who voluntarily say: okay, mom gets custody, I will take visitation, do so because they have that thought process that they are the breadwinner, she’s the caretaker. They don’t understand that they are also nurturers, they can be as nurturing as a mother can be. So they voluntarily step back. And when I say self-imposed, I think it’s more societal-imposed.
It’s happened over all of our history. I went through my divorce 22 years ago, and the standard back then was that fathers, in most cases, had the children on Wednesday night and every second weekend, and that was probably 99% of divorce cases. Now, is there not more of a general feeling that a starting place could be or should be looked at as at least 50/50?
There really is. There are no laws that require that be a starting place. But judges have discretion and most states are moving that way. They begin with 50/50 custody and then if you want something different, you need to prove why it should be different. And in my opinion, that’s a good thing. No fault divorce laws took away our ability to say I’ve been wronged or to defend ourselves against some wrong, but as a mother in most courts in the United States, you can’t walk into a courtroom today assuming you’re going to walk out with child custody. Because judges are viewing the situation differently. And that’s helpful in changing those societal patriarchal views of women as nurturers and men as breadwinners.
So we need to change men’s point of view because it’s bad that men are actually spending less time with their children than they were before the divorce. And I guess as a consequence, mothers are spending more time with the children after a divorce. Can you just talk about those statistics for a moment in terms of how much time men were spending with their children before the divorce and how much time they’re spending with their children after the divorce?
51% of men are spending either more than one day a week with their children or four days a month with their children. So when you divide up your ability to parent on, well, I get this day every week or I get these days every month, you really do become a visitor in your child’s life. 27% of divorced dads disappear all together. I’ve heard men say, we disappear, because we’ve been sidelined. I don’t buy that excuse because even if you feel sidelined, even if you only end up with Wednesday nights and two weekends a month, that’s still an opportunity to play a role in your child’s life. And no one should ever walk away from the opportunity to play a role in their child’s life.
What can men do? I guess they have to do something right from the outset in terms of really demanding or requesting to get 50%, or at least let everybody know that they want to have 50% access or custody of their children. Would that be the place to start?
That would be the place to start. The place to start is the moment a divorce is filed. I write articles about all aspects of life. My most popular articles are about how marital assets are divided and how to deal with conflict. The articles I write about co parenting and children are my least read articles. They should be the ones that people are reading. When I first started writing, I thought, okay, children and divorce, this is going to be a popular topic, but it’s not. And I think to myself, does that mean people don’t care? Men especially, or do they just give up from the start? They hear this propaganda from online groups that it’s biased, that they have no chance. But if you hire a divorce attorney and tell that divorce attorney that you want to go for 50/50 custody of your children and that attorney tells you there’s no way you can win it, hire yourself another divorce attorney.
If he’s not even willing to put up the fight and stand your ground for you, then it’s not a good place to start.
You want an attorney who is an advocate for you and your relationship with your children.
At the same time, you’re trying to create an amenable relationship with your ex-spouse, so we’re not promoting that you want to go to battle, but you do have to stand your ground. There’s a difference between being in an unnecessary war and being a doormat. You want to stand up and protect your rights. You need to work with a professional, an experienced family lawyer, to have your best chance of securing the time that you really want to secure with your children not only for your own good, but also for the good of your children as well.
Well, let me bring up a thought that I had, and I’m not a man, so you can give me an opinion on this. Men don’t like conflict, so they get into the middle of a divorce situation. And they think: if I take this step, it’s going to cause conflict and money. So they let that thought process guide where they go and what steps they take in the divorce process. I think that’s something that men need to let go of. I don’t believe in adversarial divorce. I believe in putting our effort towards being civil to each other, especially if you have children. But if the only way to maintain the bond with your child is to become adversarial, you should not fear that.
I think that you’re right that the men tend to think of themselves as the breadwinners, even though we may have a spouse who’s also earning income in the family. Even if your wife is earning more money than you, that still doesn’t let the man off the hook. He doesn’t all of a sudden think that he doesn’t need to bring in money. There are, of course, exceptions. That’s the place where he comes from, at least speaking as a man and from men I’ve talked to. What happens is that a man probably would avoid conflict and give up his role as nurturer because he sees his primary role as being the one who supports the family financially. Again, it doesn’t always make sense, but that’s kind of the way we still see ourselves. So it makes it more difficult for us to put up a challenge because men tend to pick their fights and they’d rather pick the easiest fights or pick the fights that they have a better chance of winning. And if they feel that there’s a natural bias, or an inherent bias, or a court bias against them getting custody of their children, they probably think: that’s just one battle that I’d rather not fight. But you’ve got to fight the battle. You’ve got to stand up for yourself. You’ve got to protect your rights because you do have a right to spend as much time as you can with your children.
And I think it’s not only about fathers, it’s also about the children. Fight for the right of your child to have a father. I read a study once that said children learn empathy from their fathers, and I was blown away by that because how is that possible? Aren’t mothers the caretakers, the nurturers, the soft-hearted ones? But the more I read, the more understood. There are so many aspects of the paternal influence on a child that men fail to understand. And I think they just don’t view themselves as that impactful in their child’s life.
If somebody’s listening to us thinking that we’re father’s rights advocates, and we only care about fathers. That’s not true. We’re parents’ rights advocates, we see that each member of the marriage has an equal right to parent the child.
83% to 91% of custodial parents are mothers. They don’t need someone advocating for them.
We’re making the point that men have to advocate for themselves and they have to do other things as well, even if they don’t end up with a 50/50 custody arrangement. What are some suggestions that you have to keep men in the game, to keep them connected with their children? So even if at the beginning it’s not a 50/50 relationship arrangement, what can men do to keep themselves in the game – for their own purpose and for helping their children?
If you don’t get 50/50 custody, you’re going to walk away with the divorce decree outlining what you do get. If it’s every Wednesday night for dinner, and every other weekend, you never miss a Wednesday night. Never miss a weekend. Put effort into building a civil relationship with your co-parent. Because the more civil you become with each other, the more it benefits the child. And the more willing the other co-parent is to work with you, the better the chance of you getting more time. You can talk to your child every day. You don’t have to see your child to talk to your child. If you have a child who has difficulty with homework, offer to help him or her with their homework via Google Hangout or Skype. That can take the place of actually being there. It tells the child that his or her dad cares enough for them to go out of his way to do this.
There are also things like parent-teacher interviews or going to a doctor or going to sporting events. These things can all keep you get more connected to your children and your children more connected to you. It can also be small things like making sure you get their report cards so you know exactly how they’re doing. And as you said earlier, making sure that you have as amenable a relationship as possible with your ex-spouse. And to have that you may need to do some personal work on yourself. You may need to go to counseling or therapy or join a group or talk to a close friend who you can confide in. And particularly for men, we tend not to want to share intimate information with anybody. So you have to be careful who you talk to about it. But you’ve got to do something.
I think we all find it hard to be vulnerable. But men especially, men are stoic. They want to “man up and carry on”. But when it comes to your relationship with your children, it affects your mental well being, and you have to pay attention. You have to be willing to reach out for help. If it’s nothing but sitting your brother down and saying, I’m not dealing with this, how do I deal with it? I need some help. There’s no shame in that.
For many men, and I include myself when I went through my own divorce 20 years ago, I did feel shame. I did feel like I wasn’t able to move through the process as well as I thought and hoped that I would. But the truth is you never know how you’re going to react to a situation that’s as dramatic as a divorce. You don’t know how you’re going to feel when you’re standing at the doorstep coming to pick up your children and your mind is still telling you that you’re attached to this other person and things should be easier and you should be able to share more feelings. You don’t have that partnership you used to have, your new job is to take care of your children. It took me a lot of personal development work, training, courses, and counseling to move me through the process. It is a challenging process. So I want to acknowledge to the people who are listening to this whether you’re a man or a woman I hope it’s easy for you. If it’s not then you just have to persevere and do whatever you have to get through it. You’re getting through it for yourself, you’re getting through it for your children, and you’re getting through it for the future of your family as well.
One thing I did want to mention, Cathy is that there is an opportunity in a divorce as well. We’re talking about how challenging it is, but there’s also an opportunity to to transform yourself personally to grow and develop. I know that’s a tough one to swallow if you’re starting out on your divorce. It seems like there’s no transformation possible there, there’s no hope possible there. But there really is if you take responsibility for your divorce, and work on yourself. There really is an opportunity to help yourself and your children. And I know you’ve had that experience as well in coaching people through their divorce.
A divorce doesn’t just happen. It takes two to make a marriage and it takes two to break a marriage. One side may have done 80%. But you still did your 20%. I honestly believe that it’s impossible to move on and heal after a divorce until we stop and do an internal investigation about what our role was, and take responsibility for the role we played in the divorce. If you talk to someone who is divorced for five years and they are still stuck and angry, it’s because that person has still not accepted responsibility for their role.
What about when a woman says, my husband didn’t spend much time with our children while we were married, why should he be given 50% of their time now that we’re divorced? Do you have an answer for that or a thought about that?
The simple answer is he should be given 50% because he no longer lives in the home and you’re divorced. Just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean he should have less access to the children. It goes back to the nurturer/breadwinner thing. In the majority of cases, dad is working longer hours than Mom. Dad looks at mom as the caretaker, the nurturer. He say:s I’m going to take care of my family. She’s taking care of the kids and he can come home from work at night and spend his hour with the kids and enjoy the kids and not worry about it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the children as much as mom loves the children. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the same kind of bond that mom has with the children. And it certainly doesn’t mean that just because you divorce, he doesn’t have a right to access his children.
Fortunately my former wife and I had a pretty amenable divorce and we weren’t fighting a lot. We both traveled so we had to share the children to help support our businesses and help our lives so we had more or less a 50/50 custody arrangement with our children. One of the things she mentioned to me one or two years after the divorce was that she actually appreciated having more free time to herself that she didn’t have before when we were married. She was always either with the children or with me, or the family was always around. She didn’t have much free time on her own. She found it difficult to actually deal with that free time and felt some guilt, actually quite a bit of guilt. But as time went on, she grew to appreciate it. Then she got into other interests and expanded and grew things that she wanted to grow and areas that she wanted to grow in as a result of it. So the opportunity is there not just for the men to grow and develop, but it’s also for the wife. If I can pass on any message, please see this as an opportunity. The fact is, you’re getting a divorce. In most cases, it’s not going to go back to the way it was. So embrace it and step forward, as Cathy said, and move on with your life, That would be the best you can do for yourself and for your children. Your ex will also benefit from that.
There’s this myth that children are resilient, the children will adjust. Well, as an adult, if you couldn’t adjust enough to live with your spouse, what makes you think that your children are going to magically be so resilient that they adjust with no problems too? All of a sudden, dad lives over here and I live over here with mom, it doesn’t happen that way. We make the mistake and think that children are resilient, but they’re not. When you go through the process with your child’s well being as your number one priority, you can’t leave,
Anything you want to say to sum things up Cathy, or any information that you want to impart that you think would be helpful for people listening?
My children don’t have a relationship with their father. He’s one of the 27% that’s absent. I’m passionate about 50/50 custody because I’ve seen the pain and the damage that my children have experienced due to having an absent father. I’m a firm believer that a father has as much right in their child’s life as a mother does and should, if at all possible, seek 50/50 custody. Don’t get on the line and buy into angry rhetoric about bias in the court system. Test it out for yourself. See what your personal experience is with it.
Dan Couvrette: I want to thank you for your time Cathy, and for people who are listening to this seminar, please take the opportunity to look at the other seminars that are on www.TheDivorceSchool.com. Also visit our other websites, including www.DivorceMag.com We also have our Children and Divorce Guide. There’s a wealth of information that will help you through your divorce. And as Cathy said, there’s a lot of information out there. The information that we present through our websites and seminars is vetted by professionals and/or people who are very experienced in the area of divorce. We hope it benefits you and your family. Thank you for your time.