Fathers Groups Support Divorced Dads
Fathers Rights: Groups Want Shared Parenting, More Time with Children
Most father’s rights groups in the United States say they only want one thing: equal parenting time.But across the country, these organizations, made up of non-custodial parents ” mostly fathers ” are vilified as only wanting to shirk their child support obligations and create a losing situation for their children.
I consider it a marketing accomplishment along the lines of bottled water,” says Dr. Ned Holstein, the executive director of Fathers and Families, a Massachusetts-based family court reform organization.The idea, of course, is that somehow bottled water “ called glorified tap water” by some consumer groups–is selling at a cost that exceeds the price of gasoline.
And yet people are as likely to buy overpriced tap water as they are to believe that groups who support father’s rights just want to escape child support. We do fully believe that children need to be supported, both emotionally and financially,” says Dr. Holstein who started Fathers and Families a decade ago after it became clear to him following his own divorce that fathers were not being treated fairly by the United States family courts. My curiosity was piqued because I am a divorced father.”
According to their Web site, the organization’s primary goal is to change society’s institutions that create so many casualties in the first place. We are an advocacy organization, an organization that fights to change an unjust system. We also minister to the needs of individual fathers and grandparents to the extent possible, but this is a secondary activity.”
After his own divorce, Dr. Holstein quickly realized just how lucky he had been when he met other fathers who had the standard visitation model: every other weekend and a few hours on a weekday. I was one of the rare fathers who got joint legal and physical custody,” says Holstein whose relationship with his two children, now grown, was able to thrive and prosper because of joint custody. Many of the fathers Holstein met were not as fortunate.
They felt distant from their children and their children felt distant without them, Holstein says.Fathers and Families sprang out a need for social action, Holstein says.Ten years later, the organization is going strong with more than 4,000 members and a full staff. Fathers and Families is dedicated to the promotion of social change,” Dr. Holstein says.
In Illinois, a similar organization, the Children’s Rights Council of Illinois, also promotes shared parenting as a means to greater success for children. The real issue is about the right of children to enjoy a meaningful parent-child relationship with both their parents and to not have either relationship diminish unless one of the parents is either proven in court to be unfit or is simply disinterested in their parenting role,” says Mike Doherty, chair of CRC-IL.
Many of these organizations shy away from the term, father’s rights organizations” because of the stigma attached. Instead, CRC-IL describes themselves as an organization dedicated to children’s rights.For some, this idea is hard to swallow.In 1997, Gloria Woods, the former President of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) denounced the agenda of many father’s rights groups in an article entitled Fathers Rights Groups: Beware Their Real Agenda.”
She wrote: Michigan NOW opposes forced joint custody for many reasons: it is unworkable for uncooperative parents; it is dangerous for women and their children who are trying to leave or have left violent husbands/fathers; it ignores the diverse, complicated needs of divorced families; and it is likely to have serious, unintended consequences in child support.”
But according to Doherty, joint custody is almost surely better for the children, a theory their entire organization is based around. A group of us, all non-custodial parents, met and shared our shocked realizations about how our court system dealt with children of divorce,” Doherty says. We felt compelled to change the system for the sake of future generations of children of divorced and separated parents in our state.”
Doherty says that his children were suffering from sustained trauma brought on by needless parental loss, even as we lived in close proximity to them.” Additionally, judicial practices in our family courts routinely resulted in one parent relegated to a marginal role in their children’s life, despite a 1977 state statute that promoted the maximal involvement of both parents,” Doherty says. These judicial policies seemed to ignore many studies that substantiated the benefits of the importance of both parents in the lives of children, regardless of marital status.”
Countless studies have shown that children who are denied access to one of their parents are at risk for many of the ills associated with fatherlessness, such as delinquency, drug use, and aberrant social behavior amongst youth in general,” Doherty says. We recognized that this was all way wrong for kids and something needed to be done about it.”
CRC-IL advocates for children, not for father’s, Doherty says. It is about how the children of divorce are being dealt with by our family court system, not about the rights of fathers.”
In Pennsylvania, Families and Children’s Equality (FACE) doing similar work, advocating for children and for non-custodial parents. We are a self-help support group,” says David Nelson, current president of the organization.FACE was founded in 1978 and their mission is to promote shared parenting. We want to preserve the dynamic that used to exist in two-parent families,” Nelson says. Raising children under the best of circumstances is difficult. We just want the pendulum to rest in the middle so children do not suffer.”
FACE has thousands of members all over the state of Pennsylvania, although an exact number is hard to track, Nelson says.When it comes down to it, what the members all want is the same: equality in the family courts. If parents are more involved with their children, they are more likely to pay child support,” Nelson says. But the children are also less likely to fall victim to many societal ills.”
And while changes have moved rather slowly, Nelson is hopeful that things are indeed shifting. I think the government will pass legislation that guarantees the rights of our children,” he says. The fundamental right to raise our children is guaranteed under the constitution.Now we just need public policy that holds true to our values as a country.”