Thursday, June 8, 2017

jointly speaking

Ah, the joys of joint custody. Our culture seems to smile happily and vapidly at the notion of 50/50 joint custody. In our minds, we are happy to see fathers finally participating in their children's lives. Mothers have overwhelmingly joined the workplace, so they have more freedom to do their jobs. It gives them more time to date and pursue other interests, right? It's a good thing.
I'd say this is the exception and not the rule, for the simple reason that "joint" custody is much of the time, anything but.
We need to separate out what joint custody is in practice and what it is in name. In practice, joint custody involves two people who are not out to demean or subjugate the other through family court, who prioritize support of the children, who do not wish to financially cripple the other, and who, for all intents and purposes, understand the larger picture of a child's life. They understand that while they may not get what they want all of the time, that their child's well-being and happiness are more important than their own wishes and desires. It isn't about the demands of one parent.  My first ex took my kids to eat at McDonald's occasionally. While I ran a relatively health-foody tight ship, he took the kids to McDonald's. Is that worth my time and energy? Hell no. I can grumble and complain and have my feelings about such things to others, but in the scheme of things, it means nothing. It was a happy moment for my kids.  I'm sure he was not happy with some of my parenting decisions either. His relationship with his grown children now is a good one. This, to me, is what joint parenting looks like: jointly meeting the children's needs without destroying and demeaning their other parent. Having the goal of giving your kids a good life, together, because that is your responsibility.
But I get the sense that many of the fathers who vehemently-as in initiating a court battle- fight for 50/50 and even sole custody have an ulterior motive: getting out of child support. 50/50 came out of the father's rights initiative, so it was an initiative very much aimed against mothers as a group.
Kids are expensive. 50/50 arrangements with no child support aren't even considering that the only expense you save on while your child is not there is food. And for the average child, we are talking one hundred dollars a month that 50/50 saves a single mother on meals. One hundred dollars. On the low end, it costs nearly eleven hundred dollars a month to raise a child. That includes housing, clothing, and food. That number is low, for divorced parents have to pay for their own housing. So, if a single mother has no help with housing, the only thing 50/50 saves her is one hundred dollars a month per child. Anyone who is a parent knows that that is a drop in the bucket and barely noticed.
It becomes an even more acrid medicine to burn the throat when one considers the ongoing pay gap.
It becomes too big to gulp down when one sees a man's rich family deliberately stand by when there is material need in their children's and grandchildren's lives; who even work to destabilize another parent out of spite, and who help hide money. There are parents who infantilize their grown children and enable their irresponsibility and dishonesty.
And it cannot sit on my stomach when that same man cries, "I'm poor, I'm poor! I can't, I can't!" and wears his fine shoes and takes plenty of vacation time and has a mattress full of hundreds. And he doesn't care that those hundreds were won on the backs of his own children.
It's facetious and deceptive because those are the fathers who do not actively participate in parenting responsibilities during marriage. They leave the majority of the heavy lifting and daily work and guidance of the children to the mother. These are the dads who are off playing basketball, having dinner with friends, shirking responsibilities of home, and walk in like they hung the moon. But once divorced, he makes up a story that changes history. "I changed ALL the diapers. I made ALL the meals. I did ALL the driving. She was NEVER around." They criticize the mother and make sure everyone knows her shortcomings, despite the fact that she had little help from him. Through the courts and this changing of history, he can use his male role status to gain more time with the children. This sudden change in parenting allows him to pay less or no child support, and is, of course, not representative of any relationship he developed with his children. It reflects not an investment in his children, not a desire to actually be a father. I'm sure there is some benefit to the children finally getting their father voluntarily, whereas before, his participation was spotty and inconsistent. I'm sure there is a part of these fathers that does actually care for a child, way, way, way outside of their selfishness and awareness. But that is not the ultimate motive. The ultimate motive is two-fold: to demonstrate superiority and show that he can perform "mother" even better than "Mother" can, effectively diminishing her role that HE established during the relationship, and then withhold financial support from her. He cannot appreciate the bigger picture of how he is actually withholding support from the children. It's a move meant to punish and demean the mother and it becomes yet another lie she is forced to live.
Because we are constantly asked to live with these lies. It's infuriating. We hold the truth, the antidote to fantasies we are asked to swallow like good children. We know the truth, and it is taken from us systematically and replaced with mythologies.
But we know, we KNOW, no matter how many times the words are used, that this is not joint custody. It is a continuation of an abuse dynamic set out during the marriage. It is merely a property arrangement. It is petty. Let's not sentimentalize it or sugar coat it by calling it "joint" custody where there is a parent hostile to the other. One person who is demeaning another cannot co-parent; they can only tolerate control. It then becomes a situation where one parent is put in a protective position against the other's aggression, and where she is protective, she is blamed. This is worse than just a "less than ideal" situation for the children. This has lowered the bar to the whole family having to sacrifice their needs and rearrange their lives due to the selfishness and incapacities of one parent.
So, there is, in the situation of court imposed "joint" custody, nothing "joint." A supposed "fair" arrangement ends up lopsided for the parent who didn't initiate a court war. Symmetrical is not the same as fair. It leaves her without money, without a help in raising children, and having to witness her children be mindlessly shuffled to a place where she is shut out. "Mother",at the wishes of the father, is mutually exclusive of "Father". So the children lose because they will never have a good example of collaboration on their behalf; and never be able to fully realize their own needs during their childhood.

"Psychological researchers who have expressed negative opinions about joint custody include, among others, Anna Freud and Judith Wallerstein. A major problem according to Wallerstein, is that the child lives life in a "no man's land." Having children routinely shift as a temporary resident between two households that have other permanent members who "really" live there full time presents a destructive outlook for a child, damaging of identity and self-esteem. It is ironic that the fathers' rightsters who complain about not wanting to be a "visitor" in their child's life, and therefore demand 50-50 joint custody, do not seem to recognize that their solution not only renders their child a continuous visitor shifting between two households, but also that the child then does not even have a home from which to return."

So where does this idea that a forced 50/50 arrangement is so great for the children come from? Where does the idea come from that it is in any way collaborative or healthy?

There is plenty more research at the Liz Library that shows it is not:
""[Presumption of joint custody] legislation increased the number of motions to modify or enforce parenting time or child custody... the number did increase significantly (and almost doubled) following enactment of the statute. Most of these motions were to change custody or visitation, not to enforce parenting time... If the desire of the legislation was to make it easier for unhappy parents to enforce their visitation time, its purpose was clearly not met...
"Constitutionalizing child custody, or litigating in terms of individual parents' rights, is likely to harm children in many ways. They may end up living with a parent more interested in punishing the former spouse than in doing what the child needs. They may have less money with which to live, as a child support settlement for lower than the guideline amount pays off a parent claiming joint custody, or if a joint custody solution is ordered but not actualized, or if scarce resources are expended on pre or post-divorce litigation."

- Brinig, Margaret (2005). Does Parental Autonomy Require Equal Custody at Divorce? The University of Iowa College of Law, University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper Number 05-13 April, 2005

So "joint custody" in the most collaborative, conscious sense of the word is a joke. 50/50 being presumed is not always in the best interests of the child, and that is a smokescreen anyway for the interests of the one contentious  parent. It also increases income in the divorce industry. Money and greed are powerful motivators.
Divorce is always hard on a child. There are always issues that are going to need to be worked through. But a child should be able to heal that wound in the safest place with their primary parent, not be suddenly shuffled so a man can have rights. Those children sacrifice their rights to a supported time of healing, access to their mother, to stability in their lives. They will learn to suppress their intuition and that they are not heard. They will learn there are consequences if one parent doesn't get their way. They will see one parent being punished, obstructed, and demeaned. 
Joint custody does not fix those situations. It just makes it harder for everyone except the person who is litigating it.

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