Why Is Daddy in Jail?
--for the crime of wanting to see his child.
by Stephen Baskerville
In fact, about the most dangerous place for a child then is the home of a single mother. The HHS study reiterates the already well-established fact that children in single-parent homes are at much higher risk for physical and sexual abuse than those living in two-parent homes (up to thirty-three times higher when a live-in boyfriend or stepfather is present). As Maggie Gallagher sums it up in her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage: "The person most likely to abuse a child physically is a single mother. The person most likely to abuse a child sexually is the mother's boyfriend or second husband.... Divorce, though usually portrayed as a protection against domestic violence, is far more frequently a contributing cause."
At one time this may have been considered common sense, since two parents check one another's excesses and the father was seen as the children's natural protector. Not only has this role now become politically incorrect; the current system has managed to pervert it into a fault. What "male violence" does occur may well be the result of custody disputes more often than it is the cause, after all, since common sense would again suggest that fathers with no previous proclivity to violence could very well erupt when their children are arbitrarily taken from them. One is tempted to say this is what fathers are for: to become violent when someone interferes with their offspring. A 1997 study by Anne McMurray of the Griffith University School of Nursing in Australia that began with the express purpose to "provide definitive explanations for the violent behaviors of certain males," concluded that "regardless of the male's propensity toward violence" the circumstances most conducive to it arose "during the process of marital separation and divorce, particularly in relation to disputes over child custody, support, and access."
"These men," McMurray continues, "from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups, freely discussed episodes in which they had either planned, executed, or fantasized about violence against their spouses in retaliation for real or perceived injustices related to child custody, support, and/or access."
Interestingly, while violence against wives is well-publicized, the huge increase in violent attacks by fathers against judges and lawyers has gone completely unreported in the mainstream press. According to an article in the National Law Journal the year 1992 was "one of the bloodiest in divorce court history#150;a time when angry and bitter divorce litigants declared an open season on judges, lawyers, and the spouses who brought them to court."
NOW and others further attempt to defend the power to take children from their fathers by invoking popular but facile cliches about marital harmony, saying that "most studies report that joint custody works best when both parents want it and agree to work together" but that it "is unworkable for uncooperative parents." This tautological reasoning is of course simply an extension of assumptions that have long been invoked by parents of both sexes as self-justification for their wish to divorce. As such, fathers who have acquiesced in this casuistry have only themselves to blame now that it is being taken to its logical next step to justify rewarding the most belligerent of the "warring parents" and throwing the other out of the family altogether. After all, if an intact family or joint custody requires "agreement" and "cooperation" between parents, the most effective method for the parent who expects sole custody to sabotage either is to be as belligerent and uncooperative as possible.
In fact joint custody has repeatedly been demonstrated to reduce parental conflict for precisely this reason. A study by Judith Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households concluded that joint custody, even when imposed over the objection of one parent, reduces post-divorce conflict. Similarly, a study team headed by Braver found that "both child support compliance and paternal visitation were highest in those cases where joint custody was awarded against the mothers' wishes but in conformity with the fathers' wishes." The author concludes that these results demonstrate "the value of joint legal custody even when the couple does not initially agree to it. Joint custody appears to enhance paternal involvement, child support compliance, and child adjustment." Perhaps most important, it takes away much of the incentive to snatch the children in the first place. (Giving sole custody to the left-behind parent, as some have proposed, would naturally create a stronger deterrent.) For similar reasons, states with presumptive joint custody laws report significantly fewer divorces.
As for the connected tautology that that parental conflict in itself justifies divorce, this is seldom justified as far as children are concerned, as any child will tell you. "Children...can be quite content even when their parents' marriage is profoundly unhappy for one or both partners," write Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee in their 1996 book, Second Chances. "Only one in ten children in our study experienced relief when their parents divorced. These were mostly older children in families where there had been open violence and where the children had lived with the fear that the violence would hurt a parent or themselves."
Specious justifications for a system that spawns massive corruption, violates basic constitutional rights, destroys the homes and lives of innocent children, and leads to serious social ills thus carry the day because of our willingness to buy into cliches that disguise the reality and extent of what is taking place. We have sanitized a breathtaking injustice with buzzwords such as "divorce" and "custody battle" that imply mutual consent, when in most cases no such thing exists. However palatable we try to render this abuse, there is no escaping the central fact that it has very little to do with the needs of children and everything to do with the power of certain groups of adults.
But we either maintain a distinction between what is actionable in a court of law and what is not, or we simply haul people into court because we don't like their methods of child-rearing or, for that matter, because of our wish for a new boyfriend. Frightening as it may seem, using the courts and police to punish spouses for what may be nothing more than ordinary family disagreements now seems to be accepted without question, and the bottom line is that any father may now find himself pursued by federal agents because he protests the way his children have been taken from him.
Copyright © 1999 Stephen Baskerville. All rights reserved.
Stephen Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University.
Other pieces by this author
This article is reprinted from the Winter 1999 issue of The Women's Quarterly, a publication of the Independent Women's Forum (www.iwf.org). For information write email@example.com or call 800-224-6000.
Back to page one