The Honorable Connie Morella
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D. C.
Dear Congresswoman Morella,
As a young man growing up in Texas during the era of school desegregation, I was exposed to my share of bigotry and ignorance. African Americans, I was told, are genetically inclined to be lazy, dishonest, and violent. African Americans were not allowed to vote, unless they could pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax, which frequently was impossible. Rarely, if ever, did African Americans hold elected office, own homes, or send their children to college.
While the races do not yet enjoy equality of opportunity, I had mistakenly allowed myself to fall into the happy belief that the wholesale stereotyping of groups of people on the basis of false beliefs, bigotry, and ignorance was a thing of the past. This belief was shattered when a friend sent me a copy of your H. R. Con. Res. 182, “A concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress with respect to child custody, child abuse, and victims of domestic and family violence.” The resolution, which borrows heavily from NOW’s Anti-Father Resolutions of 1996, would wave a magic wand over the custody problems of children in divorced families, and make them substantially worse.
Mrs. Morella, I am a divorced father, and my three teenaged daughters are the light of my life. I don’t have custody of them at the moment, although I did ask for joint custody after my ex-wife divorced me, while she asked for sole custody. According to your resolution, this makes me equivalent to a wife-beater, doesn’t it?
This is, after all, the implication of your resolution’s assertion that “fathers who abuse their children’s mothers are more likely to dispute custody and visitation than are fathers who are not violent.” I’ve heard this statement before, although a few of the terms have changed. It used to be “blacks are more likely to rape than whites,” and it was used to justify mob lynching, in much the same way that your resolution seeks to kick ALL fathers, not just a small number of abusive fathers, out of their children’s lives after divorce.
To top it off, it’s not even factual: only seven percent of “batterers” sought any form of custody in the Liss and Stahly study “Domestic Violence and Child Custody” (printed in Hansen and Harway, “Battering and Family Therapy, A Feminist Perspective”, Sage, 1993) while Maccoby and Mnookin (“Dividing the Child”, Harvard University Press, 1995) reported that custody is contested in nearly fifty percent of divorces overall. Abusers don’t want custody, Mrs. Morella, they want fresh victims.
Please understand that the relationship of parents and children is created by God and protected by the United States Constitution as a “fundamental liberty interest.” It is not something to be lightly discarded, absent good cause and due process, and certainly not in the name of misguided and misinformed attempts at social engineering.
Parents who seek to continue in the same responsible roles they played for their children in the intact family should not be stigmatized as wife-beaters, potential wife-beaters, or “acting like wife-beaters;” they should be hailed as heroes for enduring the trauma and the expense of custody proceedings, they should be supported by the state, and they should be counseled, educated, and helped through low-conflict legal mechanisms such as mediation, which produce better long-range results for the children than the litigation your resolution seeks to entrench.
Are you aware, Mrs. Morella, that the Census Bureau reports that parents with Joint Custody pay over 90% of their court-ordered child support, while parents who don’t see their children pay less than 45%? Are you aware that parents who have their children ripped out of their lives suffer high rates of unemployment and mental illness, as a direct consequence of this action? Are you aware that, compared to children in two-parent families, children in the sole custody of a single parent are:
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 32 times more likely to run away
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of school
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
- 9 times more likely to end up in a state operated institution
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison
- 5 to 30 times more likely to suffer child abuse
[Editor’s note: See our statistics page for sourcesof these figures.]
Please consider that the world created by your resolution is many times more likely to be brutal, violent, and filled with hatred and bigotry than the one we live in today, contrary, I believe, to your intentions.
Domestic violence is certainly a serious issue, in all of its forms: spousal and partner violence, child abuse, and elder abuse, and I agree with you that government’s intervention has so far been ineffective, resulting in little more than a modest decline in the number of husbands murdered by wives over the last twenty years. I don’t believe, however, that your prescriptions are the right ones.
A friend of mine, Erin Pizzey, has been working on this problem since she founded in 1971 the world’s first shelter for battered women, “Chiswick Women’s Aid” in London, and since she wrote the first book on domestic violence, “Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear.” Mrs. Pizzey has told me that there is most often no connection between the violence of a couple toward each other and violence against their children. Very often, she tells me, she has been able to create a loving relationship between father and child, once they are removed from the “mother’s chaos.”
Lenore Walker confirms this in “The Battered Woman,” where she reports that while a third of both battered wives and abusive husbands have physically abused their children, the remaining two-thirds have not. There is no basis in the research for the belief implicit in your resolution that automatically kicking fathers out of their children’s lives upon a divorce filing will make things better for the children. If only it were that easy.
States have considered the “primary caretaker presumption,” and have generally rejected it. In California, this happened as recently as 1996. It was a well-considered rejection, led by two mothers with experience as family law attorneys. The “best interest” test has to prevail, Mrs. Morella, or we chain children to abusive but marginally fit mothers with no one to take their side, to keep their watch, and to protect them from the boyfriends, lovers, and step-fathers who will inevitably take their turn at mother’s side. As a recent Heritage Foundation study shows, children living with a mother and a cohabiting boyfriend are 33 times more likely to suffer child abuse than children living with both of their natural parents.
Sharing is a virtue, and a difficult value to teach our children. Let us not shrink from the serious responsibilities we face as parents, and you face as a lawmaker, to help our children come to embrace high challenges and strong values through our proper nurturing, guidance, love and support. Parents we learn to share custody of children model this value for their children, to the great benefit to all concerned. Parents unwilling to share, communicate, and cooperate deserve a lower status, but only when they have proved themselves obstructive.
Please withdraw your resolution before it adds fuel to the fires of revenge burning within the souls of those few divorced parents – and the professional Father-bashers – who seek to use our children as pawns to advance their own interests.
Coalition of Parent Support
10811 Alderbrook Lane
Cupertino, CA 95014
Honorable Co-authors of H. R. Con. Res. 182
Honorable Members of the House Judiciary Committee
Coalition of Parent Support Board of Directors
Honorable Anna Eshoo
Honorable Tom Campbell
Honorable Newt Gingrich
Honorable Dick Gephardt
This letter published with permission of the author.