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Commentary: Moving beyond ‘visitation’ for fathers

by Jeffery M. Leving – DOWNLOAD PDF

The biggest victims of the sexual revolution and the “liberation” of women have been the children of this nation.

Most critical social analysis of the American family focuses on the benefits that children of married parents receive. Although returning to the days when intact, healthy families were the norm would seemingly be a wonderful panacea, it isn’t a reality today.

Societal trends which have discouraged marriage may be difficult to overcome. However, the legal trends that have encouraged divorce and disenfranchised fathers from meaningful participation in the lives of their children could be overcome.

The first solution is to make sure that fathers are not simply occasional visitors in their children’s lives.

It is important to point out that children of intact, healthy marriages are becoming more of the exception than the rule. But where parents have been unable to live together as a married or an unmarried couple, there should be a significant level of judicial support to encourage both parents to share equally in the joys and responsibilities of parenthood. Shared parenting through meaningful joint custody, and not “visitation,” should be the norm. Neither parent should be incorrectly pushed into the role of a visitor.

The second area of solutions is needed as a result of our legal system disenfranchising fathers from their children through a mechanistic application of child support laws. Fathers are often kicked to the curb by the legal system for alleged failures to pay child support. Before a dispute even reaches the courts, mothers often use visitation interference as a weapon to extort money from fathers. Fathers who hit hard times can easily fall victim to a system that continues to impute incredible arrearages simply because a father did not know that he had to go to court to seek an abatement in support immediately upon losing employment.

Laws need to be enacted that will enable arrearages to be equitably adjusted, upon real proof of unemployment, and without legal counsel or unnecessary trips to court. Without meaningful reform of child support laws, fathers who have hit upon hard times and find themselves unable to pay child support at a level they can no longer afford can wind up incarcerated for contempt of court. This further serves to separate them and alienate them from their children.

Finally, our courts need to give more than passing lip service to the “best interests of the children” philosophy. Often cases involving custody, whether between married or unmarried parents, are litigated when mediation would be a far more humane alternative.

Father absence is a source of a number of ills facing our children. Greater involvement and engagement of fathers into the lives of our nation’s children will work wonders on many fronts.

Jeffery M. Leving is the author of “Fathers’ Rights”, “Divorce Wars” and the newly released book “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad.”