Teachers and some other parents often comment on the civility of my ex-husband and me. I have been fortunate in the fact that I do not have an ex-husband who takes delight in making my relationship with my child difficult—there are some ex-husbands and ex-wives whose lives seem to revolve around that. I am also lucky in the fact that my ex-husband is now married to a very nice woman who gets along well with my son and doesn’t feel threatened by me.
The most difficult aspect of the equal-joint custody arrangement that my ex and I worked out years ago (on our own, without an attorney) was the way that I was judged for agreeing to share my child’s time with a man from whom I was divorced. A lot of people simply shrugged off the fact that he is my child’s father. They didn’t grasp that that fact alone—in the absence of any bad habits or dangerous behavior, of course—was reason enough to ensure that he’d able to maintain a real relationship with our son. They failed to understand that the child is more important than the union that produced him.
I have heard women say, “People will think there’s something wrong with me if I don’t get full custody” even though they themselves think that their ex-husbands are excellent fathers. As is always the case, it’s the child who suffers most from such lopsided thinking.
This cultural bias has its roots in the courts. We, as a culture, tend to judge as our judges judge. So when judges award parental rights to one parent and not to the other, some think that the court must have seen something wrong with the non-custodial parent. But that is misleading. First, many attorneys are simply not familiar with the option of equal-joint custody and do not have confidence in the court’s approval of it. Sometimes, wonderful parents end up with the smaller slice of the child’s time simply because the judge or the attorneys think that two people who’ve divorced are unlikely to be able to manage a shared-custody schedule. I can say from experience that one’s ability to be a spouse and one’s ability to parent are not one and the same. Terrible husbands and wives quite often are great fathers and mothers.
It’s a shame that our courts don’t put more faith in the possibility of equal-joint custody. It is one option that allows both parents to be fully involved in a child’s life. But when it comes to family law, our legislature and our courts seem bent on applying punishment rather than applying the healing balm of dignity, equality and peace.
This is also true in cases which do not involve divorce. In Georgia, as in many other states, if a woman is not married to the biological father of her child, that father’s rights are abridged. That is, the court sees a marriage certificate as more legally binding than a biological accident. But marriage can be as ill-considered as any one-night stand. And, for children, there is no difference between Mom and Dad having a legal document that binds them and not having one if both parents love that child. Unmarried, divorced or married, a parent is a parent—and children need good parents, whatever their marital status might be.
Georgia’s legislature takes up family law issues every session. No doubt more legislation aimed at control over our unions and families will be thrown at us by the General Assembly again this year. Already, House Bill 3 seeks to require the consent of the biological father before custody of a newborn is transferred to a third party. It might slow the adoption process, but it might be a way of recognizing the dignity of a parent who would otherwise be ignored because his union with the mother was not sanctioned by the state. It could also have repercussions for other legislation governing custody. If the child is, in fact, more important than the status of the union that produces the child, then biological parents should be granted every right granted to married parents.
SOURCE: The Sunday Paper