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A Fathers Day Letter (A.D. 2000)


Opelika-Auburn News
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Opinion, Page 4A

A Prayer for Children and Families

On Father's Day 2000, the beginning of a new millennium, I offer a prayer for of our children.
    My prayer is that all of us—children, parents, courts, government, politicians---appreciate and acknowledge the importance and necessity of fathers. 
    The sad fact is that on this Fathers' Day millions of children will be unable to be with their father. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau data nearly 24  million American children (one out of three) are living without their fathers.
    There are many factors that contribute to fatherlessness in America.  One is a rise in the illegitimacy rate, which has increased substantially in the past several decades.  However, perhaps the greatest single cause of father absence is the legal system, in particular the gender-biased habits of family courts which persist in awarding sole maternal custody in most litigated cases.
    According to a 1997 report by Richard Kuhn and John Guidubaldi of the Washington-based Children's Rights Council, only 9.7% of fathers in Alabama were awarded physical custody versus 80% for mothers.  Although 10% of cases were awarded physical joint custody, the majority of these were actually de facto custody for mothers who were allowed the majority of time and decision making responsibilities.
    Moreover, the majority of non-litigated cases usually result in mother custody.  Many divorce attorneys persuade their male clients not to litigate for custody and to spare the expense and emotional stress of a custody battle.  As a result, the father acquiesces to accept the court's standard "visitation" plan, usually 4 days a month or alternate weekends, along with monthly child support to the mother.  The attorney knowingly counsels it is generally futile for a father to ask for custody.
    In 1997 there were 1.2 million divorces and approximately one-half involved children.  If it is estimated that that the average family has 1.8 children, then over 1 million children a year are newly affected by divorce.
    Because at least 80% of mothers are awarded sole custody outright in court and because most children remain in the custody of the mother in non-litigated divorces because of the unlikelihood legally of father custody, it follows that at least 90% of children are directly or indirectly separated from their fathers by our court system.  This is at least 900,000 children a year in the U.S. arbitrarily exiled, either directly or indirectly, from their fathers by the family court.
    This judicial bias must stop.  Aside from constitutional issues of equal rights violations, the family court's policies of father exile in most cases of divorce are socially irresponsible and damaging to children.  Numerous social problems involving children, ranging from illegitimacy to violent crime to teenage pregnancy and substance abuse, are directly linked to fatherlessness.
    This Fathers' Day let us pray that the courts temper their attitudes about parental responsibility with reason, compassion and fairness.  It is undeniable that children need BOTH parents, especially after the divorce.  Let the courts take the lead and encourage fatherhood by allowing fathers to be an active parent after divorce.  Let us pray that our courts encourage shared parenting and equal parenting whenever possible.
    If our courts behaved responsibly and acted truly in the best interests of our children by allowing both their father and mother to be parents to them after divorce rather than eliminating one parent from their lives, then perhaps millions more children in America would have a father with them on Father's Day.

Dr. Richard C. Weiss
Director, DADS of Alabama

Write to Dr. Weiss

See also:

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Posted 2000 06 20
Updates:
2000 12 23 (added links for additional reading)
2001 01 29 (format changes)
2007 11 03 (format changes)