By Dianna Thompson
Executive Director, American Coalition for Fathers and Children
President, ACFC California Chapter
Editor, Fathers & Families magazine

When a father sees his child less than half of the time, there are many women who lose. Grandmothers, aunts, and sisters lose the chance to build a relationship with and contribute to the lives of the child. The ex-wife loses a parenting partner. And the child (who as likely as not is female), loses a male role model that the evidence shows she needs.

Seen in this light, the phrase "fathers' rights" seems somewhat inadequate. The issue here isn't simply fathers' rights or mothers' rights but the right of children to have two parents actively involved in their lives. All of the studies show us that social pathologies like dropping out of school, criminality, and suicide are much more likely when children have only one parent. But we don't need statistics to tell us what should be obvious. Children don't choose divorce, parents do. It is up to parents (to us) to do everything possible to see that children suffer as little as possible as a result of the decision to divorce. Parents can go their separate ways, but children still need active contact and involvement with both parents. Children, need, deserve, and want shared parenting.

Society has changed quite a bit in the past forty years. Women are in the workforce as never before. Men are increasingly taking active roles in childrearing and in the household, and many are working out of their homes so that they can be there for their children. But our family law system doesn't seem to have noticed, adhering to an outdated, 1950s vision of the family which identifies mom as the real parent, and dad as merely the source of financial support. Current statistics show that 64% of the time mothers are awarded sole custody, even when the fathers are the primary caretakers during the marriage. We need to eliminate the idea of fathers as non-parents from the thinking of our legislators, judges, and the public. It robs children of the chance to have two parents, and certainly doesn't serve their best interests. Most disturbing to fathers is when a father who has been the primary caretaker throughout their children's lives loses custody, and the custodial parent continues her career and places the children in day care rather than in his care while she works (a decision which the father pays for both emotionally and financially).

Being a parent requires sacrifices (instead of indulging our own whims and desires) we must make decisions based on the children's best Interests But there is a tremendous financial incentive that discourages many Custodial parents from reaching a shared parenting agreement. The less time a father spends with his children the more money the custodial parent will receive child support. In addition, one parent, usually the father, is ordered to pay the other parent's attorney, as well as for the children's attorney and therapy fees. As a result there are too many people who have a vested financial interest in dragging cases on for years rather than negotiating the shared parenting arrangements most beneficial to children. Divorce has become a billion dollar industry at our children's expense.

The fathering deficit is more serious than the federal one, and while is true that too many men are shirking their responsibilities as fathers, it also true that the fathers who do want to be actively involved in the upbringing of their children have incredible barriers thrown in front of them. There are thousands of fathers who all share the same problem: their visitation is being denied and their children are being concealed from them, and there nothing that they can do about it. If a father doesn't pay court-ordered child support he goes to jail, but if visitation (which is equally important to children's well-being), is denied, there are no repercussions for the custodial parent. Instead, the noncustodial parent is faced with another court battle, on which is likely to be unsuccessful. Still, the fathers continue to fight these battles as long as they are financially able. In too many cases the end of the war means the end of the children's relationship with their father.

The last decade has seen a tremendous amount of misguided legislation, and too many fathers are being driven out of their children's lives. The anti-father bias of the legal system is reinforced by bizarre myths, such as the notion that married fathers constitute the vast majority of child and wife abusers, and that child support orders are more important for children's well-being than equal parenting time. The welfare system tempts women in struggling marriages to dump their husbands. No one benefits except for lawyer for whom family law has become a full-employment program. The reality is that after thirty years of experimentation with the idea of the disposable father, over 50% of children go without a father for at least part of their childhood. The changes have left women poorer and children more at risk, and have robbed men of their most noble calling.

We need to stop making divorce a gender war, and start dealing with teh ongoing problems that children of divorce can experience if their relationship with one parent is terminated. Feminists who are truly concerned about equality mut encourage the maximum involvement of both parents in all aspects of childrearing. Women need to be concerned about fathers' rights: the fate of men and women and their children are inextricably bound. Blame and selfishness have no place in teh courtroom, especially when our children are involved. Lawyers can earn a living while benefitting families and communities.

Our children are grieving. Fatherlessness is a national tragedy, doesn't have to be this way. The war on fathers, which is really a war on children, has to stop. For children, the best parent is both parents.