Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dads' Rights: Attorneys for Divorcing Dads

Andrew Jones was shocked when his wife started a child custody battle in 2014. The couple had separated five months earlier after, he says, he caught her in a series of extramarital affairs. They had agreed on an informal settlement: he moved from their 2,700 sq ft home into a mobile home, paid her $500 a month in child support and could spend equal time with their five- and three-year-old kids. When he received the letter with a court date, Jones was not hopeful.

“I felt like I wasn’t going to have a life,” says the 46-year-old who works as an HVAC technician. “I heard so many horror stories of divorce and how pretty much women get all your paycheques and you have no way to live.”

Jones (his last name was changed to protect the identity of his children) represented himself in court while his wife hired an attorney who he says is “well-known” in their North Carolina county for “getting women anything and everything they want in court”. The attorney, he says “kind of gives you the feeling that she hates men. That all men are dogs and men don’t want to be in their child’s lives.”

Jones nervously told the judge all he wanted was equal time with his kids. The following month, he received a letter from the court saying he owed $1,300 a month in child support – a payment that would be big stretch on his wage of $26 an hour. He had already cleared out his savings to pay off his and his wife’s combined debts, so to keep up with payments Jones sold his truck, $4,000 worth of tools, and stopped eating out or having a social life. But the money wasn’t even the worst part: he was only allowed to see his kids eight days out of the month.

“When you have kids it changes your life,” he says. “You can’t go without them and [when you do] it wears you down emotionally and physically.”

In family law, tales of fathers who pay exorbitant child support and rarely get to see their kids are commonplace. Recently, firms that specialize in men’s divorce have popped up all over America to capitalize on so-called gender-based discrimination in courts. While many family law firms have seen a drop in divorce filings, these niche attorneys claim business is thriving.

Yet their very existence is controversial. Critics claim any good lawyer is equipped to handle a man’s divorce and that instead of pushing for greater equality under the law, these firms perpetuate sexist stereotypes about women.

While family laws are gender neutral, there’s no doubt that judges and lawyers interpret them based on certain beliefs. In many cases, judges still consider a woman the more natural caretaker, a stubborn holdover from the decades in which mothers only worked at home. (...)

Joseph Cordell, founder of the largest men’s divorce-focused firm in America, says the stereotypes of mothers as nurturers and men as providers leads to systemic discrimination against fathers.

“As a society we’ve made progress regarding gender in a number of areas,” he says. “But the dark corner of the room when it comes to civil rights, I can tell you, is dads’ rights in family courts.”

by Angelina Chapin, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: Echo/Getty Images/Cultura RF