Family law as we know it is going through a transition. For generations the thought was that mothers raise babies and fathers pay child support. Father’s rights were given very little consideration and in general it was assumed that after a divorce fathers would be uninvolved. Slowly but surely fathers are gaining ground and expanding their rights. While we can debate which parent is more important or who should have the stronger rights, one thing that is not up for debate is the fact that children need good fathers in their lives.
President Obama created the Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative in an attempt to address what appears to be an epidemic of fatherlessness in America. Some believe that this disturbing trend is a result of the lack of rights fathers are given in family courtrooms.
Fatherhood.gov is a website created as part of the President’s initiative that seems to focus on giving fathers messages encouraging them to play a larger role in their children’s lives. Unfortunately very little attention is given to what can be perceived as a bias in the family court system and in public perception that either systematically removes fathers from their children’s lives in the final decree of divorce or encourages them to spend less time with their children after the divorce.
Joint parenting is becoming more popular with legislatures across the country. Texas’ family code requires that family court judges start with a presumption that joint managing conservatorship is in the best interest of the children and that all custody decisions should be made in an effort to maximize each parent’s involvement in a child’s life. These legislated changes to the system are a good start but too many fathers are feel that their rights and their relationship with their children are being destroyed and statistics back them up.
In 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau shows that only 17.4 percent of custodial or primary parents in the nation were men. This means that for every 100 couples that have children end up getting divorced only 17 men get to be the parent with the majority of the responsibility for their children.
Shockingly, Professor Edward Kruk’s most recent book shows that only 29% of fathers who reported that they were substantially involved in caring for their children during marriage were able to continue to be substantially involved after divorce. But 87% of these fathers report that they wanted to remain as actively involved after the divorce as they did during the marriage. Clearly these aren’t deadbeat fathers running out at the first chance possible. These are fathers who want to be active parents and just as clearly are not given the option.
Fatherhood.gov shares research that shows how important it is to have a highly involved father in a child’s life.
Children who live with both parents are:
- far less likely to be poor
- they have a lower chance of using drugs
- they appear to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems at a lower rate
- they are less likely to be suffer child abuse
- and are less inclined to engage in criminal behavior than their peers with absent fathers.
According to President Obama’s Fatherhood.gov children who have actively involved fathers seem to benefit from increased mental dexterity, higher empathy, and fewer stereotyped gender roles. They also have greater self-control.
It is important to acknowledge that there is a problem. President Obama has done so with his initiative. But we must go further. We can’t stop at legislating father’s rights. We must educate the public to the facts that fathers don’t just have rights, children have rights to have fathers in their lives.