Next week, an important
moment will occur in the general
trend toward recognizing the societal
importance and legal rights of fathers.
On March 28, the New York State
Assembly's Children & Families
Committee is scheduled to hear Bill
A330 on shared parenting. The bill
seeks to establish "the presumption
in matrimonial proceedings for awarding
shared parenting of minor children
in the absence of an allegation
that shared parenting would be detrimental
to the best interests of the child."
In short, a parent seeking sole
custody (most commonly the mother)
would assume the legal burden of
proving why a shared arrangement
would harm the child.
Father's rights advocates view New
York as "a battleground state"
not only because of the influence
its policies exert but also because
New York is one of the few states
to resist a national trend toward
statutes favoring joint custody.
Because A330 is vehemently opposed
by mainstream feminist organizations
like the New York Chapter of the
National Organization for Women,
the bill's hearing may become raucous.
But, given that almost three dozen
State Assembly members have endorsed
the bill as sponsors or co-sponsors,
A330 stands a good chance of passing.
Shared custody is only one of several
fathers' rights issues that are
appearing with increased frequency
in the courts and in the media.
It is perhaps inevitable that, as
the image of men gradually moves
out of the shadow cast by mainstream
feminism, that the image of fathers
improves as well. The emerging complaints
of fathers are likely to force a
redefinition within family law over
the next few years.
Some of those complaints and responses
to them are as follows:
--The court-ordered child support
paid by non-custodial parents (usually
men) are often unreasonably high
and do not reflect the custodial
A Georgia state law requiring that
calculation of child support be
based on the incomes of both parents
goes into effect on July 1st. The
Atlanta Journal Constitution comments,
"estranged couples are already
crunching numbers and contacting
lawyers to figure out the effect
Randy Kessler, an Atlanta family
law attorney, states "The fuses
are being lit."
--Responsible non-custodial parents
are often denied access to their
children through barriers erected
by the custodial parent; 'relocation'
is one such barrier.
On Feb. 2, the California Supreme
Court ruled in Brown v. Yana that
a non-custodial father attempting
to prevent an out-of-state relocation
did not merit an evidentiary hearing
on how it would affect his son.
The Brown decision effectively reverses
the 2004 LaMusga v. LaMusga ruling
by which the California Supreme
Court permitted a change of custody
to a father as the result of a mother's
move to Ohio.
--Birth control advances have focused
upon women even though effective
male birth control is feasible.
The contraceptive injection called
RISUG has been tested with success
for more 25 years by Professor Sujoy
K. Guha at the Indian Institute
of Technology, tests which the National
Institute of Health have replicated.
One injection can render a man infertile
for up to 10 years.
Some blame the slow development
of male contraceptives on possible
resistance by Pharmaceutical companies
to offering an option less expensive
than female birth control. Others
blame politics for the focus on
--Through abortion, women can opt
out of motherhood; fathers have
no similar option over parenthood.
They have responsibilities without
Some fathers' rights advocates argue
simply for a legal right to withdraw
from the responsibilities of fatherhood
through a relinquishment of parenthood;
this demand underlies the current
so-called Roe v. Wade for Men lawsuit.
Others argue a more controversial
position: namely, that aborting
a child desired by the father transgresses
his rights. Both positions are controversial
and will meet stiff opposition but
the latter one contains the seeds
of an all-out gender war.
--Men who discover they are not
the biological father of a child
are, nevertheless, often required
by courts to continue paying child
The battleground here seems to be
state courts and legislatures, who
demonstrate little consistency.
In 2004, the Second District Court
of Appeal of California overturned
a paternity judgment against a man
being forced to pay support for
a child whose DNA tests proved he
was not biologically related.
In Michigan, a 'duped dad' is currently
going to court to be freed of the
support payments that have reportedly
driven him into bankruptcy and "destroyed"
my life." A favorable ruling
is far from assured.
Michigan has no law requiring relief
for false paternity and many judges
rule to continue payments "in
the best interest of the child."
--Fathers who wish custody of newborns
put up for adoption are often left
uninformed until it is too late
to exert their parental rights.
The New York Times reported on March
19 the story of Floridean Jeremiah
Clayton Jones who "discovered"
that his former fiancée was pregnant
just three weeks before the baby
was due, when an adoption-agency
lawyer called and asked if he would
consent to have his baby adopted."
He said 'no,' but because he had
not filed with the required state
registry for unwed fathers, Jeremiah
lost the right to adopt his own
His child lost grandparents, aunts
and cousins as well as a father.
(Another problem posed by current
notification procedures is the risk
of fathers challenging adoptions
they did not consent to after they
have occurred, a situation that
can be devastating for the child
and adoptive parents.)
In essence, states that impose obscure
and intrusive registry requirements
are asking men to tell the state
about every woman they sleep with
in case one becomes pregnant.
It is not clear how the foregoing
(and other fathers'
rights complaints) will be resolved.
In some sense, that's the point
of this article. A sea change is
occurring in how society and the
legal system is viewing the need
of children for their fathers and
the longing of fathers for their
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent
Institute in Oakland, Calif. She
is the author and editor of many
books and articles, including the
new book, "Liberty for Women:
Freedom and Feminism in the 21st
(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute,
2002). She lives with her husband
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