Fathers Matter

In matters of child custody, dads too often get a raw deal.
By Jayne Keedle http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/artides/fathersmatter.html

If Elian Gonzalez had been taken from Cuba, not by his mother, but by his father, he would have been returned to Cuba within days of getting a clean bill of health from the hospital, no questions asked.

It's a point of irony in fatherhood support groups across Connecticut as they draw parallels between their own situations and that of Elian's father. They, too, have found themselves facing unfounded allegations of abuse and questions about whether they are capable of raising a young child. And they have had to battle agencies, relatives and longstanding medical and legal viewpoints that assume, at least in questions of child welfare, that mother knows best. The U.S. government may have sided with the father in Elian's case, but in many of theirs, government agencies have sided with the mother.

This gender bias is not just the men's perception.

"I think they're right," says Patricia Wilson-Coker, acting commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services. "Systematic constraints have inadvertently been built up to separate fathers from children. There's a lack of advocates in the court, a lack of connection between child support and visitation. Frankly, that a father should be thought of as no more than a paycheck is what we're working against."

Mark Roseman knows that feeling firsthand. A Hamden father of three, he has not seen his children in three years, although they live in the same town and he pays child support. "I feel, like the walking wounded. The kids have been turned against me," says Roseman, who separated from their mother in 1997. "My former wife has revised history, thrown out any old photographs, quit the synagogue we used to go to, quit old mutual friends. Not having used the legal system before, I expected the process would be much smoother and reassuring for all parties."

Instead, Roseman says the court's adversarial system pits one side against the other and the kids pay the price. Roseman says he had to file motion after motion for therapy, for visitation, and has shelled out $40,000 so far in legal costs. He's paying for a guardian ad litem, appointed by the court to represent minor children, who he says doesn't return his phone calls. Meanwhile every month that goes by is another month away from his children, now 7, 12 and 16. To add insult to injury, family services counselors are beginning to suggest that it would be too traumatic to reunite Roseman with his children after so long. It's a Catch-22 many fathers say is hauntingly familiar.

Roseman has heard plenty of horror stories since founding the Connecticut chapter of the national Children's Rights Council last year, a forum and guide for non-custodial parents. "We've got problems here, and one is the way people divorce," says Roseman. "lt's not enough to permit disgruntled non- custodial parents to walk away. Both parents must be part of the children's lives."

Indeed, a large body of research overwhelmingly suggests children do best when they have both a mother and a father in their lives. Specifically, children whose fathers are involved in raising them do better in school, are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and are more likely to be better parents themselves.

Dr. Kyle Pruett, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center and Medical School, writes of this in his new book Fatherneed. Even in the first few months of life, he writes, an infant can distinguish between a mother and a father's style of care. What's more, developmental research shows that children are born with a drive to connect to their fathers and their fathers, in turn, have an instinct to respond.




Girl with Dad 2
Injustice here is Injustice everywhere! -Martin Luther King Jr.


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