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FATHERS DAY 2000: Fathers Go To Washington!
WHY IS DADDY IN JAIL?: For the Crime of Wanting To See His Child

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Why Is Daddy In Jail Part 2

For their part, a few fathers' groups have countered by filing federal class action suits claiming abrogation of civil rights "under color of law", including denial of due process and equal protection. Violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments are also alleged, and some go so far as to invoke anti-racketeering statutes. There is a substantial body of federal case law recognizing parenting as a basic constitutional right and requiring its protection under the Fourteenth Amendment: "The liberty interest and the integrity of the family encompass an interest in retaining custody of one's children, and thus a state may not interfere with a parent's custodial right absent due process protections," according to the 1981 decision, Langton v Maloney. Justice Thurgood Marshall also held for the majority in the 1978 case Quilloin v. Walcott that a divorced father could not be treated differently from a father who is married and still living with his child. Yet such apparently unequivocal constitutional principles are almost never applied by state courts, and the federal courts steadfastly resist becoming involved.

As it is, some twenty-three million American children now live in fatherless households, virtually half a generation. Nearly 2.5 million will join their ranks this year, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. The crisis of fatherless children has been called "the most destructive trend of our generation" by David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America (Paperback). Even Bill Clinton acknowledges that "the single biggest social problem in our society may be the growing absence of fathers from their children's homes," and Al Gore has declared in more accusatory terms that "absent fathers are behind most social woes. " This opinion is shared by almost 80 percent of respondents to a 1996 Gallup poll.

Indeed, nothing else accounts for as many major social problems. Recent figures from the Department of Health and Human Services confirm that violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, emotional and behavioral disorders, teen suicide, poor school performance and truancy all correlate more strongly to fatherless homes than to any other single factor, surpassing both poverty and race. The overwhelming majority of prisoners, juvenile detention inmates, high school dropouts, pregnant teenagers, adolescent murderers, and rapists all come from fatherless homes.


The guarantee of "due process" does not prevent family courts from jailing parents on civil contempt for weeks, months, or even years without trial.


The Washington Post, New York Times, and other major media bent over backwards to avoid mentioning that Mitchell Johnson, instigator of the shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, had been taken from his father, whom he was said to be close to, and moved to another state. Even as the crisis of fatherhood gains selective recognition by policymakers and the media, however, attention is confined almost entirely to "the prodigal father" who has "abandoned" his children. Fathers now get it from both sides, since the conservative campaign for "responsible fatherhood" may unwittingly reinforce the vilification of fathers in the media and by politicians and feminists. The resulting message is that until proven otherwise, fathers are presumed to be irresponsible louts whose eagerness to desert their families accounts for all our social failures.

Yet Sanford L. Braver, in his recently published book, Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths (Hardcover), shows that far from abandoning their children, most divorced fathers make heroic efforts against enormous obstacles to stay in touch with them.

SCAPEGOATING FATHERS has predictably done little to alleviate any of the problems associated with father absence. Indeed, it cannot even solve the one problem in terms of which politicians most often proclaim their commitment to father "involvement": the collection of child support. With a massive army of some 59,000 enforcement agents (the Drug Enforcement Administration has about 7,500), the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement perseveres in its losing battle to squeeze money out of ejected fathers who more often than not are either unemployed, impoverished, imprisoned, disabled, or dead. The General Accounting Office found in 1992 that as many as 14 percent of fathers who owe child support are dead, and 66 percent "cannot afford to pay the amount ordered." Some 52 percent earn less than $6,200 a year, according to the Poverty Studies Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

Far more useful than trying to shake down fathers with no money would be to reform a legal system that forces so many fathers out of their children's lives in the first place. But in addition to wives and the judiciary, fathers must also contend with feminist groups, who loom as the most formidable opponents of joint custody laws and are now promoting legislation that would openly legitimate the current epidemic of maternal child-snatching. The purported justification is domestic violence. An article posted on the NOW web site asserts that preserving fathers' rights to the care and protection of their children "is dangerous for women and their children who are trying to leave or have left violent husbands/fathers"

This of course begs the question of why children can be taken virtually at whim from the vast majority of fathers by whom no violence is ever demonstrated or even alleged, nor why it should be any more dangerous trying to leave truly abusive spouses who can be prosecuted under existing laws and who are precluded from custody under presumptive joint custody statutes. Yet in the present climate such obvious questions are seldom asked. So successful is anti-father propaganda now that even mainstream feminist organizations regularly use the term "batterer" as essentially synonymous with "father. " In political terms, a NOW resolution asserts that the political activities of fathers' groups constitute "using the abuse of power in order to control in the same fashion as do batterers."


Courts routinely order fathers whose children have been taken from them involuntarily and with no grounds to support those children financially.


Both domestic violence and child abuse are serious problems, but they are by no means sex-specific. Moreover, accusations of child or spousal abuse are a widespread method of winning sole custody. NOW claims that "false accusations by women are in fact rare" (and opposes penalties for making them), but saying this does not make it so. Statistically they are not rare at all. Overall, more than two-thirds of child abuse reports are unsubstantiated, according to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, and the proportion becomes overwhelming when custody is an issue. But more tellingly, NOW itself would seem to be proving just how false they are with its own legislative agenda. By legitimizing child stealing under the guise of protecting victims of domestic violence, NOW is openly practicing on the political level precisely what it claims is not happening in the family courts, the use of "battering" as a red flag to separate children from fathers who are guilty of no such thing.

THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that fathers commit any more spousal or child abuse than mothers; in fact fathers in intact families are about the least frequent perpetrators of either. The National Family Violence Survey, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and developed by Murray Straus and Richard Gelles, estimates that men are slightly more likely than women to be victims of severe domestic violence. Nor can "the high rate of attacks by wives" be explained "largely as a response to or as a defense against assault by the partner," according to one of the survey's authors, Murray Straus, in a contribution to the 1996 book Domestic Violence.

More to the point, mothers — especially single mothers — are much more likely than fathers to abuse children. According to a major 1996 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, women aged twenty to forty-nine are almost twice as likely as men to be perpetrators of child maltreatment. "It is estimated that almost two-thirds [of child abusers] were females," the report states. Given that "male" perpetrators are not necessarily fathers but much more likely to be boyfriends and stepfathers, fathers emerge as the least likely child abusers.

In fact, about the most dangerous place for a child then is the home of a single mother. The HHS study reiterates the already well-established fact that children in single-parent homes are at much higher risk for physical and sexual abuse than those living in two-parent homes (up to thirty-three times higher when a live-in boyfriend or stepfather is present). As Maggie Gallagher sums it up in her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage (Hardcover), "The person most likely to abuse a child physically is a single mother. The person most likely to abuse a child sexually is the mother's boyfriend or second husband. Divorce, though usually portrayed as a protection against domestic violence, is far more frequently a contributing cause."


Divorce, though usually portrayed as a protection against domestic violence, is far more frequently a contributing cause.


At one time this may have been considered common sense, since two parents check one another's excesses and the father was seen as the children's natural protector. Not only has this role now become politically incorrect; the current system has managed to pervert it into a fault. What "male violence" does occur may well be the result of custody disputes more often than it is the cause, after all, since common sense would again suggest that fathers with no previous proclivity to violence could very well erupt when their children are arbitrarily taken from them. One is tempted to say this is what fathers are for: to become violent when someone interferes with their offspring. A 1997 study by Anne McMurray of the Griffith University School of Nursing in Australia that began with the express purpose to "provide definitive explanations for the violent behaviors of certain males," concluded that "regardless of the male's propensity toward violence" the circumstances most conducive to it arose "during the process of marital separation and divorce, particularly in relation to disputes over child custody, support and access "

"These men," McMurray continues, "from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups, freely discussed episodes in which they had either planned, executed, or fantasized about violence against their spouses in retaliation for real or perceived injustices related to child custody, support, and/or access."


For their part, a few fathers' groups have countered by filing federal class action suits claiming abrogation of civil rights "under color of law", including denial of due process and equal protection. Violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments are also alleged, and some go so far as to invoke anti-racketeering statutes.


Interestingly, while violence against wives is well-publicized, the huge increase in violent attacks by fathers against judges and lawyers has gone completely unreported in the mainstream press. According to an article in the National Law Journal the year 1992 was "one of the bloodiest in divorce court history — a time when angry and bitter divorce litigants declared an open season on judges, lawyers, and the spouses who brought them to court."

NOW and others further attempt to defend the power to take children from their fathers by invoking popular but facile clichés about marital harmony, saying that "most studies report that joint custody works best when both parents want it and agree to work together," but that it "is unworkable for uncooperative parents." This tautological reasoning is simply an extension of assumptions that have long been invoked by parents of both sexes as self-justification for their wish to divorce. As such, fathers who have acquiesced in this casuistry have only themselves to blame now that it is being taken to its logical next step to justify rewarding the most belligerent of the "warring parents" and throwing the other out of the family altogether. After all, if an intact family or joint custody requires "agreement" and "cooperation" between parents, the most effective method for the parent who expects sole custody to sabotage either is to be as belligerent and uncooperative as possible.

In fact, joint custody has repeatedly been demonstrated to reduce parental conflict for precisely this reason. A study by Judith Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households concluded that joint custody, even when imposed over the objection of one parent, reduces post-divorce conflict. Similarly, a study team headed by Braver found that "both child support compliance and paternal visitation were highest in those cases where joint custody was awarded against the mothers' wishes but in conformity with the fathers' wishes." The author concludes that these results demonstrate "the value of joint legal custody even when the couple does not initially agree to it. Joint custody appears to enhance paternal involvement, child support compliance, and child adjustment." Perhaps most important, it takes away much of the incentive to snatch the children in the first place. (Giving sole custody to the left-behind parent, as some have proposed, would naturally create a stronger deterrent ). For similar reasons, states with presumptive joint custody laws report significantly fewer divorces.

As for the connected tautology that that parental conflict in itself justifies divorce, this is seldom justified as far as children are concerned, as any child will tell you. Children can be quite content even when their parents' marriage is profoundly unhappy for one or both partners," write Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee in their 1996 book, Second Chances (Paperback). "Only one in ten children in our study experienced relief when their parents divorced.

SPECIOUS JUSTIFICATIONS for a system that spawns massive corruption, violates basic constitutional rights, destroys the homes and lives of innocent children, and leads to serious social ills thus carry the day because of our willingness to buy into clichés that disguise the reality and extent of what is taking place. We have sanitized a breathtaking injustice with buzzwords such as "divorce" and "custody battle" that imply mutual consent, when in most cases no such thing exists. Yet however palatable we try to render this abuse, there is no escaping the central fact that it has very little to do with the needs of children and everything to do with the power of certain groups of adults.

But we either maintain a distinction between what is actionable in a court of law and what is not, or we simply haul people into court because we don't like their methods of child-rearing or, for that matter, because of our wish for a new boyfriend. Frightening as it may seem, using the courts and police to punish spouses for what may be nothing more than ordinary family disagreements now seems to be accepted without question, and the bottom line is that any father may now find himself pursued by federal agents because he protests the way his children have been taken from him.

Stephen Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University.

(The irony of the aforementioned realities is that they are more our fault than that of judges, feminists, lawyers, or greedy ex-wives. Our fault because of the militant (some would day "bull-headed") refusal of men's/fathers' group leaders to unite in opposition. This is the REAL crime. A united front could FORCE reform. RFD)

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