Joseph Cordell: Let’s talk about some of the systemic problems that cry out most loudly for a change in the family law system. What do you see is happening as you talk to men around the country in terms of men’s efforts to gain primary custody?
Stanley Charles Thorne: Unfortunately there is a powerful bias toward a lopsided custody model. 85% of custody determinations in this country still favor Mom to a substantial degree.
That is systemic not necessarily because there is gender bias in favor of Mom but because there is a federal money bias in favor of a lopsided custody result under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Title IV-D refers to state-run child support enforcement programs which are funded through grants provided for by the Social Security Act.
The federal government in its wisdom has incentivized a lopsided model. The bias for a lopsided custody model that is facilitated, fostered and financially incentivized by federal subsidy money paid for child support enforcement and collection by the federal government to the states sets us up for a lopsided model instead of equality.
When I go into court with an equal protection argument under the 14th Amendment, I say, “You're fostering a starting point that says, 'one parent is going to be a loser and one is going to be a winner. One is going to be marginalized and diminished in the eyes of a child. One is going to be magnified and empowered in the eyes of that child.’”
Society should do everything in its power to protect a child’s relationship with each parent. The starting point should be equal dignity and equal respect for both parents. Why do we start with this lopsided model?
Court-ordered fatherlessness is creating systemic social pathology in juveniles on an unprecedented scale. The reason is instead of starting with equality and fairness, we throw parents like a couple of pit bulls into an arena of conflict and contention where the end result is an outcome that poisons the parental relationship.
Joseph Cordell: The father’s rights movement can be easily construed as an effort to characterize women as inherently bad or prone to manipulation and exploitation. The bottom line is, as human beings when we are given power and opportunity will use it to their own advantage, which is what mothers are doing.
I think either parent, be it the mom or the dad, if they were given the opportunity of position and power would use it to their advantage particularly in an environment where emotions and hostilities are so high.
The father’s rights movement isn’t an anti-mom, anti-woman movement; it’s an anti-unfairness movement and it just so happens that moms have most of the power in the family court system in America.
Judges have these preconceived notions and stereotypes when parties walk into a family law courtroom, particularly when young children are involved, even though the Tender Years Doctrine has been ruled unconstitutional in most likely all states.
Yet that underlying presumption that a clumsy dad has no idea how to take care of a toddler is still taken into account in a judge’s decision.
Those who defend the status quo and the statistic that 85% of custodial parents are moms, they say “well how many dads were willing to fight custody battles?”
First of all, you have to realize that just because some dads don’t fight custody battles doesn’t mean they were treated fairly. Most discrimination in family law is occurring at the door, not always once they are inside the courtroom.
Some lawyers who are very experienced and they set realistic expectations for their clients who want to know what to expect. I suspect dads across America when sitting in their lawyer’s office are interested in having a larger role in their children’s lives.
So what is happening between that meeting and the time the gavel is struck in the courtroom and a final custody decision has been made? It’s the attorney telling the client it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fight for more custody, it’s most likely not going to happen, you’re going to have to pay her attorney fees, etc.
Every obstacle is presented in front of this father discouraging him and telling him the answer is going to be “no.”
So the greatest evidence of injustice is lurking in those settlement agreements.
Now I want to hear from you if it is practical to get federal courts to listen to the statistical evidence and shift this presumption, as we’ve seen them do in other civil rights venues?
Why can’t we use that statistical criteria showing dads only have a 15% chance of custody to prove we need more civil rights for men in family courts?
Stanley Charles Thorne: We can, we should and I anticipate being a part of that. What we need to present is the social studies data proving that systemic, court-ordered fatherless is resulting in juvenile pathology on an unprecedented scale.
There’s a ton of evidence. It will not just sadden you; it will depress you if you look at the evidence. The social studies data I’ve seen is maddening.
You can see the linkage that removing one parent from a child’s life has a direct, profound and lasting impact on a child’s life. It’s dramatic. There’s no speculation anymore.
What also emerges when you read between the lines of these studies is the tremendous amount of resentment toward fathers from children, which is imputed to men in general, who wonder "why wasn’t dad there more? Why did he abandon us?"
There’s a lot of opportunity there for propaganda that trashes men and results in parental alienation syndrome. You can see how pernicious and destructive it is.
What I think the federal courts need to turn a listening ear toward is just the same essential human rights implications of fundamental fairness. One shift that I think would minimize, but not eliminate, the systemic bias of the lopsided custody model is to acknowledge the constitutional imperative for equal parenting.
For more of the interview between Joseph Cordell and Stanley Charles Thorne, please visit DadsDivorce.com.