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More Fathers Are Getting Custody In Divorce

Illustration by Barry FallsThe New York Times reports today: More Fathers Are Getting Custody In Divorce by Lisa Belkin.

Working Mother Magazine published a package of articles on Tuesday called “Lost Custody,” about the new reality of divorce and child custody for working mothers.

It is filled with tales of women who were the primary earners in a marriage, and who watched their husbands gain primary physical custody of their children when the marriage ended. There are now 2.2 million divorced women in the United States who do not have primary physical custody of their children, and an estimated 50 percent of fathers who seek such custody in a disputed divorce are granted it.

As the writer Sally Abrahms describes it:

Not long ago, men usually paid the child support and doled out the alimony. Moms (working or not) almost always got the kids in messy divorce wars. Years of changing diapers, wiping noses and kissing boo-boos gave them the edge. But now the tide is turning.

The “tender-years doctrine,” a court presumption that mothers are the more suitable parents for children under 7, was abolished in most states in 1994. And, in large part because of the recession, women are poised to outnumber men in the work force for the first time in American history. Job layoffs affecting more men than women have yielded a burgeoning crop of Mr. Moms.

“Men are now able to argue that they spend more time with the kids than their working wives do,” says the veteran New York City divorce attorney Raoul Felder. “This is one of the dark sides of women’s accomplishments in the workplace — they’re getting a raw deal in custody cases, while men are being viewed more favorably.”

Or is it a raw deal? Is it not, in effect, the same presumption — the parent who works harder, parents less — that men have faced for years? You could make that argument, Abrahms says. You could also argue that working women are held to a higher parenting standard than working men, paying a price for not conforming to the cultural expectation that mothers be more hands-on than fathers.

Either way, the percentage of fathers with primary custody will likely increase, one more example of shifting social views about parenting. And there will be more stories like the one Abrahms tells of Julie Michaud, who ran her own business, which supported her family, while her unemployed husband cared for the couple’s 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. As Abrahms writes:

Julie sat helpless as Mark’s lawyer argued that he was the one who arranged the playdates, took the kids to the pediatrician and volunteered at their schools. Affidavits from teachers and neighbors attested to his hands-on involvement in their daily lives. Meanwhile, Julie’s long hours at work meant that people in the community didn’t witness just how much parenting she did out of view. No one saw the lunches she packed every morning, the all-nighters she pulled when the kids were sick. “If I could have done things differently,” Julie says today, “I would have made myself supervisible.”

If a mother works more, and a father less, is that a logical reason for the children to live with him? Have you felt the swing of this pendulum in your own life?