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Who gets the kids when you split up?

Categories: Guilt Inducers, Mommy Angst


In an ideal world, Mommy and Daddy would love one another forever and together provide a warm, loving home for the children. But the real world is just that — real. Lives changes, relationships go awry, and the best of intentions sometimes fall through the floor. Mommy and Daddy split up. But who gets the kids?

In the past, this wouldn’t have been a question. Once upon a time, men owned everything, including the children. *Cough.* (I think we’ve moved past that, for the most part.) In our more recent past, the “tender years” doctrine held and kids went with their mothers, who were presumed to be the more nurturing parent. Now, things are flipping once again and more and more, fathers are getting custody of the kids, especially when Mom is a working mom and Dad has been taking care of the kids. Are working moms working themselves out of a relationship with their children?

In the state where I divorced, joint custody is the rule except in cases of obvious neglect or poor parenting. Neither gender is the presumptive parent, though I saw a lot of weight given to the parent making the most money (that’s another story). But in The New York Times’ Motherlode blog this week, another picture is painted. I am all for shifting social views on gender and parenting (after all, I am by choice one of the 2.2 million mothers nationwide who do not have primary custody of their children), but I don’t get it. Kids are being awarded to the parent who spent the most time with them? This seems as arbitrary as awarding custody by gender.

I’m especially troubled by the seeming penalty to women who work outside the home. In today’s shifting recessionary world, moms and dads do all sorts of things to make things work. I love that more and more dads are staying home with their children, and I love that more and more moms are able to work through the whole work-life balance problem and self-judgments in order to provide strong breadwinner models for their kids. Social views are changing, and they need to. But what I don’t like is this seeming backlash in the court systems around the country. How will women feel confident about being the breadwinner parent if there’s an ugly custody-battle specter hanging over their heads?

How about you? Have you experienced this? If your relationship were to go awry (knock on wood that it doesn’t), how would custody work for you?

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2 comments so far...

  • In many ways it is the “tender years” in a different way; they are getting that it isn’t just mothers who do diapers & playdates, that it can be either parent and are using it to award custody to whichever parents shows themselves to be the parent in charge of that.
    Thankfully my ex did not want custody. He didn’t even attempt to fight for it. And he probably could have gotten it as he had a swing-shift job and could argue he was present during most daylight hours.
    But, he never actually did and still doesn’t. I take a morning off work to go to the midday school assembly; he can’t even get up an hour early to make it. His entire playdate experience involved picking her up from a birthday party when I was getting my mom from the airport. So I guess in those measures, I’d still win.

    Mich  |  November 19th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

  • I am not sure why you think this is against women. Most of the time it would penalize the fathers rather than the mothers.

    If a working mom now has to consider the effects of her working on child custody, how do you think fathers feel and have always felt since the whole “tender age” thing started? (I agree with “tender age” in most cases, by the way.) Pretty much every father has been vulnerable to losing his children at the whim of his wife.

    The tone of this article bothers me, because it seems least concerned about what’s best for the child. And that’s what a custody proceeding is supposed to be about. If a child is used to spending most of her time (outside of “group care” / school) with her mom, then she would suffer if that relationship were diminished. Likewise if she is used to spending more time with her dad. I don’t see what is wrong with giving this information significant weight in custody proceedings.

    SKL  |  November 20th, 2009 at 12:22 am