Clara Harris, a Texas
woman who was convicted of murdering her husband in March, was just granted
joint custody of her twin five year-old boys. The ruling validates what fathers'
and children's advocates have been saying for years -- when it comes to children,
many courts believe that mothers can do no wrong.
While Clara Harris' murder conviction was not enough to deprive her of equal
rights to her children, hundreds of thousands of fathers have been thrown
out of their homes and driven out of their children's lives by unfounded
accusations of domestic violence. According to Washington family law attorney
Lisa Scott, most courts grant restraining orders to practically any woman
who applies, and domestic violence accusations are very effective at depriving
fathers of custody and visitation rights after divorce. She says:
restraining orders do not even involve an allegation of physical violence.
For most judges, the woman saying she ‘feels afraid' of her husband is enough.
Men have no way to defend themselves against these accusations. How do you
argue against a feeling?
both the judge and the attorney appointed by the court to represent Harris'
two sons saw value in preserving the bond between the children and a mother
who is a convicted murderer, many courts are unable to see the value of the
bonds between children and decent, law-abiding fathers. Studies show that
visitation interference and move-aways are a major problem for divorced fathers,
yet courts are indifferent at best to enforcing fathers' visitation rights,
and generally permit divorced mothers to move children hundreds or thousands
of miles away from their fathers. This is despite the fact that the rates
of school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, juvenile crime, and teen drug abuse
are more tightly correlated with fatherlessness than with any other major
socioeconomic factor, including income and race.
While in the Harris case a mother was able to win joint custody from a prison
cell, decent fathers who have never had any brush with the law beyond a traffic
ticket often cannot. Studies show that in contested cases mothers are granted
sole custody over fathers by a margin of eight to one. According to research
conducted by Sanford Braver, author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths,
divorced mothers are five times as likely to be satisfied with their post-divorce
child custody arrangements as divorced fathers are. In Braver's study, three-quarters
of divorced men and one in four divorced women believed that the system is
slanted in favor of mothers, while only one in ten women and none of the
men surveyed thought it favors fathers.
The "woman good/man bad" mentality of our family courts often hurts children
by blindly favoring mothers and placing barriers between fathers and the
children who love them and need them. The Harris ruling -- where even
a mother who is a convicted murderer is still not seen as being an unfit
parent -- demonstrates just how deep-seated and destructive this mentality
Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist. His radio show, His Side
with Glenn Sacks, can be heard every Sunday on KRLA 870 AM in Los Angeles.
His website is GlennSacks.com. First published in the Houston Chronicle on September 19, 2003.
Email Glenn Sacks
this Article to a Friend