When flawed thinking is tragic thinking (thank goodness)

I frequently encounter comments made in child custody disputes to the effect that “courts favor the nurturing and detailed attentiveness of mothers over fathers.” 

I am as grateful for such comments as I am disheartened by them. Grateful because they reveal a common and recurring flaw in so many people’s thinking—and identifying the problem is the first step toward solving it. Disheartened because they reveal a common and recurring flaw in so many people’s thinking—which makes correcting it such a daunting task.  

Such comments commit the fallacy of indulging a sexist, stereotypical, and (thus) false presumption that “good mothers are better and more necessary parents than good fathers.” When courts commit this fallacy, then the notion of basing a court’s decisions on evidence and proof in each individual case are illusory. Yet frankly, that is exactly what most judges do in making the child custody award.  

Some judges do this by essentially requiring a good father to “prove” that he is “just as good as and just as qualified a parent as” as an archetypal mother. This is an impossible standard for a father to meet because a) such archetypes necessarily exist only in the imagination, not in the real world; and b) not only can real-world fathers not meet this impossible standard, but neither can real-world mothers, for that matter.  

These judges follow unwritten rules that rig the game (some judges knowingly rig the game, others do so unwittingly due to their deep-seated biases and prejudices):  

1) that to be worthy of joint physical custody of their children fathers who are good parents by every reasonable standard must be the equivalent of mothers; and  

2) good mothers possess crucial and unique qualities fathers cannot possess.  

Thus, merely good fathers can never be worthy of sharing joint equal custody with a good mother. Perversely, for a child to enjoy being reared by both good parents equally, the father must prove either himself superior as a parent to the mother (which, as I have demonstrated above, is virtually impossible) or show the good mother to be found wanting (in one way or another) such that the only way to compensate is “unfortunately” an award of joint equal physical custody to the father.  

Decent, loving, fit parents never have been and never will be perfect, which is why I cannot understand how a court would deny a child the benefits of being reared as much as possible by both of its decent, loving, and fit parents. This is why (to crib from C.S. Lewis) asking which of a child’s fit and loving parents is the “better” or “more necessary” parent is like asking which blade of the scissors is better or more necessary.  

The “best parent” is both good parents. Give the child the benefit of all of the good traits each good parent brings to a child’s upbringing. We cannot expect a child to tailor the fabric of his life successfully with only one blade of the scissors in hand. As a recent billboard so poignantly states, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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