Gay Marriage will help Father’s Rights

I’m divorced and have kids; I am not gay. In the near future these two worlds will collide as same-sex civil unions continue to increase and family court judges will face challenges previously unconsidered. Historically family court judges have awarded custody with a prejudice toward the mother over the father, but when a judge must consider custody between two fathers I assert there will be a move toward equal parenting.

My own journey into the family court system started in 2003 when I filed for divorce. Personally miserable, in a loveless marriage, I feared the impact of divorce upon my children. At the time my wife and I had relatively equal parental roles, but a traditional marriage affording her the opportunity to work part-time as a family court attorney while I was the primary income earner. Finally I made a choice to divorce and naively expected an agreement supportive of my role as a father.

It was then I learned there is a strong precedent to relegate divorced fathers to the sidelines in a child’s life. Out of fairness, we must recognize the historic precedent of the Mad Men style of philandering, leaving behind family for a younger woman. In the post-war era fathers were bread-winners and mothers were left to raise the kids. Divorce therefore required strong remedy to protect mom and children. Televisions shows like  One Day at a Time of the 1970’s drove the need for child support and alimony to the public’s attention.

The father of the millennium is far different. We are hands-on, equally sharing in parental responsibility whether it is bathing, feeding, reading, or interests at school. We can change diapers, get up at night, and care for our ill sons and daughters. Our current two-income society has forced involvement, but more importantly we have rejected the parenting style of our fathers.

Unfortunately, the family court system has lagged behind and child support collection in many states has become a corrupt enterprise putting money ahead of family. If a father loses his job the state views it more important to incarcerate him than his role in his child’s life. Divorced dads have become checkbooks supporting wealth transfer to millions of women when most want to share equally in the responsibility of raising their children.

In May 2012 two states passed legislative changes supporting equal parenting. Minnesota’s Senate recently passed a law requiring a minimum 35% overnight time for either parent, focused on stability and importance of both parent’s role in their child’s life. More aggressively, Arizona passed SB1127 requiring equality for both parents.

I argue civil unions in the coming years will be the catalyst for divorced parental equality; gays seek marital equality and desire traditional family units, typically via adoption. For women, the task is easier, possibly avoiding adoption, but creates debate as arguments will focus on birth-mother versus mother-partner rights. Today’s court bias, children inherently belong with their mother, where father is stripped of parental influence and relegated to financial provider, will not work.

The “standard visitation” of dad seeing his children every other weekend and one night a week will fail when there are “two Moms” or “two Dads.” Gay marriage will instantly invalidate the bias toward Mom and force the courts to a presumption of parental equality. Politicians and courts will insert themselves in arguments and face challenges to sort out what they believe is “best” for children. As they do, the news will cover new versions of Kramer v. Kramer, but expect two men to be the center of the controversy.