Who Gets Custody?

My students read an article by the famous Spanish writer Rosa Montero where the writer argues that giving the custody of the children to the mother automatically in the majority of cases is sexist. Montero suggests that we reevaluate our sexist prejudices and begin to accept that mothers and fathers have equal value.

I asked my students to express their own opinions about Montero’s suggestion, and here are some of the responses:

[I will mark the responses with F and M to mark the gender of the students.]

F: “No, it isn’t sexist to give custody to the mothers in all cases because women are by nature better adapted to bring up children.”

F: “It is very sad that many fathers still have to fight to be with their kids. The writer is right, this is definitely sexist.”

F: “This shouldn’t be about gender at all. The parent who makes more money and has better career prospects should get the custody because this is the parent who will set a better example to the kids.”

F: “I think that fathers should get a shot at custody as long as they are better than my father. But it isn’t that hard to be better than him because all he ever does is yell.”

M: “I don’t think the courts should get involved in the custody decisions at all. Parents can sort it out among themselves.” (This is our resident Libertarian, as you might have guessed.)

F: “If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them. Most men simply don’t need the trouble of caring about kids.”

F: “Women are biologically better at childcare, which is why they should always get custody.” (What is really shocking is that this was written by a black student.)

M: “Granting full custody to mothers in most cases is a way of imposing social control and preserving traditional gender roles. Women end up not growing professionally as well as men do and making less money. Then it is easier to control women.”

M: “What people often forget is that men suffer from sexism, too, and custody laws are an example of that.”

M: “Women are better prepared to take care of children, so giving them custody is logical.”

P.S. I only grade the writing on this assignments, not the opinions, so don’t worry about the students.

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50 comments on “Who Gets Custody?

  1. Funny, I was just talking about Israeli custody laws with an Israeli woman, and I said pretty much the same thing as this student:
    “M: “Granting full custody to mothers in most cases is a way of imposing social control and preserving traditional gender roles. Women end up not growing professionally as well as men do and making less money. Then it is easier to control women.”

    • @Leah

      Yeah, that is funny for sure. Give women custody to control them, hilarious. I will remind my cousin and several of my friends of that when they issue their monthly child support and alimony cheques. unfortunately for me I am controlled because I make less money than my daughters mother(she pays nothing) because i have primary custody. Oh well, I guess I will have to get along with “just” a great relationship with my child instead of the money.

      • “I will remind my cousin and several of my friends of that when they issue their monthly child support and alimony cheques”

        – Do you seriously believe that the custodial parent does not spend anything on the children? Seriously?

      • Do you seriously believe that the custodial parent does not spend anything on the children? Seriously?(Clarissa)

        Seriously, I think I have a little more experience in this area than you, just a little.

      • “Do you seriously believe that the custodial parent does not spend anything on the children? Seriously?(Clarissa)

        Seriously, I think I have a little more experience in this area than you, just a little.”

        – Is anything preventing you from answering a simple question? If you have experience, please share it. Do custodial parents spend absolutely no money on their children?

      • I never said that the custodial parent doesnt pay anything on the child. That came from your mouth. I was responding to the idea that child custody is equal to controlling women.

      • @Clarissa

        To show that if you have custody the laws attempt to make sure the monetary aspect is not unequal or a form of “control”. If the non custodial parent is so fortunate to have a career it sure as shit isnt shown by how much more money they have. On top of that, the non custodial parent doesnt even has the benefit of having their child equally. Somehow I cant see how that is “controlling” in any way, shape or form.

      • If both parents spend the equal amount of money on the child, yet one of them has to make a much more significant time investment and give up on many professional opportunities, the demographic group that ends up in the category that consistently invests more, that group is easier to control.

  2. “M: “I don’t think the courts should get involved in the custody decisions at all. Parents can sort it out among themselves.” (This is our resident Libertarian, as you might have guessed.)”

    What happens if neither backs down? the Solomon solution?

  3. I’m a bit biased here, having custody of the kids. My ex-h wanted custody but what he wanted was not to actually take care of the kids, that’s a job he would pass over to Younger Model, but to have them so he could control them. He’s a doctor and I can assure you that absolutely no one in the world works as hard as him (according to him) so he’d have no time to do all the running about parenting.

    Having custody and caring for children are two issues.

    This is the comment that most struck me:
    F: “If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them. Most men simply don’t need the trouble of caring about kids.”

    This is very true in France but things are changing slowly. Shared custody is becoming slowly more widespread.

    • Having custody and caring for children are two issues.(Sarah)

      Interesting, My daughters mother sounds like your ex and while she had custody guess who did the primary parenting(he wasnt a younger model)? Fortunately when my daughter reached the “right” age, things worked out slightly better for all of us. :)
      All the courts did in my case and several others that I know was drain the bank accounts of caring, loving individuals. By the way, guess who isnt married(to the non younger model) anymore?

    • ““If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them. Most men simply don’t need the trouble of caring about kids.””

      – The problem is that the response could always be: “Women are more than 50% of the population. If they wanted to have equality, equal pay, reproductive rights, etc., they could have achieved all that.”

    • “F: “If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them.”

      Strangely the laws in the UK and thus the rest of the British Empire and colonies (i.e. US) did give fathers sole custody. See for instance Rex v. DeManneville (1804).

      It was only the advent of a women’s movement in the mid 19th century that gradually changed this state of affairs.

      • It’s very interesting to make the connection between the women’s movement and custody of children, since many women these days seem to assume the link as part of their matriarchal version of feminism.

        I don’t like it myself. I was never the child-bearing type. I actually find it confusing to have to deal with issues relating to children, as this gives me a sense of looking at needlework too fine for my eyes to see. I’m supposed to be observing something, but cannot see it. As Clarissa says, children are very sensitive to every shift in the parent’s emotions, but I can’t relate to others on a level this fine. I do believe it is expected and I’ve seen people do it, but I can’t, and largely because my own upbringing was unlike this, and yet was so good. Since goodness came to me by means of being insensitive, I can’t relate to the feminist ethics that imply goodness and sensitivity are inevitably linked. I don’t feel it. I feel the opposite. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it.

      • “It was only the advent of a women’s movement in the mid 19th century that gradually changed this state of affairs.”

        You’re right. I get the impression that while the legislation that favoured women getting custody over men was going through, men weren’t watching their backs, didn’t see the implications of ‘redressing’ the unfairness against mothers, and found themselves at the end of it on wrong side of legislation.

        Why it’s been so difficult to redress that wrong I don’t know.

      • @JFA “It’s very interesting to make the connection between the women’s movement and custody of children, since many women these days seem to assume the link as part of their matriarchal version of feminism.”

        It was one of the first “wins” for women. It was before way before women won the right to vote so it is not surprising it has become a part of the “mythology” of feminism.

    • This is the comment that most struck me:
      F: “If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them. Most men simply don’t need the trouble of caring about kids.”

      This is very true in France but things are changing slowly. Shared custody is becoming slowly more widespread.
      Yet here in the States men fight tooth and nail to be in their kids lives and can be pushed away regardless.

      I can’t speak for the rest of the world but in the States that is a pretty lazy and dishonest answer. How about, “If women cared about their abortion rights they would just vote out all the politicians that are against abortion rights. They make up the majority of the voting class so it should be no problem setting up abortion rights in their favor.”

  4. I was horrified by:

    F: “This shouldn’t be about gender at all. The parent who makes more money and has better career prospects should get the custody because this is the parent who will set a better example to the kids.”

    Since in our world this could actually “fly” in court. Since women statistically earn less, it would mean ~0% of getting custody for them.

    Also, the one, who earns more =/= the one who is ready to take better care of the kids. I don’t think there is a connection between salary and being “setting a better example parent”.

    • “Also, the one, who earns more =/= the one who is ready to take better care of the kids. I don’t think there is a connection between salary and being “setting a better example parent”.”

      – Oh, I agree that was a silly response.

  5. Why not just give the custody to the father? It would free up women to do what they want. I have always thought baby other animals were much more appealing than humans.

  6. Winners:
    F: “It is very sad that many fathers still have to fight to be with their kids. The writer is right, this is definitely sexist.”
    M: “What people often forget is that men suffer from sexism, too, and custody laws are an example of that.”

    Losers:
    F: “No, it isn’t sexist to give custody to the mothers in all cases because women are by nature better adapted to bring up children.”
    F: “If men cared about custody, they would have fought for it. Men normally have no problem setting up laws to favor them. Most men simply don’t need the trouble of caring about kids.”
    F: “Women are biologically better at childcare, which is why they should always get custody.”
    M: “Women are better prepared to take care of children, so giving them custody is logical.”

    The fuck did I just read?:
    F: “This shouldn’t be about gender at all. The parent who makes more money and has better career prospects should get the custody because this is the parent who will set a better example to the kids.”
    M: “I don’t think the courts should get involved in the custody decisions at all. Parents can sort it out among themselves.” (This is our resident Libertarian, as you might have guessed.)

    (All the answers are in here because I just didn’t know what to say about some of them.)

  7. “F: “Women are biologically better at childcare, which is why they should always get custody.” (What is really shocking is that this was written by a black student.)”

    Why is it shocking? If this was written by a member of the mainstream African American community in th US it’s more or less what I might expect. Haven’t you ever heard of “paternal investment” (and how it’s not a predominant feature in the African American experience)?

    “M: “I don’t think the courts should get involved in the custody decisions at all. Parents can sort it out among themselves.” (This is our resident Libertarian, as you might have guessed.)”

    Well ideally I tend to agree. If a couple can work out an agreement that’s acceptable to both sides then great and the optimal solution.
    But… couples in the middle of a divorce are not known for good faith negotiation (if they were better at it then the divorce might not be necessary at all) so courts are necessary.

    My own opinion is (unsurprisingly) that if the couple can agree then the court should defer to them. If not then each case has to be looked at separately.
    My own biases would probably be against the spouse at fault in the divorce or in the case of no-fault divorce against the spouse initiating the divorce.

    • // or in the case of no-fault divorce against the spouse initiating the divorce.

      Which is statistically most often a woman.

      If somebody initiates a divorce, it doesn’t mean too much, imo. May be the other partner didn’t care about being officially divorced, while de facto they’re seperated?

      If there is a divorce, in vast majority of cases, the marriage sucked for all anyway, and who files for official seperation 1st isn’t that important and doesn’t make one “less deserving”.

      • Then they could file jointly.

        When one side initiates a no-fault divorce (and there are kids involved) my first sympathies are not going to be with the filer. That’s not to say i can’t be convinced otherwise but I’d want reasons for disrupting childrens’ lives so much beyond ‘the marriage sucked’.

      • “That’s not to say i can’t be convinced otherwise but I’d want reasons for disrupting childrens’ lives so much beyond ‘the marriage sucked’.”

        – Once again: when a marriage sucks, that disturbs the children’s lives and leaves a much more lasting damage than any divorce.

      • “If there is a divorce, in vast majority of cases, the marriage sucked for all anyway, and who files for official seperation 1st isn’t that important and doesn’t make one “less deserving”.”

        – I think people should be rewarded for finding the strength to stop torturing their children with a life in a miserable home with 2 miserable parents.

      • Okay, you’re reading way more into ‘sucked’ than is really there.

        It sounds to me as a lame teenage excuse.
        I’d want to know what precisely sucked and how bad and how was this making people unhappy and is there anything short of divorce that could improve matters. I’m far from convinced that many divorcing couples with kids have made enough good faith efforts at keeping things together.

        Obviously if physical abuse or overt psychological abuse is an issue (or the two parents cannot be civil to each other even when they try) then divorce is probably the least sucky option. But ‘least sucky’ or ‘best uner the circumstances’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘good’.

      • “I’d want to know what precisely sucked and how bad and how was this making people unhappy and is there anything short of divorce that could improve matters. I’m far from convinced that many divorcing couples with kids have made enough good faith efforts at keeping things together.”

        – This close interest to the personal affairs of strangers looks strange to me. If people don’t want to be together, what other reason is needed? We are all tentiled to the “pursuit of happiness” as our basic, inalienable right.

        If you ever tried living with a person who didn’t do anything wrong to you, who is a wonderful person, but whom you simply don’t love any more, who doesn’t excite you, you’d know that this is such a horrible and traumatic situation that nobody should force themselves to remain in it. What’s more, people who force children to live in a loveless environment are jerks because by doing so they condemn the children to spending their own adult lives in similar loveless relationships.

      • “This close interest to the personal affairs of strangers looks strange to me”

        It’s not personal interest, it’s called pursuit of the best interest of the child.

        “If people don’t want to be together, what other reason is needed? We are all tentiled to the “pursuit of happiness” as our basic, inalienable right.”

        The childrens’ right to a stable hosuehold trumps the parents’ search for more exciting partners.

        “If you ever tried living with a person who didn’t do anything wrong to you, who is a wonderful person, but whom you simply don’t love any more, who doesn’t excite you, you’d know that this is such a horrible and traumatic situation that nobody should force themselves to remain in it.”

        Is this a parody? You’ve just described most marriages (for both partners) for most of human existence. When kids appear their needs are more important than the parents unfulfilled sensual desires.

        “What’s more, people who force children to live in a loveless environment are jerks because by doing so they condemn the children to spending their own adult lives in similar loveless relationships.”

        If the parent’s love for their children isn’t stronger than apathy about their spouse then they’re terrible people.

        Again in some cases divorce is the least bad option but ‘falling out of a love’ is a terrible reason to disrupt childrens’ lives (and involves them in their parents’ sex lives more than is reasonable or healthy).

      • “It’s not personal interest, it’s called pursuit of the best interest of the child.”

        – A morbid curiosity for parents’ sex lives can hardly be in the best interest of any child.

        “The childrens’ right to a stable hosuehold trumps the parents’ search for more exciting partners.”

        – By “stable” you mean when 2 sexually unsatisfied, miserable, perennially annoyed and nagging people bicker all day long? Yeah, that is SO stable.

        “Is this a parody? You’ve just described most marriages (for both partners) for most of human existence. When kids appear their needs are more important than the parents unfulfilled sensual desires.”

        – One of the kids’ most basic needs is to have sexually, romantically and personally fulfilled parents. This need is far more basic than the need for toys, iPods, sneakers, etc. And as for your view of marriage, these are not the marriages I see around me.

        “If the parent’s love for their children isn’t stronger than apathy about their spouse then they’re terrible people.”

        – “Close your eyes and do it for Britain! Or for the good of the children!” Seriously? Have you discovered a method to get sexually aroused motivated by love of children? :-) :-)

        “Again in some cases divorce is the least bad option but ‘falling out of a love’ is a terrible reason to disrupt childrens’ lives (and involves them in their parents’ sex lives more than is reasonable or healthy).”

        – It’s the best reason ever. Actually, it’s the only reason.

    • ““F: “Women are biologically better at childcare, which is why they should always get custody.” (What is really shocking is that this was written by a black student.)”

      Why is it shocking?”

      – Because her statement is in absolutely no way different from saying “white people are biologically better at thinking while black people are biologically better at running.” It shocks me to see a black person perpetuate the same kind of thinking that has kept black people enslaved and marginalized.

      • Cultural values tend to trump things like logic and all people tend to simultaneously believe things that contradict each other. It can be funny or sad but ‘shocking’ is not the word I’d use. People believing things that are contrary to their best interests is just about as common as dirt.

        Look at family structures in Africa and what you mostly find is biological fathers don’t play a huge role in their kids lives. That seems to be a cultural preference that survived the passage to the new world and slavery.

        Assimilatory pressures in much of the 20th century limited it for a time but the advent of the welfare state made it economically feasible again and the conspicuous rejection of ‘white’ values that’s defined a lot of African American rhetoric also tends to reinforce the old patterns

      • “Look at family structures in Africa and what you mostly find is biological fathers don’t play a huge role in their kids lives. That seems to be a cultural preference that survived the passage to the new world and slavery.”

        – This is a phenomenally racist statement.

        “Assimilatory pressures in much of the 20th century limited it for a time but the advent of the welfare state made it economically feasible again and the conspicuous rejection of ‘white’ values that’s defined a lot of African American rhetoric also tends to reinforce the old patterns.”

        – And so is this. Are you not feeling good today because these statements are very disturbing.

        I don;t want the thread to end up being reduced to the sexist comments from my students and racist comments from readers.

      • Historically Africa has the highest rate of polygyny in the world (I welcome evidence you can find to the contrary) and it is often multi-local which drastically limits how much time a father spends with any one child.

        In some parts of Africa (esp West Afrca where most African Americans trace their ancestory to) child fosterage (sending children to be raised by other relatives of even non-relatives) is fairly common (which also leads to low interaction rates with fathers).

        African Americans have very low marriage rates compared with other groups in the US. 70 or so percent of African American children are born to mothers with no husband.

        What about any of those statements is ‘racist’? They are facts whether you like them or not and give context to what the young woman in question wrote.
        I disagree with her statement but understand why she might make it (it’s called ‘empathy’)

      • “African Americans have very low marriage rates compared with other groups in the US. 70 or so percent of African American children are born to mothers with no husband.”

        – And you seriously attribute this to something that happened in Africa hundreds of years ago rather than what is happening in the country where these people are actually living today? Yes, makes a lot of sense. Not.

    • “My own biases would probably be against the spouse at fault in the divorce or in the case of no-fault divorce against the spouse initiating the divorce.”

      In many cases, a controlling and abusive partner will refuse to agree to a no-fault divorce, however there isn’t enough evidence of abuse for the abused partner to justify an at-fault divorce in the court. No strings attached no-fault divorce is the only way to properly protect these people. If you can’t be sympathetic towards that, then I’m sorry, but you are a horrible person.

  8. Gah. I wish I had a dime for every time some idiot hairy chested feminist accused me of mysogany or stereotyping. And yet, here they are, most of them female, doing just that. It underlines their unfitness for parenthood too – they respond like the kids are some kind of prize to be competed for. Ladies, I hate to burst your bubbles but if you look at the way most kids raised by single women turn out – you are in no position to say that the mother makes the better parent.

    The guiding factor should be – what is best for the kids themselves?

  9. - One of the kids’ most basic needs is to have sexually, romantically and personally fulfilled parents.(Clarissa)

    I would think the most important need would be the ability that shows your children how you interrelate when all things arent going smoothly. Like everything, our sexuality and romantic sides wax and wane, sometimes for fairly long periods. If you ever end up having children this might become somewhat more clear to you.

    • “Like everything, our sexuality and romantic sides wax and wane, sometimes for fairly long periods.”

      – At the age when that happens, people are physiologically incapable of having small children.

      “If you ever end up having children this might become somewhat more clear to you.”

      – You are forgetting: I have parents. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m talking about damage done to children. Only they have the right to speak to its consequences.

      • At the age when that happens, people are physiologically incapable of having small children.(Clarissa)

        You remember I work in health care? Postpartum depression has nothing to do with age. In fact there are numerous physiological or psychological things(not age related) that can put a damper on our sex lives. It is very different being a parent!

  10. // “Close your eyes and do it for Britain! Or for the good of the children!” Seriously? Have you discovered a method to get sexually aroused motivated by love of children?

    In some cases, parents with small children could stop sleeping with each other altogether, and have an open marriage instead till children grow up. This way both parents satisfy their strong desire to live together with their children, especially if they are f.e. 2 years old and need both parents a lot. But that solution is socially frowned upon, to say the least.

  11. “M: “I don’t think the courts should get involved in the custody decisions at all. Parents can sort it out among themselves.” (This is our resident Libertarian, as you might have guessed.)”

    Well, I agree sorting it out themselves should be option 1. Half-and-half custody should be the expectation unless parents agree on something else and if they can’t agree they can go to court. My ex’s kids officially live with their mom but they are here every weekend. They decided on their own that the best thing was for her to be financially responsible for them because if you have five children and don’t work in the UK, you make more than a computer programmer. If two parents can be sensible, we don’t need courts.

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