Saturday, October 23, 2004

Lawyer Who Fought Pledge Assails Courts on Custody

This NY Times story says:
In a passionate, rapid-fire speech that lasted more than an hour, Dr. Newdow described problems with the family-law system, which makes custody decisions based on the "best interests of the child."

But that is "a meaningless standard which you can't fight," Dr. Newdow said. Which is best for children, he asked, to teach them to be generous or to teach them to be stingy? To spend time on Shakespeare or on baseball?

"Which is better? We don't know," he said. And there are no valid studies that answer the question of what is best for children, he said. Instead, judges simply impose their own biases about what they think is best, with no checks or balances. ...

Dr. Newdow stressed that he believes the government has the obligation to protect children from harm. But absent abuse or harm, he argued, the government should not impose conditions on parents who are before the court that it would not impose on intact families, like telling parents where to live or how to behave.

The solution Dr. Newdow proposes for many of these problems is a presumption that parents should share custody evenly.
Newdow is exactly correct. The article goes on:
That proposal is popular with fathers' rights groups, which are trying to have it adopted by courts and legislatures around the country, arguing in part that it is better for children to have both parents involved in their lives.

Psychologists generally agree in cases where the parents can cooperate, but raise concerns about joint custody's effect on children where the parents are engaged in constant strife. And some experts warn that parents who insist on a strict division of custodial time are less interested in what is good for children and more interested in lowering child support payments or in controlling their former spouses.

In New York, court decisions have held that joint custody is inappropriate in so-called high-conflict cases.

But Dr. Newdow argued that the fundamental unfairness of current custody law increased the conflict.
Again, Newdow is correct. My wife and I are actually quite civil to each other, and agree on most child-rearing issues. But you'd never know it from her 50 pages of gripes that she submitted to the court. Apparently her lawyer has advised her that in order to destroy joint custody and get primary custody, she has to portray our situation as a high-conflict case. Then psychologists and judges mistakenly think that it is better to give custody to the mom.

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