Family Law

Women’s issue or income earning parent’s issue?

I recently came across an article at an online family law related web-site, about a new “women’s issue”.  The article described a problem that working mothers who have assumed the role of primary income earner are encountering post-separation.

Like most parents, these women are hoping to share custody of their children with their ex-spouse.   They also hope to have the children in their care for the same amount of time each month as their spouse does.

Traditionally, the man has been the primary income earner in the family, and the woman has assumed the role of primary caregiver.  Upon separation, there is an assumption that it is better for children to maintain the “status quo” when it comes to their care and routine to the greatest extent possible.  The typical result is sole custody and primary residence to the mother.  Not all but many fathers hope to to share custody and care of the children equally upon separation.  However, most are opposed by the mothers based on the argument that they have always been the primary caregiver to the children and thats how things should stay.  Women have been making the primary caregiver argument for years and the majority of time it has worked well for them.

This argument has always rubbed me the wrong way because it values quantity of time over quality of time.  I just don’t see any logic in assuming that the primary caregiver parent is the better parent.  Looking back on my childhood memories and the experiences that made me who I am today, its not the baths, meals, or drives to extracurricular activities that I recall, but the time spent directly interacting and speaking with my parents.  Although I spent a lot less time with my father because he worked, my relationship with him was just as strong and significant to me as my relationship with my mother.

I suppose its safe to assume that the stay-at-home parent is the most nurturing parent, although we can’t always assume that this is the case.  Being consistently nurtured is vital to healthy emotional and social development in children, which enables them to have healthy relationships in adulthood.  We are also safe in assuming that the working parent is the more well-rounded parent who, in addition to providing nurturing, has a higher probability of modelling important life skills to children that are necessary for success in adulthood. They are more likely to possess qualities like value of study, practice, perseverance, ambition, dedication, discipline, ability to delay gratification, ability to tolerate frustration, balance, diversity of interests, etcetera.  Of course this also won’t always be the case.  Both types of parents have something equally important to offer to their children.  And its likely that both parents are able to model all these qualities to their children to some extent.

As always, my sympathy remains with the working parent who has to struggle to maintain equal parenting time with their children based on the erroneous assumption that maximum exposure to  a “primary caregiver” is enough to ensure that children will grow up to be well-adjusted adults capable of reaching their full potential.

What is beginning to happen now, is that women who have been the primary income earner in the family are being denied joint custody and equal access time based on the argument that they were not the primary caregiver to the children.  Sole custody and primary care is now being granted to stay-at-home fathers.  What bothered me about this article though was that these women have decided to consider this a “women’s issue”.  Can it be a “women’s issue” if women are the original cause of the issue and most women are still doing this to their husbands?  What about the men who have been subject to this “issue” for years?  Is it both a “women’s issue” and a “men’s issue” then?

I certainly consider it an “issue”, but does it do any good to label it a gender related issue?  Polarizing anything into one group or another isn’t always helpful and isn’t always necessary.  It promotes a sense of victimhood that increases defensiveness and gets in the way of reaching a fair and functional settlement.  Family law has historically been an adversarial process costing families thousands of dollars and causing substantial damage to relationships between ex-spouses.  This issue unfortunately applies to the primary income earning parent, whoever that may be.

Children will learn different things from both their parents.  If both intend to remain equally involved in the lives of their children post-separation, then in the absence of reasons to the contrary, shared parenting remains the most ideal arrangement for parents and children alike.  If women are looking for a solution to this “women’s issue”, then they need not look very far…