Child custody and support laws have become more onerous over the last 50 years due to fewer parents staying together and women becoming equally as capable as men at earning a living outside the home. Instead of reflecting these changes, the laws have lagged behind, continuing to favor mothers over fathers. The laws generally award primary custody to the parent who spent more time at home with the children and less time working, even if the difference was miniscule. The other parent is then ordered to pay a crushing amount of child support, sometimes on top of alimony. In a small percentage of situations, usually where the father was the primary caregiver, this situation is reversed and the laws punish the mother.
Fathers have reacted over the years in different ways. Some fathers’ rights activists in Britain dress up as super heroes and scale public buildings to draw attention to the inequity. The founder of Fathers 4 Justice, Matt O’Connor, started a hunger strike for equal parenting earlier this month outside the home of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Some fathers tragically commit suicide. Last month, a distraught father immolated himself on the steps of a courthouse in New Hampshire, after mailing a 15-page “last statement” to the local newspaper detailing his final frustrations with the child custody legal system. The most high-profile victim of the child custody system, actor Alec Baldwin, helped bring exposure to the unfairness by writing a book about his experience.