Suzanne Fields

Divorce is good mostly for the lawyers. They make a lot of money from divorces, working out alimony, child support and custody while the meter keeps ticking. These issues are never easy to resolve, but the "best" divorces are those where the parents can keep the best interest of the child always in sharp focus.

That's always more difficult when rancor trumps reason and the concerns of the children give way to spite and ego, and a spouse's anger with the other surpasses sensitivity and common sense. This is the stuff of countless books and movies. The literature begins with Medea, who murdered her children to punish her husband. Less spiteful parents impose softer gradations of suffering on children when a marriage fails. It doesn't have to be so. Customs, like time, can change.

"Blended" family holidays are increasing, where remarried husbands and wives with a mixture of children celebrate together. Divorced parents share summer houses (hopefully at separate times) so that their children can enjoy an extended stay in the same house where they've developed friendships and familiarity.

But lurid headlines about "deadbeat dads" still identify delinquent parents who refuse to pay child support, even when affluence puts no strain on pocketbooks. Circumstances always alter cases, but David Levy, director of the Children's Rights Council, blames a social system that emphasizes the importance of financial support without focusing nearly the attention that emotional support should get. When child support laws began to tighten in the 1980s, fathers were often kept out of the child's life. Fathers weren't needed, but their dollars were.

"The country saw wage withholding, liens against property, interception of federal and state tax returns, publication of 'most wanted' lists of child-support delinquents, and arrests in the middle of the night, where dads were handcuffed in their pajamas and hauled off to court," Mr. Levy says. Sometimes this was warranted; many angry men were in fact withholding support because their wives were withholding access to their children.

"Men were offended by the idea that a woman could initiate divorce, obtain custody and support, and reduce the father to the role of Disneyland Daddy in his own child's life," he says. Fathers saw themselves unfairly treated, and some of them organized the Children's Rights Council to lobby Congress for joint custody laws and for what's called "shared parenting" -- one parent may be held responsible for financial support but both parents are held responsible for emotional support. Children's rights, as fathers argued before congressional committees, meant fathers' rights, too.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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