The concept of “men’s rights” in marital law stems from the apparent historical preference of family courts to grant mothers custody rights over the children, relegating fathers to holidays and weekends.
But this is not an ironclad rule.
Simply being male does not necessarily doom you to holidays and weekends – or to a father’s estrangement from his children. Practice marital law for any appreciable number of years, as we have, and you’ll see that fathers have about as good a chance as mothers to continue to be involved in their children’s lives after divorce or separation.
The devil is in the details, in other words.
That’s what we mean when lawyers say, “No two cases are the same.” Yet the concept of men’s rights in marital law is an important development, and for good reason. Note that we wrote that fathers often continue to be involved in their children’s lives after divorce or separation – not that they are guaranteed a fair shot at child custody or in the determination of financial support.
Writing for Slate in 2014 (Dad’s Day in Court), Hanna Rosin claims that “the great revolution in family court over the past 40 years or so has been the movement away from the presumption that mothers should be the main, or even sole, caretakers for their children.”
Perhaps, in some cases, that presumption goes “too far,” as Emily Bazelon describes in her article about Olympian downhill skier Bode Miller, who argued against his pregnant girlfriend skipping town with their child to attend college in New York. The court, at least at that point in time, had found in favor of Miller, against a woman who wanted to further her education as the putative reason for leaving California.
So this cuts both ways.
Still there’s value in the concept of men’s rights: Despite our differences and often conflicting interests, it’s at least a reminder that there are two people interested in being parents, that both parents matter when it comes to the children’s best interests.
An attorney who recognizes this has every right to claim to advocate for “men’s rights,” not because mothers don’t matter – they certainly do – but because fathers matter, too, even if it hasn’t always seemed that way based on public perception and anecdotes.