Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Solomonic Wisdom

When I was a tot becoming a child of divorce, custody was heavily weighted in the mothers' favor. A divorcing woman had to pretty much be a completely unfit mother to not get sole custody of her children. Thirty years later, much has changed. Family court judges no longer automatically assume that mom is the best one to raise the kids. And in many ways things have improved. Dads are taking more responsibility and joy in the childrearing process.

One change that I cannot laud, however, is the prevalence of joint custody. Some advocates are pushing for legal changes that would make family court judges start from a presumption that joint custody is the best situation. I have to wonder, though, for whom that is best. Surely not for the children, who are bounced back and forth between two homes, sometimes between two schools. Children whose lives are topsy-turvy need stability injected into their world, not chaos and certainly not the permanent chaos of joint custody arrangements.

I'll admit that part of what bothers me about this is the language used. Words are powerful and when I hear talk about parental rights, I wonder about the kids. Let's face it, when people divorce, acrimony is typically involved. Everything has to get split up, not just the marriage. Who gets the house, who gets the DVD collection, who gets the dog, who gets the kids? So Bobby and Susie get reduced to the level of property that mom and dad can fight over. Maybe if the discussions about joint custody were more about what's best for the kids and less about getting a bigger piece of the pie, I'd feel better about it.

As it is, I can't help but be reminded of a judge with a difficult decision about a child. Two single moms lived together. One mom's infant son died. She switched her dead baby for the other mom's living child, and then the custody fight ensued. They ended up in the court of Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived. In all his wisdom, Solomon ordered the child cut in half, a fair division. You know the end of the story. The real mother says the other woman can have the child, her motherly love more willing to sacrfice her rights than the child's life.

Now, I'm not advocating that mothers or fathers lose contact with their children or wind up cut out of their child's life. But in the spirit of Christmas, can we all agree that the child's right to a stable, secure environment is more important than mom or dad's right to a fair share of the spoils of divorce?

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