Our fathers’ rights forum continues to draw letters (See the Mailbags for April 22, April 26, and April 27 to catch up). Here’s J.L. with another e-mail contesting my belief that although shared custody is good, forcing children to move from home to home every few days is bad:

“[C]hildren that are to have a continuing relationship with both their mom AND dad must adjust to multiple homes. In my case, my children actually adjust to three homes. About half the time they reside with their mom, and about half the time they reside with their dad, but we also have a summer camp where we move for the summer and spring weekends, so my children have three homes.

 In fact, when I was growing up, my family had a summer home that we moved into for the entire summer and stayed at for weekends in the spring. Looking back at that “domestic instability”, the only impact it had on the development of myself or any of my six siblings was positive.

“Ms. Allen’s opposition to multiple homes for children may be aimed at protecting the interests of children, but unfortunately, her faulty logic is all too often used as one more excuse for depriving children of an active father. Children need two parents, not one home. Some of the most significant interactions I’ve had with my children occur as they are going to bed or as we are beginning our day in the morning. Without the recognition that children adjust better to two homes than they adjust to one parent, my children would have missed out on these moments.

“The other issue that Ms. Allen clings to with little factual support is her claim that fathers are required to subsidize the parenting of mothers because mothers have sacrificed careers. While this is certainly true of some mothers, we all know that women are in the work force in larger numbers than ever. My ex wife worked, and continues to work, in a professional position, yet she still qualifies for my financial protection…. I do agree with Ms. Allen when she notes that staying in a marriage is the least painful course of action for most children. Sadly, the huge advantages given to mothers in the divorce wars has created a reality for mothers that makes it far easier to divorce than to work on a marriage. Not all marriages can be saved, but until the pain of divorce is shared equally by mothers, many marriages will end that have a chance to survive, a tragedy for children.”

I can’t speak to any individual custody-sharing arrangement, J.L., and I’m sure yours works fine and that your children, whom you clearly love, are doing well. My flesh crawls, however, when I read that children “must adjust”–or else–to an arrangement that their parents have worked out in order to facilitate their own divorce. The analogy to having a vacation home isn’t clear to me. My parents often used to rent a summer cottage when I was growing up, but it didn’t break up our family. While I agree that many women get divorced (and get married) for the wrong reasons, unless the husband’s a billionaire, financial incentives aren’t among them. It simply costs more for two people to maintain two households instead of one, three instead of two, or whatever. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of divorce, so I know what I’m talking about. Please, parents, listen to Dr. Laura, and don’t do it.

And here are some wise words from Carrie Lukas, the IWF’s own policy director and frequent contributor to National Review Online. Carrie speaks to two fathers’ rights issues on which I’m 100 percent in agreement with her. The first is the practice of forcing fathers to send their support payments not to their child’s mother but to the government if the mother is on public assistance. Child-support is one thing; bureaucrat-support is another. The second is the outrageous state laws that allow an unwed mother simply to declare that some guy is the father of her child and then force the man to prove that he’s not.

“I worked on the child-support issue when I was working for Rep.[Christopher] Cox [R-Calif.], and I was surprised to learn that while deadbeat dads are caricatured as evil bankers who have run off with young wives and want to forget their kids, in reality guys who fall back on their child support are more likely to be at the bottom of the economic ladder with little or no means to pay child support.

“In addition, the way that the child support system works gives them little incentive to follow the law: if the mother of their child is on state assistance, then the money they pay will be used to reimburse the state, so there is no marginal benefit for the child.  There was a book that studied this phenomenon, and found that many of fathers in fact did help support their child directly with cash or taking care of bills in an ad hoc manner, but that they didn’t want their money to go back to the government.  Though illegal, it is quite different from an absolute callousness about their child’s welfare.

“Another area that I thought was absolutely scandalously anti-male is the manner in which paternity can be deemed.  In California, the process is essentially that a woman who gives birth can name a father at the time of birth.  That man is served official notice that he has been identified as the father of a child and given a certain period of time (something like 90 days) to respond.  The father need not actually receive this notice ‘ having it sent to an old address or lost in the mail is no excuse ‘ if he fails to contest it, he is legally the father and a child support payment is assigned to him.  There are horror stories in which a man doesn’t know that he was named as the father for years.  He finds out that he has a child support arrears years later and is unable to contest paternity. 

“I think that it is a very real problem, and part of a larger cultural problem that contributes to the continued devaluation of the role of father.  Too often it seems like the family court views the dad as cash machine without any other rights or role in the life of the child.”