Kids must come first in custody battlesMon, February 9, 2009
PARENTING: Equal parenting is a goal worth pursuing but only if both parents are fit to share custody
By KATHY RUMLESKI, FREE PRESS REPORTER
More than any other subject I've written about, the topic of fathers' rights has generated the most response.
In 2006, I penned a special report on fathers' struggles to get access to their children.
To this day, I still receive e-mails about that series. The Internet has spread it far and wide.
Some of the mail is from distraught fathers; others from organizations working for equal parenting rights.
Some are from Europe; most are from North America.
I recently received a phone call from a man who said he was in England. Originally from the U.S., he had contacted an underground railroad of sorts that took him through Canada and then into Europe where he was to start a new life.
He no longer trusted the founder of this "railroad," operated through the Planetary Alliance for Fathers in Exile, and wanted him exposed.
I won't go into detail about the circumstances of this father in England because his story, like many, is long and complicated.
Stories of perjury, accusations of abuse and mounting legal fees are the norm in many of the stories that cross my desk.
Some of these stories are from men right here in London.
The most frustration comes from dealing with the courts.
Recently, a Vancouver Island man lost custody of his children because he informed the courts that his ex-wife was punishing the kids by spanking them with a kitchen spatula, which is illegal.
"The use of an instrument to discipline a child is unacceptable under any circumstances," the judge said.
But he then told the man he shouldn't have tattled on his wife, but discussed the matter with her.
It's hard to have a rational discussion when, as the courts heard, the two parents "hate each other."
The judge also said the children had grown bitter toward their father, but he didn't believe the bitterness was caused by parental alienation.
Fathers' Rights groups are lobbying Parliament to change the Divorce Act to ensure equal parenting is something our courts strive for.
Dennis Valenta, a Clinton man who recently opened an office in that town to advocate for fathers, has just launched a commerical on a local radio station calling for legislation that would make equal access a goal.
There is a London group called Not All Dads are Deadbeats that held its first meeting last week. It wants to create more awareness about the need for equal parenting.
This is a goal worth pursuing, but only if both parents are fit to share custody.
Children benefit from having two loving parents in their life.
Ultimately it will still be up to the courts to decide who is fit and who isn't and that may mean leaving some parents, both male and female, out of the picture.
Sometimes people within the system are simply out to take money from couples in the process of divorce and arranging custody. The antagonism often increases once the courts are involved.
As angry as people are at their ex-spouses, in cases where both have had nurturing relationships with the children, moms and dads should set aside their scraps and come up with an arrangement that is best for the kids -- not what is best for themselves.
Too often the children are used as pawns as parents try to inflict pain on each other.
Everyone loses when that happens.
It's hard to have a rational discussion when, as the courts heard, the two parents 'hate each other.'