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Divorced Dads' White-Hot Sense of Injustice
June 30, 2004
by Carey Roberts

It's not a pleasant statistic, but one that we need to ponder: Overall, men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women. The risk is even more acute among divorced fathers.

A 2000 article by Augustine Kposowa in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that divorced men are 10 times more likely to kill themselves than divorced women. Kposowa's research suggests that each year, more than 3,600 divorced American men -- about 10 every day -- commit suicide.

Exactly what happens during divorce that places these men at greater risk? The process follows a predictable cascade of events.

As the relationship begins to unravel, the couple gets into an argument. That leads to a frustrated shove or two. Mom becomes fearful and goes to the judge to request a restraining order. These edicts are often issued by judges without any hard evidence of injury, or even hearing the father's side of the story - what lawyers call an "ex parte" order.

Research proves that domestic violence is a 50-50 proposition. But never mind, the laws were written by gender feminists to benefit women only.

So dad is ordered out of his own home for a "cooling off" period. While he's out, the wife rushes to the courthouse to file the divorce papers. While she's at it, she petitions for temporary custody of the kids. Family judges don't like to upset the status quo, so the request is granted.

During the divorce hearings, the judge reviews the record. The man had a restraining order placed against him, and the kids seem to be doing OK with mom. Knowing that family judges often believe that moms make better parents, it's no surprise that mothers win custody of the kids four times out of five.

Even after the divorce and custody decisions are finalized, the stigma of the domestic violence rap lingers. Mothers may exaggerate the extent of the threat to win sympathy from their impressionable children. The sad fact is, some women regard their children as personal possessions, to be shared or withheld from their fathers as whim dictates. Eventually, the children may come to regard their fathers with suspicion and distrust.

If the mother sabotages the father's visitation rights, he can petition the court for help. But the mother knows the judge is not going to throw her in jail, nor is he going to reverse the custody award. At $200 an hour in attorney's fees, it becomes an expensive exercise in futility for dad.

So every step along the way, the legal system favors the mother over the father. It's almost as if the presumptions of innocence and of equal standing before the law have been discarded.

When fathers who lose ongoing contact with their children, their worlds begin to come apart. These descriptions, written in the language of clinical detachment, cannot hide fathers' deep-seated sense of loss:

  • In her book Second Chances, Judith Wallerstein notes that men's postdivorce visits with children "can lead to depression and sorrow in men who love their children."
  • Writing in The Male Paradox, John Ross observes that many divorced fathers are "overwhelmed by feelings of failure and self-hatred," and as a result are "disengaging from a family that is no longer really theirs."
  • In a 1993 article in the Journal of Family Issues, Umberson and Williams highlight the sense of failure that these fathers experience. As a result, these men "exhibit substantially higher rates of psychological distress and alcohol consumption than do married men."

So noncustodial dads who have committed no crime and never wanted the divorce become increasingly angry and disconsolate. They find it incomprehensible that their basic human right to be a parent is being curtailed by a legal system that they perceive to be expensive, cloaked in secrecy, and unfair.

Is it any wonder that some fathers crack under the pressure?

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