Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Non-Custodial Parent

I would have thought we as a society would have come further in 25 years. But this does not appear to be the case.

My husband and I split up 25 years ago, when I left our marriage and our home, taking my four year old son with me. I won't splatter the private details of our married life all over the internet; if you are looking for salacious tidbits, I can refer you to another blog.

By the time we finally divorced after living apart some two years later, it was an amicable separation. I got the kid, he got the house. Sort of. I had physical custody of our son; we had joint legal custody. Jim stayed in the cabin he had built (on land that did not belong to us) and in which had all lived as a family, up in the peninsula hills.

I don't recall much squabbling over legal papers. It was a do-it-yourself divorce; there were no attorneys, only a paralegal. There was not much property to separate; the cabin was not ours; we each kept one of the two cars we owned. Custody was the only issue for discussion.

By the time I started legal paperwork two years after we had split, our emotions had calmed down. We had established a routine for physical custody and visitation. I had rented a house on the peninsula and Jim would visit Sean at the house one night a week and every other weekend. This arrangement gave Sean great stability in having only one place to call "home". At some point, we put the arrangement on paper, and filed it with the court. It was a pretty typical divorce, mom gets physical custody, dad has visitation rights.

Fast forward 25 years. In this much changed world of today, at least technologically speaking, I have come across a blog written by a divorced mother of three children, who gave up physical custody of her children ten years ago to her ex-husband. She gave up physical custody solely in the best interests of her children at the time of the divorce, not because she didn't love her kids and want to be with them and not for any other reason. So here's the rub: why do I even find myself explaining this? Because we as a society still expect the mom to get the kids, unless there is "something wrong" with her, as in she is an "unfit mother".

And I know one or two who are unfit mothers. Drug addicts, alcoholics, emotionally unstable women whose ex-husbands ended up being the custodial parent. But, why is this the assumed reason if the wife does not end up with the kids today? We are living in a time when women can have just as successful and demanding careers as men, have just as much earning power to afford a nice place to live, in a time when dads have more flexible work schedules thanks to the ability to work from home, in a time when dads taking "paternity leave" is not unheard of - why do we still poorly judge those women who have chosen to give up physical custody?

We do, still, jump to that conclusion. At least, according to one woman's story.

But I have also read a few comments on Facebook regarding this issue, which indicate that there is some progressive thinking out there on the topic. So perhaps we are making progress, even if I find that progress glacially slow. Couples living together was not socially accepted by my parents generation when I met my husband some 35 years ago. Today, unmarried couples living together is hardly questioned, if not always sanctioned. Perhaps there is hope for other alternative lifestyle choices, such as non-custodial mothers. I certainly hope so.

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