The ‘divorce epidemic’ that experts agree Western countries such as the UK are experiencing have created a unique sort of social problems and situations, particularly for fathers.
However, each of these countries has a specific and unique approach to the rights of the father before, during and after divorce. The rights and duties of father before divorce are common; they are regarded as equal to that of the mother, with the additional duty of earning income to sustain the family. However, even this setup has seen some change recently with the proliferation of stay-at-home dads that care for the children while the mothers work at their full-time jobs. During the divorce, the approach of each country depends on the legal systems in place, and is beyond the scope of this discussion. We focus, therefore, on the specific problems faced by fathers after divorce, with a special discussion regarding the advice available and fathers that have custody of their young. The universal problems that men face after divorce are manifold. Several experience loneliness and alienation from their children, particularly if the divorce has been acrimonious or they have been granted limited custody. Examine, for instance, the situation of Henry, who reports a substantial degradation, admittedly, by his biased estimation, in his relationship with his children after his wife, Sheila was granted sole custody of them after nine years of marriage. He reports that he meets them on weekends, but feels reduced to a ‘doting uncle’ rather than a key player in their lives. He misses accompanying them for sports practices, to parent-teacher conferences and several other important facets of their lives, instead reduced to taking them on a court counsellor-approved outing twice a month. He believes that his ex-wife and her new live-in boyfriend, who insists that his stepchildren call him ‘dad’, are substantially undermining him. Henry feels that his rights to being an equal parent have been infringed upon, for the rather silly, in retrospect reason that his lawyer did not pursue the custody issue aggressively enough, focusing instead on preventing Sheila from making away with the lion’s share of his not insubstantial fortune. He is currently suing in a higher court for joint custody and increased involvement in his children’s lives, such as having them over on weekends so he can bond with them at leisure and make his dream of watching them blossom into confident young adults a reality. Experts advise a twofold approach to fathers that find themselves in a situation akin to Henry’s: patience and legal recourse. They maintain that several options are available, particularly for fathers that are viewed favourably (no drug/alcohol problems, no arrest records, satisfactory financial condition, etc.) by the courts as recently, several judges and appellate panels have noted that divorce courts have been remiss in paying heed to the rights of the father, instead focusing more on their role in relation to a fair division of joint assets, alimony payments and the like. Several groups, such as Fathers4Justice (the UK), Fathers and Families (Massachusetts, USA) and the American Coalition for Fathers and Children are actively pursuing what they call ‘the right of every child to have two parents’, focusing on the fact that ‘fathers are an essential part of a child's life and that divorce or separation should not change this’. While these advocacy and special interest groups focus on the rights of fathers granted no, limited or unsatisfactory joint custody, the problems of fathers that are awarded custody are entirely different. This set of fathers most frequently reports degradation in the quality of their work lives, as they struggle to meet the demands of both their children and the workplace. While these fathers have significantly more contact with their children than those with no or limited custody, the former find that a ‘middle’ ground, or ‘shared custody’ is ideal for children, as exposure to both parents is, as determined by several international groups, essential to the normal development of children. Thus, it is clear that fathers face a unique set of problems after divorce that are being addressed by various interest groups, while the problems faced by fathers awarded custody of their children are far more dire and require redressal by society.