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Drawing Battle Lines in Custody Wars

February 16, 1986

Re "Feminist Sees Justice in Child Custody Battle" (by Betty Cuniberti, Feb. 5):

Phyllis Chesler's contribution to the current discussions of the "child custody wars" is a welcome one. Virtually everyone agrees that current child custody practices in the aftermath of divorce are atrocious.

However, I regret Chesler's strident tone and her dichotomy of "his custody" or "her custody." The objective in child custody decisions should be the welfare of the children; and as a rule, children benefit most from maintaining a good, ongoing relationship with both parents.

As a psychotherapist who has spent the last two decades listening to people talk about their parents, I am aware there are lousy fathers and there are horrible mothers. The aptitude for good parenting seems to be distributed rather randomly. Children are entitled to good parenting from both father and mother.

Chesler's remarks that the "joint custody crowd . . . resides in cuckoo land" undermines credibility in her other statements. First of all, we must assume that she is referring to divorced couples who co-parent, arranging for their children to spend approximately equal amounts of time with each parent. In California, virtually every divorcing couple is awarded joint custody, a legal term which denotes nothing about where children spend their time. While Mom and Dad may end their marital partnership, they cannot end their partnership as parents.

It is unfortunate that Chesler continues the painful and tragic either/or model of custody, rather than supporting both parents in continuing their parental partnership for the benefit of their children.

The either/or school of child custody presupposes an adversary relationship between Mom and Dad. Neither parent can do justice to the job of parenting if the other parent is perceived as an adversary.

The root solution to the problem of custody will be found in better preparation for marriage, where a marital model of husband and wife as partners is developed.

People tend to be divorced in similar fashion to the way they were married. If Mom and Dad were competitive and adversary in marriage, they will likely be competitive and adversary in divorce. If they viewed each other as partners in marriage, they will likely be able to continue their parental partnership in a fashion that will benefit all parties, particularly the children.

It is also possible for couples, as they are divorcing, to confront realistically the challenge that lies ahead and learn the skills of communication and problem solving, which will allow them to continue their parenting responsibilities even as they end their marital partnership.



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