Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Tragedy of Legal Bias

A few weeks ago two year old Mason Wyckoff of Iowa was given a fatal overdose of oxycodone by his mother Stephenie Erickson, who then proceeded to do the same to herself. Mason's death was ruled a homicide.

Mason's father Dillon Wycoff had been trying for months to get the authorities (police, child protective services and the court) to intervene but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Why? Quite simply because Iowa laws are biased against fathers. In the state mothers receive sole or primary custody in 73% of cases while fathers receive the same in just 8%. There is little doubt that if it was Mason's father that was endangering him, Mason would would have been immediately taken from his custody. But he was in his mother's custody simply because of her gender.

There is a massive amount of evidence demonstrating that shared parenting is best for the child in almost all cases. And if that is the default, then when it is decided that that non-joint custody is better for the child, custody will go to better parent. When you start with an assumption that it is better for the child to be with the mother then it is very difficult to give custody to the father. Often, as in Mason's case, with truly tragic results.

A quote in the article linked to above from MIT researcher Philip Greenspun states:,
“It is not rational for fathers to fight for custody because their chances of winning primary or shared parenting are insignificant.”
which, in my experience, is absolutely true. Despite a ruling by the custody evaluator that parenting during the marriage was joint as well as the fact that my ex-wife had never used a dime of her income for the children, my lawyer strongly advised, even pushed, me to accept less than joint custody. She stated outright that the court almost always awards custody to the mother, unless she agrees otherwise. I ignored the advice and luckily obtained joint custody. Well, technically it was joint but for all practical purposes I had primary custody. I have no doubt that it would have been highly detrimental for the children if primary custody went to their mother. How much so is speculation.

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