"To support mother and father, to cherish wife and child and to have a simple livelihood; this is the good luck.”
Child custody is set into the basic premise that a mother or father will be a primary caregiver, or split caregiver of their children. You usually see divorced or split up families utilizing courts and litigation processes to obtain custody. Some parents are legitimate in their reasons for wanting custody of their children, some parents are realistic and can be good co-parents of their children, and then you have the ones who want to use the child as a weapon. You never know which type you will get out of your case, despite the assurances one parent can express. "I would never do that, I promise." Those words still don't matter because in a child custody case feathers get ruffled, people get angry, and they can get down right dirty.
Breakdowns of custody descriptions in the state of California (Should hold true for most states):
Physical: Who the child lives with primarily.
Legal: Who makes the decisions about the child. Where he/she goes to school, church, medical, etc...
Sole: One parent controls it all. They retain the child, and they make all the decisions for the child.
Joint: Both parents have a say in decisions and/or equal parenting time with children.
What this illustrates is that there are varying combinations of child custody. We put our faith into the courthouses and judges to sort it out. It becomes a law, and against the law to break the contract of custody. I know most of us read the news and periodically you see an obscure Amber Alert for a parent who has broken the contract of custody and now is wanted by the law for possessing their own children. They become a criminal for being a parent and we are undetermined to say in every case if their actions are just, or if they are just acting out against the other parent.
Now if you read the news you will already know then that there are cases of deadbeat fathers and a growing number of now deadbeat mothers too. What exactly is a deadbeat, well in layman's terms it is someone who doesn't pay child support as scheduled on a continuing basis. What can happen if someone doesn't pay child support? Well they can get their driver's license revoked, wage garnishments, jail time, liens, collection calls, court dates, legal harassment, and so forth. It once again sets the stage for a parent to become a criminal.
As a country we are molding parents into criminals through child custody cases. We pit parent against parent, and child in the middle. Child becomes a weapon between two already volatile parents who utilize the court system. Parenting becomes stressed, hostile, and conflicted. Why would the father want to pay child support and go to jail when he can just tiptoe around legalities and alienate the child? Why would mom want to be a criminal when she can do the same? It becomes this: "He who has the child, holds the ace needed for the royal flush". No matter who you are or who the other parent is, all parents still face these issues in the court house. And one man or woman decides their entire fate and possibly makes a loving mother or a father a criminal in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of their community, and in the eyes of their child.
Women have became more vulnerable to this in recent years. Generally it has been the man who pays the child support, becomes the deadbeat father stigma, and sees his kids maybe on the weekends if lucky. Now we are seeing a reserve in roles where the one who has the biggest and baddest attorney, or the more resources is apt to win these cases. Win, cases ... two words that shouldn't even be in the same league as the two words; loving, parent. Women, especially in domestic violence or vulnerable relationships might have economic strains getting back on their feet, and a lack of community support. Even more-so now in economic strapped times! Funding and programs for women are being cut, and men who have the money have the resources.
Before a parent goes into court and if no custody arrangements exist either parent can otherwise abduct the child or withhold them from the other parent. So if a father hits mom, takes the child, and runs off then there are no laws protecting her rights until she goes into court. To go into court requires an attorney or she has to try to understand and prepare the documents on her own while healing from abuse. This same situation can happen to a man as well.
I will use myself as an example for this entire scenario:
Child custody in general as a segment of family law needs completely renovated. A judge shouldn't oversee normal child custody cases between two parents in non-urgent situations. Both parents should be seen as joint custody holders even without a custody agreement. We should have mediators be the heart of the cases and those who are knowledgeable in child and family psychology to see how the child is fairing. The child should be at the center of the case, not the parents and their wishes. And when a judge does oversee a case and make a ruling the public ought to know how these rulings are being conducted and handled, providing that the names of the parents, children, and witnesses are protected. Having one individual rule over an entire set of lives is absurd. When a mother or father is proven to be the victim of abuse they should have an attorney appointed to them by the courts. A woman or man getting out of an abusive relationship will more likely than not have the means to retain an attorney for $3,000-$5,000 for starters in most California counties.
One: Renovate Child Custody Law to prevent parents from becoming criminals, and children from being alienated. Renovate child support, remove jail time and license revocation. Each parent is the primary caregiver of the child until otherwise proven to be abusive, or negligent.
Two: Remove commissioners and judges from non-urgent, otherwise normal child custody situations. Put these cases with trained psychological professionals (MFT's/Mediators) who can utilize their skills to determine the best arrangements for children. The default is equal access to both sides unless there is overwhelming circumstances that prevent or would otherwise harm a child in that arrangement.
Three: In cases of domestic violence provide the party who is being abused with a court appointed attorney. Use a sliding fee scale to determine payments if needed. If a child is possibly being abused with solid evidence a red flag especially needs to go up and an attorney and mediator appointed to the child to prevent abuse and relocate the child to a new arrangement.
Four: Remove the veil from the cases. Make all cases involving the custody of children open to the public and media to scrutinize. This will ensure more access to fair rulings and let the public know of judges or commissioners who are unjust. Of course block the names of the parents, and child to protect them and keep sanctity and privacy. Remove street addresses, work contacts, witnesses, etc... Just the bare details of the case, the presiding judge, and the ruling.