Protection from what?

Posted Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Law and Culture, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public, Paternity

A couple weeks ago I received a phone call that is not very unusual.  An anxious mother-to-be had questions about custody.  Of particular concern was how she should “protect” her child from the father-to-be, who also happened to be her live-in boyfriend.  The obvious question–one I always ask in these situations–is why this child might need protection from the father.  Sometimes the answer is concerning: the father-to-be has serious mental health or substance abuse issues.  More often the mother-to-be has generalized anxiety regarding the loss of control that co-parenting entails.  Yet to ask such mothers-to-be to identify and explain their fears is perceived of as challenging–often too challenging for such women’s comfort.

Often these mothers-to-be will describe their unexpected pregnancy as “a blessing.” Whether they are mouthing cliches, are truly excited to become a parent, or have merely failed to consider the difficulties of co-parenting a child with someone they are unwilling or unable to marry is something I rarely can determine.  However the hope that one can successfully co-parent a child with someone from whom that child needs protection is a mirage.  To the extent the family court or our culture leads mothers to believe otherwise we are perpetuating a cruelty in the guise of being supportive or encouraging.

My custody cases involving married parents are generally only contentious when one parent has mental health or substance abuse issues or when one parent is merely seeking custody as leverage for support issues.  This is because married parents have enough commonality that they typically do not disagree that much about basic parenting philosophy and they often retain some good will towards the other even as the marriage ends.  However parents who produce children from temporary relationships–or, even worse, from one night stands–often have little in common and lack the trust necessary to make co-parenting work.  For them custody cases are a zero-sum game in which anything one party gains is a loss to the other party.

Frankly any time a child is born to a mother who believes that child needs protection from the father, that child is being born into less than ideal (I would argue tragic) circumstances.  Parenting is hard when a child has two concerned parents who are capable of mutual support and cooperation.  Having parents who cannot support each other and cannot cooperate dooms that child to unrelenting conflict.  I am not sure why our popular culture leads mothers to believe that bearing the children of men they do not trust is not hugely problematic.  Nor do I understand why our legal culture leads mothers to believe we have the tools to fix this problem.

There were questions I wanted to ask that mother that I knew I couldn’t.  Why would you live with a man who you believe is unsafe?  Why would you bear a man’s child if you believe him to be unsafe?  I realize such questions are rude–too rude–but if our culture forbids us from asking them we condemn a lot of children to being born into unstable situations.

9 thoughts on Protection from what?

  1. Well said Greg. I could not agree more. Thanks for posting.

  2. David A. Wilson says:

    I also find it humorous that the mother-to-be usually assumes that she is completely fit and moral and there is no chance that perhaps the child needs to be protected from HER.

    1. David A. Wilson says:

      Perhaps “disturbing” or “sad” would be better terms than “humorous”

  3. Tony O'Neill says:

    Great points in your blog We have an ongoing case where the romance left when the baby was born. Now, mom is trying to strictly control all access by dad and wants to direct dad’s actual time with the infant. WTH.

  4. MJ Goodwin says:

    My saddest GAL cases are “one night stand” babies. I feel so sorry for those little lost kids. They live out their lives in a battle between two strangers.

  5. joe mendelsohn says:

    Greg, obviously your comments have rung a bell with those of us who are trying to figure all this out.

    if you find a solution, please let us know.

    Keep up the good work.

    Joe M.

  6. Greg:

    You Charelston lawyers are much too genteel! Under your classification of “rude” I am down right crude and socially unacceptable. I often pose the question of why would you get pregnant from someone too worthless to help you raise your child? Whether it is offensive or not, I know that is the question in the Judge’s mind and the guardians. Sometimes I think the only way to get clients to understand the futility of their “reasoning” is to put it straight to them, even if harsh.

    I sometimes want to crack up when they are telling me how bad daddy is, on drugs, committing crimes, etc. I actually told one girl that if she went to court making all those arguments the Judge might likely take the child from her since she lived with him until baby was two months old!!!!

    1. MJ Goodwin says:

      See, Greg, you didn’t believe me about Anderson, did you?

  7. One of my local colleagues, who for reasons that will be obvious wishes to remain anonymous, emailed me the following comment about this blog:

    I could not agree more with your blog today. But due to the politics involved I’m not going to respond to it publicly but I definitely have an opinion:

    It’s because of all these “right-to-life” lunatics who claim every life is precious. Instead of getting an abortion, these women are being convinced that giving birth to a child with an unsuitable father is the right thing to do.

    Also, a LOT of women are just plain emotionally needy & cannot be alone so they have these children.

    The anti-birth control & anti-abortion forces have very, very successfully gotten women to have children & to never even consider an abortion.

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