By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Today's New York Times has a troubling story about a mother who was forced to leave her year-old daughter in order to fulfill her National Guard duties in Iraq. Back a year later, the child's father (not married to the mother) is limiting the mother's access to the child, with permission of a family court judge:
Custody disputes involving returning members of the service have long been an unpleasant fact of military life, but the increasing number of women involved in combat overseas has brought new wrinkles. The Pentagon does not keep statistics on such custody disputes, but military family counselors said they knew of at least five recent situations around the country like the struggle over Elizabeth, in which a mother who served overseas is fighting for more access to her child. Some advocates say an unspoken bias against mothers who leave their young children has heightened both legal barriers and social stigma when these women try to resume their role as active parents.
1. Family court judges should neither be biased for nor against parents of a particular gender. Fathers were unfairly discounted for decades. That doesn't make it appropriate now to discount mothers.
2. Perhaps the family court judge is allowing Elizabeth to slowly get used to her mother again. The story relates that when the child saw her mother for the first time in a year, she burst out in tears. That's not unusual. Adjustment should go slowly at first, but be phased out over a relatively short period of time. Then the parents should share joint custody (absent other factors making one parent a worse parent than the other.)
3. Would the mother be treated differently if she had married the father before having this child? There's too much unwed parenthood and any stigma that helps prevent it is a good thing.