ECU sociologist writes gude for divorced dads
(Oct. 5, 2000)
Divorce is a struggle for both sides, but when children are involved the problems multiply for fathers who want to stay close to their kids. With that in mind, East Carolina University marriage and family therapist Dr. David Knox has developed a survival guide for fathers going through or considering a family breakup.
The information is contained in Knox's "Divorced Dad's Survival Book: How to Stay Connected With Your Kids," with Kermit Leggett and published this summer in paperback by Perseus Books.
"The book is intended as a manual for "noncustodial" divorced dads who want to stay connected with their children," said Knox, a professor in the Department of Sociology. "It's not a legal manual, but rather a map of the battlefield and a plan of action."
Fatherless families are on the rise in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that 16.5 million young people under the age of 18 live apart from their dads. While there are other reasons, divorce is the major culprit.
According to Knox, divorce usually means that the dad becomes the "noncustodial parent" and is only allowed short weekend visits every couple of weeks. Often, he said, they become too trusting that their former wives and the legal system will act to encourage their relationships with their children. Before realizing it, they are cut out of regular access to their children and are left only with monthly child support checks.
If that's not bad enough, society often characterizes divorced fathers as "deadbeat dads."
To prevent these kinds of problems, Knox favors mediation over litigation. He said when couples end up settling their differences in court, the costs will average $12,000 over a three-year period. Mediation on the other hand is about $1,000 and three months. But, "spouses must be willing to negotiate, to give and take, and to keep the goal of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement above 'winning' money or custody or things lawyers are hired to fight for," he said.
When mediation fails the courts may be the only option. The book offers advice on what to expect and how to protect and improve the father's visitation time with his children and covers the likely-hood of joint custody and full custody for the father. Finding an attorney that specializes in domestic cases is an important consideration.
Other chapters are devoted to things to do or not do when the children are with the father or with their mother. There is a chapters on how to interact with the former spouse, finding a new partner, remarriage, advice from a new partner on building good relationships with the children and some basic tips on fathering.
One chapter covers gay fathers and the problems of "coming out" to the wife and the children. There is also list of legal terms and a resource list of attorneys, mediators and custody evaluators in cities throughout the country.
" The plight of divorced fathers is unprecedented in history," said Knox. He noted that before the industrial revolution, men were almost always awarded custody of the children after a divorce because men were considered the primary "socializers" and were legally responsible for the child's conduct. Today, he said, "the culture of motherhood and the 'tender years' doctrine (young children need mothers more than fathers) dominate divorce hearings on who the children live with."
Knox said the time has come to redesign and restructure the way children continue to be nurtured by their parents who no longer live together. "Children benefit from the at