OPINION: Rabbis need to speak out on equal access injustice

OPINION: Rabbis need to speak out on equal access injustice

By A loving fatherSilhouette man

In his weekly Ask The Rabbi column in this newspaper, Rabbi Schochet replied recently to a question from an anonymous mother in the midst of an acrimonious divorce, in which she complained about being denied access to her children by their father.

The mother posed an important question to Rabbi Schochet, asking him for the Jewish perspective on child custody after divorce. Reading his answer, I felt compelled to respond. I was impressed with his conclusion – namely that the father should do the right thing and grant equal access.

Equality of access is in the children’s best interests and is surely what matters most. While cases of men limiting their children’s access to their mother are abhorrent and a matter for protest, statistically they are very much the exception. As far as the UK is concerned, fathers far more regularly come up against mothers that try to limit fathers’ access to their children.

Indeed, in many cases, mothers go to disgraceful lengths to limit how much contact a child can have with its father.

Such behaviour occurs in cases where loving fathers are both capable of and willing to look after their children. Unfortunately, either the mother may thwart the father’s attempt to spend time with the child or the father comes up against a judicial system that starts from the premise that raising children is women’s work.

My question is this: Why do rabbis not offer more vocal and public support to fathers who experience alienation from their children? Could anyone cite a single example of a rabbi publicly supporting a father who has suffered restricted access to his children?

There are many cases of rabbis going to extreme lengths to pressurise husbands to ensure they give a Get. Rightly so. But why is there such a lack of support among the rabbinical community for fathers who want and deserve more contact with their children but find themselves being denied reasonable access, let alone equal access, for no good reason? Raising children is women’s work. Or so we are programmed to believe. W

hen a woman seeks custody, it seems natural and we don’t think twice about it. But when a man seeks contact with his children, let alone custody, we are filled with doubts and questions.

Why does he want contact? How does he handle contact? How are his children affected?

One of the leading authorities on custody arrangements is Dr Richard Warshak PhD. He is a clinical, research, and consulting psychologist, clinical professor of psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, and a member of the editorial board of three professional journals.

He was a White House consultant on child custody and one of 60 experts invited to participate in an American Bar Association family law reform initiative. Based on scientific studies, Dr Warshak, in his book The Custody Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 1992), addresses many issues in relation to the custody of children.

One of those he investigates is the fundamental question of how does father-custody affect children’s future psychological development. In his book, Dr Warshak refers to nine extensive scientific studies, eight of which were concluded within a decade of 1992, the year his book was published.

They measured a broad range of psychological traits in children aged two through to 20 and used standard techniques well respected by the scientific community.

He writes: “The results were unanimous. In every study, the self-esteem of father-custody children was comparable to that of mother-custody children.

The same was true for every feature of psychological development assessed! Not one difference was found between father-custody children and mother- custody children – not in their level of maturity, independence, anxiety, frequency of behaviour problems, number of psychosomatic complaints, behaviour with interviewers, and not in their relationship with custodial parents, teachers and peers. “Regardless of what trait was measured, and how or by whom (there were male and female investigators), in all nine studies the psychological status of children living with their fathers was comparable to children of the same ages living with their mothers.”

Fathers as well as mothers need rabbinical help from time to time. Is Rabbi Schochet and the rabbinical community in general willing to help bring an end to the widespread injustice that children and fathers suffer from mothers who restrict their children’s access to their father for no good reason? Isn’t it time rabbis spoke out and promoted the important message of equal access to both parents? Using “kids as battering rams”, as Rabbi Schochet put it in his response, is wrong – no matter which parent does it.

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