“She Got the Gold Mine, I Got the Shaft”
December 6, 2007
“Pretty soon there’ll be more divorces than marriages!” was the dire prediction of Sharon McKendrick in The Parent Trap (Golitzin & Swift, 1961). Divorces are hard on families, and similar predictions have been made since divorce lost most of its stigma in the mid-20th century. Divorce is bad for all parties in a family, though at least one party must feel that the continuation of the marriage is a worse proposition. There is a stereotype that women get the worst of divorce, but when large settlements and alimony are paid out, it is usually by men to women. Although there has been a change toward women paying money to ex-husbands and although both men and women suffer financially from divorce, men have traditionally been and for the most part continue to be the relative losers in our “family court” system where matters of divorce are concerned.
There is a long-held thought that men are more capable of taking care of themselves financially. That expectation means that men are often expected to continue to provide support for their ex-wives after divorce. It is usually the woman who initiates the divorce (Griffiths, 2007); men are hit multiple times financially through their ex-wives’ legal actions. Divorce is commonplace enough that it is thought by some experts that the overall expected outcome for a man getting married is negative despite that married men are happier and live longer than single men. It is a common recommendation that a man planning to marry should protect himself with a prenuptial agreement. Some experts go so far as to recommend that men never marry at all (Smith, 2007).
Divorce outcomes for fathers are even worse than for men who have not had children with their wives. They gain sole custody of their children only about ten percent of the time, compared to women gaining sole custody over half the time (Huang & Garfinkel, 2003). This is, of course, another hit to the wallet through child support requirements. Those men who try to be honorable and support their children from the beginning of divorce proceedings often manage only to find themselves at a disadvantage in the legal proceedings and wind up paying even more. Interestingly, even when custody is fully shared between the former partners, one parent (again usually the father) can be made to pay child support to the other. (White, 2007)
Child custody issues have more than a financial impact. Losing custody of one’s children increases the social and emotional impact of an already-traumatic time. There is often a perception that a non-custodial parent, which a divorced father becomes in over half of cases, is unfit or unworthy to parent his children. As an Ontario court judge put it in the case Brook v. Brook (2006), “A non-custodial parent is frequently perceived in the community as undeserving or unqualified to have custody of his or her child; and this perception is not always accurate.” Many good fathers are made to feel like “deadbeat dads” because of a system that favors mothers and expects that men are willing to step out of their children’s lives financially and emotionally.
Some would argue that most of this trauma is a result of the divorcees’ inabilities to reach a reasonable and equitable conclusion. Many people do try to reach a settlement that is fair to all parties concerned. The problem is that each party might have a different concept of what is “fair.” This leads to resentment, anger, and bitterness in even those divorces that start out amicable. As Ethan Marak (2007) puts it: “Obviously, women don't set out to be gold diggers, but divorce -- like death -- can turn otherwise good people into bloodthirsty wolves.”
Brook v. Brook (2006), 2006 CarswellOnt 2514 (Ont. S.C.J.)
Golitzin, G. (Associate Producer), & Swift, D. (Director). (1961). The Parent Trap [motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Productions.
Griffiths, S. (2007, November 14). Sharon's view - A couple ahead of their time :[Echofeat Edition]. Northern Echo,p. 20. Retrieved November 27, 2007, from ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry database. (Document ID: 1382396211).
Huang, C. C., Han, W. J., & Garfinkel, I. (2003). Child support enforcement, joint legal custody, and parental involvement. The Social Service Review. 77(2), 255. (Document ID: 1291919241).
Marak, E. (2007). How men get screwed in divorce. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from Askmen.com Web site: http://www.askmen.com/fashion/austin_150/166_fashion_style.html
Smith, H. (2007, October 31). Ask Dr. Helen: Should men get married? Retrieved November 22, 2007, from Pajamas Media: Ask Dr. Helen Web site: http://pajamasmedia.com/2007/10/ask_dr_helen_6.phpWhite, N.G. (2007, June 7). Child Support - a male perspective. New York Amsterdam News, p. 6. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from ProQuest Newsstand database.