Body Crimes said in the comments section of the “Gynocentrism, Fairness, and Morality” post at this site:
“Judithann, are you aware that it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that women were able to get custody of their children? In the days before the legal changes that the author of this blog wants to strip away, women had NO rights to their children after divorce, regardless of whose fault. And the early nineteenth century was an improvement on what had gone before, when men had the right to contract their children out as enforced labour. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the preference for mothers as the custodial parent took almost complete effect. In the 1970s, it became recognised that children need both their parents, hence a move towards joint custody. Many of the changes in custody law have been driven by regard to children’s rights and what’s best for them.
If you want to return to the good old days, it’s best to be specific about which good old days these were, because they often weren’t that great at all.”
In my understanding of how child custody worked; father custody was the rule before mother custody became the norm later. Giving approximate dates here referring to the United States; father custody was the rule up until 1850, then mother custody along the lines of the Tender Years Doctrine hit its maximum in 1950, then after 1950 the bias in favor of custody to the mother weakened up until today. There is still a bias in favor of the woman regarding custody today but it is weaker than it was at its peak in 1950. So early stage feminism led to a strengthening of mother custody while more recent feminism has led to a weakening of mother custody. This whole custody issue is only relevant regarding “who gets the children” after a divorce; assuming the marriage is intact of course both parents “share custody” so to speak.
It should be kept in mind, when father custody prevailed that did not mean children always lived with their fathers away from their mothers, what it meant is that the father would decide where the children lived. Often the children would still live with their biological mothers after the divorce but that would be because the father agreed to the children still living with their mother. Alternatively it was common for the children to live with their father and the father’s new wife. While researching this subject once I read that only 5% of the time were children completely kept away from their biological mothers by their fathers after a divorce. Still, the principle was that the father had custody in the sense of the father choosing with whom the child would live. My impression is that only rarely would a father and his children be living alone together, that the great majority of the time the children were with either their biological mother or the father’s new woman or some female relative of the father.
As far as fault in the divorce; a divorce could not be gained merely by choice, some kind of fault had to be involved; I am not aware of the father being at fault lessening the father’s child custody rights so Body Crimes is probably right in that the father got custody regardless of who was at fault in the divorce. Again the father having “custody” did not mean the child would live with the father, it meant the father decided where the child would live. If the man was at fault in the divorce I am quite sure that meant the man was liable to support his ex-wife for the rest of her life; that fault for the divorce meant the man would continue to be obligated to support his ex-wife but that fault did not affect the child custody issue.
The likely rationale for father custody after divorce was probably that marriage and family was considered to be the man’s project and the man’s responsibility and that therefore the man should decide how best to execute his family mission and family purpose, the care and upbringing of children being part of his family mission. So basically when a man married a woman the idea was that the man was choosing the woman to be the bearer and caretaker of his children. The man then was to become responsible for the welfare of his wife and his children both. This meant if at some point in the future the man and wife split up the man was still responsible for the children of the marriage as the man was always responsible for the well being of the children from the beginning. So the father would have custody of the children after a divorce because it was always the man’s responsibility to provide for the children and it continued to be the man’s responsibility to provide for the children whether he was still married to the children’s mother or not.
Fault in the marriage leading to divorce was an issue between the husband and the wife; it was not an issue between the father and his kids. This is why who was at fault in the divorce did not affect the father’s right to custody. Who was at fault in the divorce affected to what degree the man would be liable in the support of his ex-wife but it did not affect the child custody issue.
It is worth pointing out that in 1870 in the United States the divorce rate was 3% but that the divorce rate was 23% in 1950. Likewise among whites the proportion of married women who worked was 2% in 1890 but 21% in 1950. When father custody prevailed divorce was much less common and married women working was much less common. The shift to thinking that mothers should have custody of the children after a divorce (against the father’s wishes) that peaked in 1950 was the result of an already established weakening of male investment in marriage and children. The idea that women are more invested in children than men is not “natural,” it is the by product of family breakdown.
So, yes, I am in favor of father custody as a long term goal as a general rule similar to what the thinking on child custody was before the Custody of Infants Act in 1839.
There is an oddity regarding the issue of child custody. Stronger bias in favor of women along the lines of the Tender Years Doctrine would be an improvement over today because 1950 was a better family situation than today. At the same time bias in favor of men in an overall patriarchal context such as was the case in 1850 is better than the Tender Years Doctrine which was at its peak in 1950.
In my understanding of how things developed; why at first feminism caused a strengthening of mother custody but later caused a weakening of mother custody. At the beginning, in 1850, both fathers and mothers were heavily and equally involved in the raising of their children. Fathers and mothers supported the raising of their children in different ways, fathers largely through financial support of the mother and mothers more through direct hands-on care and attention, but still the raising of the children was very much a joint enterprise that both parents invested in heavily.
From 1850 to 1950 family breakdown was slow and steady; the thing is when family breakdown got started men tended to abandon their investment in children more than women did. Men’s connection to children was more fragile so that when things went wrong women tended to stick to their children while men became less reliable and predictable in their commitment to hold up their end of the family responsibilities. This fading of male commitment and male support of the family then led people to think of women as being the primary responsible parent which then led to the idea that children were “women’s territory” and that therefore in the case of divorce the woman should get custody of the children; this being what the Tender Years Doctrine was based on.
From 1950 to today family breakdown then accelerated and during this later stage of feminism women decided that they wanted to abandon their children just like men had done before so now because of women wanting to distance themselves from the mother role the idea that the woman should always get custody is now “sexist” and based on the “gender stereotype” of women being “natural caregivers” and primarily responsible for the children. This new feminist attitude where women themselves are seeking to escape their parental roles and duties is what is now leading to a weakening of the bias in favor of mother custody.
So I am in favor of mothers being the primary caretakers of children based on male support; based on husbands financially providing for their wives; but at the same time as a long term goal I am in favor of the idea of the family being a male project and a male mission and the father being the one responsible for the well being of his wife and his children both leading to the bias in favor of father custody as that concept was understood under coverture before feminism got started. Still, going back to the Tender Years Doctrine of strong bias in favor of mother custody would be an improvement over today. It is just that strong mother custody is an intermediate step in repairing the family; it is not the final goal.
The overarching goal can be seen as trying to achieve maximum male investment in family life. The current situation is the worst of all possible worlds; both men and women abandoning their responsibilities towards children. Going back to mother custody as prevailed in 1950 would represent a strengthening of male investment in children compared to today but going back to father custody as prevailed in 1850 along with all the other cultural practices that were in force in 1850 represents the maximum level of male investment in children.
My overall goal is to maximize male investment in children which goes along with maximizing male investment in women which makes for strong and stable family life and the health of society overall. Father custody is part of the overall picture of how male investment in family life is held at its maximum strength. Only when the family is considered to be a male project to fulfill the man’s purpose in life will men become fully engaged in their role and responsibilities as the head of household.