My wife is a successful career woman. She has moved up rapidly in a competitive field, and is advancing her career by attending law school at night. I work out of our home and I do most of the child care. If I decide I don’t want her anymore, should I be able to move our kids 2,400 miles away from their mother?
The California National Organization for Women thinks I should.
California NOW, the California Women’s Law Center, and the dozens of other feminist organizations who recently argued the LaMusga move-away case in the California Supreme Court support granting primary custody to the children’s primary caregiver (that’s me), and contend that custodial parents should have the presumptive right to move as stated by the Court in its 1996 decision in In re: Marriage of Burgess.
Burgess, which involved only a 40 mile move within the same county, is being interpreted by California courts to permit moves of hundreds or thousands of miles. In some cases, these courts have even allowed children to be moved out of the country, as far away as New Zealand and Zaire.
In LaMusga, a Contra Costa County custodial mother sought to move with her two young boys first to Ohio and later to Arizona because her new husband allegedly had better job opportunities in those states than in California. The father fought the moves, arguing that moving would be harmful to his children because it would damage their relationship with him. He is unable to move with them because he operates a small business in Northern California and has stiff child support obligations.
Switch the genders and it is not hard to see how LaMusga and other move-away cases should be decided. What would readers’ opinion of me be if I explained that I am moving our children 2,400 miles away from their mother because my new honey got a better job offer? The Letters to the Editor section would be filled with women wanting to tear me limb from limb–and they’d be right. All us of would agree that it’s harmful to take children away from one of their parents, even if that parent was not the children’s primary caregiver during the marriage.
The Georgia Supreme Court recently "switched the genders" and made a just ruling in the Bodne move-away case. In Bodne the court ruled in favor of a mother who sought to block her ex-husband, who had primary physical custody of their children, from moving them out of state. The majority condemned the move-away father for "placing his interests first" and said the move "affected Ms. Bodne’s ability to continue her equal involvement in the children’s lives and also had a direct negative effect on the children." The mother’s attorney noted that the decision will "even the playing field" in a game currently stacked in favor of custodial parents.
Of course, there will be no divorce in my home. Even if there were and I had the upper hand, I wouldn’t dream of hurting my children by moving them far away from their mother and pushing her to the margins of their lives.
Yet today hundreds of thousands of fathers have been pushed to the margins of their children’s lives because of move-aways. My wife and mothers like her don’t deserve to have their children taken from their lives simply because they have pursued careers and supported their families. And if mothers don’t deserve to be treated this way, neither do fathers.
- Sarasota Herald-Tribune2/23/04