Eurasian, half-Japanese, bi-racial, mixed race, hafu, hapa, double, hybrid, dual culture, TCK (third culture kid,) the axis of evil (yeah, yeah: I am German and Japanese, get over it.) However you choose to describe me my lineage is often one of the most frequently asked questions when I meet new people. I have been asked if I am Brazilian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indonesian, Malaysian, Turkish, and basically every nationality under the sun. I can’t keep up with the flavor of the day in terms of political correctness anymore so for the purpose of this article I am going to refer to people like myself as halflings.
I mean this as a term of endearment, and also as a tribute to one of my favorite TV series coming to an end this week. True Blood had me going for seven strong seasons and I am already mourning the loss. The series explored the halfling protagonist Sookie Stackhouse’s (played by Anna Paquin) struggles with being half fairy, half human. Now, I admit what I am is not nearly as exciting as being half fairy but I can relate to many of Sookie’s trials and tribulations of being being caught between two worlds.
I am not speaking out on behalf of all halflings everywhere, but simply want to share with you my experiences of being what I am in Japan. I have never experienced racism but rather the us versus them concept — not discrimination but differentiation. I don’t have any painful memories. If anything, we halflings get special treatment in Japan. We are often viewed with a mixture of curiosity, awe, envy, admiration, adoration, sometimes suspicion or confusion and a barrage of other emotions.
In the sixth grade, I attended a public Japanese primary school for one semester. I received extra attention from my classmates as well as from students in other classes who I had never met before. They would stare at me and observe and comment on my movements. Some of this I still experience today. This kind of innate curiosity — like an exotic zoo animal released from the confines of its cage roaming free in their natural habitat. I can almost hear their thoughts — it doesn’t look like us, walk like us, or talk like us — but it speaks and understands our language and customs. It’s not Japanese and it’s not completely foreign. What is it?
It’s almost the opposite of bullying. People treat me differently everywhere I go. We are singled out for no other reason than the fact we are of mixed blood. And feeling those eyes on me… there’s a discomfort that comes with that. I will never be fully accepted by the Japanese as one of their own. I feel that Japan belongs to me, but I don’t belong to it.
There are always comments on which parts of my personality are Japanese, which are “foreign” (yes, anything non-Japanese is one big blob). In Japanese culture you are expected to be reserved, but I don’t hold back. I’m not really a fan of “reading the air” so I take the hidden out of the air and expose it. This is considered taboo. This may be more a cultural divide however, and something so ingrained into the Japanese way of life.
If I make a reference to a Japanese quote I am asked how I could possibly know that. How could I eat natto (fermented soy beans, popular Japanese breakfast food,) or umeboshi (salted pickled plum) or ikura (salmon caviar)?
I am constantly spoken to in English despite my fluent and unaccented Japanese. At the airport immigration I am ushered into the line for foreigners to get my passport stamped. When I went to my local bank to open an account was told to head to another level where they handle foreigners. As a child model, my transportation and other fees getting to and from castings were covered, for the simple fact that I am a halfling. My surname is not legally recognized, since my family name, Reimann, is so obviously un-Japanese. When it comes to legalities, I must use my mother’s maiden name, Takatsu (I still retain Japanese citizenship).
Then there are the off-hand comments that mean no harm, but slowly grate over time.
You wouldn’t know because you’re a half.
You’re not Japanese, you’re a half.
Your Japanese is really good for a foreigner.
Are you a half?
I wasn’t expecting Japanese to come out of that face.
You’re a half? Let’s hang out.
You’re cute because you’re a half.
What are foreigners like?
(Gasp) The foreigner speaks Japanese!
But you’re not really Japanese. You’re a half.
Being exposed to this kind of treatment day in day out is a subtle reminder that I will never blend into the societal fabric. I’ve heard this being referred to as racial fatigue.
A couple of years ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding here in Japan. Living in Melbourne at the time, I flew in just for the wedding and had just minutes to spare as I arrived at the venue. There is a Japanese tradition at weddings where the family members and relatives of the bride and groom introduce each other before the ceremony. The groom’s family stands on one side in a line, with the bride’s family facing them. As one of the event coordinators ushered everyone into place, I spotted one of my cousins, the bride’s sister. I stood next to her, eagerly chatting away since this was the first we had seen other since my arrival. The event co-ordinator approached me hesitantly, “This is for family members only…”
I stared at him blankly. “I am family.”
With an almost pained look on his face, he repeated, “I need you to stand over there while the family do the introductions…”
This time I spoke with a little more force. “I am family. I am where I need to be.”
Now desperate to stop this gaijin (foreign) chick from ruining everything, he turns to my cousin and asks her to please tell her gaijin friend this is a family- only event.
I really don’t think he was prepared for her answer.
“She is family.”
With that, the event coordinator walked away looking dazed and confused. How could this foreign-looking girl possibly be part of this pure Japanese family?
There exists an incessant need to place labels of everything and everyone. Pure Japanese… that’s actually a term used in the Japanese language. Jun-nihonjin is someone who is born to Japanese parents in Japan, raised Japanese, and walks and talks like a Japanese person “should.” There there are the hafus (halfling beings like myself) and also the kikokushijo which roughly translates to returnee; a Japanese citizen born to Japanese parents born and raised in Japan who has then spent a prologued period of time overseas then returned to Japan. By this time, they have inherited “Western” values and walk, talk and think differently. They are no longer “pure Japanese” but are now “returnees.”
Japan is one of the most homogenous countries in the world with around 98 percent of the population being ethnically Japanese. Japan is a jus sanguinis country, meaning that citizenship is based on blood, rather than location of birth. However, there has been an increase in the number of mixed-race couples giving birth to children with dual citizenship (around one in 49 babies born in Japan today are of mixed heritage). That’s pretty surprising considering the country was closed to foreigners for almost three centuries.
I am not forgetting the advantages afforded to us halflings. Halflings often grow up speaking two or more languages fluently, integrate well into other cultures having been raised in a multi-cultural household, and hold keen worldly views. As a child and teenager I did struggle a bit with not fitting in with the Japanese clique. As soon as I accepted what I was, the struggle quietened and I could let the comments and stares roll off me. I am so grateful to Australia — a melting pot for so many nationalities — for adopting me. I had no trouble assimilating in Australia, and to this day I think of it as my home.
Some people say mixed race kids should be called “double” instead of “half.” I’ve never been called double and I have no desire to be. I just wanted to be whole.
I’ll never forget the day my dad picked me up from school one day. I was 8 years old, and struggling to find balance between who and what I was. The words my father said to me have stayed with me all these years.
“You are Japanese. You are German. You are Australian. You are a child of the world — a global citizen. You are not half of anything. You are a whole. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
MBRIDGE, Mass. — We’ve interviewed nearly 100 divorce litigators in different U.S. and international jurisdictions for a forthcoming book. We didn’t do this to educate ourselves about Measure 6, the Shared Parenting Initiative on the North Dakota ballot; but inadvertently, we’ve become experts on the practical effects of changes in divorce laws.
Broadly, states fall into three categories:
1. Preserve the status quo
2. Craft a new optimum
3. Don’t take sides
North Dakota currently falls into the first category. The judge tries to figure out who was the “primary parent” during the marriage, then extends the financial terms of what had been a voluntary partnership out until the children are adults.
The parent identified as more important pre-lawsuit is awarded custody, and the parent who had been the breadwinner will be ordered to pay child support.
This approach is consistent with the best published psychology research of the 1950s. However, the academic psychologists have changed their minds. “A psychologist can’t walk into an intact family, do an assessment and determine which parent is better for which child at which age in that family,” said Linda Nielsen, professor of psychology at Wake Forest University.
“And it is the wrong question to ask, since the importance or effectiveness of each parent will go up and down as the child ages.”
In theory, the decision regarding which parent is to be primary is made after a Perry Mason-style trial with witnesses testifying and being cross-examined. In practice, as its typical nationwide, North Dakota judges make an “interim” decision at a 60-minute hearing shortly after a divorce lawsuit is filed — and that decision is likely to become permanent.
The second category includes states that recognize parenting is going to be different following a divorce, so the court should “craft a new optimum.” The court may order the parents to assume unequal roles, but not because roles were unequal during the marriage.
This approach, followed by states such as Michigan and Missouri, sounds great in theory. But in practice, it leads to lots of arguments (at $1,000 per hour or more, considering everyone in the courtroom who is being paid) about what the new optimum should be; and no two judges are likely to agree on what is “optimum.”
“I could take the same facts and argument to five judges and get five different results,” was a common refrain.
Alaska, Arizona, Colorado and Delaware are examples of the third approach: “Don’t take sides.” Either the Legislature or the court will require or strongly suggest that, absent an agreement between the parents, courts award 50/50 parenting.
Effects of Measure 6
Measure 6 would push North Dakota into the third category. Generally, lawyers nationwide say they think that roughly 50/50 shared parenting is best for children. They report that their clients with 50/50 parenting experience less conflict than clients with an every-other-weekend-and-Wednesday-night-dinner schedule.
Among other advantages, “you don’t have a father who is perpetually angry that he pays all of the bills and seldom sees the kids,” as several attorneys observed.
Attorneys and psychologists also report much greater involvement by fathers who had been awarded 50/50 parenting than ones who had been officially deemed “secondary.” “The best kind of parenting is called ‘authoritative parenting,’ as distinct from ‘permissive parenting,’ which is the worst,” Professor Nielsen noted.
“An authoritative parent sets rules and talks to children about important things. He is a child’s parent, not the child’s uncle. For this to be possible, the children must spend ample time with the father and have a full range of activities with him.
“When you cut the parenting time down to every other weekend, there’s not an opportunity to be an authoritative parent. It is not that the dad is a different person. He’s the same person with the same parenting skills, but in a restricted situation.”
Despite saying that 50/50 parenting is better for most children, most lawyers oppose a statutory 50/50 rule and prefer each child’s schedule to be a custom decision. One reason is that these attorneys don’t factor in the cost of legal fees. Maybe a 60/40 schedule is better for Johnny than a 50/50 schedule, but is he better off now that $200,000 has been drained from his college fund to pay for that fight?
One warning, North Dakota: About a third of Measure 6 is given over to an escape clause in the event of domestic violence. Alaska added such a clause to what had been a strict 50/50 system. What happened? “Either there has been an epidemic of abuse since this statute was amended, or a lot of women are lying,” said Pam Sullivan, a divorce litigator there.
“In about 25 percent of the cases now, the man is alleged to be a physical or sexual abuser.”
Lawyers all over the United States report that domestic violence allegations now are standard in custody fights, with up to 75 percent of divorce cases in some states now involving allegations of abuse.
To sum up what we learned from talking to attorneys: Uncertainty drives litigation. Parents like children. Parents like to make money off children.
The typical U.S. state generates a maximum amount of custody litigation by making it uncertain who will win a custody lawsuit and by awarding substantial cash profits, in addition to the enjoyment of time with the child, to the winner.
In Switzerland and Denmark, custody litigation is greatly reduced by a presumption that “Mom wins.” Legal fees in those countries tend to be less than 10 percent of what Americans pay for a divorce. But note that 50/50 shared parenting is common in Denmark, despite the “Mom wins” rule. Why? Child support awards in Denmark are limited to a range of $2,000 to $8,000 per year (compared to a maximum of $25,224 in North Dakota).
Jackie Stebbins, an attorney at Bliss & Stebbins in Bismarck, said “It’s hard for many of us [divorce litigators and judges] to admit that a lot of these custody battles are really about money, but they are.”
After a year of interviewing experts, what’s our expert advice for North Dakota voters? Don’t listen to experts! They aren’t the ones who have to live with the consequences of the law. Talk to adults whose childhood was the subject of custody litigation.
Among us five co-authors, it turns out that one is the child of divorced parents. Here’s her personal perspective: “I am a proponent of the 50/50 custody presumption. The current system forces the parent who does not receive custody too far to the sidelines. Also, Measure 6 should reduce the number of custody battles, which are always destructive.”
We’ve prepared a free excerpt from our forthcoming book for Herald readers. It includes our full North Dakota chapter. Visit tinyurl.com/gfhballot6.
Police in Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, said Saturday they have found the the body of a second newborn child in the home of a 28-year-old woman.
According to police, the woman, identified as Isumi Takano, who works part-time at a bar, gave birth to twins at home at the end of September. The first body was discovered on Thursday and the second on Friday.
Takano was quoted by police as saying both infants were hers and that she couldn’t take care of them.
Police were first alerted by a call from the local welfare office on Thursday. The welfare officer told police that Takano, who had looked heavily pregnant during a recent visit, came to the office again on Thursday for consultation, but there were no signs of pregnancy.
On Thursday night, police visited the woman’s home and found the dead infant wrapped in foam. The second infant was found wrapped in plastic and placed in a box.
Takano lives with her mother and two other children.
Police have released no information on the children’s father.
Police in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, said Thursday they have arrested a couple for chaining their 8-year-old son to a column in their livingroom.
According to police, a friend of the boy had come to visit him at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. He peeked in the window when no one answered the door, NTV reported. He saw the boy chained by the waist to the column and told a neighbor who called police.
Police freed the boy and arrested his parents, Yasuna Miyajima, 32, and his wife Akane, 27, when they returned home. The boy said he had been chained for about 8 hours and not allowed to go to the toilet; his father made him use a pot.
NTV reported that the boy had been absent from school for about a week in July and that when he returned, teachers noticed bruises and burns on his arm and notified a child welfare center. Welfare center staff visited the family in July; however, they found nothing out of the ordinary. They visited a second time in August but no one was at home.
A newborn baby girl was found inside a bag on the grounds of a private residence in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, police said Friday.
According to police, a resident heard the sound of a baby crying outside the house nextdoor at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday, TV Asahi reported. He went to investigate and found the baby girl inside a bag.
The infant still had the umbilical cord attached, and was conscious, but in a weak state, police said. She was taken to hospital and is in a stable condition.
Police said they are questioning a young woman who lives in the house about the child.
Police in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, said Thursday they have arrested a 25-year-old man for inflicting serious injury on his 2-year-old son with an air gun.
According to police, the suspect, identified as Takazumi Nakajima, had been shooting his son over a period of one month with an air gun, Sports Nippon reported.
Police quoted Nakajima as saying that he had shot his son after getting angry at him for “repeatedly changing the TV channels.” The young child’s body was marked with dozens of 6 millimeter impact wounds after being hit by plastic bullets fired from his father’s air gun.
On Tuesday at around 5:25 p.m., Nakajima began shooting his son when his wife, 29, walked in. In an attempt to shield her son, she was also caught in the crossfire leaving her with injuries necessitating one week of recovery, police said.
The couple took the boy to hospital for treatment of his wounds. After examining the welts which covered the boy from his head to the lower half of his body, hospital staff called police, Sports Nippon reported.
According to the prefectural child consultation center, no previous reports of child abuse have been made against Nakajima.
Police in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, have arrested a 31-year-old man for abusing his 21-year-old girlfriend’s one-year-old son.
Police said they received a call at around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday from a woman reporting that her baby was unconscious. Police arrived at the scene shortly after and found the child, Yuto Miyafuku, unconscious on the floor of the apartment, Sports Nippon reported.
Police said they have charged the woman’s boyfriend, Yoshimitsu Oishi, with inflicting bodily harm on the child by violently shaking his head which resulted in a serious cerebral contusion.
The boy’s mother went out prior to the incident. Oishi was quoted by police as saying that Yuto wouldn’t stop crying, so he kept on shaking him.
March 22nd, 2013 By Rupert Wingfield-HayesBBC News, Tokyo
Nobuko Ito is the very model of a modern professional Japanese woman.
She is a qualified lawyer and she speaks fluent English. She has years of experience working in international contract law.
But Nobuko no longer works in a big international law firm. The reason? She has three small children.
According to Japanese government statistics by far the biggest reason why Japanese women quit their jobs after childbirth is that Japanese “working hours make child care unfeasible”.
“Before I had a child I remember one busy month where I billed the client for 300 hours!” Nobuko says.
Nobuko Ito says Japanese men fear losing their job if they take paternity leave
“I’d get in the office at 09:00 in the morning, and leave at 03:00 the next morning, and I’d come in on Saturday and Sunday.
“If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children, you have to just devote yourself to the company.
“I can’t do this, it’s impossible.”
As Nobuko’s example shows Japan’s working culture can be brutal. It’s one of the reasons why 70% of Japanese women still give up work as soon as they have their first child.
Another is their husbands.
When it comes to housework Japanese men are still far behind their counterparts in Europe or America.
In Sweden, Germany and the US husbands spend, on average, three hours a day helping out with children and household chores. In Japan it’s one hour, and they spend just 15 minutes a day with their children.
The pay gap
Many Japanese women still withdraw from the labour force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labour market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment.
The gender pay gap at median earnings is the second highest in the OECD.
Then there is paternity leave. Japanese men are entitled to take it, but only a tiny minority actually do – just 2.63%, according to the Health and Welfare ministry.
“My husband didn’t take paternity leave” Nobuko Ito says.
“Most Japanese men are very hesitant to use the system. They may want to come back home to help with the family, but on the other hand they think they need to work as hard as possible otherwise they may not get promoted, or they may lose their job.”
Despite all this Nobuko, like many Japanese mums, wants to continue working. She now runs her own law practice from an office near her home.
But the next hurdle she and other Japanese mothers face is childcare, or rather the lack of it.
According to the Tokyo government’s own statistics there are 20,000 children in the city waiting for places in day-care centres.
The government centres that do exist are good, but they are far too few. And even if you do get a place it’s means-tested and can be expensive – around 70,000 Yen ($737, £484) per month for the first child.
Japanese fathers make a “limited” contribution to childcare, and do less housework than men from other developed countries, the OECD says
“I’d get a discount for having three children, but it would still be at least $1,000 a month even at the state nursery,” says Nobuko Ito.
“At an expensive private nursery it can cost $2,000 a month per child. But those are really good!” she says laughing.
Kathy Matsui’s Womenomics
Japan’s female employment rate of 60% still ranks well below that of many other developed countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%.
Roughly 70% of Japanese women quit working after giving birth to their first child. This compares to around one-third of women in the US.
The ratio of Japanese mothers with children under six who work (34%) remains extremely low compared to 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.
All of this adds up to two things. Women who are having children are not working. Women who are working are not having children. Both are terrible for Japan’s future.
In her ground-breaking work Womenomics: Japan’s Hidden Asset, Japanese-American economist Kathy Matsui says getting more Japanese mothers to stay in work or go back to work should be a “national priority”.
She says it could add as much as 15% to Japan’s GDP.
But Matsui says there is another even more pressing reason. Japan is running out of people.
“Although a low fertility rate is common among other developed countries, Japan may be the only OECD nation where the number of pets exceeds the number of children,” she says.
Japan’s birth rate is just 1.37 births per woman, far below the 2.1 figure at which a population remains stable.
Evidence from Europe and America suggest helping women to stay in work can increase the birth rate.
More from the Magazine
Each Swedish child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary.
The state subsidy for preschool services is more than the annual defence budget.
In countries like Sweden, Denmark and the US, where female employment rates are high, birth rates are also higher. In countries where female employment is low, like Italy, South Korea and Japan, birth rates are also low.
In Japan a demographic crisis is already under way. In 2006 Japan’s population began to shrink.
If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next half century.
Hiroki Yoshida, a father of three children aged 6, 8 and 11, suddenly became a single father four years ago, when his wife walked out without warning.
He was so shocked he cried for two weeks straight.
“I couldn’t get her off my mind for the next two weeks, but then I thought to myself I had to face reality for the sake of the children,” said Yoshida, 37, in an interview with The Japan Times at his four-bedroom apartment in Konosu, Saitama Prefecture. Yoshida did not move his family after his wife left.
Although it took him a while to get his feelings sorted out and file for divorce, he now feels he can move forward with his new life with his children, especially since becoming officially single again last year.
Yoshida says he bears his ex-wife no ill will in spite of everything. Her parents both died when she was in elementary school, he says, and she had a tendency to fall into depression. She got deeply involved in a questionable “self-discovery” group awareness training seminar and then in a pyramid scheme, he says, and ended up running off with a man she met at one of the seminars.
Although he tried desperately to pull her back in to the family, his ex-wife’s feelings never returned, he said. But after intensive negotiations, the children now see their mother on a regular basis.
The number of single-parent families is on the rise in Japan, along with the growing number of divorces.
According to the internal affairs ministry, 204,000 families were headed by a single father in 2010, up sharply from 166,000 in 2005.
But there were only 90,000 cases in which the children were living exclusively with their father, in a household with no other relatives such as grandparents.
Single fathers fly under the radar compared to single mothers, who are still more common.
Single fathers also, on average, earn more than single mothers, who tend to struggle more financially as a result. A traditionally patriarchal society also discourages fathers from opening up about their problems, and getting help.
Though they might make more money, single fathers must contend with the attitude of employers who view them as the main breadwinner and free from child-rearing duties. Often expected to put in longer hours, they are burdened both at work and at home, making it hard to strike a good work-life balance.
However, a recent law revision highlights how the situation is gradually changing.
Since 2010, single fathers, like single mothers, have been eligible for child-rearing subsidies offered to low-income earners.
Akemi Morita, professor and dean of the sociology department at Toyo University in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, said isolation is the biggest problem facing single fathers.
Society is not yet set up to allow working men to get fully involved in child rearing, and support services for working fathers and their families are few and far between, according to Morita.
“Issues for single fathers include gaining more support from employers. Single-father families, like any other families with challenges (for example, families with a child with special needs), should be given special considerations, such as flexibility in working hours according to their circumstances. For example, they should be able to work flexible hours to leave time to tend to the child, or easily take time off work when the child falls ill,” said Morita.
She points out single-father families that cannot get enough help from their relatives need “one-stop” services where children can stay for a few hours, play with caretakers, or speak their mind to someone.
Morita said that in some countries, like the United States, single-parent families can get support from members of their religious, social or ethnic group.
“But for the Japanese, such support rarely exists, so single-parent households — especially those of single fathers — tend to get isolated more easily,” she said.
Tomoyuki Katayama, founder and former director of Zenfushiren (short for Zenkoku Fushi Katei Shien Renrakukai, or Single Father Japan), points out that men generally find it difficult to ask for help. The group, founded in 2009, was the first support group for single fathers in Japan.
“Normally, men don’t want to talk about things that don’t have a solution or conclusion — problems such as not having money but not being in an environment to be able to increase their income, or not having time to do housework but don’t have an (immediate) solution. Thus, single fathers tend to solve these problems by themselves,” he said.
Katayama says that he and a few other single fathers felt frustrated that single-father families could not receive enough financial support from the government in the past.
Thus, Zenfushiren, with backing from other nonprofit groups that support single fathers, such as Fathering Japan, appealed to the government for support. Out of this came the 2010 legal amendment.
Niigata-based Katayama is a single father of two children. He says he was a workaholic until his ex-wife left 10 years ago.
After changing jobs several times, he quit his office job and became a freelance consultant a few years ago, offering support to single-parent families and couples with problems.
Katayama, 42, says although not all the problems fathers face are the same, most of the ones he knows complain of not having enough time or money.
“There’s a limit to how much a single father can do, juggling housework, child rearing and career. As a result, some single fathers get depressed, and even have to quit their jobs,” he said.
Yoshida, the father of three, was an editor at a publishing company when his wife left him. He had feature stories to handle every month, and the heavy workload made it difficult for him to juggle child rearing and the job.
Yoshida, like Katayama, recently became a freelancer, and is now thinking of starting up an ecologically minded social services business for fathers.
He also takes part in community activities, serving as the representative of his children’s parent-teacher association, and carrying a “mikoshi” (portable shrine) in the local festival.
Yoshida says that he has always been a good dad, cooking and playing with the children every day, so it hasn’t been too troublesome to start anew as a single father. He says what helped him was that all three children sleep very well at night, and don’t long for their mother when she is not there.
With lots of laundry fluttering in the wind on the apartment’s veranda, and a pile of dishes drying next to the kitchen sink, it’s easy to imagine how hectic a life Yoshida is leading.
But his face looks peaceful as he shows off a handmade bag that he has sewn for his 8-year-old daughter to take to school.
“I’m naturally optimistic, you know,” he said, adding that he has more space in his mind now to think about the future.
“I want to find something that I really want to do in my life, and keep on moving forward,” he said with a smile.
What is the best custody arrangement for children after divorce? Most of us outside of family lawyers and courts don’t think about that question until we are faced with it. And then adults tend to choose administrative stability, figuring the kids are as exhausted and spent as themselves. Children of divorce face such an upheaval that it makes sense to adults that the children need time to rest and recover, and so we prioritize routine.
Certainly our custody assumptions support this kind of stability. Typically, one parent gets primary custody, while the other gets Wednesday evenings, every other weekend, half the summer, and alternating holidays. This is so normalized that I was recently encouraged to host a women’s event on Wednesday night because that’s when the kids of divorce are with their dads. It is widespread and predictable.
But those custody norms are informed by old research. We have new research now. In fact, we have enough research that we have long-term studies of children of divorce and meta studies—studies of those studies, a few of which I covered here last summer.
Grant Children Their Rights, Too
What children want and what children need—what they see as stability—is open access to both parents. From a 2000 paper by William V. Fabricus and Jeffery Hall on young adult perspectives on living arrangements after a divorce, reporting on their follow-up in the late ’90s with children of divorce they had studied in the ’70s:
Earlier research on younger children’s perspectives on living arrangements has demonstrated that children desire free and frequent access to noncustodial parents. For example, Rosen (1979) found that 60% of children wanted unrestricted contact, regardless of whether the noncustodial parent was mother or father. Children repeatedly insisted that being able to see the noncustodial parents whenever they wished and being able to see that parent often made their parents’ divorces tolerable for them.
Kelly and Wallerstein (1977) reported that young children viewed the typical every-other-weekend visitation arrangement as severely inadequate. ‘The only younger children reasonably content with the visiting situation were those 7- and 8-year-olds visiting 2 or 3 times a week, most often by pedaling to their father’s apartment on a bicycle’ (p. 52).
…The perspectives of young children, although compelling, have not had much influence in public policy debates about custody and visitation. Young children’s feelings may be suspected of being relatively temporary, malleable, and ultimately not strongly connected to measurable outcomes. The public policy debate about custody and visitation has generally been framed in terms of parents’ (and, most recently, grandparents’) rights rather than children’s wishes (Mason, 1999). Thus, it is important that Wallerstein and Lewis (1998) have recently reported on the longitudinal follow-up of the perspectives of these children now that they are adults. Their report is based on a subsample of 25 respondents who were the youngest (now ages 27 to 32) in the longitudinal study.
Wallerstein and Lewis (1998) found that many of their respondents reported that their visitation schedules with their fathers had been too disruptive and too inflexible and that when this was true they got little enjoyment or benefit from visitation in the way of enhanced relationships with their fathers. As adults, they feel strongly now, as they did then, that their wishes should have been taken into account, and they remain angry and resentful that they were not.
But the children’s desires have had a hard time breaking through the conventional wisdom. Myths about single-adult attachment and simple routines persist. Considering the relative advantages for children of intact families, that children need both parents should not surprise us. Yet it does.
Historical and Practical Ruts
Divorce wasn’t commonplace until the 1970’s. Before then, social scientists studied orphaned children and mother and young child attachment. Mothers were the primary caregivers of children, so studying them first made sense. Then, when the divorce rate spiked, courts didn’t have other information to advise them about the best custody arrangements for children. They granted primary mother care based on the only available research and the prevailing cultural practice. Then social science started to study the effects of a fractured family or father absence.
Courts should grant shared custody to divorcing parents unless presented with clear and convincing evidence this arrangement is not in the best interest of the child.
After about four decades of such studies, we have another answer to “What is best for the children?” (Or really we find another example of being led astray by partial data that our common sense should have warned us to be wary of back in the ’70s.) Absent extenuating circumstances such as abuse, children want and children need open access to both parents.
Advocacy groups for children of fractured homes are opening all over the world trying to break though the old myths with the new studies. They typically seek a presumption of shared parenting rather than the current unstated presumption of primary maternal custody, which covers for an epidemic of familial alienation when the sole-custody parent restricts visitation by other family members.
Simply, courts should grant shared custody, roughly 60 to 40 percent splits of time, to divorcing parents unless presented with clear and convincing evidence that this arrangement is not in the best interest of the child. Abuse, addiction, instability—evidence of each could prompt the court to grant custody to one parent. The court would simply start from the idea that the child should have time with each parent.
The Opposition: Lawyers and Feminists
As simple and logical as that presumption sounds, the two main groups actively resistant to shared parenting make for powerful opposition: lawyers and, paradoxically, feminists. That lawyers oppose shared parenting makes sense. Shared parenting arrangements tend to reduce parental conflict and therefore the continued need for lawyers and their fees. (See generally, the myths link above, page 3 and studies cited in footnotes 16-21.) But feminists, a group often heard demanding more domestic participation from fathers and who we might expect to vehemently object to the old legal assumptions that expect the mother to provide primary care for children, their opposition to shared parenting makes no sense.
In other contexts, feminists complain about the cultural assumptions of childrearing putting an unfair burden on women, but when the law tries to redress that burden and demand that parents share in childrearing, then feminists object. Why? Since courts have overwhelmingly awarded primary custody to mothers in the past, feminists see shared parenting as part of the men’s rights movement. They object to shared parenting as men trying to usurp women’s power by trying to assume the parental responsibility women normally assume, as an attempt to lower child support payments, and as society failing to protect women from abusive men. A particularly tight contortion in reasoning from a recommendation of the National Association of Women and the Law in Canada, where a shared parenting law was defeated back in May:
In fact, as long as women remain the primary caregivers of children, women’s equality is in the best interests of children, and law reform can and must simultaneously take into account and promote both the best interests of children and the equality interests of women.
So while the assumptions about mother care hold, then the assumptions should be followed? I thought feminism was, partially, about breaking assumptions about women’s roles. (Pause here for a moment to ponder that although non-feminists keep getting lectured about how feminism isn’t anti-men, their actions suggest otherwise. They turn their own goals inside-out for simple spite.)
Playing to type, in the North Dakota political battle over the “new and improved” Measure 6, the only active vote for a presumption for shared parenting in this U.S. election cycle, the group running the opposition campaign is all lawyers plus a male pastor and a female domestic violence advocate—and they seem to be using State Bar resources to oppose the legislation. The group that sponsored the measure, however, isn’t the stereotypical men’s rights groups. That group is all women.
Shared parenting is about family.
There are many fathers’ rights groups who support shared parenting, of course, but that is only because fathers are usually the alienated parent. I’m a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting and the stories we receive in that organization are overwhelmingly from women. Some are mothers who hardly see their children. Others are grandmothers and aunts who cannot see their grandchildren, nieces, or nephews, because their son or brother is denied access to his children. The heartache strains other family relationships, like the distraught father who avoids talking to his mother so he can keep his angst from overflowing or the mortified sister who inadvertently posted a FB link that upset the alienating parent and ended the little contact her brother had with his children.
Shared parenting isn’t about fathers’ rights. It isn’t even just about children’s rights, although their hurts are certainly the deepest because they last a lifetime. Shared parenting is about family. Divorce is hard enough, severing the family’s spirit. Physically splitting the family as a matter of course means those spiritual wounds cannot heal for anyone, especially the children.
It is time to stop playing money and politics over children from fractured homes. They have enough to deal with. We should do what is best for them. And the four decades of studies really just tell us what we intuitively know: Children need their parents—both of them.
Visitation. It’s just a terrible word,” says Gabriel Balanovsky, the producer of the documentary film ‘Borrando a Papá’ [Erasing Dad]. “There are only three moments in life for visitation – when someone is in jail, when someone is in the hospital, or when you’re a divorced father going to see your kid. How can a father’s relationship with a son or daughter suddenly be limited to visitation?”
Although it hasn’t yet premiered, Borrando a Papá has already caused quite a stir. The trailer has been viewed 76,000 times on YouTube and the film’s Facebook page has over 19,000 followers – an auspicious start for an Argentine documentary before even reaching the screen. The film’s directors, US ex-pat Ginger Gentile and Argentine Sandra Fernández Ferreira, have appeared on radio and television and in print media discussing the film.
However, not everyone is looking forward to its release: the NGO Salud Activa started a petition on Change.org requesting that Argentina’s film institute INCAA cancel the documentary’s release. According to the petition, the film promotes violence and sexual abuse against minors. After its original release date was pushed back and a pre-screening set for 2nd September at the Colegio de Abogados was cancelled due to pressure from the film’s censors, Borrando a Papá is finally set to premier this Thursday (2nd October).
“When we released our last documentary, ‘Mujeres con Pelotas‘ [Goals for Girls], everybody loved us!” explains Balanovsky. Mujeres con Pelotas follows a group of young women, many from the shantytowns, who play football, a man’s sport par excellence in Argentina. “We were applauded for talking about women’s equality. But men’s equality? They don’t want to hear about men’s equality.”
Borrando a Papá offers a close-up of contested divorce and family violence from a unique perspective: that of the father. According to the film, these fathers are victims of a system that has been so tweaked to protect mothers that it leaves men at the mercy of their ex-wives, who then exploit the family court to keep their ex from seeing his children, often, it would seem, out of spite or vengeance.
Gentile and Fernández interviewed over one hundred men for the documentary, finally settling on six main “characters” for the film. Each of these men has a devastating story of being excluded from his child or children’s lives. Sergio, for example, is isolated from his four kids because of accusations made by their mother. When one of his sons ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull and told the doctors that his mother had hit him, Sergio filed an injunction to take his son into temporary custody. The court refused the injunction, and his son was returned to the care of his abusive mother. Another father, Diego, knows where his daughters live but can’t see them; he drives by their house once a day and whistles up to them from the open sunroof before driving off. Guillermo, a father who suffered physical abuse at the hands of his ex, receives a piece of advice from a social worker: don’t report the violence or you will automatically be suspected of having initiated it.
“It was a very difficult documentary project emotionally,” explains Gentile. “A lot of the men were ashamed to talk about what had happened to them.” It was especially hard for men who had suffered physical abuse by their spouses. “They would use the third-person plural in Spanish – me pegaron – to avoid coming out and saying that their wife had struck them.”
The film moves back and forth between the six men, weaving a story of impotence before a system that appears rigged against any attempt by a father to see his children. Yura is a Russian father who doesn’t even know where his Argentine ex has taken his son; before disappearing with him, she had filed a long list of police reports accusing him of alcoholism, violence, and acts as abominable as “only speaking [to his son] in Russian.” In a meeting with an employee at the Domestic Violence Office where Yura goes to file his own report, he is advised not to bother waiting several hours to be seen by a case worker. “Whatever you tell them, the final report is going to say that your report isn‘t credible and that she is the one at risk,” explains the female worker in a shushed voice. “They’re going to believe her, because she’s the woman.” “Is that legal?” asks Yura. “It’s not legal – it’s the way things are done. We have a team of gender violence specialists and they know when a man’s lying. And he’s always lying.”
The men’s stories are sensitive and thought-provoking, and giving fathers a voice is unquestionably the force of this documentary. Their stories alone would have been more than enough for a feature-length film, yet the filmmakers wanted to show the discrimination against fathers in Argentine family courts from myriad perspectives. The life stories are thus interspersed with statements by a range of people from inside the system, including lawyers, public officials, psychologists, and NGO workers, many of whom appear uncannily comfortable with thismachista notion that men are naturally prone to violence and abuse while women are naturally inclined to caregiving and childrearing.
Some of these people are the ones who are now speaking out against the film. “We didn’t think there would be such an adverse reaction, with people demanding censorship,” explained Gentile. “We were very careful not to attack individuals or organisations. We thought, we’re making a small documentary here so let’s give everyone an elegant exit.”
On the other hand, people who have heard about the movie are also reaching out to them. “We receive about 50 emails every day from people who have seen the trailer and visited our website – people asking us for help because they can’t see their child,” says Gentile. Men aren’t the only ones drawn to the film. “Half of our Facebook followers are women.”
In spite of the film’s fortes, however, there are two sections that throw it slightly off course. The first presents Jorge Corsi, a psychologist who designed the academic specialisation of “family violence” in 1989; its curriculum is still in use at Universidad de Buenos Aires’ school of psychology. Although the programme curriculum is related to the film’s topic (the study programme contemplates exclusively male perpetrators of violence against female victims), the fact that Jorge Corsi was subsequently accused and convicted of sexual abusing a minor seems to stray from the core issue of the film, which is a father’s right to be with his children.
The second segment from the film that could have perhaps been saved for a follow-up documentary on the subject is an interview from British television with Erin Pizzey, a family care activist. Pizzey talks about how the court system in the UK is designed to perpetuate divorce and child custody because of all the money there is to be made in these cases by lawyers, court-appointed psychologists, visitation companions, etc. The film then suggests that the system could also be profit-driven in Argentina. But given the fact that the entire Argentine court system is notorious for its drawn-out blundering, it seems like a stretch to posit that there is a moneymaking scheme behind all the ineptitude; and if this were the case, it would seem logical to assume that there is as much money to be made from mothers as there is from fathers. In any case, the segment again distracts us from the highly compelling life stories of the film.
On Balanovsky and Gentile’s behalf, it is fair to say that they are both so passionate about this topic that it was probably difficult to decide what to leave out. These are stories close to both of their hearts: after fighting to have his visitation rights enforced, Balanovsky was accused of kidnapping his daughter by a criminal court judge even though a family court judge had given him provisional custody. He was later apprehended and spent a year in jail before being released (a judge ultimately ruled that since his parenting rights were still in force, he could not be accused of “kidnapping”). Despite being given visitation rights, he has not seen his daughter in the ensuing 12 years. The incident is frequently brought up by the people who want the film to be censored. As for Gentile, she was moved by Balanovsky’s struggle, as she herself had been isolated from her father as a teenager after her parents’ divorce.
“We are planning to turn this into a trilogy,” explains Gentile, “With a second film focused on the business side of divorce, and a third film that ends on a more positive note, examining possible solutions to this problem – going to places like Belgium, where shared custody is the norm.”
If all goes as planned, the film should be in cinemas starting this Thursday. As with most Argentine documentaries, it is not likely to last long in theatres, and it is well worth seeing. Luckily, after its release on 2nd October, Balanovsky and Gentile are planning on uploading it onto their YouTube page with English subtitles. Their ultimate goal is to spread the word on the plight of these fathers in an effort to finally balance the scales between mothers’ and fathers’ rights.
To see where the film will be playing, please visit the Facebook page. The filmmakers are actively seeking to fund their next documentary, and are accepting donations via their Paypal account.
Sabrina Allen, who was abducted in 2002 in Texas at age 4 by her mother, has been rescued near Mexico City and returned to the United States, the FBI said Wednesday.
Sabrina, now 17, was found Tuesday and her 44-year-old mother, Dara Llorens, was arrested during a stealth operation conducted by the Mexican Federal Authority, FBI and U.S. Marshals in Estafeta Tlaxcala, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Sabrina was undergoing medical evaluation at an undisclosed location and was not immediately reunited with her father, Greg Allen, who has been remarried for 10 years and has young children with his new wife.
“She doesn’t want to see me, she doesn’t want to see any of my family, so we are respecting those wishes,” he told reporters at a news conference in Austin. He said his ex-wife had manipulated their daughter and turned her against him.
Sabrina’s return marked the emotional end of a 12-year disappearance after Llorens allegedly defied a court-approved custody agreement and fled the country during an outing with her daughter.
“You know I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in Mexico and had a lot of help (from Mexican authorities); what happened is, we got lucky,” Allen said. “She’s home.”
“I understand she’s been subjected to intense parental alienation,” he added. “We have a long road ahead of us.”
He said that she was receiving mental health counseling and that “we really don’t have a timetable” for when they would be reunited.
When they are, “I’m going to ask her if I can give her a hug,” he said tearfully. “She’s in pretty bad shape is my understanding. I just pray for healing.”
“We’re eager to have her home as soon as possible, and will slowly introduce her to family members and do what we can,” he added.
Llorens was wanted on a federal warrant on charges of aggravated kidnapping, interference with child custody, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. She was booked into Travis County Jail on charges of “intentionally and knowingly abducting the child by restraining her so as to interfere substantially with her liberty, by moving her from one place to another.” Bond was set at $300,000.
Llorens had been under surveillance for about two weeks by an informant working for investigators, according to Philip Klein, with KIC Investigations.
The pair was spotted once in Mexico in 2003 but eluded capture. Both apparently had dyed their hair and were using false names.
Authorities in the joint task force in Mexico moved in at 11:32 a.m. Tuesday. One Mexican federal officer sustained a minor injury during a struggle with Llorens, according to Klein.
The FBI said it had pursued hundreds of tips and leads over the years worldwide and that Llorens had narrowly avoided capture more than once by assuming new identities and moving frequently.
“Whether it’s 12 years, one month or two years, we don’t quit and we won’t stop,” FBI Agent Dan Powers told reporters.
The FBI said that on April 19, 2002, Llorens took her daughter for a scheduled weekend visit under the custody agreement. She failed to return Sabrina to Allen, her primary guardian, by 6 p.m. on April 21.
Allen told KVUE-TV that his former wife had threatened to take Sabrina away before they vanished. The case was featured twice on America’s Most Wanted.
This is what the current family law system has created and what Measure #6 is trying to stop:
From a HHS Press Release, Friday, March 26, 1999:
“More than a quarter of American children—nearly 17 million—do not live with their father. Girls without a father in their life are two and a half times as likely to get pregnant and 53 percent more likely to commit suicide. Boys without a father in their life are 63 percent more likely to run away and 37 percent more likely to abuse drugs. Both girls and boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to end up in jail and nearly four times as likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems.”
It is painfully clear the dangers of sole custody are not worth the risks to our children. Shared parenting is a no-brainer! Let’s produce a system that actually works. Research shows Shared Parenting reduces conflict, helps parents cooperate for the sake of the children, children do better in their every day life and their adult life, shared parenting does not reduce material and financial support for the children, it does reduce re-litigation costs and it most closely resembles an intact family.
Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
Children who have lived through their parents’ divorces and have now entered young adulthood (and college) have given us their ‘expert’ advice. Seventy percent of them, men and women alike, believe that living equal amounts of time with each parent is the best arrangement for children.
Research supports the conclusion that joint custody is associated with certain favorable outcomes for children including father involvement, best interest of the child for adjustment outcomes, child support, reduced re-litigation costs, and sometimes reduced parental conflict.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that there is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests, there is normally no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their children, the U.S. Supreme Court regards parental rights as fundamental and protected by the First, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. So why would any attorney appose Shared Parenting?
Please do not fall for the misinformation being put forth by the opposition to measure 6. These people profit from family law and all they are trying to do is deceive you on the idea that kids being with both parents is bad. When two people are married with kids the government does not tell them how much time their kids can be with them so why in a divorce should the government have any say unless a parent is proven unfit.
The opposition is the same old foes telling the same old lies. Unethical attorneys profit from keeping parents fighting and are hurting the future of North Dakota, our children!
I have been a fan of Ontario lawyer/writer KAREN SELICK (karenselick.com) for many years and appreciate her “tell-it-like-it-is” approach to some of Canada’s absurd laws. Karen wrote the piece below on spousal support seventeen years ago in the November, 1997 issue of “Canadian Lawyer”, when the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines were nothing more than a law professor’s dream. Enjoy!
“The law of spousal support has become so repugnant to me lately that I often ponder giving up the practice of family law altogether. It’s almost impossible to feel good about what you’re doing. If you act for wives, you have to inform them about the kinds of claims they can make—including claims which I consider to be unjust or downright ridiculous. If you act for husbands, you have to be prepared to be on the losing side most of the time.
It seems that no matter what course a couple’s married life took, the wife can always find some reason to claim spousal support. If she worked outside the home and supported her husband while he became a brain surgeon, her claim is for “compensatory support.” If she did just the opposite, sitting around eating bonbons while the brain surgeon supported her, her claim is for “developing a pattern of economic dependency.”
I’ve even seen cases where the wife has claimed both grounds in the same action, oblivious to the possibility that the bonbon-eating lifestyle she enjoyed in the later years of marriage has already more than compensated her for whatever work she did in the early years, or to the idea that if she was such a great provider in the early years, there was nothing stopping her from maintaining her lucrative career throughout the marriage.
In fact, the only common thread running through most support orders is this: males pay.
I remember reading once about the peculiar notion held by some eastern philosophy that if you rescue a person from impending death, you become responsible for him for the rest of his life. Canadian courts seem to apply a similar prescript to support cases. Once a man has kindly provided a woman with a higher standard of living than she could reasonably have hoped to achieve on her own, he’s stuck with providing it for years to come—maybe even the rest of her life–regardless of how she has behaved toward him or the reason they separated.
The Divorce Act enshrines this principle. It tells judges to alleviate any economic disadvantage arising from either “the marriage or its breakdown.” That “or” is a powerful word. Suppose the marriage gave the wife an advantage rather than a disadvantage: a more affluent, leisured lifestyle than she would have earned on her own. Then, obviously, the termination of the marriage constitutes a disadvantage.
If a man genuinely caused his wife some disadvantage during the marriage, he pays for that reason. But if instead he bestowed an advantage upon her, he pays for having stopped. Heads she wins, tails he loses.
Another objectionable thread woven through both the legislation and the case law is the notion that if a woman can’t support herself after separation, the courts should make her ex-husband support her rather than see her go on welfare. Maybe the legislators and judges who came up with this idea thought it would placate opponents of welfare. If so, they’ve misunderstood the nature of the objection to welfare.
Welfare is objectionable because it is coercive and one-sided. It’s not like charity, which is voluntary. It’s not like a contract, from which both parties benefit. No, welfare simply forces some people to hand over money to others whose predicament they didn’t cause and who have provided no value in exchange.
The same could frequently be said about spousal support. Take, for instance, the recent Ontario case, B. v. B. The trial judge accepted the husband’s evidence that this was a marriage “made in Hell.” The wife, whose IQ was only 68, didn’t work outside the home, but also didn’t do housework. She watched a lot of television, while the husband assumed responsibility for cooking and cleaning, in addition to being the sole breadwinner. They argued a lot, and she was occasionally violent towards him.
The trial judge awarded her only time-limited support, saying “…this husband started to pay for this marriage about three months after it occurred, and then he paid for the next 15 years, and I am not prepared to make him pay for the rest of his life.”
On appeal, the Divisional Court removed the time limit on the wife’s support, stating explicitly that the burden of the wife’s support should fall on family members, not on taxpayers. Why? What principle of justice or morality warrants making Mr. B. pay, as opposed to some unrelated taxpayer? Neither of them caused the wife’s need for support. Neither of them ever received any benefit from her existence.
In fact, we’ve thrown out just about every principle there ever was—from the notion of contract to the notion of fault—that made matrimonial law rational, comprehensible, predictable, controllable or just. While some people may feel that no-fault support has been a liberating event, it’s clear that for others, it has meant nothing but grief and involuntary servitude.
It’s about time we re-examined the unfashionable idea of marital conduct to see whether justice can ever again form part of matrimonial law.”