of Divorced Dads Revealed to Boston Audiences
Divorced Moms are Favored, Although Kids Need Both Parents
July 2--Most dads do not prosper from divorce and most divorced moms do not suffer catastrophic financial setbacks, despite popular opinion to the contrary.
This was discussed at several stops in Massachusetts last month by Dr. Sanford Braver, author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths.
Before a crowd of about 100 people in West Newton, Braver, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, said that his 15-year-long research showed that most of the time-honored beliefs about divorced fathers are “either severe exaggerations or the exact opposite of the truth.” Braver said that myths about divorced dads include the following:
* Divorced dads are deadbeat dads.
* Divorced dads are runaway dads.
* Divorce impoverishes mothers and children while enhancing the lifestyles of dads.
* Divorced dads tend to get the settlements tilted in their favor.
* Divorced dads have an easy time, emotionally.
* Most family breakups are initiated by dads.
The most pernicious of these myths, according to Braver, is the one which says that dads tend to prosper as a result of divorce settlements. This myth is based upon a study published in 1985 by then-Harvard researcher Lenore Weitzman. Her study showed that following a divorce, the average mother suffered a 73% decline in her standard of living. This was compared to a 42% gain made by the average father.
Harvard Researcher Got Math Wrong
Politicians, academics, and social workers grabbed at this statistic and would not let it go, said Braver. He called Weitzman’s statistic, “The most influential social science data of the past 20 years in terms of law enacted.” In other words, he said, policy makers loved the statistic because it told them what they wanted to hear, and most divorce and child custody-legislation of the past decade has been based upon this set of data.
The research, however, is wrong.
Other researchers could not reproduce Weitzman’s findings. When they sought to review her data, she was less than forthcoming. Most researchers found that the 73% decline for mothers was more like a 26% decline.
Finally, Braver said, he had a telephone discussion with Weitzman. He asked her if, perhaps, she had interpreted the data backwards. This would indicate a 23% decline—more in line with other researchers’ findings. She had no answer.
It was a mathematical mistake. Weitzman has officially recanted. But much damage has been done.
Not only was Weitzman’s thesis wrong, but when Braver factored in such items as taxation differences between custodial and non-custodial parents, he found what most divorced fathers in Massachusetts already knew: custody is a financial prize. That prize is usually awarded to mothers in Massachusetts.
Hope for Divorced Dads
Statistics aside, Braver had a few words of advice for the men—and women—in his audience. Recognizing that Massachusetts has “probably the harshest child-support regime in the nation,” he nonetheless said that “the winds are changing.” That his studies have been federally funded to the tune of “several million dollars,” Braver said, shows that the government is interested in change.
“Don’t despair,” he said, explaining that he had done his job. He had given them facts and figures, he said, adding that now they needed to be activists. “As activists, you can do a world of good,” he said.
Even the word “custody,” may soon be a legal term of the past, Braver
Reverting to his role as psychologist, Braver advised his listeners—many of whom are in the midst of legal and emotional battles with spouses and ex-spouses—not to give up. “Children need both parents,” he said.
When asked which parent is more important to children—the mother or the father—Braver answered with a question of his own: “Which would you rather be without, your heart or your lungs?”
“Why aren’t fathers involved in their families?” Braver then asked. They are often driven out of the active life of the family by angry and well-armed ex-wives, he said. With all the tools of a compliant state at their disposal, mothers can make it very difficult, if not impossible, for fathers to have any meaningful involvement with their children.
Non-custodial parents, usually the dads, get angry at the system. Many are “fueled by rage,” said Braver.
“To those of you on the brink,” Braver said, “that’s not what’s good for your child. Your child needs you. Overcome your anger and frustration. Don’t abandon your children. The children of America need their fathers.”
Voice of Sanity
Braver’s words were like a voice of sanity for the crowd, members of which said that they’d already put his findings to use in what they see as an uphill battle for post-divorce equality. The Fathers and Families group, which sponsored Braver’s talk, is a relatively new organization. It is a growing rapidly, however. In the 16 months since it started, according to President Ned Holstein, it already has a membership of 1,100. It recently mustered a group of 100 to appear at a hearing of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the statehouse. Many testified before the committee regarding the issuance of restraining orders.
Holstein told Massachusetts News that the reason for the existence of the group is to advocate for children to have two actively involved parents. “This is not a gender warfare organization,” he said. “Mothers should not be cut out of the equation, either.”
In addition to the talk in West Newton, Braver’s book tour in Massachusetts included a radio call-in show, a meeting with the Department of Revenue’s Child Support Enforcement Unit, and discussions with two groups of Massachusetts judges.
For more information, write Fathers and Families, P.O. Box 1484, Boston, MA 02117 or call (617) 357-4832.
Curt Lovelace is a correspondent for Massachusetts News.