Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.5.09

What’s A Father to Do?
Facing inequity in divorce and child custody
by Jason Aulicino

If you have divorced in the state of Oregon and are the non-custodial parent, then you probably have experienced first-hand the inequity that exists in divorce and child custody cases. If you are the father who has gone through the courts in a custody dispute, nine times out of 10 you will not be allowed full custody.

The child custody law in Oregon states that if one parent does not agree to all stipulations of a joint custody arrangement, a judge cannot award joint custody and therefore must award sole custody to one parent. 

The result of a sole custody award is that one parent has virtually maximum legal authority over a child, leaving the non-custodial parent with a small list of marginalized rights.

Your rights as a non-custodial parent allow you only to inspect documentation and consult staff associated with your child’s education, medical and government records. Non-custodial parents can only authorize emergency medical, dental, psychological and psychiatric or other health care if the custodial parent is unavailable. In addition, the non-custodial parent may apply to be the child’s conservator, guardian, ad litem, or both. 

That’s it. No More, No Less. There is no glorifying the marginalized role of the non-custodial parent.

This being the deplorable circumstance that it is, I ask myself, “Why should any parent, mother or father, be reduced to that type of relationship with their child?”

Do we want to support a law that claims its decisions are made in the best interests of the child, but does not allow an order of joint custody when one party doesn’t agree; a law that strips the rights of one parent over the sole authority of the other? 

Wouldn’t it be more ethical when we claim a decision is made in the best interests of the child, that we at least have all the custody options on the table? 

So what’s a father to do if he wants to be involved in the upbringing of his child? 

In cases where the mother wants to regulate the relationship of the child with the father, the father needs to pursue sole custody. 

Not until the laws exist to support fathers equally, will fathers really have equal weight in the eyes of society and the courts. And only then will they be considered equal partners in the raising of their children. Only then will a father have no need to “win” sole custody of his children in order to protect his relationship with them. 

Perhaps in 2011 the Oregon State Legislature will actually pass something like one of those 20 proposed Senate and House bills of the past 10 years, which advocated for at least the presumption of joint custody. Perhaps then children of divorced families will begin to spend considerable time with both parents and have both able to make legal decisions regarding their welfare. Honestly, I’ve never seen a dictatorship that serves any interest other than the dictator’s. 

Progressive state? Where? Children with non-custodial parents don’t see it. 


Jason Aulicino lives in Eugene.