study, case may help California children of divorce retain bonds with both
By Glenn Sacks
web posted June 16, 2003
of the greatest tragedies children of divorce in California face is the
way courts allow custodial parents to move hundreds or even thousands of
miles away after divorce, damaging or sometimes destroying the bonds between
children and their noncustodial parents. However, new research and a case
pending before the California Supreme Court may change that.
In the case of In re: Marriage of Lamusga, a Contra Costa County custodial
mother seeks to move out of state with her two young boys and her new husband.
The boys' father, who enjoys joint legal but not joint physical custody, seeks
to block the move, arguing that it is not in his children's best interest because
it will damage their relationship with him. The mother, who first tried to
move to Ohio, now seeks to relocate to Arizona in order to provide her new
husband with better career opportunities.
Since the 1996 Burgess decision California custodial parents, usually
mothers, have had the presumptive right to move. However, according to Arizona
State University researcher Sanford Braver, this decision and others like it
were made in a "vacuum" of information on the long-term effects of
Braver and his ASU colleagues Ira Ellman and William Fabricius have begun to
fill this vacuum with a newly released study which shows that move-aways are
correlated with damaging long-term consequences for children. The study, published
in the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, found that
among 14 variables related to a young adult's overall well-being, move-away
status was correlated to significant, negative impact in 11 of them.
These negative consequences include: greater inner turmoil and distress from
parents' divorce; health problems, particularly in the case of girls; more
hostility in interpersonal relationships; negative feelings towards their parents;
greater conflict between divorced parents; and greater problems in general
life satisfaction and personal and emotional adjustment. Not surprisingly,
financial support, including financial support for college expenses given voluntarily
by the noncustodial parent, was significantly higher when children grew up
within a one hour drive of their noncustodial parent.
The study, conducted from a pool of 2,067 college students enrolled in an introductory
level class at a large university, may even understate the damage of move-aways.
As the survey's authors point out, many of the children most damaged by divorce
and alienation from their noncustodial parents were not measured because they
probably never made it as far as college.
The study's results also indict noncustodial fathers who move away from their
children, finding that such move-aways are also correlated with long-term negative
consequences for children. Noncustodial fathers often justify their moves by
arguing that the custodial mother is already denying them access to the children
anyway, or that these moves are necessitated by their child support obligations.
The second claim, however, is no more legitimate than custodial mothers' claims
that moving helps them financially.
While the study's findings on move-aways are new, studies documenting the disastrous
effects of fatherlessness on children are not. Research shows that the largest
single factor in predicting whether a child will graduate high school, attend
college, become involved in crime or drugs, or get pregnant before age 18 is
the presence (or absence) of a father in the child's life. Studies show that
this remains true even after adjustments for household income.
The Burgess decision and others like it ignore the fact that children need
more from their fathers than a check in the mail--they need the love, guidance
and strength which fathers provide. Allowing a custodial parent to move away
often removes one of the two people in the world who love a child the most
from that child's life. How could that be in a child's best interest?
Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and radio talk show host.
His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers.
His radio show, His
Side with Glenn Sacks, can be heard every Sunday on KRLA 870 AM
in Los Angeles.Glenn
can be reached via his website, www.GlennSacks.com or
by e-mail at Glenn@GlennSacks.com. This
column first appeared in the Pasadena Star-News & Affiliated Papers