Stacey Campfield Feels for Assholes

Let us talk frankly (no, not about how hilarious the double entendre in the title of this post is) about divorce.

Listen, I do think that the courts tend to be biased towards mothers when it comes to awarding custody and I do think that one of the unintended positive consequences of our divorcing culture is that men have become more nurturing.  So, I don’t think that, all things being equal, women should be automatically granted sole custody of their kids.

Men are more than capable of raising and nurturing children and the courts should take that into account.

That being said, when Stacey Campfield starts sponsoring legislation designed to make that happen, you can bet I get uneasy.

Let’s take a look at his latest post:

Shared parenting has been an issue that I have been passionate about for some time. The thought is, that in worse case senerio when a couples get divorced, that with all things being equal and with the best interest of the child always in mind that both parents be given equal say and where possible equal time in their child’s life.

Many times, in courts across the state, this has not been the case. Many times good fathers have to fight long, hard and at great expense to just get close to equal footing when they walk into court. Many times they walk out of court disgruntled at the unbalanced decision and walk out of the child’s life.

See what I mean?

On the surface, it seems like a good idea–guaranteeing that women aren’t automatically awarded custody as if they are the best parent when they might not be.  But you don’t have to dig down very deeply to see some troubling problems here.

First, if the best interest of the child is always in mind, how easy is it to work “equal time”?  Is it really in the best interest of the child to spend 26 weeks one place and 26 weeks another, divvied up in smaller portions throughout the year?  What if one parent gets a better job in another town?  Isn’t it in the child’s best interest for the parent to take that job?  Would the other parent have to move there as well?  Would the courts forbid the first parent from accepting the job if it interfered with the custody arrangement?

Second, I’m sure there are some divorces that are civil enough that two folks can hash out every single detail in a kid’s life without it turning into a battle, but most of the divorces I’ve seen, especially the fresh ones, aren’t that way.  If both parents have an equal say in the kid’s life how does that not put the parents at constant impasses?  One wants to send him to private school (perhaps with the money from his new job).  The other wants him to go to public school because it’s closer to her house and easier for her when she has custody.  Do they take that to the judge to sort out?  What if one wants him to go to the Baptist church and the other wants him to only attend the Seventh Day Adventist?  Back to the judge?  What if the father wants him to be an ovo-pesca-vegetarian and the mother thinks he needs steak and eggs for breakfast most days?  Back to the judge?  What if the kid has a fever and it’s right around 103 degrees and the doctor says “Bring him in in the morning for sure, but take him to the emergency room if he gets worse.”  What if the mom decides that a cough isn’t that much worse but the dad thinks it’s best to take him to the emergency room?  Are they going to call the judge to settle that?

I mean, really, at the end of the day, someone’s got to be able to make the final call on what’s going on with the kid.  And it makes sense that the someone who can do that is the person who has custody of him.   It’s hard enough for two people who are married and get along and share goals to always make decisions together.  Divorced couples?  Even worse.

And also, you’re divorced.  It’s commendable if you want to play a major roll in your kid’s life.  It is an asshole move if you are looking to use your kids as a way to retain some control over your ex, to use the courts as a way to throw your weight around when it comes to her.

Which kinds of guys is Stacey Campfield watching out for?  Look no further than these two sentences–“Many times good fathers have to fight long, hard and at great expense to just get close to equal footing when they walk into court. Many times they walk out of court disgruntled at the unbalanced decision and walk out of the child’s life.”

Are Campfield’s constituents emotionally four years old?  Come on, divorced dads who see themselves in those two sentences.  These are your kids.

If you would walk out of your child’s life because you don’t like the decision the Court made–a decision, need I remind you, your kids had nothing to do with–you are not a “good” father, you are an asshole.

No, it’s not fair that the courts appear stacked against you.

But you know what’s really not fair?  Having to suffer through your parents’ divorce only to have your dad ditch you at the end of it because he’s busy throwing a giant temper tantrum at the Court.  That’s really not fair and that really sucks and the fact that Campfield would help you blackmail the State (“Give us what we want or we’ll fuck over our kids as hard as we can”) is, sadly, not surprising.

28 thoughts on “Stacey Campfield Feels for Assholes

  1. I was with Campfield right up until the end.

    What kind of jackass decides that if he can’t see his kid as much as he wants then he won’t see the kid at all?

    That, as you astutely point out, means that the battle was never over the kid but about punishing the ex.

  2. Ever since finding out about Campfield’s MRA leanings I’ve been sure that he has a divorced male relative who has cut off his kids, and blames those evil judges and the system rather than blaming the male relative. It’s a step up from blaming the male relataive’s ex-wife, I guess.

    Speaking of custody battles, B., are you kicking the recalcitrant brother’s butt?

  3. As much as I can. My parents are bribing him by offering to move down there once they retire in order to help him with the kids. We’ll see.

    I’m not sure Campfield believes women are capable of making evil plots. So, no wonder he blames the judges.

  4. Pingback: Nashville is Talking » Aunt B. on divorce with kids, Campfield’s support of ’shared parenting’ legislation

  5. I know fathers whose ex-wives insist on strict nazi-like adherence to the “Wednesday dinner and every-other weekend” policy of visitation, down to the second. These are good fathers who want nothing more than to spend time with their kids. Who’s the asshole there? The manipulative, self-serving mother, that’s who.

    While Campfield may be a nut, and that last sentence you copied may be a ham-handed attempt at sympathy, I’m glad someone is standing up for fathers’ rights. The fact that the courts even use the word “visitation” is appalling. My kid doesn’t “visit” me, she lives with me, just like she lives with her mother.

    Maternal preference in custody is a holdover from the old days when Dad went to work and Mom stayed home and the divorce occurred because Dad was bending his secretary over his desk. Now that both parents work in many or most cases, that custody bias should go.

  6. And yet, those fathers you know aren’t stomping their feet and holding their breathes and refusing to see their kids at all until they get their way, are they?

    My point stands.

  7. Jim: Bridgett surely has more relevant info on this matter than I, but I thought that maternal preference in custody was relatively new. The earlier presupposition was that good women long-sufferingly put up with unfaithful husbands and a divorced woman was such an evil slut that her husband couldn’t put up with her any longer, and you wouldn’t allow someone like that even to see the children, ever. Certainly maternal preference is a 20th century thing, and I thought it was actually a 1930s or 1940s innovation. I hope Bridgett or someone will expand on this.

    And, yeah, some women use the kids to get back at their former husbands. Good men don’t punish the children even further for that. And, you know what? Kids tend to figure out when one parent is being manipulative and the other is hanging in there and dealing with custody problems because s/he loves them.

  8. Many times good fathers have to fight long, hard and at great expense to just get close to equal footing when they walk into court. Many times they walk out of court disgruntled at the unbalanced decision and walk out of the child’s life.

    Interesting, I didn’t read the last two sentences this way. I took it not to mean the disgruntled father, upset at being denied what he perceived as a fair shake in court, walks out on his kids – rather that many times they walk out of court with their being more or less forced out of the child’s life by the rule of the judge. In other words, he’s out of their lives not by choice but by unbalanced rulings brought on by prejudicial treatment on behalf of the mom.

    I’m thinking the phrase “walk out of the child’s life” was more poor wording than deliberate choice. I think he meant some fathers were legally shut out of having much influence on their kids…

  9. “I’m thinking the phrase “walk out of the child’s life” was more poor wording than deliberate choice. I think he meant some fathers were legally shut out of having much influence on their kids.”

    I’m actually inclined to think this way also. I don’t think he meant this the way it came out. Remember, the man can’t write to save his life. Of course, I really don’t have any sympathy for him either on this point. He places no importance on communication skills and deserves what comes of that.

  10. I wasn’t refuting your point, if your point is that Fathers who bail on their kids are assholes.

    I think the first paragraph you quoted is a reasonable starting point in changing things, and I don’t think the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater (no pun intended) over the last sentence of the second paragraph. If you change, “and walk out of the child’s life” to “but feel powerless over the court’s decision” it is a whole different scenario. I haven’t read anymore about what he is proposing, but my reaction is don’t shoot the messenger, especially if the messenger has a track record of buffoonish statements.

    And I don’t really know where the maternal custody preference came from. I was actually thinking 1950s when I wrote it. Strike that part from the record if it is incorrect.

  11. Hey, Roger, I edited your comment, as it seemed to contain your employer as well as you in it.

    Jim, well, then we are in agreement. The laws do need to be worked to be as gender neutral as possible and should not favor the mother just because she’s the mother.

    However, I think y’all are giving Campfield too much credit and it actually lets him off the hook to ascribe to him smarter meanings than he’s actually coming across with.

    Plus, I have to say, as I said to Campfield’s face, I could support legislation like this, except that, when I see he’s involved, I assume there’s some ulterior motive designed to screw women over. His involvement makes me wary. I wonder if his involvement is a detriment to the legislation.

  12. Maternal preference is a relatively recent innovation in American law — the trend swinging toward mothers and away from fathers between 1870s to 1900. The cynical view runs something like this: women get custody of children at roughly the same time that child labor laws go into effect, or when children become economically burdensome rather than potential wage-earners. It’s really a little more complicated than that. In the 1700s and early 1800s rural farming household, there was no question but that fathers should retain custody of children unless it could be demonstrated that the father was unusually cruel, sexually abusive, or a habitual drunk. The sexual division of labor in agrarian households (particularly in the colonial and early republic era) meant that mothers were not presumed to be the primary caregivers of all the kids. In urban households and with the increasing transition to wage work that took fathers out of the house for 12-14 hours a day, mothers were the presumptive caregivers but they didn’t have the economic wherewithal to support the kids. So, generally, the father got the kids in those cases too.

    The rise and continuance of maternal preference has been supported at different times for different reasons. In so-called “first wave” feminism, the post-Civil War suffragettes were concerned with middle-class and elite white women’s rights — they saw child custody as an important assertion of female fitness to parent and a recognition of woman’s right to be a full citizen on par with her ex-husband. Progressive Era (1880s-WWI) feminists believed that women were fundamentally and essentially better nurturers and thought that a good society should support even a poor woman in raising her children decently. They gained a lot of traction and really it’s between 1880-1920 that pretty much all industrialized nations in Europe and North America swung to maternal preference. Mid-20th century jurists responded to the economic realities of income disparity between men and women; when women earned 60 cents on the male dollar, it made more sense to have the woman rear the children and be supported in her nurture by a combination of child support and alimony as a kind of income replacement.

    However, since the 1970s, there’s been a slow trend away from maternal preference (often at the instigation of feminists) that coincided with women’s greater involvement in full-time waged employment and the growth of female earning potential and ability to self-support. By the 1990s, nearly all states preferred joint custody and their laws focus more on what’s best for the individual child rather than ruling presumptively for either father or mother. Older judges are more likely to default to maternal preference bias. Mediation gets dads more physical custody than an adversarial divorce. Surveys indicate that mothers are almost always happier with joint custody arrangements than fathers.

    Two good books on this would be Debra Friedman’s *Towards a Structure of Indifference: The Social Origins of Maternal Custody* (1996) and Mary Ann Mason’s *From Father’s Property to Children’s Rights: A History of Child Custody* (1994).

  13. Look, I know Campy isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but:

    “Many times they walk out of court disgruntled at the unbalanced decision and walk out of the child’s life.”

    “walking out of a child’s life” is a metaphor for what happens when the court forces him to walk out of court empty handed. I doubt you’ll find many cases of fathers who fight “long and hard and at great expense” only to literally walk out of the lives of their children. They are forced by the court to “walk out” of any significant role in their lives.

    I know you probably doubt his ability to use a metaphor, but it could happen.

  14. I know that there as many ugly anecdotes as there are divorces, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that most mothers and fathers work something out — haphazardly and maybe painfully, but they pull it together and act like the adults they are to the benefit of the kids they both love. Nationally speaking, it is *extremely rare* that one parent is entirely excluded from parental responsibilities, as the amount of time, money, tests, criminal charges, and whatnot is prohibitively high and judges are well aware that divorce spawns its own opera of lies and allegations. In most jurisdictions, the split turns out to be on average “schoolweek and 1 month summer one parent/weekends, holidays, and 2 months summer other parent” if they both live in the same area or “school year one parent/vacations other” if they live distantly. The split reflects the needs of the kid, not the convenience or ego of the parents and it’s not going to be 50/50 with school-age kids the majority of the time. However, pretty much anything short of full joint 50-50 physical custody will piss the shorted partner off and make them feel like the court has held them to be less fit, even if the time they get with the kid is actually of higher quality than the “two hours each night before bedtime when the laundry has to be folded, the homework checked, and the lunch packed for tomorrow” kind of time that the schoolnight parents experience.

  15. States that have “presumed shared custody” laws have lower divorce rates. It represents a good policy improvement.

    B, what does your personal distaste for Campfield have to do with anything?

  16. B is an astute person who has researched Campfield’s legislative history. B had detected what she argues (persuasively, I think, though people of good will can differ) is a pattern of asshattery and misogyny in Campfield’s legislative efforts and a clumsy stupidity in everything but publicity generation. B informs her readers that her interpretation of this effort by Campfield is influenced by her critical knowledge of the entirety of his work, which other readers might not have, and her acrimonious personal history with him, which others might not know. It’s called being aware of one’s biases and I, for one, appreciate her candor.

    I agree that “presumed shared custody” laws are a general good, as is the shift to a child-centered approach to determining primary residence.

  17. Bridgett,
    “even if the time they get with the kid is actually of higher quality”

    My best friend has extremely limited time. When he has the kids, it’s party party party. It’s only natural. He gets them so little, that it’s always ZOO . . . TOY STORE . . .ICE CREAM. . . LET’S GO BUY A PONY!!!!

  18. Yeah, the so-called “Disneyland Daddy” or “Fun Dad” phenomenon is noted by most of the researchers, but it’s usually understood as working to the detriment of the non-resident parent’s long-term parenting skills and the child’s perceptions of both parents (usually mom as mean old boring overworked enforcer, indulgent leisure dad who lacks authority and doesn’t seem to know how to cook — sort of a cousin to “dumbass dad” that we see on sitcoms). When remarriages are involved, the Disneyland thing can also be a considerable source of stress for the new spouses dealing with other blended family issues (kids returned wacked out from lack of sleep and cranked to the max on sugar, left undisciplined on vacay and then failing to readjust to the resident parent’s rules, or nonresident parent spending a fortune on kid from marriage #1 but not so much on stepkids or kids from marriage #2…you know the drill and have heard the complaints). As much as the non-resident parent might want to make it all about his or her “giving,” it’s probably healthier for everyone concerned if the dad or mom resists the urge to party party party every single time and makes memories in more low-key settings and ways, thus keeping his or her eye on the type of kid they want to raise and the type of relationship they hope to nurture over the long haul.

    What’s Tennessee’s position on renegotiating custody after a set period? Some states will allow the dissatisfied parent to try to reopen the issue after a couple of years or substantial change in setting (reduction in income, change in domicile, etc) while others frown on it.

  19. … B informs her readers that her interpretation of this effort by Campfield is influenced by her critical knowledge of the entirety of his work, which other readers might not have, and her acrimonious personal history with him, which others might not know. It’s called being aware of one’s biases and I, for one, appreciate her candor…

    OK Bridget, it just sort of seemed that B was not evaluating the policy on its merits. It seemed that she was taking uncharitable swipes at the guy.

    … and the fact that Campfield would help you blackmail the State (”Give us what we want or we’ll fuck over our kids as hard as we can”) is, sadly, not surprising…

  20. Actually in that state of TN you the primary parent can’t move out of a 100 mile radius of the secondary parent, unless given permission by that parent. If the secondary parent moves, above law is nullified.

    Thankfully, my ex and I have a really good relationship, but we don’t split our time with our daughter equally.

  21. one thing to consider is that in general men are the higher wage earners, and have the financial means to pursue legal battles. Also, while I do agree that courts should not auto-choose women over men on the basis of gender, it personally pisses me off that men retain privilege in most other areas, and the one area where bias might work for instead of against women, they want to cry foul. My ex lost a custody battle, I STILL moved to another country so the kids could have both parents afterward. That worked until he chose to take a job in the middle east, several years later. Now he’s remarried, says he can’t afford to see the kids more than once a year, although he makes 6 figures, has a live-in maid, and a 6-bedroom beach penthouse, and all expenses from car to internet paid by the company. Oh, and on his one-week visits, he insists on bringing New Family, so they can enjoy America. Whatever. The kids are old enough now to see that the boring get-your-homework-done, stressful evenings, disciplinarian parent is the one who is there, rather than the fun-time, throw money around annual visits parent. The non-custodial parent does not have to withdraw time/money just because they “lost”. That’s just my story, and admittedly emotional, but I do think that on the whole, women are financially disadvantaged in these matters, and that can sometimes be a trump card for the guys. There are a lot of wonderful single fathers out there, not to knock them, but also a lot of tired single moms struggling.

  22. This just reminded me of something else related to spiting an ex-spouse. I used to work in a bookstore where the security guard was exceptionally helpful to customers: knew where everything was in the store, knew whether there were more copies of a given book in the back, knew all the prices. He was more interested in how the place worked than some of the out-front staff, in fact. One day I asked him why; he said he was bored just watching for shoplifters. So I asked him why, if he was bored with the job and clearly had so much on the ball and so much initiative, he didn’t go into another line of work. And he said that if he made more money, he would have to start paying alimony. This guy (who loved his son and spent lots of time with him) was willing to be bored his whole life (and incidentally to make sure that his son grew up relatively poor) in order to spite his son’s mother. Ugh.

  23. Martin, if I had a fainting couch, I swear your comments would make me take to it.

    Come now! You’re really going to take me to task for being uncharitable?

    Take a look at the legislation Campfield tried to get passed this year. The overarching theme of his political year has been “You Tennessee folks must open yourself up to more and more government scrutiny while I take steps to make the government harder to scrutinize.” When is Campfield going to start being charitable to me?

    I mean, really, this is just about the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of. Campfield wants to take my rights away and make it harder for me to receive needed healthcare and y’all are going to insist that it’s not fair that I’m not interpreting his words in the best light possible. What has Campfield ever done that would make me think that he’s acting from a position of good will and deep thought?

    More than that, what kind of bullshit is it to insist that someone who is clearly not in a position of power should, when faced with a threat to her rights from someone who is in a position of power, just be more sweet and nice.


    When has that ever worked?

    Campfield pisses me off. His legislation is intrusive, often immoral, and always poorly thought out. And yet, Conservatives in this state treat him like he’s their golden child. And here y’all are interpreting more of his typical nastiness as if he’s just not that good with words, but really means something slightly charming and harmless.

    Anyway, that doesn’t matter.

    My point is that I am a grown-up and Campfield is a grown-up. I don’t like him and I don’t really respect him, but god damn if I’m going to insult him by sugar coating my feelings for him.

    In my opinion, the worst quality that women have is our tendency to trade the ability to act genuinely in the world (even if it has very little effect) for manipulation, where we give the appearance, especially to men, of being harmless and charming and of little consequence, all the while we’re working our behind the scenes machinations to undermine people who have no idea we don’t even like them.

    That’s utter bullshit.

    It’s tempting bullshit, and as such, it’s bullshit that must be carefully guarded againt.

    Asking me to be more charitable to a powerful man who doesn’t deserve it, asking me to put on my fake, but more becoming womanly face, so that it’s more comfortable for you (and I guess him) to be around me and hear my fake but more becoming charitable thoughts, is asking me to give up the very little (and it is a very little–I know that) real power I have in exchange for the promise that being manipulative would be more effective.

    And, so, no. I just won’t do that.

    It’s stupid on my part and, I think, disrespectful to the people I interact with.

  24. States that have “presumed shared custody” laws have lower divorce rates. It represents a good policy improvement.

    Because using kids to keep parents who hate each other together is a fantastic idea. Kids absolutely should grow up believing that love is a fairy tale, marriage is a cold war, and happiness is an illusion. That’s good policy.

  25. But what’s the causality here? Is it “presumed shared custody causes couples to stay together,” as seems to be the assumption? Or is it “states that have lower divorce rates to begin with have been able to turn legal attention away from the mechanics of divorce (e.g. no-fault or not? presumed communal property or not?) and towards the effects of divorce on the humans involved,” or something else altogether?

    My own suspicion would be that states that frame the process in non-adversarial ways might slightly lower the divorce rates because in the course of working things out couples find that their relationships improve. But I’m betting that the lower divorce rates came first, freeing up divorce-related energies to address different questions.

  26. That would be a fairly easy one to get at empirically. Wouldn’t one just have to check the dates on when the trend line for divorces flattened and headed downward (minus 18 months to 2 years for the divorces themselves to work through the courts) and cross-check it against the implementation of divorce-related legislation (including the introduction of no-fault and mediation as options that might have a conciliatory effect)? That would demonstrate which came first, cart or horse. Of course, it might also be a false positive correlation and not causal at all, as nm points out. Other things — including the resurgence of evangelical Christianity, regional economic factors, a privileging of economic security over sexual fidelity, tolerance of “open” marriage arrangements and other changing ideas about what marriage should be and feel like — any combo of these could and probably do contribute.

  27. Yes, one would. First, of course, one would want to check whether the states with presumed joint custody actually do have lower divorce rates, since I can’t find a source for the statement on the webs. I was kinda sorta thinking of doing it myself, just out of curiosity, but Cornell U.’s link to the tables of which states have which laws is broken, so I decided I really ought to do some work instead.

    It isn’t likely to be a resurgence of evangelical religion that lowers divorce rates, since evangelicals have slightly higher divorce rates than other religious groups, and states with higher proportions of evangelicals among their populations also have higher divorce rates than other states.

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