hidden half of domestic violence
to have eternal life
odds favor moms
ROYAL OAK -- When Alexandra Petrella opened her eyes
every morning, the first person she saw was her daddy.
Lawyer says imbalance in Mich. divorce cases shows fathers face 'an uphill
By Jennifer Chambers / The Detroit News
Rick Petrella says he was there for his 6-year-old daughter
every time she woke and at every turn and tumble. So when his wife asked for a
divorce and for custody of Alexandra, Petrella tried to block that and settled
for joint custody -- but at a price.
"My ex-wife fought me on this. The only option I had was
to pay a lot of legal fees. You've got to prove that she shouldn't get
custody," said Petrella, who sold his Bloomfield Hills home and now lives
in an apartment.
Divorced dads like Petrella face daunting odds of winning sole
or joint custody, according to statistics from the Michigan Deparment of
Community Health. Mothers in Michigan are at least six times more likely than
fathers to be awarded custody, data show.
Mothers were awarded physical custody in 13,094 cases during
1999, according to statewide figures from every divorce or annulment case in
Michigan that year. Fathers got sole custody in 2,239 cases and joint physical
custody was the outcome on 3,918 occasions.
In 2000, custody was recommended for mothers in 10,512 cases,
for fathers in 2,201 cases and for joint physical custody in 2,031 cases,
according to records from the State Court Administrative Office, which obtains
information from local friend of the court offices.
West Bloomfield Township attorney Dennis Vatsis, who spent
more than a year collecting data on child custody recommendations and decisions,
published the results recently in the Michigan Bar Journal.
He sees the findings as proof of what many men have claimed --
divorce decisions reflect a belief that mothers are naturally qualified parents
and fathers are not.
"It's an uphill battle to obtain custody for the
father," Vatsis said. "Dads have traditionally, until the last few
decades, been out of the household and mothers have been in. That stereotype
still persists in the domestic relations arena, even though a large percentage
of mothers are now in the workforce."
Attorney Dennis Zamplas at the Law Firm of Victoria, which
represents women only, disagrees that a gender bias exists in court. Rather, he
said, custody is decided according to guidelines established by the Michigan
Supreme Court that focus on a child's best interest. The decision, Zamplas said,
often comes down to which parent has been the main caretaker from the beginning.
"If there is a bias, it's not gender. It's in the
position of mom and dad and what part they take from the beginning in caring for
the child," Zamplas said.
Alan Z. Lebow, who heads a Southfield chapter of a group
called Fathers for Equal Rights of America, said he wasn't surprised by the new
Groups like DADS of Michigan are backing a proposed new law
that would require judges to award equal custody to both parents unless one is
physically abusive, drug-addicted or otherwise unfit. The bill, known in
shorthand as "parental parity," would give Michigan the country's
strongest joint-custody law if legislators and the governor go along.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia direct judges
to consider joint custody as the first option in divorces. The bill sponsored by
Rep. Andrew Raczkowski, R-Farmington Hills, would go further by requiring joint
custody unless a risk can be proven.
The goal is to keep both parents actively involved in raising
their children and to promote continued parental access and responsibility,
You can reach Jennifer Chambers at (248)
647-7402 or email@example.com.
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is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month