Monday, January 18, 1999
Do you take this woman? No Way!
After two decades of persecution in family courts, men are rebelling against marriage
Imagine a sequel to the popular romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle. It turns out that Meg Ryan was a rapacious barracuda who tracked Tom Hanks down only to take him for everything he had. That is the scenario many men today are living; the result, they say, is a growing male mutiny against marriage—indeed against romantic involvement of any kind.
"Men have always said they go to the bar to get lucky. But today it means that he goes to the bar, meets a woman, and comes home alone," states Greg Kershaw, founder of Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), a seven-year-old Toronto-based support group for divorced men denied access to their children. "It's a whole general feeling. Men are divorcing earlier than they used to, so they have the ability to form second families, but they don't. They deliberately date women who have no marriage potential. At singles' dances for 30- to 40-year-olds, it's always two to three women to every man, with the women in hot pursuit. The guys feel like there are predators everywhere. But considering the potential problems—sexually transmitted diseases, women looking to get pregnant, and men having qlready lost contact with their children—why go out and have more kids you can't see?"
Male resistance to marriage, which was once nothing more than bachelor bravado, has in recent years become a political statement and an article of faith within the so-called "men's movement." The Internet is awash in men's rights websites, many of which urge males not to marry or have children. Bookstore shelves are filling up with books that deliver the "Don't marry. Don't have children" message to young men. The admonition springs from the assumption that men are victims of what political science professor Stephen Baskerville of Howard University in Washington, D.C., terms "the most massive civil rights abuse of our time."
Book titles include Lost Fathers: The Politics of Fatherlessness in America and The Father's Emergency Guide to Divorce-Custody Battle. The latter is billed as a "militant exposé" that goes well beyond the usual allegations of anti-male discrimination in the courts to charge that family courts are operating a profit-making racket in children, at men's expense.
With that kind of rhetoric moving beyond the fringe and into the main-stream, it is not surprising that men are becoming gun-shy of marriage. Monsignor Marshal LeBlanc, a Catholic priest conducting a street ministry in Prince Albert, Sask., says the phenomenon is real and growing. "Men are feeling, "I won't get involved," he says. "The judicial system seems to favour women, and once justice is not served well, there are endless consequences. I've seen women purposefully get hold of a man just for what he had. Just a few [such cases] can create waves, because once it hits the common knowledge of people, they're just not sure they're entering a relationship on valid human terms-that people are getting married for each other rather than what they have. There's a real breakdown in trust between men and women," he concludes. "It's scary."
Statistics map the rebellion's quickening march. Statistics Canada reports that the number of marriages per year dropped 18% between 1989 and 1996. If the trend continues, the marriage rate in English Canada will soon match Quebec's, where only one person in three is expected to marry. The nationwide divorce rate, meanwhile, is one for every 2.4 marriages, and the rate of remarriage is in decline. Men still remarry at more than twice the rate of women—45 out of 1,000 compared to 19 out of 1,000—but this is changing rapidly. The rate of remarriage for men plummeted 28% in the five years ending in 1996, while the rate of remarriage for women tumbled 15%.
The end result is more people living alone because, although the number of common-law relationships increased by 28% between 1991 and 1996, it does not offset the decrease in the number of marriages and remarriages. In the same five-year period, the number of individuals of marriageable age who were not living in a union increased by 10.7%. There are four factors for the soaring numbers living solo, ccording to Statscan: first unions are being postponed, marriages are less durable than in the past, common-law relationships are even less durable than marriages, and remarriages are decreasing.
Many observers charge that the courts are largely to blame for the mutiny against marriage. The marriage rate began its dramatic plunge in the mid 1980s, coincident with "the invasion of the feminist ideology in family law," according to Liberal Senator Anne Cools. "You can see the turnaround as you read, the judgments," says the woman who has become the unofficial leader of the men's rights movement in Canada. "Family law is no place for ideology."
A COMPAS poll commissioned by Southam News and the National Foundation for Family Research and Education (NFFRE) in Calgary conducted in October found that 62% of Canadian men and women believe that the rights of fathers are neglected in divorce courts. Pollster Conrad Winn told the Ottawa Citizen, "I can't find an adjective to describe the intensity of public dismay over family issues and the unfulfilled rights of fathers and children. I'm surprised because these issues haven't been on the agenda of Canadian politics for a very long time. The most astonishing thing is the absolute consensus among men and women about how the rights and obligations of fathers and children are being ignored."
Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver reached similar conclusions while researching his new book, "Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths." "Not a single father thought that the [court] system favoured them in the slightest, and three times as many mothers thought it favoured mothers as thought it favoured fathers." Explains Prof. Braver: "Women feel more satisfied with their divorce for two reasons: because they are more likely to get the deal they want than men. are, and because they feel they have greater influence over the settlement process."
While men's groups, along with a surprising number of women, have been trying for years to signal these dangers to the unsuspecting legal and political system, most will not join the mutiny,against marriage until personally traumatized by its breakdown. "Men are more cautious about marriage for internal reasons, like their own parents having divorced," states Mark Genuis, executive director of NFFRE. "Outside cautions are not going to stop someone getting married. I have yet to have a client who got married thinking they were going to get divorced." His point is exemplified by Prince Edward who last week announced his engagement to Sophie Rhys-Jones. Asked if he faced extra pressure as a result of all three of his siblings' first marriages ending in divorce, Prince Edward replied, "I think if anybody's going to get married, I hope they think that they are going to get it right.' As for internal reasons making men more cautious, an Angus Reid poll in 1994 found that those whose parents have divorced or separated are "most likely to be content to be single."
"In excess of 50% of men today do not see marriage in their future, and of those who do see it in their future, they don't see it forever; just temporary,' says FACT founder Kershaw. "There's no empirical evidence yet, but lots of anecdotal evidence as to why they feel it's not in their best interest to get married. The problem is men have no protection: they can marry a lovely person and then something changes and with a snap of her fingers, they're financially wiped out. I wish we had a national study on [men's plans regarding marriage], but there's no political will because people in government don't want to know this; they might feel action must be taken."
Second families, too, suffer the effects of an unbalanced settlement. When I first became involved with Greg six years ago, he was completely devastated emotionally and financially by the divorce and the loss of his daughter," says Nardina Grande, Mr. Kershaw's common-law wife. "His home had been evaluated at $310,000 with equity of $170,000. When it sold, he got a cheque for $2,100; the lawyer and his ex-wife got the rest. And this is after a marriage that lasted one year, one month and 14 days. She was very charming; he dated her for three years but didn't see her that often. She told terrible stories about her first marriage and he believed the victimology, but she was actually the victimizer." Ms. Grande wonders now what she would tell her son if he came to her for advice about marriage. "It's a risk for the male because he could lose everything. I'm hoping things will change for the better if the silent majority is made aware of how things are. Divorce is selling your child, putting dollars on her head; a lot of people make money off the child."
Ms. Grande testified before the joint Commons-Senate committee which last month tabled proposed changes to the Divorce Act. "As radical as it sounds, I said, "Get rid of child support; the child should be paid for by whomever the child is with. The government shouldn't be involved in divorce. It creates a hostile environment that makes everyone else rich and drains the family. So many people I know have died following divorce: people get cancer, commit suicide. It's a scary legacy we're leaving our children. I hope by the time our son gets to college, divorce will be looked at with blind justice and gender balance."
Ms. Grande agrees with her husband that men today avoid marriage because they no longer benefit. "Thirty years ago men had a stable relationship, companionship, sex, and children they could see till they reached old age. Now there is divorce, marital rape, sexual abuse of children—it's just really ugly. Men do want to commit but they're not sure if they can keep their kids or even influence them. If I were a man today, I don't know if I'd have the courage to get into another relationship. I'd be too afraid."
For instance, Jean Colisimo [sp], 44, has lost his home and family and is now back living in his parents' basement in Toronto. He has spent $80,000 in legal fees over the past seven years trying to see his now eight-year-old daughter. "I wasn't made to go through life without my little girl," he mourns. "I recall one time when I drove her home; she grabbed my face with her hands and said, 'I love you daddy, but don't tell mommy.' I haven't seen her since she was 3½. It's unthinkable not to be able to see your child." Mr. Colisimo is a loud part of the mutiny against marriage; his poetry has been published in the [Toronto] Globe & Mail and recited before the Cools commission [referring to the federal Special Joint Committee on Custody and Access, which was actually chaired by Sen. Pearson and MP Roger Gallaway]. "I'd like to go to schools and tell people that not only does AIDS kill, but marriage can kill. It's made me emotionally and psychologically sick. I used to travel to Australia with airmiles earned on the job [as a beverage distributor for western Canada]. Now I'm broken. I find myself sitting and rocking a lot. I can't work, I'm on welfare, I don't want a relationship—what for? I don't trust women." Mr. Colisimo says unbalanced divorce settlements have "shifted the parameters" for relationships. "Because there was no benefit to marriage, men didn't want to get married, so we shacked up. Then the government said if we shacked up for six months or a year, we were as good as married. So we had to back off further, keep our residence and just stay overnight. You don't want to be considered a father to her children or you're on the hook for support. Men are coming and going out of women's lives because we reward people for not being in relationships. The 'Me Generation' is becoming just that: totally isolated with occasional hookups for sex but no emotional involvement. I can't think of a single reason to get married unless women are going to hold tough and say they're not going to put out unless they're married." His "crusade," he says, is to "touch every person one by one and let them know, that women 'own' children. And be careful. Don't ever fall in love with your own kid."
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