Boston Globe

Friday, July 16, 1999

Lawyer mom wins back 2 kids from stay-home dad

The Associated Press

MIAMI -- A lawyer regained primary custody of her two daughters in a battle with their stay-at-home dad that caught the attention of working mothers around the country.

Attorney Alice Hector lost custody of her two daughters to her ex-husband, Robert Young, after he argued last year that he was the primary care-giver and it would be in the children's best interest to remain with him.

The girls, now ages 14 and 9, never should have been removed from their mother's custody and turned over to Young, the 3rd District Court of Appeals said Wednesday in a 7-3 decision.

The court said there was "enough competent evidence" presented to the judge who handled the couple's divorce to support giving primary custody to Hector.

A message left Thursday for Hector was not immediately returned.

Ellen Lyons, the lawyer who represented Young in his appeal, said she planned to argue the case before the Florida Supreme Court.

She noted that the appeals court "keeps referring to the fact that he should have been gainfully employed outside the home. They never would have said that about the woman."

Young and Hector were married in 1982 in Albuquerque, N.M., where she worked as a public defender and he an architect. She landed a job at a law firm in Miami and moved there in 1989 with the children. Young followed six months later but couldn't find work.

As a stay-at-home father, Young led a Brownie troop for one of his daughters, coached the other's soccer team, and took them to doctor and dentist appointments.

Hector, 54, who later joined a large firm, did what she saw as her fair share: woke the children up in the morning, helped with homework, spent time with them on weekends.

She filed for divorce in 1995 and was given primary custody a year later. Young was to have frequent contact with the girls, and within five years they were to move in with him for a year.

Young, who got a full-time job early in 1997, fought the ruling and in June 1998 won a decision by three members of the appeals court. The decision focused on such issues as gender bias and who should get custody when a marriage ends.

Hector's lawyers asked for another hearing, resulting in the latest ruling. One judge removed himself because he is Hector's neighbor.

Florida's 1993 "gender-neutral" custody law grants custody to the proven caretaker -- not always the mother. Gender-neutral laws replaced the earlier "tender years doctrine," in which the presumption was that the mother should get custody of young children unless the father proved she was unfit.

The case had advocates of working mothers and supporters of fathers' rights questioning whether a working mother must choose between career and children if she wants to maintain primary custody, or if a father has the same nurturing ability as a mother.

"The decision is a tremendous victory for working mothers as well as working fathers," said Nancy Chang, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. "The parents ought not [to] be penalized when . . . pursuing a career."

Sidney Siller, founder of the National Organization for Men in New York, said: "You can't rule against a woman in this country, that's what it's come down to."

Copyright © 1999 Bergen Record Corp.