Divorced Dads

New Research Suggests Conventional Wisdom Is Exaggerated

ABCNEWS.com -- Chat Transcript
Jan.10, 2000

We’ve heard again and again that after divorce many fathers behave horribly and selfishly by walking out on their kids and refusing to pay child support. It turns out that much of what we’ve heard may be distorted. Sanford Braver, a psychologist at Arizona State University, has written a book called Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths that de-bunks many of the myths that shaped the conventional wisdom.

On 20/20 Friday, John Stossel spoke with Braver, who explained the serious consequences of the misperceptions. “We’re depriving children of a second parent. We’re hurting the people who deserve the most help, the children.”

Braver discovered that some of the basic statistics on the subject were reached incorrectly. For instance, all the information on custodial fathers had been gathered only from mothers. In his study of 400 divorced couples, Braver consulted with both parents and found that 70 percent of men complied in payment of child support.

Sanford Braver joined us in an online chat today.

Moderator at 2:54pm ET
Welcome Sandy Braver. Let's begin.
Jerry Boggs at 2:56pm ET
I've always thought the sexes were divided into two worlds: men in the world of work, women in the world of children. Just as women were denied equal partcipation in the world of work, men are denied equal participation in the world of children. Do you see it this way also? And wouldn't this give lie to feminists' and society's long-standing belief that only women face bias and discrimination?
Sanford Braver at 2:58pm ET
Well, I think that to the degree that that's true, it's unfortunate. I think that both men and women have very important roles to play both in the world of work and the world of the family. I think it's unfortunate when women face bias and discrimination in the workplace and just as unfortunate when men face discrimination and bias in the world of the family. It's especially unfortunate for the children.
Andrew H. Maxwell, Pd.D. at 2:59pm ET
Dr. Braver:

As a father who pays child support for my sixteen year old daughter, I want to thank you for doing a valuable service for fathers by bringing to light the ignorance and insensitivity surrounding this issue. My question is this: Does your research reveal anything about the prognosis for fathers re-establishing a relationship with their children after the custodial parent has undermined the relationship?

Andrew H. Maxwell, Ph.D.
Sanford Braver at 3:00pm ET
I'm always optimistic that things can be changed for the better. I recommend that you continue to attempt to influence your child for the better. You can receive specific advice on this matter by consulting the book by doctor Doug Darnall. I don't know the name of the book off the top of my head. Look on Amazon.com.
Trudell from flaglink.com at 3:02pm ET
What were your research methods? What statistics did you use? What were the limitations of your study? How did you account for differences groups?
How many divorced dads in your study continued regular support of their children through college? How many divorced dads have a legal agreement that covers the financing of their children's education after high school?
Sanford Braver at 3:05pm ET
I used a variety of research methods, including talking to both mothers and fathers and children, looking at court records, etc. I recommend you buy the book at www.Amazon.com for more information. The primary limitation is that it was a regional sample rather than a national one. Although I can't recall the exact number, I was surprised how many continued regular support of their children through college. This was especially true when fathers had joint legal custody and/or when mothers encouraged or at least didn't sabotage the father's relationship to the child.
Richard_Bennett_Cal from lvrmr1.sfba.home.com at 3:06pm ET
Darnall's book is: "Divorce Casualties : Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation".

Many of the feminist advocates who've pressed the agenda of demonizing fathers deny that PAS exists. In California, they passed a law holding alienators harmless when it's been disclosed that they've made false allegations of child abuse against the other parent.

Why is PAS such a controversial issue?

Richard Bennett
Sanford Braver at 3:08pm ET
It's a controversial issue because it suggests that women also can do damage to their children's relationship with their father. To admit it exists would do damage to the idea that women and children are always better off together. At the same time, it is true that PAS is not a recognized pathalogical syndrome by DSMIV. Neither, however, is the battered women syndrome.
Chris Bragg at 3:09pm ET
While the program tried to dispell the myth of "Deadbeat Dads," you did not give Dads any hope. Federal Funding for Non-Custodial Access and Visitaton programs is available in all 50 states. Federal and state programs are in place or are being put into place to assist "Dads" who pay their child support but don't get visitation.
Sanford Braver at 3:12pm ET
I think that slant was unfortunate because I deeply believe there is great reason for hope. In fact, my colleagues and I at Arizona State University have developed a federally funded program for non-custodial fathers called Dads For Life. Our message is to never give up and to always do what's right for our children despite obstacles. While programs like the grants that you refer to are available, I am skeptical of programs that use the very bureaucracy or the courts and coercive systems that in my mind have contributed to the problems. Instead, I am optimistic that prevention and educational programs that change the hearts and minds of all family members are the best way to go.
db20000 from proxy.aol.com at 3:13pm ET
Child support aside, there seem to be other power struggle issues between the custodial and noncustodial parents. Does your study go into this at all?
Sanford Braver at 3:15pm ET
Yes we did, and I was greatly encouraged by the results. The results were that both parents felt more empowered when they allowed the other parent to be empowered. It wasn't an "I win, you lose," it was an "I win, you win," situation. Please see the book, chapter 8, for more information.
Gary Mathews from mfrs.org at 3:16pm ET
Are you aware of any legistlative attempts by any states or on a national level to make enforcement of visitation equal to the enforcement of paying child support? Are there any lobbying groups fathers can support?
Sanford Braver at 3:20pm ET
There have been a number of efforts to enforce visitation, both nationally and on local levels. Chris Bragg's question above mentioned one of those programs. A new legislative effort called the Fathers Count bill has been passed by the House of Representatives and is going to be debated by the Senate this term. Whether the level of enforcement of visitation can ever be equal to the level of enforcement of child support is questionable. The remedy for failure to pay child support can be garnishment and there is no similarly excessible remedy for visitation problems. Again, however, as in my answer to Chris Bragg, I am dubious that the proper way to fix these problems is through more enforcement programs. I think we need more prevention and psychologically based programs -- education -- instead.
Johnnie N.Henagan from proxy.aol.com at 3:20pm ET
Do you plan to continue your research, is a new book in the planning stages, and if so, what areas are you exploring; such as: denied visitation, false allegations of abuse, etc.?
Sanford Braver at 3:23pm ET
I am continuing my research and one of the things I'm looking closely at is conflict between parents and how to ameliorate it, and also, at domestic violence after divorce. I am also spearheading efforts to remove the divorse system from the adversarial, court-based system that fits so poorly with the needs of families. While I am not planning any new books, my co-author has one under way.
Patricia from i40.net at 3:23pm ET
Your book advocates joint legal custody. My husband had joint legal custody, but the mother interfered with the relationship between him and the children. What good is it as legal, if it's not enforced or recognized by SOCIETY, let alone the judges?
Sanford Braver at 3:28pm ET
My evidence suggests that joint legal custody is a giant step in the right direction, but no panacea. Some states are experimenting with Special Masters, Guardian Ad Litem, and Family Court Advisors as a low key way of continually monitoring the family by the court, but actually through mental health professionals. Again their role is to educate and advise rather than coerce (but they do have the weight of the court behind them should it really be necessary). I think these are splendid ideas. I guess I don't agree that joint legal custody is not recognized by society. It makes a difference when a dad, for example, tells the teacher or the soccer coach that he has joint custody of his child.
Clare from dime.com at 3:29pm ET
Is your position that as long as a father pays child support he is in essence continuing his relationship with his child?
Sanford Braver at 3:30pm ET
Of course not. There's far more to either parent's relationship to their child than simply an economic one. I believe that fathers have crucial and indispensible roles to play throughout their child's development.
John O'Brien from proxy.aol.com at 3:31pm ET
Do you think that society would view the Elian situation differently if the dad had kidnapped him and his Mom in Cuba was asking for his return?
Sanford Braver at 3:33pm ET
Unfortunately, I do think so. In the last twenty years, fathers have not been viewed as being as important as mothers. However, this is a historically aberant view that I think is beginning to correct itself. Throughout history, except during the last twenty years, BOTH fathers and mothers have been viewed as absolutely essential to children's well being.
John Ostromecky from mint.net at 3:35pm ET
I read your book. How can we dispel the propaganda and shatter these myths about divorced dads? We have heard these myths for so long that they are part of society's beliefs concerning divorce and custody. How do we change society's beliefs?
Sanford Braver at 3:39pm ET
Thank you, John, for actually reading my book. I think that there are two or three things we can do to change society's belief. Most important is for each of us to continue to do whatever we can toward our own children, to act responsibly and lovingly toward them no matter what the obstacles. Second, one can change things by being an effective lobby force. By this I mean, be organized, be consistent, be professional (harness your anger), and know your facts. Third, I've seen a sense of paranoia out there, that a message such as mine can receive no fair hearing because of some sort of conspiracy against it. The fact that my book is selling as well as it is, that 20 20 aired the segment, that I've been reviewed very favorably in many mainstream media outlets, and that I'm called to testify before many state and federal agencies, gives the lie to this paranoia. Positive change is coming. Keep up the steadfast efforts.
Steve Masten from tnt3.har1.da.uu.net at 3:41pm ET
Divorced couples only, right? Did your research include any never-married parent situations? I assume the numbers would be worse when marriage is not part of the equation, but your research has me questioning my "obvious" assumptions.
Sanford Braver at 3:44pm ET
I personally studied only divorced couples and deliberately excluded never-married. I thought that too often these two very distinguishable groups have been merged. Other researchers have concentrated on the never married circumstance and have found that child support for example is lower in never married circumstances. But you are right to question your "obvious assumptions" because findings are emerging that suggest never-married fathers are indeed acting more responsibly than we had believed.
Hans Linders at 3:45pm ET
Dr. Braver,
While legally, a custody decision is always open to review, I have heard firsthand that there is great reluctance by a judge to change a previous order. The general thinking is that a child subject to parental alienation is better off then a child who has to experience a change in a custody order. Do you agree with this? Also do you view PAS as a form of child abuse and if so at what level?
Sanford Braver at 3:49pm ET
I agree that judges are reluctant to change custody arrangements especially if they believe "things are working pretty well." There is good reason for this reluctance, because children need some degree of stability. We find that more custody is changed informally, by agreement between the parents or by the wishes of the child, than are changed by order of the court over the objections of one of the parties. I believe that alienation has a huge range, from very subtle and almost unconscious, to very blatant, overt, and unremitting. The most extreme forms, at least, must be considered a form of child abuse because of how destructive they are to a child's well being.
Jim from proxy.aol.com at 3:51pm ET
Do you have any organizations that you recommend to become a part of to be proactive in the changing of society's view on fathers and divorce?
Sanford Braver at 3:54pm ET
There are a number of organizations that I found to be effective. The Childrens' Rights Council is a national organization that has many state and local chapters. Again, I favor reasoned and disciplined actions rather than angry and radical ones. These groups are making a difference. In Boston, one of my favorites is Fathers and Friends. I personally am not a member of any such organizations, prefering to remain a neutral researcher.
Moderator at 3:56pm ET
Dr. Braver, do you have any advice to the many people who have written in today with stories about their children and the problems trying to gain or regain a parental role?
Sanford Braver at 4:00pm ET
I have unfortunately heard literally thousands of such heart wrenching stories since I have begun this area of research. My heart goes out to these families and especially to the children who have lost so much of what could have been theirs. But I reiterate, all fathers have an important role to play in their children's development, regardless of what restrictions or barriers they are operating under. Always do the right thing by way of your children. Let them know how much you care and how important they are to you by whatever means necessary. Try to harness your anger at the system and any individuals who are imposing barriers to you. This anger MUST be harnessed to do your children any good. Keep on trying, change the system, and most importantly, keep on loving your child.
Moderator at 4:00pm ET
Thank you for joining us today.
Sanford Braver at 4:00pm ET
Thank those who have written in and otherwise expressed their interest.