While the claim is that our family courts are primarily driven by the best interest of children, in reality they tend to focus instead on transferring power and wealth from men to women. When considering the family courts, it is critical to understand that they don’t just impact the unfortunate families they destroy. The goal is to undermine all married fathers, who see that the family courts stand ready to take their children away from them and send them a bill for the pleasure.
The term social scientists use for this is bargaining in the shadow of the law, and the use of the family courts to weaken married fathers is an open secret. Economists Stevenson and Wolfers describe this in their paper Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress (emphasis mine).
In the literature on the economics of the family there has been growing consensus on the need to take bargaining and distribution within marriage seriously. Such models of the family rely on a threat point to determine distribution within the household. The switch to a unilateral divorce regime redistributes power in a marriage, giving power to the person who wants out, and reducing the power previously held by the partner interested in preserving the marriage.
For an example of this see the paper Do joint custody laws improve family well-being? by Martin Halla, a professor of economics at the Johannes Kepler University Linz. The paper opens with:
Joint child custody laws affect not only divorced families but intact families as well.
Halla focuses on the implications of moving towards a joint custody model. For the purpose of this post, I’m more interested in the perspective of the author than I am in the paper’s findings*. Number one in the “cons” of joint custody is that it weakens the threatpoint wives can use to gain power over their husbands:
The introduction of joint custody reforms reinforces the traditional division of labor within the family and gives men greater bargaining power over the intrahousehold allocation of resources.
Another “con” that stands out is the fact that the study didn’t find an effect on women’s suicide rates:
Joint custody reforms have had no robust, long-term effect on female suicide rates.
I’m assuming Halla isn’t expressing disappointment that women’s suicide rates didn’t increase. What I think this bizarre statement boils down to is a complaint that joint custody decreases men’s suicide rate (listed as a pro) without decreasing women’s suicide rate (listed as a con). In a sane world that would be seen as a positive without a corresponding downside, not a pro and a con.
At any rate, the takeaway from both items is the same. When the family courts crush men it is according to plan, and they fully understand the devastation they are meting out to men in the process. They don’t want men to commit suicide, but they know that in order to generate the kind of fear they want to instill they have to inflict extreme brutality on the men who are made examples of.
In closing his Author’s Main Message Halla advises policy makers to be careful when changing custody laws to avoid the negative consequences he found in the study (number one being lessening the coercive power of wives by reducing men’s fear of losing their children):
Policymakers should acknowledge that regulating families’ post-divorce life may affect intact families and try to minimize any unintended negative consequences.
He further elaborates in Summary and Policy Advice (emphasis mine):
Joint custody laws affect both intact and non-intact families in substantial ways. A very crude description is that joint custody improves men’s bargaining position within marriage, enforces traditional gender roles, and leads on average to worse outcomes for children. A more detailed account would contrast these clearly negative and unintended effects with positive effects on other outcome variables (such as lower male suicide rates and less domestic violence)…
Despite the negative effects of joint custody on some family outcomes, abolishing it may not be a desirable policy option….
To predict the effects of a planned reform, it would be important to assess how the relative bargaining positions of spouses will be affected. This can be approximated by checking how the reform affects the well-being of each partner in the case of a potential divorce. The party who will benefit from the reform will gain power within the marriage.
*See Larry Kummer’s caution on papers like this here.