This subject comes up from time to time, particularly when I’m having a private conversation with a male client. I tend to wonder about the different ways men and women think about divorce, how they deal with it, and whether the court sometimes has an imbalanced approach to divorce rulings. Of course, every situation is unique, and same sex marriages aren’t subject to these particular biases. For today, I will start with the assumption that most men think they have it harder than women.
Why the stereotype? I have a few theories.
One reason might be that men don’t seem to seek out advice as often as women do. They tend to avoid confiding in their friends, their family, or their co-workers. Instead, they go it alone and suffer silently.
Another reason might be that society perceives men as the stronger sex and, therefore, they can handle the emotional fallout of a divorce easier than women, the alleged weaker sex.
And some men think that they’ll be held responsible for the bad behavior of the guys who cheat, lie, disappear, parent as the “Disneyland dad,” or worse, are considered “deadbeat dads.” (I wonder why there’s no such thing as a “Disneyland mom,” or a “deadbeat mom?” Is it because the alliteration is missing?)
It used to be that men were presumed to be the breadwinners, and women were presumed to be the caregivers. Now that we’ve all been enlightened about the term, “gender equality,” the breadwinner/caregiver presumption has become outdated in most situations, including divorce. Barring anything really extraordinary, courts are now inclined to grant joint legal custody, which means that both parents have an equal say as to the major decisions concerning their children. Physical custody (the sharing of time) is determined by considering what’s in the best interest of the children, and joint physical custody (equal time sharing) has also become the preferred arrangement. Additionally, child support (which used to be a father’s obligation) is now determined in accordance with the ability to pay.
Have these changes come about because more fathers are asserting their rights in divorce? Most likely. Are men becoming more able to identify and reveal their emotions? Probably. Are we, as a society, becoming more equality-minded? Hopefully. In my divorce mediation practice, I make it a point to meet privately with each party so that neither feels any specific pressure relating to their gender. For each stoic husband I work with, there are at least two men (dads, in particular) who are not embarrassed to cry in my office when discussing the end of the relationship.
So, what do you think? Do men really have it harder in divorce? If so, do they blame the judge? Their ex? The attorneys? I’m pretty sure they’re not blaming the mediator.
In any event, I’d like to hear what men who have been recently divorced, or are going through it now, have to say. If you comment on my website, you may remain anonymous.