Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Family Violence is a Two-edged Sword

by Cathy Young

   It would be superfluous to say the slaying of Melanie Edwards, 33, and her 2-year-old daughter Carli in Seattle, apparently by Edwards' estranged husband and Carli's father, Carlton Lee Edwards, is terrible. The tragedy will be compounded, however, if the public response causes more divorced and separated fathers to be ripped out of their children's lives.

   Melanie Edwards, who said her husband had repeatedly assaulted her and threatened her life, had obtained a protective order that forbade him to contact her or even to know where she lived. However, Carlton Lee Edwards (who presented a number of letters in his support) could still see his daughter.

   The mother would drop off the child at a visitation center where the father would arrive 15 minutes later to pick her up; the same procedure was followed when the girl was returned to her mother. Except that, last week, the father didn't leave after dropping off Carli. He stayed around and fatally shot his wife and daughter.

   Predictably, and understandably, domestic violence activists have pointed to these deaths as evidence that the courts are too willing - in the words of June Wiley, program manager at the Seattle agency New Beginnings - to "give Dad another chance." Neil Jacobson, a psychologist at the University of Washington who studies batterers, says visitation should not be allowed if a protective order is filed against the father, because "that puts the woman at risk."

   It's easy to say, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that Edwards shouldn't have been anywhere near his wife or child. But an order of protection represents a mere allegation of abuse; it is almost automatically issued to any woman who requests one. (Men may encounter somewhat more skepticism.)

   The claim that some women make phony charges of abuse as a divorce strategy may seem misogynist, though it is no more a slur on all women than the fact that some men assault their wives is a slur on all men. It's not just men's groups that decry such misuse of protective orders; it's women like Elaine Epstein, past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, or Dorothy Wright, a New Jersey lawyer and former board member of a battered women's shelter who estimates that about half of divorce-related domestic violence allegations are false. Similar concerns have been voiced by attorneys and judges of both sexes in other states.

   What's more, in many cases, protective orders are not even based on accusations of violence, only on vague claims of "fear" and of verbal abuse (not rising to the level of threats) by the defendant. A one-year review in a Missouri court found that only 14 percent of petitions for such orders contained charges that warranted prosecution for assault.

   Fathers on the receiving end of orders of protection can find themselves in a nightmare as bad as that of truly abused women. Particularly in jurisdictions that emphasize tough domestic violence policies, they can be arrested for returning a child's phone call or sending a birthday card. Too often, they face a virtual presumption of guilt - which is just as Wiley, Jacobson and others would have it.

   How can the legitimate interests of fathers and children be reconciled with the need to prevent deaths like those of Melanie and Carli Edwards?

   For one, if the courts looked at the evidence instead of rubber-stamping protective orders, they might have a better chance of separating cases of real danger from false or trivial charges.

   But unfortunately, some tragedies cannot be predicted or prevented. Generally, a police state is not considered a proper price to pay for safety. (You can't be thrown out of your home on a neighbor's complaint of harassment, even though a quarrel between neighbors may escalate to murder, too.)

   Let us not make an exception for fathers. Being arbitrarily deprived of contact with one's children is an experience that could push some nonviolent men over the edge.

Cathy Young is vice-president of the Women's Freedom Network. Her column is normally published on Wednesday. Write letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226 or fax to (313) 222-6417 or send an e-mail message to letters@detnews.com (Young's e-mail address is
CathyYoung1@compuserve.com )


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