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Joseph E. Cordell

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Divorce Civil Rights

Posted: 09/01/11 02:56 AM ET

As a society, we find profiling -- painting a group of people with such a broad brush -- to be wholly unacceptable.

Except when it applies to men in family courts.

Quite frankly, men's rights has become a civil rights issue. When you think of the progress we've made in civil rights, men's rights as it pertains to the family have been neglected.

Profiling of different groups based on skin color, age, disabilities, etc., is not permissible. We regard these generalizations as being deplorable in virtually every sphere of civil rights, but for some reason these generalizations and assumptions are permissible as they pertain to men in domestic scenarios.

There is an institutional family court bias, but we can't simply blame judges. Sure, they are human beings and have preconceptions like everyone else, but it goes much further than that.

The family law industry as a whole -- from attorneys to social workers -- makes presumptions about men and fathers.

Historically, women have usually been the primary nurturers. Judges and opposing counsel can quite persuasively argue that statistically moms more often than not are the ones that are the primary caregivers.

Yet the problem with stereotyping, as civil rights leaders pointed out, is that stereotypes are built on probabilities that do not give fair opportunity to others, to the innocent in that group.

Ironically, the feminist movement, which was largely in response to men's cultural and economic dominance, cast aside men whose roles in family courts were already tenuous. Dads were victims of being male at a time when the movement was not sympathetic to their position.

Men generally were less the subject of the civil rights movement than the obstacle, and for that reason there weren't many sympathetic ears turned toward men, particularly in family court.

As a result, a group think has emerged that has unfortunately elevated the interest of women above the interest of men.

A case we are handling at Cordell & Cordell is a classic example of the lopsided fight dads must face: Our client has three kids in elementary school. He and his wife are equal on all common factors.

How equal? They work for the same company in similar positions. They earn the same amount of money and even have essentially the same retirement benefits. They are both involved with their children's extracurricular activities; he coaches soccer, she helps with choir. Prior to the divorce, they often drove together to drop off the kids at school, went to work, picked up the kids together after work and went home for dinner.

If ever there is a textbook example of granting 50-50 shared parenting time, this is it. Yet the case has waged on for almost a year with no resolution because we have had to fight at every turn to overcome the presumption that Mom should have more time with the kids than Dad because, well, she's Mom.

This systematic discrimination happens every day but goes largely unnoticed. The impact of the obscurity of this issue is that there is not the attention, inclination or support necessary in order for men's rights to receive the political, social and economic momentum that is required to correct this prejudice.

The millions of men and fathers who find themselves in family law courtrooms across America feel as though they are in the dark corner of the room.

It's time a light is shone on the injustice and there be the same sort of concern of fair play that is given other individuals.

Joseph Cordell is the Principal Partner of Cordell & Cordell, a nationwide domestic litigation firm focused on men's family law matters. Cordell & Cordell also provides a website dedicated to informing men on the divorce process and the challenges they face. Visit http://www.dadsdivorce.com for more information.