PHOTO CAPTION: Officers of Equal Rights For Fathers Plan The Years Program – David deLuchi (left), secretary; Rod Melgard, treasurer; David Gerfen, president
FULL TEXT: It’s called “going through the wringer,” and it begins the day you learn your wife has filed for divorce.
You can’t go home tonight. All your assets – including your income – are under the jurisdiction of the court, as of this moment. You won’t be able to see your children for a long time to come.
That’s the beginning. The ending typically comes when the court tells you that from now on, you will live on $80 a month – the rest of your income is earmarked for the support of your wife and children.
California law says that no one is at fault any longer in divorce cases, and that both parents have equal rights to the community property and an equal chance at being awarded custody of’ the children.
In actual practice however, things turn out quite differently, according to Equal Rights for Fathers, an organization formed in Albany last December. And, says David Gerfen, ERF’s president, the group has a file of court statistics and case histories to prove it.
“Attorneys, judges, probation departments and conciliation courts are all involved in a quiet conspiracy against the rights of fathers and, in many cases, against the best interests of the child,” Gerfen says.
“Even the father’s lawyer will try to argue him out of trying to win custody of the
children, regardless of the mother’s fitness to have custody, because he knows it will be an expensive court battle with little chance for success if the father insists on seeking custody, many attorneys will then refuse to handle his case.
“In less than 1 per cent of the contended custody cases have the children been awarded to the father. Of 212 recent divorce cases in Alameda County, the fathers got custody in nine.”
Gerfen says custody is awarded by the judge on the basis of an investigation by the county probation department.
That investigation, he says, consists of a visit to the mother’s home to see if it is clean after at least a week’s advance warning.
Meanwhile, Gerfen says, the conciliation court will typically be advising the father to establish a sexual relationship with another woman and forget about his children.
“We have case histories in which the father has gone into court with documented proof of alcoholism on the part of the mother, or drug addiction, or sexual promiscuity in the
presence of the children, or diagnosed mental disease, or physical and emotional brutality against the children, and custody has still been awarded to the mother,” Gerfen says.
“Any of these factors, or course, would be considered grounds for denying custody to the father, and even for denying him visitation rights.”
All this, he says, is in direct violation of the state’s 1972 Child Custody Act, which provides that each parent has equal standing in custody disputes. Gerfen says ERF can document cases in which the father’s visitation rights were limited solely on the basis of the mother’s unsubstantiated assertion that he “can’t be trusted” alone with them.
“The unequal treatment can continue long after the divorce divorce,” Gerfen said.
“If the father remarries and has children by his second wife, he must still continue support payments to his first wife at the same level.
“On the other hand, if the ex-wife remarries, and has children by her second husband, she can use that as a basis for seeking increased support from her first husband.”
Gerfen says his group can offer help in preventing or alleviating many of the inequities on a “mutually cooperative” basis. It extends from a checklist of immediate steps the father should take when divorce proceedings start such as compiling a complete list of bank accounts, credit cards and other financial data—to a list of attorneys, judges, doctors, psychiatrists, counseling agencies and financial institutions that are aware of ineqities and are willing to help.
Through ERF’s assistance. Gerfen says, members have won improved visitation rights, a more equitable division of community property and more realistic levels of support payments.
“We haven’t yet won child custody for a father,” he says, “but we’ve come close a number of times and we’re still trying.”
ERF is a non-profit, nonsectarian educational organization, Gerfen says. It accepts donations of $30 a year per member, but such payments aren’t a requirement. “We know what an expensive proposition divorce is for the father— he even has to pay for his wife’s attorney—so we make adjustments accordingly.”
So far. nearly 300 persons have joined ERF. Gerfen says, including a number of women.
“We decided to admit women as associate, or nonvoting, members after many new wives or girl friends of our members expressed an inter interest in the group,” he says.
“Surprisingly, many of our women members are the mothers of the divorced men who join, because a divorce often means they lose the right to see their grandchildren.”
ERF meets at 8 p.m. each Wednesday at 6M Santa Fe Ave., Albany, and invites anyone interested to attend, Gerfen says. Or information can be obtained by writing to the group at P.O. Box 6367. Albany 94706.
“We are working within the framework of existing legislation, in a constructive, nonviolent fashion, to see the laws enforced and improved, and to expose the extortion, blackmail and absurdities of current practices to the general public.” Gerfen says.
“We’re anxious to discuss the system, and the case histories we’ve compiled from members and our court-watchers, with anyone who wants to help.”
[Del Lane, “Divorce ‘Inequities’ Hit – Group Works for Fathers’ Rights,” Oakland Tribune (Ca.), Jan. 2, 1974, p. 5]