FULL TEXT: Dallas (AP) – When Bill Shelton’s marriage broke up three years ago, he felt everyone involved in the divorce proceeding knew what should be done with his children, but no one bothered to ask him.
“They all expected me to give the children to their mother, walk away and send a check once a month,” Shelton said. “I think a father is more than just a source of economic support.”
After a jury granted custody of his daughter and son to his wife, Shelton placed an advertisement in a local newspaper asking other divorced fathers with similar feelings to contact him.
Shelton’s efforts led to the formation of the Texas Fathers for Equal Rights (TFER). Recently TFER and six individual plaintiffs, including Shelton, filed a federal class action suit here challenging Texas child custody procedures.
Ed Cullum, president of the TFER chapter here, said, “Divorce courts in Texas and across the country still consistently award the custody of children in divorce proceedings to the mother.”
“No court has more impact on society than the divorce courts,” Cullum said, “and judges are very reluctant to change legal precedents that have been set for 75years.”
Now, TFER has about 500 members, including single, married and divorced persons of both sexes, across the state.
“We are open to anyone concerned about the effects of divorce on children,” said Cullum, TFER’s only salaried employe.”
TFER’s main objective is to change the Texas family code so that all parties in a divorce proceeding are afforded equal rights. Texas law says a court in awarding the custody of a child “shall consider the qualifications of the respective parents without regard to the sex of the child.”
“The courts still consistently award the custody of the children to the mother,” said Cullum, 35, whose 4-year-old son divides his time between Cullum and his third wife and the child’s mother.
“When there are two qualified and interested parents involved, each should have equal parental rights,” Cullum said. “Now the courts terminate the rights of either parent, usually the father.”
Fathers today lose most of the decision-making role in areas such as education, medical treatment and religious training, he said. TFER’s suit seeks a federal court order declaring the Texas family code unconstitutional for denying children and their fathers a parent-child relationship equal to that given the mother.
“The gut issue in the suit is the effect on the children who grow up without a father,” Cullum said. “Studies have shown, for example, there is a high correlation between juvenile delinquency and the absence of a father.”
“If both parents have equal custody of the child, he would not necessarily be confused by dividing time between two homes,” he said.
“Some experts have said this may even by good for him because he will be exposed to different points of view.”
“Besides I can do everything a mother can do for a child except breast feed him and not many mothers do that anymore,” Cullum said.
What the TFER wants is to replace today’s adversary court proceedings in divorce cases with a panel of qualified experts, with an attorney as a legal advisor, so that the interests of all parties, especially the children’s are protected.
Both Cullum and Shelton are critical of the role of most attorneys in divorce proceedings today. Cullum said attorneys bring out “childish, immature antics” on the parts of both parents during a divorce.
“Attorneys by and large do not take a personal interest in the cases. They look at them as easy money,” said Cullum, who claimed divorce was a $15 million a year business for lawyers just in Dallas county.”
“Neither the attorney nor the judge is qualified to determine what is best for the child,” he said. Shelton said, “Divorces represent big business for lawyers and their outlook is harmful to the people involved and society as a while.”
[“Divorced Fathers Want Their Children: Fathers Clamor For Equal Rights,” syndicated (AP), Big Spring Herald (Tx.), Nov. 11, 1975, p. B1]