Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Are career-focused women being written off as bad parents?

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Phew! It seems as though married women have to be on their guard these days.

Not only do the statistics suggest they're at risk of a higher degree of unhappiness, and of losing their assets should they become divorced, there appears to be a new trend affecting women across Europe and the US (and so, eventually, here as well one would think) - working mothers losing custody of their children in divorce courts.

A heavy use of day care seems to be one of the factors that irks judges when it comes to deciding whether a mother is "fit"enough to retain custody. And with some 24 million working mothers with kids under 18 in the US, even with a stable divorce rate and the fact that many breakups don't make it to the legal scrap for custody, there are still a lot of women facing an inquisition about their lifestyle choice.

As reports point out, although there are many factors involved in custody battles and assessing the fitness of either parent, often the judge has to make the final call, and many judges believe women should be at home with their young kids.

While for years mothers automatically retained custody of their kids unless they really were off the rails, Joan Zorza, senior attorney at the National Centre on Women and Family Law in New York, says that men now have an "over 50 per cent" chance of winning custody when they apply.

The women who are most at risk of losing their kids, according to Ms Zorza, are working women.

In the UK as well, some 67,000 women are paying maintenance to their exes as a result of custody proceedings. In one highly publicised case, an at home father started an affair with a women in his child's playgroup and was thrown out by his wife, but subsequently awarded custody of the kids.

In another, a man with few propsects and living on the benefit won custody because he lived with his parents, who were deemed to provide a better enviroment. Women lose their kids for not being with them after school; for choosing day care instead of handing over their kids to their mother in laws, and for being seen as too "hard faced".

Is it fair? Well, it's a great thing for families that men are increasingly taking more of a role in their kids' lives (the ones that are, I mean. Single parent families headed by women are also on the rise). I guess it was only a matter of time before career-focused women would be written off as bad parents the way career-focussed dads used to be.

However, if daycare is the choice of both parents, surely this should count equally for or against both mother and father in these cases?

And where women work to put bread on the table, they should surely not have to face the antiquated notions of the largely male judiciary.

On the web

- Why more women are losing custody battles

- Could it happen to you?

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Ella Cotterall plays while her mother Sarah Cotterall watches 'Tiny TV' on her computer, a webcam service which enables one to watch their children while at daycare.

(Herald on Sunday Photo / Getty Images)

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