Are Diaper Change Tables A Sign of Change?
Are Diaper Change Tables A Sign of Change?
The other day in court, while on a break from a contested child custody hearing, I visited the men’s bathroom. As I was contemplating my oral arguments for shared custody of the children by my father's client, I was considering the many voices in my head that I have heard over the years that ‘judges are biased towards mothers’ and that the ‘deck is stacked against fathers’.
As a believer in the integrity of our legal system, I regularly disabuse such commentators of this impression.
Just as I was thinking about this, I noticed the diaper change table in the men’s bathroom. It then occurred to me that the men’s bathrooms in all of the courts that I have ever appeared in have change tables installed in them.
This led me to wonder which department within the court system made the decision to have change tables installed in the men’s bathrooms. There certainly were no change tables in men’s bathrooms when I was a child. So what changed?
Political correctness or a real shift away from the perception of fathers as unsuitable for child custody
Was the installation of these change tables just a token act out of political correctness? Was there a shift in the recognition that men are indeed caregivers to preschool children who require their diapers changed? Was there a human rights complaint lodged against the courts resulting in this policy?
I have no idea what the answer is, but the fact is that the role of fathers today is indeed different than in the past. Fathers of this era, including friends, colleagues and clients of mine, are integrally involved in the parenting, caring and rearing of their children. Yet despite this, the word on the street is that the family court system favours mothers and minimizes fathers.
Society still adopts this traditional, gender-specific view of parenting and considers mothers to be a child’s primary caregiver, the father being secondary. Fathers in intact marriages rarely pay attention to such societal perceptions.
However, separated fathers are acutely aware of this impression, particularly when they find themselves needing to retain lawyers to advocate for their right to have a relationship with their children after separation and divorce.
It is not uncommon for us family law lawyers to advise our male clients that having the children reside with them an equal amount of time after separation is extremely rare. Of course, there is a myriad of reasons for this including the children’s need for a permanent home, the work schedule of the father, the historical parenting routines pre-existing their separation, etc.
Strangely, however, all of the social science literature repeats the importance of fathers in their children’s lives after separation. It is as though there is a movement in this country to treat fathers as equal participants in the parental team. Yet our culture still projects the view of fathers as secondary parents.
So as I dried my hands and exited the men’s bathroom (having mentally completed my final submissions regarding the contested motion for shared custody), I concluded that the courtroom, like the bathroom, is not shackled by historical gender stereotypes regarding parenting.
The stereotypes, for the most part, reside in the minds of those that find comfort in this mentality that fathers are secondary parents. Are there some judges that still today hold such stereotypes?
Probably. But the solution is not taking on a victim mentality, but rather for both mothers and fathers, married as well as divorced parents, to counter that stereotype in words and in action. This will help minimize the negative stereotype and maximize the image of the present-day father - the ones that use the diaper change tables in the men’s bathrooms. Child custody cases will also finally be viewed as genuine legal battles where both mothers and fathers have equal chances of success.
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