Virginia Custody: A Poster Case for the Father’s Rights Movement

The father’s rights movement, at its most simplified, believes that the judicial deck is stacked in favor of mothers, whether it be in favoring them in initial custody decisions that leave the father very little time with the children or in applying an onerous child support formula that leaves the father with little funds to make his own ends meet.  The movement strongly relies upon anecdotal evidence of otherwise good fathers being treated like mere babysitters in the law’s eyes or being left almost destitute as every penny goes to the mother of a child who uses that money to fund her lifestyle rather than pay for the child’s actual needs. This blogger does not subscribe to this movement, but a recent case would surely give anyone sympathetic to the movement pause . . .

In Wiencko, Jr. v. Takayama (Record No. 2078-12-4), the father basically gave up his very successful career to care for his kids (ages 13, 11, 11 and 9 at the time of his appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals).  He had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He had a career as a very successful consultant in the telecommunications industry.   He made almost $200,000 per year before the wind started falling out of business around 2008 (i.e., around when the economy started to tank for almost everyone).  He, unfortunately, lost his last remaining consulting client in 2009.  He, thereupon, gave up his consulting life to devote himself to exclusively taking care of his children and the marital household.  He branded himself “Mr. Mom,” which title he largely deserved due to his increased role in his children’s lives over the past 5 years, including assisting them with their studies, taking them scouting, preparing their meals, doing their laundry, and running errands for the benefit of the household.  Given the loss of his consultant income, he financially supported his family by making substantial withdrawals from his retirement accounts.  In addition, he planned to move with the children into his mother’s home in Herndon.  Meanwhile, his wife continued her career as a professional violinist, including teaching locally and performing internationally.  Oh, and on one recent occasion, she dragged one of the children by his feet back into his room when he refused to go there.  Otherwise, each party was a loving parent devoted to the children, who happened to be doing great.  So who won custody of the children?

Not Mr. Mom.  It wasn’t enough that he had been the primary caregiver of successful children for years.  It wasn’t enough that he had essentially given up his entire life in furtherance of his children’s well-being.  It wasn’t enough that he was not the one who had been at least somewhat violent with the children.  It simply wasn’t enough when the evidence bore out that he was a condescending, opportunistic Tiger Mom.

He, according to the doctor who performed parental capacity evaluations of each parent, was too “rigid, inflexible, insensitive, and self-centered.”  He focused too much on the children’s academic concerns with little regard for their “social or behavioral development.”  Indeed, the trial court basically called him an opportunistic jerk who should get a job to support his family instead of “retreating from reality.”  In its own words:

“[He] withdrew from the adult world of employment. His obsession with his children’s intellectual and personal development is a product of his withdrawal from the world of adults.  Parenting requires balancing, and the Father has lost his sense of parental perspective with respect to his role as a Father.  While he has commendably engaged his children in a wide range of activities designed to develop their intellectual, social, and spiritual life, he has totally abrogated his responsibility to physically provide for his family. He has returned to his childhood and become actively engaged in children’s activities like scouting and recreation. He took them to a variety of amusement parks.  These are salutary and commendable activities provided that you have the money to fund them. If granted custody, the Father plans to return to his childhood home in Herndon to live with his mother, thereby completing his retreat from the adult world.”

As you can see, this paragraph contains some troubling language.   If we were to be charitable, and incorporate some of the judge’s thoughts elsewhere in his opinion, this paragraph simply says that the father has lost any parental perspective as indicated by his depression upon losing his job, his newfound obsession over the children’s academic success, his condescending attitude, and his apparently treating this entire marital separation as something to “win.”  Under this reading, the court should probably be commended for not simply rubber stamping its decision in favor of the primary caregiver no matter what the gender.  If were to be uncharitable, on the other hand, this paragraph smacks of outdated marital stereotypes wherein the father should be the breadwinner and the mother should be the homemaker and never the twain should meet.  Stop doing mom’s job so well dad!  Or, perhaps it just means that no one should be doing the homemaking regardless of gender.  Get jobs you people!  Oh, and stop engaging so much in the children’s activities!  Having fun with your kids is childish!

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