THE CUSTODY WARS by Mary Ann Mason


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A fierce and informed plea for courts, parents, psychiatrists, and social workers to consider “the best interests of the child” before dividing custody, Solomon-like, between mother and father. Often, the child is the trophy that one or another parent carries off in vituperative clashes that have little or nothing to do with the welfare of the vulnerable offspring, says family-law expert Mason (Law and Social Welfare/Univ. of Calif., Berkeley; The Equality Trap, 1988). Political, scientific, legal, and social trends carry more weight in the courts that rule on custody than do considerations about the children, she charges. As the role of father is viewed more and more positively, courts are looking kindly on fathers (including unwed fathers) as joint or even primary caretakers in custody disputes and giving weight to biological claims even though the biological father may have been absent from the child’s life for many years. Mason looks at these issues plus stepparents’ lack of legal standing, the troubling rulings when domestic violence is an issue in divorce (fathers who abuse their partners may still get custody or substantial visitation because it was not shown that they abused their children); the turmoil when parents before the court are homosexual; and the morass of legal claims created by new reproductive technology. What’s missing in all of this—in many cases, literally unmentioned in court documents or even in mediation reports—is the child. Mason offers a clear, concise plan to keep the best interests of the child in the forefront, including determining the “primary parent” (that is, the parent who is most responsible for everyday care), reviewing and possibly changing custody arrangements periodically as the child reaches new developmental stages, and most of all, consulting the children who are the center of the legal wrangles. Mason offers sometimes startling information regarding the absence of children’s input or consideration of their needs in custody disputes, and a zinging denunciation of “one-size-fits-all” resolutions. (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-465-01532-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


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