DIVIDED CHILDREN: A Legal Guide for Divorcing Parents by Michael Wheeler
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DIVIDED CHILDREN: A Legal Guide for Divorcing Parents

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When it comes to custody"", observes law professor Wheeler, ""the legal system brings out people's worst instincts and discourages impulses to cooperate and plan for the future."" Wheeler's incisive study of the law, psychology, and economics of custody begins with an examination of the role of the maternal preference doctrine, the concept of ""moral fitness,"" and the value of sex-matching in courts' determination of ""the best interests of the child."" As Wheeler points out, custody cases often place classic principles in direct opposition: shifting custody of the child to the ""better"" parent, for example, may undermine continuity of care, a stabilizing influence in itself. Which should a court choose? For the non-custodial parent, the consolation prize is ""reasonable visitation,"" an amorphous concept whose mechanics, according to Wheeler, all too often ""have the same calculating precision as the exchange of ransom with a kidnapper."" What, if any, weight should be placed on the child's preference? Should the child have independent counsel? Wheeler is adept at blending sociology and law in analyzing these and many other custody issues in clear, non-lawyerly language. He also includes a chapter on divorce (they prefer to be called ""family"") lawyers, a group in which the principle Wheeler calls ""reverse Darwinian selection"" seems to have won out: the more sensitivity and compassion the attorney has, the less likely he or she is to find divorce work fulfilling. Wheeler is straightforward about his own biases: he favors joint custody (though he admits that mutual parental hostility and logistics often make joint physical custody impossible) and mediation rather than litigation; but he recognizes that the custody reform movement has a long way to go. His book is not only a first-rate practical guide to the mechanics of the present system, but a well-argued indictment of that system as an anachronism which pits divorcing parents against each other rather than acknowledging their lifelong, if unwanted, interdependence.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1980
ISBN: 0393332209
Publisher: Norton