Divorce and family law is an area in which men are consistently faced with stereotypical views, and these all too often affect the outcome of family and divorce disputes.
When it comes to divorce and family law, where do men truly stand?
Is there light at the end of the legal tunnel or are males facing divorce proceedings always going to be tarred with the stereotypical brush that has historically played a role in divorce disputes?
The Divorce Magazine talks to Barbara Johnson-Stern, Partner and Head of Operations at Cordell & Cordell, a legal firm that focuses on the fair, legal representation of men.
We discuss the legal landscape, the obstacles faced by men fighting cases against female spouses and the challenges Barbara encounters on a daily basis.
How are men stereotyped during divorce proceedings in your experience?
In my experience, this varies, but the overarching stereotype I see time and time again is that men are ‘seen’ as not being interested or present in their children’s lives. They are also stereotyped as being more resilient than their spouses.
Finances also come into play here. There is a significant stereotype based on the perception that men’s financial needs are secondary to those of their former spouses, that they won’t be impacted as much as their partner and that they will recover financially without consequences.
There are also many stereotypes about children – especially that the mother ‘should be’ at home and that she does not have to contribute to the family in a financial sense.
How do you feel about these stereotypes?
These stereotypes are apparent and I see them a lot day to day. They are not only outdated, but they also communicate a sense of entitlement that I believe women can have throughout the entire divorce process.
I think that men are so aware that these stereotypes exist that when they come to the table, they lack hope and optimism and feel they are fighting a losing battle.
This should not be the case.
Could you comment on the female mindset when it comes to divorce cases?
Whilst everyone is an individual and this isn’t the case for all the women I have had dealings with, in my experience, women sometimes come with a strong belief that the only factor that will change as a result of a divorce is that their husband will no longer be in their lives.
Factors such as finances, housing, family set-up and support don’t seem to come into consideration. This can make it appear as though the she is entitled to a level of support regardless of the wider circumstances surrounding the divorce.
What obstacles are faced by men fighting cases against female spouses?
There are numerous obstacles faced by men who are battling proceedings with their female spouses. These range from the pressure they place on themselves to the obstacles they create for themselves by struggling to believe that they have a place in their children’s lives, which is absolutely not the case.
Men do tend to come to the table with the stereotypical notions that mothers are more important and better at raising the children.
These are clear and significant challenges which must be overcome and the stereotype around them needs to be quashed if we are to move forwards with family law and legislation surrounding divorce.
What frustrations do you regularly encounter in your position?
My biggest frustration, and one that I encounter regularly, is how we deal with domestic violence within these relationships and the stereotypes men deal with in these situations.
Our biggest failure towards men is how we deal with domestic violence allegations in divorce when, at times, the burden of proof can be so light.
We don’t shed light or challenge women in these situations. I understand the challenges that women face in these situations, but some men are being accused of so much without proof.
Where would you like to see the legal landscape shift to in the next 2–4 years with regards to men in divorce and child custody hearings?
What I would absolutely love to see is there no longer being a sense of shock when men gain custody.
I would also like to see maintenance being determined by the circumstances within the marriage as opposed to being controlled by the stereotype of women automatically being prioritised in the finances.
I strongly feel that a move towards a more appropriate, transitional maintenance award is required and we should accept that there are both females and men at fault. This shouldn’t be an uphill battle.
What direction would you like to see the legal landscape moving towards in the future?
I would like to see more men become divorce lawyers. I think this is hugely important. I haven’t looked at the statistics but I have noticed a lot more women picking family law.
I also feel we are eliminating and eradicating these very significant stereotypes case by case. We are trending in the right direction, so the more things change, the more we’ll find ourselves in a place where we have made real progress.
Barbara Johnson-Stern is Partner at Cordell & Cordell, which focuses on the fair legal representation of men.
Barbara works hard to continually improve the level of service and representation given to her clients and is licensed to practice law in England and the states of Colorado and Utah.