Father Custody Under Coverture Revisited

So why would I say such a thing? Why would I support automatic father custody under coverture? I think my reasoning behind my support of father custody deserves a closer examination.

First, I don’t believe coverture or father custody as a principle under coverture violates a woman’s or a mother’s rights in any way. If feminism has supposedly made such great strides for women then why is it that, apart from death, that there has never been a time when so many children were separated from their mothers? Children today are without mothers increasingly because of divorce, mothers of young children entering the workforce at record levels and because of families that failed to form in the first place. Again, I’m not talking about death or other life issues that interfere with the family. I’m just concentrating on gender relations here. If we look at the statistics well it would seem obvious that women were ultimately served much better under coverture than under current family arrangements and gender-neutral laws.

You see both sexes need a bargaining power for marriage to occur in the first place (the man obtaining paternal rights to offspring and the woman a higher social status, financial support and a home to raise her children in being those traditional bargaining powers that drove men and women to marry). Both sexes also need a bargaining power to stay in the marriage and also invest in it. Men are more unwilling than ever to invest financially in a woman and family because they have no security that the family won’t be broken apart and their investment taken from them. Women are more unwilling to invest in the marriage via their traditional roles because they have no security that the family won’t break apart and that they won’t be left financially devastated.

The traditional laws of marriage under coverture served the purpose of giving both men and women peace of mind to go ahead and invest themselves in the relationship. The husband had the security that his family wouldn’t be taken from him after he had dedicated years to slaving away at the factory to provide for his children and the mother of his children. The wife had the peace of mind that she could safely drop her status as an independent woman upon marriage and rely solely upon her husband because she had the security of lifetime financial support.

Today men and women have no such security. Either spouse can take off at any time with the money, the house and the kids and leave the other spouse destitute. There isn’t even a cultural expectation that marriages should last anymore. On the contrary, mainstream culture has leaned the direction of even seeing divorce as a good thing. So, obviously both men and women are hesitant to trust each other or invest fully in the marriage and rely on each other. How many times have I heard men or women say that they have too much to lose by marriage? How many men are paranoid about losing their lives savings by marrying an unfaithful woman? How many times have housewives been told to hang up their aprons and get a career before they are left financially destitute? And who ultimately pays the price for all of this if not all of us and our children?

The reality of the matter is that we can’t have it both ways as a society. There must be one dominant family arrangement that becomes law. This egalitarian era is a catastrophe. Not all family arrangements can be legally and culturally sanctioned. So we are left at the point where we much choose what arrangement is to be upheld under the law and as the social norm. All others must be frowned upon and given a lesser status socially and legally.

As a traditional woman I believe that financial support is something that a woman should be able to rely on in marriage. I believe in a woman becoming a covered woman under the law by her husband assuming responsibility for her. As such the husband must be in charge of things. I do not believe that fault between spouses should be used to determine a child’s fate (you cheated on me! I’m taking the kids b****!). As such authority must be delegated to someone to oversee the family and control the family. Will it be the mother? If it is the mother then we have matriarchy. If the women control the families then what incentive do men have to work hard everyday to provide for a family that they cannot lead and cannot control? Is it to be a handful of greedy lawyers or a judge that is to decide the fate of a child? It can also not make sense that a man is the head of the family during marriage and have that authority all of a sudden severed at divorce to allow someone else (a judge, the mother, etc.) control of the family just because the family is falling apart. If anything, a family that is falling apart needs the husband in control of it and responsible for it more than ever.

Enter the husband’s authority extending even to divorce. A man that has invested himself into his wife and children throughout marriage is the obvious best choice for deciding what is best for the family. Since he has the same liability no matter where his children live and no matter what his relationship with their mother he will obviously be less likely to separate them from their mother because then he would have to both fulfill his traditional obligations and the mother’s as well. On top of it all he would have to keep paying alimony to an ex-wife he no longer lives with. As for the woman, she would be less likely to initiate divorce because of the prospect of being without her kids and without her husband’s paycheck. Until recently divorce was a hush-hush thing that nobody talked about. Divorce was considered a disgrace to one’s entire family even.

As some have pointed out today’s men are not mature enough and are generally in no way capable of leading a family. But that is only because they weren’t raised in families under coverture but instead in a egalitarian society that shuns true manhood. In the past boys expected to grow up to be men who would provide for and lead their families. As such they followed their father’s examples and would even learn the role of being the head of a family by taking charge in their father’s absence. Girls, of course, were taught to be wives and mothers and fulfill their traditional roles by their mothers (and other female family members). Both sexes were taught how to invest in the marital relationship and were well learned in their traditional roles. If men cannot be trusted as heads of their families it is because there is no obligation upon them to be mature and take charge. It is because society no longer imposes such responsibility upon them.

There can never be a guarantee that men or women won’t get hurt. The laws of coverture could easily deal the husband an injustice just as easily as they could deal the wife an injustice. That is how life works. For every law there will be someone done wrong. But, laws are necessary for social order and the well-being of everyone. With strict laws protecting the sanctity of the family there will still be men and women who get hurt, but there numbers will be far fewer than they are today.

Coverture protects a mother’s rights more than any arrangement that has been conceived since coverture was repealed. Yes, it is possible that a husband could do his wife wrong and alienate her from her children, but given the social customs and laws stacked against him under coverture if he does his family wrong, it is unlikely that he would. Women would have security under coverture and be able to raise their own children and be financially supported. Both male and female investment in children and in the family would rise.

The traditional family and authority over the family belonging to the husband could stop the fighting, stop the gender wars and stop all of the harm done. If families could never be put back together and no distinctions ever made again between unwed father’s rights and married father’s rights and men do not ever assume once again their traditional responsibilities for women and children then I would support a law (such as the tender years doctrine) to give mothers child custody protections. But to me it isn’t the end goal. It’s not the best that could be offered up to women nor to children.

“Our Judeo-Christian civilization has developed the law and custom that, since women bear the physical consequences of the sex act, men must be required to pay in other ways. These laws and customs decree that a man must carry his share by physical protection and financial support of his children and of the woman that bears his children, and also by a code of behavior that benefits and protects both the woman and the children.

This is accomplished by the institution of the family. Our respect for the family as the basic unit of society, which is ingrained in the laws and customs of our Judeo-Christian civilization, is the greatest single achievement in the history of women’s rights. It assures a woman the most precious and important right of all- the right to keep her own baby and to be supported and protected in the enjoyment of watching her baby grow and develop.”- Phyllis Schlafly, 1972

Related Articles:

Responding to the Rationale of Father Custody under Coverture


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