Remembering The Father Of Joint Custody
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And we turn now to a story out of California. We learned today of the death of a California man whose work has helped eased the pain of divorce for American families, especially fathers.
James Cook has been called the Father of Joint Custody. He died last month at the age of 85.
In 1974, Cook was going through a difficult divorce himself, and he asked for shared custody of his son. The judge denied the request and at the time, the law favored mothers.
James Cook turned his custody battle into a crusade for fathers' rights. His efforts led to the nation's first joint custody law, passed by the state of California in 1979.
David Levy worked on parenting issues alongside James Cook for many years, and Mr. Levy joins us now from Annapolis, Maryland. Welcome to the program.
Mr. DAVID LEVY (President, Children's Rights Council): Well, thank you.
NORRIS: Could you do us a favor? Help us remember what the landscape was like for fathers back in the 1970s, and what James Cook was facing with his own divorce.
Mr. LEVY: Well, I like to think of it as the landscape for children. It was thought that all children need was a mother, and a child-support check from dad. So children would walk into divorce court with two parents, and walk out with one parent. Children were being denied the close, frequent, continuing contact with two parents merely because of divorce, which is not the child's fault.
NORRIS: So when this law was passed by the state of California, back in 1975, how big a deal was that? Lots of national coverage?
Mr. LEVY: Oh, it got national coverage, and then Jim Cook went state to state -to about 15 different or more states - with his deep knowledge of the research that children do better with two parents, and he had this laid back, California style that really won a lot of praise because he didn't come on too strong. He came out relaxed yet very knowledgeable about the issues in California and elsewhere around the country.
NORRIS: As he traveled around the country, what did other fathers say to him?
Mr. LEVY: I'm sorry, what?
NORRIS: As he traveled around the country, I'm just curious about what other parents, what other fathers would say to him about that crusade.
Mr. LEVY: Oh, they would say thank you for coming to our state. And because there are more than 2 million noncustodial mothers in this country, the mothers would thank him, too, and if the kids could have spoken, they would have also thanked him.
I remember way back in '85 also, Jim Cook and I appeared before some congressional committees, and they were considering, you know, strengthening financial child-support regulations, and Jim Cook and I said, look, if you start on the parenting end of a telescope, instead of the financial, money side of the telescope, you're going to solve the financial child-support problem and the parenting deficit because when parents are involved, they're going to pay for their children.
NORRIS: And a bit of irony here. Though he fought for custody rights across the country, he never gained shared custody of his own son.
Mr. LEVY: No, but he was close to Randy, his son, Randall, his only child. He was close to him despite, despite the problems. He just made it his point that he's going to do everything he could to stay close to Randy, and fortunately, he was able to. And now Randy's a grown man, is married and has his own kids.
NORRIS: Mr. Levy, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Mr. LEVY: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's David Levy, he's the president of the Children's Rights Council. He was talking to us about the life and the work of James Cook. Mr. Cook passed away on February 21st. He was 85.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.