Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Memoriam: James Cook

Last February 21rst, Indiana native James Cook, who is considered as the Father of Joint Custody by his role in writing California's pioneering joint custody law three decades ago, died of natural causes in Los Angeles at the age 85.

Cook had a bachelor's degree from UCLA, spent a decade with the U.S. Information Agency as a Middle East specialist, worked for the Rand Corp., produced a public affairs program on local television, was a lobbyist for commercial property owners, and in later years, was active in the Global Children's Organization as a board member and volunteer at its peace camps for children traumatized by war, intolerance and terrorism.

When Cook divorced in 1974 and asked for shared custody of their child, the judge “thought it was preposterous," Cook told Time magazine in 2001, and denied him permission to have it. Cook then started attending fathers' rights meetings and with some friends organized the Joint Custody Association. Only five years after his divorce, in 1979, he convinced Charles Imbrecht, a Ventura assemblyman, to sponsor the first law encouraging joint custody:

The law, supported by 85 fathers' rights groups around the country, was passed in 1979 and took effect in 1980, making California the first state to endorse joint custody as a first option. It eventually was adopted across the country, in large part due to Cook's advocacy.” (Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2009)

California became this way the leader in joint custody laws, giving an example that would be followed by most of the other states.

Prior to 1980, if there was a disagreement between mother and father about the custody of their child, the mother retained sole legal custody and was allowed to make all of the decisions, including whether her children would have a father in their life.” (Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2009)

Thanks to James Cook’s work on behalf of our children, now every state in the U.S. recognizes joint custody, and joint custody is a preference or presumption in 37 states and Washington, D.C. He changed the way the family courts look at custody cases of children and promoted joint custody with a voice that was at the same time clear, diplomatic, and well informed.

For many of us, fathers who fight for the joint custody of our children, it is sometimes hard to go on when we feel that we are the only ones who care. I have written before in this blog about the privacy of this pain, about the fact that unless a person is or has been in our place, it would be almost impossible, if not impossible, for that person to understand what we feel, what we suffer, hence the need of getting organized to fight for our cause. But when we realize that we are not alone, that we have brothers and sisters who care for our children too, that other people have fought before us and are fighting right now by our side, then we realize that we should keep our heads and our spirit high, looking forward for the justice that inevitably will come.

Thank God for our brothers and sisters. Thank God for James Cook.

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