From Usher to D-Wade: Is there a celebrity daddy double standard?

OPINION - Black families are too often defined by their make up, whether there be a divorce after children, a family where one or more parent is incarcerated, or parents who were never married at all...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Last week, R&B singer Usher faced an almost fatal tragedy when his 5-year-old son fell into the bottom of a swimming pool and nearly drowned.

Usher was awarded full custody of his two sons after he divorced Tameka Raymond, but after the accident, she requested an emergency custody hearing.  After about an hour, the judge ruled in Usher’s favor, maintaining the current custody arrangement.

The result may have surprised many who are unfamiliar with Georgia domestic relations law, but also because Usher’s case is one of the most high-profile cases where the father was granted full custody of the children following a divorce.

Hands-on parenting

Black families are too often defined by their make up, whether there be a divorce after children, a family where one or more parent is incarcerated, or parents who were never married at all.

Furthermore, the conventional, and wrong, wisdom is that when the father is awarded custody, then that means there is something wrong with the woman because mothers were traditionally awarded custody for generations.  That is likely because women were relegated to primarily domestic roles, until a generation ago, and courts were more inclined to place the children with the parent that did most of the hands-on parenting.

“On the macro level it isn’t more common for the woman or the man to have sole custody, because while it is extremely rare for the man to get full custody, that has increased over time.  It’s actually more common for a joint custody arrangement,” Tina Roddenbery, a family law attorney in Atlanta, told theGrio.  “Celebrity cases aren’t really different, it follows the same pattern as the general population, and there are always facts that we don’t know, when we watch these celebrity cases.”

‘Best interest of the child’

For Tameka Raymond and Siohvaughn Funches, Dwyane Wade’s ex-wife, their failure to win full custody over their wealthier and famous spouses is seen as a reflection of their stability as women and mothers.

This gendered lens with which society views child custody should evolve the same way the “best interest of the child” standard has changed from state to state over the years.  In most states, this standard is used and it’s up to the family court judge’s discretion which parent is best suited to tend to the children’s needs. Those who are fighting to get custody of their kids should hire a competent child custody lawyer to help them achieve favorable results.

Financial status is simply one of the factors involved and in many states, including Georgia, children over 14 years old are able to elect which parent they want to live with; that is considered along with the age, health, mental capacity, location of the extended family, and any other factors the judge deems relevant.

In Usher’s case, Ms. Raymond requested an emergency hearing.

The law trumps personality

“The judge ruled the way he did because the basis for the whole hearing is an emergency request.  There has to be an ongoing risk of harm for the judge to make the change in custody,” added Roddenbery.  “I didn’t think the judge was going to grant the petition because the tragic accident was in the past, and the danger was over.  There was no ongoing emergency to remove the children from.  Take the celebrity out of it, this case was decided the same way as any other emergency request.”

A different issue entirely is why the court of public opinion surrounding domestic disputes celebrity tends to place blame on the women involved, while the men are viewed favorably and even lionized.  The family court system is supposed to put the best interest of the child above all else, no matter who the parents are, and that’s what happened with Usher, at least for now.

Tameka Raymond still has an ongoing request to challenge the custody arrangement, but the law, and not her personal failings, are the reason she lost the emergency hearing last week.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.