KOMO News reported today that a court granted custody of Maile Metalwala, the four-year-old sister of missing toddler Sky Metalwala to her father Solomon Metalwala, contingent on the removal of a restraining order issued by another court.
Two-year-old Sky disappeared from his mother's car while his parents were engaged in a contentious custody case. The boy's mother Julia Biryukova had custody of both Sky and his four-year-old sister Maile at the time; a one-year restraining order issued in December 2010 prevented the children's father Solomon Metalwala from any contact with them.
After police questioned Biryukova's account of how Sky disappeared Nov. 6, Child Protective Services placed Maile in foster care, according to the Seattle Times. Solomon Metalwala, supported by a pro-father custody group called Fathers and Families, then began a campaign to pressure King County Superior Court to grant him custody of his daughter. The pressure seems to have worked; even before today's hearing granting him conditional custody and granting Biryukova supervised visitation, the Washington Dept. of Social and Health Services issued a statement saying it was working with Solomon Metalwala and publicly agreeing with the clamor for quick disposition.
Is this unusual statement from a public agency in advance of a child custody hearing an indication that Maile has become a political football for the father's rights movement?
The custody of Maile Metalwala, like that of any child, is not an issue for popular vote. Fathers and Families has a particular philosophical bent, that bent being that equal parent time is the best outcome in most custody cases. But while equal parent time sounds fair in theory, it may well pit parental interests against children's stability. Equal time for parents usually means children become habitual travelers between two homes upon their parents' divorce. Judith Wallerstein, divorce expert and author of Second Chances, says that expert analysis of studies of what's best for children of divorce is yet inconclusive, however, there's evidence that shuttling between households is destructive and intensifies a child's feeling of being torn in half. So while the experts agree that maintaining relationships with both parents is important whenever possible, equal parent time may not be best for children.
In the Metalwala case, the court's duty is to decide what's best for Maile at this time. One factor deserving of absolutely no weight in the decision is the politicking of Fathers and Families. This case is about Maile and what's best for her, not scoring points in a philosophical debate about fathers, custody, and equal parenting time.