THE MOST remarkable aspect of the jailing of a Prince George's County woman for her failure to make child-support payments to her former husband is that the event was not considered surprising. Linda Jean Miller is not the first, nor will she be the last, woman to be held in contempt of court for missing those monthly payments. If mothers who are ordered to help someone else support their children follow the pattern set by fathers in the same position, a good many women are going to hear those cell doors slam.
And why not? With or without the Equal Rights Amendment, the day is past when judges should automatically give mothers custody of the children and order fathers to help support them. While some judges still do that, many now recognize that both parents have an interest in, as well as a responsibility for, their children. That means decisions on matters like custody and support should be based on what is best for the children, not on dogma about traditional parental roles.
For years fathers all over the country have felt abused by the judicial orders in which their marriages ended. Many stopped making those payments for the reasons mentioned by Mrs. Miller -- they believed they couldn't afford it and were upset at not being able to see their children more frequently. Sometimes the reasons were valid, but more often than not the fathers ended up in or threatened with jail. The good news, at least in prospect, is that when some mothers begin to appear in this same mess, the courts may begin to treat all these cases with more sensitivity than they have in the past.