NPO Makes Huge Gains Toward Eliminating Fatherlessness
By Petra H. Maxwell, Esq., National Executive Director, NPO
As Father’s Day approaches, National Parents Organization wishes to celebrate fathers everywhere. In keeping with our mission, though, we want to take this opportunity to celebrate all parents.
This month, we have much cause for celebration here at NPO. We’ve made significant progress in reshaping the family court system to promote shared parenting and to eliminate fatherlessness. Four of our Affiliate Chapters introduced shared-parenting legislation last month (see side-bar for details). Kentucky and Virginia succeeded in passing groundbreaking legislation in their States supportive of shared parenting after divorce, which is great news – both for fathers and mothers. But it’s especially good for their children. For the first time in these two states, judges will be required to consider shared parenting for a divorcing family without immediately resorting to the antiquated concept of sole custody. We are thrilled to offer this good news to families everywhere, just days before Father’s Day.
These law changes are in line with child development research. For instance, a study published in January by Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University, analyzed about 60 international scientific studies spanning several decades. It concluded that shared parenting is best for children on multiple measures when parents divorce or separate. For example, the studies noted that children who do not have the benefit of regular access to both parents suffer from numerous psycho-social maladies:
· 85% of children exhibited behavioral disorders
· 70% increased rate of teen suicides
· of the juveniles in state-operated institutions, 70% reported having no contact with their fathers
· among high school drop-outs, 71% reported having had no access to one of their parents
· 75% of the children in chemical abuse centers reported lack of regular contact with one parent
· 85% of those in prison reportedly came from a single parent household with no regular contact with a father or mother
Here’s what I’m sure we can all agree on: Shared parenting among fit parents is best for kids. And while we’ve been making great progress toward improving the lives of children after their parents separate or divorce, much work remains to be done. With all of this in mind, this Father’s Day, let’s celebrate dads – and then let’s all do our part to support the work of the National Parents Organization so we can continue to help even more children: You can contribute to our organization by using the Donate button in this issue; contact your State Affiliate Chapter and volunteer; or just simply call your legislator and tell him or her that your vote depends on their support of shared-parenting.
Happy Father’s Parent’s Day!
National Parents Organization Passes Landmark Shared Parenting Law in Kentucky!
Thanks to Kentucky legislators and Gov. Bevin, Kentucky now leads the nation in protecting children’s best interests when parents divorce or separate. The historic moment arrived on Thursday, April 26, when Gov. Matt Bevin signed HB528, a bill stating equal parenting time is best for children.
“April 26 goes down in history as the day Kentucky became the first true shared parenting state in the United States. Kentucky, more than any other state, can now say it does everything it can to give children two loving parents after divorce – just as our children deserve,” said Matt Hale, Chair of National Parents Organization in Kentucky, who led the reform effort for five years. “Research overwhelmingly shows children want and need both parents after separation. Our state lawmakers responded by aligning state laws with the research. This represents a common sense yet unprecedented move. Our lawmakers and primary sponsors Jason Petrie and Kevin Bratcher should be commended.”
The law passed the Kentucky House and Senate before Gov. Bevin signed it into law on April 26th.
Virginia Makes Family Court Reform History: Governor Northam Moves Shared Parenting Bill Into Law
National Parents Organization is excited to announce another historic event. On May 19, 2018 Virginia Governor Ralph Northam moved a bill into law that opens the door to a more robust shared parenting law in the future. Both the House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1351, which is set to become law on July 1, 2018. Importantly, Virginia’s bill leaves in place the same provisions that account for histories of domestic violence or other abuse. Delegate Glenn Davis, R-House District 84, sponsored the bill (HB 1351).
“We couldn’t be more thrilled for the families of Virginia. We want to thank our legislators, especially Delegate Glenn Davis whose collaborative leadership is unmatched, and Governor Northam for acting unanimously on the overwhelming research that shows children do best when they spend significant time with both of their loving parents,” said Christian Paasch, Chair of National Parents Organization of Virginia. “I am proud to now be able to say that the Commonwealth has taken a first step to align its child custody laws with decades of child development research. We still have work to do, but we are heartened by the passing of HB 1351.”
As The Washington Post reported, more than 20 states have recently considered legislation supportive of shared parenting – a flexible, collaborative, and safe child custody arrangement that seeks to maximize a child’s time with each parent. Virginia’s passage of HB 1351 comes on the heels of Kentucky signing a much stronger, rebuttable presumption of shared parenting into law last month.
Virginia’s new law now requires the court to formally consider joint/shared custody on par with sole custody. While some might argue that Virginia’s statutes already allow for such a consideration, the truth is that approximately 85% of the time, sole or primary custody is still awarded. Unfortunately, children in sole custody arrangements are exposed to a multitude of risks, such as teen suicide, school dropouts, and behavioral disorders. Approximately 60 research studies from numerous states and countries and spanning several decades have shown that on every metric of well-being, children do better in shared parenting situations than in sole custody situations.
A trend toward shared parenting has gained steam in recent years. It has been the usual arrangement for several years in Sweden, Belgium, and Australia, and research there has shown much better outcomes for children. A handful of states have had similar laws for several years, and each year, a few more states follow suit and join the modern world in doing what is best for children: shared parenting. A soon-to-be-published study on Arizona’s law found that judges, attorneys, conciliation court staff, and mental health professionals evaluated its shared custody law positively overall, and positively in terms of its effects on children.
“Because of this new law in Virginia, the Commonwealth has taken an important first step to improve children’s educational achievements, decrease their use of drugs, give them a greater sense of security, and improve their overall health and adjustment. We look forward to seeing Virginia continue down the path toward true shared parenting, which is good for mothers, good for fathers, and best for children and families.” Paasch said. “Please join us in celebrating this landmark first step!”
Affiliate Member Highlights:
In this issue, please read the stories of just a few of the men and women who made shared parenting possible in both Kentucky and Virginia.
Minority Outreach Coordinator, Kentucky Affiliate Chapter
During my divorce process I remember the multiple court hearings during which I argued for 50/50 equal parenting with my ex-spouse. Time after time, I lost for no good reason. Last July 2017, after Kentucky passed its first Bill directing courts to order shared parenting for temporary custody order,I was encouraged. But at the hearing, I lost custody of my daughter again......I was devastated. I had made a promise to my little girl that she would get to have over-nights with her dad like her older brother does with his dad, and I felt like I let her down.
I started searching for Dad's groups on Facebook just to get some support and I contacted The Father's Rights Movement to attend a meeting. From there, I went with TFRM people to sit in on a legislative session in early February. At that session, Matt Hale, Chair of the National Parents Organization spoke about shared parenting. Matt's passion and energy for the new proposed Shared Parenting Bill was a breath of fresh air for me. I knew shared parenting was my passion and I wanted to be part of an organization that was working to help change the law to protect the right to co-parent.
Matt had already laid out the blueprint for what became HB 528. When I joined NPO, I contacted every Senator with email addresses and phone numbers to convince them to support this new Bill. I had the privilege to talk to Senator Reggie Thomas, Senator Julie Adams, and Senator Damon Thayer. Sen. Thayer even sent me a personal letter thanking me for my hard work in helping to pass House Bill 528 joint custody law! I've had grandparents, mothers, and of course fathers calling me, crying, telling me "thank you!!" I have conversations with people on Twitter from different states and even other countries using Kentucky's new Shared Parenting law as a sign of hope for them. Slowly but surely this beautiful law is changing people's minds about the importance of shared parenting everywhere! I’m so proud to have been a part of making this happen for the families in Kentucky!
Chair, Virginia Affiliate Chapter
Chair, Virginia Affiliate Chapter
Our courts should cry “Hallelujah!” upon hearing that a child has two parents, who love their child more than anything and want to be involved in their child’s life. Unfortunately, our current system is adversarial and incentivizes conflict to the extreme. Child custody proceedings, to include my own, don’t really ever “end”…they go in peaks and valleys, and will last as long as the money does. When I began my custody proceedings, I thought it would involve the legal aspects we’re all familiar with: right to an attorney, right to a speedy trial, rules of evidence, etc. I quickly learned that none of these really exist in family court. Success is almost exclusively dependent on how well your attorney knows the judge, how the judge interprets the “Best Interest” factors (and which ones are considered) on that day, and how much “justice” you can afford. None of those things should matter, but they do.
The bulk of my experience lasted about 5-6 years across three states and carried the price tag of multiple Ivy League educations – resources that could have been better spent my children. And the sad truth is that I was one of the lucky ones: I had a good job, supportive friends and family, and an understanding boss at work. The vast majority of parents in this situation don’t have that, and that’s why we do the work we do. The majority of parents can’t afford to fight for their kids to the degree that the system demands, and in fact, they shouldn’t have to. Barring any extreme circumstances, children should never have to face the prospect of one of their parents being ripped away, just because that’s how it’s always been done.
Thankfully, we can do better. I came across that better option three years ago, after researching both fathers’ and mothers’ groups, both of which I found to be equally angry and frustrated – perhaps from different angles – but unproductive, nonetheless. I found the National Parents Organization’s mission unique and refreshing -- uniting both moms and dads in the fight to make shared parenting the norm. Ten years ago, I would not have thought that I would be writing this today, leading the NPO in Virginia, sitting on Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel, and having led the successful passing of Virginia’s first pro-shared parenting bill in history. Yes, just a few short weeks ago, we passed the House Bill 1351 which requires courts to consider joint physical and legal custody of the child as a viable option. The trend towards shared parenting that we are seeing take hold across the country leaves me feeling happy for the progress made, hopeful for future efforts, and grateful for the strong men and women working together for the best interests of our children.
Member, Virginia Affiliate Chapter
I joined the National Parents Organization a year ago after becoming sufficiently frustrated with the outdated family court system. Despite the numerous research studies demonstrating that shared custody is the best option for children after divorce – even when there is conflict between the parents -- our family courts order sole custody in the majority of cases. This process creates winners and losers, dis-incentivizes cooperation, and ensures that conflict continues indefinitely – clogging our courts for years at great expense to society. When my husband found himself in family court, neither of us expected him to lose custody of his son. There was no abuse or neglect. My husband, who was the stay at home parent in his son’s early years, is a good, loving father. He and his son had a close relationship and, up until the family court’s ruling, my husband and his ex-wife were equal participants in their son’s parenting. But that didn’t matter and over night my stepson and his Dad became mere visitors in each other’s lives.
It doesn’t make sense to separate good parents from their children, have a system that incentivizes conflict. It doesn’t have be that way. I know my stepson would do better if shared parenting were the norm. The conflict would decrease. He would be able to participate more fully in the lives of both of his families. He would be able to celebrate with his siblings on their birthdays, spend a snow day with them, see his grandparents when they come to visit, attend family events, and hold conversations about life over dinner – things he can’t do now unless those events fall on alternate weekends. I can’t fix the judges’ decisions in our case. I can’t give my stepson more time with his Dad. But I can try to make things better for other children. So, I decided to join the men and women of the National Parents Organization to reform our family court system and work to pass the new House Bill 1351 so we can provide a better life for the children of Virginia. I’m so proud to have helped make that happen!
NPO is a non-profit organization that relies on individual donations from readers like you. Please help us continue our work to protect children by making a contribution today. All donations are tax deductible.
NPO Affiliates Advance Shared Parenting in Several States
Congrats are in order for many of our NPO state affiliate members – they have worked hard in recent months to advance shared parenting reform!
Most recently, this work resulted in Kentucky and Virginia passing new laws supportive of shared parenting, and our Missouri and Kansas affiliates also recently advanced legislation.
Here is a breakdown of the most recent NPO legislative action.
· Result: HB528 passed into law
· Key language: “Amend KRS 403.270 to create a presumption that joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child, and to require the court to consider the motivation of the adults involved when determining the best interest of the child for custody orders; amend KRS 403.280 to specify that the presumption of joint custody and equal parenting time is in the best interest of the child; amend KRS 403.320 to allow a parent not granted custody or shared parenting time to petition for reasonable visitation rights; amend KRS 403.340 to specify that if a court modifies a custody decree there is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interest of the child for the parents to have joint custody and equally shared parenting time.”
· Vote tallies: Passed 81-2 in the House, passed 38-0 in the Senate
· Date Governor signed: April 26
· Effective Date: late June
· NPO State Affiliate Chair: Matt Hale
· Result: HB1351 passed into law
· Key language: “Provides that the court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody of a child and there shall be no presumption in favor of any such form of custody.”
· Vote tallies: Passed 98-0 in the House, passed 40-0 in the Senate
· Date Governor approved: May 18
· Effective Date: July 1
· NPO State Affiliate Chair: Christian Paasch
· Result: HB1667 passed the House and then made it to the Senate floor, where it died.
· Key language: “Establishes a rebuttable presumption that child custody arrangements that award equal parenting time are in the best interest of the child.”
· Vote tallies: Passed 137-7 in the House
· NPO State Affiliate Chair: Linda Reutzel
· Result: SB257 was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee before it died.
· Key language: “Creating a presumption of child's equal time with parents during court determinations of legal custody, residency or parenting time.”
· NPO State Affiliate Chair: Will Mitchell