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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

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August 4, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

In Ireland, the frank discrimination against unmarried fathers and the children they seek to parent continues.  And it will do so into the foreseeable future (Irish Examiner, 7/28/20).  Amazingly, it’s all part of a public policy that pretends to further marriage.  The Irish might want to rethink that.

In the Emerald Isle, if a man who fathers a child isn’t married to the mother of that child, he has no parental rights.  She has full parental rights, he has none.  With luck and the goodwill of the child’s mother, he may be able to acquire those rights, but otherwise, he can’t.

Here’s how it works:  For the first three months after the child is born, the unmarried father has no parental rights.  Period.  It doesn’t matter how good a partner he’s been to the mother, how much he’s done to support and care for her or how much he wants and loves the child.  He has no parental rights.

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July 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

When it comes to suspected child abuse, teachers are among the many “mandated reporters.”  That is, if they have reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected, they’re required by law to report their suspicions to the nearest child welfare agency.  Failure to do so can result in the loss of a mandated reporter’s job.  As I’ve said before, that none-too-subtle threat is one of the major reasons for the vast over-reporting to CPS agencies.

So it’s interesting to read this article (We Are Teachers, 11/18/19).  It’s written by one Brette Sember, a teacher who’s instructing other teachers on what to do when they suspect abuse or neglect of a child.  Most of it is fairly sensible.  So, for example, readers are urged to not take the lead in investigating the case, but to simply report their suspicions to CPS or the CPS liaison at the school.

But then there’s the not-so-sensible about the piece.  For example,

“More than three million children in the US are abused each year.”

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July 29, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This piece comes to us from the Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services (Spotlight, 7/2/20).  As such, its chirpy, “all is well” tone is only to be expected.  The countless problems of the child support system won’t get an airing on that site or any like it. 

Still, the article does offer an important tidbit.

For many years, I’ve wondered why so few custodial fathers have a child support order in effect.  The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest compilation of data says that just 41.4% of those fathers have such an order.  That’s compared with 51.4% of custodial mothers who do.  More telling is the fact that it’s the highest rate recorded by the Bureau in 26 years.  The low, 28.8% came in 2011.

So why do dads tend so strongly to not have a support order?

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July 23, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Thanks to the ever-excellent Lenore Skenazy for this article (Magic Valley, 7/19/20).  Skenazy has long been one of the most effective advocates for parents in their conflicts with child-protective authorities.  Her article is one example.

Vancouver resident, Adrian Crook had custody of his four children who, at the time in question were aged 7 – 11.  Crook seems to have been an excellent and responsible father, because his kids were themselves responsible kids.  So he allowed them to ride public transportation to and from school.  Everything went off without a hitch.  Indeed, one bus patron once emailed Crook to tell him what well-behaved children he had.

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July 23, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

On one hand, this article is more of the same (The Marshall Project, 7/8/20).  It’s intended as a hatchet job on the idea of parental alienation.  We’ve seen the sort many times before and all run to type.  They take one or two cases the author hopes will cast the notion of PA in a bad light, quote Joan Meier, refer to her recent study, cast aspersions on Richard Gardner, state that the DSM-V doesn’t mention PA and portray fathers as abusive and mothers as protective.  Any nod they give to the extensive literature on PA is extremely limited, pejoratively phrased and, often as not absent altogether.  Their point is invariably that the idea of parental alienation is dubious and used only by fathers to illegitimately wrest custody from mothers.

The linked-to piece has all of that, but is a bit more scrupulous and balanced than the rest.  It even avoids quoting or referring to Joyanna Silberg, which alone must count as a major accomplishment.

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July 20, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

I’ve blogged about Ray Keiser before.  He’s a Nebraska advocate for shared parenting who knows the pertinent information on parenting time and child well-being and isn’t afraid to be blunt about it.  He does so here (Lincoln Journal Star 7/8/20).

Now, Keiser reprises the usual arguments in favor of shared parenting that are well known to readers of this blog, but he also produces two others that got my attention.  He compares family courts with juvenile courts, i.e. those in which cases of parental unfitness are heard.  When a Nebraska child welfare authority wants to take children from parents based on abuse or neglect, they do so in a juvenile court.  When parents divorce, they appear before a family court judge.

So what’s Keiser’s comparison?

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July 15, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Once again, paternity fraud has taken up the time and resources of three litigants, at least three courts and their clerks, court reporters, bailiffs, etc., countless lawyers and their support personnel.  And once again a biological father has been removed from his child’s life.  And once again, it’s all because neither legislatures nor judges can find the good sense to pass laws and/or make rulings that accord with justice and fair play. 

In Nebraska, Tyler F. and Sara P had a love relationship that resulted in Sara’s becoming pregnant.  The two weren’t married.  Unknown to Tyler, Sara also had a sexual relationship with Geoffrey V. at or near the time she conceived.  That was in November, 2008.  In August, 2009, she gave birth to J.F.  At the hospital, Tyler signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity and was listed as the father on the birth certificate, because Sara had assured him he was J.F.’s father.

Soon enough, Tyler and Sara discontinued their affair and seem never to have lived together, but from the moment of the child’s birth, Tyler was an active, concerned, hands-on father to J.F.  In fact, when Sara decided to move to Oklahoma in 2013, the two agreed that J.F. would live with Tyler in Nebraska.  That continued until 2014 when Sara demanded that J.F. come to live with her, which prompted Tyler to file suit claiming paternity and custody.

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July 10, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Karen Woodall is a British psychotherapist who blogs extensively about parental alienation.  She’s one of the clearest, strongest voices in the fight to make family courts more equitable for parents and healthier for children.  Her views deserve respect. 

That makes her opinion about the recent case, Re S, cause for some celebration.  Woodall calls the case in the UK Court of Appeal, “highly significant” and “exceptionally clear commentary on the Court’s view of the problem of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after divorce or separation.”  Finally, it may be that British courts have had enough of parents who alienate their children.

In the past, one of the most important problems encountered by alienated parents has been the scandalous amount of time and money it cost to litigate issues of parental alienation.  The Re S judges cite a few cases to illustrate.

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July 9, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Bad facts make bad law, at least Australian Labor MP Graham Perrett hopes they do.

Perrett has seized on a single horrible incident that took place in February of this year to attempt to (a) change Australian family law to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children even more than they already are and (b) short circuit the inquiry into family law now in progress.

On February 19th, Rowan Baxter poured gasoline on his three children and their mother, Hannah Clarke, and set it alight, killing all four.  He then stabbed himself to death.  Baxter and Clarke had been embroiled in a child custody case prior to their deaths.

A family tragedy doesn’t get much more shocking and appalling than that and Perrett was johnny on the spot, ready to make whatever legislative hay he could from the deaths.  Strangely, he’s put forward a bill that would do away with the presumption of parental responsibility that’s the last vestige of fathers’ rights in Australian family law.  “Parental responsibility” is what we in the U.S. call “legal custody,” i.e. the right to have a say in children’s schooling, medical care, etc.  How removing that presumption would have changed the Baxter/Clarke tragedy, I can’t understand and Perrett hasn’t explained.  It seems that, in the Land Down Under, it’s always open season on dads and their access to their kids.

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July 9, 2020 by Indiana Lee

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. No parent wants their child to have to face the separation of her parents. But not even a divorce can change the fact that you, your former spouse, and the children you made together are, and always, will be a family, 

If parental separation is handled well, a child of divorce doesn't come from a "broken home". She has two fixed homes. Together, you and your former spouse can shepherd your child through this transition. No, it won’t always be easy. No, you won’t always have all the answers and you may sometimes feel as if you simply don’t know what you’re doing. And yes, you will make mistakes.

But that’s okay. Because you’re human and humans make mistakes. And when your child sees you and your former spouse facing adversity together as a whole family, even in the face of divorce, then they’re going to learn resilience.

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July 8, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Amazing but true, The Guardian has a positive article about fathers, and a reasonably accurate one too (The Guardian, 6/30/20).  Of course the article is well behind the research it deals with and barely scratches the surface, but, within those limitations, it gives its readers valuable information.

It seems there’s some recent research out of Cambridge University on fathers playing with their children and how that influences children’s behavior, both immediately and in the years to come.

Research carried out by Cambridge University’s faculty of education and the LEGO Foundation looked at how mothers and fathers play with children aged 0 to 3 years and how it affects child development.

While there are many similarities, it found that fathers tend to engage in more physical play like tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides, which researchers claim appears to help children to learn to control their feelings.

The research is based on a review of data from 78 studies, carried out mainly in Europe or the US between 1977 and 2017, which found a consistent correlation between father-child play and a child’s ability later to control their feelings.

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July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Is Greece poised to make a great leap forward toward parental equality in family courts?  This article says it may be; I’m less confident (Open Democracy, 6/29/20).

It seems the current government has put forward a bill that would significantly overhaul current law relating to child custody, child support and parenting time.  That may be a good thing.  The linked-to article’s writer, Vassillis K. Fouskas, is a professor of international politics and economics at the University of East London.  He identifies three major defects in current Greek family law.

“First, middle and lower-middle class fathers who dared to enter litigation demanding shared parenting/joint custody risked losing their child(ren) at the same time that they were asked to pay enormous amounts of money in child maintenance.”

As I understand it, Greece has no clear system for ordering child support, such as the guidelines that govern in most parts of this country, so each judge simply makes it up as he/she sees fit.  That can mean lower-earning fathers can end up with ruinous support orders.

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July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Psychologist Jennifer Harman and Nebraska attorney Nancy Shannon have an excellent op-ed here (Omaha World Herald, 6/27/20).  It’s nominally about maternal gatekeeping, but spills over into parental alienation as well.  Now, maternal gatekeeping and parental alienation are two different things, but the former can be the latter and gatekeeping behavior could easily become a precursor to alienation.

That said, Harman and Shannon pull no punches.

“Extensive research shows the importance of fathers to their children’s well-being. These studies show children in father-limited environments are almost four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and twice as likely to commit suicide. They also have significantly lower educational attainment, are more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, have higher risk of being victimized by crime, have higher risk of physical and mental health issues, and have lower life expectancies.”

Given that, we should of course bend heaven and earth to keep fathers involved in their children’s lives.  But gatekeeping and alienation by mothers often interfere with our attempts to do so.  Indeed, Harman and Shannon alert their readers to a 2015 report by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families on maternal gatekeeping.  Its findings are remarkable.

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July 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

In a much anticipated and long-awaited ruling, the Texas Supreme Court has done the right thing, albeit the obvious thing as well.  The case is entitled In re C.J.C., Relator

C.J.C. had a six-year relationship with an unnamed mother.  They had a daughter, Abigail in 2014.  In 2016, C.J.C. and Abigail’s mother split up and he went to court to request custody.  The trial court ordered a roughly equal temporary parenting time schedule, but, before the case could be concluded, the mother was killed in an auto accident.

Abigail’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s boyfriend, Jason, petitioned the court for custody of the little girl.  C.J.C. resisted, but, in the end, the trial court awarded Jason some limited visitation that increased with time.

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Linda Nielsen book 2020

Professor Linda Nielsen’s newest book is out now! Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and Their Dads is essential reading for daughters and their fathers, as well as for their families and for therapists. This friendly, no-nonsense book by father-daughter relationships expert, Dr. Linda Nielsen, offers women and their dads a step-by-step guide to improve their relationships and to understand the impact this will have on their well-being.

Nielsen encourages us to get to the root of problems, instead of dealing with fallout, and helps us resolve the conflicts that commonly strain relationships from late adolescence throughout a daughter’s adult years. Showing how we can strengthen bonds by settling issues that divide us, her book explores a range of difficult issues from conflicts over money, to the daughter’s lifestyle or sexual orientation, to her parents’ divorce and dad’s remarriage.

With quizzes and real-life examples to encourage us to examine beliefs that are limiting or complicating the connection between fathers and daughters, this guide helps us feel less isolated and enables us to create more joyful, honest, enriching relationships.

You can buy the book here.

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June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that family court’s order restricting a father’s derogatory remarks on Facebook about his ex-wife violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech (New York Times, 5/9/20).  Good for it.

I wrote here, here, here and here about the many ways in which family courts routinely violate constitutional guarantees with their orders.  Prior restrictions on speech, travel, association and others are par for the course in family court and yet, curiously, they’re rarely challenged.

Jennifer M. Lamanna, a lawyer who represented Mr. Shak in the appeal, called the ruling a “game-changer” because family and probate judges in the state frequently give such orders, and treat violations as contempt of court, carrying severe penalties.

“There are thousands of these out there, which is why this is, for Massachusetts purposes, a landmark ruling,” she said. “People ask for them routinely and they are just handed out.”

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June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

I suppose the first thing that comes to mind about this article is the obvious – that if the sexes were reversed, the article never would have been written and, if it were, the fathers would be raked over the coals (Sydney Morning Herald, 3/17/18).  It’s about three Australian mothers who left their husbands and children, something the article calls a “tough decision.”

That’s right in the headline and it sets the tone for the rest of the piece.  That tone is one of understanding and sympathy for the mothers, not a hint of rebuke or faultfinding, and barely a word about how their leaving might have adversely impacted their kids.  Needless to say, words like “deadbeat” never appear.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the women were criticized for leaving their children, to my mind, an understandable response.  Somehow it seems to assume that, if a father did the same, he’d be clapped on the back and stood a pint by the lads at the nearest pub.  But, when mothers leave their kids, they’re the victims in need of our care and concern.

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May 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This is a shocking case (Daily Mail, 5/18/20).  Or, that is, it would be if we knew its facts.  But we don’t, and that’s the other shocking part.

As far as I can determine, child protective caseworkers botched a case somewhere in the U.K.  I think this because the judge’s words suggest serious malfeasance on their part.

However, [the judge] said publicly: ‘I do not think I have ever had to criticise a local authority to the extent that I have found it necessary to do in this case.’

He added that social workers ‘disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection’.

Strong words.  I wonder what they mean.  The Daily Mail article gives us this much:

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June 25, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

As I said in my last piece, the tide of denigration of fathers on Father’s Day seems to have ebbed substantially this year.  That’s good news of course, but what’s less so is the latest study of the depiction of fathers in TV sit-coms.  Whatever may be true on dads’ one day per year, is emphatically not so the other 364.

The study, by UMass Amherst professor of Communications Erica Scharrer and six colleagues, is entitled “Disparaged Dads: A Content Analysis of Depictions of Fathers in U.S. Sit-Coms Over Time,” and was published in May by the journal Psychology of Popular Media. 

Now, given all that we’ve learned over the years about the value of fathers to children and how fathers are doing far more hands-on parenting than ever before, you might think they’d get a break from pop culture.  After all, surely their depictions therein would have improved over time, right? 

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June 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Wake Forest professor Linda Nielsen has some advice for parents and children who find themselves cooped up with each other during the COVID-19 restrictions (Institute for Family Studies, 4/30/20).  Particularly fathers and daughters should use their newly-expanded time together to get to know each other better.  Doing so would be good for both.

Nielsen has been studying father-daughter relationships for thirty years.  She’s asked her students to fill out questionnaires about their relationships with their fathers and used the accumulated information in her book on the subject coming out around Father’s Day.

What she’s found is that fathers and daughters often fail to create the type of depth in their relationships that would benefit both, but particularly daughters.  The dangers of not doing so can be dire:

[T]he impact of a distant, superficial, or estranged relationship with dad can range from mild to life-threatening for a daughter, including: leading to more troubled relationships with men and higher divorce rates, lower adult incomes and more poverty,  more stress-related health problems, and higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol problems, dating violence, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases…

Moreover, a daughter is more likely than a son to suffer from clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide, all of which are closely related to the quality of her relationship with her dad. 

In short, daughters need their fathers.  We ignore the importance of that relationship at our – and most importantly at their – peril.  How do fathers and daughters become estranged?  The distance between them comes about for several reasons.

One of the most common is the breakup of the parents’ relationship with each other. Another is the mom’s gatekeeping—behaviors and attitudes that close the metaphorical gate between fathers and their children and make it difficult to build strong bonds, especially with daughters. And particularly when the parents’ relationship with one another is coming apart, mothers are more likely to share damaging information or to bad-mouth the dad to their daughters. Then, too, there are a host of damaging, yet untrue, beliefs about men as parents, especially about father-daughter relationships, that work against dads. For example, some people believe there is a “natural” and stronger bond between mothers and daughters because they are both female—and that women have a maternal instinct that men lack. Some also believe that mothers have more impact than fathers do on their children, especially on their daughters.   

None of that of course is inevitable.  All those wedges between fathers and daughters exist because we allow them to.  Divorce courts too easily sideline one parent – usually the father – in their children’s lives by providing too little parenting time in the final order.  Maternal gatekeeping comes about because we’ve done too little to publicize its detriments to kids and train mothers to include fathers in child rearing.  And the educational system, news and popular culture do far too little to make us all aware of the vital role fathers play in children’s lives and healthy development.

For thirty years, Dr. Linda Nielsen has been fighting to correct all those shortcomings in public policy and culture.  We all benefit from her work.  It needs to start playing a larger role in public policy and the important ways we understand children and their need for two parents in their lives.

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June 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

So, we managed to get past Father’s Day without the usual barrage of dad-hating articles.  I’m sure there are some I missed, but, for the most part, it seems like a pretty good year.  But it wouldn’t be Father’s Day without at least one, so, here it is (Harvest, 6/20/20).

The writer, Pastor Gregg Laurie, knows nothing about his subject.  He makes assertions that are patently untrue and, predictably, unsourced.  His swipes at fathers are entirely gratuitous.  In short, his article is what we’ve come to expect in the run-up to Father’s Day.  The only difference is that Laurie is a pastor and his piece is larded with religious references and a spiritual tone.  How Laurie can call himself a Christian and be so dismissive of fathers, I can’t guess.

Here’s Pastor Gregg:

Not only that, but probably more fathers attend church on Mother’s Day than on Father’s Day. Next to Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day has the highest church attendance. But Father’s Day is one of the days with the lowest church attendance.

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June 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors

I’ve posted a few pieces on the very dubious ways family court judges use their power.  Many of those are of questionable constitutionality, but they’re seldom, if ever, challenged.  Here’s such a case (Detroit Free Press, 9/19/19).  It’s not a recent one, but it’s well worth mentioning.

Jonathan Vanderhagen had a son with a woman who goes unnamed in the article.  A family court of course gave primary custody to her.  But Vanderhagen complained.  He filed an action to gain custody for himself claiming his ex was unfit to care for their son, Killian.  He filed that in the court of Judge Rachel Rancilio although it was heard by a special master.  Vanderhagen’s request was denied and, sometime later, Killian died in his ex’s care.  She says she had nothing to do with his death.  Vanderhagen disagrees.

Whatever the case, Vanderhagen posted to social media some harsh criticisms of the family court system, including Judge Rancilio.  Even though none of what Vanderhagen posted was remotely threatening or abusive, Rancilio complained to the county sheriff who brought charges against Vanderhagen.  He was arrested, posted the $1,000 bond and a no-contact order was issued against him.

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The first celebration of a “Father’s Day” was in 1908 when a West Virginia church commemorated the deaths in a mining accident of 361 miners, 250 of them fathers. The beginnings of a general celebration of fathers began a few years later, in Spokane, Washington, when Sonora Smart Dodd, inspired by a Mother’s Day celebration, urged her minister to declare a similar day for recognizing fathers. There were several unsuccessful attempts to establish official recognition of Father’s Day by Congress, but they were defeated. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith criticized Congress for ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents”. In 1966, President Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June ‘Father’s day’ and in 1972 President Nixon signed a law making it a permanent national holiday. (Credit goes to Wikipedia for the brief history.)

One reason Congress resisted making Father’s Day a holiday was concern that the day would be commercialized. This fear was not unfounded, of course, though with respect to commercialization, Father’s Day doesn’t match Mother’s Day. But commercialization isn’t the only disparity between the two holidays. Anyone paying attention over the past few decades has seen instances where Father’s Day is used not to honor but to disparage fathers. (For some examples, Google: deadbeat dads “Father’s Day”.) Father’s Day has even been used as a day to target fathers who are behind on their child support obligations, as documented here by Glenn Sacks and Ned Holstein. 

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June 19, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This piece builds on my last two detailing the most recent (May, 2020) data from the U.S. Census Bureau on child custody and support.

The Bureau reports this information every couple of years and has since at least 1993.  One of the most remarkable aspects of the data is how little child custody arrangements have changed over the past 27 years.  Most noteworthy is the fact that the ratio of maternal to paternal custody has remained essentially unchanged over all that time.  In 2017, 80% of child custodians were mothers and 20% fathers.  In 1993 the numbers were 84% and 16% respectively.

It’s hard to believe that, with all we’ve learned about the value of fathers to children that so little headway has been made toward increasing fathers’ custody.  The simple fact is that the social science on fathers and children is now far ahead of what it was in the 1990s, so you’d think that we’d see that reflected in child custody data, but we don’t.  It’s as if all that vital information, all that painstaking work has gone for naught.

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