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.
Read the news coverage and op-eds about our Shared Parenting Report Card at the links below:
February 21, 2020 by Lynda Steele, Furnishing Fatherhood
The reaction to a simple act of kindness from a community of people who systematically do not see support is a humbling experience. Reaching out to a father to say “I do this because you matter,” even though I do not know him personally, is important to both of us. I fully understand that, to their children, they matter as much as anything in the world. That is why I provide furnishings for homes for non-custodial fathers.
The typical response I get from men and fathers when we meet up is “Wow, I didn’t think you were real.” With shock and watery eyes they approach me and follow up with “It just seems like no one cares about dads.” Most of these men, by the time we find each other, are emotionally exhausted and half expecting Furnishing Fatherhood and the support it offers to be a scam. When we finally connect and they are provided the items they need for their homes and children, emotions flow freely. They tell me how much they care about their children, as if they are used to having to explain themselves. I greet them all with a big smile a warm hug and continue to remind them that I do this because their fatherhood matters. I reassure them that I can see how much they love their children and in that moment they begin to feel like they can breathe again and that they aren’t alone. I could have never imagined that showing up to father's home with a car seat or box of clothes for their children could bring such a huge sigh of relief. It doesn’t take someone with a lot of money or resources to help, it only takes someone with compassion and willingness to put in the work.
February 20, 2020 by Lynda Steele, Furnishing Fatherhood
Laws help to protect our rights, liberties and freedoms, but they need to be improved to protect parental rights and children's rights. That said,…
What law could be created to ensure that a divorced parent will have to share the child’s possessions and needs between the two homes? What law could be created to make people treat each other amicably? What law would make sure a parent who is going through a divorce or separation doesn’t end up homeless?
No law can or will do those things. The answers to those questions lie in resources and support. We have to look beyond laws to allow people to do the right things and create solutions that empower people to live better lives and rebuild following divorce.
February 19, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Cox is the Milwaukee emergency room physician who made the mistake of taking his one-month-old adopted daughter to the Children’s Wisconsin hospital due to his concern that he might have inadvertently harmed her. Cox had fallen asleep with the baby beside him and, when he awoke, he had rolled partially onto her. The child exhibited no pain or distress, but to be on the safe side and after consulting his wife who’s also a doctor, he took her to the hospital.
There the child was the subject of a string of medical errors, some obvious, some less so. One physician’s assistant insisted that a birth mark was a bruise. A child abuse pediatrician decided that a bruise on the sole of the child’s foot was suspicious for abuse when in fact it had been caused by a pin prick done at the hospital for diagnostic purposes. In all, some 15 doctors who either examined the child at the time or who reviewed her treatment later have said that no abuse occurred. One called the proceedings against Cox “preposterous.”
February 19, 2020 by Linda Reutzel, National Parents Organization of Missouri
A clear, responsible and elegantly written maintenance policy reform has been filed by Senator Ed Emery in the Missouri Senate. His legislation, SB 961, updates an out-of-date law that was last substantially updated in the early 1970’s.
Senator Emery’s bill would set durational limits and allow for a rehabilitative plan to get training or degrees for employment, and allow maintenance to be awarded for a party to bridge to a secure lifestyle; however, a judge could over-rule the limits or terminate a plan when it was determined that it was not being implemented. When a judge does not follow the limits, the court would be required to put the reason why in writing.The need for this provision, and indeed, the overall bill, is simple:
Current law is ambiguous, lacks definition, and both payors and recipients cite instances where court-room decisions are arbitrary and unfair so that similarly situated parties are not treated equally under the law. Both genders face the potential for an unfair outcome. It is also simple common-sense that in today’s courtrooms judges are reluctant to provide for maintenance reform to bridge to an independent lifestyle,because once a maintenance order is granted, it is hard to end.
Without bright lines and more uniform outcomes, it is understandably difficult for both parties to enter into reasonable settlement agreements. Instead the current law enables repeated litigation with inconsistent results. This hurts children who suffer from watching their parents return to court. Inevitably, children are the collateral damage. Their parents struggle with the animosity and anger that results from repeatedly hitting the financial and emotional wound from ending a marriage. This prevents families from moving on with their lives, and causes deep rifts.
February 18, 2020 by Lori Grover, NCM, Chair of Rhode Island NPO and Divorce Mediator
The emotional reality of ending a marriage is never easy. Whether a divorce is a mutual decision or made by one spouse, coming to terms with the end of a marriage and processing the loss is different for everyone. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve but certain behaviors can signal the existence of a bigger issue. Anyone who has been divorced, or knows someone who has, understands the roller coaster of emotions that effect the ability to think and function. Most divorcing people manage to work through the emotional and logistical challenges their divorce presents and in time, begin to focus on rebuilding their lives. But there are others who function differently; they’re driven by retribution, control, and perpetual conflicts. These are divorces involving high conflict personalities (HCPs).
February 17, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Once more a man who’s not the father of a child has been forced to pay child support for it. That’s true despite the fact that all parties acknowledge that the man isn’t the child’s father and he apparently has no relationship with it. The case demonstrates the inanity and injustice of failing to require mothers to accurately identify the fathers of the children to which they give birth.
In April of 2017, Abriel Gonzalez gave birth to a child. She named Jonathan Ortiz as the father even though she knew he might not be. Ortiz too had questions about his paternity, but, at the hospital when the baby was born, Gonzalez threatened that, if he didn’t sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity, she wouldn’t allow him to see the child. So he did.
February 14, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
It’s that time of year again in Florida. Early Spring? No, it’s the time when the legislature is in session, there are two bills that would reform alimony and parenting time law and, of course opposition to both from family lawyers. Here’s one example from Amy Hamlin who’s president of the Family Law Section of the Florida State Bar (Florida Politics, 2/10/20). We’ve been down this road in Florida many times before and, predictably, the family lawyers there have no new arguments to make in their desperation to head-off sensible reform.
Well, to be entirely accurate, Hamlin does have one new argument that comes in the subtitle to her piece.
Hasty changes to alimony reform won’t yield better results for Florida families.
“Hasty?” Er, not exactly. In fact, alimony reform and shared parenting are possibly the best-known, best-understood and most extensively vetted of any issue before the legislature. That’s because they’ve been introduced as bills, heard by committees, argued to the full House and Senate and voted on for at least four years now. That’s not what I call “hasty.”
Weirdly, Hamlin admits as much.
For the last several Legislative Sessions, there has a push for sweeping changes to Florida’s alimony statute…
So, according to the article, the effort is hasty and at the same time it’s been around for several years. Make sense? As it turns out, it makes about as much sense as the rest of Hamlin’s piece.
February 13, 2020 by Lynda Steele
“Sorry my organization only furnishes homes for non-custodial fathers, but I can direct you to an organization that can help you”.
Have you ever heard of an organization for only non-custodial fathers? Think about that for a minute. On a daily basis one-half of parents are turned away from certain support and resources because they are marked in family court with the title of “Non-Custodial”. It’s as if, all of a sudden, they have been cast out by society, condemned to no support and diminished credibility in their children's lives.
Furnishing Fatherhood came about one day when a young father reached out to me and said, “Hey I heard you help fathers. I don’t know how to ask you this, but do you by chance have a car seat? My child's mother said she is not going to share the car seat anymore and, if I don’t have my own by my next visit, she will not let me have that weekend with my son.” Shocked, slightly irritated and now intrigued, I had a laundry list of questions. If he was missing a car seat and she wouldn't share “hers” what else was this dad missing?
As it turned out, this dad had absolutely nothing. Since his relationship ended, he had for a year been “couch hopping”, paying his child support and saving money for his own place. When they split up all he was “allowed” to have was a back pack of his clothes. After hearing his story, I knew he needed more than just a car seat. I went to Facebook Marketplace and created a post asking for clothing for his son, living room furniture, a bed for him and his son, kitchen appliances and dishes - anything I could think of for a home.
February 12, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
In discussing parental alienation of children, I’ve many times commented on how thorny a problem allegations of PA can present to judges and custody evaluators. In about one-third of cases in which child abuse is alleged, alienation is as well. Imagine being a judge and having to sort out the competing claims and proffers of evidence and arrive at a decision. There may be no abuse and no alienation or there may be both. Or there may be alienation and not abuse or vice versa. And all allegations are presented in the most heated rhetoric. Sound easy? It’s not.
Trickiest of all is the question whether a child’s rejection of a parent is justified or not. One of the key indicators of PA isn’t simply rejection, but unjustified rejection. So how’s a judge to figure out whether an angry and rejecting child is engaging in appropriate or inappropriate behavior? There’s no case a judge less likes to hear than one including allegations of abuse and alienation.
Understandably, judges usually try to reach the right conclusion by resort to mental health professionals. After all, at least they have training and experience in evaluating children’s behavior and therefore may be in a position to identify PA or its absence. The problem with that approach is that, whatever their training and experience, making that evaluation can be hard for court-appointed evaluators too. Indeed, complaints of wrong findings of alienation and wrong findings of no alienation are rife.
February 10, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
NPO’s shared parenting bill has passed the state Senate by a whopping 39 – 1 margin. Here’s SB 157 in its amended form.
The key language of course is,
(2) In making an order for a temporary parenting plan, there shall be a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for fit, willing and able parents to have temporary joint legal custody and share equally in parenting time.
The bill only applies to temporary orders, but that’s a good thing for two reasons. First, the custody arrangement during the pendency of the divorce case can easily become the arrangement afterward. Temporary orders have a way of becoming permanent.
Second, as we saw in Kentucky three years ago, once the legislature passes a shared parenting bill that applies to temporary orders, it becomes easier the following session to pass one for permanent orders. Temporary orders get the camel’s nose under the tent and, once in, it’s only a matter of time before the beast is all the way inside.
Now of course the bill goes to the House.
It’s not a perfect bill, but few are. The main danger to shared parenting comes here:
(1) If there is presentation of documentation or other information by a parent that would support a finding of good cause that domestic abuse has occurred or is occurring, there shall be a presumption that it is not in the best interests of the child for the parents to have temporary joint legal custody and share equally in parenting time.
That’s scandalously (unconstitutionally?) vague language that can mean practically anything. Notice for example that the section says nothing about evidence, so apparently, none of the “documentation” or “information” need be admissible in a court of law. That opens the door to, well, anything anyone wants to toss up on the judge’s desk. Likewise, the words “would support a finding” are subject to a wide array of interpretations. What, for example, is the quantum of evidence required before such a finding can be made? The section is silent. Again, the bill offers no guidance to judges about what they can or can’t do when an allegation of DV is made.
February 7, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
This article gives a pretty good idea of the dysfunctional nature of the child support system in the United States (Kansas City Star, 1/26/20). The state in question is Missouri, but the issues are the same from sea to shining sea and beyond.
Case in point: that of Rebecca Greenwell. Back in 2001, she was ordered to pay child support for her two kids. She did for almost five years, but then experienced health problems (emphysema and herniated spinal discs) that severely limited her ability to work and earn. The state’s solution? Put her in jail. Of course that didn’t help her pay, nor did it improve her health, so Greenwell plunged further and further into debt.
So the latest threat against her is a six-month stretch in jail, a prospect Greenwall understandably dreads. But she probably won’t go inside again. Why? Because her daughter, who’s now 20 years old, pays the child support for her. That’s right, the daughter for whom she owes the support in the first place is paying it for her mother. Amazing, but true.
Now, what the article doesn’t mention is that other versions of Greenwell’s case are actually fairly common. It’s true that the payor isn’t usually the child for whom the support is intended, but the fact remains that, when a parent is faced with jail, others often step up to make sure that doesn’t happen. So, relatives, friends or neighbors often pitch in to pay child support they don’t owe, just to keep the state from jailing a parent who’s too poor to pay.
And, speaking of the poor, that’s who typically fall under the State of Missouri’s axe in child support court. That’s not surprising, given that the same is true throughout the country and, as elsewhere, in Missouri, the poor don’t get much of a day in court when they fall behind on their payments.
February 6, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors
I’ve written many times about the tendency of child protective authorities to overreach, i.e. to intervene in families when doing so isn’t warranted by the situation. Last time I wrote about the case of Dr. John Cox who, despite over a dozen doctors saying he hadn’t injured his infant daughter, has had the child taken from him and his wife and now faces felony child abuse charges. Key to the child’s removal by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families were the opinions “child abuse pediatricians,” a small but growing set of medical specialists whose very existence is troubling to many. Dr. Cox’s case looks like a good example of why and NBC and the Houston Chronicle have publicized several others.
But even those who believe that the current approach to child protection is, on balance, doing its job well, would have to admit that the use of child abuse doctors has its disturbing downsides. In my last post, mentioned the tendency to exacerbate overreach and the problem with conflicts of interest, but there’s another problem.
Cox’s ordeal has also opened a rift at Children’s Wisconsin, where some treating physicians say they are so alarmed by what’s happened to him that they now hesitate to refer injured children for evaluations by child abuse pediatricians, fearing that an abuse specialist might jump to the wrong conclusion and needlessly report parents to Child Protective Services.
In other words, the existence and nature of child abuse doctors sometimes causes other doctors to avoid their input into cases of injured children. Surely that’s not the result child protective officials would want, but it’s the one their interactions with child abuse doctors has produced. After all, Dr. Cox put the matter succinctly when he said,
February 4, 2020
A video-taped symposium on ‘Reducing Parental Conflict and Harm to Children’ was held last week at the Connecticut Legislature.
The first invited speaker was Professor Martin Kulldorff at Harvard Medical School, who talked about the ‘Scientific Evidence on Shared Parenting’ (video @32:00). Based on a review paper by Dr. Linda Nielsen, he presented the scientific evidence that shared parenting is in the best interest of the great majority of children, in terms of mental health, physical health, behavior and inter-personal relationships. From tables containing effect estimates from each outcome in each study, there were overwhelming evidence that shared parenting is better, and for some outcomes, the differences were surprisingly large. He concluded that there is a family court paradox between (i) the best interest of the child principle, (ii) the scientific evidence that shared parenting is in the best interest of the vast majority of children, and (iii) the fact that only a minority of children live in a shared custody arrangement. Dr. Kulldorff ended his presentation stating that if shared parenting was a medical drug, it would easily be approved by the FDA for its mental health benefits and the pharmaceutical company would make billons from it.
February 4, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
This excellent article is the latest in a series by NBC News and (sometimes) the Houston Chronicle (NBC News, 1/27/20). The series deals with the rising “specialty” of child abuse physicians, i.e. those who are supposedly uniquely trained and qualified to diagnose intentional injuries to children. Those physicians don’t necessarily have a conflict of interest, but, as the article demonstrates, they often seem to adopt one. Plus, as the NBC piece also makes clear, the very existence of the specialty can produce other more sinister ethical violations.
The piece is long and too detailed to adequately describe here. Suffice it to say, that Dr. John Cox, an ER physician and his wife, Dr. Sadie Dombrozsi, an oncologist and hematologist, were in the process of adopting a baby girl. They’d already adopted two boys and appear to have been entirely loving and fit parents to them. But, not long after they’d brought home their one-month-old daughter-to-be, Cox fell asleep with the baby beside him. When he awoke, he was partially on top of her. The child was in no distress, but Cox was concerned. He called his wife who was out of town with the boys and together they decided to “err on the side of caution” and take the baby to Children’s Wisconsin hospital at which they both worked.
As events developed, that turned out to be the least cautious thing they could have done. Months later, the baby has been taken from them by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and John is under felony indictment for child abuse. The latter of course threatens not only his freedom, but his livelihood. That is all true despite the fact that there is no clear evidence of abuse, the pair have always been good parents to their other children and numerous doctors have looked into the case and found no reason to believe abuse occurred.
February 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
In case anyone missed the point of Naomi Cahn’s article in Forbes, she’s the very soul of clarity (Forbes, 1/26/20).
June Carbone, a family law professor at the University of Minnesota, finds [Joan Meier’s] study highly troubling: “It shows the power of the shared parenting idea. An abuse allegation rejects the possibility of shared parenting. Parents who allege alienation by the other parent cloak themselves in the mantle of the shared parenting norm and judges reward them, even if the parent is an abuser."
Yes, the whole point is to cast aspersions on shared parenting. Cahn does so by accepting without question the findings of Joan Meier’s study of litigated and appealed cases in family courts. The fact that the study is laughably bad deterred Cahn not a whit. I dealt with Meier’s study here, here, here and here.
The shortcomings of her work are far too numerous to detail here (for that, see the linked-to posts), but perhaps the most important one is her failure to even try to ascertain whether judges were getting right the orders they made. Meier’s study deals with cases in which mothers alleged some sort of domestic violence or child abuse against a father who then either did or did not claim parental alienation by her. She found that in some cases judges sided with the father and in some with the mother. She (and Cahn and others) then leap to conclude that this constitutes a problem, the underlying assumptions apparently being that all such allegations by mothers must be well-founded and all such claims by fathers must not be.
January 31, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The shoddy work of Joan Meier is back in the news (Forbes, 1/26/20). And this time the article reporting on her work is even worse than previous ones. Back in August I reported on a piece in the Washington Post whose idea of “balance” was a one-sentence quotation by Prof. Nicolas Bala who criticized Meier’s methodology in her most recent study. The rest of the Post piece swallowed Meier’s claims hook, line and sinker. But for law professor Naomi Cahn, writing in Forbes, even that modest nod to journalistic integrity is too much. Cahn didn’t bother to pick up her phone and chat with anyone who might have been critical of Meier’s study. In the whole article, there’s no hint of the serious shortcomings in Meier’s work.
The core of Meier’s and Cahn’s claims is that fathers use false claims of parental alienation to wrest custody from mothers. They do so particularly when mothers allege some form of DV or child abuse to a family court. Cahn, who, just like Meier, is a law professor at George Washington University asks no questions, but merely regurgitates Meier’s claims.
We often see commentary to the effect that men do less housework and childcare than do women, facts borne out by many authoritative datasets like those produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The gist of that commentary is usually that, if men would only “step up” and do their share, then women would be freed to become equal in the workplace. That is, men hold women back.
Now, as I’ve often said, the weaknesses of that commentary are too many to address in a limited space. But generally, they boil down to the fact that, if a woman wants her life to emphasize paid work, there’s nothing preventing her from doing so. The simple fact is that most women want children and, having given birth to them, aren’t generally very enthusiastic about leaving them behind to rush back to the office. They didn’t have them just to have them; they want to love and nurture them too. The further fact is that women’s biological makeup urges them to do just that. The biochemical connections between mothers and their offspring have always created parent-child bonds that all but demand that Mom see to her children before anything else. This shouldn’t be news, but, in our Brave New World, certain basics sometimes seem to be.
Now, given that propensity for mothers to care for their children, comes a corollary – that Dad be the family’s resource provider. The one tends to beget the other. Needless to say, I would never contend that mothers don’t work and earn. Of course most of them do. But the great majority of primary family breadwinners are men and the main reason is that mothers tend to prioritize childcare.
NPO is honored to be a sponsor of FATHERLESS to FATHERHOODhosted by The Fatherless Generation Foundation Inc. & Dr. Torri J.in partnership with All Pro Dad.This live event will be on February 1 in Miami at the Superbowl LIV Miami Experience. Our Executive Director Ginger Gentile will be on a panel with actor Omar Epps, pro football player Julio Jones, advocate Mark Merrill, and Dr. Torri J discussing the impact of children growing up in fatherless home and solutions. Some topics will be:
-Struggling with how to be a father because you did not have one?
-Challenged by how to maintain proper relationships because you did not see one demonstrated in your household growing up?
-Covering up childhood wounds with success?
-Struggling on how to raise your children in the absence of their father?
Missouri Rebuttable Presumption bill HB 1765 will have a hearing January 28 at 6 pm and SB 531 will have a hearing January 29 at 8 am. These bills are identical to the ones from last session. We are very excited that these bills will be heard so soon in session. Representative Swan and Senator Wallingford both are making these bills a priority this year, so hopefully we can finally get them to the Governor for his signature! Click here to fill out a witness form for the Senate bill hearing and click here to fill out a witness form for the House bill hearing.
Are we learning? Is it possible that we’ve experimented with abandoning the two-parent, intact family, found the results wanting and are starting to return to sanity?
Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies analyzed the latest data from the American Community Survey for 2018. What he’s found is a bottoming out of the trend toward single-parent childrearing and even a slight trend in the opposite direction. From 2014 – 2018, the percentage of children living outside of the traditional two-biological-parent household actually dropped. From 2001 to 2011, it remained stable.
[S]ince 2014, the share of children living with two married parents has risen ever-so-slightly, from 61.8% to 62.3% in 2018, and data from early 2019 in the Current Population Survey suggest that 2019 will show further improvement. The period from 2011 to 2019 is the longest period of stability or improvement in children’s living situations since the 1950s.
Obviously, a half-a-percentage point increase isn’t much, but it comes after a fairly long period of stable numbers. Is all that a precursor to greater positive change? Hang around for the next half century and I’ll let you know.
Needless to say, the changes in family structure over the past 60 years have been one of our society’s most remarkable features. In 1960, about 13% of kids lived outside a traditional family. By 2000, that number had ballooned to about 35% and the trend was worsening. But then in about 2010, it evened out and began to reverse.
January 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
In Virginia, there’s a bill, HB 1500, that deserves support. If enacted into law, the foundations of civilization won’t quake, but it will make a modest improvement to the status quo.
In 2018, Congress changed the Tax Code to make spousal support a nullity for tax purposes. That is, spousal support is no longer income to the recipient and no longer deductible by the payor. Each is a reversal of what had gone before.
How Congress came up with that brilliant idea, I assume I’ll never know. After all, in most cases in which income is transferred from one entity to another, the recipient is required to report it as income. And in some of those cases, the payor may deduct the amount transferred from his/her taxable income.
As to spousal support, that’s no longer the case. That of course constitutes a significant windfall to recipients and a further blow to the pocketbooks of payors.
So the Virginia bill seeks to ameliorate that situation, at least a bit. It does so be simply reducing the amounts called for in the state’s guidelines for spousal support. In so doing, it would decrease the amount paid and received in what approximates the increases caused by the new tax law. In short, it tries to get Virginians back to where they were before Congress acted.
The Netflix film MARRIAGE STORY about a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal extremes, has gotten over six Academy Award nominations. This hit film is a great tool to promote default shared parenting as it shows a couple that loves each other, thinks the other parent is a great at taking care of their son but still spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a custody battle. Key scenes highlight how lawyers fuel conflict and the overburdened family courts encourage fighting instead of helping families heal.
Watch NPO's Executive Director Ginger Gentile on a Facebook Video discussion how to reference heartbreaking scenes to promote family court reform. If you want to be part of the solution, join your local chapter of NPO today!
Watch the trailer here: