May 22, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Not long ago I ran a couple of pieces about the demise of LB 22, the bill before the Nebraska legislature that would have established a presumption of shared parenting. The president of the Nebraska State Bar Association, Marsha Fangmeyer wrote an op-ed in one of the state's newspapers that sought to mislead readers not only about the terms of LB 22, but about the NSBA's opposition to it. As Dr. Les Veskrna pointed out in his answer to her that appeared exclusively here on the National Parents Organization website, although asked repeatedly to submit its own proposal on how to improve children's outcomes post-divorce, the NSBA never has. Into the bargain, Fangmeyer claimed to want to read studies on the value of joint parenting, but left it to Veskrna to tell readers that she's had those studies for over a year.
As a final indignity, Fangmeyer actually claimed that the NSBA doesn't oppose shared parenting. Right. It just opposes any and all efforts to alter, however slightly, the status quo that deprives children of shared parenting 70% of the time (according to state data).
So the Nebraska bar's opposition to fathers' having equal custody of their children is plain for all to see. But the funny thing is, they needn't have bothered. What is now coming to light is the fact that the fix has been in since long before anyone ever filed LB 22. The information you are about to read has never been published in Nebraska. The guardians of the status quo in custody matters have, for about two years, been working largely in secret to make sure that the current law, the Nebraska Parenting Act doesn't change.
I've received a copy of a letter sent by three concerned attorneys to the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Hon. Michael Heavican. It's dated May 21, 2013, and it summarizes the frank corruption that surrounds the Parenting Act and ongoing efforts to keep it in place. This is a National Parents Organization exclusive.
The Parenting Act was originally passed and signed into law in 2007. It was immediately so sharply criticized that the very next session of the Unicameral had to radically overhaul it. Such an immediate alteration of new legislation essentially never happens, and the fact that it did in the case of the Parenting Act stands as mute testimony to the original law's defects.
As it stands now, the Act requires mediation in all divorce cases in which children are involved. To say the least, that was a huge boon to mediators across the state. It's a constant and large source of revenue for them. And of course, as we know, the law has made not a dent in the ability of children to maintain real relationships with both parents once they've split up. In Nebraska, mothers still receive custody in about 60% of cases, fathers in about 10% and joint custody is ordered in the remaining 30%.
Now there is something called the Parenting Act Evaluation Panel. Just why that entity came into being seems to be a mystery, but suffice it to say that the former speaker of the Unicameral, Mike Flood, appointed it two years ago. Nominally, its job is to look into the effects of the Act since its revision, but everything about it looks like an expenditure of public funds for the purpose of whitewashing a bad law. Essentially everything about the panel is at best suspect and at worst a violation of Nebraska law. Consider:
- The panel's membership includes essentially all the drafters of the original Parenting Act that was so quickly and unceremoniously amended. In other words, this is a panel that's supposed to evaluate a law that was drafted almost entirely by members of the panel. What are the chances they'll be very tough on their own work? And then there's the fact that they did such a patently bad job of it the first time. Why are Nebraskans supposed to believe they'll do better now?
- Although the panel plainly exists, its very existence, purpose and membership have never been officially disclosed. Yes, it's been funded, but from the outset, the entire project has been shrouded in secrecy.
- That's made all the more obvious by the fact that the panel meets in secret. Its meetings have never been publicized, in plain violation of the state's Open Meetings Act, and public input has never been solicited.
- The largest bloc of the panel's membership consists of family court mediators, the very group the Parenting Act most favors by its requirement that every custody case go to mediation. Those members stand to gain financially if the law is left as is. If there's a more obvious example of a conflict of interest, I can't think of it.
- The second largest bloc of the panel's membership consists of anti-domestic violence advocates. Mediators in the state are required to undergo training in domestic violence issues and the state's anti-DV advocates are the ones to provide it. Again, if the state were to back off of the mediation requirement, those anti-DV advocates would lose income just as the mediators would. And of course they have the same clear conflict of interest.
- The panel is blatantly anti-shared parenting. As originally configured, there were no pro-shared parenting advocates. None. That raised objections, so a grand total of two shared parenting proponents were added to the panel out of a total membership of 34. At least eight members have publicly declared their outright opposition to shared parenting.
- The panel is supposed to evaluate the effects of the Parenting Act, but the chairman of the panel and co-author of the previous law, Deborah Brownyard, has already gone on record praising it. She did so despite the fact that the panel had no data with which to evaluate the law.
- Indeed, the panel hadn't even created a protocol for doing so, and it turns out that that too may be a sham proceeding. The letter to Justice Heavican refers to the writers' concerns about "reports that members of the panel have attempted to design data collection efforts to reach pre-determined outcomes, i.e. surveying only certain constituencies while purposely excluding others; members of the panel have also circulated studies to the Legislature that used non-representative data samples (i.e. cherry-picked samples) to reach pre-determined outcomes."
- Finally, there's the matter of money. The panel's budget is a hefty $250,000, over six times that given to a similar panel in Maryland. So far they've used it to let no-bid contracts in the evaluation process.
In short, from secrecy, to legal violations, to a rigged membership, to a rigged evaluation process, the fix is in. The entire exercise is one in which mediators and DV activists aim to keep the gravy train flowing in their direction. The whole purpose is to maintain a status quo that shifts huge amounts of money from taxpayers and divorcing parents to those functionaries. In the meantime, children are forgotten. If the kids of Nebraska are like those everywhere else, they need to maintain real, deep and lasting relationships with their fathers post-divorce. But Nebraska is deaf to their pleas.
Those of mediators and DV activists who aim to make out like bandits? Ah, that's a different story. They've got their own mostly secret panel with lots of money to spend to do bogus research whose pre-ordained conclusions will be that what those children need above all is the very pricey services of mediators and DV activists. In Nebraska, the process of deciding custody is about who can grab the most money, in this case, from the state. If children suffer, well, that's just a cost of doing business.
This is corruption at its most blatant. The voters of Nebraska must be told what their elected representatives have been up to. And many, many of those elected representatives should be booted out of office because of their knowing acceptance of that corruption that privileges narrow, greedy interest groups above children.
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