January 8, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Up to now, only Washington State made any effort to keep track of actual results in child custody cases. It may have stopped doing so after two years of data showing all too clearly the radical pro-mother results in family court orders. I haven’t seen any new information since then.
But recently, the State of Nebraska completed a study of child custody cases that throws more light on what happens when parents with minor children divorce. Now, Nebraska didn’t attempt to catalogue all child custody cases in a given year as Washington did. It examined a sample of 392 cases from 2002 – 2012. Still, the report does give some valuable information about just what’s going on in child custody cases. Unsurprisingly, the facts bear little resemblance to what anti-shared parenting advocates have claimed for years.
That by itself is interesting, but what adds to it is the fact that the people doing the study are a veritable rogue’s gallery of anti-father, anti-shared parenting advocates. The committee studying child custody orders in Nebraska included plenty of people with a stake in the outcome – i.e. mediators with a financial interest in the status quo that requires mediation of most cases, domestic violence activists who continue to claim that most DV is committed by men against women, and the like.
That those people produced data that dramatically undermine their anti-father positions is remarkable and strongly suggests they have little to hang their hats on in opposing shared parenting.
Some years ago, researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen found, in a massive study of some 40,000 divorce cases, that 70% of divorces are initiated by women. And sure enough, as the new report shows, in Nebraska, 70% of parents filing for divorce are mothers. Brinig and Allen found out why; mothers head to divorce court because they know they won’t lose their kids.
And so it is in Nebraska. There, fathers got sole custody or are the primary residential parent in only 13% of cases. Another 12% of cases see mothers and fathers sharing time with the children about equally. As in every other state, in Nebraska, custodial parents are overwhelmingly mothers.
That comes as no surprise to fathers who, though they make up some 70% of divorce defendants, rarely bother to even file an answer to the mothers’ divorce petitions. Some 58% didn’t contest the matter and, of those who did, only about half hired a lawyer. That unwillingness on the part of fathers to seriously contest child custody strongly suggests they know the outcome in advance and don’t see the sense in paying a lawyer to reach a pre-ordained conclusion.
Of course, some would argue that might be only a matter of money. After all, how many parents have the money for a lawyer? But that can’t be the reason dads let the divorce and custody regime take its course without putting up a fight. The Nebraska study shows that divorcing fathers earn on average over 27% more than mothers. In short, mothers hire attorneys on far less income than do fathers, so the reason dads don’t contest custody cases can’t be explained by an inability to pay. Again, I’d argue they know the outcome in advance and don’t see the point.
That income disparity raises another issue – child well-being. Money is far from the only variable in a child’s life, but it’s undeniably an important one. In Nebraska as in every other state, fathers tend to earn more than mothers, but rarely get custody. That is, judges opt for primary custody for the parent with less to support the child, even though the difference is not even close to being made up in child support. Nationwide, noncustodial mothers get only about 13% of their income from child support payments, hardly enough to catch up with dads’ greater earnings.
It’s something for courts to consider; the ability to support a child seems like an important factor in deciding who should get custody, but courts seldom consider the matter.
The real shockers come in the areas of child abuse and neglect, domestic abuse and the like. The simple fact is that all of the above are scarce as hen’s teeth in child custody matters.
The study reports on levels of “verified” cases of the above, and it’s worth mentioning just what the authors mean by that word. “Verification” occurs when,
"there is some official corroboration that the event occurred such as known witnesses with affidavits, police involvement and / or court involvement."
In other words, if Mom’s sister, new boyfriend, best friend, etc. files an affidavit with the court that she/he heard Dad yell at Mom or the child, that constitutes a “verified” finding of abuse. The reality of course is that many of those affidavits are either false or based solely on what Mom told the affiant. Police reports? They indicate Mom called the police, very possibly on the instructions of her attorney, to report abuse. Court involvement? That means she got a restraining order or had him arrested.
The clear import of the term “verified” is that it indicates far more abuse than actually occurs. With that in mind, here are the report’s figures on “verified” abuse and related issues:
- 3.6% of cases had verified abuse or neglect of children in the past;
- 0.5% had verified ongoing abuse or neglect;
- 4.3% of cases had verified instances of children witnessing parental conflict;
- 5.9% of cases had verified previous domestic violence incidents;
- 0.3% had verified ongoing DV incidents;
- 1% of cases had verified instances of stalking or threatening behavior by one spouse against the other.
Put that all together and it amounts to miniscule numbers of cases in which real DV, child abuse, neglect, etc. took place. Add to that another pithy fact; in only 4.1% of cases was some form of parental unfitness “verified.”
By now you may be wondering, “With those low levels of abuse, neglect and unfitness, why is it that judges routinely cut fathers out of children’s lives in custody cases?” After all, if a dad’s not abusive or unfit, why not let the kids continue to see him? But they don’t. That becomes a particularly good question when we consider that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated several times that states have no business interfering in the parenting of fit parents.
That brings us to just how much access fathers have to their kids post-divorce. The Nebraska report tells us that non-custodial parents see their kids on average about 5.5 days per month, which corresponds to the standard visitation of every other weekend plus Wednesday night. They also see them 24 days during the summer on average. If all that’s honored by the custodial parent, it adds up to about 20% of the time.
As we know from Dr. Susan Stewart’s research into non-custodial parents, that’s not enough time to keep non-custodial parents actively involved in their kids’ lives. Stewart calls those parents “Disneyland Dads” because they tend to become mere entertainers of their children. Face it, when a child sees his/her father one day out of five and Mom four days out of five, it doesn’t take long for the kid to figure out who the “real” parent is, i.e. the one who makes the decisions. Once that’s established, it’s no surprise that non-custodial parents lapse into Disneyland status.
In keeping with every other bit of information we have on parents around the country, Nebraska saddles fathers with the lion’s share of child support, out of all proportion to their custodial status. A full 86% of parents paying child support are fathers and 14% are mothers. That’s true despite the fact that 13% of fathers have sole or primary custody and 12% share time with their kids equally with the mothers.
So how can it be that 86% of child support obligors are fathers? The report doesn’t say, but, in the U.S. generally, non-custodial fathers are far more likely than non-custodial mothers to be ordered to pay support. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 89% of parents ordered to pay child support are fathers despite the fact that “only” 82% of non-custodial parents are dads.
In Nebraska, as in the country at large, even in the rare instances in which fathers get custody of their kids, mothers are far less likely to be ordered to contribute to the children’s support.
The anti-father forces in Nebraska have long told anyone who would listen that abuse of children and mothers was endemic in child custody cases. They were wrong and now we know it for certain. They’ve told us that fathers aren’t fit parents, but now we know that, even in hotly contested custody cases, mothers don’t even make the claim, and it’s objectively true in at most about 4% of cases. (That’s assuming that all those “verified” cases are true and all the unfit parents are fathers.”)
So where does the anti-dad crowd turn now to deny children a meaningful relationship with their fathers? Overwhelmingly, fathers are fit parents and engage in no form of abuse or neglect of their wives or children.
So someone tell me; what’s the excuse for cutting fathers out of their kids’ lives?
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.