January 20, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In Nebraska, the continuing saga of Legislative Bill 22 that seeks to increase shared parenting in the state and its dogged opposition by the State Bar, family lawyers and the many providers of ancillary services to courts in child custody cases have taken a new turn. As I’ve chronicled in several previous articles, those opposed to shared parenting tried an end run around the law by establishing a working group to examine the realities of divorce and custody cases. The group was overwhelmingly packed with anti-shared parenting advocates, the clear import of which was that they would produce a report that discouraged shared parenting. Many of us predicted that it was an exercise in delay with a foregone result, i.e. a report that said all was well with child custody in Nebraska.
While all that was going on, the Nebraska State Bar was actively and illegally lobbying the legislature against shared parenting. That activity was struck down by the state’s Supreme Court that cut bar dues substantially and routed them away from the Bar itself. It seems a mandatory bar association violates the free speech rights of its members when it lobbies against something its members are for. There’s a little matter of U.S. Supreme Court precedent that so holds, but who knew? Not Bar president Marsha Fangmeyer, that’s for sure.
While Fangmeyer and other anti-shared parenting advocates weren’t illegally lobbying the legislature, they were lying to the press. Their claims about LB 22 were so flagrantly at odds with the obvious truth about the plain wording of the bill, Fangmeyer, et al were excoriated far and wide.
The point of all those shenanigans was to promote the status quo in child custody cases, a condition those who make large sums of money off the system find agreeable.
But a funny thing happened on the way to rubberstamping the status quo. The report, funded by the Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts, turned out to be anything but what the anti-shared parenting crowd wanted. As I said in my previous post on the subject, that’s the more remarkable when we consider the frank bias of those involved in producing the report. If anyone could come up with an anti-shared parenting report, it was that group. But try as they might, they failed.
So it comes as no surprise that family lawyers Chris Johnson and Amy Sherman, longtime proponents of equal parenting, have taken once again to the pages of the Omaha World Herald here to let Nebraskan’s know about the report and its import for the state’s custody laws (Omaha World Herald, 1/17/14). Since “great minds” think alike, Johnson and Sherman make many of the same points I did in my initial piece on the report, so I won’t repeat much of what they said.
But I will point out that, in the past, Johnson and Sherman have published an op-ed in the World Herald that came out foursquare in favor of shared parenting. In a matter of days, the domestic violence industry in the state published one as well recycling the usual discredited claims to the effect that fathers shouldn’t be given access to their children because they’re too prone to violence and abuse. It was the well-worn tissue of lies and half-truths designed to mislead.
The simple truth is that literally hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show that mothers commit as much domestic violence as do fathers and the Administration for Children and Families data show they commit twice as much child abuse and neglect. So the “domestic violence” and “child abuse” claims are nothing more than dodges by those opposed to fathers and children maintaining meaningful relationships post-divorce.
But now that the Nebraska report has been made public and Johnson and Sherman have made their pro-shared parenting points, the question arises, “What will be the anti-father establishment’s response?” Last time they played the DV card, but there’s a real problem with that this time. You see, the report makes clear that, even in a system of child custody that so rewards mothers for making claims of abuse by fathers, they rarely do. And when they do, they’re almost never substantiated. As Johnson and Sherman point out (and as I did in my first piece),
Even using a very broad definition of the term “verified,” the study found verified instances of domestic violence in only 5.9 percent of custody cases. While any domestic violence is too much, many people believed domestic violence was much more common than found by this study.
And many of those “many people” who believed DV to be “much more common” happened to be those in the DV industry who make their livings off people believing DV to be common. Now that we know to a certainty that, among divorcing Nebraskan parents, it’s as scarce as hen’s teeth, what will the anti-shared parenting forces use to maintain maternal preference in child custody matters?
The fact is that the report dispatches all their arguments made to date. Domestic violence is out as is child abuse that was claimed in only 6.2% of cases. As Johnson and Sherman say, “high conflict” families can’t be the excuse for denying fathers a meaningful relationship with their children. That’s because (a) the report admits that there’s really no good definition of what “high conflict” is, (b) even under their extremely expansive definition of the term, only 12% of cases qualified as “high conflict,” and (c) of the 11 categories of what might constitute high conflict cases, only two had any substantiated cases.
All that of course is true in addition to the fact that the social science on parenting post-divorce strongly indicates that shared parenting actually tends to reduce conflict while primary and sole parenting arrangements tend to prolong it and in some cases make it worse.
So it looks like “high conflict” cases can’t form the excuse to remove fathers from their children’s lives.
Neither can unfitness by one parent. After all, one of the claims by anti-shared parenting advocates has always been that, because Dad spent so much time working and earning, he hadn’t developed the necessary parenting skills to have equal custody. That claim has always been bunk. The fact is that children don’t need only fathers who’ve mastered every fine art of parenting. They need them…period. Kids are known to identify and differentiate between their fathers and mothers in the first weeks of their lives. That bonding is vitally important to their welfare and it is that bonding that family courts routinely violate when custody decisions are made.
What the Nebraska report shows is that, in almost all cases, neither parent thinks the other is unfit as a parent. The issue was substantiated in fewer than 4.1% of cases.
The record is clear; according to the Nebraska report, the claims we’ve been fed for decades by anti-shared parenting forces are bogus. Nothing in the report even hints that the realities of parents and their relationships during divorce favors the status quo, which amounts to allowing fathers access to their children a bit less than 20% of the time.
Johnson and Sherman’s article is, as usual for them, a good one. But what’s more interesting will be the response by those opposed to meaningful father-child relationships. Last time, it took them just four days. I expect something early this week. We’ll see.
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.
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