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May 5, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

An amazing thing happened in the Oklahoma legislature this past week. Then something else amazing happened. And then a third.

First, the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate passed House Bill 3001 that would have actually given non-custodial parents a bit of power in their post-divorce relationships with their exes. It passed unanimously, 91 – 0 in the House, 43 – 0 in the Senate. What sort of bill supporting (mostly) fathers could be so popular?

HB 3001 was a bill to help dads enforce their visitation rights. It was a modest sort of bill. It consisted entirely of a single thing – if a custodial parent were to refuse visitation or hide a child, thereby preventing same, for a period of six months, the non-custodial parent could go to court and get a court order suspending his child support payments. Here’s the language:

However, if the custodial parent prevents visitation with the noncustodial parent or hides the child from the noncustodial parent for more than six (6) months, the court may relieve the noncustodial parent of child support obligations during the period when visitation was denied. The noncustodial parent shall make all payments until otherwise ordered by the court.

Now, of course in most cases, such a law would never come into play. For one thing, the custodial parent would only have to allow visitation once during a six-month period in order to be free of the consequences of the law. And a father’s ability to prove that such a thing had occurred for the requisite period would be limited at best. Still, the threat of the loss of child support might have encouraged some recalcitrant mothers to toe the line.

As I said, the bill was modest in its approach, adding little to what most fathers can do to enforce their rights to see their kids. Obviously, no one in the legislature thought the bill was in the least controversial.

More importantly, the facts that HB 3001 existed at all and that it got total support from the state’s elected representatives in the legislature says one thing loudly and clearly – fathers’ rights issues are more and more coming to the forefront of the public’s and therefore the legislature’s consciousness. Into the bargain, the facts that fathers are (a) striving to see their kids, (b) being denied by mothers and (c) not having their rights enforced by courts have all become a standard part of the debate on fathers and children.

So, that’s amazing fact No. 1. There’s been a great leap forward in the understanding of family court dysfunction and the importance of fathers to children. Face it, a decade ago fathers were still assumed by all and sundry, and depicted in the news media and popular culture, as good-for-nothings with zero to offer their kids. Slowly, the truth is becoming known and accepted.

Which brings us to amazing fact No. 2. Governor Mary Fallin vetoed the bill. Not so amazing you say? I suppose you have a point, but, given the bill’s incremental approach to fathers’ rights and its unanimous support in the legislature, you’d think she’d have signed the thing. After all, when 100% of the people’s elected representatives favor an initiative, it takes an extraordinarily arrogant governor to ignore their wishes. It’s more the act of a queen than a governor.

But we’re used to that. Thank goodness we have our betters looking out for our interests. Clearly, we don’t know what they are, so we need someone to stand in for the mommies and daddies we so desperately need correcting us as we stray.

It’s getting to be a pattern. In Minnesota last year, the governor vetoed a bill passed by both houses that would have improved fathers’ parenting time post-divorce. The governor of Florida followed suit last fall when he vetoed a bill that would have brought a measure of sanity to alimony laws. As with HB 3001, both of those bills were modest in scope and backed by substantial majorities in both houses. But the governors figured they knew better, so dads and kids will have to wait for another year at least.

That brings us to Amazing Fact No. 3. The editors of the Tulsa World can’t read. Now that really is an amazing fact. You’d think that, being editors of a medium that communicates largely with words, they’d have mastered long ago the fine art so many of us learned around age five or six. But no.  I know this for a fact because here’s their editorial lauding Fallin’s veto of HB 3001 (Tulsa World, 5/2/14). Note the following:

The proposal would have allowed a noncustodial parent to go to court to recover child support payments if the custodial parent refused visitation for six months or more.

Let's unwind that a bit with an example: If a mother refused to live up to a divorce decree and allow her ex-husband to visit their child for at least six months, he would be able to go to court and force her to pay back his child support for that period.

Uh, no he wouldn’t. Compare the actual words of the bill and the representation of it by the editors of the Tulsa World. The actual language of the bill says he could go to court and suspend his future payments. The TW editors think that means he’d get repaid by the mother. Ridiculous.

It’s bad enough that the editors didn’t bother to take 30 seconds out of their busy and ask an eight-year-old to read the four-line bill to them. But to place their ignorance on record truly defies belief. For some people, any excuse to oppose fathers’ rights to children and children’s rights to fathers is enough.

Of course, being unable to read simple English, I guess it’s no surprise the editors also don’t know the first thing about federal law on child support. As every fathers’ rights advocate and possibly a few family lawyers know, the Bradley Amendment prohibits any retroactive adjustment to child support. And of course that’s exactly what would happen if the editors’ understanding of HB 3001 were the truth. Had it called for repayment of child support, the measure would have been unenforceable as a violation of federal law. I suspect the sponsors of the bill knew that. Too bad the editors don’t. Too bad they made no effort to find out.

But I keep forgetting. “Finding out” is what journalists do.

As I said, “amazing.”

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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.

#childsupport, #OklahomaLegislature, #GovernorMaryFallin, #veto, #non-custodialfathers, #BradleyAmendment, #Oklahoma

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