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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.  

November 30, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

A new year is just around the corner, and with it will come a new shared parenting bill in Nebraska. And, as night follows day, with the new bill will surely come the usual excuses for keeping fathers out of children’s lives. But if this very good article is any indication, the state’s press at least may no longer be falling for those unsupported and often downright strange excuses (Omaha World Herald, 11/23/14).

I believe a couple of things explain the Nebraska news media’s change of heart, if indeed there’s been one. First, the dogged efforts of attorneys like Chris Johnson who regularly exposes reporters and the people of Nebraska to the many virtues of shared parenting. Johnson knows the social science and, in his many op-eds, recounts it. Children, parents and the courts themselves are all better off with shared parenting and Johnson makes the case articulately and convincingly.

The other side, not so much. Up until just last year, those who are unalterably opposed to children spending time with their fathers post-divorce have been led into their dubious battle by the equally dubious Marsha Fangmeyer, former president of the state’s bar association. Fangmeyer proved altogether unable to carry the load of convincing people that what’s good for children isn’t good for children and what’s fair to all is unfair. Oh, she gave it the good old college try, but in her case, that meant openly lying about what the bill then before the unicameral legislature actually said. Called out by many, including me,for her shameless prevarication, she quickly went silent which was a blessing to all.

I suspect that Fangmeyer’s blatant untruths got the attention of the news media at least to the extent that they now approach claims by the anti-dad crowd with appropriate skepticism.

Then the same anti-father forces had a bright idea a couple of years ago. They noticed that there weren’t really any data on custody cases, so they convinced the legislature to fund a study of same. Their idea was to pack the committee charged with deciding what should be studied and how. Then they’d hand-pick the researcher, and the results, they believed, would be a foregone conclusion. They didn’t know what the results would be exactly, but they figured there’d be something among them on which they could hang their hats. Something would appear in the data to which they could point and say “See, shared parenting doesn’t work,” or “Shared parenting is dangerous to women,” or “We already have shared parenting in Nebraska.”

In practice, that idea did indeed turn out to be a good one, just not for the reasons the anti-dad crowd envisioned. Oh, they packed the committee alright. At first there were literally no advocates for shared parenting serving on it and, when that was brought to light, three were included on a 36-person committee. So the fix was in, right? Wrong. A funny thing happened on the way to denying children meaningful relationships with their fathers following divorce or separation — the data didn’t cooperate.

Indeed, the study of custody cases spanning ten years demonstrated many things, none of them what the anti-shared parenting folks desired. And it is on that study that the article linked to relies for its facts on child custody cases in Nebraska.

Noncustodial parents in Nebraska — usually fathers — are given an average of five days a month with their children, according to a decade-long analysis by the State Court Administrator's office. The state reviewed divorce and child custody cases between 2002 and 2012.

The December report found disparities in how custody was divided in different parts of the state. In District 8 — the Nebraska Panhandle — mothers were granted sole custody 75 percent of the time. In District 4, encompassing Omaha, fathers were given sole custody less than 3 percent of the time.

Statewide, mothers received sole custody about half the time. Joint custody was granted in about one-third of the cases, and fathers were granted sole custody about 9 percent of the time.

Given all that it’s hard to argue that the system of child custody isn’t biased against children having real relationships with their fathers. After all, five days per month is about 16% of the time, hardly enough to sustain meaningful relationships.

Then of course there was the problem (for those opposing children’s rights to their fathers) that’s great news for everyone else. Almost none of the cases (under 6%) studied even contained an allegation of domestic violence and of course fewer still substantiated DV. The same held true for allegations that one parent was unfit. Well under 10% of the cases even alleged that one parent was unable to care for the couple’s children.

In short, the anti-shared parenting crowd’s silver bullet was a blank. It gave them literally nothing with which to oppose shared parenting and in fact did the opposite; it disproved some of their most cherished notions, e.g. that fathers are too violent to care for their kids.

Maybe that’s why they’re keeping quiet now.

Phone messages left Thursday and Friday with three groups that opposed a bill during the last legislative session weren't returned.

Last February they relied on the usual claims that shared parenting exposes women to domestic violence, but, like every other shared parenting bill ever written, Nebraska’s had exclusions for cases in which DV is proven. As I reported here, those very domestic violence organizations eventually signed on to the proposed language, apparently paving the way for passage (NPO, 3/21/14). But no. For reasons no one has yet explained, Senator Brad Ashford refused to let the bill out of the Judiciary Committee of which he was chairman. Since then Ashford’s made noises to the effect that shared parenting is coming to Nebraska.

Currently, advocates are considering two bills. One would either encourage or require judges to "maximize" the time that each parent gets with children, while still letting the judge decide the exact split. The proposal is modeled after a similar law in Arizona that went into effect last year…

A second proposal would require courts to track how custody is awarded in different parts of the state. Advocates believe the tracking would highlight disparities in how parental time is divided and support their effort to change the system. Voters could also use the information in elections when deciding whether to retain a judge.

"If one court consistently goes 80-20 and others are closer to a 45-55 split, we would know," Johnson said. "Right now, that information is very hard to procure, because no one tracks it."

Both bills need to be passed. The second one is particularly important. A law requiring judges to maximize time with each parent could work to increase fathers’ time with their kids, but it may not. Biased judges could easily find an excuse to just keep doing what they’re doing now — marginalizing fathers in their kids’ lives.

But a bill to systematically maintain information on what actually happens in custody cases would allow people to know whether the new law was working or not. If not, that very data would provide the basis for change, very much like the existing study has done.

Oh, speaking of that study, one of my sources in Nebraska tells me the anti-shared parenting forces have taken to calling it a “preliminary” study, as if the real one is yet to come. If they are, it’s utterly without factual basis. Nothing about the original study indicated it was preliminary and that includes its title, “Custody Court File Research Study.” Plus, there is not a single word in all its 74 pages to suggest that there’s another one to be done, that this one forms the foundation for a future study or anything of the sort.

The simple truth is that the facts of child custody in Nebraska militate strongly in favor of change and change is precisely what those opposed to children having real relationships with their fathers don’t want.

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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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