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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.  

January 2, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Regular readers of this blog will recall that the anti-shared-parenting crowd in Nebraska has been trying all sorts of things to avoid giving children any more time with their fathers than they currently get, which is to say, not much. That’s included outright lying by the President of the Nebraska Bar about one shared parenting bill.

But it’s also included getting the state to fund an analysis of past custody cases over a 10-year period. The anti-shared-parenting forces figured they could (a) pack the panel overseeing the study and (b) handpick their own researcher to gather and analyze the data. That way, they thought, they’d have a handy-dandy, state-financed study demonstrating that the status quo is just fine and needs no change. They would then present that study time and again to oppose shared parenting initiatives in whatever form.

That looked like a pretty sound approach (and so much less offensive than lying), but a funny thing happened – the data didn’t cooperate. Those opposed to children having real relationships with their fathers succeeded in packing the committee and selecting one of their own to conduct the study, Dr. Michael Saini of the University of Toronto. But when the numbers were analyzed, they did a very unexpected (and unwanted) thing; they unambiguously argued for shared parenting.

For one thing, the data demonstrate that Nebraska courts are radically anti-dad. So, for example, in 70% of cases, mothers receive either sole or primary custody of children, while fathers receive only 12%. Joint legal and physical custody cases came in at a dismal 12% of the total. Unsurprisingly, in such a radically pro-mother atmosphere, 69% of child custody cases were filed by mothers. That’s statistically identical to the national average as found by researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen who found mothers filing 70% of child custody cases. Brinig and Allen found that mothers are the ones to file because they’re essentially certain to get custody of the children. And so it plainly is in Nebraska.

Perhaps more to the point, the data utterly failed to turn up any justification for the radical anti-father bias of the Nebraska courts. Even by the extremely expansive definition of “conflict” used by the study, a whopping 88% of cases had either no conflict or a low incidence thereof.

Domestic violence, child abuse and lack of parental fitness were even rarer. Domestic violence was even alleged in only 5.4% of cases and was ongoing at the time the case was filed in only 0.3%. Child abuse was alleged in 6.2% of cases, verified in 3.6% and was ongoing in 0.5%. And parental unfitness was alleged in 12.1% of cases and verified in 4.1%.

In short, the best-laid plans of those who would further marginalize fathers in children’s lives utterly failed. Far from demonstrating no need for change, the data show the anti-father/anti-child bias of Nebraska family courts to be entirely without foundation, justification or excuse. So, if you’re one of those who’s doggedly opposed to children having meaningful relationships with their fathers after Mom’s divorced him, what do you do? I, for one, have said more than once that they really have nothing on which to fall back. Their own study seemed to me to have left them no avenue of escape.

You’d think I’d learn. After all, a group that counts among its charter members a past bar president willing to openly lie, isn’t likely to be a group deterred by facts, even those revealed by its own study.

And it may be that we’re now seeing how they plan to approach their latest knotty little problem. Unhappy with their own data, it’s beginning to look like they plan to simply change it. Yes, that’s right, if recent developments are any indication, it appears the anti-dad crowd intend to simply add more cases to those originally studied.

Here’s how charter member of the anti-shared parenting crowd, attorney Kristen Blankley, describes it in the July/August edition of The Nebraska Lawyer, the house organ of the Nebraska state bar.

The National Center will also examine and provide detailed analysis of 600 dissolution and custody case files which will be comprised of the 392 cases from Saini’s preliminary study and an additional 208 files using the same data criteria as employed for the Research Study.

Interesting how the Saini study has now, and for the first time ever, miraculously become “preliminary.” Please note that it was never called that originally. When the original grant of funds was made, no one said this was for a preliminary study. On the contrary, it was to be the study itself.

So who was it who decided to all of a sudden increase the dataset by an astonishing 53%? More importantly, why did they do so? Was Saini’s research flawed in some way? Who authorized the additional money to fund the study? And, in a related note, why is the state stonewalling efforts by private citizens to see the (public) data on child custody cases in the state?

As to the first question, no one seems to know. What’s certain is that the few pro-shared parenting members of the committee were neither consulted in advance nor informed of the fait accompli. So who made the decision? I’ve emailed various people, but so far no one’s admitted to being “the decider.”

As to why the additional cases are to be analyzed, no one’s so far said a word. My own emails to Dr. Saini and to Deborah Brownyard Denny, who leads the anti-father faction of the committee, have yielded nothing. Saini directed me to Denny, who’s kept mum. Until I find out further, I’m going with my answer that’s included in this blog post. I think they didn’t like the outcome so they want a different one.

Was Saini’s research flawed? No one’s ever said so or even raised the possibility. Indeed, it’s not the type of study that’s terribly complicated to conduct. About the only hard part is selecting the cases from which to draw the data. Assuming that’s done on a randomized basis, accumulating the data is essentially a process of looking at files and tabulating the information. To whom was custody given? What kind of custody? Was there an allegation of DV? Child abuse? Etc. Face it, it’s pretty straight forward, so how flawed could Saini’s work be? If it is flawed in some hitherto unnoticed and unmentioned way, does the state intend to ask Saini for its money back?

And speaking of money, where will the money come from to select, code and analyze these extra cases? Again, someone surely knows the answer, but no one’s so far given it.

As to why the state is refusing to allow its citizens access to records that are in fact owned by them and to which they supposedly have access, I’ll report on that next time.

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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.

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