March 15, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Legislative Bill 437 is now before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee. LB 437 is the latest attempt by shared parenting advocates to ensure that children of the state continue to have meaningful relationships with both parents when the adults divorce or separate. Like the last one that unaccountably died in committee last year, this one was negotiated with all interest groups that traditionally support or oppose shared parenting. That means family lawyers, shared parenting advocates, shared parenting opponents and supposedly the domestic violence establishment in the state. (More about that later.) In short, it’s a compromise.
Over the last couple of years, those opposed to children maintaining contact with both parents have done just about everything imaginable to discredit themselves. The bar association illegally lobbied the legislature, the president of the bar lied about the terms of one shared parenting bill, opponents of shared parenting attempted to pack a committee tasked with gathering data on child custody orders in the state. More recently, not content with the results of that study, anti-shared parenting advocates have decided to study more cases in an apparent attempt to come up with data more agreeable to their point of view. Remarkably, they’re doing that at the same time they’re opposing a bill that would allow the systematic collection of data on all child custody cases. According to them it seems, some data are better than other data.
They’re seeking more cases to study because the almost 400 analyzed by their hand-picked social scientist destroyed whatever arguments they may have had against shared parenting. Much to their chagrin, there’s much less domestic violence and child abuse in Nebraska than they’d hoped. Child abuse, domestic abuse and parental unfitness were even alleged in fewer than 10% of cases and substantiated in fewer still.
So, if you’re dogmatically opposed to children having real relationships with both parents post-divorce, and are in search of a justification for your stance, what can you do? If this article is any indication, not much (Washington Times, 3/12/15). Their arguments, always threadbare, are finally down to nothing. Truly, this emperor is naked.
The bill would encourage judges to “maximize” the time that each separated parent gets with their children if they can’t agree on a parenting plan. Judges could determine the exact split, but neither parent could have less than 35 percent.
Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete said her bill seeks to reduce the number of children who don’t have regular contact with their fathers — a “critical public health” issue that she said contributes to incarceration, truancy and crime…
Parents wouldn’t qualify for the minimum if the judge finds a pattern of abuse or neglect, if the parents live too far apart, or if the parent is otherwise deemed unfit…
The Nebraska bill was modeled after an Arizona law that took effect in 2013.
That would make it among the best child custody laws anywhere. When the National Parents Organization graded each state on the extent to which its child custody laws promote shared parenting, Arizona rated a B, the highest grade awarded. Nebraska, by contrast, received a D-. So LB 437 would be a huge improvement.
The state survey of child custody orders demonstrates why that abysmal grade was warranted. To its credit, the Washington Times article summarizes some of the findings.
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 2013 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.
Proponents of LB 437 appropriately included children denied relationships with one parent by the courts and fathers denied access to their kids.
Felicia Keiser, a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she was disappointed that lawmakers haven’t acted sooner. The 20-year-old said she appealed to lawmakers for the last seven years in an effort that started because she wanted more time with her father.
“I’ve been let down every time I come here,” she said. “This doesn’t help me or my siblings, but we don’t want to see any other child go through what we had to go through,” she said.
Joe Trader of Omaha told senators he missed his daughter’s first haircut and first day of preschool after he separated from his girlfriend. He said his daughter, born in 2010, has started calling another man “Dad.”
“Here we are again, fighting for the right to be more than just visitors and paychecks for our children,” he said.
With pleas like that, how any elected official can vote against the bill escapes me. Still, the domestic violence establishment that helped write LB 437 nevertheless came out to testify in opposition.
Opponents argue that the bill would increase conflicts by eliminating any incentive to take the case to mediation or other court alternatives. A parent who is guaranteed at least 35 percent parenting time isn’t as likely to seek compromises, said Mary Kay Hansen, a Lincoln family-law attorney and mediator.
So I wonder how much compromise a parent who’s all but guaranteed 80% — 85% of the parenting time is likely to engage in. That’s how much custodial parents have in Nebraska on average, but Hansen didn’t think to mention the fact. More to the point, the 35% mark is where shared parenting begins to benefit children according to existing social science. Fall below that and the benefits tend to disappear or weaken.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence said the bill requires women to show evidence that they’ve been abused before they can terminate a father’s rights. Forcing women to do so could keep them in dangerous relationships.
Well, actually it requires anyone, not just women, claiming abuse by a partner, to produce evidence of the fact. But only in the ideology-distorted world of domestic violence advocacy is the requirement to produce evidence of abuse before taking the person’s children thrown down as a trump card. The absence of such a requirement of course would mean that a parent could simply make an allegation and — presto! — get the kids, no questions asked. Most people understand this, but apparently some don’t.
“We’re not necessarily opposed to shared parenting, but getting to that point puts victims at greater risk,” said Robert Sanford, legal director of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.
No, actually they are opposed to shared parenting. I know this because a source informs me that the hearing before the Judiciary Committee was far more exciting than the Times article lets on. It seems that one member asked Sanford if there was any change to LB 437 or indeed any shared parenting bill at all that his organization could support. Sanford couldn’t think of any. Not necessarily opposed to shared parenting? Ha.
But anti-shared parenting forces didn’t stop there. One of their witnesses, Tara Muir, said “There’s no evidence shared parenting helps kids.” Another informed the committee that, whenever there’s high parental conflict, one parent is always its source.
Still another wished for greater collaboration on the part of shared parenting advocates. To that, a witness in favor of the bill pointed out that DV activists had been consulted on LB 437, had their language included in the bill and had attempted to shut shared parenting advocates out of the process. How’s that for collaboration?
The bottom line seems to be that Nebraskan’s fighting against children having real relationships with both parents are flat out of ammunition. If their performance at the Judiciary Committee hearing is any indication, they’re more marginalized than ever.
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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