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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.  

May 11, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

(This continues yesterday’s post.)

As to his brief that mothers shouldn’t have to produce evidence of their claims of abuse, what can I say? Does Landers really want to simply jettison that bedrock principle of due process of law? Does he seriously believe that we should allow naked allegations of abuse to control custody decisions? Is he aware that, as many researchers have found, “false allegations of abuse are prevalent in child custody disputes, as spouses in high-conflict divorces routinely make false or exaggerated allegations in an attempt to gain a tactical advantage?” (Quoting Edward Kruk in “The Equal Parenting Presumption)

No, Landers is almost uniformly ignorant of the facts regarding his chosen topic.

The [custody cases] that go to litigation are the ugliest and most contentious cases — arguably the ones for which shared custody, an arrangement requiring maturity and cooperation, is least likely to succeed.

Again, there is no evidence for this claim and of course Landers cites none. Cases that typically go to court are the ones in which (a) the parents have the money to litigate and (b) fathers think they’re qualified for more parenting time than judges typically order. The vast majority of cases settle because the parents don’t have the money to do anything else and they figure the outcome wouldn’t change if they hired lawyers. So why bother?

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, Landers finally gets down to what really interests him and his clients — money. (At this point I suppose I should mention that nowhere in his article does Landers refer to or demonstrate any interest in child well-being. The subject simply never comes up, despite the fact that children’s welfare is at the core of every shared parenting bill ever filed. That of course is because children do better in shared custody and desire it for themselves, so Landers completely omits the most important aspect of the subject of his piece. His goal is to turn readers against shared parenting, so it’s best not to let them know about its many benefits to kids.)

What does this mean for divorcing women, financially? Well, the sad truth of the matter is that some fathers fight for 50/50 custody with the primary, cynical goal of reducing their financial obligations to their ex-wives.

His evidence? None. As proven by much social science, what fathers want is time with their kids. In fact, even fathers with the usual meager parenting time orders are far more likely to pay what they owe in support if their visitation time is honored by the mother. This is information we’ve known since the mid-90s. Landers doesn’t know it yet.

With “shared parenting” legislation, I foresee single mothers having to make do with less financial support, but not necessarily having less of the parenting responsibilities.

Landers is free to “foresee” anything he likes. Objective reality may turn out to be entirely different, though. After all, fathers now typically see their kids between 14% and 20% of the time, which means that mothers have them the rest of the time. On the other hand, if a couple had a 50/50 parenting time arrangement, Mom’s childcare time would fall precipitously from as much as 86% to 50%. Could she perhaps earn more money for herself and the kids in that extra time? Could she place herself in line for promotions she otherwise wouldn’t qualify for? Could she save more for retirement?

Not according to Landers. Somehow all that extra time (as much as 131 days per year) would somehow just be wasted. Against all that’s rational, Landers figures that mothers with 50% parenting time would have no fewer parenting responsibilities than those with 86%. Really. Needless to say, he doesn’t explain.

In keeping with his “it’s all about the money” take on parenting time, Landers also opposes any reform of child support laws or guidelines. He notes the recent concern about fathers going to prison for child support debt and acknowledges that “this is certainly a problem,” but not one he wants to deal with. No, his real concern is that the Office of Child Support Enforcement is considering asking states to base support levels on what non-custodial parents actually earn.

Many, including the OCSE, find this to be nothing but common sense. Not Landers. He finds it anathema, yet another sinister ploy to let deadbeat dads off the hook.

...I see potential for unchecked fraud and abuse. If actual income as opposed to imputed income is used to calculate child support payments, I predict you will see people quitting or changing jobs when divorce is on the horizon. Business owners will pull every trick in the book to make sure they show little or no income. Ex-husbands will have an easier time shirking their financial obligations, and ex-wives (and their children) will be left to figure out how to make ends meet.

His evidence? Once again, none. Do some non-custodial parents understate their incomes? They do. Is it a major problem? It’s not. After all, most people are wage-earners. All a judge has to do is to take a look at their pay stubs to figure out how much they make. So Landers is driven to claiming that fathers would switch to lower-paying jobs just to avoid paying more in child support. That makes sense? Let’s see. A father would dramatically lower his own standard of living perhaps for 18 years, just to harm his kid and spite his ex. This makes sense?

Nope. Again, Landers’ low opinion of fathers is about all he has on which to base his imaginary scenario. At the risk of repeating myself, the social science has for years demonstrated that fathers don’t mind paying child support as long as they get to see their children and the money actually supports the kids and not, say, Mom’s drug habit. As with everything else, Landers is ignorant of the facts.

I suppose I shouldn’t ask if Landers knows the data from the OCSE that the fathers who are seriously behind on their payments are almost exclusively poor, and mostly abjectly so. They’re the ones the system abuses the worst and it’s that system for which Landers is speaking. He’s very much a “kick the weakest when he’s down” type of guy. Nice.

Is he aware that the OCSE itself has for years bemoaned the fact that child support orders are routinely set at levels fathers can’t pay? What about interest rates on child support indebtedness that until recently ran as high as 12% per year? If he’s aware of any of that, he doesn’t let on. Given his status as a financial analyst, does Landers know somewhere else an investor can get a 12% rate of return? Brutal as it is, Landers opposes any change in the status quo.

Interestingly, a friend of mine in academia brought some of these points to Landers’ attention and asked him if he had any factual basis for his assertions. Here is the pertinent part of his reply.

My article was an opinion blog post, based upon my personal experience working with hundreds of divorcing women throughout the United States - many of whom were in abusive relationships.

It was not meant to be an academic research paper! It is not! It is an opinion piece, purely based on my own experience as a divorce financial advisor.

The point I was making is that there are often unintended consequences with any reform law and all too often legislators don’t properly think things out.

These things, in my opinion, should be decided on a case-by-case basis, since every case and the individuals involved, are truly unique. 

In my opinion, the biggest problems occur when you try to legislate a one-size-fits-all solution, which cannot work when every situation is different and that’s when you get unintended and often, very bad, consequences. 

I am not disputing your research findings or anyone else’s. Once again, I am basing my opinion on the cases I have worked on and I have been involved in quite a few cases where the father most definitely should not have 50-50 custody.

I hope that clears things up. 

Yes, that clears up a great deal. For example it answers the question about why his opinions are so at odds with empirical reality. He doesn’t know empirical reality, apparently hasn’t read a word of the science applicable to his topic, so it’s no surprise that his opinions don’t match up.

Of course it doesn’t explain why a person would express opinions with literally nothing on which to base them. Most of us were taught in middle school that unsupported assertions don’t make very convincing arguments. And someone might want to acquaint Landers with the fact that, as the saying goes, “the plural of ‘anecdote’ isn’t ‘data.’ One’s experience with one’s own clients is never and can never be the sole basis on which to draw the broad and wholly inaccurate conclusions Landers does.

Has he ever read a single shared parenting bill? If he has, he doesn’t say so and his obvious ignorance of them strongly suggests he hasn’t taken that obvious step.

What his email also doesn’t explain is why he didn’t disclose that information to his audience. Nowhere does he suggest that his opinions derive solely from his own anecdotal experience. Nowhere does he encourage readers to not simply take his word for it, but to do the research he’s avoided. Reading his article, a person who’s not aware of the issues might well conclude that Landers is an authority on what’s good for kids post-divorce, the proposed legislation, child support and the like. He’s not, but to his immense discredit, he never says so.

What he does do is describe himself as a “divorce financial professional who works exclusively with women.” Now, to a lot of people that might tell them all they need to know to discount everything Landers says. His take is that of his clients — women who feel aggrieved enough to divorce their husbands. To them, all divorced fathers probably do look like the very deadbeats Landers assumes them to be.

But obviously enough, Landers’ position is one of abject bias. In addition to never looking at what’s best for children, he gets all his information from divorcing wives, i.e. not the most reliable observers of the divorce and child custody system.

Remarkably, Landers appears utterly ignorant of his own bias. Does it occur to him that he’s a financial consultant in divorce cases who works only with female clients and that he concludes (as usual with no evidence to back up the claim) that fathers want only to deprive their ex-wives and children of money? Does he really not see that that’s solely a function of who his clients are and their many complaints about men they’re divorcing or who are divorcing them?

Such an entire absence of self-awareness is hard to imagine, but in Landers’ case, it’s also hard to miss.

If there are any legitimate arguments against shared parenting, I wish someone would let me know. I’ve been studying this intensively for the last seven years and less so for the past 17. I’ve found nothing that suggests that shared parenting is anything but the best arrangement for the vast majority of children and parents. Indeed, a study of 150,000 Swedish kids came out just last week that finds the same thing. (Despite its being ballyhooed in numerous prominent publications, Landers knows nothing of it.)

I’ve also found that people like Landers invariably raise the same meritless issues. What I’ve never understood is how these people can be so staunchly in favor of a system that has been proven time and again to harm children. You’d think they’d have the personal integrity to put aside their anti-father biases and go to bat for what’s best for kids. But they don’t. They just keep on doing what they do, hoping that no one will notice that their arguments are threadbare and their motivations suspect. Sad, but true.

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