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May 18, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This article is as good a description of the insanity of family courts as any I’ve seen in a long time (Time to Put Kids First, 5/16/16). It does so, not because the writer’s situation is extreme or shocking, but because it’s not. There’s no child abuse, no abduction of the child to foreign climes, no violence. No, its very commonness is what makes us want to tear our hair and scream.

“Sean” has a three-year-old daughter.

I am a parent that receives the standard “every-other-weekend” with my daughter who is now 3 years old. My daughter’s mother works Monday to Friday from 8am until 4:30pm while I work Monday to Friday 10pm until 6am. In short, common sense would say, our schedules couldn’t be more perfect for a shared parenting schedule, right?

That’s perfectly clear. Sean could care for the girl while Mom’s at work and drop her off at Mom’s house when she gets home from work. Sean could then sleep until it’s time for him to go to work at 10 P.M. Simple. More importantly, the girl would get plenty of time with both her parents with a schedule that’s no more complicated than her current one.

And of course it would be vastly cheaper for Dad.

To add insult to injury, this daycare that my daughter is at approximately 20 days a month, costs me almost $300 a week for her to be there! Wouldn’t it make sense for us to save our money and my daughter to spend time with me instead? Not only could we have more time, grow our relationship, and decrease her risk of a long list of societal problems linked to fatherless homes, but, I could be saving for her college, saving for her first car, and other necessary things for when she is older.

All good points. Sean is actually paying $1,200 per month to not see his child. He’s sitting at home twiddling his thumbs while paying strangers to care for his daughter. And, as he points out, that $1,200 could be more intelligently spent. $14,000 per year is a lot of money, money that could fund her college education.

But no, the court has ruled that his daughter can only see him four days per month. Now, four days per month isn’t much, but it’s certainly one thing; it’s an admission by the judge that Sean isn’t a danger to his daughter and that she needs to see him. He’s obviously a qualified and fit dad, so if she can see him four days per month, why not more?

The court has a quick and shoddy answer to that.

I asked the courts for equal time, because that is what is best for our daughter. The courts stated that equal time or as they say: “bouncing between households” and “living out of a suitcase” was not in our daughter’s best interest.

That old nonsense again. The notion that children in shared care “bounce between households” is absurd. They spend about as much time packing up and moving as they do in every-other-weekend arrangements. And in Sean’s case, his daughter would do no more “shuttling” than she does now. As Sean says, Mom shuttles her to daycare and shuttles her home. Why shouldn’t Sean shuttle her to his house and then to hers?

The article makes it crystal clear that the justification for the arrangement imposed by the court on this child and her father is an excuse not a reason. There is simply no sense to be made of it. It can only be the usual anti-father/pro-mother bias that some half-dozen studies have demonstrated exist in family courts. It’s done at the expense of children and fathers.

But that’s not all.

Having to pay $1200 a month in child care plus $525 a month in child support leaves me financially ruined. I am maxed out on the pay scale at my job, who I have been employed by for the last 17 years and this equates to more than half of my take home pay. The courts tell me: “get a new job.” It isn’t their choice; I have been there for 17 years, I love my job and my co-workers, we are treated well and that is hard to find these days. Why should I be driven to change my life because they want to take half of my income? I can’t put away any savings for mine and my daughter’s future and I can hardly do anything fun or special for us now, because the money I have left goes to paying for bills and necessities.

Paying for utterly unnecessary daycare is just part of the outrage that’s been visited on Sean. He has to pay child support too. Never mind the fact that he wants equal custody of his child or that he’s apparently fit to do the job. No, he’s got to pay child support in addition to the $1,200 per month for daycare.

I don’t know what state this travesty is playing out in, but it’s likely that the judge was required to consult child support guidelines based on Sean’s income in figuring the amount of support he’s required to pay. Those guidelines supposedly ensure that non-custodial parents don’t spend so much in child support that they themselves can’t have a decent standard of living.

But the guidelines ignore all the extras routinely tacked on by courts, one of which in this case is daycare. The two combined (and what other items, like medical insurance, does Sean have to pay?) render Sean unable to be the father to his daughter that he could be. He’s already mentioned that he can’t save for her college expenses. But he also can’t take her to special events or pay for special classes or training for her.

In short, the court not only marginalized Sean in his daughter’s life, not only sends her to daycare instead of Dadcare, its orders ensure that he’s the worst father he can be, little but a babysitter. To his daughter, Dad’s no fun to be with because, unknown to her, he’s been rendered financially incapable of being more.

And all so that she can spend her days in the care of strangers.

It’s worth mentioning that Sean’s arrangement is the precise template some people consider the ideal. We often read people like Anne-Marie Slaughter inveighing against the inequality of the sexes. They give lip service to equality, but when they get down to cases, invariably argue for government-subsidized daycare.

That has a superficial appeal. After all, if we really want mothers to do paid work, shouldn’t we provide them with easy-to-access daycare?

My answer is “not until fathers gain equality in family courts.” That’s because as surely as we make daycare easily available, every dad will be instantly converted into Sean. They’ll still be kicked to the curb as they are now, but, instead of little Andy or Jenny being cared for mostly by Mom, they’ll be at daycare, with Mom there only after work. And Dad will be at home, just like Sean is. The red herring of daycare is actually a bid to replace fathers with daycare and, in the process, cut them ever further out of their children’s lives. As such, it’s a policy suggestion to be resisted at all costs.

Just ask Sean.

 

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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:

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