June 21, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Michigan HB 4691 has passed the Judiciary Committee 6 – 3 on a strict party-line vote. All “Aye” votes were by Republicans and all “Nay” votes by Democrats. This article quotes one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Jim Runestad who tells the truth about it and, by way of “balance,” quotes one of the usual anti-dad suspects who doesn’t (Detroit Free Press, 6/20/17). Writer Kathleen Gray appears to have neglected to read the bill. Failing that though, she could have read this article by Runestad himself (Detroit News, 6/17/17). It gives facts about the bill she plainly hasn’t taken the trouble to learn any other way.
Absent reports of domestic violence, judges would be required to award joint legal custody of children to divorcing parents under a bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee today.
No, that’s incorrect. Domestic violence is one reason why equal custody may not be ordered. The agreement of the parents to another parenting time arrangement is another. That turns out to be important in addressing the objections of the opponents of the bill, but the fact never appears in Gray’s article. And of course it’s not just joint legal custody but physical custody as well that’s impacted by the bill. Does Gray not know the difference?
“We looked at county by county statistics on what happens in custody situations and what we found out is that the custody arrangements are not determined by the kind of parent that you are, but the judge in the county,” [Runestad] said. “We have study after study of the benefits of shared parenting. It’s a tremendous benefit for the children.”
Those are two very important points, but Gray moves on, ignoring them completely. First, we’re told by family court judges that everything they do is in the best interests of the child. Of course they’re not properly trained in what type of parenting time arrangement promotes that, but that’s a topic for another day. But if they’re really acting in the child’s best interests, how is it that different judges do such different things? After all, the cases themselves aren’t that different in the long run and they’re certainly not differentiated according to which judge hears them.
We know the answer – anti-father/pro-mother bias. That’s been demonstrated in several studies and in fact, not a few judges frankly admit it. Plus of course it’s strongly suggested by the way the strikingly different ways judges rule in the custody cases before them. Gray didn’t notice or inquire.
And of course Runestad’s correct that the overwhelming weight – indeed, virtually the entire weight – of social science shows equal parenting to be the best arrangement for kids when their parents split up. Again though, Gray wasn’t interested.
What she was interested in were the many misrepresentations about the bill and shared parenting by the anti-dad crowd.
Logistically, shared parenting time would make it difficult for some parents to find jobs, children could feel lost between two households and child support awards could become a bargaining chip for a parent who doesn’t want to pay a higher amount, [Rebecca Shiemke, of the Michigan Poverty Law program] said.
Three points, all of them either wrong or addressed by HB 4691. Would shared parenting make finding jobs difficult? No. That’s because the parents are free to make the best arrangement for themselves and their child. If Dad needs to work out of town and can’t see little Andy or Jenny half the time, he and Mom can agree on something that suits their needs.
Would the child “feel lost between two households?” The research finds exactly the opposite, i.e. that kids benefit from shared parenting. What negatively affects them isn’t moving from one household to another, but losing one parent to a sole/primary parent arrangement. There’s far too much evidence for this to allow the anti-dad crowd to go on making their claims. But of course Gray wasn’t interested in obvious rebuttals to Shiemke’s claims.
Child support awards might become a bargaining chip? Guess what. They already are. How many times do we see mothers offering to trade dollars for time? Every lawyer with any experience in custody litigation has seen exactly that. The simple truth is that that’s the way the system is set up. Most states recognize that the more time a non-custodial parent has with the child, the less he should pay the other parent. That’s for the obvious reason that the more time little Andy or Jenny spends with Dad, the more expenses he incurs in childcare with less being incurred by Mom.
That is a fact of life. So irrespective of what parenting time arrangement is reflected in the law or in judicial practice, there’s going to be a trade-off between time and money. It happens every day the courts are open for business.
And that of course means that the time-for-money argument is a non-factor in any discussion of family court reform. It’s a given, so we have to live with it. Therefore, the question remains: which parenting time arrangement is best for kids? And we know the answer.
Shiemke’s dishonesty and Gray’s unwillingness to question it don’t stop there, though.
“[Equal parenting] would reduce the child support burden that one parent would have to pay to the other,” Shiemke said. “So a parent could get a lower child support obligation and then just not exercise their equal time.”
The unstated assumption being that fathers don’t really want time with their kids and the bill is just a ruse to allow them to pay less to Mom. There’s no evidence for the claim and countless fathers bemoan the bias against them by family courts and laws. But even if a father here or there actually did what Shiemke claims, there’s a simple solution – go back to court and get a modification of parenting time and child support.
That of course is allowed under the present statute and HB 4691 in no way prohibits it from happening.
Gray does get one thing right, though.
But the bill aroused a flood of opposition from judges, advocates against domestic violence, family court employees and the family law section of the State Bar of Michigan.
Stated another way, the narrowest of narrow special interests use long-debunked claims to oppose a bill that unquestionably would benefit children in order to further their own agendas and feather their own nests. What we have in Michigan is what we’ve seen in state after state.
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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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