December 26, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This continues my takedown of Joan Meier’s letter in the Washington Post that packs a lot of disinformation into a small space (Washington Post, 12/15/17).
The reality is that fathers have been winning far more than mothers for decades and that joint custody or shared parenting is already the overwhelming norm in state family courts.
As I demonstrated last time, the first clause of that sentence is contradicted by every piece of reliable data. That Meier claims that fathers get custody of children more often than mothers simply shows the desperation of her cause. Back in the 80s, a piece like hers might have convinced someone. Not today. There’s simply too much clear, consistent proof of the opposite.
So what about the second clause? We hear this occasionally from family lawyers who are as desperate as Meier to derail the family court reform train, and my response is always the same – “citation?” Where is the evidence that shared parenting is “already the overwhelming norm in state family courts?” After all, the data we have demonstrate the opposite. Data out of Nebraska, North Dakota and Texas show that shared parenting is a rarity. Now, it’s possible that Meier is using weasel words. “Joint custody” can easily refer only to joint legal custody that requires nothing more than that Mom consult Dad on important decisions about the child. It has nothing whatsoever to do with parenting time.
“Shared parenting” is similarly subject to, shall we say, flexible definition. If Dad sees little Andy or Jenny 10% of the time, who’s to say parenting isn’t “shared?” Or 1% for that matter. To the more scrupulous, shared parenting means at least 35% of the parenting time for each parent. So how is Meier defining the term? Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t let on. But however she defines it in the privacy of her own mind, the simple truth is that there’s no evidence that shared parenting is the norm in family courts and there’s much that it’s not.
But Meier’s just getting started. What she calls “the real story” is her attack on the concept of parental alienation. According to her, PA “gives fathers accused of abuse the ultimate weapon: the claim that resistant mothers are just vengeful ex-wives.” Let’s see, how many ways can a person be wrong in so few words? Most importantly, the idea of PA gives neither fathers nor mothers anything. Had Meier bothered to read much of the massive literature on parental alienation, she’d immediately realize that absolutely no one pretends that it’s a gender-specific phenomenon. Fathers can be alienators as well as can mothers. Meier almost certainly knows this, but, in keeping with the rest of her piece, didn’t say so.
How is a claim of PA “the ultimate weapon?” Meier doesn’t explain, but it’s a good question. The simple fact is that proving that the other parent is alienating a child is generally a long, drawn-out and vastly expensive undertaking. It requires lots of attorney’s time and the hiring of expensive expert witnesses. The overwhelming majority of parents couldn’t carry that weight if they wanted to. Few even try.
That’s made abundantly clear by Meier’s own data. She oh-so-coyly refers to a “national study” on this very subject. Unsurprisingly, that study was conducted by her. In it, she and her co-author Google-searched family court cases that have been published online. They were seeking cases in which parental alienation was alleged by one party or the other. Tellingly, she nowhere mentions over what period of time these cases appear in the literature. Do they span one year? Twenty? Thirty? In the U.S. about 1 million divorce cases are filed every year and about two-thirds of those involve children. How many cases did Meier find that dealt with PA? 238. That’s about 0.03% of cases, if all those cases were decided within a single year. But of course they weren’t. The term “parental alienation” has been around since the mid-80s. How many years did Meier’s cohort span? Strategically, she doesn’t say.
Whatever the case, the point is clear – parental alienation is a significant part of an infinitesimally small number of cases. Meier’s claim that “the real story” is fathers using claims of parental alienation to deprive mothers of custody is so much bunk. It is in fact vanishingly rare.
But Meier’s invariable sense of mothers wronged is deficient in yet another way.
A recent national study that focused on cases involving claims of “parental alienation” found that when mothers allege abuse in family court, fathers win more (72 percent compared with 67 percent when no abuse was claimed)…
Again, her study is based on an astonishingly tiny set of cases. But more importantly, does it occur to Meier that, when a father claims alienation, he might be telling the truth? Again, pleading and proving parental alienation is fantastically expensive, so who is likely to go down that costly and emotionally stressful road but parents who have a good case of alienation? It simply makes no sense to fight that battle without a strong probability of victory. Unsurprisingly, fathers who claim PA tend to (a) have the money to fight the fight and (b) have the facts to prove their case.
Those are simple concepts, but for Meier, an astonishingly tiny percentage of cases in which fathers manage to prove parental alienation are a scandal – “the real case” – but the millions of them who are removed from their children’s lives she tosses off with little but a strong sense of grievance.
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