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I've been nattering on about the foster care vs. parental care debate, and it's time to say few words about the research comparing the two.  I'm the furthest thing from an authority on the subject, but what follows is part of my understanding of the matter. In a nutshell, foster care is a traumatic experience for most kids.  Whatever their family background, being taken from what's familiar and placed, usually incommunicado, in a strange environment with unfamiliar people, is a psychological blow. Yes, some adults who were raised in foster care praise their foster parents to the skies.  And certainly, most foster parents do their best to give their kids a good upbringing.  But public policy can't be made on what happens sometimes.  Public policy doesn't deal with a few cases; it deals with all cases.  As such it needs to pay attention to what sociology, psychology, law enforcement, etc. say about children's results in and after foster care. That picture isn't pretty.  For example, this study interviewed children in foster care and found some shocking things.  A hefty 70% of the kids said their foster caregiver had one or more of the personal problems inquired about.  So 40% of the foster caregivers abused drugs or alcohol, 14% were mentally ill, 18% had committed domestic violence and 10% had spent time in jail or prison.  Beyond that, 34% of the children interviewed believed their foster caregivers demonstrated inadequate parenting skills. Unsurprisingly, all those problems by foster parents visited their effects on the kids.  Thirty-two percent of the children interviewed reported having been neglected, 13% reported child abuse and 2% reported sexual abuse by foster parents.  Seventeen percent said they'd been sexually abused by a relative, sibling or other youth while in foster care. If stability of family life is generally good for kids, foster care doesn't fill the bill.  Of the children interviewed, their average stay in foster care was 5.5 years during which they stayed with, on average, 4.6 different families.  That's about 14 months per foster home.  Some 37% reported having run away from their foster home and two-thirds of those said they'd done so more than once. Another study published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal inquired into children's educational outcomes.  It compared children in foster care with those living with at least one parent.
The results were unequivocal: the foster youth dropped out of high school at a much higher rate and were significantly less likely to have completed a GED. The foster care high school graduates received significantly less financial assistance for education from their parents or guardians. Foster youth reported more discipline problems in school and experienced more educational disruption due to changing schools. They were significantly less likely to be in a college preparatory high school track. The adults in the lives of the foster care youth were less likely to monitor homework.
Yet another study in the Oxford Review of Education summarized its findings this way:
Among the many disadvantages suffered by children looked after by local authorities, low educational achievement probably has the most serious consequences for their future life chances. This article reviews research over nearly twenty years which consistently shows that children in residential and foster care fall progressively behind those living with their own families and leave school with few qualifications, if any...  [T]his and other consumer studies indicate that at present the care system is more likely to put additional obstacles in their way than to make any particular effort to compensate for their earlier disadvantages.
Now, it might be argued that these kids aren't likely to have as good outcomes as children of families not found by a child welfare agency to have neglected or abused their children.  That is, maybe the deficits the foster care kids have aren't due to foster care but to their traumatic previous lives. But it turns out it's specifically foster care that's the culprit, at least in the psychological deficits foster kids demonstrate.  A 2006 study reported in Development and Psychopathology compared kids in three separate groups:
children who experienced foster care, those who were maltreated but remained in the home, and children who had not experienced foster care or maltreatment despite their similarly at-risk demographic characteristics.
Once again, psychological functioning was negatively affected specifically by foster care.  The results suggest that foster care, more than other demographic factors associated with negative outcomes for kids, produced bad results.
In the current sample, children placed in out of home care exhibited significant behavior problems in comparison to children who received adequate care, and using the same pre- and postplacement measure of adaptation, foster care children showed elevated levels of behavior problems following release from care. Similarly, children placed into unfamiliar foster care showed higher levels of internalizing problems compared with children reared by maltreating caregivers, children in familiar care, and children who received adequate caregiving.
As I've reported before, unlike biological families, foster families aren't forever.  Indeed, most foster care ends abruptly when the child turns 18.  Ready or not (and how many are?), at that age, a child in foster care is on his/her own.  Of course, some foster parents continue to allow the child to live at home for a time.  And even after the child moves out, the foster parents may continue to provide advice, guidance and even money. But there's no requirement that they do any of that.  "Aging out" of care is a problem for almost all foster kids.  Longitudinal studies of foster kids after age 18 show lower involvement with education, far lower likelihood of employment, higher incarceration rates and greater likelihood of having experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of that is to say that those who plump for more and more kids to be taken from their parents and placed in foster care need to explain why those outcomes for children are preferable to what they might get at home. So far, they haven't.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Paternity fraud victim Pedro Soto and his wife Gabriela."][/caption] "Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse."--County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, (2004) In a stunning victory, duped dad Pedro Soto and his attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq. have prevailed against the Orange County Department of Child Support Services in a paternity fraud case emblematic of the numerous outrageous injustices faced by men and fathers in family court. In this case, Soto has paid over $75,000 in child support for a child DNA tests have established is not his, and who has been living with both of his biological parents for many years. Action Alert--Your Participation Needed Fathers and Families condemns the conduct of OCDCSS in fighting to preserve a paternity judgment it knows to be false. We want to add your name to our letter to OCDCSS, which will also be copied to the California DCSS--to read the letter and add your name, please click here. Also, victories cost money. As you'll read below, F & F's efforts to preserve the crucial Navarro decision led directly to the Soto victory, and opened the door to many others. Please give to support our vital work by going to www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. The Soto Case: Background [caption id="attachment_20045" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., who represented Soto."]richard-a-lowe-2[/caption] In 1998, Soto, deceived by his then-girlfriend Maricela Guerrero into believing that her newborn son Aaron was Soto's, stepped up and did what he thought was right by signing a paternity declaration. Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., with the valuable assistance of Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, represented Soto. He explains:

Petitioner made his child support payments and had regular visitations with Aaron without the slightest suspicion that he may not be Aaron"s biological father...Petitioner"s visitations with Aaron continued on a regular basis with Aaron spending alternate weekends with Petitioner and his family in their home...[in] 2008 Aaron [said]....he had a "real' dad, Francisco Serrano, and knew that Petitioner was only his "step' dad...Identigene labs concluded that Pedro Soto is not the biological father of Aaron Soto...Chromosomal Laboratories, Inc. concluded that...Francisco Serrano was Aaron"s father.

Since Aaron is living with and being supported by his biological father, Francisco Serrano, it is clear that Petitioner"s child support payments are really pocket money for Maricela Guerrero and not the "child support' that the courts have ordered...by lying about the real father of Aaron, Ms. Guerrero has set up a scheme whereby she can fleece her innocent former boyfriend and have the County aid her in enforcing this unfair scheme...

As Petitioner states in his Declaration, Aaron will always be welcomed in his home, however, he does not wish to continue the falsehood that he is Aaron"s biological father.  Clearly it is in the best interest of the child that his biological...father be established.

Support Fathers and Families' Paternity Fraud Bills: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of others--to learn more, click here. Soto's Attempt to Get Equitable Relief In Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment, Lowe wrote:

[T]he Department concedes that Francisco Serrano, not Petitioner [Pedro Soto], is the real father of Aaron Soto, but insists that due to the passage of time the injustice of Petitioner paying child support for a child that is living with, and being supported by his real father, should be extended at least another five years until Aaron reaches eighteen and finishes high school.  The sheer injustice of the situation does not seem to bother the Department one bit.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Lowe and Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, who helped Lowe with the Soto case."][/caption] Lowe conceded that the law is against Soto but argued that under subsection (c) of Family Code Section §7575 "[T]his court still possesses the authority to right this wrong under its equitable powers." The 2004 Navarro Case Lowe cited County of Los Angeles v. Navarro (2004) as case law in urging the Court to exercise its equitable powers to right a clear injustice in a paternity case.  In Navarro, the trial court denied a motion to vacate a judgment entered against Manuel Navarro establishing him as the father of two boys and ordering him to pay child support for them. Navarro had been erroneously "defaulted into fatherhood" of children he did not know. The motion was filed over five years after Judgment had been entered against him and was definitely time-barred.  The County of Los Angeles opposed the motion, arguing that relief should not be granted Mr. Navarro because the statute of limitation had run against him.

Soto's Attorney Richard A. Lowe Thanks Fathers and Families: "You helped preserve the Navarro decision, and that was all we had to hang our hats on in this case." The trial court sided with the County and denied the motion. Navarro's resolute and gifted attorney, Linda Ferrer, Esq., appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed the denial and granted Navarro"s request that the judgment against him be set aside. The Navarro Court explained:

A profound mistake occurred here when appellant was charged with being the boys" father…Instead of remedying its mistake, the County retreats behind the procedural redoubt offered by the passage of time since it took appellant"s default.

It is this State"s policy that when a mistake occurs in a child support action the County must correct it, not exploit it…Thousands of individuals each year are mistakenly identified as being liable for child support actions.  As a result of that action, the ability to earn a living is severely impaired, assets are seized, and family relationships are often destroyed.  It is the moral, legal, and ethical obligation of all enforcement agencies to take prompt action to recognize those cases…and correct any injustice to that person.

Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse.

The Soto Decision Judge Paula J. Coleman agreed with Lowe and the Navarro court, and granted Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment. She also ordered that a new birth certificate for Aaron be issued, and that Pedro Soto's name not be on it. To read Coleman's order, click here. The Long, Hard Struggle to Defend Victims of Paternity Fraud Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), a longtime family court reform advocate, was the sponsor of the Child Support Enforcement Fairness Act of 2000, and the Navarro court cited this law as the basis for its decision. Fathers and Families' legislative representative Michael Robinson has successfully worked for many years to bring equity and fairness to child support and paternity fraud cases, and many of Robinson's actions directly impacted the Soto case. After Navarro, the Los Angeles County Department of Child Support Services asked the California Supreme Court to depublish the case, which would prevent other paternity fraud victims from using Navarro to liberate themselves. Robinson sought and submitted amicus letters against depublication from numerous California legislators and prominent attorneys, including: former Assemblywoman Nicole M. Parra; former Assemblyman Raymond Haynes; former Senator Dick Ackerman; former Senator Roy Ashburn; Senator Rod Wright; prominent family law appellate specialist Jeff Doeringer; Roger Dale Juntunen, J.D., M.B.A.; and others, as well as the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. To read their amicus letters, click here [37MB]. Navarro's attorney, Linda Ferrer, praised Robinson's "extraordinary" work in this letter. When attorneys for the Fresno Department of Child Support Services tried in the Sanchez paternity fraud case to assert that Navarro had been abrogated by AB 252 (an earlier paternity fraud bill that Robinson helped pass), Robinson got one of the bill's principal co-authors, then-Senator Roy Ashburn, to issue a declaration stating that the legislature's intent in passing the bill was not to abrogate Navarro. To read Ashburn's declaration, click here. Continuing the Fight: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 Fathers and Families' SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of men who have been unable to get out of fraudulent paternity judgments. These bills will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee early next year. To learn more, click here. Also, see our column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11). If you are a victim of paternity fraud, whether in California or in another state, we want to know your story--please click here. Pedro Soto Thanks Lowe, Fathers and Families Pedro Soto writes:

Mr. Lowe and Ms. McKendricks did an excellent job with my case, and I am forever grateful with them.  Mr. Lowe took my case when other attorneys refused, citing the statute of limitations. I had given up hope, but Mr. Lowe gave me the desire to continue the fight and move forward.

Fathers and Families is a great organization that fights for what is right and just. Thank you all for keeping cases such as Navarro available for all of us, and I hope that my case also helps right the many similar injustices still out there.

Soto Case Documents Below are the documents in the Soto case:

Soto's Memorandum of Points and Authorities: The Facts in This Case Cry Out for Equitable Relief

Pedro Soto's Declaration

OCDCSS' Response to Defendant's Motion to Set Aside Judgment

Petitioner's Reply to Defendant's Response

Amendment to Motion to Set Aside Judgment of Paternity

Judge Paula J. Coleman's Order

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Hurricane, West Virginia's Tracy Wright has been found guilty in the murder of her three-year-old daughter.  Her case highlights the very issues of foster care vs. parental care I've been blogging about recently.  Here's one article about the case (Charleston Daily Mail, 10/19/11). Tracy Wright is now 28.  Her husband had a chronic illness and died in 2009, so she was left with two children to raise.  One of them, Emma, was healthy, but the younger girl, Ashley, had cystic fibrosis, an inherited lung condition that renders its victims incapable of clearing mucous from their lungs.  In bygone days, cystic fibrosis was usually fatal early in life.  But over the past 20 years or so, medications and therapy have prolonged the lives of CF sufferers well into adulthood. By all accounts, Tracy Wright was a lousy mother, at least toward Ashley.  Emma seems to have gotten appropriate care from her, but she thought of little Ashley as a burden.  Ashley's CF plus her husband's fatal illness were too much for Wright to handle, so she started ignoring doctor visits for Ashley and failed to give the girl her medication most of the time. Eventually Ashley's pediatrician became alarmed and contacted the local child welfare agency.  Caseworkers looked into the matter, but took no action against Wright.  That's partly because they relied on her to tell them what she was doing to care for her daughter's chronic and life-threatening condition.  Not surprisingly, Wright told them she was doing everything by the book.  At one point CPS considered closing its file on Wright. Ultimately, Ashley's condition worsened, she contracted pneumonia and died. The State of West Virginia brought murder charges against Tracy Wright for refusing to provide her daughter the type of medical care she knew she needed.  It took a jury just an hour and a half to find Wright guilty, but also to recommend mercy to the judge.  That means she'll be eligible for parole in 15 years. The trial of the case closely mirrors the debate about the actions and inactions of child welfare agencies.  The case is clearly one that, had it occurred in Arizona, Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic would be shouting to the skies that Ashley's death should have been prevented by Child Protective Services. And who would argue?  Clearly, CPS caseworkers knew the situation.  They knew about Ashley's CF; they knew from the pediatrician that Wright hadn't kept appointments and hadn't filled enough prescriptions for the girl to have given her the medication she needed.  They knew that CF is a life-threatening condition.  So why didn't they take the girl into care? That's a good question and one that Wright's attorney, David Moye, put to the jury time and again.  But it's a criminal case and the jury wasn't asked to decide whether CPS was to blame; they were asked to decide whether Tracy Wright was.  It didn't take them long to make up their minds. But in this case, there's no doubt about it; Laurie Roberts has a point.  CPS failed to protect a child it knew or should have known needed protecting.  That child died because of it. So Tracy Wright and CPS share the burden of blame in Ashley's death.  End of story. But is it?  After all, Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform argues persuasively that federal and state governments need to redirect resources away from foster care and toward helping families with whatever problems they're having in dealing with a child.  And this case looks like a good example of what he's talking about.  What if CPS had had more money and personnel because it wasn't spending so much on foster care?  A CPS caseworker could have taken the situation in hand.  That might have meant sitting down with Wright and Ashley's pediatrician and working out what it took to get Wright to comply with Ashley's medical needs.  Then that person could have kept his/her finger on the pulse of the situation.  Did Wright fill prescriptions?  Keep doctor's appointments?  How many pills had been used since the caseworker's last visit? If Wright showed that she understood the situation and had changed her ways over time, then Ashley would be alive today.  She'd be living with her mother and sister and still would have her relationships with her extended family.  Of course if that type of intervention failed to correct Wright's treatment of her daughter, then foster care would still have been an alternative. But that type of intervention by a caseworker from CPS wasn't an alternative.  For CPS it was, as usual, take the child into care or leave the child with the mother.  CPS decided on the latter with disastrous results.  It did so in part because so much of its resources are put into foster care.  There's simply no time or money for it to work constructively with parents. Of course, there's no guarantee of success in any case.  CPS could have done its utmost for Tracy Wright and she still might have returned to her old ways that resulted in Ashley's death.  But what we know is that, with some exceptions, parental care is better for children than is foster care.  We also know it's cheaper for taxpayers.  That last is true even with the type of intervention Richard Wexler describes and that might have saved a little girl's life.

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The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been drafted by Senator Pat Leahy's, (D-Vt.) Senate Judiciary Committee.  The organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments was kind enough to send me a copy and it looks much the same as what we've had since VAWA's inception.  What changes the bill does make are for the worse. Now, as many readers are aware, that's not because people haven't tried to educate the senators on the committee about the many flaws in VAWA.  Indeed, less than two months ago, the committee held hearings at which many people testified about things like the entire lack of accountability for funds, the fact that its mandatory arrest provisions likely make domestic violence more dangerous not less and the fact that restraining orders don't protect people who are actually in danger but serve as a weapon in the hands of those who aren't.  For that matter, S.A.V.E. has lobbied members of Congress about all those things.  It's also tried to get the language of VAWA to be made gender-neutral and to include sanctions for false allegations that clog up courts and DV shelters. So what did Leahy come up with?  A proposed bill that would retain all the bad policies of the existing bill and actually make them worse, that's what.  For example, right there on page 69 of the 125-page bill, is the requirement that colleges and universities adopt the standard of proof in sexual assault cases foisted on them by the Department of Education - preponderance of evidence, the lowest standard in American jurisprudence.  Up to now, that requirement has been nothing more than a rule put in place by a single attorney in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.  As such, it could be overturned by order of her immediate superior.  Under Leahy's bill, it would become the law of the land. It's not as if S.A.V.E. hasn't gotten a lot of good feedback on its campaign to make federal law regarding domestic violence sane, effective and fair.  Indeed, the congressional staff members they talk to welcome their input and honestly consider what they're saying. It's also true that Republican members of the Judiciary Committee like Charles Grassley, (R- Ia.) are rightly concerned about spending half a billion dollars on a program for which there are no safeguards on how the money's spent.  Given that the most recent audit of 22 recipients of the federal largesse coming to them via VAWA found serious deficiencies in 21, Grassley's got a point.  But it's a point lost on Leahy who, in this era of never-before-seen federal deficits, can't think of a reason to make recipients of VAWA money explain what they're doing with the money and why.  Amazing. But for now, there's a slight hitch in Leahy's git-along.  He clearly drafted the proposed reauthorization of VAWA without the assistance of common sense, the concept of fairness or much concern about the taxpayer's money.  That's clear enough from the bill he's proposing.  But he also drafted the a bill without any input from his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.  And that is where S.A.V.E. wants to attack this wasteful, ineffective and misandric bill.  So S.A.V.E. wants you to contact your senator and urge him/her to reject this bill in favor of a more sensible bill that corrects the current law's many shortcomings.  To do that, just dial 1-202-224-3121. More importantly, contact the Senate Judiciary Committee members directly and demand that they stop this dreadful bill and replace it with one that will deal effectively with DV as it's understood by the science on the problem. Here's the contact information for the Senate Judiciary Committee.  From there you can easily contact individual members. The game is afoot!

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In Pennsylvania, money from inheritance raises the recipient's child support obligations.  That's true even if the person receiving the money has already spent it in ways that benefit the child.  Read about it here (FindLaw, 4/1/2000).  It's an old case, but it's worth knowing about. It seems that the father of a 16-year-old girl received an inheritance from his mother of $83,000.  He had a family who lived with him, so he bought a house with the money he received from his mother's estate.  The new house presumably was a good thing for his daughter whom the article describes as living with "an adult relative." But when the "adult relative" found out about the dad's inheritance, she went to court to get a piece of the pie.  And the court said 'yes.'  It increased the father's child support obligation "substantially."
 The law defines "income" for support purposes as including all ordinary income as well as "other entitlements to money or lump sum awards, without regard to source, including lottery winnings, income tax refunds, insurance compensation or settlements, awards and verdicts and any form of payment due to and collectible by an individual regardless of source." Also included is "income from an estate or trust." Pennsylvania courts have long based support obligations not just on a parent's actual earnings but also on his or her earning ability and financial resources.
Now, the dad argued that what he received wasn't "income from an estate or trust."  That is, what he received was the principal from the estate, not income.  If he'd invested it in, say, municipal bonds and received periodic payments of interest, that interest would be "income from an estate."  But that's not what happened.  In fact, he reinvested the money in a non-income producing asset, i.e. a residence. And the court agreed that the money he received was not in fact income from his mother's estate.  But no dad gets off that easy.  The court ruled that what the father had received from his mother qualified as "other entitlements to money... without regard to source."  So it raised his monthly obligation to reflect his receipt of the $83,000. Never mind that he no longer had the money.  Never mind that he spent it responsibly by buying a better house for his family and his daughter when she visits him.  And above all, never mind that the payment was a one-time thing, but child support payments go on every month, every year.  And finally, never mind that his actual income from which he pays his child support didn't go up a penny. No, all of that must take a backseat to his obligation to support his child with whatever comes to hand. But wait.  He was already supporting his child and no one argues that he wasn't or that he was doing so insufficiently.  The girl's "adult relative" received what the court ordered and there's no indication that it wasn't sufficient to meet her needs.  So if child support is really about, well, supporting the child, the dad was doing that. And yet, when he receives a windfall, suddenly his child's needs miraculously increase in lockstep.  Again, the money is gone, invested in his residence, so where he's going to get the wherewithal to pay the increased amount is anyone's guess.  But irrespective of that, it seems painfully obvious that Pennsylvania law and the court's action have far more to do with Mom support than they do child support.  As I said, the girl was supported well enough before he received his inheritance, so why not afterward. Worse, like most inheritances, his was a one-time-only event.  To the extent the state can pretend it's income, it only happened in one year.  But his child support obligation doesn't end in that year; it goes on and on until the child becomes 18 or 21.  So, if he can pay the increased amount, and my guess is he can't (again, the money he receives to pay his bills hasn't increased a bit), he'll be doing so month after month, year after year because the court decided his income had all of a sudden increased by $83,000. That will happen, that is, unless he spends still more money next year to hire a lawyer, go to court and explain to the judge that he hasn't received another inheritance and his "income" has once again declined to what he receives from his employer. In other words, a colossal waste of time and money to do what should have been done in the first place - recognize that the money had already been spent, that the child benefits from the expenditure and that the father's actual ability to pay hasn't increased at all. This silliness would all be solved if state legislatures would take a less punitive, less misandric and more commonsense approach to child support.  That would mean setting amounts for child support that reflected what's actually needed to support a child - I'm not talking some bare-bones, spartan existence, but something reasonable - and letting it go at that. The idea that Pennsylvania's approach has something to do with a child's needs is plainly at odds with the truth.  The increase in this case was about supporting Mom, not the child who was already sufficiently supported in the first place. My guess is that there's something else at work as well.  The notion that any Mom gets a big chunk of anything extra that Dad takes in impacts family dynamics in another way; it tends to keep the child in Mom's custody.  In the case in question, the child in question was 16 years old.  In most states, that's well old enough for her to have gone to court and told the judge with which parent she wanted to live.  And by that age, the judge will pretty much go with the child's wishes absent some indication that she's motivated improperly. An improved living standard on Dad's part, brought about by a better job, an inheritance, a new wife with strong earnings, might just be enough to convince a teenager to move in with him.  And we can't have that, now can we.  So legislatures and courts are at pains to take any little extra Dad may receive, give Mom a share and pretend it has something to do with supporting an already-supported child. That's life in family court. Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

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In New Zealand, fully 79% of all parents with child support orders are behind on their payments.  Read about it here (TVNZ, 10/23/11). I recently wrote about the State of Ohio in which about 70% of parent with child support orders were delinquent.  Well, it turns out that New Zealand is actually worse off.  But as the article makes clear, the reasons are essentially the same; support levels are set unrealistically high in the first place, they're almost impossible to modify downward in case of a lost job or other change in circumstances, and penalties for non-payment that are supposed to encourage timely payment actually do the opposite.
Figures released to the Sunday Star-Times show that of the 179,500 people liable for child support, 141,464 (79%) are behind...
"It's just the amount that causes resentment," [Hamilton Budgeting Adviser Claire Mataira] said...
Parents who did not pay their child support on time were charged the greater of $5 or 10% of the unpaid amount. On top of that, they faced a $1 or 2% penalty on the total overdue amount - including incurred penalties - every month.
Just to make sure you got that last, New Zealand charges 7% on all overdue amounts.  Then it compounds that interest by charging 7% on penalty amounts.  My guess is that it's at least fairly common for a father to pay what the order says he owes and still fall further behind during the month he made the payment.  Resentment?  You bet. Into the bargain, New Zealand child support authorities have powers those in the U.S. don't, at least not yet.  Those include the power to obtain warrants for the sale of personal or real property to satisfy the indebtedness.  The latter apparently have never been used, but the former are not uncommon.  So if Americans think having your license to drive taken away is both bad and nonsensical, understand that in New Zealand authorities can take your car. Not surprisingly,  when parents get behind on their payments and penalties kick in, they tend to discourage paying.  The reaction in many cases is to try to avoid the obligation altogether or in part by hiding income or emigrating to Australia.  A surprising number of New Zealand child support cases are administered by Australian authorities.
"Although penalties play an important role in encouraging parents to meet their obligations, if they are excessive they can discourage payment," [Revenue Minister Peter] Dunne said. "Reducing penalty rates in certain circumstances, combined with other effective enforcement measures, will help parents resume payments."
All of that is pretty familiar to Americans.  What's decidedly less so is that the New Zealand government has decided to do something constructive about its child support debt crisis.  Read about it here (New Zealand Herald, 10/23/11).  For months, the government has been taking comments on the existing system and seems about ready to make new laws and regulations governing divorced parents with children.  Those will take effect in April of 2013, which seems like a long time just to refigure how child support and penalties for non-payment will be administered. And I suppose it goes without saying that the reported fix won't do nearly enough to treat non-custodial parents in ways that ensure payment of reasonable support amounts with reasonable ways of modifying support orders.  Only in a fantasy world would that happen and New Zealand doesn't qualify no matter how many Tolkien dramas were filmed there. Still, I'd argue that the fact that New Zealand is backtracking on the most draconian of its child support regulations is a step in the right direction and one I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of the world emulating in the near future.  Face it, child support laws in the English-speaking world are unjust and unreasonable in many different ways.  Plus, they affect an enormous number of people.  That's a situation that's ripe for change.  So we may well attend to what New Zealand does and what effects it has.
An overhaul of child-support payments will reduce the cost for part-time parents who spend just 28 per cent of the time with their children - two nights a week.
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne, who announced the changes, said they would recognise parents as "shared carers" of children if they had the child for 28 per cent of the nights down from 40 and would give greater consideration of both parents' incomes when determining payments.
So parents who have their children two nights out of the week will see their support levels drop.  So will non-custodial parents whose exes work and earn.
Dunne said the proposed changes to the child-support formula would apply from April 2013, and changes to payment, penalty and debt rules would be introduced the next year. It would mean that some parents would receive lower payments but it would be a "fairer" system.
Now, that 28% care threshold contains a catch; most non-custodial parents have the usual every other weekend order meaning they have only half the parenting time required to qualify for the reduction.  So that particular change may sound good, but the truth is that it just won't affect that many parents.  Somehow I'm not surprised. 
Union of Fathers president Allan Harvey welcomed the overhaul but said changes could go further. Fourteen per cent of nights in one parent's care should qualify as "shared care" status - the equivalent of every second weekend.
"It's not usual for children to be in one parent's care every weekend." Harvey also said family household income, when one of the former partners took a new partner, should be taken into consideration, rather than an individual parent's.
So the new rules in New Zealand are far from the type of sensible, fair approach to child support that we might wish.  But it's a step toward rationality.  More important, it's not more of the same - the ever harsher, ever more punitive approach we've come to expect.  And in that way, it may be a harbinger of things to come.  Some day we may look back on these relatively modest changes and see that this was the time the tide turned.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Actor Ben Davies (right), one of the fathers in 'Courageous'"][/caption] Longtime Fathers and Families member Steve S. Sommer, MD, PhD, says the new movie Courageous underscores the importance and wisdom of fathers. Steve writes:

Courageous is a movie about five men, four who have integrity and display courage.  These men range from reasonable to non-involved fathers. The dynamics of their interaction help them focus on their roles as fathers.

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A new survey shows that one in seven families in the U.K. has a stay-at-home dad. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 10/25/11).

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The following was written by Sophia Van Buren. She's the non-custodial mom I wrote about here back on September 14th. I write daily about the plight of non-custodial fathers, so it's good to remember that, in many ways, the family court system is an equal opportunity abuser. Non- custodial mothers are a small minority of parents, but their experiences with family courts often look a lot like those of non-custodial fathers. Here's Van Buren's website.

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Fathers and Families has joined with Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence in a joint letter to protest an advertisement from the luxury shoes, clothing, and bags company Jimmy Choo Ltd.

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No way out but one movie posterThe Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, and Boston Magazine are unwittingly promoting the Holly Collins child custody hoax via their glowing coverage of the new documentary film No Way Out But One. The Boston Magazine piece ‘No Way Out But One’ to Unveil at MIT says the film "will open your eyes to a stunning injustice."

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It's been a while since I've written about maternal gatekeeping, but this case pretty much demands it (Washington Post, 10/21/11).
Police said a former criminology professor fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself on Friday as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody.
Less than an hour before the shooting, a jury granted Rodney McCall, 42, of Wylie, sole custody of Eryk Hayslett-McCall and terminated the parental rights of 43-year-old Karen Hayslett-McCall, The Dallas Morning News reported.

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Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is trying to make child welfare a law-enforcement issue. Read about it here (Arizona Republic, 10/27/11).Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is trying to make child welfare a law-enforcement issue.  Read about it here (Arizona Republic, 10/27/11). As I've reported before, Arizona Child Protective Services has come under fire from a number of quarters for its failure to protect children.  And that criticism is richly deserved.  For example, in the past 11 months, four children who were known by CPS to be at risk in their custodial environment, have died there. 

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We asked our members to call Jimmy Choo Ltd to protest. Your response has been overwhelming, and we're pleased to report that Jimmy Choo Ltd has now agreed to remove the offensive ad from all of their stores, all print media, and their website. They emphasize that they did not mean to offend, and they apologize.Fathers and Families joined with Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence this week in a joint letter to protest an advertisement from the luxury shoes, clothing, and bags company Jimmy Choo Ltd. The ad, which depicts a woman stepping on a man's head as he lies prone on the floor, appears on their website, in print ads, and in many of their storefronts. We explained:

Unwittingly, your ad both trivializes domestic violence and makes it appear that partner abuse is acceptable. The man in the photo appears to be in fear and possibly in pain or even dead, and the woman pictured seems to be about to put her full weight on the man"s skull.

We also asked our members to call Jimmy Choo Ltd to protest. Your response has been overwhelming, and we're pleased to report that Jimmy Choo Ltd has now agreed to remove the offensive ad from all of their stores, all print media, and their website. They emphasize that they did not mean to offend, and they apologize.

We commend Jimmy Choo Ltd for understanding our concerns and acting so quickly.

Our original letter can be seen in its entirety here.

With best regards,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director,
Fathers and Families

Toni K. Troop
Director of Communications Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

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Jimmy Choo Ad

Update (10/27/11):  Your response to our call to action has been overwhelming, and we're pleased to report that Jimmy Choo Ltd has now agreed to remove the offensive ad from all of their stores, all print media, and their website. They emphasize that they did not mean to offend, and they apologize.

We commend Jimmy Choo Ltd for understanding our concerns and acting so quickly.

Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director,
Fathers and Families

Toni K. Troop Director of Communications
Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence


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As bad as child protective agencies can be, they're even worse toward native American families, particularly in South Dakota. This fine article tells why (NPR, 10/25/11).

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New Hampshire Judge David G. LeFrancois has abetted the fraud and perjury of Kristin Ruggiero. Yesterday, LeFrancois dismissed the attempt by Kristin's ex-husband, Jeffrey Ruggiero, to get custody of his his daughter.

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