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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.  

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May 17, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Last time I introduced the latest Census Bureau data on custodial and non-custodial parents and child support.  As usual, hard facts make for some interesting reading. 

Some of that interesting reading includes the fact that, since 1993, the amount of child support ordered by courts has been declining.  In 2017, the latest year for which the Bureau has statistics, the average amounts ordered by courts for both non-custodial mothers and non-custodial fathers, was at the lowest point since 1993.  I speculated that the reason for that is that perhaps judges have come to realize what so many of us have known for a long time – that child support orders are often set too high.  So possibly the decline indicates a coming to grips with that fact on the part of courts.

Two very wise people have offered other explanations.  One is that the incidence of equal parenting may be on the rise and, since some states reduce child support as parenting time increases, average orders decrease accordingly.  I suppose that’s possible, but we really don’t have much evidence to let us know one way or the other.  One reason given the Census Bureau by parents for not requesting a formal child support order was “child stays with other parent part of the time,” but obviously that bears little on the incidence of shared parenting.  And the data don’t go into types of custody or parenting time.

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June 15, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The May, 2020 publication by the Bureau of the Census, “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2017,” is a mass of good information.  The facts stated in the report militate strongly in favor of changes to both custody and child support laws.

First, a few basics:

About 22 million children in the U.S. lived with a custodial parent household when their other biological parent lived elsewhere.  That’s 26.5% of all children under the age of 21 in the U.S.  (Since when are 20-year-olds classified as “children?”)  Almost half (48.8%) of black kids live with a custodial parent and without the other biological parent.  About 13 million custodial parents cared for those kids. 

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The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone. And that includes parents who are paying child support. In fact, the economic devastation the virus has produced threatens to be disastrous for many of these parents. And NPO is taking a strong stand to try to protect these parents.

When parents in an intact marriage have any sort of economic setback, they tighten their belts to work through the hard times. When parents who pay child support have an economic setback, they get in arrears on child support and these arrearages can build quickly and be difficult to discharge even when income is restored. This is a troubling, but familiar, problem. What’s new—what the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought—is on a different scale. Without swift government action, we’re headed for a catastrophe for millions of parents.

The mandated economic shutdown will result in millions of paying parents who have never been behind on their child support payments suddenly being in arrears. The closure of many courts means that these parents can’t file a motion for modification of their child support. Even when the courts open up, there will be significant backlogs. And, unless lawmakers and child support officials take dramatic action, the strong enforcement measures intended to coerce child support evaders—those who have the ability to pay but are unwilling to—will be applied to parents who have lost income because of the deep economic recession.

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June 12, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The American Enterprise Institute’s Naomi Schaefer Riley has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece here that’s well worth reading (Wall Street Journal, 6/8/20).

As all the world now knows, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to disband the police and “replace” them with mental health professionals and, apparently, vigilantes.  Here’s what they told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday, June 8:

“This is the beginning of the process of putting together a “police-free future,” they vowed, by investing in more community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.”

To my mind, that’s one of the nuttiest ideas I’ve seen in a long time.  Aside from the fact that we actually do need the police to protect us from crime and that relying on “community members to respond to public safety issues” is another term for vigilantism, the state-issued municipal charter for the City of Minneapolis requires that the city council establish a police force.  So it’s beginning to look like the council didn’t exactly do its homework.  What it’s resolved to do appears to be ultra vires, i.e. beyond its power.

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During the COVID-19 crisis, you’d think that courts would understand that millions of people have lost their jobs and need to reduce their child support payments.  After all, existing orders were made on the basis of pre-COVID realities and those have substantially changed.  And no judge can seriously consider the notion that a person laid off from his employment due to the lockdown is “voluntarily un/underemployed.”  So the sensible thing to do is for courts to adopt expedited procedures for non-custodial parents to prove they’ve lost work due to the lockdown and for downward modifications of child support orders.

But, if this attorney’s advice is any indication, such is not the case in Canada (The Lawyer’s Daily, 6/3/20).  Indeed, it looks very much like business as usual there.  Plus, attorney Darlene Rites appears to live in a world unknown to many divorced Canadian parents.

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June 5, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

It’s hard to know what to make of this awful, tragic case (Fox San Antonio, 5/20/20).  Perhaps San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said all that can be.

"We have seen this happen over the years in the past where parents who have lost custody or are involved in divorce have resorted to murder-suicide," McManus said.

One day after a San Antonio judge gave primary custody of Clara and Robert Deitering, 5 and 3 years old respectively, to their father Jason, their mother Karina shot the two children, her own mother and finally herself.  Never before had she given any indication of a propensity toward violence.

What she had done is make a false allegation of sexual abuse of Clara against Jason.  That too came on the heels of Judge David Canales’ ruling that, during the pendency of the divorce, Jason have primary custody of the children.  Canales immediately ordered an expert in sexual abuse of children to investigate the allegation and that Jason have no contact with his kids.  The results of that investigation were unequivocal.

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June 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors

Three Cherokee County, North Carolina employees of the Department of Social Services face multiple indictments by a grand jury stemming from their use of “custody and visitation agreements” (CVAs) to coerce parents into giving up their children to foster care (Carolina Public Press, 5/19/20).  In all, the three face 41 felony and misdemeanor charges with the possibility of more to come.  Former DSS Director Cindy Palmer, former DSS attorney Scott Lindsay and former Child Protective Unit supervisor David Hughes were booked into the Cherokee County jail.

Apparently, the use of CVAs is illegal in the state and the three attempted to cover up their use of them by, among other things, lying under oath about their use.  In addition, when the investigation began in 2018, Palmer was relieved of her duties as DSS Director, but immediately rehired as the DSS business officer.  Remarkably,

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British MP Philip Davies has it right (Telegraph and Argus, 4/30/20).  There’s a domestic violence bill before Parliament and he wants its definition of DV to include parental alienation, blocking access to children and false allegations of domestic violence.

He said: “I have heard horrific stories affecting parents and children and if we are to save future generations of children from having non-existent relationships with one of their parents, something needs to be done, and my amendment would be a start.

“The definition of domestic abuse should include cases where one parent deliberately denies the other parent contact with their children for no good reason. As far as I am concerned, this is just as abusive as other forms of abuse that are regularly mentioned; it causes significant distress, upset and harm. In some cases, the harm is so bad that it can tragically lead to suicide.”

Just so.  It’s long past time when judges and lawmakers should have put a stop to the twin scourges of parental alienation and non-enforcement of orders for access to children.  Exactly what it takes to get them to realize the obvious – that both behaviors are destructive to children’s psyches – remains a mystery, but maybe Davies’ amendment to the DV bill will help.  We call them “family courts,” but they can be the opposite; they can be, and often are, co-conspirators in the abuse of children by preventing one parent from having meaningful time with them.

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June 1, 2020 by Indiana Lee

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about the world we live in, and the impact will likely be felt for a long time. For divorced parents who have different custody arrangements for their children, though, it’s more important than ever to work together to keep your kids safe, happy, healthy, and to make sure they’re staying on top of their schoolwork.

Whatever your child custody arrangements are, you should work to keep them the same throughout this pandemic. There is so much uncertainty going on in the world, that having some kind of normal routine can help your child to feel comfortable.

It’s been shown that strained relationships with one or more parents are leading causes of mental health conditions in children. So how can you continue to foster a healthy relationship between a child and your co-parent, keep them safe, and continue their education throughout this pandemic?

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May 28, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Last time I discussed the fact that marriage rates are at an all-time low in the United States.  That’s not a good thing for anyone because, generally speaking, married relationships are better for men, women, children and society generally than any other kind.  So we should view the decline in marriage rates with concern.

Now, along with the Psychology Today article I linked to, I focused on one likely reason for the decrease in marriage – money.  Put simply, women have gained a lot in the workplace over the past few decades and now often out-earn men.  But overall, they haven’t adjusted their expectations of men to reflect their own well-being.  Men still “marry down,” but women seldom do.  One result is a decline in marriage rates.

But women’s choice to forego marriage with lower-earning men is hardly the only cause of the marriage slump.  Family law is too.  Which is the greater influence, I can’t guess, but no article on the drop in marriage rates is complete without a large section on family law and family courts.

These days, it takes a brave man – or a foolish one – to marry.  He’s even braver or more foolish if he fathers children.  Why?  Because he runs several enormous risks if he does.

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May 27, 2020 by Roxanne Remy

Co-parenting a child with a disability is difficult enough. Constant communication, double- sometimes triple-ordering supplies, and a lot of extra effort on both sides is needed. These interventions do more than make for a smooth transition between households. Advanced planning reduces the risk of illness exacerbation and improves safety outcomes for the child. Co-parents need to be in lockstep with each other so the most important ingredient in the successful parenting recipe doesn’t get left out. Just when you think you’ve got a system in place, a crisis snags a loop unraveling your quilted matrix of a plan. Whether it’s an acute resurgence of their chronic illness, new school requirements, or another unplanned event, moms and dads have to assess and adjust to meet the new need. Now, in 2020, we can add national pandemic to that list of aggregavating factors which could interfere with a child’s shared parenting schedule. During these times, the door of communication should be flung wide open, but some parents see it as an opportunity to seal it shut.

Fear makes insecure people do irrational things. Pandemics, unfortunately, lend themselves to the overwhelming distress category of life.  Reactionary parenting can cause even those with the best of intentions to lose sight of their children’s holistic needs. Unfortunately, the alienating parent often capitalizes on the situational unpredictability and uses it as coercive control over the child. Rather than empowering their son or daughter with trust and compassion, the controlling parent undermines the child’s security by convincing them the other parent is in incapable of mitigating the threat. These individuals go out of their way to skew routines in an effort to present themselves as the lantern holding leader during the storm.

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May 26, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The marriage rate in the U.S. is at an all-time low (Wall Street Journal, 4/29/20).  In 2018, there were just 6.5 new marriages per every 1,000 people.  That’s the lowest ratio since we began compiling marriage statistics in 1867.  The highest came in 1946 at 16.4 per 1,000.  As marriage rates decline, cohabitation rates have increased.

Just over half of American adults were living with a spouse in 2019, down from about seven in 10 in 1970, census figures show. About 7% lived with a partner last year, up from less than 1% in 1970.

Falling marriage rates aren’t good for society generally and children in particular.  Non-marital unions are historically far less stable than married ones and the stress of break-up can hit adults hard.  Marriage is positively correlated with better health, greater happiness, lower involvement in crime, higher involvement on the part of men in paid work, greater longevity and economic security.  And of course children who live with married parents are more likely to have lasting relationships with both than are their peers in non-marital households.  In short, marriage is a societal good.

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May 20, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

As I’ve said many times, taking children from their parents, whether by judges or child protective agencies, is traumatic for them.  Therefore, particularly child protective agencies must exercise the greatest restraint in their decision-making about whether to remove kids from their homes.  In some cases, foster care may be the best we can do for them, but it should be a last resort.

Now come a couple of studies that back up what I’ve said.

The first was conducted on data from Finland.

We did a population-wide cohort study using the 1987 Finnish Birth Cohort, which collects longitudinal data linking nationwide child welfare, medical, and criminal registers for all 59 476 livebirths in Finland in 1987.

Researchers then looked at children who’d been placed in foster care at some time between the ages of two and six.  There were 388 of them.  They then selected 386 children with similarly stressful childhoods, but who hadn’t gone into foster care.  Researchers compared the outcomes on three measures of social dysfunction of the two groups between the ages of 18 and 25.

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May 19, 2020 by Indiana Lee

One of the most important lessons you can pass on to your kids is the value of healthy, supportive relationships — and how to nurture them. Just because you’re divorced or separated doesn’t mean you’re a failure at relationships. You can still teach your kids how to relate in a loving and healthy way, so they can grow up to establish their own supportive and healthy relationships.

The simple act of treating others as you’d like to be treated or the way you and your kids treat each other can provide a powerful, lifelong example of what friendships and partnerships should look like. Here are some of the most important factors of a healthy relationship and how you can help your kids develop them.

Learning to Relate — Even in Difficult Circumstances

If you’re in the process of a separation or a divorce, you can teach your kids that even during a difficult time of change when two people don’t see eye to eye in a situation, they can still respectfully disagree and work together towards a greater goal (like co-parenting). Your situation may be far from that reality, but it’s important that your kids see that the adults they love and trust can act objectively and respectfully during difficult times.

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Among the many shockingly dishonest articles on parental alienation I’ve commented on in the past, two, one in the Washington Post and another by NBC, took aim at a program designed to reduce the awful consequences of severe alienation.  That program is called Family Bridges and the articles were scurrilous in the extreme.

Among many other shortcomings, they interviewed kids who’d been through the FB workshop but who’d relapsed into their previous alienated behavior.  Their comments on the workshop weren’t favorable.  Needless to say, the article failed to interview a single kid who’d had a good experience at FB.

So it’s worthwhile that Dr. Richard Warshak has included a section of his latest paper on a study that was conducted on Family Bridges and the kids and parents who’ve taken part in the program.  That study tells a lot about the efficacy of the workshop, but it also tells us more about the amazing dishonesty of the articles about it.  Suffice it to say that, at the time the articles were published, the study had been completed, but, predictably, the writers managed to avoid reading the study or interviewing anyone who had.

So how did Family Bridges measure up?  First the study asked the children to rate their experience there.

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Professor Richard Warshak has penned an article on parental alienation in the journal Family Court Review.  It’s entitled “Risks and Realities of Working with Alienated Children.”  It’s a highly informative article, but it’s also a warning and one that’s long overdue.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve written many, many times about parental alienation.  Often those posts are about the scandalous misrepresentation of parental alienation by journalists, lawyers and other advocates.  The standard refrain is that the idea of parental alienation is a shady scheme hatched by abusive fathers to wrest custody of children from protective mothers.  Given that, it’s clear that the opposition to the recognition of alienation and treatment of alienated children traffics in intellectual dishonesty for the purpose of further marginalizing fathers in children’s lives.  In short, the people I refer to, because they seek to cast doubt on parental alienation, abet the abuse of children.

In his latest article, Warshak takes aim at some of those same “journalists.”

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May 7, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

And here’s yet another case in which COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to interfere in a child’s relationship with a parent (New Zealand Herald, 4/29/20).  Although most courts seem to understand that parenting time orders need to remain in effect and unchanged due to the virus, a few, alas, do not.

In the current case, a father’s ex-wife abducted their son to New Zealand.  (The article gives no names and excludes the father’s country of residence.)  It took the New Zealand courts an astonishing three years to come to a decision about the matter, during which time of course the child remained in New Zealand with the mother’s abduction tacitly endorsed by the legal system.  The father’s country of residence is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, so he was unable to pursue the remedies it offers. 

But the courts of his country ordered that he have sole custody of his son and, eventually, the New Zealand court agreed.

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May 5, 2020 by Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D.

Children have an extremely low risk of dying from COVID-19. Hence, there is no reason to change parenting schedules or prevent a child from seeing a parent because of COVID-19.

Among children under age 15, only nine COVID-19 death had been reported in the United States by May 1. When looking at data since February 1, this can be compared to 101 children dying from pneumonia, 81 from influenza and 5,520 total deaths in this age group.

Are these low numbers due to the lockdown and school closings? To answer that, let’s look at Sweden, one of the few western countries that never closed its elementary schools. You may think this would put children at risk, but no. While the country has had thousands of deaths among adults, not a single child have died from COVID-19.

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May 5, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

I’ve mentioned the fact that, with a few exceptions, courts are requiring parents to abide by the terms of their custody and parenting time orders during the COVID-19 restrictions on travel, business, etc.  But what about child protective agencies?  Would they seize on the specter of the virus to step up their interventions into families?  If so, how might that play out?

Consider this example (Reason, 4/28/20).  A couple who, in the article, are called Bill and Kristy had just moved to Kentucky from New York with their seven kids.  They went to a bank to open an account, leaving the two oldest kids in the car and taking the five little ones into the bank with them.  Bank employees were not amused.

The teller immediately interrogated Bill and Kristy about why they had brought five kids into the bank at one time. She [the teller] told them they could not get within six feet of her and that they needed to take the children out. Kristy explained that the children were too young to be left unsupervised by an adult, and neither she nor Bill could take them elsewhere because the couple were opening a joint account, and both had to be present.

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May 1, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The Minnesota Supreme Court has established that a custodial parent’s denial of parenting time to a non-custodial parent is a matter of the custodial parent’s objective behavior, not her subjective intent.  That may sound like a trivial matter, but it’s not.

In Minnesota, deprivation of parenting time established by a court order is a felony.  Plus, unlike other states like Texas, it seems Minnesota law enforcement personnel actually enforce the law.  In Texas, deprivation of parenting time is also a felony, but the law is seldom enforced.  Indeed, some county sheriffs have a policy of refusing to enforce those orders.  The claim is that they’re civil in nature, when in fact the law is crystal clear that refusing to allow parenting time is a criminal matter.

So at least Minnesota enforces its laws on parenting time.

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April 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

There’s quite a conflict that’s arisen due to Congress’ decision to disallow stimulus checks being paid to anyone owing back child support.  As I pointed out here, child support obligors stand alone among debtors in being denied those funds.  Have you fallen behind in repaying your student loans?  No matter, you get a check.  Didn’t pay your taxes in past years?  IRS hot on your trail?  You still get a check.  Do you in fact owe the government or anyone else for any reason at all?  You still get a stimulus check as long as you otherwise qualify for one.

Only those who owe child support are omitted.

That’s of course true despite the fact that child support orders have been acknowledged for years to often be beyond the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay.  The Office of Child Support Enforcement has been saying so for years.  Plus, overwhelmingly, child support obligors are the poorest of the poor, so the refusal to give them stimulus checks hits directly at those who need them most.

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April 28, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

I couldn’t resist a quick blog on this (Japan Times, 4/10/20).  The headline “Justice Ministry Survey Finds Many Countries Allow Joint Child Custody After Divorce,” says it all.  Yes, they do.  And water is wet and the Earth is a sphere (roughly).

Seriously now, it took a “survey” by the Ministry of Justice for the Japanese government to figure out that some countries “allow” shared parenting post-divorce?  You’d think they could have just read a blog  I happen to know about and learned the same thing.  If they had, they’d also know that other countries have shared parenting because it’s by far the best arrangement for kids, sole parenting, i.e. that’s favored by Japanese policy, being the worst.

I suppose it’s the article’s tone of surprised discovery that got my attention.  It’s as if someone believes they’ve unearthed some hitherto unknown fact about life in those rare and strange parts of the world that are not Japan.

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April 27, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Those of us who pay attention to family law and public policy on families and kids know all too well the multi-front attack on families that’s so much a part of our society and culture.  That is, after all, why we fight back.  Healthy families are necessary to a healthy polity, so the erosion of families can only pose a threat to societal health and well-being.  Unsurprisingly, as the family has declined, many of the problems that strong families help ameliorate or avoid have worsened.

Of course most of the ways in which families are attacked are well-known – divorce laws and practices, adoption law, child support laws, child protective practices, pop culture, etc.  But occasionally, we run into a new one, in this case, opposition to homeschooling (Harvard Magazine, 5/20).

Writing in Harvard Magazine, Erin O’Donnell channels Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet who’s on record as favoring an outright legal presumption that no child may be educated by his/her parents.  Apparently, Bartholet would graciously allow some parents to be able to rebut the presumption, but the article never suggests how.  Given that the presumption would be a legal one, I can only conclude that it would require a proceeding in court that would then require a lawyer and would therefore place homeschooling out of reach of parents of modest means. 

In short, like every other family-unfriendly policy already in effect, Bartholet’s would hit hardest at the poor.  This of course is in the service of her “progressive” ideology.

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April 24, 2020

Regular readers of this blog know that the CARES Act that provided stimulus checks to most Americans also carved out one, and only one, exception. These checks would be “offset” (reduced by) any past-due child support. (Read Robert Franklin’s recent article about this here.)

This was a mean-spirited provision, driven by decades of vilification of child support obligors, and reflecting ignorance of what happens when past-due child support is collected in this way. The stereotype of child support obligor in arrears as people who are callously allowing their children to suffer hardship while they live high on the hog is total rubbish. Most obligors who are in default are poor, having been ordered to pay more than they can or having lost income and had their child support obligation adjusted. These parents are hurting.

The ignorance of the effects of this action are multiple. In passing this legislation, our legislators forgot that child support obligors often have their children in their care 25% of the time, or more. So, creating hardship for these parents is creating hardship for their children, too. And much of the money collected by confiscating these stimulus checks will not go to the other parent for the benefit of the children. By law, a significant portion of the funds will be kept by the federal and state governments to recoup the cost of public assistance given to that parent. This not only undermines the intended effect of the CARES Act to help family get through these harsh time but it undermines the goal of stimulating the economy.

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