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.
September 16, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The unbelievable just got more so, if that’s possible.
I wrote about the Ryan West case here and here. It’s one of the most remarkable travesties of justice I’ve seen in a long while. I won’t reprise all the facts here. Read my two previous posts for a sense of just what can happen when judges decide how they want to rule and then go about finding facts and imagining law to fit their preconceived notions.
Ryan West has a daughter, Alanna, with his previous wife. The two divorced. Ryan earns a good living and is the best of fathers; his ex is voluntarily underemployed and spends little time with Alanna. The judge who granted their divorce gave Ryan parenting time of between 70% and 80%. In short, Alanna lives with him and his girlfriend Kym.
But, despite his being the custodial father, the judge ordered him to pay child support to the non-custodial mother. Seriously, that’s what she did. That was based solely on Ryan’s income and ignored the fact that his ex testified under oath that she was capable of earning $80,000 per year, but didn’t because she preferred to spend more time with her daughter. That is, she admitted to being intentionally underemployed. Under normal circumstances, a court would impute to her $80,000 annually and calculate child support accordingly. But the judge ignored his ex’s earning ability.
That meant she ordered Ryan to pay over $1,300 in child support, despite being the custodial parent and caring for Alanna about three-fourths of the time.
September 13, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The federal government spends 10 times the money on foster care and adoption as it does on family reunification. Plus, it allows states to divert money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to pay for foster care and promote adoption. The latter tends to make poor families poorer and therefore enhances the possibility of child neglect, which in turn leads to a greater need for foster care. It also tends to break up poor families.
Those are the main takeaways from this fine article (Talk Poverty, 8/23/19). The writer, Elizabeth Brico, quotes extensively from Richard Wexler who is perhaps this country’s best-informed commentator on our foster care and adoption system.
The United States government incentivizes foster care placements and forced adoption over social support and reunification with birth families.
When we offer people money if they take action A, we can’t be surprised when they tend to take action A. During the Clinton Administration, Congress passed and the president signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act. It offered states hefty financial incentives to take kids into foster care and to have them adopted out of foster care. Unsurprisingly, states reported doing exactly that. Rates of taking children from parents shot up.
September 12, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
If you want to know just a few of the ways in which our system of divorce doesn’t make sense, read this article (Business Insider, 8/19/19). In it, Dave Johnson recounts the “8 things I wish I knew (sic) before I got divorced.” Now, this being a business publication, those eight things are strictly a matter of Johnson’s finances, so of course there are many more pitfalls of divorce that he doesn’t deal with.
From his style of writing, Johnson seems like a nice guy, perhaps too nice. He seems slightly miffed about things many find all but intolerable, for example, spousal support.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not complaining about having to pay spousal support. For 30 years, I was either the sole or principal breadwinner in our household, and consequently, my wife never needed to pursue a career. Now that she does need to pay all her bills, I need to help out.
Johnson isn’t complaining, but a lot of men would be. About 97% of spousal support obligors are men according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Johnson spent 30 years as the sole or almost-sole support of his wife. Now he gets to continue doing the same, probably until the day he dies, but without any of the non-financial help she provided when they were married. To be a bit clearer on what that means, Johnson adds this:
It turns out that the judgment is a lot of money, relatively speaking — about 20% of the take-home pay I was earning at the time of the divorce. As someone who probably doesn't think hard enough about budgets, saving, investment, and retirement, it only became apparent to me when I started writing those checks after the divorce that this money accounts for virtually all of my disposable income.
In short, from here on out, Johnson will be able to add nothing to his savings, whatever they are. That means he won’t be able to retire – ever. He’ll likely work until the day he dies because if he doesn’t, he risks being held in contempt of court. His “golden years” are beginning to look like lead.
September 11, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Should states be required to provide children lawyers in dependency hearings? That’s the question presented by an Indiana case brought on behalf of 10 children against Marion, Lake and Scott counties (Chronicle of Social Change, 2/6/19). The children’s lawyers are attempting to, for the first time in U.S. history, establish a constitutional right to counsel for kids in non-criminal cases. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has recently made money available to states to pay counsel for kids in those cases.
Dependency cases seek to decide whether parents should have their parental rights terminated due to alleged abuse, neglect or unfitness.
Since children are considered to be unable to act for themselves in countless situations, adults act for them. Those adults are usually their parents. We rely on them to make decisions about everything related to the care, feeding, education, health, etc. of their children. As such, the legal relationship between parents and their children is akin to that of a guardian and a ward or a trustee who’s charged with acting for another person. Usually, parents act for their kids as a matter of course without anyone noticing. We trust parents to act in their children’s interests.
But all that can change when parents are alleged to have acted at odds with their children’s interests, as in the case of abuse, neglect or unfitness. Those bring into question parents’ ability to do what’s best for their kids. And that’s the issue in dependency hearings. So, instead of giving parents the power to act for their children, we say that their interest and that of their children are opposed. The parents have an interest in retaining care of their kids, but the children may need better caregivers. Legally, those interests are opposed and opposing interests in the legal system can’t have the same lawyer. It’s a clear conflict of interest.
So clearly, children should have the right to a lawyer. Or should they? After all, in dependency court, it’s the state that has the burden of proof. The parents are presumed to be fit and to have committed no acts of abuse or neglect until Child Protective Services produces evidence to the contrary.
September 10, 2019 by Ginger Gentile, Deputy Executive Director of the National Parents Organization
In 2014, the National Parents Organization created a report card grading each state on their shared parenting guidelines. Most states got a C or below. The report card looked at statutes- not outcomes. It was also rated on whether or not the guidelines encouraged or enforced shared parenting (when the courts assume that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities after divorce or separation). This report card was not only a useful tool for activists, it also generated national media coverage. On September 18th, 2019, we will be announcing our new report card in a press conference in New York City.
Some states have improved. Most notably, Kentucky, who under the leadership of Matt Hale and the local NPO chapter passed the ONLY default shared parenting law in the US. Yes, you read that correctly! As late as 2018, no states had a law that said 50/50 was the starting point. And this is crazy considering that support for shared parenting polls as high as 87%. Also, Kentucky courts released finding that the nation's first true shared parenting law worked! Domestic violence claims dropped. Divorce filings dropped by 11%.
September 9, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Japan has long been a haven for parents who kidnap their children. I’ve written numerous times about that fact, but always in the context of international kidnapping. So, for example, a Japanese mother married to an American father and living in the U.S. can simply pack up the kids, move back to Japan and, effectively, Dad has no recourse. Yes, Japan signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but, like so many other countries, refuses to enforce its terms.
This fine article not only supplies the reason Japanese courts do so, it lets us know that the same thing is happening to Japanese parents in Japan (Washington Post, 8/22/19).
The concept behind Japanese child custody law is this:
Traditionally, children are not viewed as individuals with rights, or as belonging to their parents, but as the “property of the household” where they live. As soon as children move to a new household, the estranged parent becomes an outsider, with no right to disturb the new one.
That tradition of course is entirely at odds with the biology of parent-child attachment. As Dr. Anna Machin has told us in her book The Life of Dad, pregnancy and affectionate care by Mom and physical interaction such as play (often rough and tumble play) produce increases in oxytocin in both parent and baby. Those are then reinforced with dopamine that gives a pleasurable sensation associated with the particular parenting behavior. Again, both adult and child get both the oxytocin and the dopamine. That’s part of the neurochemistry of parent-child attachment.
September 6, 2019 by Ginger Gentile, Deputy Executive Director of the National Parents Organization
Philadelphia will host the Parental Alienation Study Group Conference September 12th-14th. This will feature leading experts on the worst side-effect of divorce: when a loving, fit parent is cut out of their child’s life by the other parent, often aided by the court system. For the first time, the conference will offer a track just for targeted parents, in addition to tracks for the legal system and researchers. I will be there to talk on a panel about how the media covers Parental Alienation, as well as to show my film, Erasing Family. If you are attending, please make sure to say hello!
There is a lot of overlap between the Parental Alienation advocacy community and Shared Parenting activism. Researchers have found that shared parenting reduces conflict and the need for parents to “win” custody. Equal contact with both parents allows children to develop relationships with each parent, and also allows them to see that what one parent says about the other is not always true.
September 5, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, National Board of Directors
The Nebraska Supreme Court has taken a giant step toward shared parenting in the state. It expressly overruled existing Supreme Court precedent in Trimble v. Trimble that stated that shared parenting was disfavored and should only be granted in rare instances. Those were instances in which the divorcing parents got along well, communicated well and exhibited a high degree of maturity. The Court strongly suggests that the Trimble holding, that’s governed parenting time cases since 1984, is “clearly incorrect.”
In State of Nebraska on behalf of Kaaden S. vs. Jeffery T., et al, the high court ruled that, in child custody cases, there is no blanket presumption about what parenting arrangement is in the child’s interests, but that each case is to be decided on its own merits. The best interests of the child will be the trial court’s sole guide in deciding parenting time.
September 4, 2019 by Ginger Gentile, Deputy Executive Director of the National Parents Organization
When parents who have limited or no contact with their children after divorce or separation become advocates for family court reform their emotions can influence their actions and messaging. Their motivation is to save their relationships with their own children and this blossoms into activism for all children. But this desperation can turn into frustration with society that turns a blind eye to the over 22 million adults in the US who report being alienated from their kids. That is why the entry of the ACODs (Adult Children of Divorce) into advocacy for shared parenting is so exciting; their trauma has passed and they are infusing new energy into the movement.
Having grown up with a parent erased from their lives or the stress of a high conflict custody battle clouding their childhood, ACODs have a visceral reaction to this issue. Instead of wanting to change a law or a statute, they want systemic change. Their focus is making sure parents reduce conflict and have the tools to do so--not through court orders but through mediation that works, collaborative law, mental health services, and a system that doesn’t pit parents against each other. Default Shared Parenting, which assumes that both parents will have equal access to their kids if both parents are fit, is a big part of this solution, but ACODs view it as part of a holistic approach.
National Parents Organization's own Matt Hale has an op-ed in the Courier Journal in Kentucky, who used court statistics to debunk many myths about shared parenting. Some key takeaways:
"Kentucky’s family court caseload and domestic violence cases had been rising, which is expected because our state’s population is increasing. But, in early July 2017, that trend abruptly stopped and family court cases and domestic violence filings began declining..."
"The year before Kentucky had any shared parenting laws, beginning July 14, 2016, and lasting 365 days, there were 22,512 family court cases filed. They declined to 21,847 the year the partial shared parenting law began. When the complete shared parenting law took effect in the last 12 months, new cases plummeted to 19,991. In other words, Kentucky’s families filed to sue each other in family court more than 11% less despite the state’s population growth..."
"Domestic violence claims declined by 248 in 2017 when the partial shared parenting law was enacted. Further, the decline of domestic violence accelerated by dropping an additional 445 cases as the complete shared parenting law took effect in 2018 versus the prior year... "
August 30, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Gabe Batstone pleaded with the court to transfer custody of his eight-year-old daughter Teagan to him. His ex-wife, Lisa, had been acting erratically and had been involuntarily hospitalized as an acute risk for suicide. That all came within the context of Gabe’s concern about Teagan’s safety with her mother. His efforts to gain custody seemed to exacerbate Lisa’s emotional problems, making her behavior even more problematical. But the judge refused Gabe’s request and maintained Lisa’s primary custody.
That was true despite the fact that neighbors had long feared for Teagan’s safety in her mother’s custody. Church members too were concerned. Apparently due to Lisa’s behavior toward Teagan, there was a breach in the relationship between the congregation and Lisa.
Not long after the judge’s refusal of a modification of custody, Lisa and Teagan had a “camp out” in their living room. As Teagan slept, Lisa first considered stabbing her to death, but instead put a plastic bag over the little girl’s head and smothered her.
She then loaded Teagan’s body into the trunk of her car and got stuck in ditch. Police discovered the body and arrested her.
Last time I wrote about how schools often thwart fathers’ relationships with their kids. As researcher Dr. Jessica Troilo found in her latest study, school officials often assume that Mom is not only the primary parent, but the only one needing to be kept up to date on little Andy or Jenny’s academic progress/problems. It turns out that it’s not just family courts that keep kids apart from their dads; other institutions do too.
British evolutionary anthropologist and author of the book The Life of Dad, Dr. Anna Machin of Cambridge University, agrees. But Machin was writing about the medical profession, not schools.
Machin’s work includes interviewing fathers. They report being reduced to second-class citizens throughout their partners’ pregnancies. Here’s how Machin describes their experiences:
[T]heir experience is that [fathers’] dedication is often unrecognized, even actively belittled. In a world where the role of mum is paramount, even sanctified, the lack of focus and support available to fathers and the enduring stereotype of the inept dad leave many of the dads I study with the overall impression that, while paying lip service to their needs, our society would very much prefer it if they would kindly get back in their box.
Much of that, says Machin, is the fault of the “medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth.” To me, approaching those as a medical phenomenon has much to recommend it. After all, there’s much of a medical nature that can go wrong during pregnancy, birth and afterward. We’d be fools to pretend otherwise. Still, if bringing a baby into the world is viewed exclusively as a medical issue, then, by definition, fathers aren’t part of the process. They’re not pregnant and they won’t give birth, so why pay attention to them?
Many state legislatures are considering bills that would make it the norm for more children of divorce to live equal time with each of their parents, modeled on landmark laws in Arizona in 2013 and Kentucky in 2018. But in some states, legislators feel caught between supporting the Me Too movement, which holds men accountable for changing behaviors toward women that were countenanced in the past, and supporting equal parenting time, which holds fathers as equally good parents as mothers.
What is the connection between equal parenting time and Me Too? Is one about men’s rights and the other about women’s rights? Both are demanding deep-seated cultural changes, but are they at odds?
For the last 20 years, I have been studying the long-term effects on children associated with the different amounts of parenting time they had with each of their separated parents. It turns out that the standard, every-other weekend schedule with dad has had an unintended and largely unnoticed consequence.
Children who had the standard visitation schedule are unsure, into their 20s, about how much they actually matter to their fathers. Those who had more parenting time with their fathers are more assured that they matter to them, and those who had equal parenting time with both of their parents have equally strong, close, and emotionally secure relationships with both their parents, on a par with young adults whose parents stayed married.
A groundbreaking event within the field of shared parenting is quickly taking shape, in which for the first time researchers, practitioners and activists in the co-parenting community will be engaged in a facilitated dialogue and collaborative process of problem-solving with researchers, practitioners and activists in the arena of family violence and woman abuse.
My work in the field of co-parenting has spanned over a quarter century. It started with a research question, the focus of my doctoral dissertation, of why so many fathers disengage from their children’s lives after separation and divorce. The findings of my research led me to challenge the many myths and stereotypes surrounding non-residential parents. My main focus since then has been the promotion of shared parenting as in the best interests of children and families.
Much of my time today is devoted to the International Council on Shared Parenting, of which I am president. The Council is unique in that it studies shared parenting from the perspective of children, and includes three groups of members: academic scientists, child and family professionals, and members of civil society. We have held numerous national and international conferences, which have led to a series of research-based consensus statements on shared parenting as in the best interests of the great majority of children and families, which have served as the foundation of family law reform efforts in several counties, including the Council of Europe resolution that shared parenting be established as the foundation of family law in member states.
The Fifth International Conference on Shared Parenting will be held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on May 29-June 1, 2020. The theme of the conference will be the Intersection of Shared Parenting and Family Violence. The importance of this theme is underscored by the fact that because shared parenting is contraindicated in situations of family violence, legislators have been reluctant to legislate a presumption of shared parenting, assuming (incorrectly) that co-parenting arrangements would become the norm in situations of violence and abuse. Family violence remains a major obstacle in the establishment of shared parenting as the foundation of family law around the globe, and the conference aims to address issues surrounding family violence while at the same time exploring the feasibility of a rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting which fully takes on board the concerns of family violence specialists.
Can people from different ideological persuasions work together for a shared goal? You bet! My friendship with Robert Samery, one of the founders of the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), is a great example. Not only is CAFE the largest financial supporter of my documentary, Erasing Family, but I had the pleasure of tabling with Robert at many conferences. I’m impressed by how he is able to talk to anyone. He created an organization that is not only bold in its initiatives, but friendly and welcoming!
So, what’s in CAFE’s secret sauce? Canadians are just nicer, eh? Between screenings of my film Erasing Family at the American Psychological Conference, I was able to ask some questions about working with feminists, domestic violence groups, and building a broad coalition for family court reform.
Ginger: Robert, can you tell me about the mission of the Canadian Association for Equality?
Robert: We deal with equality issues in general and focus on boys’ and men’s issues in Canada. We are a boys’ and men’s issues organization- not a men’s rights organization. Family law is one of our main areas of focus.
Ginger: Have you seen any shift in the understanding of the general public since you’ve started working on family court issues?
Robert: When I started dealing with these issues about 15 years ago, there was denial that this was even an issue. This is no longer the case. People now have more understanding in how lack of equal-shared parenting can cause harm.
It’s more than just family courts and laws that keep fathers and children apart. Other somewhat unexpected institutions do too (The Conversation, 6/14/19). Professor Jessica Troilo of West Virginia University tags schools as one of the those that make it hard for dads and kids to maintain meaningful relationships following divorce.
Troilo makes a funny, sad and trenchant observation, one that had never occurred to me.
By the time Father’s Day takes place, the school year is usually over.
She rightly calls that an “apt metaphor” for the way schools often treat fathers.
Troilo has conducted a bit of research. She only interviewed 20 fathers, so her findings are scarcely definitive, but listening to those fathers suggests much.
“My son’s school never calls me,” one father told me in a statement that could be emblematic of the plight of noncustodial fathers.
By Don Hubin, Ph.D.
Viruses, whether of the biological or computer variety, are bad. But “going viral” can be very good, especially when what is going viral is good for children. And, it looks as if the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas is “patient 0″ for a virtuous virus that is, fortunately, spreading to some of its neighboring counties.
Last year, National Parents Organization (NPO) conducted a study of the standard parenting time guidelines that each Ohio domestic relations court is required to establish. We wanted to see which courts were promoting equal shared parenting—a model of separated parenting that decades of scientific research show is usually best for children whose parents are living apart.
On June 7, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law Senate Bill 318, a shared parenting bill to take effect in January, 2020. Initially, there was some skepticism about how significant this achievement was. The bill, as signed, adds just one clause to Oregon’s parenting plan laws. It says:
“In developing a parenting plan under this subsection, the court may order equal parenting time. If a parent requests that the court order equal parenting time in the parenting plan, the court may deny the request if the court determines, by written findings, that equal parenting time is not in the best interests of the child or endangers the safety of the parties.” ORS 107.102(4)(c)
The first sentence does not grant Oregon family law courts any power that they didn’t already have. The significance of the new law rests on the second sentence.
My Daughter’s Keeper is the true story of Mark Winkler’s rocky road through family and dependency courts in New York.
When Mark Winkler says, “I didn’t win,” he couldn’t be more right. Yes, he eventually got primary custody of his daughter Kisha and yes, he seems to be the type of father we’d want every kid to have. But the heartache and anguish he had to endure to get custody, the long hours in court, the sleepless nights wondering what misadventure would come next mean he “won” nothing. Everything he now has cost, if not blood, then certainly sweat and tears.
In fact, no one won. His little daughter didn’t win. Several years of her young life included witnessing emotional abuse between her parents. That time would have been shortened had Winkler not been so scared of family court. He’d heard the horror stories and hung onto a relationship with Kisha’s mother that he otherwise would have abandoned years previously. Then Kisha spent two months when she never saw her father. That was followed by countless visits from and to the child-protective agency (OCFS), mental health professionals, lawyers and courtrooms. The little girl’s life became a whirlwind that started with parental conflict and broadened into the whole panoply of family and dependency courts and everything they entailed.
Kisha’s mother didn’t win. Although she was entirely to blame for ending up with only minimal visitation, she went through as much heartache as anyone.
The taxpayers of New York didn’t win either. Mark Winkler is a thoroughly decent father, not without flaws, but unquestionably suitable to care for his daughter whom he loves to distraction. But proving those facts to a couple of judges and numerous caseworkers, supervisors, lawyers, therapists, etc. took an outrageous six months in one trial alone, plus other hearings, meetings, mediations and the like. How much that cost the State and City of New York, is anyone’s guess, but whatever the figure, the taxpayers didn’t win either.
Everyday I am contacted by parents who are suffering greatly because they cannot see their beloved children after divorce or separation. For some, it has been months. For others, decades. Finding the family courts to be of no help and few resources, they are desperate for their story to be heard. In an attempt to capture attention, they often start their stories with the same words:
“My Parental Alienation story is the worst you ever heard.”
As a documentary filmmaker (www.ErasingFamily.org) I have seen parental alienation stories end in suicide, murder, murder-suicides, and worse (don’t ask). Trust me, you don’t want to be in the competition for worse story.
By making each story exceptional, we fail to effectively communicate that these stories share many factors: histories of family trauma being played out in custody battles, the failure of the family courts to intervene, lack of resources, and societal pressure to “lawyer up” and “protect what’s yours”. When we fail to communicate what the stories have in common, we are unable to effectively push for legislative reform-default shared parenting-and moving away from an adversarial family court system. Politicians, academics and family court professionals aren’t moved by an exceptional case, they are moved by data and patterns.
Decisions about whether and when to use daycare can influence custody decisions when parents divorce. Parents often struggle with these decisions in any case and they can be more fraught when the parents separate. Both parents might be working more because, as we all know, it costs more to live separately than together.
Imagine a divorcing father; let’s call him ‘Bob’. Bob works full time during regular business hours but, being a highly engaged father, he asks the court for equal shared parenting. He’s managed to rearrange his work hours so that, on the days his parenting plan has the children living with him, he can be home by the time the older children get out of school. But his plan would require him to use the daycare provided by his local church six hours a day for two or three days a week for his youngest. Bob’s soon-to-be-ex tells the court that she’s planning to remarry, quit her job, and be a stay-at-home mom for her children and those of her soon-to-be-husband.
Few publications I’ve read deal adequately with the issue of paternity fraud, but this piece is an exception (VeryWell, 7/12/19). It’s an accurate and informative article that men, particularly young men, should familiarize themselves with.
Paternity fraud occurs when a man is led to believe he’s the father of a child when in fact he’s not. Fortunately, few women engage in the practice, but when one does, she can give rise to a host of ills for him, the child and the biological dad.
Misattributed paternity can be devastating for men who have spent years believing they are biologically tied to a child, only to later learn that they actually share no DNA. In addition to the emotional pain caused by paternity fraud—which affects the biological father, the non-biological father, and the child at the center of it—victims of misattributed paternity may have been paying child support for years.
A criminal justice approach to domestic violence hasn’t ameliorated the problem and may be making it worse. We need to find other methods of addressing DV if we’re to reduce its incidence. That’s the gist of this much-needed article by Professor Leigh Goodmark (New York Times, 7/23/19).
She argues for a more sensible approach to intimate partner violence. Goodmark doesn’t mention the fact, but any such approach would significantly improve the system of divorce, child custody and parenting time. For decades now, claims of domestic/sexual violence – aka “the silver bullet” - have been understood by family lawyers to be a tactic in wresting custody from a disliked ex.
The points Goodmark makes are scarcely new. That the decline in DV rates is attributable not to the criminalization of the problem or mandatory arrest policies, but to the overall decrease in violent crime has been noted many times since at least 2006.