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 28, 2019 by Tony Bickel, National Parents Organization of Wisconsin
As Wisconsinites, we can be proud of how separated Wisconsin parents address and fulfill their financial obligations for their children.
According to the Department of Children and Families website dialog box of current support obligations, Wisconsin parents ranked high compared to all 50 states. Although Wisconsin isn’t at 100% yet, the rate has been trending upward for years now.
Many studies have been done on the value of shared parenting and its positive effects on children, including emotional stability, academic success and significant reductions in drug use and juvenile delinquency.
Recently, the National Parents Organization put out a report card rating each of the 50 states on the prevalence of shared parenting statutes for children with separated parents. Wisconsin received a B-. Although this is above the average, it is a reminder that we must continue to strive for improvement and education on meeting the needs of children in homes without both parents living together.
Read the rest here.
September 30, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors
We need fathers in children’s lives. The epidemic of fatherlessness that’s descended on this country and made itself right at home is the single worst social problem we face. About a third of divorced or separated fathers have no contact with their children. In too many ways to count, that’s bad for kids, bad for dads, bad for mothers and bad for society. Fatherlessness is accomplished in many different ways, from divorce courts to adoption laws to child support laws and to, yes, this (Fox17, 8/21/19).
Nashville native Antonio Davis is a fine and loving father. His two kids will tell you that.
To his son and daughter, Antonio Davis is everything.
His daughter Antonia describes him this way: "By having him as my father, that's the best thing I could have, and I'm truly lucky to have him."
That’s great, but just because Davis is everything we’d want a father to be doesn’t mean our system of laws and practices respects him or what he has to offer children.
Eighteen years ago, Davis had a relationship with a woman who goes unnamed in the article. She announced that she was pregnant and that Davis was the father. As we’d expect of a man like Davis, he stepped up and signed a paternity acknowledgement. That meant he was admitting paternity and committing to support the child.
September 29, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Professor Joan Meier wants readers of her study to conclude from its findings that family courts are in the throes of a crisis of their own making. That crisis, according to her, is the widespread denial of custody to mothers, even when fathers are abusive and especially when fathers claim mothers to be alienating the children.
The core findings from this study provide strong support for the critiques of family courts’ handling of cases involving mothers’ claims of abuse by fathers. The data show that courts are excessively skeptical of child physical and sexual abuse reports, are likely overly skeptical of domestic violence claims, and sometimes award custody to known abusers. Overall, mothers reporting abuse – particularly child abuse - are losing custody at high rates.
But can we draw those conclusions? Since Meier nowhere attempts to define domestic violence, child abuse or child sexual abuse, what exactly are the cases she included in her study referring to? She calls men accused of DV and those who’ve been found to have committed DV “abusive,” but what does that mean? As I said last time, a person, male or female, who shoves an intimate partner has committed domestic violence, but how concerned about that should we be? Should a child lose that person as a parent simply because of that shove? The Administration for Children and Families reports every year that mothers commit more child abuse and neglect than do fathers. Should they all lose custody?
Plus, just because one person commits domestic violence or child abuse doesn’t mean the other parent didn’t as well, but Meier’s method of gathering data largely ignores the fact. So yes, Dad may have spanked the child, but what did Mom do? Perhaps nothing, but perhaps she’s equally or more abusive. Whatever the case, Meier’s data fail to let us know.
Finally, does the study reveal a crisis in family courts? Let’s look at Meier’s findings.
September 28, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Last time I pointed out that the author of the study on which the Washington Post article is based, law professor Joan Meier, claimed that “fathers have been winning far more than mothers for decades and that joint custody or shared parenting is already the overwhelming norm in state family courts.” There is of course no data to back up those transparently untrue claims and much to refute them. Still, it’s valuable, when assessing the validity or lack thereof of a person’s study, to know their mindset.
So Meier and colleagues set out to learn what happens in family courts when a mother claims, in the course of custody proceedings, that a father has been abusive, either to her or the child or both. They also wanted to know to what extent counterclaims by fathers of parental alienation by mothers affected case outcomes.
They relied exclusively on published case opinions – 4,338 in total – 84% of which were appellate cases.
From the outset, the study is dogged by methodology that likely renders its findings of little or no value. As law professor Nicholas Bala pointed out, when using nearly all appellate cases, Meier, et al automatically introduced selection bias into their sample. Bala called their sample “very skewed.”
Worse, nowhere is “abuse” ever defined. According to the study, apparently all claimed abuse was equal in severity. While domestic violence is never acceptable, no effort was made to differentiate between the most brutal beatings and or verbal abuse, between repeated abuse and a one-time argument in the midst of a divorce. That’s an obviously fatal omission. In minor cases of DV, a judge is right not to permanently deny a child contact with the offending parent. There is a new consensus forming that people who commit acts of domestic violence need to be held accountable, but most importantly help and treatment so they can form healthy relationships.
The Post article said that Meier isn’t saying that judges’ findings about whether or not DV occurred were wrong, but nowhere does that realization, or its consequences for her findings, make it into her write-up of the study.
September 27, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Last time I began discussing an article in the Washington Post that makes the remarkable claims that (a) claims of domestic violence, child physical abuse and child sexual abuse by mothers result in their losing custody to abusive fathers and (b) much of that comes about due to fathers’ allegations of parental alienation that is a “controversial claim.” For the most part, Post writer Samantha Schmidt reports those claims unquestioningly. Her sole “balance” consists of a quotation from law professor Nicholas Bala who points out that the study that’s the article’s raison d'être relies on selection bias to make its claims.
Now, that fact alone should be enough to render the study questionable at best. I’ll say more about the study in a future piece, but for now I’ll only point out that it was conducted by law professor Joan Meier who’s not only long been a frank enemy of fathers maintaining meaningful relationships with their children following divorce, but is willing to make some quite astonishingly untrue claims in order to do so.
Back in December of 2017, Meier wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in which she said,
The reality is that fathers have been winning [custody] far more than mothers for decades and that joint custody or shared parenting is already the overwhelming norm in state family courts.
Seriously, she said that. In writing. Never mind that there’s literally no serious evidence for anything she said. Never mind that the best study ever done of court decisions when compared with parents’ requests in court, Maccoby and Mnookin’s Dividing the Child, found that courts grant mothers’ requests for custody at four times the rate of fathers.
September 24, 2019 by Chad Phillips, National Parents Organization of West Virginia
With the release of National Parents Organization’s 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card, it remains clear that there is still much work to do in West Virginia. Many states are moving closer to shared parenting as the norm in family courts. However, West Virginia lags behind, receiving a grade of C-.
There is effort to improve our family court system, but most changes are met with resistance. Some improvements include legislation pertaining to false allegations of abuse, as well as a change in parental responsibilities pertaining to custody percentages.
According to several professional studies, shared equal custody benefits children greatly after a separation or divorce. Our children deserve to have as much meaningful time and contact with both their parents before, during and after a separation regardless of the attitude of the parents. The best protection for the children in West Virginia would be new legislation providing equal time with both parents in temporary and final court orders, assuming there is no proof of a history of abuse.
Proof is important. We wouldn’t send someone to prison for bank robbery just because they were accused. They are entitled to due process, which includes a trial. If found guilty, they pay the price for their crime.
Family court doesn’t have to meet the same burden of proof, however. Children are often removed from a parent’s life over a false accusation. All children need protection from all adults in their lives whether it be parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches or their medical providers.
Read the rest here.
September 26, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
It’s one of those “Advice from a Lawyer” columns, this time in the Northwest Herald, an Illinois publication. The issue? “I want to know where my child support goes.” (Northwest Herald, 8/23/19)
It’s an important issue for many, many non-custodial parents paying to an ex. We often see fathers or mothers complaining that “I pay every month, but when I see my child, she’s dressed in rags and hasn’t eaten recently.” Or words to that effect.
Put simply, the fact that non-custodial parents don’t know “where my child support goes” is one of the major reasons why obligors don’t want to pay. They have the sense that what they pay is spousal support, not child support.
So what’s the response to the query? This: you may want to know where your child support goes, but you can’t. The state makes no provision for answering your legitimate question. It assumes your ex is using the money for the child, but if they’re not, well, you have no recourse. We’ll shout to the heavens about how important supporting a child is, but what’s actually important to states is that money be transferred from one ex to another. Once that happens, we couldn’t care less what the recipient does with it.
September 19, 2019 by Matt Hancock
The last 17 months have been nothing short of historic for the state of Kentucky and the topic of shared parenting. On April 26, 2018, Gov. Matt Bevin signed the nation’s first, true shared-parenting law, which provides children of divorce/separation a rebuttable presumption of joint custody and equal shared-parenting time with both parents, as long as they are fit and able caregivers. To celebrate and emphasize this amazing achievement, on April 26 of this year, Bevin issued a proclamation to establish this day as Shared Parenting Day in Kentucky.
As momentum from the new law has swept across the state, we have learned that it’s one of the most popular laws we have. A recent poll in Kentucky by National Parents Organization asked the question, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: A child would benefit from having equal time with both fit parents following divorce?” The results were a staggering 84% answering “yes.” In addition to its popularity, the new law has seen decreased conflict in family court since it went into effect. Family court filings are down 11%, and domestic violence claims are down 445 cases.
This is all great news because as a proud Kentuckian, I always hate hearing when our state is ranked last or near the bottom in any given statistical category. And it was no different back in 2014 when National Parents Organization released its Shared Parenting Report Card grades. Kentucky came in with a D-, which was good for 48th best in the nation at that time.
Read the rest here.
September 23, 2019 by Jason Griffith
The horns and trumpets are playing louder than ever before in continued celebration of the new shared parenting law in Kentucky, the nation’s first true shared parenting law.
National Parents Organization has released their Shared Parenting Report Card grades for each state, and Kentucky is the first state to ever receive an A. What makes the A even more remarkable is that we received a D- grade in the last report card back in 2014. Continuing with this great news is that we have new statistical data showing family court filings are down 11% and domestic violence claims are down 445 cases since the law’s inception.
The new law is gaining popularity by the day with Kentucky taking the lead in shared parenting, helping to provide for happy and healthy families here in the bluegrass state. I’ve had the greatest opportunity to keep the family structure alive with the help of the new shared parenting law. Parents can now be looked at as a loving parent, instead of being looked at as a second class citizen, which is what some parents are relegated to by the family court system when shared parenting is not granted to a fit and able caregiver. National Parents Organization recently conducted a poll in Kentucky with one of the questions, “Do you agree or disagree with the law that it is in the child’s best interest to have as much time as possible with both fit parents in instances of divorce?” And the response was an astounding 83% agreeing.
Read the rest here.
September 11,2019 by The Staff of the Oldham Era
People going through a divorce or breakup often face a difficult choice. Should I stay to protect my children or leave to protect myself? No person, mom or dad, should have to face that choice. Fathers are more likely to face another level of issues such as false abuse or domestic violence claims.
In fact, Kentucky’s citizens said that false abuse claims were not uncommon “to gain an advantage” in custody cases by 61% to 13%. Mothers have their own unique issues. If they leave, they may lose custody of what they love most, their children. Additionally, non-custodial moms face the stigma that goes with not being their children’s caregiver.
However, healthy moms and dads want to be parents after their families end. Kentucky recently became the first state to make that easier by passing the nation’s first true-shared parenting law.
Shared parenting is defined as joint custody, which is equal legal decision making, and equal parenting time. Kentucky stated last year what we all know that children need both parents if the adults are healthy. It seems so obvious that it is hard to believe it was truly a bold step.
Now, the results are in from Kentucky’s bold shared parenting step. The year before Kentucky had any shared parenting laws, 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.
Read the rest here.
September 25, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD
Two bills passed the New York Legislature this session making it easier for adopted kids to contact and get to know their birth parents. This article lauds both as a step out of the “stone age.” (New York Daily News, 8/9/19).
In the flurry of progressive bills passed at the end of the legislative session, a historic confluence in family law slipped by unnoticed. Two bills passed that reflect a sea change in how we understand adoption. They would put New York at the forefront of recognizing that adoption should be about expanding, not obliterating, family ties.
One would allow adoptees to access their “long form” birth certificates and therefore know who their biological parents are. That of course would allow them greater access to the two people who brought them into the world. Many, many adoptees bemoan their inability to know their biological parents and experience the absence as an acute loss.
The second adoption bill that passed is more controversial, though it stems from the exact same idea as the first: we should allow adoptees to embrace their origins as well as their new families. An increasing percentage of adoptions are of children in foster care. In contrast to private adoptions, which are voluntary, these adoptions result from the government severing the legal relationship between parent and child. Traditionally, terminating parental rights — called “the death penalty” of family law — has meant an abrupt end to the parent-child relationship, even when, as is often the case, the children lived much of their lives with their parents, visited with them while in foster care, and remain strongly bonded to them.
So the second bill would allow kids adopted out of foster care to maintain relationships with the parents whose rights were terminated.
National Parents Organization (NPO) released , the first of its kind to analyze and rank each state on its child custody statutes. This Shared Parenting Report Card study was motivated by the impact that family courts have on children. The focus was on how each state addresses the promotion of shared parenting in its legislative statutes, and Hawaii’s “C-” grade that year was a bleak reflection of the lack of progress we’ve made towards better outcomes for our children.
Five years later, the has been released, and Hawaii still has made no significant progress.
The consensus among leading child development research organizations confirms that children do best when they have equal access to both loving, fit parents after divorce or separation. Hawaii has fallen behind on this issue, and children are suffering because our elected leaders have failed to make shared parenting a priority.
NPO has compiled some of the best studies available on this matter, viewable on our website, and the data is clear. The well-being of children is directly impacted by their ability to have meaningful relationships with both parents. Shared parenting and a legal presumption of equal parenting time is best for children in most cases.
Read the full article here.
September 24, 2019 by Maressa Brown
No one can argue with the fact that successful co-parenting benefits everyone involved—especially a child whose parents continue to share responsibilities post-separation or divorce. Unfortunately, many state governments appear to be the last ones onboard with this conclusion.
According to a new report card on shared parenting from the National Parents Organization (NPO), a third of states received a D+ grade or worse for how well their child custody statutes encourage an arrangement where children spend equal time with both parents after divorce or separation.
The report card served as an update to the organization's 2014 evaluation of states' statutory provisions encouraging shared parenting, which they defined as an arrangement where both parents have equal responsibility for raising their child(ren). "We define shared parenting as, at a minimum, a parent has a third of the time with a child," says Ginger Gentile, deputy executive director of the National Parents Organization. "We're getting away from the 1950s model of the kids are with one parent, often the mom, and they often see the visiting parent on the weekends."
The good news: NPO pointed out that over the past five years, 13 shared parenting bills in nine states have been signed into law. Meanwhile, the number of states that are considered "shared parenting" states (which means they got a C grade or higher) increased from 26 in 2014 to 34 in 2019.
The bad news: Seventeen states got Ds or Fs.
Read the full article here.
September 23, 2019 by Linda Reutzel, Member, National Board of Directors
Kentucky’s monumental passage of the Shared-Parenting bill last year has been deemed the most “popular” vote in the state. According to an August 30, 2019 opinion piece in Kentucky’s Courier-Journal, the Administrative Office of the Courts has issued a report that shows a reduction in domestic court cases by 11% and a reduction of 445 cases of domestic violence since the full law took effect. Missouri, the Show-Me state, has clearly been shown.
Two key and influential Missouri state lawmakers, Senator Wayne Wallingford and Representative Kathy Swan are continuing to rise to the challenge in making effective change on this issue here at home. They will kick-off a viewing of the powerful and gripping documentary “Erasing Family,” in Cape Girardeau in October 2019. The documentary explores trauma experienced by children when a loving, fit parent is erased from their lives due to separation and divorce. This launch of the documentary in Missouri is fittingly in their corner of the state. Additional screenings will continue as the documentary goes on the road.
More and more Missouri elected officials are turning their attention to the critical and frequently intertwined issues of social justice and criminal justice and this provides every opportunity for the legislation that these lawmakers will file again in the 2020 session to be a top priority in the Missouri Assembly. The policy change simply starts with a premise that there are two fit parents, provides a judge with discretion to determine otherwise, and additionally, provides a built-in mechanism for a rebuttable presumption
September 23, 2019 by Dave Edmondson, National Parents Organization of Texas
The just released 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card gave our great state of Texas a not so great C-. Our poor showing contradicts the principle of equality that is at the absolute core of American and Texan ideology.
No, this isn’t going to be a discussion about egalitarianism, or the war between liberal and conservative values. This is a discussion about children and what’s in their best interest. It’s a discussion about a child’s right to have both parents equally represented in his or her life, working together, helping them become the best person he or she can possibly become.
In the earliest years of learning and childhood development, we teach our children the concept of right and wrong. We teach them about differences and the importance of tolerance and acceptance. From these lessons our children learn important foundations for social skills and self-esteem. They develop their own perceptions of the world and a moral outlook with which to compare and contrast everything. At the root of these teachings, we show our children and hope that they embody the notion that we are all created equal.Read the rest here.
September 23, 2019
PHOENIX – A parents' rights group rates Arizona one of the top states for policies that encourage shared parenting in child custody cases.
The National Parents Organization recently issued a report card on family court policies that gave more than a third of U.S. states a failing grade for not giving both parents equal access to their children.
Ginger Gentile, the group’s deputy executive director, says NPO gave only two states – Arizona and Kentucky – a grade of 'A' for statutes that promote shared parenting.
"Most states are still failing their children by not ensuring that parents have equal access as the default,” she points out. “This means parents have to go to court to fight to see their children, or if they cannot afford to go to court, they might lose out on access altogether."
Gentile says the group promotes joint custody arrangements, where both parents have equal standing in raising children after a separation or divorce.
Read the rest of the article here.
As other states move ahead on a crucial matter of social justice, Massachusetts lags behind by failing to promote shared parenting for parents who do not live together.
The absence of a father is a stronger predictor of a troubled life journey for a child than is race or poverty. There is little reason to expect changes in rates of divorce or childbearing outside of marriage such that 25% of children grow up without a father in the home. But we can help these children immensely by enacting shared parenting — a flexible arrangement that ensures that a child spends no less than 35% of her time with each separated parent, if both parents are fit and there has been no domestic violence.
Abundant research from at least 18 countries has shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the great majority of children do better with this arrangement, despite the best efforts of loving single mothers.
The 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card, a just-released study of all 50 states by National Parents Organization, shows that many states have moved forward in the past five years on this critical matter, with nine states having passed legislative changes since 2014 that improved their grades, on average, from a D+ to a B-. There has been no change in Massachusetts custody law despite years of advocacy. While shared parenting legislation has passed the Massachusetts House at least twice, it has died in the Senate each time.
Read the rest of the article here and please comment on the newspaper’s site.
September 22, 2019 by Don Hubin, Chair, National Board of Directors
National Parents Organization (NPO) published the 2019 NPO Shared Parenting Report Card, and the news for Ohioans isn’t great. The Buckeye state received a middling “C,” the same grade it received in the NPO study five years ago.
That’s no surprise. In those five years, the Ohio legislature has made no improvements in our laws dealing with post-separation parenting.
NPO researchers evaluated the statutes of Ohio, the other 49 states and the District of Columbia to determine the degree to which those laws promote the well-being of children by encouraging separated parents to share as equally as possible in rearing their children. NPO then graded the states’ statutes based on 21 factors that encourage or discourage shared parenting. The average grade for all of the states is a disappointing “C-.”
Read the rest of the article here and please comment on the newspaper’s site.
September 20, 2019 by Josh Blumenthal, Co-Chair, National Parents Organization of New York
National Parents Organization has just released its latest report card grading each state on its shared parenting statutes. New York and Rhode Island were the only states to get an F.
F is not for Family Friendly. F is for Failure.
Per the report, “New York has no statutory preference for, or presumption of, shared parenting (joint legal custody and shared physical custody) for temporary or final orders...New York has no explicit statutory recognition of shared parenting, joint legal custody, shared residential custody or similar concepts."
States receiving As not only encourage shared residential custody but create a presumption of equal parenting by parents living apart. Many states fall short of this ideal, but give a legal preference for or strong encouragement of shared parenting.
Read the rest of the article here.
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%.