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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globe-magazine-cover-07-31-11The Boston Globe Magazine today printed a letter from Fathers and Families supporter David A. Bardes concerning his experiences with shared parenting. Bardes wrote:

While the pundits argue from one side or the other, my ex-wife and I have actually been doing shared parenting for seven years. We fired the lawyers and told the family courts to mind their own business.

The results can best be voiced by my daughter, who was interviewed for an article at age 15: "Compared to my old life,' she said, "shared parenting is not just one of the best things that has happened, it is the best thing that has ever happened to my family.'

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In Pennsylvania, terminating a father's rights can be as easy as one, two, three. In this case, the Superior Court outlines the steps a mother needs to take to rid the child of a pesky father for the purposes of placing the child for adoption (Leagle, 7/27/11).  Hint: the procedure works particularly well if the father is poor. The child's father, S.G. and mother, R.B. lived together for a time and conceived a child.  That was in the summer of 2009, but the pair broke up shortly after that, with R.B. moving out of their residence in November.  "A few weeks later," R.B. went to court and requested and received a "protection from abuse" order (PFA) against S.G, alleging that he behaved violently and threateningly against her and her child by a previous relationship.  As far as the court's opinion indicates, S.G. was not present at the hearing on the PFA, although he later pled guilty to "harassment" and received yet another no-contact order. The original PFA expires December 10, 2011, which suggests it's a two-year order. Meanwhile, R.B. refused to let S.G. know where she was or provide him any contact information. Shortly before the child was to be born in late April, 2010, R.B. contacted Bethany Christian Services about placing the newborn for adoption.  Bethany then contacted S.G. who informed them that he did not agree to the adoption and would seek custody of the child after it was born.  The adoption agency then bowed out saying it didn't take part in custody disputes. But sadly for S.G., he'd lost his job and was in such dire financial straits that his telephone service was disconnected.  He told Bethany that he intended to hire a lawyer to seek custody, but the attorney's fee was $2,500, so he never did. Four months after the child's birth, the adoption agency contacted R.B. and told her that by law, enough time had passed that she could then terminate S.G.'s rights and place the child for adoption.  So Bethany went to court to terminate S.G.'s rights to his son. The trial court refused to terminate his rights, but the Superior Court reversed it with instructions to terminate S.G.'s rights.  Here's why: It seems that, under Pennsylvania law, a father must do certain things in order to preserve his rights to a newborn child.  If he fails, he will lose his parental rights if,
In the case of a newborn child, the parent knows or has reason to know of the child's birth, does not reside with the child, has not married the child's other parent, has failed for a period of four months immediately preceding the filing of the petition to make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed during the same four-month period to provide substantial financial support for the child.
Notice that I've been referring to the termination of the "father's" rights, whereas the statute uses the gender-neutral "parent."  Could this be used against a mother?  Well, it's possible, but the likelihood is vanishingly small. That's because the section of the statute refers to a newborn and the person whose rights are to be terminated is the parent who doesn't have possession of the child, i.e. the parent who's required to maintain contact with the child and to pay support.  As a practical matter, the person who walks out of the hospital with the child and keeps the child with her during the early part of it's life, is the mother.  Can it be otherwise?  Yes, but what are the chances?  How many fathers have used this section to terminate the parental rights of mothers?  My guess is none. Back to S.G. and R.B.  At least two of the things the statute requires the father to do to avoid having his parental rights terminated - live with the mother and marry the mother - are strictly governed by her.  He may passionately desire living with and marrying her, but if she's not of the same mind, there's nothing he can do about it. S.G. didn't provide support for the child - not because he didn't want to but because he couldn't.  First, he didn't have the money since he'd lost his job.  Second, no one explains how he's supposed to provide money when he's under court order to have no contact with the mother. And the same holds true for his obligation to "maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child."  Remember, the child is an infant; to contact the child, S.G. had to contact the mother.  Had he done so, he'd have been put in jail for being in contempt of the PFA. The Superior Court says he should have had his attorney contact the mother.  But he couldn't afford to hire an attorney.  More to the point, the court never explains what having an attorney contact a four-month-old child would have accomplished.  Surely the purpose of the statute is to promote father-child contact by terminating the rights of those who don't see their children.  Having an attorney go visit the child has nothing to do with that; it lifts form over function. And it's hard to miss the fact that the court never says that, had S.G. hired an attorney who then contacted R.B., its ruling would be different. So the rules for single mothers wanting to terminate a father's parental rights are straightforward.  First, get a PFA.  That seems pretty easy given that S.G. wasn't present at the hearing when his liberty was so severely compromised.  Oh, and when you're getting your easy, do-it-yourself PFA, be sure to only allege actions on the part of the father that occurred in private and would produce no objective evidence of their occurrence.  So things like shouting, threatening and minor domestic violence are best.  That way, if he ever does get into court, it'll be his word against yours. Next, armed with your PFA, move to a place he doesn't know about.  That way, if he does want to violate the PFA and see his child, he can't.  He also can't send support to a person whose whereabouts he doesn't know. Third, do your best to obscure your delivery date.  The PFA prohibits him from being anywhere near when his child is born, but the birth date begins his four-month time frame in which to attempt to secure his parental rights.  No, if you're trying to cut the dad out of his child's life, it's best to leave him in the dark about just when the child was born. As I said, those steps work particularly well when Papa is poor.  Dads with a little in the bank can hire attorneys who presumably know the law, and that can be so inconvenient to a mother who just wants to get a child and its father out of her life. Again, this statute is aimed directly at fathers, not mothers.  In Pennsylvania as in so many states, the rights of single parents depend on possession of the child and mothers are almost invariably the parents in possession.  That means they exercise effective control over fathers' rights. The case of S.G. and R.B. is just the latest of countless similar cases in which laws and courts bend over backwards to separate fathers from their children.

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In this case, a mother's parental alienation of two children cost her custody of them.  Here's the New Jersey appellate court's ruling upholding the trial court.  If you want to read it, block out some time; it's 100 pages long. But at that, it's shorter than the trial court's ruling that ran to 109 pages.  In many ways, it's just a run-of-the-mill custody case in which the mother tries to hijack sole custody by claiming sexual abuse of the children by the father.  In others it's a case history in the many uses and abuses of family courts by litigants. The sheer numbers are alarming enough.  For example, the divorce and custody case took four years to complete, if indeed it's complete yet.  That included some 70 total days of testimony and dozens of expert witnesses.  When all was said and done, the pseudonymous father had custody of the two girls; the mother was ordered to psychotherapy and was given only very limited, closely supervised visitation thereafter.  Into the bargain she was ordered to pay the father over $1.5 million in attorney fees and an additional $300,000 plus in expert witness fees.  That comes to over $1.8 million and seems to be some sort of record in the annals of Garden State divorce law. So in that way, "run-of-the-mill" scarcely describes the case. I suppose lesson No. 1 from the case is "however bad custody cases can be, they're made that much worse by the presence of money." Father and mother are apparently well-known ophthalmologists, which means they're pretty well-to-do.  Or at least they were before the litigation started.  Indeed, it's one of the appellate court's many points that the mother's conduct of the case so depleted the family's financial resources that, by itself, it constituted an assault on the best interests of their daughters who, after all, continue to need their parent's support. The appellate court called her conduct of the custody matter a "vindictive rampage" that ran the gamut from repeated false allegations of child sexual abuse to a blizzard of unnecessary and time-consuming motions to the employment of numerous "expert" witness the trial court found to be unqualified, "incompetent" and biased.  Oh, and let's not forget the questioning of the children about their supposed abuse.  That was repeatedly conducted by the mothers' witnesses, expert and lay, in violation of the protocols established years ago by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse in conjunction with the American Prosecutor's Research Institute.   The children were asked leading questions by interviewers who had allowed themselves to be tainted by receiving the mother's views about the claimed abuse ahead of time.  Of one of the mother's better experts, a psychologist, the appellate court said she "was not and could not be a neutral observer."  The trial court said she was "evasive" and "deliberately false" in her testimony. Yet another expert witness called on behalf of the mother had her testimony excluded altogether, so shoddy was her interviewing of the girls and so complete was her disregard of the interviewing protocols which the court said she "deliberately circumvented."  That expert was Dr. Joyanna Silberg whose conclusions about the validity of the abuse allegations the trial judge described as "not remotely supported" by the evidence. So much for the good news.  Mom was far worse.  Among other things, her false allegations managed to separate the girls from their father for at least ten months during which time she tried to convince two mental health professionals to diagnose him with borderline personality and narcissistic disorders, even going so far as to inform one that another had already done so.  This the appellate court called "diabolical."  Trust me, courts don't usually use that term for parents, even bad ones. Her over ninety conversations with the children in which she coached them in the details of the abuse led the appellate court to say she'd engaged in "continuing, coercive and suggestive manipulation of the children."  The court went on to describe her as "not credible," acting "in bad faith" and referred to her repeatedly "deceptive conduct." All of that, the trial and appellate courts both saw, was nothing less than a blatant and wholly dishonest effort to deprive the children of their father. In short, mix the usual ingredients of a bitter custody battle and heat over a hot fire of money and this is what you get - an abuse of the children, abuse of the courts and abuse of - in this case - the father.  From the hair-raising descriptions, it's obvious that the trial court got the outcome right, but at what a cost! And that's odd because the two started off at least somewhat amicably.  They hadn't been married too many years before problems arose and the mother consulted some dozen divorce attorneys in the early years before Dad finally filed his complaint for divorce.   Before that, they'd separated and had a custody agreement under which he got the kids three days out of every week.  During their entire marriage, there were no allegations of abuse by Dad until he filed for divorce and - Presto! - out they came. As I said, except for the extremes to which Mom went, this is sadly not that unusual.  We've seen it all before. But one (of many) thing that got my attention was the appellate court's description of the events leading up to Mom's getting her restraining order against Dad.  The pair were still married, but separated; Dad had the children for a time and returned them to Mom's house.
On September 25, 2005, father brought the children home after a visit. Shortly thereafter, a dispute arose over whether he should put the children to bed alone because M.M. (one of the daughters) was upset and reluctant to let mother leave the room. The parties agree that, after some argument between them, father touched mother's face and kissed her just before leaving, telling her the marriage was "done," though mother recalled the action as more aggressive than did father. According to mother, M.M., who had been standing near her when father left the house, assured her later that night that she would "protect" mother from father. Mother promptly obtained a temporary restraining order ("TRO") prohibiting father from contacting her or the children on the basis of that incident.  
Say, that was easy.  Dad took Mom's face in his hand, kissed her and said something like "this marriage is done."  And that's grounds for a restraining order under which he can't see his children, nor they him, for ten months. In this case, Dad had enough money to fight both his vindictive ex-wife and the divorce and custody system that asks nothing of a mother who wants her husband removed from his children's lives -no evidence, nothing that remotely could be called a threat, no physical violence, nothing. Needless to say, most fathers aren't in the financial position to do what this one did - dig his heels in, hire the best lawyers he can find and fight hard in the hope that the truth will prevail, as it ultimately did. But watch for this, coming to a website near you.  Part of the anti-dad crowd is a small group for whom every allegation of abuse by a mother against a father is the truth.  (Here's a description of the group Glenn Sacks did earlier this year.)  Never mind the lies, the deceptions, the manipulations of children.  Never mind the multiple investigations by courts, mental health professionals, the police or child welfare agencies that show the claims to be unsupported.  Never mind subjecting little girls to repeated pointless medical examinations.  And never mind the fact that the allegations never arise during marriage, but only when child custody is on the line. No, to the "believe the woman" group, all of that is just fluff.  What matters - the only thing that matters - is one vindictive woman's say-so. So don't be surprised to find this case added to their already lengthy list of those in which "abusive fathers get custody." Thanks to David for the heads-up.

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wgtk-logoFathers and Families" Robert Franklin, Esq. criticized the SCOTUS Turner Child Support Decision on WGTK AM 970 in Louisville, KY (7/11/11). We now have the audio---to listen, click here. The interview starts at 3:45. To learn more about the decision, see Franklin's recent post Supreme Court: Indigent Parents Owing Child Support Not Always Entitled to Attorney.

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The roles of men and women in the American family are changing, at least somewhat.  That means societal concepts of those roles and it's judgments about male and female behavior are changing too.  Unsurprisingly, that leads to confusion on the part of both sexes about how to be a father or a mother. That's the big picture of what Dr. Peggy Drexler tries to deal with here (Huffington Post, 8/1/11).  Unfortunately she comes off as confused as everyone else. We've seen pieces like hers before.  In a nutshell, they argue that a father who's disconnected from his children gets a free pass from society, but a mother who does so is scorned.  There's probably a germ of truth to that.  It can't seriously be argued that our society looks at fathers and mothers the same. And indeed, fathers do much more paid work than mothers do, which takes them out of the home more than mothers.  Mothers opt out of work, either permanently or for a period of years, much more than do fathers.  That's all well documented, and both shapes and reflects societal expectations of mothers and fathers. Since those expectations apply to each sex, it doesn't make much sense to look only at one, but that's what Drexler (like many others) does.  So for her, leaving your kids is something that fathers get to do and mothers don't, due to some unidentified form of societal shaming. If she'd taken a minute to view things from the dad's point of view, she'd have noticed that fathers generally don't want what one woman Drexler cites called "the freedom the arrangement would give her."  That freedom Drexler said "intoxicated" her. But most fathers don't want to be away from their kids or "free" of them.  They want to be with them.  Most mothers do too.  So exactly who are these women who want no part of the children they bring into the world? Well, that's hard to tell because, while she writes at length about them, Drexler nowhere tries to identify just who these mothers are.  Are there a lot of them or a few?  Are they older, younger, better educated or less so, urban or rural, white, black or hispanic?  She doesn't say. Drexler does cite a study claiming that there are 100,000 "walk-away moms" in the United Kingdom, which is frankly very few, particularly when compared to the number who do the opposite, i.e. stay at home in order to care for the children. In the U.S., the Census Bureau puts the number of stay-at-home-moms at about 5.7 million, and far understates the real number at that.  (To be called a SAHM, a mother needs to have done no paid work for the previous year and had her main task be the rearing of children.  Therefore, if a mother worked even one day out of the previous 12 months, she's not categorized as a SAHM.) Plus, Drexler seems to be confusing mothers who literally walk away from their children to pursue other activities with those who merely work a lot.
Women in combat. Women in space. Women taking national and international assignments for their companies. Women pursuing opportunities, passions and -- in the case of female soldiers -- a sense of patriotic duty. All of that, of course, is simply women following paths long open to men.
Aside from the fact that Drexler apparently believes that women serve in combat, which they don't according to military regulation, she's right; women are indeed doing all of those things and more.  But she elides the difference between that behavior and "walking away" from children She views working long hours to support children and leaving them altogether to be just "a little further along the continuum of choice over children."  No, it's not.  Bringing home the bacon is a loving, caring act, not to say a necessary one.  It is that irrespective of who performs it, mother, father or both. Leaving a child is different.  It's not loving, it's not supportive, it's not caring.  It's probably selfish. The fact that Dr. Drexler fails to see that speaks volumes, and one of the things it says is that she's trafficking in the same stereotypes she believes she's attacking.  After all, if she really believes that working long hours is just another form of child abandonment, then she must agree with courts that routinely penalize fathers for doing just that. Until Drexler realizes that what fathers typically do for their children is just as valuable as what mothers typically do, she's just recycling the same old stereotypes, all the while bemoaning the fact that they're not changing. And while we're on the subject of fathers and divorce court, I wonder where Drexler and the women she cites get the idea that losing your children to the other spouse constitutes freedom.  She refers to at least two "walk-away" mothers, but doesn't tell us whether they're paying child support. Fathers use a lot of terms to describe the system of child support in this country, but "freedom" isn't one of them.  Words like "slavery" and "debt peonage" come up pretty often, but not "freedom." And her failure to look at any but the distaff side of the issue blinds Drexler to the fact that fathers who care for children have at least as much difficulty with society's expectations as do walk-away mothers.  But for her the coin has only one side and that side shows only the difficulties women face. All of that is too bad, because the interplay of changing times, changing roles and social mores and accepted ways of being can be interesting stuff.  But the fascinating ideas those things can generate will never be served by ignoring half of the population or half of the problem. Contrary to what Drexler and the others may think, this is not about women alone.  Women alone do not suffer the confusion of changing sex roles.  She might consider the concept that men and women are in this together. What's true is that over the course of many decades, we've moved much closer to equality of the sexes than ever before.  What's also true is that that movement has consequences far beyond those anticipated when the movement began.  One of those consequences is that women can and should do more paid work than before; another is that fathers can and should do more childcare.  And each can and should reap the benefits of having done so. Well, we've done a lot of the former, and very little of the latter.  As Drexler rightly points out, our society "is easily accustomed to women in challenging, male-dominated and even dangerous jobs..."  But we're nowhere near being accustomed to fathers getting primary custody of children. Aside from the irony that those who most actively promote women in the workplace also oppose fathers' rights, courts, laws and innumerable practices stand between fathers and children.  In so doing, they stand between women and greater achievement in paid work. Society has gotten ahead of itself.  It's leapt forward on women's rights without checking with its people to see if they were ready to call fathers and mothers equal.  So far the answer is 'no.'  If that's how it stays, we'll inevitably see the erosion of women's gains. I would never argue for any parent to walk away from any child.  But when it comes to changing roles in the family, strangely, Drexler's "walk-away" moms, may be heading in the right direction.

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If Kris Bucher was raped by Jessica Fuller, should he have to pay child support?  That's the question that's about to go before a Florida appellate court.  The exact question has never been asked before.  Read about it here (St. Petersburg Times, 7/31/11). This is not a just a case of an older woman having sex with an underage boy, although legally it is that.  We see that frequently and when children are conceived, the boy is required to pay support despite the fact that, in the eyes of the law, he was too young to consent to sex. That happened in Kris Bucher's case, because he was 17 and she was 18 when the incident occurred, but there's more.  He says Fuller forcibly raped him on the night of January 6, 2006.
Jessica remembers the exact date she first met him in the halls of Hudson High School. It was Aug. 25, 2003, her freshman year.
"You don't know it yet, but you are my future boyfriend," she said to him a day later.
The following morning, he was waiting for her at her bus and by lunch time, they were inseparable.
Kris had never had a girlfriend before. He wore glasses and was kind of geeky. She was outgoing and had auburn hair and hazel eyes. His world shrank. She was it.
Their relationship was tumultuous. They fought, broke up and always reconnected. In between, she dated other boys.
They joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at their high school. They talked about one day getting married, having kids. They first had sex in early May 2005 in the back seat of his 1997 Mazda 626. He was 17, she was 17.
She got pregnant later that year, but miscarried two months later. She remembers the hospital, Kris standing there. He looked pale, scared.
That incident convinced both of them to refrain from sex.  Into the bargain, a doctor told them in December of 2005 that "Jessica would now be particularly fertile, so they decided to avoid sex."  But that changed a short time later.
On Jan. 6, 2006, Jessica and Kris fought and she broke up with him again. He was in love, he said, and he begged her not to leave him. So she invited him to her church youth group meeting that night.
Their friends drove, but the church was closed, so they headed to Hudson Beach in Pasco County. The other couple went for a walk.
Kris and Jessica sat in the back seat. He said he was looking out the window at the smooth water when she got on top of him and said: "You know you want me."
The passenger seat in front of him was tilted back at a 45-degree angle. She used one arm to pin him down, he said, the other to unzip his pants. At the time, he said, he was 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds and she was heavier.
"At any time do you make a statement to her about you will not have sexual intercourse with her?" asked his lawyer, Kerry O'Connor, at the hearing.
"I told her, 'No, I do not want this.' And that's when she said, 'It's going to happen.' "
"And did you specifically use the word 'no'? "
"Absolutely . . . several times."
He said he tried to push Jessica off. He said he tried to pull the door handle to open the car door. He said she slammed her hand over the lock. He said it was over pretty fast.
After a delay, Kris notified a sheriff's deputy who seemed skeptical of his story, but promised to follow up.  He never did. A few weeks later, Jessica learned she was pregnant and she and Kris sat down with his parents to explain.  They now say she admitted to forcing him to have sex.
How did this happen? his mother asked. The doctor had told them to be careful. They had agreed to refrain from sex.
Kris, his mother and his father all say that at that moment, Jessica admitted that she forced Kris to have sex against his will.
"I made him," Connie Bucher recalls her saying.
Today, Jessica Fuller denies forcing Kris to have sex with her that night. The two broke up and Kris has had nothing to do with the child, a boy, who was born to Jessica, and she's never asked for his help or companionship.  But she is asking for his money to support the child whom DNA testing has proved was fathered by him.  She moved to Michigan, but eventually started receiving welfare and that means the State of Michigan wants Kris' money to reimburse it for its outlays to Fuller.  Kris and his attorney say he shouldn't have to pay to support a child that was conceived despite his repeated "no's."  So far, the Florida trial court disagrees.  There's no provision in the law to absolve a man or boy from paying to support a child his sperm helped produce when the sexual encounter was forced by the woman. And in other jurisdictions, men have been forced to pay for children conceived when, for example, they were unconscious, or when the woman surreptitiously retrieved semen from a condom and used it to inseminate herself. So my guess is that Kris Bucher's odds of winning his child support case are slim at best. Let's be clear about some things.  First, it's a very common misconception that men or boys can't become sexually aroused in a coercive situation.  Anyone who's ever been a 16-year-old boy knows that's pure bunk.  Here's a good article by Tracy Clark-Flory that corrects some of those misconceptions (Salon.com, 8/3/11).  Indeed, it's long been known that women too can be aroused and even have an orgasm during rape. In Bucher's case, no criminal charges were ever brought against Fuller, and of course she's entitled to the presumption of innocence.  In family court, Bucher has the burden of proving that the encounter wasn't consented to by him. But at this point, we're not dealing with the facts of the case.  We're dealing with the law that seems to hold that, even if Kris could prove beyond doubt that Jessica raped him, it would make no difference in his child support case.  She could have held a gun to his head in front of 100 eyewitnesses and he'd still have to pay.  Such at any rate is my guess, and the trial court's decision corroborates it. This of course is the logical extreme of what we see throughout American jurisprudence regarding fathers and their children.  I've said it more times than I can count - mothers control fathers' parental rights.  We see it in divorce and custody cases, paternity fraud cases, adoption cases and child support cases.  We say that parents have rights to their children, but in case after case, the exercise of those rights by fathers is placed, not in their hands but in mothers'. What, after all, could be more controlling than what Jessica Fuller did to Kris Bucher, if she did? And it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why.  It looks suspiciously like Jessica Fuller wanted a baby and did what it took to get one.  Remember, the doctor had told them she was particularly likely to get pregnant if she had sex, and she did, apparently over the wishes of the underage boy she was with.  So she knew that she was likely to conceive.  Then there's this:
They remained together, Jessica said, for about a month afterward, until Kris discovered that Jessica had had sex with another guy that same night. They didn't see each other much after that.
So she had sex with Kris and then with another guy the same night.  According to evolutionary psychologists, that's a classic strategy to enhance the possibilities of pregnancy.  It seems that sperm from different men tend to compete harder to fertilize an egg than those of just one man.  That means a higher likelihood of conception. I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure, but from here it looks a lot like Jessica Fuller's earlier pregnancy and miscarriage likely encouraged her to try again.  The doctor's advice told her it was a very good time to conceive and she did what she wanted to do so.  In short, this doesn't look like an accident. The law on child support relies mostly on biology, although not exclusively.  If a child has a man's DNA, he'll be expected to pay, regardless of how that came about.  But should Kris Bucher suddenly decide he wants to play daddy to the boy his sperm helped produce, he'll learn that biology isn't so important after all.  He'll get acquainted with the term "best interests of the child," and the fact that they require his virtual absence from the boy's life.  In less highly evolved times, that was called a shell game. And so it goes.  Across the spectrum of family law regarding fathers and children, fathers find their parental rights given to them and taken from them by the actions of the mothers of their children.  Nowhere else in law do we place the rights of one adult in the hands of another.  Until we stop doing that, until fathers have rights that they alone choose to exercise or not, we can't pretend that we're an egalitarian society.

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It had to happen; it just had to.  Joe Walsh, Freshman Republican Congressman from Illinois, is reported to owe over $100,000 in back child support.  Whether he does or not, the report that he does has produced a plague of fevered opinion-making on the subject of child support. Predictably, the outrage, both real and feigned is directed one way - toward the "deadbeat dad" narrative.  Here's one example (Chicago Sun Times, 8/3/11). Now keep in mind, I think parents should support their children and if Joe Walsh or anyone else is avoiding legitimate child support debt that he can afford to pay, I don't have a bit of sympathy for him.  And I must mention that, after the story broke, Walsh took the opportunity to publicly pretend that the whole thing was a politically-motivated hit on him by the "liberal media." I have no doubt that opponents of Joe Walsh and his Tea Party backers are tickled pink at the revelations.  After all, it's a bit rich to be hectored on fiscal responsibility by a guy who seems to have none of his own.  So Walsh should drop the pretense that, whatever the motivations of reporters and the papers they work for, he should get a pass for failing to pay what he legitimately owes. And if that's all there were to it, I wouldn't be writing about the subject.  But it's not.  Predictable as the sunrise, the linked-to article traffics more in myth than reality. For starters, the headline tells us that the Walsh saga "sums up (child support) enforcement issues."  Really?  The writer makes the claim and then drops it, providing no support for the proposition. Then of course there are the obligatory references to "deadbeat dads."  Does the writer not know about all the "deadbeat moms" out there?  Or does she, at this late date, opt to ignore them, the better to denigrate fathers?  I'll put my money on the second horse. Worse, writer Mary Mitchell is so incurious about her subject that she never once wonders how Walsh got so far behind, particularly since his oldest child was 15 when he and his wife divorced.  She asks not a question about the process of trying to modify support.  She shows no interest in or awareness of the problem of interest and fees that often dwarf actual support amounts. No, she's got a two-part mission - taking down fathers generally and Joe Walsh in particular.  Again, if there is a single mother in the country who doesn't pay her child support, Mary Mitchell doesn't let on about her.  That's in spite of the fact that, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, mothers are as likely to default on their support obligations as are fathers. She's similarly dismissive of Walsh's claim that he's broke, a phenomenon that Mitchell calls "crying poor."  Well, I certainly don't know Walsh's financial condition and neither does Mitchell, but he's had a condominium foreclosed on and owes his campaign manager $20,000.  So it doesn't look like he's rolling in dough. If true, that would put him in the same category as almost all of the fathers and mothers who've fallen behind on their support payments.  Overwhelmingly, they're poor too. As I've said before, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement reported that 63% of child support debtors report earning less than $10,000 and 79% report earning less than $20,000.  That led the OSCE to demand that courts start issuing orders that non-custodial parents can actually pay.  It also pointed out that the best way to keep everyone current was to establish summary procedures for modification based on changed circumstances. That one report would tell anyone who read it that the problem of child support arrearages has a lot less to do with "deadbeat" parents than with poor ones.  Lack of money, exorbitant interest rates plus an intransigent court system that doggedly refuses to make modifications fast, easy and cheap to obtain guarantee that we'll have a mountain of unpaid child child support.  And we do. Just to sharpen the point a bit, local law enforcement officials across the country periodically conduct "sweeps" of parents behind on their payments.  Those are much ballyhooed in the news media, but what often takes a backseat in the reporting is how much is actually grossed in the sweeps.  As I reported recently, in it's latest semi-annual sweep, the State of New Jersey grossed a grand total of 1.1 cents on the dollar of what's owed. What that tells us is that these people aren't deadbeats who can pay but don't.  They're people who didn't have much to begin with and likely got flattened by the latest economic downturn.  In short they're the kind of people Mary Mitchell likes to look down her nose at. Interestingly, Joe Walsh's lawyer made a similar point.
As bad as all this looks, Walsh"s lawyer claims that the congressman "had no more problems with child support than any other average guy.'
That sounds about right.

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[caption id="attachment_18052" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Peter Spitz and ex-wife Teresa Dickey, soon after they met in 1998."]peter-spitz-photo[/caption] "Spitz now has full custody of his son, thanks in great part to the aid and efforts of Fathers And Families an advocacy group that fights for the rights children to have both a mother and a father in their lives after a divorce..."--Huffington Post In one of the most outrageous injustices of our time, Peter Spitz (pictured right) was separated from his son and almost lost custody of him after his ex-wife shot him in the face and murdered his mother. Fathers and Families advised Peter, helped him get legal counsel, and also publicized his case, and we are pleased to announce that Peter has now won full custody of his seven-year-old son.

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koa-am-850-logoFathers and Families" Robert Franklin, Esq. criticized domestic violence policies on KOA AM 850 in Denver on August 3---to listen to the audio, click here. Franklin also criticized the media reaction to Catherine Kieu Becker's attack on her husband, where she cut off his penis and put it in a garbage disposal. Franklin says:

Most people viewed the incident with horror, but not so the five hosts on the CBS daytime show The Talk. From the instant host Julie Chen introduced the topic of Becker"s alleged attack on her husband, both panel and audience were laughing and applauding.

Host Sharon Osbourne called the man"s sexual mutilation "quite fabulous' and "hysterical.' Other panelists avidly joined the hilarity. One frankly said that sexually mutilating a man was appropriate in some situations.

For decades now we"ve been told 'There"s no excuse for domestic violence.' Yet, as the panelists on The Talk again make clear, women"s violence against men is routinely excused by popular culture.  It"s also overlooked by police, courts, and the news media.

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A court used parental alienation syndrome to cut off the alienated father's access to his child.   Read the case here (Leagle, 8/2/11). Richard and Marlene Balaska married in 1994 and had two children, a son, C, who was born in 1994 and a daughter, A, born in 1997.  Marlene filed for divorce in 2006 which was finalized in 2007.  Remarkably, Richard was granted far less parenting time with his children than is typical. 
During the school year, the defendant had visitation with the children once a week after school until 7:30 p.m., and one additional midweek evening per month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the summer, he had visitation twice a week from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. In addition, the defendant had visitation on alternating weekend days and holidays. The agreement did not provide the defendant with any overnight parental access.
It didn't take long for Richard to want more, so he duly went to court requesting a modification of the original order.  That took place during a time in which the appellate court says the two "engaged in classic, high conflict postdissolution litigation regarding family matters." After a 14-day hearing on various matters raised by Richard and Marlene, the trial court expanded Richard's visitation time with his son to that which is commonly ordered in custody cases for the non-custodial parent, i.e. every other weekend plus Wednesday nights.  This act of noblesse oblige was in response to the report of the court-appointed guardian ad litem Michael Perzin.
Perzin testified that when he visited with C at the defendant's home, C seemed to be "very happy, relaxed . . . [and] having a really good time." Following that visit, Perzin indicated in his notes that there was "no apparent reason why [C] shouldn't have expanded [visitation] time [with the defendant].. . ."
So based on that positive report, the court gave Richard the type of parenting time I've repeatedly argued is insufficient to sustain an adequate parent-child relationship.  My argument is supported by social science showing that the usual visitation order tends to result in a gradual lessening of contact and a diminution of parental authority. For Richard Balaska, that was the good news. The bad news was that the court ordered that he have no contact whatsoever with his daughter.  Why?  What outrage had he committed to be removed entirely from A's life?  Apparently none at all.  Indeed, the bad actor in the drama was Marlene whom the trial court judged to have so poisoned the girl's relationship with her father as to amount to hatred of him.
The court also indicated that it had performed "significant research" on the topic of parental alienation syndrome, particularly by reviewing several treatises and articles devoted to alienation. After summarizing that research, the court noted that this case presented facts consistent with alienation. In this connection, the court stated that the plaintiff's (mother's) "disdain, dislike [and] hatred of [the defendant] (father) was obvious to the court during her testimony," and that her "virtually radioactive" hatred toward the defendant had "poisoned" A. Moreover, the court found that, consistent with parental alienation, the plaintiff's feelings of hatred for the defendant had been transmitted to A.
In so doing, the court relied on this definition of "parental alienation syndrome."
Parental alienation syndrome "occurs when one parent campaigns successfully to manipulate his or her children to despise the other parent despite the absence of legitimate reasons for the children to harbor such animosity."
Therefore, the trial court found that there was no "legitimate reason for A to harbor such animosity" toward her father and that Marlene's "virtually radioactive hatred" toward Richard had caused A's animosity. The court's solution?  Reward Marlene's alienating behavior by cutting off all contact between Richard and his daughter.  After all, that's the ultimate goal of parental alienation - to get the other parent out of the child's life so the alienator can have the child all to him/herself.  So the court accurately observed alienating behavior, read up on PAS and promptly rewarded Marelene for having alienated her daughter from the child's father. Parental alienation is child abuse.  It's the intentional attempt to come between a child and its other parent, without justification for doing so.  That malicious effort to deny a child the love, affection, support and counsel of a fit parent is plainly abusive.  It can result in lifelong psychological problems.  The trial court studied parental alienation and PAS, but didn't get the message that both are harmful to children.  That in itself is amazing enough, but seems to fit nicely with the court's previous willingness to deny to Richard Balaska even the meager child access so many fathers have and that has been shown to be insufficient at sustaining healthy parent-child relationships. The silver lining to this case is the fact that the trial court saw PAS and, without being goaded by the lawyers, read up on the matter.  Better still, the appellate court found no error in its having done so.  Did anyone argue that PAS is a "discredited theory?"  If they did, it's nowhere stated in the court's opinion.  In fact, both courts seem to take the validity of PAS as a given.

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She's baaack!  Ellsworth, Maine prosecutor Mary N. Kellett is at it again. If you'll recall, she's the one who handled the Vladek Filler case.  Her charge of spousal rape against Filler was so badly handled that the trial judge overturned Filler's original conviction.  He was acquitted on all but a misdemeanor charge on retrial earlier this year. Filler's ex-wife Ligia made the claim of spousal rape in the course of the couple's divorce and custody cases.  Ligia had a history of mental illness and had made previous false accusations against boyfriends.  There was no physical evidence to support her charges because she refused to be examined.  Also, she made the claim many days after the alleged assault.  In short, there was an entire absence of objective evidence at trial, but that didn't deter Mary N. Kellett. It did deter the family court.  After Vladek Filler's original conviction during which Kellett committed repeated acts of prosecutorial misconduct that would eventually result in retrial, the family court gave sole custody of their two children to Vladek.  I'm not sure how many times family courts have given custody to men convicted of spousal rape, but it gives a good idea of how little the court thought of Ligia Filler. So the kids lived with Vladek while he awaited retrial.  The older one testified at the second trial that his mother had often assaulted Vladek, but not the other way around.  Vladek was acquitted of all but one misdemeanor count. Given the weakness of the case, it should never have been pursued by the prosecution in the first place.  Mary N. Kellett's multiple violations of ethical rules and apparent obstruction of justice are detailed in this analysis (S.A.V.E.). The analysis also includes at least eight other cases, all involving rape or sexual assault, in which Mary N. Kellett has either pursued a case without evidence, used fabricated allegations against innocent men or ignored obvious red flags such as allegations arising in the course of a custody battle that had occurred 10 years previously. Those were used in an attempt to have Mary N. Kellett disbarred earlier this year.  The complaint is still pending. Well, add this one to the list (sorry, no link available; all quotations from the Ellsworth American).  It seems that Keovilaisack Sayasane was charged by Mary N. Kellett with "terrorizing, assault and criminal threatening" of his wife.  But, as so often seems to happen, there were problems with Mary N. Kellett's case.  The biggest one was that the alleged victim, Sayasane's wife, intended to testify on his behalf.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker said he had expected Sayasane"s wife to testify favorably on his behalf July 20...
"She was going to testify very favorably to get him out of trouble,' Toothaker said.
But if you're Mary N. Kellett, you don't let a little thing like your only witness to the incident testifying for the defense get in your way.  So she got creative.
Two days before the trial was to start, the prosecution told the wife that Sayasane had killed his first wife, Toothaker said. The news "sent shivers up her spine, as it should,' he said.
But there was just one thing wrong with that bit of information - it was a lie.  Sayasane does have a 25-year-old manslaughter conviction, but against another man, not his ex-wife.  That part was added by Mary N. Kellett. The whole scheme backfired.  When Sayasane's wife heard Kellett's lie, she understandably backed off of her defense of him.  But when his attorney found out about Kellett's witness tampering, he moved for dismissal, which was granted.  Another loss for Kellett in a case that never should have been pursued in the first place. I wonder how much taxpayer's money Mary N. Kellett has wasted in her single-minded drive to ignore the canons of ethics and try every man accused by any woman regardless of how shaky the evidence. Her tampering with a witness in the Sayasane case should be reported to Board of Overseers of the Maine State Bar.  Kellett plainly violated ethical guidelines for prosecutors and should be disciplined.  The more complaints bar associations receive, the more likely they are to take disciplinary action.  From here, Kellett looks like a loose cannon.  Moreover, she looks like she's got an anti-male agenda. Consider this:  Vladek Filler's sentencing is scheduled for August 10th.  The prosecution (no longer Mary N. Kellett; she was pulled from the case for reasons I think I can guess) intends to seek the maximum sentence for the Class D misdemeanor of which he was convicted - one year hard time.  Vladek has no criminal record.  Plus, he's the sole custodian of two minor children. But as this article shows, the same prosecutor, Paul Cavenaugh, sought only a 30-day sentence for a female teacher who sexually abused a 13-year-old boy (Bangor Daily News, 11/21/08).  His reasoning?  She had children at home who'd be without their Mom.  Of course the kids also had a father as well as his mother in the home to care for them.  But when it comes to Vladek Filler's kids, Cavenaugh apparently believes they don't need any parent for a year.  Amazing. Of course Paul Cavenaugh and Mary N. Kellett are two different people, and the one shouldn't be tarred with the bad acts of the other.  But they also work for the same District Attorney's office, and that office time and again shows its willingness to try to imprison men based on patently unbelievable claims by women. The suspension or disbarment of Mary N. Kellett would be richly deserved.  It would also send a message to other prosecutors in Ellsworth, Maine, that her methods aren't acceptable.

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Both Time and the New York Times now admit that men and women do the same amount of paid and unpaid work.  Well hallelujah!  Here's Lisa Belkin's admission (New York Times, 7/25/11). Essentially all Belkin is doing is quoting a recent piece in Time Magazine, so that gives us a twofer. For decades now, advocates for women have been telling anyone who would listen about the "Second Shift."  Their theory was that women worked and slaved at the office all day - that was Shift 1 - and then had to come home and do all the housework and childcare - Shift 2.  They complained long and hard and sure enough, popular culture bought it.  Books, magazine articles and academic publications endlessly repeated the same thing - men are slackers while women toil in thankless obscurity. Just a couple of years ago, Parenting Magazine ran a thoroughly baseless article entitled "Mad at Dad" making the same claims.  Parenting conducted a survey of its readers whose methodology wouldn't pass muster in Sociology 101 and then ballyhooed the results that predictably showed lazy dads and moms who were mad because of it. Just a few months ago, there was an ad on television that featured Mom coming home at the end of the day looking exhausted.  She immediately began preparing to do her Second Shift as Dad lazed on the sofa.  Every icon of the myth was there. I can't count the number of pieces I've written debunking that myth.  It's just too easy to do.  All you have to do is look at the data produced every year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that when paid and unpaid work are combined, men and women do the same amount.  Men do more paid work, women do more housework and childcare, and the two added together are about as close to the same as possible. In vain did I and others point out the simple facts.  The myth was far more powerful and altogether more satisfying for those who want to see men and women as enemies.  After all, it's tough to pretend that women should resent men and also admit that the guys are supporting the women in something they're powerfully motivated to do - care for kids.  The actual data suggest that men and women get along, each supporting the other's desires.  According to study after study, dataset after dataset, women tend to prefer childcare to paid work, particularly when children are small.  Men tend to do the opposite, finding their greatest sense of accomplishment in paid work.  And the two tendencies work together.  Men do the lions share of the earning, but still know their children are in good hands.  Women do most of the childcare knowing Dad's earnings will pay the rent.  It's called a relationship, and it works. But advocates for women weren't having it.  For them, women were victims of layabout men and that was that.  If the data didn't support their claims, they'd come up with their own figures, and that's just what they did.  As Lisa Belkin admits,
Back then I cited the latest figures from the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households, which showed that the ratio of housework done by women to that done by men was about two to one, that the child care ratio was three to one and that both measurements had been at those levels for decades.
Yes, the NSFH was the go-to dataset for those whose aim was to find men wanting.  That's because of the way the data were arrived at.  The NSFH, like other similar surveys, asked respondents to record how much time per day they spent on certain activities.  And when it came to domestic chores the designers of the survey simply omitted much of what is typically done around the house by men but not by women.  That makes it easy to distort men's contributions, which those who cite the NSFH data are wont to do.  Here's a piece I wrote about that very subject last year.  I emailed the folks at the University of Wisconsin asking why their survey omitted so much of what men usually do around the house.  They replied that they didn't know why and that mistakes are always possible. That's something Lisa Belkin didn't take into consideration when she concluded, along with so many others, that men are slackers. Now, many years later, she's learned the error of her ways, and, to her credit, admits it, albeit through the words of the Time article's writer, Ruth Davis Konigsberg.
My conviction that I carried a heavier load was validated by similar complaints from my female friends as well as scholarly books and morning TV shows, all reinforcing what has become a global notion that working women -- and working mothers in particular -- toil much more than their partners. But what we weren"t seeing was that there was a mounting body of evidence that women were not, in fact, workhorse wives picking up their husbands" slack, that there are several variables in the dual-earner equation, debits as well as credits that need to be tallied in order to take a true measure of who does more...
… a year and a half into a new decade, it may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, to discover that on balance, husbands and wives have never before had such similar workloads. According to data just released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men and women in 2010 who were married, childless and working full time (defined by the bureau as more than 35 hours a week) had combined daily totals of paid and unpaid work -- which is to say, work at the office and all the drudgery you have to do at home -- that were almost exactly the same: 8 hours 11 minutes for men and 8 hours 3 minutes for women.  For those who had children under the age of 18, women employed full time did just 20 minutes more of combined paid and unpaid work than men did, the smallest difference ever reported. No, men were not doing the same amount of housework as women, but neither were women pulling the same number of hours at the office as men.
Finally!  Those simple truths have been known and reported by countless people, myself included, for years.  As gratified as I am to see the mainstream media finally get the message, their tone of miraculous new discovery rankles.  Face it Ms. Belkin and Ms. Konigsberg, this is not new.  If you'd been paying attention years ago, you'd have known it all along. Unfortunately, old habits die hard.  For Konigsberg and Belkin that means only looking at the distaff side of things.  That's what got them into trouble in the first place, so you might think they'd change their ways.  Nope.  Belkin sensibly asks, "Why, then, the lingering impression among women that inequity exists?"  Part of the "answer," according to Konigsberg is that,
Time diaries don"t take into account the stress women feel from being household managers, keeping that precisely calibrated family schedule in their heads at all times or knowing what"s for dinner, what ingredients are required and their exact location in the refrigerator.
Yes, and time diaries don't take into account the stress a man feels from wondering if the boss is going to make him work Saturday when he promised to take Johnny to the zoo or if that key witness will actually show up in court as promised. See?  That's what happens when you think about the other side of things.  Yes, women worry about stuff that they don't record in diaries for the BLS.  So do men.  But despite their best efforts, Konigsberg and Belkin just can't seem to grasp that simplest of concepts - look at both sides of the issue, not just your own. Neither do they seem to know about the recent findings of the Families and Work Institute that I've reported on.  Contrary to everything we've heard for decades, it's actually men who experience far more work-family conflict than do women.  In the FWI analysis of longitudinal data, 61% of men said they experienced significant conflict between work and family obligations while only 47% of women said the same.  In fact, over the years in which women's advocates have been complaining about the Second Shift, it's been men who've experienced most of the stress. But those are facts Konigsberg and Belkin overlook.  Maybe 10 years from now they'll write an article pretending to discover those facts too. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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Dr. Amy Baker says that "there is no question that parental alienation meets" the legal standard in many states.  Read her article here (Psychology Today, 7/22/11). Those who oppose the admissibility of PAS or the testimony of experts on PAS sound increasingly desperate in their attacks on it.  As I pointed out not long ago, another article in Psychology Today made blatantly false claims about PAS (it's only used by fathers against mothers) and cited long-out-of-date data in support of their claims.  Another tactic is to smear the originator of the term, Dr. Richard Gardner, who is now dead and can't defend himself or his research. The knee-jerk reaction to PAS has little or nothing to do with science and much to do with a desire to deny fathers custody of and access to children.  Anyone who reads even a little bit about PAS well knows that both mothers and fathers are guilty of alienating their children.  So the claim that PAS is nothing more than an attack by fathers on mothers' parental rights is flat untrue. What is true is that mothers have 84% of primary custody in this country.  Therefore, it is statistically more probable that it will be a mother who's alienating a child from a father than the converse.  So those opposed to fathers having access to children decry the growing awareness and acceptance of PAS as a blow to mothers' hegemony in family court.  But theirs is a losing battle and Dr. Baker's writing will give them little comfort. Her piece in Psychology Todayis less scientific than legal.  She points out that, generally speaking, there are two standards for the admissibility of expert scientific testimony.  Different states adhere to different standards.  The federal system and some states apply the Daubert standard, so named for a U.S. Supreme Court case almost 20 years ago.  The other is the Frye standard, named for a federal case in the 1920s, and used by certain states. The Daubert standard is stricter than the Frye standard because it was aimed at keeping "junk science" out of courtrooms.  Frye requires only that the particular scientific theory, technique, discipline, etc. be generally accepted as reliable within the relevant scientific community.  Baker says that parental alienation and its subset, PAS, unquestionably meets the Frye standard.
In light of the hundreds of articles (not all empirical) that have been published in this country and around the world, there is no question that parental alienation meets that standard. This is so despite the fact that there is some controversy regarding it. The reason is that much of the controversy is about various facets of the theory but not with the theory per se. For example, many of the critics object to PAS being included in the DSM or worry that PAS can be misused by the courts, or complain that too little is known about treatment.
Each of these arguments starts with the assumption that parental alienation exists, that is, that some children can be manipulated by one to reject the other parent.
That's a hugely important point.  The anti-dad crowd is fond of calling PAS "discredited."  That's their way of saying it hasn't yet been approved as a discrete syndrome or disorder for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 
A small handful of critics do disagree with the theory in toto but they are not social scientists nor do they offer compelling criticisms because they grossly misrepresent the theory and the background of Dr. Gardner, the person who coined the name for the phenomenon.
So yes there's a debate in the psychological community about whether PAS should be included in the DSM.  But there is no debate about the existence of parental alienation or its harmful effects on children.  That's why you see courts taking those things for granted when confronted with evidence of alienation. Baker goes on to sketch the Daubert requirements.
Other states rely on the Daubert standards for admissibility of expert testimony. Daubert presents criteria for deciding whether scientific testimony should be allowed; (1) validity, (2) reliability, (3) error rate, (4) falsifiability, and (5) peer review. According to my careful review of over 15 empirical scholarly studies, the twin concepts of parental alienation strategies and parental alienation syndrome do in fact meet the Daubert standards.  To date every case in which I am hired, my testimony is allowed because of the obvious face validity of the concept of parental alienation.
Interestingly, she concludes by saying
I have yet to be submitted to a Daubert hearing but I welcome the opportunity to submit the evidence to the courts regarding the scientific merit of the theory of parental alienation.
Well, it turns out that's no longer true.  Dr. Baker emailed Fathers and Families with some good news.  Recently she was called as an expert witness in a custody case in Massachusetts and the court, applying the more stringent standards of Daubert, approved her as an expert witness and accepted her testimony on parental alienation. In short, applying the strictest standard in the country for admissibility of scientific evidence, PAS, well, passed. As I said, it's cold comfort to the anti-dad crowd, but the science of parental alienation is there, it's growing and courts tasked with ascertaining the best interests of children aren't ignoring it.

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Within days, Danny Dimm will finally be reunited with his son Timber. It's only been a couple of weeks since I first reported that five-year-old Timber had been abducted for the second time in a year by his mother Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm.  Each abduction came shortly before her ex-husband was to have extended parenting time with his son.  Here's the latest article (Pioneer Press, 8/3/11).  And here's my first piece on the child's abductions by his mother. Danny and Wendi were married in British Columbia where he still lives and works.  Their son Timber has been diagnosed as mildly autistic.  When they divorced, Bartell-Dimm made allegations of child abuse against Danny, but those were investigated and found to be not merely unsubstantiated, but outright false.  At the time, the judge questioned Bartell-Dimm's mental stability, but still awarded primary custody to her. Shortly thereafter, she moved with the boy to Minnesota forcing Danny to travel to see his son.  Bartell-Dimm made that even harder by refusing to pay half of his travel expenses, despite a court order that she do so.  That meant two years passed with Danny only seeing Timber twice. So he went to court and got an order that he have unrestricted access to his son for three months in a row.  Bartell-Dimm responded to that by abducting the boy for the first time.  They were apprehended a few days later in a routine traffic stop. Despite her violation of the court's order, nothing was done either by the Canadian family court or by Minnesota police to punish her.  So when the family court once again ordered that Danny have months of unrestricted contact with Timber, Bartell-Dimm did the same thing, only this time more effectively. She abducted Timber some time in early June and seven weeks passed during which authorities had no idea of where she was and no leads.  There were no credit card charges, so she was clearly using cash.  Police at the time believed she must be getting help from someone, and private investigator Ed Wunsch of Hopkins, Minnesota thought he knew who. Wunsch runs an organization called Parental Abduction Child Recovery Team which specializes in finding children who've been abducted by their parents and returning them to the left-behind parent.  He thought Bartell-Dimm might have disappeared with Timber into a women's domestic violence shelter somewhere. Now police have found Bartell-Dimm and Timber and where do you suppose they were?  In a women's domestic violence shelter outside Sturgis, South Dakota. I contacted Wunsch and surprisingly, he had nothing to do with Bartell-Dimm's apprehension or Timber's rescue.  He'd been contacted by Danny and was preparing to meet with him when the good news arrived.  Wunsch told me that his understanding is that a woman at the shelter had become suspicious of Bartell-Dimm and, when she left the shelter went online to the site of the Center for Missing and Abducted Children and found Bartell-Dimm's name along with Timber's.  She then called the FBI in Sioux Falls who apparently made the bust. The linked-to article tells us that Bartell-Dimm and the boy were living there under assumed names which led me to wonder whether the shelter knew they were using aliases.  Wunsch told me that often women who come to those shelters tell the administration that they had to leave the house quickly and were unable to take belongings including identification.  That way they can give a false name to the shelter. Did the South Dakota shelter abet Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm's violation of the law?  Did people there conspire with her in her abduction of Danny Dimm's son?  Ed Wunsch doesn't know, but that's something local law enforcement needs to find out.  Bartell-Dimm was missing for about nine weeks.  If she was in that shelter for even half that time, someone should have figured out that something was amiss with her story.  (I spoke with one person connected with the shelter who told me he thought she'd been there about two months.) After all, how long do people in shelters usually go without contacting the outside world, without going to court for a TRO, without talking to police, lawyers, courts?  How long do they go without attempting to find work or a place to live?  How long do they hang around without identification and without attempting to obtain it. I don't know the specifics of Bartell-Dimm's abduction of Danny Dimm's son.  But those are questions the police need to ask.  Because if a domestic violence shelter abetted or conspired with Bartell-Dimm, someone there needs to pay a price. In that regard, Ed Wunsch told me about a case he worked on in which the police literally arrived at the front door of a DV shelter with a search warrant for a certain woman who'd abducted her child.  Simultaneously, shelter personnel were escorting her out the back door with directions to another shelter in another state.  That's criminal. Meanwhile, Danny Dimm traveled 20 hours to get to his son and he's now looking forward to their reunion.
"When I actually see him again, it will really hit me," Danny Dimm said Wednesday. "I don't know for sure how I will react. It's been a long road...and it's sort of coming to end."
Let's hope so.  Dimm's sister is coming from Toronto to be with him and Timber and apparently the whole community in which he lives has been following his case.  Timber looks like he'll have a full plate when he gets back to British Columbia.
He has enrolled the 5-year-old in a British Columbia preschool and has him lined up for pottery classes and piano lessons. He's also been eyeing a dog for Timber.
Bartell-Dimm faces one felony count of depriving Danny of parental or custodial rights.  The maximum penalty for that is two years in prison.  She's in jail awaiting extradition now. Needless to say, she needs to do some hard time.  She's done the same thing twice to a boy who's mildly autistic.  As I've said before, parental child abduction is child abuse, so Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm needs to be punished not only for what she did to Danny but for what she did to Timber. Once she gets out, she should have at most supervised vistitation with the child.  She's obviously a danger to him and has little respect for the orders courts make. Still, all's well that ends well and Timber is now where he should have been all along - in the loving arms of his father.

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Los Angeles County is committing a crime by its refusal to turn over records of its child welfare agency.  That's the opinion of the state auditor and the Los Angeles TimesHere's one article on the subject (Los Angeles Times, 8/1/11). The Times has reported that, since 2008, some 70 children have died of abuse or neglect after coming to the attention of the county's Department of Children and Family Services.  That, plus many other complaints about child welfare agencies in Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and Alameda counties prompted the state legislature to order that each agency be audited.
The audit is intended to be the most comprehensive probe in years seeking to identify whether systemic flaws contributed to fatalities in Los Angeles and other counties across the state. Lawmakers said it probably would result in legal reforms.
Fresno, Sacramento and Alameda counties have all complied with requests for records by the auditor, Elaine Howle.  Only Los Angeles County remains recalcitrant, refusing to allow a single record to be reviewed. That refusal is criminal according to the auditor's general counsel, Sharon Reilly.  It's also quixotic in the extreme.  The excuse offered by Los Angeles County is that the records are all protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore cannot be turned over to the auditor. Put simply, that's pure bunk.  It seems that the DCFS sent the files to outside counsel for review and according to them, that somehow cloaks them with the privilege.  But the privilege is meant to allow attorneys and their clients to speak candidly without their discussions being subpoenaed by hostile parties.  That's reasonable, but the privilege doesn't come into being after the fact. Simply put, all those DCFS records were created long before any attorney knew about them.  To allow attorney-client privilege to prevent disclosure to the auditor would blind every investigative agency from ever discovering documents relating to wrongdoing.  Think of Bernie Madoff.  What if he, when the feds were closing in, simply gathered up all the records of his Ponzi scheme and passed them to his attorney?  Presto!  He's cloaked with the privilege, the FBI and the SEC are in the dark and Bernie goes free. It doesn't work that way, and L.A. County knows it.  Officials there are stonewalling which strongly suggests they've got something to hide.  As with virtually every child welfare agency nationwide, I'll be surprised if they don't.  We'll know soon enough.
"But make no mistake, we will not relent in accomplishing our mission of performing the audit that we were directed to perform by the Legislature," wrote Sharon Reilly, chief legal counsel for state auditor Elaine Howle, noting that her office now intends to investigate Los Angeles even more deeply and broadly.
That's a certainty.  After all, the L.A. County DCFS receives 70% of its funding from the state and federal governments.  Its legal contention that the public entities that fund it aren't entitled to know what goes on behind its doors is too silly not to fail. Indeed, apparently the county's lawyers don't even believe it themselves.
County attorneys have privately told supervisors that a judge is not likely to agree that the documents can be withheld, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations. A majority of the board nevertheless urged lawyers to fight the disclosure because of fears that the material could be used in lawsuits accusing the county of failing to provide proper child welfare services.
That - the fear of civil suits - likely is the bottom line.  Like the Woody Iocavetta case in Arizona, when negligence by child welfare agencies results in the injury or death of a child, lawsuits get filed as they should.  Otherwise, the agencies would have free rein to act as they wish.  But headlines every day tell us that child welfare agencies throughout the country repeatedly fail the children they exist to protect.  Some of that can't be avoided; no one expects perfection from CPS.  But we're a long way from perfection.  Caseworkers are overworked, underpaid and undertrained for the important job they're tasked with doing.  That's a recipe for the disasters which all too often occur.  Laying bare those shortcomings and their sometimes gruesome consequences for all to see is the first step toward improvement.  Hiding the truth accomplishes the opposite. It's worth mentioning that governmental agencies have a way of preferring darkness to light.  They, like most people and organizations, like to operate in private.  But when you receive your operating budget from We the People, we're entitled to know what you're up to.  We're also entitled to make changes when necessary.  You can bet that both will be occurring in the Los Angeles County DCFS in the near future.  But not before a string of horror stories from the audit hits the press.

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michele-hobbs-and-daughter-lucy The Cincinnati-based LGBT nonprofit project OUTloud. is holding a fundraiser for Fathers and Families on August 27 as a way to thank us for our work publicizing the injustice suffered by lesbian social mother Michele Hobbs in her battle to remain a meaningful part of her daughter Lucy's life.

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Kevin Mengel gave his all to keep his family together.  Eventually he gave his life.  Here's one story (Delco Times, 8/8/11). According to police records, Mengel was murdered by his wife and her boyfriend on June 17, 2010.  The West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania man had had a stormy relationship with his wife, Morgan Mengel, throughout the 12 years of their marriage. That included his leaving her once and her filing for divorce and then withdrawing the petition.  They had three children, 12, 10 and 6. Friends and neighbors say that Morgan Mengel had numerous extra-marital affairs throughout the marriage and that Kevin knew about them.
"I"ve had him crying on my couch over this girl,' [friend Ryan Fitzpatrick] said. "He was aware. … I guess that"s where Kevin comes into play, that it was really, really important to keep his family together. He just wanted the family for some reason and that was the way it was going to be.'
"He was a very hard worker, very dedicated to his family. He just wanted to be a good father and a good family man,' Fitzpatrick said. "I saw him quite often when the business day was done. We would go over to his place, sit on the couch, play with the kids.'
Mengel owned and operated a landscaping business that his wife helped run.  That's where she met Stephen Shappell who is 12 years her junior.  He mowed lawns for the company, and co-workers report that it wasn't long before he and Morgan were having an affair.  That began in May; by June, Kevin told her he'd "had enough" and would move out of their residence.
[Detective David S.] Maurer testified that Morgan Mengel said he wanted her husband dead because she did not want to go through a "messy divorce" that would likely prompt her husband and his mother to seek custody of the children.
Given his powerful connection to his children (relatives say that Fathers Day was his favorite holiday), Kevin Mengel likely would have done just that.  And given Morgan's history of petty theft convictions, he might just have won.  In the past, she's had at least two convictions for theft and neighbors say she stole a blank check from them and made it out to herself in the amount of $300.  They never filed charges against her, settling for her repayment of the money. So Morgan allegedly convinced Steve Shappell to help her kill her husband.  According to police, she poisoned his bottle of Snapple that he drank at work.  The poison apparently impaired his central nervous system enabling Shappell to bludgeon him to death with a shovel owned by the landscaping business.  The two then buried his body in a field not far from the high school Shappell had attended just a few years before. Amazingly enough, the pair were texting each other during the commission of the crime.  Here's the exchange gleaned by police from their cell phone records:
6:22 a.m., Mengel to Shappell: We ready? 6:23, Shappell to Mengel: Yep at the shop now, al just pulled in. 6:24, Mengel to Shappell: K im jumping in shower. Ur not gona chicken out? 7:32, Mengel to Shappell: OK I told him i left his snapple there. Make sure u shake it. 10:08, Mengel to Shappell: He drinkin" it? 10:11, Shappell to Mengel: Ya kinda, really just waiting for him to bend over I have shovel in my hand haha. 10:33, Mengel to Shappell: U backin out? 10:39, Shappell to Mengel: It"s done get up here now. 10:39, Mengel to Shappell: Seriously? 10:42, Mengel to Shappell: Answer me.? 10:42, Shappell to Mengel: Dead serious. 10:42, Shappell to Mengel: Get up here now! 10:43, Mengel to Shappell: On my way. Pulse?
Morgan Mengel and Stephen Shappell are both charged with multiple counts including first and third degree murder and conspiracy.  Pennsylvania law doesn't permit prosecutors to seek the death penalty in this case due to the absence of aggravating factors.  Kevin's parents apparently told prosecutors they wouldn't want the two executed even if the death penalty were available. The three children are being cared for by Kevin's parents. On the surface, this is about the "eternal triangle" of husband, wife and lover.  As happens on rare occasions, one decides to take the life of one of the others. But that's not what this case is about.  It's about the kids.  If it hadn't been for the kids, Morgan Mengel could have divorced and gone her merry way with whomever she wished.  But the couple had three children to whom Kevin was passionately devoted.  With the numerous black marks on her record, Morgan likely figured she wasn't a shoo-in for custody so she decided to get their father out of their lives. Reliable social science shows that about 70% of divorce cases are filed by women.  It further shows that the reason women file more than men is that they know they'll get the kids.  Losing custody of the children is the most powerful force preventing men from initiating divorce.  So my guess is that Morgan Mengel saw herself in their place - likely to lose custody of her and Kevin's children. A couple of sidelights: First, there have been a good many articles written on this case by a couple of different publications.  So far I haven't found a single one that refers to the murder as "domestic violence."  That accords with almost every case of intimate partner violence perpetrated by a woman against a man.  The facts are reported, but the fact that the crime is one of domestic violence seems never to occur to the reporters or their editors. Second, Kevin Mengel's death will not be recorded as a spousal murder by law enforcement authorities.  It'll be called a "multiple offender homicide," meaning that two or more people participated.  That's perfectly accurate of course, but also skews the statistics on how many husbands are killed each year by their wives.  It seems that when women want to kill their husbands or boyfriends, they tend to hire someone else to do the job rather than doing it themselves. So while official statistics show that about 1,300 women are killed each year by their husbands or boyfriends and about 300 men are killed by their significant others, those statistics understate the number of men killed.  The actual number is higher due to the "multiple offender" category.

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"I spent almost 6 years in a field unit collecting and enforcing child support.   There was not one occasion in six years where I felt the non-custodial parent was treated with respect, let alone, fairness."--F & F Member Melissa Puntenney, former employee of the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division in Texas We've often criticized Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's notoriously abusive enforcement apparatus---to learn more, see our Houston Chronicle column When Beating up on 'Deadbeat Dads' is Unfair (1/7/07). Recently, however, Abbott picked the wrong target---longtime F & F supporter Melissa Puntenney, a former employee of the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division in Texas. When she first contacted Fathers and Families in 2006, she explained:

I spent almost 6 years in a field unit collecting and enforcing child support.   There was not one occasion in six years where I felt the non-custodial parent (95% of the time, the father) was treated with respect, let alone, fairness.  That is primarily the reason I resigned because I could no longer maintain my integrity and destroy people's lives, relationships with each other and mainly, their children.

Once Melissa told us of a Texas case where Abbott's office got a default judgment against a 16-year-old boy and declared him the father of children who were almost as old as he is! Earlier this year, Melissa told us that Abbott's office now had her foster son Keddrick Clemons in its sights. She wrote:

My foster son hooked up with a woman four years ago and apparently produced a child (or so she says)...He only saw her 3-4 times and then he never saw her again...All of a sudden, he gets served with papers---a "Petition to enter non-agreed child support order."  He was never notified to appear at anything before he was defaulted.

Now they stuck him with three years of back child support and medical support and are garnishing his wages.  He has to appear in court on Thursday where they may put him in jail for six months.

The mother is refusing a DNA test.  This kid makes $8.00 an hour and has custody of his daughter.  Do you have any suggestions?  He's really hurting right now. The kid could be his, but also might not be his, and now he has lost his chance for even a DNA test, even if I agree to pay for it.  He cannot possibly afford an attorney.  Any ideas?

Puntenney then went to work in defense of Clemons, and won a rare and stunning victory. We salute Melissa---Fathers and Families Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq. has the full story below. Together with you in the love of our children, Glenn Sacks, MA National Executive Director, Fathers and Families 'We Won!' TX AG's Office Apologizes for Wrongful Child Support Order Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office tried to railroad Keddrick Clemons; now it's tied to the tracks. Clemons's foster mother, Melissa Puntenney emailed me the good news.  "We won!"  Did they ever. Puntenney's story throws back the curtain from the inner workings of the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General of the nation's second largest state.  And it's not a pretty picture. Back on March 31, 2010, the AG's Office held what's called a Child Support Review Conference in Abilene, Texas to establish paternity for a little boy, Brody Anderson, who was then three years old.  His mother, Courtney Anderson had identified Keddrick Clemons as the father.  She'd identified two other men previously, but in both cases DNA tests proved them not to be the father. So she went to plan C, which was Keddrick Clemons, who was 29 at the time.  That would all have been OK, except Greg Abbott's office neglected to let Clemons know about the review conference.  The first thing he knew about it, Courtney Anderson texted him wondering why he hadn't shown up. Clemons called Greg Abbott's office to demand a DNA test.  He faxed them three times requesting the same thing.  They set a court hearing for July, and when Clemons called the AG's Office, he was told he didn't have to be there.  That wasn't true.  At the hearing, the judge issued an order establishing him as the boy's father and garnishing his wages to the tune of 50%. The AG's attorneys didn't mention his multiple requests for DNA testing.  In short, they got the judge to issue a default judgment against Clemons because he wasn't in court.  They also didn't send him a copy of the judge's order. To recap, in the space of less than four months, Greg Abbott's office had:
  1. Failed to inform Clemons of the review conference,
  2. Falsely told him he didn't need to attend the July hearing
  3. Failed to tell the judge why Clemons wasn't at the hearing
  4. Failed to tell the judge about his requests for DNA testing
  5. Taken a fraudulent default judgment against Clemons
  6. Failed to deliver a copy of the order to him.
I'd call that either world-class incompetence or something else - run-of-the-mill deception. Whatever the case, the Texas Attorney General's Office started garnishing his wages at the rate of 50% and intercepted his tax refund check from the Internal Revenue Service.  Keddrick Clemons was an $8-an-hour computer repair guy. At that point, Clemons picked up the phone and called his former foster mother, Melissa Puntenney, who had worked in the child support enforcement division of the Texas AG's Office from 1998 - 2004.  It turns out she knew a thing or two about how to get Greg Abbott's attention. Puntenney quickly figured out that the AG's Office was lying because they lied to her.  They told her they'd given Clemons notice of the first hearing, but when she asked for the letter proving that, they couldn't produce it.  They told her he'd never requested a DNA test, but she had the confirmation of their receipt of the faxes he'd sent. Eventually she got them to reschedule a court hearing on the issue of whether to do genetic testing.  When the two arrived at court, the lawyers for Greg Abbott redoubled their previous efforts at obfuscation and misrepresentation.  Puntenney explains:
When we got to court, they ushered him into this little room and told him that "it was over."  The Judge had not granted him a DNA test and she wouldn't. The AG's office could not request a DNA and the mother had denied even a private one. The only two options he had were to pay child support for the next 14 years, or terminate his parental rights. He came out of that room absolutely horrified.  He didn't know what to do and so I told him if they will not give you a DNA test and if the Court won't and if the mother won't, then you have no choice. Although you have no rights to terminate, it's basically your only option. The mother had hired an attorney to do the paperwork, so we went to the attorney's office and he signed it. He was devastated, but he felt he had no other choice. After getting back to Austin, I called the AG's office to find out what they intended to do with his IRS refund and when were they going to stop garnishing his wages, and the poor soul on the phone made the mistake of telling me that the Judge had ordered a DNA test, which had been ignored.
So the lawyers added lying about the judge's order to their previous malfeasance.   They then used that to get the man to terminate his parental rights. The one reason this turned out alright is the inadvertence of a functionary at the AG's Office who wasn't in on the lie. Armed with that, Puntenney started climbing the bureaucratic ladder, calling ever higher-placed individuals and threatening to go to the press.  Soon enough, the AG's Office agreed to file a request for an Equitable Bill of Review. Now, in Texas, an Equitable Bill of Review is the way a party can attack a judgment when the time for appeal has passed as it had in the Clemons case.  The kicker about an Equitable Bill of Review is that it can only be granted if the judgment was based on fraud or material mistake of fact. I can only say that it's rare indeed that parties attack a judgment favorable to them due to their own fraud.  It must be a first, but that's exactly what Greg Abbott's office did in Keddrick Clemons's case.  Puntenney says they "fell on their sword," which is about right. The lawyers came into court figuratively bowing and issuing mea culpas right and left.  The judge was none too pleased with their performance.  She actually asked Clemons what sort of sanctions he'd like her to issue against the AG's Office, to which he replied that he just wanted a DNA test and an apology. He got both, as well as a refund of the money they'd been holding pending the outcome of the test. The test turned up negative; Keddrick Clemons is not the father of Brody Anderson.

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"The constant reminders are all around Michele Hobbs' Prospect Hill home -- a puppy named Leo, a half-finished garden. Lucy's room is still just the way she left it, the fish she caught in a neighbor's pond still in the fishbowl. "At times, says Hobbs, it's overwhelming. Nearly every minute of the day, she says, she's reminded of the 6-year-old girl she considers her daughter but hasn't seen since the Ohio Supreme Court's July 12 decision that terminated her parental rights." [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Cover of the 3/3/10 issue of Cincinnati City Beat, in which the paper wrote a sympathetic article on Michele Hobbs' case."][/caption] Dave Malaska's new Cincinnati City Beat piece Life After Lucy: In historic case, lesbian co-parent loses rights to child (8/10/11) provides an excellent view of the new Ohio Supreme Court ruling in the Michele Hobbs child custody case. In that case, lesbian social mother Michele Hobbs has fought a long, hard battle against biological mother Kelly Mullen, her former partner, to remain a meaningful part of their daughter Lucy's life. We suggest you comment on the story by clicking here and also writing a Letter to the Editor at [email protected] We see Lucy's plight as being similar to the plight of millions of children of heterosexual divorce or breakup who have been unjustifiably separated or altogether cut off from one parent, usually their fathers. In a recent op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch, F & F Board Chair Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. explained:

Fathers and Families has no position on same-sex marriage. But we do have a position on same-sex ‘divorce."

Once a child has bonded with two adults as her parents, she is deeply and often permanently hurt by the sudden, court-ordered absence of one of her parents, regardless of the parents" sexual orientation, of which the child has no understanding.

Echoing the pain of millions of noncustodial parents, Hobbs told Cincinnati City Beat:

It's devastating. The sunflowers Lucy planted in the garden are blooming, and she's never going to see them. Her puppy is still here, her fish, all left behind. What's worse is that I know Lucy's probably hurting, too. She doesn't know what happened to me. I was there, then I'm not. No explanation...

A couple of weeks before (the court ruling), Lucy was walking up the stairs and stopped. She looked at me and said, 'I know my mommy doesn't like you, but if she ever doesn't let me come over, I'll get in my car and drive over anyway'...

I know she loves me. And I hope if anyone sees her, they tell her that I miss her and I love her.

Fathers and Families salutes Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who wrote the dissenting opinion in the case. According to City Beat:

Scott Knox, the Cincinnati attorney who had drafted many of the couples' earlier agreements and later testified in the case...[said] "There were so many indications of Kelly's intention to share custody, from the initial in vitro documents to estate planning, that included that phrase 'co-parent in every way'...Frankly, I don't know how broader you can make the statement...

Justice Paul Pfeifer...was the only member of the court to agree...

"Can an agreement that another person is a co-parent in every way possibly not include a right to custody? It cannot," Pfeiffer wrote.

He added: "Once a natural parent promises a co-parenting relationship with another person and acts on that promise, she has created a relationship between the co-parent and the child that has its own life. The natural parent cannot simply declare that relationship over."

He also pointed out that, in his view, the court hadn't given proper weight to Hobbs' documents, and too much weight to "a document that did not exist" -- Mullen's written revocation of Hobbs' "co-parent" rights.

"A maternal relationship existed between Hobbs and Lucy. Mullen taught her daughter to call another woman 'Momma' and to love her as a mother. She now wishes she hadn"t, and for the majority, that"s enough," he wrote. "It shouldn"t be."

Malaska writes:

The case, and the ruling, have grabbed its share of national attention and debate from unexpected corners.

Mullen drew support from Liberty Counsel, the Virginia-based nonprofit litigation and policy group affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University that has opposed same-sex marriage and gay adoption issues.

Meanwhile, Fathers and Families, a parents' rights group based in Boston, has supported Hobbs despite its focus on fathers' rights.

"Most of the public looks at it as a gay rights case," says Ned Holstein, the group's founder and chairman. "The Ohio court looked at it as a matter of what the technical definition of a parent is under law. We don't see this case through either prism. We look at it as a case of what's best for the child."

When a child identifies two people as their parents for such an extended period of time, Holstein says, it's best to maintain those relationships.

"You just don't yank a parent away," he adds.

Holstein says, while the decision in this case wasn't a surprise, it is a looming concern. With more than 12,000 children living with same-sex couples in Ohio, and thousands more nationwide, the same issues will come before judges again.

"Courts are more inclined to make sole-custody rulings, and most of the time custody goes to the mother,' Holstein says. "Where does that leave non-biological parents? They stand to lose, and so does the child.'

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Senator Rod Wright (left) receives Fathers and Families' 'California Senator of the Year Award 2010' from F & F legislative representative Michael Robinson (right)."][/caption] California Senator Rod Wright (pictured) and his legislative director Stan DiOrio held a phone conference with two dozen of Fathers and Families' California leaders on Wednesday. Beginning in 1996, Senator Wright has taken up the cause of family court reform and fought to bring justice to a very unjust system. He sponsored four family court reform bills last year, all of which passed and were signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, and he's introduced three more this year. Last December we gave him our "California Senator of the Year Award 2010." Both Wright and DiOrio praised Fathers and Families' work and said that we've helped change the political balance of power on family court issues in Sacramento. However, they both made it clear that there is much more to be done, and they want to see F & F continue to grow and build its organizational strength. Some of the issues that came up during the call included:
  1. A Visitation Enforcement Bill. We looked to do such a bill in 2011 and it is still a possibility for 2012. Wright pointed to this as one of the major inequities of the system, noting that "fathers are assigned little value as parents."
  2. Alimony "Double Dipping." Wright discussed inequities in the alimony system, particularly "double-dipping," which his SB 481 is designed to address--to learn more, click here. Wright said that despite media and public perception, alimony abuses aren't a gender issue, as successful women business owners and entrepreneurs are increasingly finding themselves being exploited financially by their ex-spouses. One of our members on the call is a talented businesswoman who currently faces being "double dipped" in her divorce.
  3. In response to a question from Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S., Founder and Chair of the Board of Fathers and Families, concerning how Wright's family court reform advocacy impacts his political career, Wright lamented the fact that endorsements from groups such as the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood carry a lot of weight but that there is no corresponding equivalent for family court reform advocacy.
  4. Paternity fraud. This is an issue which is clearly near and dear to Senator Wright's heart. He talked about his disappointment in 2002 when he got a paternity fraud bill all the way through the California legislature, only to have it vetoed by Governor Gray Davis. (To learn more, see our column Preserving Paternity Fraud, Orange County Register, 10/3/02). Wright noted that some of the problems in the system were subsequently changed via legislation and court cases. However, much needs to be done, and he pointed to the Schwarzenegger paternity case as an example. (To learn more, see our column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law, Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11).
  5. Wright praised the Colorado child support system, which he said is based around social workers, as opposed to enforcement agents. Under that system, fathers who are concerned that their child support money is not being used for their children can instead pay direct costs for their children, such as child care or into a college fund, and have it count towards their child support obligation.
  6. Welfare reform/paternity fraud. Wright explained that the 1996 Welfare Reform led to a widespread attack on men who were often inaccurately accused of parentage. (To learn more see our column Changes Opened a Paternity-Fraud Trap for Men, Baltimore Sun, 8/20/06).
  7. Wright emphasized the importance of father involvement for children and said he also wants to do more to promote shared parenting.
  8. Wright discussed the COAP program, which he helped create to assist low income parents struggling under the weight of artificially-inflated child support arrearages. To learn more, click here.
We are grateful to Senator Wright for his time and efforts and look forward to continuing to work with him on family court reform. Together with you in the love of our children, Glenn Sacks, MA National Executive Director, Fathers and Families

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The Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General's Office is motivated by quotas.  Not hiring quotas, but quotas for the number of paternities established and the amount of child support collected.  Everything else takes a back seat. That's the message I received when I talked at length to Melissa Puntenney the other day.  She spent six years, from 1998 - 2004, working in the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General's Office.  Puntenney went to work there after a long stint as a legal assistant to a Texas Supreme Court Justice.  What she told me is at once hair-raising and right in line with reports by others who have worked for child support enforcement authorities. One such person is Carol Rhodes who worked for years in Michigan's child support bureaucracy.  She wrote a book about her experiences and her take on the child support system there can be summed up in four words - "It's all about money."  Here's a piece I wrote about her. Puntenney told me that each unit in the child support division has to meet goals for paternities established and child support collected.  That's because failure to meet those goals means federal funding will dry up.  So everything is aimed at meeting those goals.  And people with goals to meet figure out all sorts of creative ways to meet them, and not all are legal. That's nothing new.  In Europe in the Middle Ages, tax collectors were paid a percentage of what they collected, the theory being that they'd be more, shall we say, diligent in their efforts than if they were paid a straight salary.  And so they were.  Eventually the arrangement was dropped because tax collectors were resorting to such brutal measures to squeeze every last sou out of their targets. Well, the same thing is going on now in the child support game.  Huge sums of federal money are tied directly to meeting goals for paternity establishment and collection of child support.  So just like in the Middle Ages, Texas child support officers do some remarkable things to establish paternity and collect support. In the paternity establishment field, according to Puntenney, the AG's Office doesn't much care who they tag.  When an unmarried woman has a child, the government wants to know who the dad is.  It wants to know so that, if the woman ever receives welfare payments, or she or the child receive Medicaid, it'll know to whom to go for reimbursement, i.e. Dad. Of course women know the game, and if the father is their boyfriend and they don't want him stuck with a future bill, they'll just give the state a name - any name.  The child support division won't be able to locate him of course, because he's fictional, but that's no big deal to them.  They've "established paternity" and therefore the case counts toward their goal. That's no way to run a railroad, but not particularly harmful.  What's definitely harmful is the practice of giving notice of hearings by publication - or not giving it at all - to men named as the father. Without notice (who reads the Legal Notices section of the paper?), the men can't defend the allegations of paternity and a default judgment can be taken against them.  That means their paternity will be adjudicated once and for all, and child support will be assessed, their wages garnished, etc.  Often as not, by the time that's done, a hefty arrearage has been incurred, so men who aren't the father are behind before they even start. That's exactly the system California had several years ago when one principled trial judge simply refused to go along with the patently unfair and illegal racket.  Despite the fact that he was violating California law, he refused to issue a default judgment against a man everyone knew wasn't the father.  The appellate court upheld the ruling and the whole system changed. A default judgment without notice is exactly what happened to Keddrick Clemons who also had the dumb luck to have a foster mother who knows the workings of the AG's Office inside and out.  Most guys don't. Puntenney told me about the worst horror story she encountered in her time working for the Texas Attorney General's Office.  A woman in Texas named a man as the father of her five children.  The AG's Office located a man in Oregon with the same name and went to work.  It didn't tell the man about the allegations or the hearings to adjudicate them.  It took a default judgment against a man who wasn't the father, had never met the mother and had never even been to Texas.  It promptly began garnishing his wages for five children. Puntenney talked to the man at length and finally told him what to do to fix the situation - get an Oregon public official involved.  That, it turns out, is the magic bullet.  In fact, the Texas AG's Office even has an organization within it called POI, which stands for Public Official Inquiry.  It seems that when a state legislator, city councilperson or some other elected official calls the AG's Office, they sit up and take notice.  The man in Oregon got his payments stopped in just that way. The way the AG's Office treats Public Officials is worlds away from how it treats We the People.  That's perhaps the thing that riles up Melissa Puntenney the most.  Men, it seems, call there all the time seeking help.  According to Puntenney, they call to say the mother is abusing the child or is a drug or alcohol addict.  They complain that she thwarts visitation.  They complain that she's moved away, that she doesn't spend the money on the child, etc., etc. The AG's Office doesn't want to hear it.  In fact, there is an iron rule in the Child Support Division that Puntenney was repeatedly in trouble for violating.  No one there is supposed to talk to a complaining father for any longer than four minutes.  Talk longer or actually try to help the guy and you get in trouble. Indeed, when Puntenney was there, the child support division had an unofficial motto - "Answer the phone, not the question."  So men calling there to try to get help or even basic information, like where a child was, were ignored.  "I saw this every day," Puntenney told me. So Greg Abbott's office will tell you that what happened to Keddrick Clemons was all an unfortunate error that's now been corrected.  So all's well that ends well.  Indeed, that's what the lawyers told the judge in the final hearing - it's all just a terrible mistake. Don't believe it for a second.  It's not a mistake, it's policy.  The instant those goals were established for paternity establishment and collection of support, the outrages visited on Keddrick Clemons and thousands of other men were bound to happen. My guess is that that's why the Texas Legislature just unanimously passed a law allowing any man to challenge his child support obligation based on genetic testing.  It's not only fair, it's the only way a man can defend himself against one of the world's most callous bureaucracies - the Texas Attorney General's Office.

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In the U.S. domestic violence restraining orders are routinely issued without even a claim that violence has occurred or will.  We know that.  But this case puts a human face on the whole, sordid system of domestic violence restraining orders.  Here's the court's file sent to Fathers and Families by Brad Howe. Brad and Correna Howe are divorced.  They live in North Carolina and have a little girl who's now four years old. Correna has primary custody and Brad has visitation rights.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="134" caption="Domestic violence reformer Patricia Overberg, MSW. (Photo courtesy of NCFM)."][/caption] Domestic violence advocate and reformer Patricia Overberg, MSW, passed away at age 77 in Torrance, California on August 11, 2011. Overberg was committed to reforming the domestic violence system so that all victims of domestic violence---female and male, straight or gay---could have access to services and support. I first interviewed Overberg in 2002 for a newspaper column, and met her at several conferences over the years. I was always impressed with her intelligence, honesty, and directness. As the director of the Valley Oasis Shelter in Lancaster, California from 1989 to 1998 she courageously made Valley Oasis the first shelter in the U.S. that would accept male victims of domestic violence. In a press release issued by Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting, the National Coalition For Men, and the Men's Health Network, they explain:

Overberg was trained in social work before most social work programs adopted the philosophy that all domestic violence is rooted in patriarchal power and control.  She believed that family violence needs to be viewed holistically, and her commitment to the principle of equal treatment for all informed everything she did.

Although most battered women's shelters refuse admittance to sons 12 years or older and force mothers to place their sons in foster care or be denied entrance to a shelter, Overberg refused to require mothers to choose between their own safety and the well-being of their children...

Erin Pizzey, founder of the first modern battered women"s shelter, says: "Pat was a brave, honest and courageous woman.  She faced persecution from her colleagues in the domestic violence field and fought back.  All of us who work at the coal face of human relationships owe Pat a great deal.'

Because of Overberg's principled refusal to discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, she was treated as a pariah by many of her peers.  In a 2002 sworn deposition, Overberg testified that she "was subjected to continuous abuse by other shelter directors for sheltering battered men."

Patricia will be remembered by many as a hero...Her policy of inclusion remains in place today under a new director.

Overberg encouraged Marc E. Angelucci, Esq. to file a successful lawsuit challenging California's discrimination against male domestic violence victims and their children. Fathers and Families' legislative advocate Michael Robinson, who assisted Angelucci with the lawsuit and worked extensively with Overberg over the years, calls her "One of the true pioneers dedicated to equality and equal treatment." This legal victory makes it unconstitutional for the State of California to exclude male victims from state-funded domestic violence services. Overberg"s children Virginia, David, and Theresa have informed us that gifts in memory of Patricia can be made to her "favorite organization," The Valley Oasis Shelter, by contacting Carol Crabson at 661-547-5879. Her children have also set up a memorial site for her at http://patriciaoverberg.remembered-forever.org/. Together with you in the love of our children, Glenn Sacks, MA National Executive Director, Fathers and Families

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The three abducted grandsons of U.S. Rep. Gary Miller, R-CA have been found and returned.  The oldest boy is now 12 and the younger twins are 10 years old.  Read about it here (Sacramento Bee, 8/11/11). Back in November of 2007, the boys' mother, Jennifer Dejongh was supposed to drop them off at Miller's house for an extended stay.  She never showed up.  Instead, she (apparently along with her boyfriend) abducted the boys to Mexico. 

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