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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

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You can't cross-examine a book.  That's my take on the recent dust-up between former TV actors Meredith Baxter and David Birney.  Read more about it here (Toronto Sun, 3/5/11).  Why would anyone care?  That I can't answer, but it seems some do. Baxter has penned a book, a memoir of sorts, in which she claims Birney was physically violent toward her during their marriage.  To no one's surprise, least of all Baxter's, that claim has drawn attention.  If I understand the zeitgeist correctly, it's the only thing that's drawn attention to the book, which leads me to the conclusion that maybe that was the point. Whatever the case, Birney has now responded and a more complete picture of their time together has begun to emerge. According to Birney, he got a joint custody order from the judge in their divorce case which Baxter vowed to have overturned.
"(She) conducted a relentless and brutal assault (against the shared custody in an attempt) to destroy that arrangement and replace it with herself as sole custodian.
"During that time she arrived in court repeatedly with various lawyers and several therapists, 'recovered memories,' accusations of abuse - a common charge in custody disputes - and tales of our life together that bore little resemblance to truth - a mean spirited process that battered us all, especially the children. The court denied her suit on every occasion.
"This current recycled version of our family story is no more credible now than it was then."
Well, I wasn't there in their household when they were together, so I don't know who's telling the truth.  After all, anyone can write a book and anyone can deny the allegations therein.  That said, I can't help noticing one thing: Baxter's allegations are just that - allegations.  But everything Birney says took place in court and as such, there's a record to be looked at to see if what he says is true. What we all know is that her claims were investigated by the courts and their shared parenting arrangement was left intact.  That strongly suggests Birney's got the facts on his side. An interesting aside is how Birney uses the language of the domestic violence movement to describe Baxter's behavior toward him and the children in court.  "Brutal assault" and "battered" are lifted directly from the vocabulary of the DV movement which is interesting and, to my mind, appropriate. First, those words serve to convey a sense of how false allegations of violence are experienced by those on the receiving end of them.  Adults and children alike routinely say they're "abused" by family courts that take those allegations at face value and issue TROs and custody orders based on them.  Children particularly are abused because false allegations serve to separate them from a loved and needed parent, which is, after all, the point. Second, the verb "to batter" long ago was removed by the DV movement from its common meaning.  It's a clever bit of sleight of hand.  The legal concept of "battery" refers to any unconsented touching, regardless of how slight, whereas the dictionary definition of "to batter" is "to strike repeatedly with heavy blows."  So the DV movement calls any touching "battering."  That's a defensible usage when speaking legally, but utterly at odds with the everyday English definition.  As is so often the case, the DV movement never lets on about which definition of the word it's using.  The industry is content to let people think that everything it calls domestic violence consists of repeated heavy blows, when in fact the vast majority of what's called DV is quite minor - either completely noninjurious or resulting in only a minor cut or bruise. So Birney's use of DV language to rebut Baxter's apparently false allegations of violence looks like a case of turnabout being fair play. So, if you're Meredith Baxter, what's left for you to do?  Courts can be so inconvenient, particularly when they allow your opponent to have his say, and then listen to it.  It's far better to write a book.  When you do that, no one can ask difficult questions or bring up facts that contradict your narrative.  In short, you don't have to prove what you say. And no one can cross-examine you.

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Maybe it's something in the water.  I don't mean to single out New Hampshire, but this case bears a striking resemblance to that of Jeffrey Ruggiero and his ex-wife Kristen.  That too took place in the Granite State.  As most will recall, Kristen sent herself fake email messages that she claimed were from Jeffrey.  They threatened dire harm to her and Jeffrey was duly arrested and charged. He also had a TRO issued against him which, as most of them do, prohibited him from carrying a firearm.  For most people that wouldn't cause much of a problem, but Jeffrey's an officer in the United States Coast Guard and, if he's unable to carry a sidearm, he's out of a job. Fully aware of that, Kristen forced him to give up his parental rights to their daughter in exchange for lifting the TRO. Soon enough, the police figured out that it was all a set-up job by Kristen.  They dropped all charges against Jeffrey and charged Kristen with a dozen felonies on all of which she was recently convicted.  She's now got 21 more charges pending against her based on her alleged perjury in the preceding cases. All of that is fine except that Jeffrey still doesn't have his parental rights back.  Yes, they were taken from him fraudulently.  No, his record as a father hasn't a blemish on it.  Still, he has to fight for his child in family court. Now it's Samantha Morrison's turn.  Read about it here (Nashua Telegraph, 2/28/11).  She's a Rochester, New Hampshire resident and it seems she got ticked off at her boyfriend.  Did she take a leaf out of Kristen Ruggiero's book?  If she did, has she noticed how badly that's worked out for Kristen who's currently doing a 7-14 year bit in New Hampshire prison and likely facing still more time after the additional charges are ruled on? I guess we'll know in time, but Morrison apparently told police that her boyfriend sent her threatening text messages on her phone.  That got him arrested on February 18th and slapped with a TRO.  Sound familiar? Well, police thought something was amiss, so they investigated further and found that Morrison had sent the messages herself utilizing "a software program on her cell phone to fabricate a fake threatening text message on her phone, which led to her boyfriend's arrest."
Morrison was charged Saturday with giving false reports to law enforcement and falsifying physical evidence for providing the fake text as evidence, police said, adding that the charge against the boyfriend will not be prosecuted by the Strafford County Attorney's office. The restraining order also has been vacated, police said.
By the way, you have to like the headline on the Telegrapharticle that reads "Bogus Evidence?  There's an app for that."  Maybe soon there'll be one for issuing TROs.  All of which leads me to wonder if great minds think alike.  Or is it something in the water?

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The following was submitted by Fathers and Families supporter Ruth LeFrancois. I have always believed in the idea of shared parenting.  In spite of this belief, I hesitated to become active in this cause.  My inactivity was partially due to the guilt inflicted by members of my own gender.  Women contended that I could not understand the complexity of this issue because I was not a mother.  I allowed my childless tongue to be silenced. While in my mid thirties I met and eventually married my husband.  We wanted children and soon began our journey toward joint parenthood.  We both experienced the utter joy then the debilitating loss of two pregnancies.  Happily, in April of 2010, we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Our daughter is a very lucky child.  She has two loving parents who live together and try to give her every advantage.  Our little girl"s good fortune does not end with a two-parent household.  She is also a member of my husband"s large and close-knit family. Her grandparents waited  in the delivery room during my labor.  When her grandfather mistakenly thought that my tears were from the fear of new motherhood, he gently rubbed my arm and reassuringly said, "Don"t worry.  You are not alone.  We are all here for you.'  I understood that his words were the honest and loving expression of his devotion to his entire family.  As our daughter entered the world for the first time, her grandparents heard her first cries.  They have been with her since that day.  Their advice, laughter, cuddles, gifts, and time are freely given to her (and to her new parents as well). My daughter is actually the 7th grandchild.  She has unlimited access to her cousins.  The oldest girls hold her, laugh at her giggles, and try to make her giggle more.  The youngest girls show her their toys, and they include her in their games.  I have frequently found my daughter surrounded by her cousins as they hold her and caress her.  My daughter"s little face beams as she enjoys their attention, and reaches to touch the faces that smile down on her. My daughter"s aunts and uncles are truly God"s gifts.   Each of my husband"s brothers and sisters live within 5 minutes of our home.  There is not a birthday neglected nor a holiday that is spent separately.    My daughter was welcomed by these aunts and uncles in the same fantastic way that I was welcomed.  My daughter is loved.  Her growth and her life are supported.  Her aunts and uncles are her god parents, her babysitters, and her mentors.  Their professions as nurses, pharmacist, and dental hygienist, have given me limitless guidance.  They have quieted my worries and walked me through the scary moments of illness.  They have comforted my daughter and quieted her cries.  They have shared in her successes. My daughter and I have been given unrestrained love and support from my husband"s family.  They have done this in spite of knowing the  pain of having  someone they love taken from them. About 7 years before I met my husband, he married his first wife.  Four months later his wife left the marriage and moved 100 miles away.  Seven months after that, my husband was notified of the birth of his first child. My husband and the members of his beautiful family were "allowed' to visit this new baby only a few hours a week for the  first year of her life.  These visits were in the mother"s home and timed with precision.  After this first year, visits were  increased to 4 days a month.  When childcare was needed by the primary parent, my husband"s daughter was placed in daycare, and day camps.  This virtually excluded  an entire family who wanted to be a part of her life.  It wasn"t until she was much older that summers were shared with her father. The devastating loss of my his first daughter was experienced by my husband, but it was also experienced by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  As I watch my daughter cry when she is taken from the arms of her half sister, I know that my daughter is also being hurt by the laws that were designed to be in the "best interest of the child'.  The absence of time with my husband"s first daughter, during those formative years, caused my husband and his family to be virtual strangers to her.   My husband"s first daughter has been separated from half of her history, half of her bloodline, and the same full and wonderful life that my own daughter enjoys. I can safely say that women do not hold a mysterious key to their children"s happiness and wellbeing. The strong bond that is between a child and a parent is developed through time and by nourishing that child"s body and soul.  I have learned this fact through parenting; women are not born with a higher wisdom about diapers, feedings, medicines, or love. In the event that my husband and I were to become divorced, the laws that exist would allow me to rob my daughter of "quality time' with her father.  In the event of a divorce, she would barely know the man that prayed for her very existence.  Her "extended' family would be allowed to see her only during visitation with her father.  My daughter"s visits with her half sister (now limited by "visitation"), would become much less frequent.  All of this would happen because family court would allow me.  This is because I am a mother and in the eyes of family court, a mother is more important than  fathers, sisters,  brothers,  grandfathers,  grandmothers,  aunts,  uncles, and cousins.  It takes two people to make a child.  Both parties had many choices before that child was conceived and then born.  Once, that child is born, there are two people who are equally responsible for the resulting life.  It can never be assumed that one parent deserves more time with a child than another parent. Certainly, custody cases should never be based on gender. Moreover, it is a modern-day crime to separate a child from the richness of the two extended families who deeply love them. Women have been demanding equal rights for decades.  Unfortunately, most women are not interested in equal rights when it comes to shared parenting.  This is because in the eyes if the law a woman would be one of two parents, instead of the only parent that is recognized as competent.  It is time for equal rights and equal time for both parents, and child support imposed on absentee parents only.  Perhaps this seems harsh.  Perhaps you may someday ask his first daughter how harsh it was to rarely see her father, be financially restricted, and go weeks between visits with her sister.  When  rights are given to one person, many rights have been take away from many people...not "just fathers'.  Having two parents needs to become the right of every child and every family.

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We recently discussed the new front page San Francisco Weekly story California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody (3/2/11)--a one-sided attack on the legitimacy of Parental Alienation that dismisses the widespread problem of false accusations of domestic violence and child abuse in family court proceedings. According to Center for Judicial Excellence, whose Executive Director Kathleen Russell was the main source for Jamison's story, "Kathleen Russell sought out SF Weekly's Peter Jamison and worked with him for over four months to make the story a reality." In other words, they worked for four months and were able to come up with only two clear examples of a problem they claim is widespread in the nation's most populous state. We asked you to write a Letter to the Editor of the SF Weekly and tell them your thoughts and experiences. Your response was overwhelming--the San Francisco Weekly was so bombarded with letters that they decided to "dedicat[e] a full page to readers' response to the story." All of the letters can be seen here. Cricket McCormick, who was alienated from her father as a child, wrote:
I am a victim of parental alienation. I was forced to tell therapists, doctors, and even a California mediator, and countless others that my father had been abusive. Professionals don't take parental alienation seriously, otherwise I would have been given the opportunity to give my own account without the presence of my alienating mother. The court system, social service system, and health system needs to be aware of this. Make sure one gives a child the opportunity to tell the real truth without the parent involved. I was threatened by my mother and told that the "system" would never listen to me.
Fathers and Families supporter Steve Riddle explained:
Parental alienation is real, and it would be tragic if parents lost the ability to have the court recognize its existence and its damaging effect on families. It is emotional abuse, and every bit as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. The damage and scars are just not easily seen and recognized until too late. Parental alienation is one of those things [a parent] can't believe until he has experienced it for himself.
Fathers and Families supporter Michael J. Muller wrote:
This is not a gender issue: It is childish and ignorant to assume that all allegations of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are valid, while allegations of the very damaging abuse of parental alienation are invalid. Jamison is grinding an ax, and is not shedding light on this horrible situation. False allegations are made on both sides. Nor is it a gender issue, as he implies. Many women have been hurt by parental alienation, just as have many men. In the very flawed, adversarial system of the family courts, the parties are polarized to opposite extremes, and false allegations fly from both sides.
Longtime Fathers and Families supporter Peter Logan, Esq., wrote:
I found the coverage one-sided and misinformed. Parental alienation is real, as are false charges of domestic violence. Failing to recognize these facts hurts all those who want to live peacefully with partners, ex-partners and children. The problem of domestic violence should not be ignored, but neither should the problems of dealing with it fairly.
The San Francisco Weekly also printed F & F Executive Director Glenn Sacks' letter Fathers are often wrongly accused. To read Fathers and Families' full critique of the San Francisco Weekly's California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody, click here.

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In a recent piece on the subject of men's activism, journalist David Futrelle strongly criticizes our highly-publicized October 2008 Campaign Protesting Father-Bashing Domestic Violence Ads. The ads, which depicted a smiling little boy as a future wife-beater and stereotype black men as wife-killers, are pictured above. Futrelle writes:
Glenn Sacks...called on his supporters to besiege the biggest donors to one domestic-violence shelter serving mostly women--they had run an ad Sacks didn"t like--in an attempt to get them to stop donating to the shelter. That"s right: instead of trying to raise money to build domestic-violence shelters for men, Sacks" fans instead tried to take money away from a shelter for women.
There are numerous problems with Futrelle's statement above:
1) During our campaign, which was done in concert with Fathers and Families, we never "called on supporters to besiege the biggest donors to one domestic-violence shelter serving mostly women." Our campaign, which generated 10,000 calls, letters, and faxes, had three phases or Action Alerts. The first one was a request to call officials of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) which ran the bus ads. The second asked our supporters to contact Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council. The third was targeted at the media. These are still on our DART Campaign page here, if Futrelle would like to see them. At no time did we ask our general supporters to contact either The Family Place's contributors or The Family Place itself. 2) We did orchestrate efforts by 25 specific activists to call over 50 of The Family Place's financial contributors to express our concerns about the ads. All of these activists were women who found the ads offensive. We never asked DART's supporters to withdraw any contributions--we asked them to contact the leader of The Family Place and let her know they were offended by the ads. Most contributors said they sympathized with us, and many told us they thought the ads and the subsequent protest/controversy were an embarrassment to The Family Place. Many told us they had or would contact The Family Place Executive Director Paige Flink with their concerns. Several of The Family Place's financial contributors withdrew or reduced the financial gifts they planned for the end-of-the-year giving season. I don't say this with pleasure--I would have preferred that The Family Place do the right thing from the beginning rather than lose the funding. Still, with a $9 million budget for 2008, I doubt our efforts had a significant financial impact on The Family Place, and that was never our intent. 3) The ads weren't simply "an ad Sacks didn"t like" as Futrelle says, they were blatantly unfair and sexist and should be condemned by Futrelle and any other fair-minded person. During the campaign we compiled an impressive endorsers list, which included some of the world's leading authorities on domestic violence, as well as many other experts, media figures, and prominent citizens. This list is here. Among our campaign's achievements were: 1) Widespread, positive media coverage which allowed us to educate the public on domestic violence and child abuse. Coverage included CNN, The Associated Press, FOX, CBS, hundreds of radio stations throughout the country, and many newspapers. This was particularly remarkable considering we launched the Campaign just seven days before the presidential election. 2) To its credit, The Family Place, the prominent Dallas-area domestic violence service provider which placed the controversial ads on DART buses, backed away from the gender exclusivity which was previously prominent in their public materials. They changed several areas of their website to specifically include male victims, and issued a statement that "We are not a male-bashing organization. Our services support all victims--male and female, children and adults." We publicly commended them for this. All blog posts and updates on the DART campaign can be seen here. To comment on Futrelle's piece, please click here. In Futrelle's defense, there is some truth to one of the statements he makes, writing: [Men's activists] complain that there are virtually no domestic violence shelters specifically designed for male victims, but unlike the feminists and other activists who fought for years to get the woman-centered shelters we have today, MRAs seem content to gripe that feminists haven"t given them shelters, too. This isn't literally true--there are many activists who have worked very hard to get funding for programs for men, and it has been a long, uphill struggle for them, in part because men are far more likely to give money to help women than they are to help other men. That being said, I do believe (and have previously stated) that men's activists do not give proper respect and credit to the domestic violence activists' hard and effective work in building up a wide network of services for female domestic violence victims. Contrary to what critics sometimes claim, much of this funding is not governmental, but instead corporate and from private contributors, many of whom, ironically, are men. During our campaign there were people who criticized The Family Place Executive Director Paige Flink for her high ($170,000 range) salary. Actually, Flink, despite her unfortunate moral blind-spot when it comes to men, has been a hardworking and effective organization builder and fundraiser. As such, she probably deserves her salary.
Futrelle responded to my response and I to his, etc.--to read more, click here.

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At Fathers and Families we receive many letters from divorced or separated military servicemembers with painful but preventable family law problems. Many parents serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other distant locales are anguished that custodial parents have impeded or completely eliminated their contact with their children. When the deployed soldier calls his children at the court-specified time, nobody answers. Letters are written, but they never reach the children. Needless to say, it is extremely difficult for a deployed servicemember to effectively overcome this visitation interference. Given the length and frequency of current deployments, many soldiers lose all contact and sometimes even their relationships with their children, particularly if the children are young. Other servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement which allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children"s lives, a new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role, if any role at all. To regain their previous custody arrangement they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and consumes much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children. To address these problems, Department of Defense Liaisons Office legislative representative Kevin Bruch and Fathers and Families legislative representative Michael Robinson worked to introduce Georgia's HB 282. Many months in the making, the  bill will help protect military parents' child custody rights during and after deployments. Currently, Georgia is one of the few remaining states that has no protections in statute. HB 282 (and its Senate companion bill, SB 112) largely mirror Fathers and Families' California AB 2416, which was passed into law last fall. HB 282 was introduced by Representative John Yates, Chair of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee. Representative Yates is also the last living WWII veteran in the Georgia Legislature. Fathers and Families applauds Representative Yates and Senator Joshua McKoon, who carried SB 112, for their efforts. HB 282 and SB 112 will address servicemembers' child custody issues in several ways. For one, they will authorize courts to issue orders granting grandparents, stepparents and extended families the ability to exercise a deployed soldier"s normal parenting time. By encouraging courts to issue such orders, we allow children to preserve their loving bonds with their deployed parents, and also protect the important relationships children share with their grandparents, stepparents, and other extended family. These bills will substantially reduce the current problem of deployed servicemembers being unable to enforce visitation/contact orders. HB 282 and  SB 112 create a rebuttable presumption that upon a servicemember's return from deployment, child custody and visitation orders will revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children"s lives, and helps prevent military parents from having to re-litigate their cases. We will keep our members and supporters informed of the bills' progress and any related Action Alerts.

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Fathers and Families has supported embattled Ohio father Benjamin Wyrembek and publicized his long, hard struggle to raise his own son. In Ohio high court right to unite father, son (Toledo Blade, 10/24/10), Fathers and Families Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq. wrote:
This month, the Ohio Supreme Court finally cleared the way for Benjamin Wyrembek of Swanton to be united with his biological son, who will turn three years old this week. That should have happened long before now. But for almost three years, attorneys for an adoptive couple in Indiana who have raised the child since birth have kept the case tied up in court, separating father and son. In the vast majority of cases, adoption is a fine and noble act. But Mr. Wyrembek"s son has never needed adoption. He had a capable, loving father who wanted to care for him. And from the very first, that fact was public knowledge. Within 30 days of the boy"s birth to a former girlfriend, Mr. Wyrembek registered with the Ohio Putative Father Registry. Then he filed suit to get custody of his son. At any time since then, the couple that sought to adopt the boy could have done the obvious, fair, and kind thing: hand Benjamin Wyrembek his son and seek another child to adopt. Instead, they chose litigation. In every court, Benjamin Wyrembek prevailed, because he is the child"s rightful father. And every time he did, opposing attorneys filed more motions and appeals. Media reports have emphasized the distress that the boy will surely suffer when he is removed from the only parents he has known. That distress will be heartbreaking for all, especially the child. But let there be no mistake about the cause of that heartbreak. It is not Benjamin Wyrembek, but adoption attorneys who mistakenly believed that after enough time and expense he would give up his son.
Fathers and Families has always been mindful of the fact that until this transfer, the Vaughns were the only parents that Grayson knew. However, the Vaughns created this circumstance and prolonged it through endless legal appeals, in effect using the concomitant delays as a strategy to deny Benjamin Wyrembek custody. In the best interests of little Grayson, during the original battle Fathers and Families urged the Vaughns to drop the suit, accept that Benjamin Wyrembek is Grayson"s father and custodial parent, and support their relationship. Assuming that this happened, we urged Benjamin Wyrembek to offer the Vaughns a liberal visitation schedule under which Grayson could maintain his relationship with them, hopefully throughout his childhood and adult life. We now have more good news to report--the United States Supreme Court declined Jason and Christy Vaughn's writ of certiorari and therefore will not hear the merits of their argument opposing Wyrembek's custody of his son (High Court Won't Intervene In Adoption Battle, The Indy Channel, 3/7/11). This is apparently the final chapter in the long saga of an Indiana family's effort to adopt Benjamin Wyrembek's son. For those who don't remember, Wyrembek fathered a child in Ohio in 2007.  He told the mother he intended to be the child's father; he filed the appropriate documents with the Ohio Putative Father Registry claiming paternity; he timely filed a paternity action and was proven by DNA testing to be the boy's father. All of that was well-known to the adoption agency, the Vaughns and the child's mother from the first weeks of the boy's life.  Despite knowing who the father is and that he intended to assert his rights to his son, the Vaughns and the adoption agency persisted for three years in trying to deny Benjamin Wyrembek his son. They lost at every step of the process.  That's because Ohio law is clear that a natural father who has done what Benjamin Wyrembek had, may not lose his parental rights without a showing of unfitness.  There was none, and that means what it always meant - that Jason and Christy Vaughn had no right to keep his son from Benjamin Wyrembek. But they did anyway.  For the first three years of the boy's life, they kept him from his father.  Perhaps they did so on the advice of counsel.  If so, it was improvidently given. From the outside looking in, it appears that the Vaughn's attorney assumed that prolonging the litigation over the child would eventually exhaust Wyrembek's resources of money, time, energy and patience.  That's happened in plenty of other cases, and my guess is that the attorney hoped it would happen in this one as well. Did the attorney explain his tactics to the Vaughns?  Did he say to them "the law is against you, but drawing out the process can sometimes accomplish what the letter of the law cannot?"  We'll probably never know. But what we do know is that, at any time during those three years, Jason and Christy Vaughn could have given Benjamin Wyrembek his son.  It was they - not some attorney, not some adoption agency, not some court - who every single day of those three years unconscionably kept father and son apart.  At any time they could have done the right thing, but they didn't. But Wyrembek proved more than a match for all the excruciating delays thrown at him.  Now the final attempt has been swept aside by a Supreme Court for which the denial of certiorari could not have been a tough decision. You'll notice that, in my opening sentence, I described the Supreme Court's decision as the last chapter in the adoption saga, and so it is.  There is, however, a new book coming out, and it's first chapters are now being written. Benjamin Wyrembek has sued both the adoption agency and the Vaughns.  I think that's a good idea and I hope he prevails.  For far too long, state legislatures have pretended that taking children from fit fathers via adoptions unknown to them and consented to only by the mother is acceptable in a society that claims to care about gender equality and the connection of fathers to their children. It's not.  But what may not be corrected by legislation may nevertheless be improved by litigation.  If enough adoption agencies suffer in their pocketbooks because of their unscrupulous actions against fathers and fathers' rights to their children, then maybe their behavior will change.  If so, it will be a good thing, because it may once and for all halt the taking of children from fit fathers via adoption. And, after all, why not?  It's not as if Jason and Christy Vaughn couldn't have found another child to adopt.  There are plenty.  At any given time, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in this country whose parents have had their rights officially terminated by a court.  That means that, unlike Benjamin Wyrembek's son, those kids need to be adopted. There are millions more like them worldwide.  The orphanages of China, India, Southeast Asia and Africa are bursting at the seams with children who are literally crying out for good adoptive parents. The terrible irony of the Vaughns and all those who defend them is that they actually denied parents to a child somewhere in the world who truly, deeply needed them.  By wasting time in their doomed effort to take Benjamin Wyrembek's son, they simultaneously turned their backs on a needy child. Now that their last effort to get Benjamin Wyrembek's son has ended in deserved failure, maybe Jason and Christy Vaughn will do what they should have done all along - adopt a child without parents, a child who needs to be adopted.

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Last August, American Theresa Riggi killed her three children in their apartment in Scotland.  This article gives some details (Daily Record, 3/8/11). She and her engineer husband Pasquale had separated four years before and she'd gotten primary custody.  But her increasingly alienating behavior caused judges to grant Pasquale ever-greater time with the children.  Toward the end, Theresa's behavior had become extreme enough that it looked like he would be given primary custody.  In their last telephone call, Theresa asked Pasquale if he was going to "take" the kids and he replied that she gave him no choice by continuing to alienate the children. Theresa's last words to him were "then say good-bye."  With that, she hung up the phone.  Less than 48 hours later, they were dead. The three children were Austin and Luke age eight and Cecilia, five.  Theresa took a kitchen knife to them, stabbing each eight times.  Most terribly, the police investigation revealed the presence of defensive wounds to their little hands and arms as they vainly fought to fend off the blows of their much stronger mother. As an aside, prior to the deaths, a court order to have the family interviewed by social workers was delayed in being sent to the local council in charge of carrying it out.  Curiously, the order was finally faxed five minutes after the children's deaths. Though charged originally with murder, Theresa Riggi this week pleaded guilty to homicide with diminished capacity, the equivalent of manslaughter in the U.S.  Defense attorneys say that psychiatrists found Riggi to be paranoid and suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, which, I assume forms the basis for the diminshed capacity plea. I don't know about the paranoia, but the narcissism sounds accurate enough.  A psychologist I know once gave me his quick and dirty definition of a narcissist.  He said narcissists think of other people as extensions of themselves and no more expect other people to have free will and autonomy than they would their own hand or arm. Riggi at first refused Pasquale any contact with his kids.  When he got a court order for unsupervised visitation, she made the kids wear electronic monitoring devices.  The twin boys slept with her.  She homeschooled the kids and told them she would be with them always.  She tried to kill herself when she killed them. Her inability to see the children as autonomous beings or their need for their father fairly shouts "narcissism."  So does her dogged desire to keep them from Pasquale. Sentencing is set for next month, so we don't yet know what her punishment will be.  Still, the question arises "would a father get off so lightly?"  Would a father who did everything in his power to keep a mother from her children up to and including taking their lives, be seen as mentally incapable of murder? There's as yet no clear bias in favor of Riggi due to her sex or her motherhood.  Presumably the judge's bench book that instructs English jurists to give leniency to women because of their sex is inapplicable in Scotland.  Here's my piece on that from last year. Still, I can't shake an uneasy feeling.  I'm having a hard time convincing myself that, come next month when Riggi is sentenced, I won't be unfavorably comparing her sentence to that of a pot possessor or dad unable to pay his child support.  I hope I'm wrong. We'll see.

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masp-ballot-initiative-results-from-globeIn an unprecedented landslide, Fathers and Families" 2004 ballot measure for joint physical custody of children passed by an 86-14% margin. The lopsided margin of victory was greater than that of any elected official in Massachusetts, including John Kerry, Barney Frank, masp-ballot-initiative-results-from-globe-essexor Jim McGovern. The question passed in all legislative districts where it was on the ballot Abstention rates on the ballot question were low---in many districts, our ballot question received more positive votes than the winning legislative candidate. Our margin of victory was far greater than almost any other ballot question, including  Legalization of Marijuana, Patriot Act, Fair Elections reform, etc. We now have the researchers and the voters in agreement that children need both parents. This is our opportunity to push our shared parenting legislation to victory in Massachusetts. In the early summer of 2004 Fathers and Families completed a large-scale effort to get a shared-parenting public policy question on the November ballot for numerous Senate and Representative districts in the Commonwealth. The wording of the question in most of the Representative Districts and the Senatorial district was as follows:
Shall the State Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation requiring that in all separation and divorce proceedings involving minor children, the court shall uphold the fundamental rights of both parents to the shared physical and legal custody of their children and the children"s right to maximize their time with each parent, so far as is practical, unless one parent is found unfit or the parents agree otherwise, subject to the requirements of existing child support and abuse prevention laws?
In five western districts the wording was:
Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to masp-ballot-initiative-flyer-2004vote for legislation to create a strong presumption in child custody cases in favor of joint physical and legal custody, so that the court will order that the children have equal access to both parents as much as possible, except where there is clear and convincing evidence that one parent is unfit, or that joint custody is not possible through no fault of one of the parents?
For the final results for our ballot measure, please see the Boston Globe Ballot Election Results here. More detailed information can be seen here and here.

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Below I reprint in full a letter from Mr. Joseph Notovitz regarding the upcoming Second Annual Conference on Male Studies.  I do so for our readers' information and because I think advancing curricula of Male Studies is a good idea and one whose time has come. By way of introduction, I'd like to douse one fire that flared up last year around the first conference on male studies and may do so again this year.  Last year the conference got some attention from the press and, along with it, a number of shoot-from-the-hip opiners on the subject or at least what they chose to characterize (caricature?) it to be. One of the frequently-made criticisms of Male Studies was that it's redundant.  The study of males and masculinity is already accomplished in courses on Gender Studies (formerly Women's Studies) so the argument went, and therefore Male Studies merely duplicates that pedagogy. At the time, I was unable to locate my copies of the work of feminists Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, but now I have.  Their work on Women's Studies and academic feminism constitutes the most articulate and thoroughgoing rebuttal possible of the assertion that Males Studies is subsumed by Gender Studies. Patai is a feminist through and through.  At the time of her and Koertge's rhetorical dismantling of Women's Studies programs, she taught literature and Portuguese at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  In the past, she had taught Women's Studies for as much as 10 years.  She thus had an up close and personal look at not only the curricula, but the professors and students who inhabited the programs that supposedly teach us all we need to know about men and masculinity. I can only summarize her and Koertge's views, but if you have an opportunity to read her essay entitled "Feminism and the Future," it succinctly summarizes them. To put it mildly, Patai is utterly disdainful of what she found in Women's Studies programs.  Her prose is peppered with words and phrases describing the pedagogy like "belligerent," "intolerant," "intolerance," "anti-intellectualism," "propagandizing," "scare tactics," "ideological policing," "patently false," and  "simple-minded." She calls the feminism of these programs "pious and narrow, scornful and smug, dismissive of the past and derisive of those who dare to disagree..."  Patai paints a picture of the world of Women's Studies in which anything is believed that promotes the favored political ideology and everything is rejected that doesn't. In the service of that ideology, students learn to "readily believe the wildest statistics...and show themselves incapable of establishing facts and exercising independent judgment on them."  The pedagogy of Women's Studies has "nothing to do with 'education' in any meaningful academic sense."  "What students tend not to learn is that sound and unsound reasoning must be differentiated..." And why would they?  After all, students in the Women's Studies arena learn "that everything that might be criticized in women is due to social construction while everything they admire is a mark of women's inherent nature.  Men, of course, get the opposite treatment." That gives an idea of the general level of intellectual dishonesty pervading Women's Studies, but not the level of misandry.  Men and masculinity are indeed the subject of much attention in the courses Patai describes. The primary pejorative term in Women's Studies is "masculinist" which seems to mean anything that might contradict the political ideology of the Women's Studies program.  That necessarily includes such insignificant disciplines as science, logic, the scientific method and quantitative methodology. Koertge, a professor of the philosophy of science, was understandably dismayed when she "offered a women's studies course on feminism and science and discovered during the first class that almost all of the women's studies students who signed up for it had no knowledge of science, hated it, and were enrolled in the course in order to get validation for the notion that they need learn nothing about it."  By way of stating the obvious, Patai writes, "I sometimes wonder if the whole point of of the feminist attack on male science and knowledge isn't precisely to allow feminists to say whatever they like, without being held to any standard of logic, thoughtfulness, or intellectual rigor -- all of which, of course, can be (and have been!) readily dismissed as 'masculinist.'" In Patai's experience, women's studies students often simply refuse to read male authors. All of this "leads to the cultivation of ignorance."   In this atmosphere, men are "grossly caricatured" by, among other things, claims that we "force" women to "conceive and bear children," and that, were it not for men, "childbirth would be painless."  This "exaggerates to the point of absurdity the awfulness of men." I won't go on.  Suffice it to say that these are the people, these are the courses, this is the pedagogy that some want us to believe should be allowed to describe and define men, boys and masculinity.  In fact those people argue that these programs and their methods should do so to the exclusion of all others. It's an offer I can easily decline.  Above all, what Male Studies offers is a fact and science-based inquiry into men and the meaning of masculinity.  It promises to be rigorous and balanced and above all, non-ideological.  If it succeeds, it will inevitably draw to it students and faculty with the type of respect for intellectual honesty and rigor that Women's Studies have for so long not only ignored but disdained. Here's the Notovitz letter: Dear Supporter, On Monday, Dr. Edward M. Stephens, President of the Foundation for Male Studies, presented to undergraduate students and faculty at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York. He defined Male Studies - what it is - and why the discipline is so timely and so crucial to making our society a better place for men and women. He started off by sharing a startling statistic about the college: Enrollment shows 68% women and 32% men. The implications, he said, are vast. Failures in school: The winners, men. Suicides: The winners? Also men. Incarceration? Unemployment? Again, men are the winners. Looking out into the audience, he asked, "What is happening to them? Why should we care?" The answers to these questions are as complex as our society as a whole, and must be rigorously analyzed and addressed. The lack of understanding of boys from nursery school through college is contributing to many failures both academically and socially as these individuals mature. The manner in which classes are held, most directed by this lack of understanding, are causing boys to tune out and fall behind. Failure in school = failure in life for countless males. Looking for more answers, Dr. Stephens discovered and presented a disappointing comparison. At U.S. colleges and universities, there are over 400 programs on the study of women. Male Studies? 2. And one of them is an online-only course. Among college students, female/male undergraduate and graduate degrees are presenting an exponentially-widening gap. In 2010 the percentages were 58/42. Projections for 2020 are at 68/32, even worse at the graduate level. We learned that textbooks - even "reprints" are filled with inaccurate and outdated information and statistics regarding males. Dr. Stephens then presented the male in advertising and the media. Portrayal of the male as a criminal, moron or disposable entity is frighteningly rampant. Products aimed at women and men consistently reinforce shame and low esteem - watched by millions of boys and men. Even the attitudes of girls and women towards males are shifting from bad to worse. He explained why we should care. Because the failure of boys and men will hurt everyone. What will happen if educated women suddenly cannot find educated males to start lives together? What will happen to families in the future? On Monday, Dr. Stephens' first presentation was overwhelmingly well-received by both students and faculty of Dominican College. And he touched off some interesting and controversial questions and responses, posed by the male and female, young and mature participants. What is happening outside of the United States? Why aren't men speaking up as women have for their benefit? Why aren't women speaking up? All this just begins to scrape at the iceberg compared to what will be discussed at our Second Annual Conference on Male Studies: Looking Forward to Solutions, on April 6, 2011. With speakers from a variety of disciplines, hope will be presented, and workable solutions will be offered. The next stages will be set. If you haven't registered for this historic event, now is the time to make your decision to participate, and become a part of a new discipline. Click here to see the program. Click here to register. Take advantage of our early-bird discount, and get complimentary access to the post-conference materials, including videos, recorded conference, transcripts and poster submissions. Remember the course fee is tax-deductible as allowed by law. Our Second Annual Conference promises to set the stage for both genders to vastly improve the environment we live in. Sincerely, Joseph M. Notovitz Director of Communications 333 Mamaroneck Avenue - 444 White Plains, NY 10605 (917) 685-7866 http://www.malestudies.org

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I've said many times in many ways that, as important as changing family law is, changing cultural predispositions is equally or more important to achieving equal rights for fathers in family courts.  After all, there are no laws forbidding judges from granting equal parenting time.  And since few parents in divorce court are actually unfit, there's every reason why they should. But they don't.  The resistance by family court judges to equal parenting is pretty uniform, not because the law requires it, but because their culturally-instilled biases against fathers and in favor of mothers don't allow them to see the possibilities of equal parenting. Consider the figures.  In 1993, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 84% of custodial parents were mothers.  In 2005, it was 83.8%.  In 2007 it was 82.6%.  At that rate, we'll reach equal numbers of male and female custodial parents in 336 years. The point being that judges don't need a change of law to do the right thing.  They can take cognizance of not only the social science but the simple morality that require keeping both parents involved in their kids' lives post-divorce.  The fact that they don't reveals, not discrimination so much as a culture that overvalues mothers and undervalues fathers to the detriment of both as well as kids. If judges are creatures of our culture at all and like the rest of us, they surely are, then they're influenced by the constant drumbeat of messages that say that mothers are saints and fathers fall within a narrow range from uncaring to incompetent to dangerous. I'll never argue that all behavior is socially constructed; we all have the ability to read cultural influences and, at least to an extent, go our own ways.  Still, to a great degree, the range of action and thought we see as acceptable is provided to us by our culture. That's why I like this article (Huffington Post, 3/7/11).  Writer Vicki Larson takes on an interesting aspect of popular culture that I've seen for myself but hadn't yet realized I'd seen.  OK no, I don't like her lead-in that claims,
We love involved dads. We get all warm and fuzzy when we walk past fathers playing catch with their sons or pushing their giggling daughter ever higher in a swing. There's something about a man raising his kids that seems noble.
There's that "we" again.  Who is this "we?"  It's surely not family courts that often seem to bend over backwards to separate fathers and children.  It's not CPS agencies that, according to an Urban Institute study, would rather place kids in foster care than in father care.  It's not adoption laws that are frankly designed to avoid keeping children with their dads. So the "we" who see involved dads and get all dewy-eyed may actually exist, which of course is terribly sweet, but that "we" has a way of not being in a postion to make decisions that impact fathers and children.  That "we" stands on the sidelines and softly cheers the occasional dad with custody, but that's about it. But the gist of Larson's piece is something else.  She's noticed a whole string of movies and books whose plots exhibit a definite point of view about acceptable fathers with custody and less acceptable ones.
But there's one thing that (Clive) Owen's sportswriter character and (Matt) Logelin share in common. Actually, it's something many single fathers in movies share in common -- the mothers are either dead (The Holiday, Love Actually, Jersey Girl, Sleepless in Seattle, Finding Nemo, Must Love Dogs, The American President) or conveniently missing (Three Men and a Baby, The Pursuit of Happyness, Definitely, Maybe). Few are single dads because they wanted to be custodial fathers -- or were able to be. 
And that makes a difference. A huge one. As much as we may love the story of a widowed dad raising his kids, we do not seem to love the story of a divorced dad raising his kids. Because that would mean that the mom either skipped out or was unable to care for her children, and we generally don't like those stories, either.
Zing.  She nails it.  In these stories, we're meant to love the dads.  Just see how cute they are in their sincere, bumbling ways.  And look at how truly loving they are toward their children and how the kids love and appreciate them.  But Larson sees the catch; those dads are permitted their goodness because Mom isn't available. The none-too-subtle message is as Larson says, that if Mom were there and Dad had custody, there must be something terribly wrong with Mom, and we can't have that, so let's just write her out of the script. What Larson doesn't add is the possiblity of showing both Mom and Dad with custody.  That is, there's nothing wrong with either. But Hollywood isn't ready for either the bad mom and the nurturing dad, or the nurturing dad and mom who are divorced.  And neither are family courts. Larson raises one other point that's worth mentioning.  She points to a couple of recent celebrity dads who are refusing to give up parenting time.  Her point is that in practice, people may be out in front of elite opinion-makers on the subject of fathers and children.  People may be "voting with their feet," i.e. going for joint custody in spite of tradition, in spite of cultural dictates, in spite of the proclivities of family courts.  People may be leading progress, dragging elites kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It wouldn't be the first time.  Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann persuasively argue that that's exactly what happened during America's involvement in the Viet Nam War.  They tracked the opinions and attitudes of everyday people and compared them to support for the war among the press and elected officials and found that Joe and Jane Sixpack led opinion-making on the war by at least a couple of years. And so it may be here. Thanks to Vicki Larson for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

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Update, 4/11/11SB 528 was defeated by a one vote margin in the House Judiciary Committee and the deadline passed without a hearing of SB 917. We applaud the Oklahoma veterans' groups for all their hard work on the bills, and we remain ready and willing to help them in the future. Update, 3/16/11–After a tough fight, both SB 528 and SB 917 passed out of the Oklahoma Senate on 3/15. They now head to the House of Representatives. We will keep you informed of continuing developments.

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They're at it again.  Last year, a New York State senator was charged with domestic violence and, before he even went to trial, the New York State affiliate of NOW was calling for him to be removed from office by the senate.  At the time I was moved to reprimand them for their shocking willingness to ignore basic due process of law.  NY NOW exhibited not the slightest awareness of or respect for the concept that those accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps worse was the anti-democratic nature of their demand.  After all, the man had been elected by a majority of the voters in his district and could be unelected if they found his behavior worthy of his removal from office.  That's how democracy works, but NOW was having none of it.  To them, accusations before proof should trump the will of the people. Well, as I said, they're at it again.  As this articlesays, it's not NY NOW this time, but a local NOW chapter and the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence that have decided that Arizona State Senator and Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard is unfit to remain in office, irrespective of what his constituents might want (The Republic, 3/11/11).  Why?  Because he was involved in an altercation in his automobile with his girlfriend, Aubry Ballard on February 25th. Because he's an elected official, he's immune from arrest and so he wasn't, but she was.  Ballard was booked into the Maricopa County lockup and charged with one misdemeanor count of assault stemming from the incident. Unlike his New York counterpart, Bundgaard has all along staunchly proclaimed his innocence.  This article gives a pretty good idea of his description of events (Arizona Indymedia, 2/27/11).
In an earlier statement Saturday, Bundgaard said he has "never inappropriately touched a woman and never would. Period," he stated. "I was not intoxicated. There was no 'domestic violence.' Such conduct is offensive to me as it should be to all people. I waive any and all 'legislative immunity.' If I did something wrong, charge me. I did not."
Bundgaard said his friends and family are surprised by the matter. They know "it's just not my character." He apologized "to any and all for what has taken place."
He is sorry that Ballard was hurt. "When I physically removed her (from the car), if she has scrapes on her knees, I'm sorry about that," he said. "But when you're being punched in the face and she's trying to jerk the wheel and exit, that's a dangerous situation."
As of this past Tuesday, Bundgaard had not been charged with any offense.  His legislative immunity is from arrest, not prosecution. The events leading up to Ballard's arrest are roughly as follows.  The pair attended an event entitled "Dancing With the Stars, Arizona 2011."  It was a fundraiser for the charity the National Kidney Foundation.  Apparently Ballard got drunk and, on the drive home took exception to Bundgaard's dancing partner.  Among other things, she started throwing his clothes out of the moving car, and he says she was punching him while he drove.  When he stopped to pick up his apparel littering the expressway, she attempted to commandeer his car.  He went to the car, pulled her out and she fell to her knees, scraping them.  Onlookers called the cops, he was briefly detained; she was arrested. Well, I wasn't there, but so far no one has come forward to rebut Bundgaard's version of events which, in any case agrees with known facts.  For example, this articlecontains a photo of Bundgaard with a black eye (Daily Mail, 2/28/11).  I don't know who started it or who hit whom, although I certainly have my ideas. The point is that the the local NOW and the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence have decided on the basis of no evidence that the will of the people means nothing.  They show a similar disregard for the rule of law and the concept of due process of law. Of course, given that Bundgaard isn't even charged, it's unlikely he'll be convicted and so there won't be much chance for due process to work. But just consider:  the two groups believe that a man should lose his job and voters should lose their representation based on the following:  his drunk girlfriend attacked him while he operated a moving vehicle, tried to steal his car and, when he tried to stop her from doing so, skinned her knees.   Disdain for democracy, gender equality, the rule of law and common sense doesn't get much clearer than that. One more thing.  Notice that one of the organizations charging, trying, convicting and sentencing Bundgaard is called the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  Notice too that the only one charged in the incident is not the man, but the woman.  According to Bundgaard, she punched him and unquestionably she's the one charged with assault. So who does the ACADV hold responsible?  Not her, but him.  It's a curious approach to domestic violence.  Punishing the innocent (if he is) and letting the guilty (if she is) go free doesn't seem calculated to strike a blow against domestic violence.  In fact, it seems to promote it. But that's pretty much been the approach of the DV industry lo these many years.  It's been perhaps the greatest failure of the DV industry and DV policy that both prefer to ignore female perpetrators.  That surely explains in part why domestic violence policy has done so little to curtail DV.  When you ignore, as a matter of policy and principle, half the perpetrators and half the victims, it's hard to be very effective. We'll see what happens.

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I wrote recently about an article in Huffington Post that I liked.  It was by Vicki Larson and it dealt mainly with movies that depict good, loving dads and pointed out that in all or most of them, the mom was either dead or, for some other reason, out of the picture.  Larson's all-too-pertinent question was why does Hollywood feel the need to kill off mom in order to allow guys to be good dads? But her piece also included a link to a recent study completed by the Pew Research Center.  Here it is in full (Pew Social Trends, 2/16/11). The study has some fascinating findings, but one thing in particular is devastating.  Here's Pew's description of the survey:
[A] nationally representative sample of 2,691 adults were asked whether they considered the following seven trends to be good, bad or of no consequence to society: more unmarried couples raising children; more gay and lesbian couples raising children; more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them; more people living together without getting married; more mothers of young children working outside the home; more people of different races marrying each other; and more women not ever having children.
In short, Pew asked about some of the significant social trends of the past 40 years or so and then grouped or clustered the responses into people who tended to reject as bad all of the trends, those who tended to accept them and those who were skeptical of them, meaning they tend to accept the trends but "express concern about the impact of these trends on society." The three groups Accepters, Rejectors and Skeptics were about equally represented.  Accepters were 31% of the group, Rejectors were 32% and Skeptics were 37%.  Of course not everyone in each group thought alike, but generally speaking they could be grouped according to the criteria applied by Pew. So, in broad general terms, about 68% of Americans accept the social trends asked about with a little over half of them reserving final judgment. To me, those are pretty interesting findings, given the topics studied.  We might have expected that the prospect of children being raised in gay and lesbian households would have found broader discomfort, but as it turns out, Americans are pretty equable about that.  The same is true of unmarried couples raising children, interracial marriage, etc.  And all of those attitudes are strikingly different from, say, the 1960s. All, that is, except for one category - single motherhood.  A total of 4% of the people surveyed think that "single women raising children without a male partner to help raise them" is "good for society."  By contrast, 70% (2% of Accepters, 98% of Rejectors and 99% of Skeptics) of those surveyed said that single motherhood is "bad for society."  In fact, were it not for their attitudes about this one social trend, Accepters and Skeptics would be essentially the same and meld into one big group that generally accepts all the trends.  In other words, the great majority of Americans (roughly 68%) accept all the trends asked about except single motherhood about which the opposite is true. Overwhelmingly, Americans have seen single motherhood and they don't like what they see.  They think it's a bad idea. And that's not for lack of a concerted sales campaign conducted over more than three decades.  For all that time and longer, we've been bombarded with feel-good stories about Single Mothers by Choice.  From at least as far back as the early 70s, many feminists were telling women that the family was the seat of male oppression of women and that they were better off alone.  And of course there was the notion that women could "have it all" meaning career and children, and with no inconvenient father around to make life difficult. Not surprisingly, there's been a reaction to that nonsense as well there should have been.  Social scientists and many others slowly came around to the recognition that, in fact, single motherhood was generally bad for all concerned.  One of the best-remembered incidents came in 1988 when Dan Quayle excoriated the sitcom "Murphy Brown" for depicting single motherhood as "just another lifestyle choice."  Those who had for so long assiduously promoted exactly that leapt quickly to the barricades with some of the most bizarre defenses imaginable. My favorite was that "Murphy Brown" was fictional and therefore couldn't possibly have anything to do with either reflecting or shaping public values.  This of course came from the same people who had for decades, and in many ways rightly, criticized popular culture's depictions of women.  I guess they forgot that; I guess they forgot Betty Friedan's critique of women's magazines mainstreaming of the notion that women found only distress by pursuing careers. By 1993,  Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, did more than anyone else to put the whole matter to rest with her succinct and total takedown of "single motherhood by choice" in her article "Dan Quayle Was Right."  In the small cossetted world of elite opinion making, single motherhood has never been the same.  Oh, it still has its adherents, but few take it seriously as a choice anyone who cares about themselves or their children would freely make. But that's among elites.  What the Pew survey suggests to me is that everyday people have never bought the notion that single motherhood was an acceptable substitute for paired parenting.  The findings of the survey on that topic so radically diverge from those of all the others that they make me think that most people have known this all along.  As so often happens, elites have been talking to each other and not to us.  They've certainly not been listening to us. Finally, the Pew survey also found fairly broad acceptance for unmarried adults raising children, but it was couples they were asked about and clearly couples they accept.  Those couples can be male/female, male/male or female/female, but when it comes to raising kids, Americans want couples to do it. In that they're far smarter than the legion of opiners who have, over the years tried their best to convince us that one parent was as good as two.

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Short Version: Veterans' groups have contacted Fathers and Families and asked us to do a rapid campaign in support of Oklahoma's SB 528 and SB 917--bills to protect 2.5 million active and reserve military servicemembers from spousal support abuses. We want you to email and fax a letter in support of the bill by clickinghere. You only need to enter your name, email address, phone #, and city & state to participate, and we will send an email and a fax to all relevant legislators. The bills are in Oklahoma but we have been asked to haveall of our members nationwide

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There's been a lot in the news lately about the living-dead economy and its effects on child support.  It comes as no surprise that, with so many out of work dads, child support payments have decreased and arrearages gone up.  Exactly what the nationwide numbers are and how the downturn has affected overall payments and receipts is anyone's guess at least for the foreseeable future. None of that has impeded the increased use by news media of the term 'deadbeat' as applied to fathers who can't or don't make their payments.  You might have hoped that there'd be a moratorium on the use of that particularly hateful and inaccurate term, but if so, you'd be disappointed.  It seems that, to the brave souls of the press, no dad is too abject to kick. So I thought I'd offer some actual information from before the recession, just to  give us a sort of baseline from which to judge not only news reports but also the unfolding problems created by the spike in unemployment over the last three years. Here's the U.S. Census Bureau's report on "Custodial Mothers and Fathers and their Support, 2007," that came out in November 2009. With but few exceptions, its salient feature is how little things have changed since 1993, the first year of figures it reports.  I've mentioned that before in terms of child custody.  In 1993, 84% of custodial parents were mothers; in 2007, it was 82.6%, a change the Census Bureau accurately calls "insignificant." Truth to tell, you can say that about most of what's reported. For example, in 1993, 59.8% of custodial mothers had a child support order; in 2007, 56.9% did.  For dads, the numbers were 42.2% and 40.4%. In 1993, non-custodial dads paid 65% of their child support obligation and in 2007 it was 62.5%.  Non-custodial mothers paid 62.6% and 63.8%. In short, there's not much to choose between now and then.  Not only the percentages, but the absolute figures remain virtually unchanged. Still, there are some things that stick out.  One is the dramatic difference between percentages of custodial fathers and custodial mothers with child support orders.  About 57% of mothers have a court order of support versus only about 40% for fathers. The report doesn't explain this difference even though it discusses why parents generally don't demand a support order.  Particularly in an era of greater numbers of women doing paid work, you'd think there'd be more of them paying child support, but the number of custodial dads has gone up faster than the number of them obtaining a court order for the mom to pay support. I can only guess at the reason for that.  I've read that dads are less likely to request an order of support, and it seems reasonable that their hesitancy stems from wanting to let sleeping dogs lie.  That is, we all know that mothers are overwhelmingly given primary custody and so, might the rare dad who gets it be leery of pushing for more?  If he tries for both custody and support, might he anger an otherwise quiescent ex? That seem particularly likely given the fact that most divorces are settled by the parties, and fathers know full well that, if they leave it to the court to decide, she'll get the kids.  So he accepts half a loaf; she's willing to give him custody, and he hesitates to demand more.  As numerous studies (e.g. Mnookin and Kornhauser) show, parties to divorce proceedings tend to bargain with knowledge of the law and the tendencies of courts in mind.  So dads' hesitancy to ask for a support order makes sense. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data on custodial parents and poverty show that the percentage of custodial mothers living in poverty has come down markedly since 1993.  In that year, 36.8% of custodial mothers lived in poverty while in 2007, 27% did.  That's quite a change, but custodial dads are still less than half as likely to live in poverty as custodial moms.  In 1993, about 15% of custodial dads lived in poverty while in 2007, about 12.9% did. Since non-custodial mothers and fathers pay about the same in child support, that's not likely to explain the difference in poverty rates for custodial mothers and fathers.  And indeed it doesn't.  The cause looks to be much more direct; custodial mothers do a lot less paid work than do custodial fathers.  Only 49.8% of custodial mothers work full time year-round versus 71.7% of custodial fathers. Given that financial well-being is important to child well-being, you'd think that the greater incomes of fathers might militate in their favor when courts consider custody.  Actually, it's pretty clear that men's greater propensity for full-time employment tends to have the opposite effect.  It tends to get them tagged with the scarlet letter of non-primary parent and in that way they become second-class citizens in divorce court.  I've argued before that the fact that men work more shouldn't count against them when custody orders are made.  That this would mean fewer kids living in poverty if more fathers got custody seems to further support my position. It's always interesting to read actual data.  That's particularly so since the real information so often contradicts what we see in the mainstream media.

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After two years of rancorous court battles, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has been named primary custodian of his two sons.  Read about it here (ESPN, 3/13/11).  The court's order ended what Wade's lawyer called one of the longest trials in the history of Cook County, Illinois. That order, at 102 pages, is surely one of the longest as well. It orders that Wade will have primary custody of the two boys and his ex-wife, Siohvaughn will have visitation every other weekend and various times throughout the year.  Calling the decision a "huge weight off my back," the Miami guard added,
"My life changed in a huge way," Wade told the AP. "Mentally, I've been preparing for it for over a year now. To me, it's bigger than that. For me, it shows a lot of people that you need to fight to be in your kids' lives sometimes. You fight until you can't fight any more. That's all I was trying to be, a father in his kids' lives." 
Those words sound a lot like what we often hear dads say about their kids and their desire to be part of their lives post-divorce.  But of course the ending of most custody cases is different from Wade's.  That's in part because of Wade himself who, throughout the case, has seemed to me to be a thoroughly decent man.  Among other things, he's often said that he wants his sons to have a healthy relationship with their mother. But again, a lot of dads are decent men who promote their kids' relationships with their mother.  So few of them get custody, though. Perhaps the main difference is the behavior and claims of Siohvaughn Wade that have been both extreme and inaccurate to the point of defamation.  That in fact is what Dwyane Wade sued her for when she claimed he transmitted to her an STD.  That turned out to be false and she withdrew the claim in the face of his lawsuit. Far worse has been her behavior with their children about which Judge Renee Goldfarb wrote,
"This court finds that [Siohvaughn Wade] has embarked on an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them."
Doubtless the crowd that wants us to believe that every attempt by a father to demonstrate in court his wife's alienating behavior is just an abuser seeking to prolong his abuse, can explain how Dwyane Wade fits that mold.  Or maybe they'll just try to ignore this high-profile case and hope the rest of us won't notice. One of the truly bizarre sidelights of the case was Siohvaughn's claim that Dwyane didn't really want a relationship with the boys because he didn't work in Chicago where they were living.  Exactly what her ex-husband's profession is must somehow have escaped her notice as did the fact that the Chicago Bulls have never offered Wade a job.  Playing in the NBA isn't like working for IBM where you can just request a transfer.  The claim looks like a sure indication of a litigant with a lousy case grasping at straws. Whatever the case, I wish Wade the best of luck in his new role as primary custodian of his sons.  From where I sit, they'll have a fine role model to emulate even if they can't match his skills on the court and for all I know, maybe they can. And let's all hope that Siohvaughn Wade mends her ways.  Let's hope she understands that the war is over and she lost.  Let's hope that realization will spur her to start putting the children first and encouraging their relationship with their father.  For what it's worth to her, if she does that, she'll put herself in position to have increased time with them later. That's what I hope happens for everyone's sake.  Will I be surprised to see more false allegations by Siohvaughn against Dwyane in the future?  Unfortunately, I won't be.  We'll see.

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I wrote a piece about this phenomenon over a year ago, but at the time I didn't think it was very wide-spread.  Now I'm beginning to think I was wrong.  Read about it here (The Village Voice, 3/9/11). The Voicearticle is one of those catch-all horror story pieces, this time about some of the awful things landlords encounter in dealing with deadbeat tenants - you know, little things like getting stabbed to death.  So, in full David Letterman mode, the article is entitled "NYC's Ten Worst Tenants." And sure enough, right in there among the "hoarders" who leave apartments crammed floor to ceiling with trash, and the hucksters and frauds, are the Domestic Violence Fakers.  What does DV have to do with landlords and their myriad woes? Well, in New York, there's something called a Section 8 subsidy.  That means that the city subsidizes a tenant's rent under certain circumstances of need.  So, if a person is too poor to pay, disabled, etc., then he/she can get an apartment for which the tenant pays some of the rent and the city pays the rest. Like most such programs, the list of those who've been approved for subsidies is far longer than the list of available subsidized apartments.  That is, the demand for apartments far exceeds the supply.  The result is extremely long lists of people waiting for Section 8 apartments and very long waiting times.  There are apparently some 130,000 people on the waiting list currently.  That list promises to grow as state budget shortfalls squeeze government spending in the years to come. Enter, stage left, domestic violence law.  As in other areas of law, with Section 8 claimants, domestic violence victims don't have to take their place at the end of the list and wait for their name to come up.  On the contrary, they go to the head of the line.  Like DV claimants in immigration cases, these people get special treatment. And where there's a benefit to be had, you can bet there are people ready, willing and able to fraudulently abuse the system.  The Voice article tells about several such people.
Latonya Malone, 26, worked as a security guard at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center in Manhattan. A state employee since 2002, she earned a $35,000-a-year salary, so in 2007 she applied for a Section 8 apartment. Victims of domestic violence can point to their dire situations to get Section 8 subsidies, for which there's a huge waiting list. In support of her application, she included copies of an order of protection issued by the Bronx County Criminal Court and a domestic-violence incident report issued by the New York Police Department. According to Malone's paperwork, "John Brown had beaten her."
It turned out that "John Brown" was fictitious and that both the order of protection and the domestic-violence incident report had been forged, according to prosecutors. Last October, Malone admitted to investigators that she had paid $500 to a woman named Cynthia who was selling Section 8 paperwork.
So it's not just the individuals bypassing everyone else on the Section 8 list via false claims of DV who are scamming the system.  There's also good old American free enterprise at work too.  The "woman named Cynthia" apparently has her own little cottage industry busily working to provide all comers with the documentation they need to get Section 8 preferences. At least one person views the Domestic Violence Faker as the lowest of the low.
Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation, says she finds the domestic-violence fakers to be especially repugnant: "I mean, there are real victims of domestic violence out there," she tells the Voice.
If that's not bad enough, and it surely is (what's next? stealing old people's social security checks?), there's also the fact that, once again, when domestic violence is claimed, legal niceties recede into the background.  It's not just the preference given to DV claimants that's problematical, although I wouldn't be surprised to find people who've patiently waited their turn on the list resenting those who go to the head of the line. The ease with which the fraudsters play the system is hard to miss.  And, when you think about it, how hard could it be to create some paperwork with the appropriate letterheads that would pass muster with some overworked, underpaid clerical worker doing dubious battle with a list 130,000 names long?  Like taking candy from a baby is my guess. And it's hard to ignore the similarity between the ease with which these false claims are made with the ease with which false claims are made in divorce cases.  Neither instance requires much or anything in the way of objectively verifiable proof.  Both confer significant benefits on claimants and both cause significant harm to others. At some point, the words "domestic violence" will need to stop being the shibboleth they've always been.  For a long time now, we've treated those words as a sort of magical incantation with the power to work wonders. We need to put that old discredited notion aside and start treating domestic violence for what it is in life and like any other claim in law, i.e. subject to the same rules of evidence and burdens of proof as every other claim.  Until we do, domestic violence claims will continue to be abused by the unscrupulous.  Ask yourself, could it ever have been any other way? Thanks to Robert for the heads-up.
 

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Thank you for participating in our campaign to support SB 528 & SB 917, two Oklahoma bills designed to protect military servicemembers from family court financial abuses. Your letter has been emailed and faxed to all members of the Oklahoma Senate, where the bills will soon be voted upon.
In coming weeks we will keep you informed of the bills' progress. For updates, please check our campaign page here on our website www.FathersandFamilies.org.
Together with you in the love of our children, Glenn Sacks, MA Executive Director, Fathers and Families Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers and Families

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This article is so sensible (National Review, 3/14/11).  Honestly, reading it makes me wonder why there's even a public discussion about the wage gap.  We know there's a wage gap; we know why there's a wage gap; we know that the reasons for the wage gap are in no way controversial. So why's there a continuing controversy over the wage gap?  One could almost conclude that some people perceive a benefit in creating controversy where there is none.  But surely they wouldn't do that, would they? The article's author, Sabrina Schaeffer makes it simple, the way so many have before, but she adds a couple of wrinkles that are new, at least to me. She points out that women earn less than men in this country, not because of discrimination, but because of their own choices and those of men.  Schaeffer of course admits the possibility of discrimination by some employers.  Indeed, the largest employer in the country, Wal-Mart, stands accused of sex discrimination in wages, so it's certainly not impossible. But a simple look at the number of sex discrimination complaints filed each year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would tell anyone that there aren't great numbers of women who think they're discriminated against.  And let's remember that there are about 66 million women and girls over the age of 16 employed in this country along with about 70 million men and boys.  It would take a heap of discrimination against a lot of women to make a dent in the overall earnings figures for that many people.  And Schaeffer rightly points out that the choices women make that mean they earn less than men fall into two main categories - what jobs they seek and how much they work.  Just naming the areas of employment in which women workers predominate - teaching, nursing, retail sales and secretary/clerical - says a lot about the jobs women seek.  They're all honorable occupations, but they don't pay much compared to, for example, the skilled trades in which men make up the great majority of the workforce. Now this fact presents a problem to the people who want us to believe that the wage gap results from discrimination - how to explain women's choices.  Predictably, their fallback position is that it's society's fault.  According to that theory, women are just so in thrall to cultural messages that they find themselves pushed into jobs they really don't want even though they pay less than others. That betrays a remarkably low opinion of women on the part of those who seriously claim that, in some way women should behave differently than they do.  For my part, I suspect women understand very well the terms of the jobs they choose and that they choose them because they tend to match their values. Time and again we see studies showing that women tend to value different things in a job than do men.  They tend to like job security and flexible hours more than money and prestige.  As I've said before, those preferences mean that in this recession women lost far fewer jobs than did men.  As such, those choices look pretty good. And sure enough, Schaeffer cite yet another study showing pretty much the same thing.
A study produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2009 considered what factors male and female students use to choose a major. While it"s hard to pinpoint just one reason for their decision, the author found that men and women alike made their choice based on potential outcomes. The difference is that female students on average cared more about "non-pecuniary' issues like parental approval and enjoyment of future work, while male students were concerned with just the opposite -- "pecuniary' issues such as likelihood of finding a job, earning potential, and social status of future jobs.
And then of course there's the choice so many women make to do childcare rather than work at all or work full-time.  Again, that's an honorable thing to do and one I wish men would make more often, but it certainly decreases one's earnings. Those who argue that cultural messages force women to make the choices they do like to ignore the fact that it's women in all walks of life, at all levels of intellect and eduction making those choices.  Studies I've remarked on before show the best educated women with the highest earning abilities opting out to raise kids.  At least three studies of women in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and one each of University of Michigan Law School graduates and University of Chicago MBA graduates all show the same thing - lower earnings by women because they chose childcare over work. Personally, I applaud them for doing that, but it does reduce their earnings. To that, there's the old chestnut that women shouldn't have to make choices.  I thought that had been so thoroughly debunked by now that no one would have the cheek to make the claim.  Apparently I was wrong.  As Schaeffer recounts,
I recently appeared on a television panel with the president of a leading national feminist organization. I shared with her that when I worked on the Hill I accepted a lower salary than I had originally asked for because my husband and I wanted to start a family. I valued my time as much as, if not more than, the money, and I wanted to be in a strong position to negotiate flexible working hours when the time was right. My co-panelist couldn"t understand this. She said, "But you shouldn"t have to choose.' 
To which an incredulous Schaeffer responds,
Really? Why should my employer be forced to pay me a high salary and give me flexible working hours? Why should someone else take responsibility for my choices? Perhaps a higher salary with flexible hours is something I might earn if I do a good enough job; but the employer still needs someone to get the job done.
On that note, I think I'll end with an interesting sidelight brought to my attention by a reader.  Here it is. It seems there's a dating website named OKCupid.  The good folks at OKCupid study their patrons' profiles and messaging habits on the site and have learned some interesting things.  Some - like the fact that both women and men add a couple of inches to their height - aren't surprising. But, OKCupid's chart of the ages, incomes and number of messages received is, if not shocking, certainly enlightening.  Scroll down to the section entitled "How many messages a man gets, by age and income." Basically, up to age 23, it doesn't much matter.  Women don't expect men to be earning much at those ages, and indeed, the men who claim they are high earners, don't get as many messages as lower-earners.  My guess is that women either don't believe that a 20 year-old earns six figures or think he's too focused on work if he does. Whatever the case, after age 23 guys, your income matters - a lot.  From age 24 to age 50, at which point the chart stops, the more you say you make, the more women are interested in you.  Period. So that too probably says something about the wage gap.  Women still look for high-earners and that's in part because marriage to one will more readily allow them to stay home, at least for a while, when the children arrive.  It's a choice women make and, contrary to the opinion of those who want the wage gap to be controversial, it makes sense.

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This looks like another tragic case of (a) separated parents, (b) custody dispute, (c) child abuse and (d) death (WSLS, 3/15/11).  The article has links to previous articles that give more facts about the case. The case is out of Bedford, Virginia; in 2008, a little girl was eight months old when she was brought to the emergency room by emergency medical technicians.  The child's mother's boyfriend had contacted 911 saying that the child's eyes were rolling back in her head.  The girl was apparently dead on arrival at a nearby emergency room. The mother, Cecilia Burnette is now on trial for second-degree murder.  The boyfriend has not been charged.  A pediatric emergency room specialist testified that the child's injuries were so severe that they were similar to having been ejected from a vehicle in a high-speed accident or dropped from a multi-story building. Perhaps more chilling even than that was Cecelia Burnette's demeanor surrounding her daughter's death.  She had left the little girl, Marissa Burnette, with her boyfriend, Josh Cheek, while she went to pick up a prescription.  Cheek called her to tell her that the baby was in distress and that her eyes were rolling back in her head.  She told him he was "overreacting."  It took Burnette 45 minutes to return home. During that time, Cheek called 911 and Burnette rode to the emergency room  in the EMS vehicle with her baby in the back.  She rode up front, spent most of her time talking on her cell phone and never looked back at the little girl. Two weeks before, Marissa's father, Adam Davis, had called Child Protective Services to tell them about injuries to Marissa.  What CPS's response was has not been revealed.  Cecelia Burnette has pleaded guilty to a drug charge; she's admitted to lying about taking narcotics prior to taking a polygraph test; she's admitted that Marissa received "four or five" "accidental" blows to her head; and she's admitted that she lied about living with Josh Cheek, who is a felon, because it might jeopardize her already-contentious custody case. The trial is ongoing. It seems this is a problem - the death of children at the hands of a parent bent on keeping them from the other parent - with no end.  I've just posted a piece on Theresea Riggi, the American woman who stabbed her three children to death in Scotland because she feared her ex-husband would get custody.  In Indiana, Amanda Bennett's husband left her not long before she killed their three children and an older child who was hers by a previous marriage.  In New Mexico, Tabetha Van Holtz has been charged, along with her boyfriend in the death of her son.  Much as in the Burnette case, the boy's father, had contacted CPS before the child's death to report that he was being abused. We all understand that child welfare agencies can't be perfect; they can't respond in time and effectively in every case in which abuse is alleged.  We all understand that family courts can't get it right every time either.  Neither can the police.  Sadly, even when all those people and organizations do their best, some children will suffer and tragically, some of them will die. But one thing that all must do is to connect two dots - custody battles and evidence of abuse.  Toss in another dot - drug or alcohol abuse - and you get a situation that's ripe for child abuse.  Police, courts and CPS agencies must be trained to connect those dots and take emergency action if possible.  In each of the recent cases I mentioned except Bennett's, CPS had information that, had it been acted on, could have saved the children's lives. Likewise, CPS agencies must once and for all drop their anti-father stance.  We've seen in case after case that CPS workers tend to prefer foster care to father care.  That's the finding of an Urban Institute study revealing that, in most cases in which the father's identity and whereabouts are know, he's still not contacted for the purpose of child placement when the mother is determined to be unfit. In every one of the cases mentioned above, paternal placement would have saved the life of a child.  The point I'm making is that one of the data points CPS, the police and courts should pay close attention to is the existence of contentious custody issues.  Those, along with other high-risk factors, should alert those with the authority to do so, to intervene. All too often, it's a matter of life and death.

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Washington State is breaking some new ground in collecting and analyzing divorce and custody statistics.  In 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court ordered the establishment of the Washington State Center for Court Research (WSCCR) which is the research arm of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Since 2007, the WSCCR has been collecting data on a variety of variables in custody cases across the state.  The data are collected by requiring divorcing parents to fill out a form.  There's no way of assessing the accuracy of what's reported, but over the years, the data seem consistent and no one seems to think there's any concerted effort to not report correct information. Here's the report for July 2009 through June 2010.  There's some interesting information in it. Final outcomes in the vast majority of cases are agreed to by the parties.  Agreement occurred in 88% of cases and 10% were decided by default (i.e. one party failed to appear and answer the divorce petition), leaving only 2% of cases decided by a judge's decision following a trial. Equal parenting is on the rise.  In the first Residential Time Summary Report in 2008, only about 15% of cases resulted in equal parenting time.  In 2010, it was 18% and 21% in cases in which neither parent had a "risk factor." And fathers are doing better when they contest custody.  In 2008-09, fathers got majority parenting time in only 15% of contested cases; a year later it was 28%, i.e. almost double.  Again, only 2% of cases were contested, so that doesn't add up to a lot of dads getting the lion's share of the parenting time.  But what it does suggest is that when dads demand more custody, courts are starting to listen. Otherwise, it's pretty much a clean sweep for moms.  They get majority parenting time in 65% of all cases and 64% of those in which there are no parental "risk factors."  Dads get 17% and 15% respectively. Risk factors are things like findings or admissions of domestic violence, drug or alcohol dependency, abandonment of the child or abuse or neglect of the child.  Ten percent of dads had at least one risk factor compared to 4% of moms.  That makes it strange that 17% of all dads got majority parenting time but only 15% of dads did in cases in which there were no risk factors. I'd have thought the percentage would go up. In  26% of cases in which dad had no risk factors and Mom had one, Dad got full custody.  But reverse the sexes and Mom got full custody 44% of the time.  When dad had no risk factors and Mom had two, he got full custody 42% of the time.  Again, when the sexes were reversed, Mom got full custody 63% of the time. So, in divorce court, risk factors like the ones mentioned above have differing impacts on custody depending on whether it's a mother or a father doing the bad acts.  Fathers are penalized more than mothers and the penalty comes in loss of parenting time with the kids. Moms' continuing hegemony in custody cases is nowhere more apparent than when cases are broken down into how the parties are represented in the proceedings.
On the Residential Time Summary Reports, respondents indicated whether the father and mother were self-represented or represented by an attorney. For 60% of the cases, both parties were self-represented. For 23%, one party was self-represented and the other party was represented by an attorney; for 18% of the cases, both parties were represented by an attorney.
I find it interesting that so many people do it themselves.  I strongly suspect that's a matter of money; they can't afford a lawyer and think they can work it out on their own.  In all but 2% of the cases, they're right. Parenthetically, I'd like to add something that certainly helps point the way in family court reform - in the overwhelming majority of cases, there are no difficult issues of law to be decided.  Property issues are usually cut and dried and utterly subject to agreement; custody issues may be contentious, but rarely is there a legal issue involved.  The point being that judges and lawyers are seldom necessary and often an impediment to sound, non-contentious decision making. The report divides cases up into those in which neither party has a lawyer, those in which only Dad has one, those in which only Mom does and those in which both Dad and Mom do.  In a nutshell, with one exception, everyone does better with a lawyer than without.  The remarkable data come from the cases in which Mom is representing herself, but Dad has an attorney.  In many of those categories, by herself she outdoes the Dad and his lawyer.  For example, in 12% of cases in which Mom represents herself and Dad has a lawyer, she got 70% parenting time versus only 8% of cases in which he did.  When parenting time is divided 60%/40%, Mom alone got majority time in 10% of cases versus just 4% for Dad and his lawyer. All in all, the data out of Washington State divorce courts isn't earth-shattering, but it's more detailed than we get from any other state.  (I asked the WSCCR if they knew of any other states keeping similar information and they said that to their knowledge there were none.) And what it shows is a strong preference on the part of the courts for maternal custody.  Of course, the argument can be made that, since 88% of cases are agreed to, it's not the courts but the parties that prefer maternal custody.  But that argument assumes that mothers and fathers don't have some very good ideas about how courts decide custody matters, and make their agreements accordingly.  Sanford Braver, among others, found that agreed-to outcomes in custody cases were influenced by the parties' perceptions of court tendencies. And these data don't tell us that it's better for dads to demand a trial than to agree.  Judges don't treat them any better than their wives do. There are a lot of limitations to these data, but Washington State has provided us with, to my knowledge, the first standardized set of data, regularly collected and published, in the country.  As such, it'll prove invaluable in charting trends in child custody post-divorce. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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 This issue is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The case of Turner v. Price and the South Carolina Department of Social Services is scheduled for oral argument on March 24th and it involves imprisonment for debt, specifically that arising from child support obligations. In a nutshell, the issue is whether a state judge can incarcerate someone who can't pay his child support obligation.  There's no doubt that a family court judge can order incarceration for the purpose of  enforcing his order of support.  That is, short periods of confinement can be ordered to enforce a civil contempt ruling. The question arises though when a non-custodial parent can't pay.  In that case, incarceration plainly is not being used to make him pay, because he can't; it's strictly punitive and supposedly in this country, we don't use prison as punishment for failing to pay a debt.  If we did, all those mortgage foreclosures would find the debtors in prison to boot. This case obviously  isn't before the Supreme Court (Hartford Courant, 3/15/11).  Unfortunately it's before judge Harris Lifshitz of Hartford, Connecticut, and Lifshitz looks so be no friend of fathers.  Apparently he's no friend of reason and fair play either. The case involves one Gerald Frazee, once a highly-paid executive who's since been put out of his job.  In fact, he hasn't been employed for about three years.  But for years, he paid his child support in full and apparently a California court has ruled that he owes no more. But Magistrate Lifshitz disagrees, saying that Frazee owes some $167,000 in back child support for his son who has already turned 18.  How Lifshitz determined that is anyone's guess, but there it is. For his part, Frazee would pay whatever he legitimately owes if he could, but he can't.  As I said, he's been out of a job for years and swears he's broke.  His tax lawyer agrees as does his family lawyer, but Magistrate Lifshitz, seemingly based on no evidence, has ruled that he can pay.  And since Frazee doggedly maintains that he can't, Lifshitz jailed him last December. And there he stayed, not for a couple of weeks or a month, but through February.  During that time, a company in Philadelphia wanted to interview him about an executive's position that would have allowed Frazee to pay what Lifshitz says he owes.  But of course he was in jail and therefore lost the opportunity.  As is so often the case, jail serves no purpose and can serve no purpose, when the non-custodial dad doesn't have the funds to pay. Sure enough, Lifshitz's incarceration of Frazee produced no payments, strongly suggesting that the dad is telling the truth.  So what did Lifshitz accomplish by jailing Frazee?  As far as I can see, nothing except the expenditure of significant public money to keep a man in jail who had no business being there.  That, and allowing Lifshitz to feel himself to be a tough guy who doesn't take any guff from a "deadbeat dad." That of course raises an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not deal with.  As Frazee put it,
"This is such a frustrating thing. The problem is how do you prove you don't have something?''
Good question.  It's next to impossible.  After all, you can bring in all your bank records only to have the judge ask you where the other accounts are.  Tell him you don't have any and he can believe you or not.  And if the judge is like Lifshitz, whose decisions on child support incarceration have been ruled "clearly erroneous" before, the chances are he'll choose not to believe you. And off Dad goes to jail irrespective of his ability to pay.
"The magistrate believes Mr. Frazee is hiding assets,'' Frazee's tax attorney, Richard Convicer, wrote state Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, recently. "While such a conclusion is possible, I know of no evidence supporting it.'' "The fact that a citizen can be locked up for nearly two months based on an unsupported suspicion lacking any factual basis is deeply disturbing and a situation which our judicial system should not tolerate," Convicer wrote.
That's true, but "our judicial system" tolerates it all too well.  Before a person is put in jail for failure to make child support payments, the court should have and recite evidence that he is able to pay.  It's hard for me to grasp that in 2011 I have to write that sentence, but Gerald Frazee's case makes it clear that I do. Face it, the most abject homeless person may have millions squirreled away in an offshore bank account.  However unlikely, that's always a possibility, but how many of them do?  Judges like Lifshitz must be required by law to show some evidence of an ability to pay before jailing someone for failing to do so. Lifshitz's attitude toward Gerald Frazee has a lot to do with a culture in thrall to the misandric notion that noncustodial fathers are "deadbeats," and essentially nothing to do with evidence, fairness, justice or common sense.  As long as we insist on the demonstrably false construction of fathers as willfully uncaring about their children, we need laws and courtroom procedures to protect the innocent from rogue judges like this one. Let's hope the Supreme Court takes its opportunity to give us both. Thanks to Susan for the heads-up.

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faf_logo_ohioSenator Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) met recently with Donald Hubin, Director of Fathers and Families of Ohio's Executive Committee, and Paul Lee and Alyssa Trimble, two members of the F & F of Ohio's Governing Council.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Senator's plans to submit a revised child support bill to the Ohio Legislature.
Senator Smith had introduced a bill in the last legislative session, SB 292, which Fathers and Families opposed and helped block.  The Senator was thus seeking to understand our opposition to the bill, in order to submit a revised bill that could garner broad support. SB 292 would have introduced a variety of desirable changes into Ohio law.  For example, it would have provided stronger protections for low-income fathers against unreasonable child support obligations.  It would also have allowed child support obligors who take on a second job or extra hours in order to support a second family to keep that extra money in their new household.  And, it would have introduced into Ohio law for the first time a parenting time adjustment, which would have recognized non-residential parents' direct expenses on their children. However, despite these desirable aspects of the bill, Fathers and Families of Ohio opposed the bill for a number of reasons.  It would have raised child support for most non-residential parents--sometimes quite dramatically--in the middle of the worst economic conditions in 80 years.  The parenting time adjustment is also seriously inadequate for most situations.  (It would recognize only a fraction of the expenses of most non-residential parents on their children, maintaining an approach that treats the child support recipient as the "real parent" and the obligor as a second-class parent.)  Furthermore, SB 292 would have provoked costly and needless court battles over meaningless differences in parenting time.  On balance, the problems with the bill significantly outweighed the benefits. [caption id="attachment_14057" align="alignright" width="100" caption="Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith"]shirley-smith1[/caption] Trimble, Lee, and Hubin met with the Senator and two of her staff members for nearly an hour, exchanging their viewpoints on SB 292 and child support issues in Ohio generally.  Senator Smith then asked one of her aides to try to include Judge David Lewandowski, Co-Chair of the Ohio Judicial Conference's Domestic Relations Law & Procedure Committee, on the phone to continue the conversation with the input from the Judge.  The discussion continued with the Judge for nearly another half hour. "This was a candid, productive conversation," said Hubin of the meeting.  "I think everyone went away with a clearer idea of the concerns of the other parties. We made it very clear that Fathers and Families of Ohio wants child support laws that are fair to all parties and will encourage true shared parenting.  I think we understand better the concerns of the judges, too.  No conclusions were reached--nor did we expect to reach any.  But we opened a dialog that we are hopeful will help to promote the interests of the children of Ohio by encouraging fully-engaged parenting by both parents whenever that's possible." Senator Smith now plans to arrange a meeting of representatives of Fathers and Families of Ohio with not only Judge Lewandowski, but also Kim Newsom Bridges, Executive Director of the Ohio Child Support Directors' Association and other important stakeholders in Ohio's child support laws to try to make progress on drafting improved child support legislation. "We are pleased that Senator Smith took the initiative to work with Fathers and Families of Ohio to try to write a new child support bill in a way that addresses the concerns we raised with SB 292," said Hubin. "We appreciate her openness and we look forward to working constructively with the Senator, Judge Lewandowski, and others to improve the fairness of Ohio's child support laws."

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