our-blog-icon-top
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.  

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
columbus-dispatch-iconIn Custody agreements should survive deployments (Columbus Dispatch, 4/6/11), Fathers and Families of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin lays out the case for HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin."][/caption] HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year. The Bill will soon be heard by the Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee. We suggest you write a Letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch, a 200,000 circulation newspaper in Ohio's capital, by writing to [email protected] To comment on the piece, click here. In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:
...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...
The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.
In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this. The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone. More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face. No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.
Read Hubin's full piece here.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
It's a small step - a very small step - but a step nonetheless. As of last Sunday, British dads are now legally entitled to ask for paternity leave to be with their newborns.  Up to now, mothers got up to nine months of paid maternity leave; dads got two weeks unpaid.  On Sunday that changed - somewhat.  Read about it here (Telegraph, 4/4/11). Now, after Mom has taken four months of leave to be with Baby, Dad can ask his employer for paid paternity leave that would last up until the child is nine months old.  After that, all leave  for Mom or Dad is unpaid. Now, while that's a more equitable arrangement than what's obtained to date, it's still far from equal.  In the first place, mothers and fathers can't just decide for themselves how and whether to divide up parental leave.  (Why not?  I can't guess.)  For four months, Dad has no right to take time off to be with his newborn. And even then, his rights seem less than Mom's.  You'll notice that I previously said that he can ask for leave, and that's correct.  He can ask.  And his employer can refuse.  Presumably there are certain reasons for denial that are legally acceptable under the new law.  My guess is that employers who don't like the law will become adept at phrasing their refusals in legally appropriate ways. Then there's the problem of the 'paid' part of 'paid leave.'  Leave will be paid at a maximum of £128.73 per week regardless of the parent's sex.  Since women in the U.K., like those in the U.S. tend to work less and earn less than do men, the penalty fathers and their families will pay for his taking leave will be greater than that paid by mothers and their families when she does.  So the structure of payment militates more against dads than moms. Still, on Sunday fathers in fact acquired greater parental rights than they had on Saturday.  Something, even if it's just a little something, is better than nothing. Good so far.  My prediction though is that the new parental leave will barely affect parental behavior, if at all.  That's because, whatever the grand notions of activists and legislators, when it comes to parenting, men's and women's behaviors don't tend to change much. As American sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and British economist Catherine Hakim point out time and again, the reality of parenting roles proves remarkably resistant to change.  Remember the amazing revolutionary Stay-at-Home-Dad, the dad who opts out of work to care for children?  He's close to non-existent.  As of 2008 in the U.S., there were about 140,000 SAHDs in the U.S., compared to about 5,327,000 mothers.  Similar ratios obtain in the U.K. Or how about Wilcox's revelation that, according to sociological data, a grand total of 20% of mothers with children under the age of 18 want to work full-time.  In about 75% of all American families with minor children, the father is the main breadwinner. The simple fact is that, whatever those who inhabit the brave new world of gender equality choose to believe, the vast majority of people behave differently.  They still see women with children primarily as mothers and men as breadwinners.  So it's nice of the British Parliament to open up parental leave to fathers.  I'd never argue with a law that expands paternal rights in the direction of equality with mothers' rights.  But let's not pretend that much will change because of it.  As the article says,
But surveys suggest that despite these more flexible working rules, few men will request this time off because they are worried about their job security in the current economic climate.
That's easy to understand.  When you're the chief earner in your family and you think of yourself as primarily that and your wife agrees, you're unlikely to risk your job in an unhealthy economy for the privilege of taking a huge cut in pay.  No, you'll see the little tyke when you get home from work and let it go at that. By itself, that's not a huge problem, but here's a bigger one.  I'll wager the following:  some time in the not-too-distant future there will be a study of the effects of the new parental leave law; that study will reveal essentially what I've outline above, i.e. that dads are not availing themselves of their new rights to a very great degree; and as sure as the sunrise, someone (probably several 'someones') will use the information as "proof" that fathers don't want to be with their children, don't care about them, etc. In short, a minor advance in fathers' rights will be used to obstruct them. See if that doesn't happen.  I've got a fiver that says it does.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
This blog posting is too much fun to pass up (Cracked, 4/6/11).  Yes, it's long on snark and ignores subtlety and nuance, but it's funny and at the same time raises some important issues. It's about the magazine Cosmopolitan and, if you can stop rolling your eyes, check it out.  The writers, Dennis Hong and Katherine Smith have done what no decent person should have to; they've sifted through many issues of Cosmo and come up with what they refer to as its "psychotic" advice on male/female relationships. Now, let's be clear.  Cosmo is one of the most popular and widely-read magazines in this country.  It has a circulation that would make better-respected magazines weep with envy.  So whatever Cosmo is peddling, plenty of people are buying.  And of course almost all of those people are women; Cosmo is for and about women. So whatever it has to say, a lot of women read, and they keep coming back for more.  The above facts lend a certain gravity to the Cracked piece that it wouldn't have if the topic were, say, Ms. The blog piece is about Cosmo's various takes on how to tell if "your man" is cheating or committing some other dastardly deed.  In a nutshell, we can say that if he's breathing, he's cheating.  Hong and Smith point out that, for example, if he tells his wife/girlfriend too much about his day at work, he's probably cheating.  If he shows renewed sexual interest in his partner, he's cheating.  If he improves his personal grooming, ditto.  If he doesn't give her unfettered access to his PC, iPhone, etc., he's... well, you get the picture. There's more, but the bottom line is that to Cosmo pretty much anything a guy does or doesn't do can indicate dishonesty or infidelity on his part.  And, to an astonishing degree, in the Cosmo cosmos, it does.  My guess is that just reading one of these articles would be enough to make any sane woman suspect that her guy is up to no good.  Several of them and she'd be sure. But Cosmo doesn't stop there.  It's not enough for the magazine to torment its readers with usually unfounded notions of cheating by their significant others.  No, it goes a step further and recommends certain helpful remedies women can use to combat his real or imagined failures. So, if a woman believes (at Cosmo's urging) that her guy is cheating on her, she should do things like crush his testicles, slip Ex-Lax into his food, put red-hot chili powder in his underwear, destroy his personal belongings and cheat on him with his best friend, just to name a few. In other words, if you suspect your man of infidelity, commit domestic violence or other crimes against him. Now it goes without saying that the vast majority of women who read Cosmo take all this with an enormous grain of salt.  Most are smarter and less violent than the magazine would prefer. But does anyone but me find it a trifle sick that one of the best-selling magazines in the country thinks nothing of urging women to commit DV against men on the basis of their speech patterns and body language?  Anyone with a television can see female-on-male violence depicted positively pretty much any time of the day or night, and Cosmo falls right into the same line. Beyond that, it's worth mentioning that our laws, their enforcement by police and governmental funding to combat DV all assume that it's men, not women, who commit DV.  They, like Cosmo, consider women's domestic violence to be either non-existent or justified by wrongs committed by males. The point being that if it were just one semi-sleazy women's magazine promoting female-on-male violence, it wouldn't be much to get worked up about.  But Cosmo fits into a much larger picture that ignores women's violence against men while loudly and hypocritically proclaiming its opposition to DV. We live in a culture that is wracked with problems relating to children and families.  Over the past 40 years, the American family has broken down as never before in history.  That breakdown is one of the major crises of our times for many reasons, not the least of which is its profound effect on children and the adults those children grow up to become. So when a major magazine tells its female readers that (a) if you suspect him of infidelity at all, you're probably right and (b) if so, violent reprisal is the right thing to do, it's frankly aimed at making a bad situation worse.  Put simply, Cosmo is encouraging mistrust between partners and illegal behavior in response. And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high. Thanks to Patrick for the heads-up.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
On the surface, this is a feel-good story (Standard Examiner, 4/6/11).  It's story about the loss and recovery of a child.  It's a story about a mother in terrible mental distress whose actions could have scarred her for life, but ended up for the better. It is also a story of good old fashioned dumb luck. But scratch the surface and there are other facts and suggestions of facts that are less cheering. Back in 2004, Carmen McDonald gave birth to a little girl she named Tamia.  At age 20, McDonald suffered from bi-polar disorder; the arrival of Tamia added postpartum depression to her woes.  So she decided to place her newborn for adoption. Telling her parents who lived nearby that she was going to Ohio to give the baby to its father, McDonald instead travelled from her native Illinois to Utah and placed Tamia for adoption with an agency whose name she'd found in the newspaper. She returned with a check for $600 and no baby.  Tamia had been placed with a couple named Lenna Habbeshaw and Steven Kusaba.  They were infertile and had long wanted to adopt a child. But Carmen McDonald's mother and father had other ideas about who their granddaughter should be raised by.  John and Maria Dorden never let up in their quest to gain custody of Tamia, and that is where the dumb luck came in. In the middle of the fight the adoptive parents were arrested on drug charges.  That was more than enough for the Utah courts to back off on the adoption.  Tamia went back to Illinois to live with her grandparent which she does happily to this day.  End of story?  Yes and no. We've seen plenty of stories about Utah adoptions that look like little more than court-sanctioned child theft.  The Kevin O'Dea case is one; so is the John Wyatt case.  In both instances, mothers were able to avoid the fathers of their newborns long enough to get the babies into the hands of adoption agencies and their attorneys. Those stood ready with adoptive parents and Utah courts stood ready to look the other way on the issue of fathers' rights. Now, in this case, we don't know a thing about Tamia's father.  McDonald obviously knows him and knew where he was at the time of Tamia's birth.  But whether he ever claimed his parental rights remains unknown, at least to us. But apart from the adoption agency's payment to McDonald that may or may not have violated the laws prohibiting trafficking in children, McDonald reports another interesting detail about the "transaction." It seems that, when faced with actually giving Tamia up, she balked.
McDonald flew to Salt Lake City with infant Tamia in December 2004, her ticket paid for by A Cherished Child, a for-profit agency in Utah that advertised in Illinois. McDonald found herself in a motel room, relinquishment agreement in hand. When she tried to back out, she said, she was threatened, including being stranded without airfare home, according to court records.
The handover in the motel room along with termination of rights forms is eerily reminiscent of what happened in John Wyatt's case in which his partner checked herself out of the hospital, newborn in hand and went to a hotel room with Utah adoption agency representatives, the Utah adoptive parents and their Utah attorney. The threats issued to a mentally-unstable mother along with the promise of money if she complied paint a less than pretty picture of the adoption as it's practiced in the State of Utah. And that raises an obvious question.  Why would McDonald or anyone else travel from Illinois to Utah just to place their child for adoption?  After all, healthy newborns (and there's no evidence Tamia wasn't healthy) aren't hard to place, in Illinois, Utah or anywhere else. It's not too unusual that A Cherished Child advertised in an Illinois newspaper.  But why did McDonald choose an agency in a state so far away?  I'd say 'money' was one possible answer.  'They won't ask too many questions,' for example about the father, might have been another. Whatever the case, but for Habbeshaw and Kusaba's drug bust, it's all but certain that the adoption would have gone through and Tamia would be living with them instead of with her grandparents. Whatever her situation with her father, Tamia is another child who didn't need to be adopted.  The Dordens seem to be fine parents and, once McDonald gets over her own drug dependency, the child may develop a fuller relationship with her. So there was never a need for her to be adopted and fortunately for all concerned, she wasn't.  But it was a near thing; it was a case that turned, not on reasonable adoption law but on dumb luck.  And luck isn't good enough.  We shouldn't have to depend on that to save a child who doesn't need it from adoption. Across the country, we force adoption on children who have fit parents.  That's wrong for everyone - the adopted child who has a parent to care for it, the father whose child is taken from him often without his knowing about it and of course all those children throughout the world who don't have parents and who cry for them every night.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Updating the Maryanne Godboldo case is this article (Detroit News, 4/7/11).  As I said in my first piece on this case, there's a fair amount we don't know at this early date. What we do know is that Godboldo's daughter has some form of mental/emotional problems for which she was prescribed Risperdal, a psychotropic drug.  When Godboldo refused to give the 13-year-old girl the medication, CPS showed up at her house having first obtained a court order to take her daughter into custody.  CPS obtained the order ex parte meaning that Godboldo was not there to contest it or tell her side of the story.  So far we still don't know why the girl's mother wasn't given an opportunity to defend her parenting decisions to the judge. When Godboldo refused to turn over the child, the police broke into her house and forcibly removed the girl after what has been called a "10 hour standoff."  Godboldo allegedly discharged a pistol when the officers broke into her home.  She's currently charged with five felonies stemming from the the standoff and her refusal to turn over her daughter. The article linked to gives a couple of additional details. The first is that, although Godboldo's daughter has been in a psychiatric facility for 13 days since being taken by CPS, she's still not been given any Risperdal.  Godboldo's refusal to give the medication was, of course, the whole reason for the girl's being taken into care. So on one hand, the mother's refusal to give her daughter Risperdal supposedly created such an emergency that CPS couldn't even tell Godboldo about the court hearing to take the girl.  On the other, it's so unimportant that the child has been in a psychiatric facility for almost two weeks and still hasn't received the medication. If there's a reasonable explanation for that, I sure can't figure out what it is. Into the bargain, the lawyer for the girl's father says that the psychiatric facility reports that she's "stable" without the medication.  So maybe Godboldo was right all along. Oh, and speaking of the father, CPS didn't.  Usually, when a child welfare agency decides to take single mother's child into care, caseworkers don't even attempt to locate the father.  And lest you think I'm using the word "usually" in a loose or inaccurate way, I'm not.  The Urban Institute did a study showing that, even when case files contain the identity of the father, they make no effort to contact him over half the time when seeking alternative placement for a child. And that is true despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a 114-page booklet on the importance of fathers.  It's a guide to CPS caseworkers emphasizing the need to locate dads when children are taken from mothers. Clearly CPS did no such thing in this case.
A lawyer for the girl's father, Mubuarak Hakim, also accused protective services of failing one of its mandates to keep families together by not trying to find the father or another relative with whom to place the girl.
From what I can gather, Hakim is not some obscure figure.  He's been part of the protests that have developed around his daughter's being taken into care.  So the question arises, "why didn't CPS contact him?"  He's right about part of their mandate being to keep families together if possible. Doubtless we'll start to get answers as time goes on. As counterpoint to a story about what looks to be the heavy-handedness of on CPS agency, is this one in which the opposite occurred (KiiiTV, 4/6/11). Way down south in Corpus Christi, Texas, 21 month old Texas Ruiz met his end at the hands of his mother and stepfather on New Years Day.  The toddler died of blunt force trauma to the head and stomach.  Lorraine Rodriguez-Garza and Juan Jose Garza have been charged with murder in his death.
But in an exclusive interview, the child's biological father says he had previously warned child protective services that the boy was in danger. Raul and Lisa Ruiz say they did everything they could in calling on those whose job it is to protect children. But nothing was done, and today's capital murder charges they say proves that.
Ruiz has employed an attorney, and I assume that means he'll be suing CPS for failing to protect his child when it had notice of the danger he faced.  I won't be surprised to see Ruiz get a hefty chunk of change due to the negligence and apparent gross negligence of CPS.  And, however that comes about, Texas taxpayers will bear at least part of the cost. Two cases with two opposite results.  In the first, CPS overreacted; in the second it apparently did nothing.  In one it took a child that may well have done fine with her mother or father.  In the other, CPS left a little boy in a situation that was clearly hazardous to his health. But of course there's one similarity between the two.  In both, CPS ignored the father.  And, had the agencies not done so, the bad results in each case may well have been averted.  Had Texas authorities heeded Ruiz's warnings, his little boy could certainly have been saved either by placing him in foster care or by transferring custody to Ruiz and his wife. In Detroit, transfer to the father could easily have avoided the "standoff" and either gotten the girl her medication or allowed everyone to decide to wait, as has been done. There's a lesson in both cases.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Add Alabama to the list of states to try to pass equally shared parenting legislation.  Senate Bill 196 was submitted to the Children, Youth Affairs and Human Resources Committee on March 9 and is still there pending action.  Called the Children's Family Act, it currently has 21 sponsors.  Here's the bill in full. Much like the bill in the Minnesota Legislature, SB 196 would require a judge to order equal parenting on the part of  the mother and father in all custody cases in which both parents were deemed to be "fit" and in which they didn't agree to another parenting arrangement.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
This may be the single most outrageous case I've come across.  I first wrote about Peter Spitz last December here.  He's the Colorado man whose wife Teresa got up in the wee hours of one morning in 2004, bundled up their young son and took him to a neighbor's.  She then returned to her house, put a pillow over her sleeping husband's head and shot him with a .38.  But he wasn't dead, so she shot him two more times.  Then she murdered his mother who lived with them. Despite all that, Peter lived.  He's permanently blinded and has lost his sense of smell.  Peter is an ex-marine and an all around stand-up guy.  So when Teresa was tried for murdering his mother and attempting to murder him, he testified on her behalf.  He thought she was insane and said so under oath.  She was acquitted of the charges by reason of insanity. That was less than seven years ago and the doctors in the psychiatric facility to which she was committed have decided that Teresa is no longer insane.  By itself, that's a trifle odd because apparently they don't agree on her diagnosis or even if her mental condition rendered her incapable of appreciating the wrongness of her deeds.  Read the update here (Westwood.com, 4/4/11). It's also odd because a few years ago Teresa may have sent a letter to a friend promising to "finish the job" when she was released.  The letter can't be found, but a person who once had the letter claims that it said "she wants Peter dead, simple as that." Given that, Spitz is none too enthusiastic about her release, but released she will shortly be.  That will proceed gradually through a series of unsupervised trips away from the psychiatric facility leading eventually to "community placement." In fact, that's already begun, which brings up the part of the story that's more outrageous than the first part.  Teresa, you see, has more contact with their son than Peter does.  Yes, the woman who tried to murder his father, did murder his grandmother and considered drowning the child in the bathtub gets to visit with him regularly.  The man who barely escaped death, who managed to call 911 on his own behalf and who stood up in court, in the darkness of his blind world to testify for the woman who tried to take his life, is being denied all access to his son. Why?  Well, it seems that while Peter was convalescing from his wounds, the court appointed a couple to be the child's guardians.  As I said in my previous piece, amazing as it may seem, they still have custody of the boy and Peter isn't allowed to see him. Does Peter's disability prevent him from being a good, loving and capable father?  It does not.  He's worked hard to get to a point where he can function normally in daily life and friends, neighbors and relatives uniformly testify to his capabilities.  Maybe he's been abusive to the child?  No, there's no evidence of that and, as far as I know, no allegations. At this point, if there is any reason why Peter Spitz doesn't have sole custody of his son, I don't know what it is.  But he has no contact at all.  The guardians have the boy full-time except of course for the supervised visitation Teresa has. But that's not all.  It seems the guardians want to adopt the boy.  Peter of course opposes that, but they're going ahead with their action anyway.  And I'll give you one guess who supports their bid to take Peter Spitz's son from him.  Yep, you're right.  That one was too easy.  Teresa thinks Peter shouldn't have custody of their child.  It's hard to know why, but it looks like some of the old anti-Peter animus may still be at work.  That and the fact that if he retains his rights, he might have the gall to ask her for child support.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Since April 25th is Parental Alienation Awareness Day, I thought I'd run apiece about it, and since our good friend Paulette alerted me to this article, now's as good a time as any (New England Psychologist, March, 2011). Significantly, the article is in the New England Psychologist and it provides a very balanced view of parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome/Disorder.  It's a refreshing change from the high-pitched and sometimes inaccurate rhetoric often channeled by MSM articles on PAS. As such, the article would be a good one to save and refer to for the realities of parental alienation and PAS. For example, the article refers to Dr. Richard Gardner who pioneered the concept of the syndrome as a discrete psychological condition.  But it exchews the usual nonsense peddled by the anti-dad crowd to the effect that Gardner promoted pedophilia and the like.  Since Gardner is dead, much of what is said about him falls under the heading of "you can't libel a dead man."   That is, they'd never say this stuff if he were alive because they'd get sued.  And that tells you much of what you need to know about the levels of intellectual dishonesty to which some people are willing to stoop to try to keep fathers from their children. The great irony of that of course is that no responsible mental health professional believes that PAS is solely done by mothers; they know that fathers do it too.  So the fact that those opposed to fathers' rights shout themselves hoarse against PAS means that they're acting against mothers as well.  You'd think they'd get that, but article after article shows they don't have a clue. It's true that originally Gardner thought of PAS as something mostly done by custodial mothers trying to keep dads out of their children's lives.  But that observation was simply an artifact of the great majority of custodial parents being mothers. Therefore most of the parents claiming to be alienated were fathers and most of the alienators were mothers.  But the simple fact is that neither sex has a monopoly on the abusive behavior called parental alienation. The other complaint about PAS from the anti-dad crowd is that it's just an excuse to turn children over to abusive fathers.  The fact that that argument is little better than silly deters them not a whit.  Child abuse, along with domestic violence are pretty much pre-programmed responses on the part of those opposed to fathers' involvement with their children.  Like the "Chatty Cathy" dolls of the 1960s, pull their string and that's what they say.  I've never seen one of those folks acknowledge the fact, long established by the Department of Health and Human Services, that mothers in America do twice the child abuse and neglect that fathers do. Needless to say, no psychologist worthy of the title is in the business of promoting child abuse and neither are courts that deal with custody issues.  As Dr. Amy Baker, one of the world's foremost authorities on PAS and parental alienation points out,
Baker argues that parental alienation was never intended to include abusive or neglectful parents, something that Gardner also said. Rather, it refers to "strategies intended to manipulate the child into rejecting a parent when there isn't a good reason to reject that parent," she says.
There's yet another irony at work here.  Those who oppose admission of evidence of parental alienation in custody cases say they do so to combat child abuse.  But of course in the process, they defend alienating behavior which is itself child abuse.  It's beginning to look like anti-father stances, reflexively taken lead quickly to self contradiction and self-defeat. Meanwhile, the article gives Baker plenty of room to expound some of the more subtle aspects of parental alienation that MSM pieces routinely overlook.
The strategies used by an alienating parent to turn a child or children against the other parent tend to be pervasive, Baker says. One tactic is denigrating the other parent in front of the child.
"It can be taking a minor flaw and making it seem worthy of contempt," she says. "There's probably an endless list of specifics one parent could say bad about another, but what it really comes down to is that the other parent is made out to be unsafe, unloving and unavailable."
Anything a marginalized parent or targeted parent, does can be recast in a negative light, Baker adds: The parent who calls a lot is characterized as a stalker. If the parent pulls away to give the child space, it's abandonment.
Alienating parents often limit contact between the child and the other parent, sometimes in subtle ways - dropping the child off with the other parent 10 minutes late and picking up 10 minutes early, for instance - and not-so-subtle ways, such as texting or calling the child during visits with the other parent.
"For young children who live very much in the present, a relationship is comprised of very many little moments," Baker says. "Whatever is in the child's mind and heart, they can share it with the parent. But if there's no opportunity to do that, the relationship can suffer."
Baker and psychologist Dr. Lynn Margolies also provide some tips for parents who are targets of alienation about how to deal as effectively as possible with it.  Above all, they remind alienated parents that, however difficult the situation is, their relationship with their child is vital and that every little bit of parenting they can do helps. What is the fate of PAS as a diagnosis to be included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that's up for revision?  That seems unclear, although many mental health professionals promote its inclusion. If it's excluded, anti-father folks across the country will doubtless - if quixotically - proclaim victory.  But, since the recognition of PAS would benefit mothers as well as fathers, they'd do well to temper their enthusiasm. But more to the point is the fact that what's important in a court of law is less evidence of PAS than of parental alienation.  A court's hearing evidence that one parent has embarked on a campaign of denigration and exclusion of the other parent will always be relevant in deciding custody.  That's true in no small part because more and more, states are including "friendly parent" provisions in their custody statutes.  That means that they require each parent to promote a healthy relationship with the other parent.  Failure to do so can affect custody decisions as the case out of New Hampshire I recently reported on makes clear. So whether PAS is officially recognized by the APA or not is simply not very important to the equalization of fathers' and mothers' parental rights.  Anti-father groups oppose that equalization, but tying their success or failure to PAS is mostly a waste of time. Thanks again to Paulette, tireless campaigner for fathers' rights, the rule of law and good sense, for the heads-up.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Around the country, states continue to tweak their custody laws and some consider making big changes.  Alabama and Minnesota, for example, have bills pending in their legislatures that would establish equal parenting post-divorce unless a showing of parental unfitness were made or the parents agreed to another arrangement.  Iowa is considering changing to joint custody in the case of divorce or separation. Here's an article about the more modest approach taken by Pennsylvania (The Mercury, 4/2/11).
Substantial changes to Pennsylvania's child custody laws went into effect on Jan. 24. If you have children and are separated or divorced -- or in the process -- there's a good chance your custody case could be impacted. The good news is that while some of the changes are a possible cause for concern, the majority are smart, positive, and long overdue.
The causes for concern include the fact that judges must now consider whether anyone in the child's household has been convicted of a long list of criminal offenses.  In the custody case, either parent can request a criminal background check on anyone in the other household.  That means Mom's new boyfriend; it also means his teenage daughter; if someone moves back in with their parents or anyone else, anyone in that household can become the subject of a criminal background check.  Haven't I mentioned before something about the breakdown of families opening the door to greater and greater governmental intrusion into our private lives?  Yes, I believe I have.
Now, some better changes: For the first time, judges cannot presume that custody should be awarded to a particular parent based on gender (e.g., they cannot presume that younger children are better off with their mother, or fathers are better suited to raise boys, etc.). This seems obvious, but this language has never before been in the custody statutes.
That's obviously a good thing, for the simple reason that it enshrines in black-letter law that mothersper se aren't to be preferred over fathers for any reason.  How much effect it will have on court orders remains to be seen, but I'd put money on it's being negligible. That's because I seriously doubt many judges consciously discriminate against dads.  They hold certain pre-conceived biases and don't really question them.  Chances are, they don't even know they have them. I think this because, over many years of growing awareness of fathers' value to children, actual custody orders have changed barely at all.  For example, in 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 84.2% of custodial parents with child support orders were mothers.  In 2008, that number had plummeted to 83.6%. My conclusion that the non-discrimination law won't make much of a change is bolstered by the next set of "good" changes.
For the first time, there are specific enumerated factors a judge must consider in determining what constitutes "best interests" of a child. For example, a court must consider past or present abuse by anyone in a parent's household, which parent performs the parental duties, the availability of extended family, the preference of the child (based on maturity and judgment), whether one parent has attempted to alienate the child against the other, how far apart the parties live, the level of conflict between the parties, and any history of drug and alcohol abuse by either party or anyone in the household.
"Which parent performs the parental duties" is the key phrase.  As sure as the sunrise, "parental duties" will be defined in judge's minds as hands-on childcare, i.e. the daily feeding, clothing, bathing, strolling with, reading to, etc. of which mothers typically do the lion's share.  What won't be considered parental duties is earning the money to allow Mom to stay home most of the time and do all those hands-on things.  Such at any rate is my prediction.  I hope I'm proven wrong, but I doubt I will be. Several times recently, I've referred to an article by W. Bradford Wilcox, sociologist at the University of Virginia.  It's a sobering look at how mothers and fathers actually divide up their time and what their aspirations are. Overwhelmingly, mothers with children under the age of 18 would prefer to not work full-time.  And they don't.  Some 75% of households with children under 15 have a man as the chief breadwinner. Those facts stand in stark contrast to the Brave New World narrative we often see in the communications media.  Just last week I read a piece in the Huffington Post extolling the amazing rise of the Stay-at-Home-Dad.  That would be interesting if it had a firm basis in fact, but it doesn't.  Wilcox shows that, as of 2008, there were about 140,000 SAHDs in the whole of the U.S.  That's compared with over 5.3 million moms who stay home to do childcare.    So, on one hand Pennsylvania sternly warns judges not to grant custody based on the parent's sex, and on the other, it tells them to consider what mothers do for their children, but not what dads do in deciding custody.  Admittedly, there's nothing in the new law that prevents a judge from honoring Dad's earnings equally with Mom's diapering.  But they haven't done that so far and I see nothing to indicate they'll start now. It's a slow process, but gradually states are taking notice of the need children have for fathers, both during and after marriage.  The changes to Pennsylvania law take only baby steps in that direction.  Still, the tide of change is moving toward greater parental equality.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS (left) meets with presidential candidate Gary Johnson (right) in Manchester, NH. Johnson told Holstein "Family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time.'"][/caption] Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign is a nonpartisan grassroots campaign with the goal of injecting family court reform into the 2012 election campaign. Between now and New Hampshire's February 14, 2012 primary, our activists will be going to candidates' campaign stops, rallies, and Town Hall meetings, as well as calling in when candidates are interviewed on radio talk shows. We will be politely and persistently asking candidates questions about family court reform, with the goal of garnering media attention for our issues and getting candidates to go on the record with their views. Our central issue is simple--family courts harm children by routinely separating them from one of the two people they love most. How You Can Help We want you to be a part of Fathers and Families" Election 2012 Campaign. Enjoy this social opportunity while joining like-minded men and women in activism and comradeship to bring our issues into the current presidential campaign. No matter where you are, there are many ways you can help:
1) If you are in New England and can volunteer to make appearances at campaign stops and townhalls, please fill out our volunteer form here and type "Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign" at the beginning of the "How I Can Help" section.

Fathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and works successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle. We will be intervening at both Republican and Democratic campaign events. However, there are many more Republican events than Democratic events because the Democrats have an incumbent running.

2) We understand that many of you can"t participate due to geography or other limitations. You can still help by:
  • Writing to the candidates, making calls to reporters, radio talk shows, and candidates' offices, writing letters and posting comments in response to our campaign Action Alerts. You will see these on our website, our Facebook page, and in our weekly ENewsletter.
  • Giving to Fathers and Families. Our New Hampshire efforts cost money--help defray our costs by making a tax-deductible contribution at www.FathersandFamilies.org/give.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F activist Penny Rogers shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a May 26 event. In response to our activist's question, Gingrich told the audience that the family law system has an 'extreme anti-male bias'"][/caption] Examples of Our Activism: To date, six different presidential (or likely presidential) candidates have come out in favor of family court reform to varying degrees via Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign. These include:
  • Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico. Johnson met with F & F Board Chair Ned Holstein, MD, MS in Manchester, NH recently and says "Family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time."
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in response to our activist's question, told the audience the family law system has an "extreme anti-male bias."
  • Presidential candidate / businessman Herman Cain.
  • Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a 2008 and potential 2012 presidential candidate.
  • Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
  • Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
We Are Non-Partisan f-and-f-election-2012-campaignFathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and has and continues to work successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle on legislation to promote family court reform. Our primary goal is to protect the loving bonds children share with both parents after divorce or separation, and we're happy to work with any legislators or political figures who share this goal. During the Fathers and Families Election Campaign 2012 we will be intervening at both Republican and Democratic events. However, there are many more Republican events than Democratic events because the Republican primary will be hotly contested, whereas the Democrats have an incumbent running. Is Family Law Also a Federal Matter? Since family law is usually a state matter, it's a fair question to ask, "What could the federal government do to promote shared parenting?" One answer is this:
The federal government helps shape states" policies in many areas by the payment or withholding of federal reimbursement funds. It works the same way with family law--the federal government reimburses the states billions of dollars each year in child support collection funds. One of the things a pro-shared parenting administration could do to greatly encourage shared parenting is to tie those funds to progress in enacting shared parenting laws, implementing and encouraging shared parenting arrangements, and enforcing visitation orders.
Join us by volunteering at http://www.fathersandfamilies.org/volunteer.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Lately, I've received several anguished pleas from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) calling for passage of the latest round of legislation to correct what they claim to be unequal pay between men and women.  My guess is that the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act won't pass this year any more than it did last year.  If it doesn't, that may be because Congresspeople have finally figured out that sex discrimination in wages is rare and that the male-female earnings gap is due to choices made by men and women about how to spend their time. This article by Carrie Lukas tells it like it is (Wall Street Journal, 4/12/11).  Or at least it does with the exception of the headline, "There is No Male-Female Wage Gap," which is incorrect.  There clearly is a male-female wage gap, but, given the fact that it's purely a product of people's independently-made choices, it's cause for neither alarm nor legislation. As has been shown countless times, most notably by this meta-analysis of some 50 separate studies, the difference in earnings of men and women is due almost entirely to the facts that (a) women do less paid work than do men and (b) women tend to work at lower-paying jobs than do men (CONSAD, 1/12/09). Take out those two factors and the gap in men's and women's earnings narrows to about 5%.  Lukas puts it this way:
Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women--not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics--are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
The AAUW's track record for intellectual honesty is less than stellar.  For decades it was a prestigious organization, but in the past 30 years or so its publications have won such dubious honorifics as "politics dressed up as science."  That's how reputable psychologist Judith Kleinfeld described the AAUW's essentially fabricated claims that American education "shortchanges" girls. So it should come as no surprise that the AAUW is now promoting the wage gap as requiring congressional intervention.  In this economy that finds men's unemployment continuing to outstrip women's by about half a percentage point, their chances of persuading Congress to further hamstring employers in order to address sex discrimination that exists largely in the minds of certain activists, look to be slim and none. So most of us know, whether the AAUW does or not, that the wage gap is almost totally explained by the facts that women do less paid work than do men and that they work at lower-paying jobs.  That raises the question of why those things are true and why they continue to be true throughout 40 years of second-wave feminism and massive changes in men's and women's education that now sees 58% of college graduates being female. Whether the AAUW wants us to know it or not, there's an answer to that question and it's all about children.  For four decades or so, certain activists have been trying to convince women that marriage, family and children constitute bondage for women.  Although we certainly have much more divorce than we once did, it seems that the message about children still hasn't resonated with many women. The simple fact is that, as a general rule, women are strongly motivated to have and care for children.  Across decades and through strong economies and weak, women tend to place children ahead of work on their list of priorities.  That's found by numerous studies referred to by Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, sociologist of the University of Virginia.  He pointed out that, for example, only 20% of women with children under the age of 18 want to work full-time.  Combine that with the fact that, in about 75% of those households, the father is the chief breadwinner, and the explanation for the different work patterns of men and women appears.  Countless studies of many different professions and occupations show the same thing - women, at all levels of education and earning capacity, often take time out of their jobs and careers to care for children.  Their male partners facilitate those choices by earning the bulk of the family's daily bread. I don't criticize either men or women for their choices.  Working for a living and childcare are both honorable and necessary endeavors.  The twin inequalities between the sexes - earnings and child custody - reflect those choices, whether rightly or wrongly. So if the AAUW really wants to address the earnings gap between men and women, it'll march into battle against the many laws and practices that frankly do discriminate against fathers when it comes to child custody.  The more men are encouraged to be fathers, the more women can work and earn.  And as long as family courts and family laws view fathers as expendable in the lives of their children, women will find themselves with little choice.  Someone has to care for children.  Until we equalize family laws, there'll be no way to convince men to abandon their traditional role of breadwinner. Equalizing the sexes in custody matters would have a real impact on women's earning capacity.  That, unlike fictional notions of sex discrimination in wages, is a worthy undertaking for anyone who truly cares about gender equality, fathers and children, and women's financial independence. Will the AAUW take note?

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
In my own ways, I've said much of what this article says many times (The Daily, 4/2/11).  Well-known feminist Jessica Valenti shows she gets it.  What's "it?"  "It" is the connection between cultural expectations of men and women, and fathers' rights to their children.  I'm a lawyer, so I write a lot about the law as it impacts fathers and their children.  After all, there's a lot to say and there will continue to be until state legislatures start to change their statutes. But I've also rattled on a fair amount about the cultural aspects of fatherhood.  The simple fact is that judges, like everyone else, are products of their culture, at least to an extent.  And few if any statutes can be so ironclad that they don't leave room for the exercise of some judicial discretion.  That discretion will unavoidably reflect the biases of the culture in which the judge is steeped. So recently I pointed out that, while the State of Pennsylvania passed a law prohibiting awards of custody based on the sex of the parent, it also requires consideration of who performs the "parenting duties" in custody decisions.   I'd bet good money that that's an open invitation to judges to ignore fathers' earnings that allow mothers to work less and therefore do more childcare.  In other words, judges will be free to act on the bias that hands-on childcare is more important than earning the money that makes it possible.  In short, culture can easily trump law. And in her article Valenti makes it clear that we need to alter cultural conceptions of men as either bad at or uninterested in parenting.  She knows that neither of those things is true in most cases. Valenti rightly says that our cultural preference for mothers
reveals a deep bias we have against men. No matter how progressive our country claims to be, we"re still surprised when men are good dads.
I couldn't agree more. Valenti goes on to quote a recent United Nations Report on the status of men in families.
"Despite an increasing worldwide focus on the role of men in families, burgeoning research documenting men"s contribution to gender equality, the importance of their engagement for work-family balance, and the numerous positive paternal contributions to children"s development, policy-makers have been slow to recognize the need for effective public policy that is supportive of men"s involvement in their families,' the authors write.
There's not much to argue with there.  The simple fact is that laws and judicial practices often seem more intent on separating fathers from children than on doing the opposite.  That doesn't make sense for anyone.  Fathers suffer from the loss of their children in divorce and children suffer from losing their dads.  Mothers lose fathers' help and are unable to work, earn and save equally.  What's the upside to what we're doing now?  I don't see one; it seems bad for all concerned. Add to that the fact that men who are actively involved in their children's lives are far more likely to be employed and far less likely to be in prison or to abuse drugs or alcohol than men who aren't.  So men who are active fathers are exactly the type of men society wants and benefits from. So we ought to be doing everything in our power to connect fathers with children and keep them that way regardless of divorce, regardless of separation, regardless of everything. As Valenti says,
Because, as challenging as it can be (especially when there are diapers or the teenage years to contend with), parenting is a wonderful thing. And by assuming men can"t do it as well, we"re robbing American men of the opportunity to find fulfillment in caretaking.
It may take culture-wide change to equalize mothers' and fathers' rights.  But Jessica Valenti is one feminist who understands the need to do so and the benefits to everyone when we do.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Denise Hines and Emily Douglas continue their excellent research into the effects of domestic violence on men.  Here's a short article about their latest analysis of data (U.S. News, 4/12/11).  And here's the study itself. I've previously reported on their analysis of this same data, but Hines and Douglas have mined it for still more information.  Their results are reported in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity. For those of you who don't remember, Hines and Douglas obtained self reports from two sets of men.  One set consisted of 302 men who had sought help via a domestic violence help line; the second consisted of 520 men from the community at large. The specific goal of the new analysis was to determine if male victims of domestic violence suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.  Many existing studies of female victims of DV show that they suffer PTSD, but before the Hines/Douglas study, no one had asked about a similar association among male victims. Hines and Douglas use nomenclature that includes IPV which stands for any kind of intimate partner violence.  CCV refers to common couple violence which is relatively mild and not necessarily accompanied by psychologically controlling behavior on the part of the perpetrator.  IT refers to intimate terrorism and means severe physical violence together with controlling behavior.  Perhaps not surprisingly, women exposed to CCV have much lower levels of PTSD than those exposed to IT and the same proved true for the men studied by Hines and Douglas.
PTSD is a psychiatric condition that can follow the experience of a traumatic incident, and according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), its symptoms tend to cluster on three dimensions: persistent reexperiencing of the trauma, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and persistent increased arousal.
Hines and Douglas found that it was especially IT, the severe form of domestic violence, that brought on symptoms of PTSD.
In support of previous research (Coker et al., 2005; Dansky et al., 1999; Hines, 2007), we found that for both samples of men, sustaining IPV was significantly correlated with PTSD and its three clusters of symptoms. However, we also found that in comparison to men who sustain no physical IPV and men who sustain CCV, men who sustain IT (a type of IPV that is characterized by severe violence and controlling behaviors) are at exponentially increased risk for exceeding a clinical cut-off for PTSD.
Among both groups of men, the presence of childhood physical abuse increased the likelihood not only of IPV victimization as an adult but of PTSD symptoms as well.  Controlling behavior on the part of the aggressor also tended to increase the probability of PTSD in the male victim.  Those findings mirror previous research into female victims of IPV. And, as with female victims, male victims' symptoms of PTSD were ameliorated by the presence of social support and treatment.  Needless to say, that has implications for how male victims of IPV should be treated by the community generally, but particularly by mental health professionals.
First, it is important for any treatment provider who encounters a man who discloses physical IPV and controlling behaviors against him by his partner to acknowledge that this man likely has been traumatized. This is an important first step, because previous research on this sample showed that not only did men experience more negative than positive experiences with treatment providers, but every time a man in our helpseeking sample experienced a negative response from a treatment provider, his odds of exceeding the clinical cut-off for PTSD increased significantly.
Stated another way, mental health providers who think that men can't be victims of DV actually make the problem worse; they add to the trauma rather than subtracting from it.  That's a finding that should inform all future efforts to address the problems of male victims of IPV. Hines and Douglas note that female victims of IPV benefit from women's support groups.  Rather forlornly they add that male victims would benefit from similar men's support groups if there were any.
Given that there is no research exploring treatment options for men who sustain IT, we would urge therapists to use and evaluate a similar model for men who sustain IT and seek help, and to then tailor a more appropriate model for men. A crucial aspect of this development would be the institution of support groups for men who sustain IT, which are currently lacking.
This research is not definitive; it has its limitations which the authors describe.  But, particularly given the similarity between men's and women's responses to IT, it seems likely to hold up over time. It's yet another clarion call to our society, our elected officials and our mental health professionals to stop ignoring the truth about male victims of domestic violence.  There once was a bumper sticker that read "There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence."  It's high time the DV industry stopped making excuses for women who attack men.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
I was recently pleased to be a guest on Paul Elam's show on Blog Talk Radio along with Seattle family attorney, Lisa Scott.  The subject was domestic violence and the many roles it plays in the diminution of our civil rights and liberties.  Here's a link to the show (BlogTalk Radio, 4/13/11). Scott is a long-time family lawyer so she's seen the pernicious effects of the domestic violence industry on families, particularly fathers and children.  Here's her website that makes it clear that, when it comes to dads in family court, she "gets it." The interview was a good one.  It was made even better by the many calls from knowledgeable listeners.  One in particular got my attention. A mental health professional called in with some very important information for men in intimate relationships.  She said that she's counseled many innocent men who've found themselves thrown out of their houses, denied access to their kids, tossed in jail, made the subject of TROs - in short, the whole litany of abuse visited on men by the domestic violence establishment. Her message?  Many, many of these men had been threatened repeatedly by their partners, with exactly that.  The couple would have a row and the woman would tell the man that, if he didn't toe the line, she'd call the police and claim DV.  The good doctor said that is a very common occurrence, and her message was that if your partner says that, believe her.  Sooner or later, she'll likely make good on the threat. Into the bargain, as Lisa Scott added, that very threat is itself a form of control that our greatly expanded version of domestic violence is supposed to prohibit.  Needless to say, that's an interesting point.  The ease with which TROs are issued against men and the power of false allegations are in fact a terribly real form of domestic abuse. My two cents consisted in part of discussing the inroads into constitutional rights made by domestic violence law.  The fact that the Fourth Amendment requires a finding of probable cause before a search or arrest can be carried out is routinely cast aside in favor of unsubstantiated claims. Add to that the fact that supposed DV perpetrators are often brought to trial based on something as insubstantial as the recording of a 911 call.  That's one of the results of no-drop policies of district attorneys in cases in which domestic violence is alleged.  In those cases, the accuser has changed her mind and seeks to withdraw her complaint, but ADAs go ahead anyway. Now, there's a little matter of the Sixth Amendment to reckon with.  That Amendment requires that anyone accused of a crime has the right to confront his/her accuser.  As a practical matter, that means the accuser must be brought into court for cross-examination.  Needless to say, you can't cross-examine a tape recording. Lisa Scott pointed out that, however violative of the Sixth Amendment that might be, since most cases are plea-bargained, the mere threat of prosecution - even one based on something as shaky as a 911 call - is often enough to force a defendant's hand. She rightly said that men faced with plea-bargaining to a lesser offense or risking a trial have a daunting decision to make.  Conviction can often mean not only prison but loss of kids, job and more.  Given the fact that few such men can afford the type of drawn-out representation required to not only try a case but possibly appeal a conviction, the results of a charge based even on flimsy evidence are not hard to imagine. Domestic violence is a serious problem in the United States.  That's why understanding it correctly and addressing it effectively are important.  Sadly, since the early 1970s, we've gotten almost everything about DV wrong.  That's because we trusted a radical political ideology to inform us on the subject.  Not surprisingly, that ideology led us down the wrong path. Now, after almost 40 years of federal and state funding, interests that believe in preserving the status quo have become entrenched and unseating them will not be easy.  But more and more, people are coming to realize that what we've been doing isn't working.  It's a waste of public money because it was always based on numerous flawed concepts. Among those are that only men commit DV or that when women do it's only in self defense.  Then there's the claim that women's DV doesn't hurt men and that women don't seek to control men by their violence. How to deal with offenders is likewise flawed.  Mental health professionals actually have some very good ideas about how to deal with perpetrators, but for the DV establishment all that is irrelevant because it fails to embrace the political notion that men abuse women out of a need to maintain a misogynistic patriarchy.  Mandatory arrest of "primary aggressors" is similarly flawed because it too seeks to ignore women who commit DV. The conflation of all domestic violence with "battering" is another favorite misconception the DV establishment is glad to perpetuate.  Time and again we find that the vast majority of what's called domestic violence is either entirely non-injurious or results in no more than "a minor cut or bruise," to quote a recent study by the government of Scotland.  In that study, 80% of incidents resulted in either no injury or only a minor one, in short, a far cry from "battering." I could go on, but suffice it to say that little that we do or say about domestic violence is calculated to sensibly confront that very real problem. But many people outside the DV establishment are fighting back.  We read about it in newspapers, in academic studies and the Internet, and hear about it on television and the radio.  Slowly but surely the worm is turning.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

Update 6/10/11: Governor Kasich signs HB 121.

Update 6/1/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio Senate, goes to Governor Kasich for his signature. An emergency clause has been attached to the bill, so instead of waiting 90 days for it to become law, it will take effect immediately after it is signed.

Update 5/10/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio House of Representatives.

Update 4/13/11: HB 121 passes Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee.

---------------------------------------

Fathers and Families of Ohio supports HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year.

F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin laid out the case for HB 121 in the Columbus Dispatch -- see his op-ed column Custody agreements should survive deployments (4/6/11).

In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:

...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...

The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.

In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this.

The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone.

More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face.

No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.

Read Hubin's full piece here.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
At this point, we know little about the horrible tragedy that unfolded in the early evening hours of April 12th. What we do know is that Lashandra Armstrong, mother of four children ages 11 months to 10 years, drove her minivan into the Hudson River near Newburgh, New York, with the intention of drowning them all.  Her 10-year old son, La'Shaun managed to escape, swim to shore and flag down a passing motorist, telling her, "My mommy just drove the car in the water." That motorist, Meave Ryan rushed to the scene, saw the minivan and concluded that Armstrong and the three youngest children were dead.  She then took La'Shaun to a fire station.  As Ryan tells it, the boy described what had happened:
"There was an argument about cheating, that his stepfather was cheating on his mother,' Ms. Ryan said. On the short ride from their apartment in Newburgh to the boat ramp, La"Shaun told Ms. Ryan, his mother had called an older relative and said, "I"m sorry, I"m going to do something crazy, you have to forgive me...' She said he told her that Ms. Armstrong had grabbed the children as the minivan rolled into the water and said, "If I"m going to die, you"re going to die with me.' She said that La"Shaun broke free, rolled down the window and swam out. He also told her that his mother tried to stop the tragedy that was playing out, but it was too late. He said that as the minivan began sinking Ms. Armstrong said, "Oh, my God, I made a mistake, I made a mistake.' He said she tried to shift into reverse. But the minivan was too far into the water to go back.
Slowly the pieces of the puzzle are being gathered and put in place.  In this article, various friends, relatives and neighbors are quoted (New York Times, 4/13/11).  From their bits of information, we can learn that the three youngest of Armstrong's children - the three who are dead - were fathered by a man named Jean Pierre, 26.  Who La'Shaun's father is has not yet been reported. Pierre is described variously as a hands-on dad who was frequently seen around the house although he and Armstrong didn't live together.  He has no history of criminal behavior and none of domestic violence. Pierre and Armstrong were often seen by neighbors doing family activities together.  Those included cooking out on the barbecue grill, going shopping and doing laundry together. Still, there was conflict in the family.  Just what that was about remains unclear, but it's been reported that Pierre had at least one romantic affair outside his relationship with Armstrong.  As Armstrong headed toward the river with the children, the older relative she had called alerted police who went to the house only to find it vacant.  They've questioned Pierre and released him without charges. One suggestive fact is that Armstrong had asked the landlord to change the locks twice in the previous year for the purpose of keeping Mr. Pierre out of the apartment.  Why would she do that if there was no history of domestic violence on his part and the police had no record of any disturbance there? There could of course be many reasons.  But a woman who kills herself and three of her children apparently because of the father's relationship with another woman is one thing.  A woman who enlists the aid of the landlord to keep him out of her and the children's lives is another.  And a woman who gives neighbors every indication of conducting regular family life with the same man is yet another.  How can we explain all that?  Based on what little we have to go on, I'd say it looks like a couple with kids who tried to make a go of it, but, for whatever reasons, ultimately failed.  Having failed, the man moved on to other relationships but still wanted to play an active part in his kids' lives.  The mother then moved to marginalize him as their father and, when he persisted, took the ultimate step.  If that's how it played out, it would be a lot like the Riggi case in Scotland. As I say, I have little factual information to go on, but that's the narrative I'd offer based on what there is.  We'll see. And, speaking of insufficient information, the linked-to article is a fairly long one.  The reporter quotes eight different people including Ryan, La'Shaun, various relatives and neighbors, the police chief, the mayor and the landlord.  He does not quote the father, Jean Pierre. That's not because Pierre is unavailable.  After all, the police talked to him.  So it's interesting that the narrative of this whole event is being cobbled together without the input of one of the major players in the drama - the dad.  In an article that spends considerable time discussing family activities and what happened just before Armstrong took the lives of herself and three children, it would seem that Pierre would have a lot to offer. But given the fact that there's no boilerplate statement to the effect that "attempts to contact Pierre" were unsuccessful" or that "phone calls weren't returned," it's beginning to look like the reporter didn't even try. He does include this quotation from Armstrong's aunt:
"She"s a good mother,' Ms. Gilliam said. "Just because she drove a car...' Her voice trailed off. Then she said, "Nobody knows what my niece went through.'
I'm sure we'll find out in the upcoming days. In the meantime articles like this one seek to exonerate Armstrong on the basis of literally no information (WNYT, 4/14/11).  The article speculates that, although there's no evidence of mental illness on Armstrong's part, she might have been mentally ill and she might have had post-partum depression.  So it quotes a psychologist about what might have happened if Armstrong had a mental illness that was post-partum depression or psychosis. All of that is of course true.  Countless things might have happened.  But when journalists engage not only in rank speculation, but in speculating about speculation, you know there's an agenda other than reporting the facts about a terrible tragedy. And since the second piece ignores the dad too, I'd say it's trying to get readers to forgive Armstrong her awful deed rather than condemn her for it.  As with the NYT article, Pierre is probably the person best situated to throw light on Armstrong's state of mind, but again, he's silenced. I have no desire to cast aspersions on anyone who is truly mentally ill.  If Armstrong were incapable of understanding what she was doing, then she has my ready forgiveness.  So far, though, all signs point to her being in full possession of her faculties. The point being that, if a father had snatched four children from under the nose of their mother and driven them and himself into a cold watery grave,  because he was upset that she had had an affair, would newspaper articles and radio blogs be so eager to absolve him of wrongdoing that they refused to interview the mom?  I think the question answers itself. I've written plenty about a culture that clings to the archaic notion that mothers can do nothing wrong and fathers can do nothing right.  The press coverage so far of this terrible incident is yet one more instance of exactly that.  And until that culture changes, mothers will still do the lion's share of childcare and fathers will be marginalized in the lives of their children.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
A lot of people are familiar with one of the classic Catch-22 scenarios in criminal law.  When a person is convicted of a crime and sent to prison, one of the conditions of parole is that he/she admit guilt and show contrition for the bad act.  The problem comes when the convicted person is innocent.  The Innocence Project and many similar state-based organizations have often revealed the "damned if you do/damned if you don't" nature of state parole systems.  These guys (over 90% are men) are faced with a terrible choice - "admit" "guilt" and possibly get out of prison where you don't belong in the first place, or maintain your innocence and stay inside. Thus, in this Orwellian world, does actual innocence keep you in prison.  (I'm aware that the word "Orwellian" is overused, but it clearly applies here.) As I said, many people are aware of this.  What they likely aren't aware of (I know I wasn't), however, is this (KTNV, 4/15/11). It seems that Las Vegas resident Victor Fakoya was babysitting a roommate's toddler when the child died.  That got him charged with murder by local prosecutors, but it turned out that the child had been seriously ill for some time prior to its death. Fakoya's first trial resulted in a hung jury, so prosecutors tried again.  The second time, Fakoya was acquitted, i.e. he was found not guilty of the charges against him.   The jury foreman, Hale Benton, called the child's death "an accident" that wasn't Mr. Fakoya's fault. Fine.  All's well that ends well, right?  Perhaps so, but this one hasn't ended, not by a long shot. As his attorney, Kristina Wildeveld describes it,
"After he was released from the criminal trial, he was released from jail," says Wildeveld. "He went home and CPS showed up at his door and told him there was an active CPS case and he wasn't allowed to reside in his home."
That would be bad enough, but there's more.  CPS wants to terminate Fakoya's parental rights based on the death of his roommate's child.  Fakoya, it seems has two children of his own who've been in the care of their mother since his arrest in 2008. Dissatisfied by their failures in criminal court, Las Vegas prosecutors have now intervened in the family court to prevent Fakoya's having any contact with his own children and to in fact terminate his rights altogether. And here's where that old familiar Catch-22 comes in.  CPS is demanding that Fakoya take a child abuse class, of which one graduation requirement is... can you guess?  That's right, an admission of guilt. So, he's been found not guilty by the jury, one of whose members says the child's death was not Fakoya's fault.  That's enough to acquit him of criminal liability, but if he ever wants to see his kids again, he has to admit to something he and at least 12 other people, say he didn't do. What's left unsaid is whether CPS and prosecutors would drop their efforts to terminate his rights if he were to admit guilt.  After all, in a sense it's as much a Catch-22 for them as it is for him.  Their line runs something like this: "Continue to claim innocence and we'll take your kids from you; admit that you're responsible for the death of a child and you can keep them."  Needless to say, that's an awkward stance for them to maintain. Meanwhile, Fakoya has exhausted his financial reserves.  Wildeveld says he can't pay her fees, so he'll have a court-appointed lawyer to try to keep his kids. Fakoya's not a hard case; he says he'll gladly take the class, but without the requirement that he admit guilt.  That's not good enough for prosecutors and CPS for whom nothing but moral abasement and kowtowing to their authority will be good enough. Now, theoretically, a mere finding of 'not guilty' in a murder case may not be enough to prove that a person is a fit parent.  Murder is an intentional act and acquittal may mean nothing more than that the accused didn't kill someone on purpose.  And that's far from enough to show that he/she is qualified to be a parent.  After all, CPS rightly takes children from parents every day based only on neglect. But in this case, the child's death was not due to any failure on Fakoya's part.  That's what Hale Benton says, at any rate.  So at this point, prosecutors and CPS look to be acting punitively. And there's another issue that no one has brought up.  Fakoya is married.  His wife is the mother of his two children.  So, what if prosecutors and CPS succeed in their mission to deprive Fakoya of his kids?  Well, he obviously can't live with his wife or have much contact with her. So, in addition to trying to take his children, they're apparently trying to take his marriage as well.  If they succeed at that though, it'll be because they terminated his parental rights which in all probability means he won't be required to pay child support.  That in turn means that his children not only won't have a father, they'll live on the earnings of their single mother alone, without the support of her ex. In short, the ramifications of the actions of prosecutors and CPS go far beyond their dogged pursuit of an innocent man, bad as that is by itself. 'Tis a tangled web indeed.  But it's one that could be untangled easily by prosecutors and CPS seeing sense and letting Victor Fakoya go home to his wife and kids.  

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
At Fathers and Families we receive many letters from divorced or separated military servicemembers with painful but preventable family law problems. Currently, Georgia is one of the few remaining states that has no protections in statute. To address these problems, Department of Defense Liaisons Office legislative representatives and Fathers and Families legislative representative Michael Robinson worked to introduce Georgia"s SB 112 and HB 282. Both bills largely mirror Fathers and Families' California AB 2416, which was passed into law last fall. Many months in the making, the bills will help protect military parents" child custody rights during and after deployments. Because of the rapid progress of SB 112, a decision was made to focus on that bill rather than additionally moving HB 282 and risk bills having competing amendments. This week Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 112. We applaud the Governor, and also Representative John Yates and Senator Joshua McKoon for sponsoring the bills. 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. SB 112 creates 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.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Here's Dr. Amy Baker on Parental Alienation Syndrome (Psychology Today, 4/14/11).  Because it's a short article that directly states the parental behaviors that lead to the development of PAS by a child and the subsequent behaviors by the child that make up the syndrome, I reproduce it in full.  For all those interested in PAS, it makes for a handy reference. I've said it many times - I'm no psychologist and therefore I'm entirely unqualified to say either whether PAS constitutes a discrete syndrome or whether it should be included in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  To my mind, for advocates of fairness in family courts, neither of those issues should be of much importance. That's because what's matters in family court is less the naming of a set of actions by a child and more a parent's attempt to turn the child against the other parent.  It's that parental behavior that is designed to affect custody decisions by courts and of course sometimes does. In short, it's parental alienation that can damage parent-child relationships, alter court decisions and ultimately separate parents from children.  Whether a child exhibits a specifically named set of symptoms is very important for the child, very important for psychology and relatively unimportant in equalizing parental rights in family courts. If PAS is not included in the upcoming edition of the DSM, opponents of fathers' rights will doubtless toast the event with champagne, but their joy will be misplaced.  The simple fact is that an increasing number of states are doing one very important thing; they're including as a vital part of the 'best interests of the child' the willingness of each parent to encourage a healthy relationship with the other parent. That is, state statutes are beginning to specifically oppose parental alienation.  Given that, evidence of alienating behavior will always be relevant and material in custody cases.  So whatever the short-term fate of PAS inclusion in the DSM, attorneys will continue to adduce evidence of alienation and courts will more and more punish alienating parents. That should be good for kids, and it'll mean courts are emphasizing appropriate factors in deciding custody.  With any luck, it'll also start to reduce alienating behavior, and that can't be a bad thing. Here's Dr. Baker's article:
Parental alienation is a set of strategies that parents use to undermine and interfere with a child's relationship with his or her other parent. This often but not always happens when parents are engaged in a custody battle over the children. There is no one definitive set of behaviors that constitute parental alienation but research with both parents and children has revealed a core set of 17 primary parental alienation strategies, including bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), forcing child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent. Taken together, these 17 parental alienation strategies work to create psychological distance between the child and the targeted parent such that the relationship becomes conflict ridden and eventually non-existent, as the child is empowered to cut that parent off completely. Each of these strategies serve to A) further the child's cohesion and alignment with the alienating parent; B) create psychological distance between the child and the targeted parent; C) intensify the targeted parent's anger and hurt over the child's behavior; and D) incite conflict between the child and the targeted parent should the targeted parent challenge or react to the child's behavior. Parents who try to alienate their child from his or her other parent convey a three-part message to the child: (1) I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to feel good about yourself, (2) the other parent is dangerous and unavailable, and (3) pursuing a relationship with that parent jeopardizes your relationship with me. Children who succumb to the pressure and ally themselves with one parent against the other often exhibit a set of behaviors that have become known as parental alienation syndrome: (1) The first manifestation is a campaign of denigration against the targeted parent. The child becomes obsessed with hatred of the targeted parent (in the absence of actual abuse or neglect that would explain such negative attitudes). (2) Weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the depreciation of the targeted parent. The objections made in the campaign of denigration are often not of the magnitude that would lead a child to hate a parent, such as slurping soup or serving spicy food. (3) Lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent. The child expresses no ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support of him or her. (4) The child strongly asserts that the decision to reject the other parent is her own. This is what is known as the "Independent Thinker" phenomenon. (5) Absence of guilt about the treatment of the targeted parent. Alienated children will make statements such as, "He doesn't deserve to see me." (6) Reflexive support for the alienating parent in the parental conflict. There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with inter-parental conflicts. (7) Use of borrowed scenarios. These children often make accusations towards the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted wholesale from the alienating parent. And, finally, (8) The hatred of the targeted parent spreads to his or her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so too are his/her entire family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are suddenly avoided and rejected. When children exhibit these 8 behaviors the most likely explanation is the manipulation of the favored parent. Once children exhibit these behaviors much of the damage is done. Prevention is critical as it is easier to stop children from becoming alienated than it is to undo the alienation once the children have adopted false ideas and feelings about the rejected parent. For this reason, parents who are concerned about the use of alienation strategies on the part of the other parent should become educated as quickly as possible about different options for responding to parental alienation. Resources for targeted parents are available at www.amyjlbaker.com.  

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
One of the best (to my mind) parts of the proposed Alabama law that would create equally shared parenting in that state comes in its preamble.  It says that the bill seeks to bring custody law "into line with current social science" on the importance of both parents to the wellbeing of children.  What a concept - actually trying to fit the law on parenting to the great mountain of sociology and psychology on parents and children. That of course raises a question that so many of us advocates for family court reform have been shouting for years - why do family court practices bear so little resemblance to what we know about the value of fathers to children?   As but one example, Canadian researcher Paul Millar points out that there is literally no evidence that children's outcomes are enhanced by maternal custody post-divorce.  Indeed, there's some evidence that paternal custody might be better.  And yet, in some 90% of Canadian custody cases, Mom becomes the primary custodian. Put simply, the almost total disconnect between the science of child welfare and the practices of family courts suffuses the whole thing with an air of unreality.  That it's all done in the name of the 'best interests of the child,' makes it actually surreal. This article brings to mind another example (New York Times, 4/17/11). Up until very recently - within about 25 years - there was no scientifically accurate way to prove paternity.  Blood typing could clearly exclude a man as the father of a child and it could attest to the possibility that he was.  But there was simply no way to certainly establish paternity. Given that, the law long ago adopted the presumption that any child born to a married woman was fathered by her husband.  Since we could rarely prove false paternity, the law short-circuited the whole process and simply established a rule.  Husbands were considered the fathers of their wives' children unless they could prove otherwise. That was, if not an entirely fair result, at least a workable one. But given the development of genetic testing, the presumption of paternity is entirely unnecessary.  It retains all the unfairness of the outdated rule but has none of its raison d'être - in short, the worst of both worlds. And yet, in the face of a scientifically compelling reason for abandoning the presumption, it hangs doggedly on.  As with their wholesale refusal to grant equal custody to fit parents, family courts are stuck in the past.  We now have the easy ability to establish paternity; we just don't use it. The Times article tells of an attempt in New York State to dismantle the presumption of marital paternity.  And since the world of parental rights and duties is so strange, it shouldn't surprise us to learn that the effort comes not from a defrauded dad, but a woman, and it has nothing to do with parental rights, but with money. Nina Montepagani was born in New York in 1952 to two Italian immigrants.  Her mother died of cancer when she was about seven years old and she was raised by her father, Giuseppe Viola, whom she loves dearly. 
Giuseppe died in 1987, at the age of 95. She said she had seen him every day. "It was just a joy to me to sit next to him and watch TV,' she said.
But... Throughout her life there were tantalizing suggestions that Viola might not be her dad.  That's because her mother may or may not have had a brief affair with a Dr. Sebastiano Raeli in Rome before coming to the United States.  It was only eight months later that little Nina was born. And ever after, a strange but persistent connection to Raeli existed between him and Nina, him and Giuseppe and him and her mother.  It was a connection that no one wanted to discuss, but brought floods of tears whenever the subject came up. Now, Giuseppe Viola was an illiterate laborer - a fine father, but poor.  Dr. Raeli however was a different story.  Over the years he became somewhat of a hotel magnate, amassing nine properties in Rome.  When he died, he and his wife left it all - some $100 million worth - to an Italian university. But Italian law forbids such a transfer if the deceased had one or more children.  Half of his estate must go to the offspring and not surprisingly, it is that $50 million that Nina Montepagani wants. She filed suit some years ago in Italy, but the suit was dismissed.  The Raelis said they had no children, Nina was born while Giuseppe was married and Nina's birth certificate says that Giuseppe Viola is her father.  That creates the presumption of paternity in New York that the Italian court is required to honor. End of story, right?  Wrong. Nina Montepagani has sued the State of New York to remove Giuseppe Viola's name from her birth certificate.  Exactly what effect that would have on the Italian court, I have no idea.  After all, the presumption of paternity arises less from the birth certificate than from the fact that the birth occurred while Giuseppe and Anna (Nina's mother) were married, and that is an undeniable fact. Still, it's impossible to ignore the fact that, as in all cases of potential paternity fraud, there's now a simple solution - a solution that didn't exist back in 1952 - DNA testing.  If you're Nina Montepagani, it must seem a trifle odd that, with the answer to the vital question of paternity within easy reach, courts should rely on a legal fiction that has no legitimate place in 21st century jurisprudence. Indeed, with $50 million on the line, I'd guess it's more than just a trifle odd. And, although most men who face the same perversity of family law in paternity fraud cases don't have that much money riding on the outcome, they do have real relationships with real children and real mothers at stake.  So in some way, Nina Montepagani can probably feel their pain.  She's stuck in the same weird, anachronistic world they inhabit and surely it feels outrageous to her in the same way.  We can all know the truth, but courts and laws won't let us.  They prefer fiction. So maybe it wouldn't be so odd after all if New York changed its presumption of paternity not because of a wronged father but because of his daughter, and not because of the loss of a child but because of money. Stranger things have happened - in life and in fiction. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
The campus of Duke University is calm now.  It's mid-April and final exams are approaching.  Semester papers are coming due and anyway, the men's basketball team, a perennial powerhouse, lost in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament this year, so that distraction is gone. The faculty must be busy too, since we're not hearing much from them.  The Group of 88 must have disbanded at some point, and in any event, there are no radical students to egg them on, no district attorney to wave fabricated charges in their faces like a red cape before a bull. But what, after all is there to get excited about?  Merely this (WRAL, 4/13/11). Yes, Crystal Gayle Mangum is in jail again and, if my intuition is correct, there to stay - maybe for life.  Mangum of course is the woman who infamously charged three Duke students with rape one night five years ago.  Her charges, never believable, were swallowed hook line and sinker by police, the District Attorney's office and hundreds, perhaps thousands of faculty and students who turned as one on the three innocent young men. The university's administration at the time added cowardice to hypocrisy by failing to raise such basic issues as the presumption of innocence.  That fell to the three young men, their coach, their teammates and the women's Lacrosse team who never wavered in their belief that the three were innocent. This was all the more remarkable for the fact that young men's behavior from the outset demonstrated innocence.  They volunteered to take DNA tests, opened the fraternity house to police investigation and took and passed polygraph tests.  All that produced no evidence of guilt. But as police investigated, evidence of innocence piled up and up.  One of the accused produced credit card and building entrance card evidence that he in fact was elsewhere at the time of the alleged assault.  Countless other facts pointed directly at actual innocence. None of that deflected for an instant the twin crusades of Michael Nifong, District Attorney who was running for election and the Group of 88 Duke professors who at times seemed to be running for village idiot.  In their cossetted little world, the three young men were presumptively privileged and, having been charged with rape by a women, must have been guilty.  Such is the "logic" of higher education these days. So compelling to them was their own narrative of privilege and oppression that they forgot entirely to consult facts and common sense.  Even a cursory glance at either would have given even the most anti-male, anti-jock person pause. And then there was the complainant herself, Ms. Mangum.  Facts about her piled up as well, like the false claim ten years before that she had been raped by three men that even her own father said was made up.  Her multiple run-ins with the law, her actual job as stripper (some said prostitute) and her tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol would have tipped off less excitable folks than the Group of 88. But no, by then they were in full cry and ill-prepared when their ideologically constructed worldview came crashing down around them.  It took a full year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the State of North Carolina to officially find the three not merely not guilty, but innocent and to drop all charges against them.  The coup de grace to the whole sorry affair came when Michael Nifong was disbarred for his disgraceful behavior including withholding exculpatory evidence - the DNA tests that proved innocence. That was five years ago and during the ensuing years, Crystal Gayle Mangum has rarely been out of the news.  She received no punishment for falsely accusing the young men or wasting state and county resources.  Last year I reported on her assault of her boyfriend and setting fire to his clothing.  She got off with barely a tap on the wrist. And that's too bad because, if the Durham police are right, she's now committed murder, stabbing her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, to death with a kitchen knife to the chest.  If she's convicted, my guess is that the local police and prosecutors will finally have had their fill of her and put her away for life.  That of course will come too late to save Reginald Daye, but why would a Duke faculty member notice a minor detail like that?  Why lift your bespectacled face out of your books to notice when a mere man is actually killed as opposed to the false claims of rape by a woman?  Why heed an actual fact, particularly one that holds the power to disturb your carefully-constructed universe. No, leave it to the neighbor who called 911 as Daye lay bleeding to death to get right what some of the supposedly best minds in the country couldn't.
When asked for a description of the girlfriend, the caller said, "It's Crystal Mangum. THE Crystal Mangum." He then added, "I told him she was trouble from the beginning."
That simple truth is one that many people could have recognized years ago.  If they had, much embarrassment and much torment would have been avoided. Daye died, perhaps ironically, at Duke University Hospital.  The silence on campus as he did was deafening. Meanwhile, remember Maryanne Godboldo, the Detroit single mother who made the mistake of using her own judgment about whether to give a certain psychotropic drug to her 13-year-old daughter?  That drove the local CPS to get an ex parte court order to turn over the girl. Godboldo refused, the police were called, an altercation ensued and the girl was taken by CPS to a psychiatric facility where, two weeks later she was reported to be doing well having still not received the medication that was the cause of her being taken in the first place. I opined at the time that that, plus CPS's refusal to hand the girl over to her father, strongly indicated that the whole thing looked less like concern for the girl and more like rage on the part of the state at being thwarted in the exercise of its power by the likes of a mere parent. Well, now this articletells us that it wasn't just the police that showed up at Godboldo's door, it was the SWAT team complete with a tank for what purpose I can only guess (Daily Mail, 4/15/11).  Just picture it, a single mother inside her apartment with her young daughter who's having some mental/emotional difficulties, while outside there are a multitude of armed SWAT team members and a tank. You can always gauge how much you've affronted the state by the level of its response to the affront.  Given that, I'd say they perceive Godboldo's action as a serious threat. And maybe that tells us something important about how the state perceives its interest in intervening in family life and particularly in parenting decisions.  So you think you know what's best for your child, you think you have autonomy in the matter, you think those Supreme Court cases saying the state can't interfere in the parenting decisions of a fit parent actually mean something.  Well think again. And that knock on your door?  It's not UPS.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
With the murder/suicide by Lashandra Armstrong of herself and her three youngest children last week has come the inevitable spate of articles attempting to absolve her of guilt for her terrible act. Some have speculated that she may have suffered from postpartum depression even though no article has yet produced any evidence that she was or that she was undergoing treatment. Others have seized on the words of a school aide who said Armstrong seemed to have been acting in a paranoid way shortly before drowning herself and her children in the Hudson River.  While that observation may be suggestive of something, it's anything but conclusive. By contrast, this article takes a different tack, but incongruously ends up in much the same place as the others (MSNBC, 4/17/11). 

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
the-in-sight-youth-project The In-Sight Youth Project helps foster children and homeless teenagers. They are sponsoring a benefit concert in Los Angeles on Saturday May 7--to learn more, click here, to buy tickets, click here.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Here's an interesting development.  It's a link to a bill that's before the Illinois Senate, having passed the House by a vote of 78-36. The bill is entitled the Steven Watkins Memorial Act.  I've written before about Steven Watkins.  He was an Illinois man who was shot to death as he arrived to pick up his daughter for his court-ordered visitation one day in 2008. The shooter was his ex-wife's mother.  Last year she was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison.  She was 75 years old at the time of sentencing. Since then, the big news about the case has involved the efforts of Watkins' parents to get a court to order visitation with their granddaughter.  They've been successful at getting the order, but not the visitation.  That's because Watkins' ex has fled the state for parts unknown.  She is now under several indictment for violations of the visitation order. So House Bill 1604 is an effort to put some teeth into visitation orders.  Not coincidentally, it amends the state law providing for the suspension of the drivers' license of parents who don't pay child support.  If the bill passes, Illinois parents who don't comply with visitation orders can have their drivers license suspended until they come into compliance. On the surface, the bill makes about as much sense as suspending the license of someone who doesn't pay child support.  The question arises, "how does drivers' license suspension promote compliance?"  The answer is that usually it doesn't. Still, you've got to like HB 1604.  Countless advocates for parental equality in family courts have remarked on the fact that states use huge amounts of resources and the most draconian laws to force non-custodial parents to pay child support, but almost none to enforce visitation orders. Not long ago I did this piece on Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's crowing about all his office was doing to enforce visitation orders.  He was all puffed up about the state's getting $500,000 in federal money to supposedly promote visitation enforcement in Texas counties with well over 5 million people.  Trifling as that sum is, it was directed at organizations whose missions are mainly the collection of child support, not enforcing child access.  So in fact very little of the already paltry sum was going to promote fathers' access to their children. And, based on the AG's own figures, I calculated that Texas spends at least $257 million per year on child support enforcement.  Compare that with the $500,000 for visitation (even though it's actually not that much) and you have a fair assessment of what value Texas places on each activity.  The ratio's about 500:1. The law says the two are separate.  Every divorce lawyer has explained to a client, "just because she doesn't allow you to see the child doesn't mean you can quit paying."  Legally, the same is true for the custodial parent; failure to pay doesn't absolve her of allowing him to see the child. But what's true in law may not always be true in fact.  Whether courts and lawyers like it or not, parents see a connection between child access and child support.  For a dad, paying every month or two weeks is a lot easier if he sees little Andy or Jenny regularly and without complaint.  For Mom, allowing visitation is less onerous if the check's there on time every time. And that's not just anecdotal evidence or shoot-from-the-hip common sense; social science bears it out.  Sanford Braver's studies in the 90s showed that dads are  more likely to pay fully and on time if they get to see their children.  So once again, there's a real disconnect between the law and the way people actually behave.  The law says visitation and child support have nothing to do with each other.  The actual behavior of divorced parents says otherwise. That's why, to me, Illinois HB 1604 is interesting.  On its face it doesn't accomplish a lot, but what it suggests is important.  Its clear subtext is that there's a connection between visitation and support; that's why it moves in the direction of treating them the same.  Fail to pay, lose your license; interfere with visitation, lose your license. If they care to notice, it's also a clear rebuke to family court judges who, even though they're equipped with the power to enforce their visitation orders, routinely fail to do so.  It's one of the quiet scandals of family courts.  It's quiet because the press rarely notices it; it's a scandal because it constitutes clear discrimination against non-custodial parents, about 84% of whom are fathers.  And it's no less a scandal because the failure to ensure healthy relationships with both parents post divorce is terribly hurtful to children.  Again, the same family courts that never cease intoning the mantra of the "best interests of the child" seem to have little or no information about the social science on what promotes child well-being. So whatever the fate of Illinois HB 1604, it's good to see legislators who are aware of the disgraceful failure of family courts to enforce fathers' access to their kids post-divorce and are moving, even tentatively, to do something about it. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn