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

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This is a fine pre-Fathers Day piece, which is odd since it's not exactly about a father (Salon.com, 6/18/11). It's about an uncle, and a young one at that.  His name is Adrian McLemore who's 23 and lives in Ohio where he attends Wright State University.  There's nothing strange about any of that, but he also raises two children, a 4 year old girl, A'Rayiah and a 2 year old boy, Tyiaun. They're not his kids, but his sister's.  It seems that McLemore was living the life so many young men his age do.  He had a part-time job at a video rental store and attended classes at Wright State.  He had some ideas about what he wanted to do in life. But then he got a late-night call; CPS was about to take his sister's children into foster care for reasons that McLemore won't divulge out of loyalty to her.  That's when McLemore stepped in.  He adamantly refused to allow his niece and nephew to go into foster care; he would raise them himself, regardless of the hardship, regardless of the cost, regardless of his studies, regardless of everything. That's because McLemore himself spent 11 of his childhood years in foster care.  Despite the warnings of friends who told him he didn't know what he was getting into, his sister's two children came to live with him.
"I refuse to allow another generation of McLemores to be raised in foster care."
"I will take care of my niece and nephew," he told the authorities. "I will feed them and take them to day care. I will make sure they get their shots. I will give them a stable home. I know them. And I love them like no one else can."
And that's just what he's done.  For the last 18 months, he's established a stable regimen for the kids with rules that must be followed but with plenty of fun time too.  His sister is allowed to see them on weekends, and one suspects that the plan is for her to get them back at some point.  Until then, Adrian McLemore will be their uncle, their "father," or, the title he uses most himself, their protector. Who or what is he protecting them from?  Foster care.  And to hear McLemore talk about his experiences in foster care you might well ask "why?"  After all,
... McLemore has nothing but respect and admiration for the families who cared for him -- the Lukes in Georgia, the Kings and Ligginses in Ohio -- and though he keeps in regular touch with them, much was missing. Their homes never felt like the loving, permanent home he has created for A'Rayiah and Tyiaun. He never had the kind of precious little conversations about school and life that he has with A'Rayiah driving home after day care. He felt grateful, not attached or secure.
"You simply never know when you might be told to pack your things and leave," he says. "In foster care, families can always say, 'Take him back.' Real parents don't have that option."
"The biggest thing children need, in addition to unconditional love, is a comfortable, safe environment, a sense of stability and permanence," McLemore says, with all the clarity of someone who did not have these things. "Children need to know their siblings and spend time with them, not just in weekly visits with a case worker, but at picnics and in parks and with family members like aunts and uncles and grandparents. They NEED their own family."
Those are wise words that come from experience.  Notice that McLemore is not denigrating foster care; he's just pointing out the differences between even the best foster home and "real parents."  Foster care is always contingent; the child can be sent away any time.  So even the best foster parents engender gratitude, but not a sense of attachment or security. McLemore himself wound up in foster care because his parents divorced and custody of him and his sister was "awarded" to his mother.  His father served with the Air Force overseas and so wasn't present to buffer Adrian's mother's bad behavior.  She had a problem with alcohol and often would simply disappear. So it was off to foster care for Adrian and his sister.  That held until his father returned from abroad and took over their care when Adrian was 9.  His care lasted two years until Staff Sgt. ErnestMcLemore was redeployed overseas.
McLemore worships the memory of his father, who died of cancer in 2004. The two years he lived with his dad, he says, were the happiest of his life.
McLemore's face glows as he talks of those years, of being with his sisters, of having his own room, of having a father who took them to soccer and karate and theme parks. It was, he says, the first time he had ever felt like a normal child from a normal family.
When his father went abroad, the two kids went back to their mother where little had changed.
There, McLemore said, things quickly spiraled out of control. Their mother drank. She went missing. There was often no food or clean clothes. There were endless arguments. He would run away.
But his foster families did what they could to keep him on the right track and one counsellor saw, through Adrian's teenage anger, a truly special person. Over the years, that person has blossomed.  Elected officials - whom McLemore calls his "future colleagues," signalling his aspirations - consult with him about the foster care system and he tells it to them straight.  McLemore is an avid fan of foster care, but knows it must be reformed.  He knows firsthand that kids in foster care are largely off the radar of those in office. But before he's elected to public office, in fact before he's even out of school, he's got two kids to raise.  It sounds like he's doing a great job of being a father to them even though that's not officially what he is.  He's their uncle, their protector.  He's the one they live with, the one who buys their food, changes the little one's diapers, takes them to school and picks them up, rocks out with them to Michael Jackson, reads them to sleep. Sounds like a dad to me.

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Now that Fathers Day has passed, I guess we can get back to the hard business of trying to get people's actions to live up to their words.  On Fathers Day, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio are all about honoring Dad, and of course that's as it should be. On Fathers Day we learn how great a guy Dad is or was and how, whatever success a particular person has had, he/she owes so much of it to their father.  That's good.  It's a good thing to remember everything your father did for you and what a valuable presence he is/was in your life.  That's what the day is for, after all. But with all the hosannas raining down, you'd think it would carry over to the days following Fathers Day.  You'd think that we'd be doing everything in our power to make sure kids and dads don't get tossed out of each other's lives, when divorce comes along, like so much dirty dishwater.  You'd think that we'd buckle down to the task of reforming family courts to reflect what so many already know to be necessary - keeping fathers and children together as much as possible. But if previous years have been any indicator, it'll be the same old grind.  Fathers' rights advocates will still face the same old machine that churns out falsities and distortions about men, fathers, children, divorce, custody and abuse like rank sausage.  Come to think of it, they didn't wait for Fathers Day to be over; in fact, the machine never missed a beat. As but one case in point, there's this article (San Diego Reader, 6/15/11).  It's friendly title is "Dad Was a Bum," just in case anyone might get the wrong idea. It's all about Mike, who's now 53, if my arithmetic is correct.  Mike and his siblings were brought up in New Jersey by their mother.  Times were tough and the budget was tight.  That's because Dad left early and never came back, never called, never wrote.  He left when Mike was 13. And the anger and hatred Mike feels for his father almost ooze off the page.  Indeed, Mike says that he and his brothers made a pact as teenagers - that if their father ever showed up, they'd beat the stuffing out of him. So it's odd that, when Mike found himself in Florida at age 40, he decided to find his father.  It seems an aunt had let slip years before the information that his father lived somewhere in the Sunshine State.  So Mike, in Florida on business and with a little free time, decided to locate his father. As luck would have it, he was in the very county that showed a man with his father's name on the tax roles, so Mike went to the address and there he was - his father.  When Mike told him who he was, the man, now in his 70s, broke down and wept.  He did so again at the restaurant they ate at.  He cried again when they returned to his house. Why?  The article never says.  That was 13 years ago and Mike never saw his father, who is now dead, again.  His anger at his father seems undiminished by the meeting. In what's become a familiar ritual, the article came out shortly before Fathers Day.  Amid all the accolades for dads, there's always a stubborn few that seize on Fathers Day to pour out vitriol against the men we're supposed to be honoring. The hatred of fathers that some harbor has always struck me as odd.  Oh, I don't begrudge people like Mike their anger.  Children need both their parents and he didn't have his father.  As far as he can tell, it was because of the ill will or irresponsibility of his father that he didn't have a dad when he was growing up.  If all the facts were known, he might be right.  Maybe his dad was a bum. But it's the fact that certain publications just can't seem to take a deep breath, swallow their hatred and simply give fathers their due on Fathers Day that I just can't seem to grasp.  Would it be so difficult to acknowledge what is so widely known - that children need fathers and most fathers want to be good ones? Sure there are bad fathers just as there are bad mothers, but I'll bet the ranch that the San Diego Reader didn't do an article entitled "Mother Was a Bum" just ahead of mothers day.  It's not that they couldn't have, because there are millions of stories of bad, abusive, criminal mothers.  But no, on Mothers Day, we honor mothers, and rightly so.  But for some, Fathers Day is different. That brings us back to Mike.  In the author's fervent desire to depict his father as uncaring and irresponsible, she misses some obvious cues.  It's the way it always goes when the story is told as black and white, corruption versus innocence.  When the writer of a story allows her villain no redeeming qualities, when the question "why?" is never asked, there's not much room for subtlety or nuance. And sure enough, the Reader article offers none, which is a shame.  Interest usually lies in ambiguity.  For adults, a story gets interesting when we start to see why the villain acts as he does.  It thwarts the narrative of Good and Evil and replaces it with one of human beings doing the sometimes flawed things humans do. And there are indeed some tempting clues about Mike's dad.  There were his paternal grandmother and aunt who raved about his dad.  There was the time when he was 13 when his dad invited him and a couple of his siblings to come with him to his girlfriend's house in the country for Thanksgiving.  They went and Mike's description is of an idyllic time away from the city.  He had a good time.
A couple of weeks later, his father called again and asked if the kids could come back for Christmas. This time, his mother said no.
"She blew up about it. She figured, ‘You took three of my kids for Thanksgiving, and now you want to take them for Christmas, too? You haven"t been around forever." I just remember she had a huge fight with him over the phone. The next thing I knew, he dropped off some gifts for us, and that was the day he disappeared.'
Then there's the man who couldn't stop crying when his son came calling 27 years later.  There's the man who willed everything to Mike, his siblings and their mother when he died. Who knows what the reality of Mike's situation was.  Why did his parents split up?  Why was his father such a non-presence in his life?  What were those overtures about on Thanksgiving and Christmas?  And why didn't he ever call, write or send gifts? We'll never know because Mike was content to let appearances stand in for reality.  He visited his father but he never asked "why?"  Now Mike will never know because his father is dead. And maybe in his case, the appearance was reality.  Maybe the man who wept was callous, cold and uncaring.  Anything is possible, and I'd never presume to tell another man what his experience was. But what if Mike had treated his father like a person instead of like pure Evil.  What if he'd asked "why?"  "Why, dad, did you leave us and never return?"  I put even odds on the answer being something neither Mike nor the article's writer wants to think about - that the man who cried was neither callous nor uncaring.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the man cared deeply for his children, but was shoved out of their lives by a mother who refused to share them.  And when that happened, the only way he could deal with it was totally - a complete break.  After all, his second wife urged him to get in touch, but he never did. Of course I could be wrong, but I've seen enough of these cases to have my suspicions about how it actually came to pass that Mike's father left. But to learn that we'd have to treat the man as a man instead of a pariah.  We'd have to try to know him, to understand him and why he did what he did.  And that's not what the article is interested in.  It's interested in a tale of wrong and right, of black hats and white.  Above all it's interested in denigrating dads.  Hey, it's Fathers Day.

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As we know, much of what family courts do seems aimed at separating fathers from children.  We see that in their 84% preference for maternal primary custody and their hesitancy at enforcing dads' visitation orders.  We see it in their readiness to issue restraining orders on the thinnest evidence of abuse.  We see it in the draconian enforcement of child support. But family courts aren't the only ones to blame.  State legislatures that enact laws and fail to repeal others that frankly treat mothers and fathers differently are as well.  That's true in adoption cases, paternity fraud cases and the like.  In all of those cases fathers have to clear a number of high hurdles just to get the same parental rights that mothers have automatically by virtue of their biological relationship to their children. Then there's the anti-dad crowd that will stop at nothing to keep fathers and children separate.  They stoop to rank untruths and distortions to try to convince lawmakers that dads are dangerous to and uninterested in children. I've said all that before, but I'd like you to keep it in mind as you read this article (Wall Street Journal, 6/14/11).  The article is a nice pre-Fathers Day piece reprising a lot of the best information on how fathers care for children and how that helps the kids become resilient, healthy individuals.  I think it's worth remembering all the ways in which our society, it's law and culture seek to keep fathers separate from children when you read the WSJ piece.
After dinner at Todd and Jodie Schiermeier's house in O'Fallon, Ill., it is "tackle Dad" time. That's when Mr. Schiermeier gets down on the floor with their three children, Rylee, 7, Kinsey, 4, and Jace, 20 months, for a session of "horseback rides and pillow fights and tackle and wrestle," he says.
It is a stark contrast to Ms. Schiermeier's playtime with the kids, who says she mostly cuddles them or has "a little tickle fight."
The rough play is already benefiting her older daughter, who is "a little timid," Ms. Schiermeier says. "She has toughened up a little" playing with her dad. "He is teaching her how to take the blows of life, and to get in there and fight." All three kids are learning to take turns and work as a team. For Mr. Schiermeier, that is intentional: "I push them to get outside their comfort zones."
Writer Sue Shellenbarger understands the basic fact of parenting: mothers and fathers tend to parent differently, each tends to complement the other and the two together are needed by children to grow into well-rounded adults.  That most important concept should always be kept in mind by those making decisions about custody, but time and again, it seems that those judges, legislators, etc. seem to think fathers are expendable.  But,
The benefits of involved fathering are known: improved cognitive skills, fewer behavioral problems among school-age children, less delinquency among teenage boys and fewer psychological problems in young women, based on an analysis of 16 long-term studies of father involvement, published in 2008 in the scholarly journal Acta Paediatrica.
It turns out that even fathers' greater tendency to go to work and earn has benefits to children in the way they parent.
As a result, fathers may be less familiar with their children's nonverbal cues. Such dads tend to challenge children more to express themselves in words, helping foster the better cognitive skills researchers have found in 2-year-olds with involved fathers.
Parenting patterns may be rooted in neurological differences. Under stress, research shows, men's brains are wired to respond to challenges physically, leaping into action. Women are more likely to withdraw or shut down.
Because fathers have had to learn to manage their own impulses to strike out or react physically to frustration, they may be better equipped than mothers to help children manage their own urges to behave badly, Dr. Pruett says.
Indeed, fathers typically aren't as upset as mothers by kids' tantrums or bad behavior, based on a 2009 survey of 1,615 parents by Zero to Three, a nonprofit child-development research and policy organization. Only half as many fathers as mothers say their children's temper tantrums are one of their biggest challenges.
The differences in fathering and mothering begin early and persist.  Mothers tend to be more contemplative and in-turned.  That means they tend to talk problems over with their children.  Fathers often want to distract children from difficulties and encourage them to move on from whatever bothers them. Of course neither is the right or wrong way.  On the contrary, both are necessary skills for coping with life and children who have both a mother and a father tend to demonstrate the sets of skills associated with each parent.
Since Callip and Christine Hall, who live in Cary, N.C., became parents nearly three years ago, they have noticed differences in their parenting. When their 2-year-old daughter, Ella, fell off her chair recently, Mr. Hall picked her up and carried her away from the table to distract her. He says he wants to teach her that "we're not going to cater to the whimpering if she's not really in pain," and he sees Ella learning to shake off minor setbacks and move on.
"I'm more verbose," Ms. Hall says. I would have immediately started saying, 'Oh, Ella, tell Mommy what happened. Are you OK?' " she says. But while "my mothering instinct was to go over there and hover," she says, she restrained herself while Ella cried for a few moments, then joined her husband to pat Ella's back and soothe her.
Soon, "between efforts by both of us, we were able to get her to calm down," Ms. Hall says. "Neither one of us thinks one way of parenting is right or wrong. It's just different." In the end, she adds, "we are complementary."
It's all very true and worth remembering.  It's particularly worth remembering when yet another court informs us that the "best interests of the child" require that he/she sees dad at most every other weekend or not at all because an angry mother claims child abuse for the first time in their marriage during a custody fight.  And it's doubly worth remembering when the anti-dad crowd opposes an equal parenting law with the spurious claim that fathers, but not mothers, abuse their children. The truth is there in the Journalarticle.  Fathers benefit children in ways that mothers tend not to, and vice versa.  Anyone who argues against greater father involvement with children argues that kids shouldn't receive the benefits that fathers provide. We should always remember that. Thanks to Gordon for the heads-up.

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The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that indigent child support obligors are not necessarily entitled to an attorney when faced with contempt proceedings threatening incarceration. In the case of Turner vs. Rogers, the Court found that the defendant's Due Process rights were violated by South Carolina's contempt proceedings, but his rights could have been met in ways other than the provision of a state-paid attorney. As those who've read my previous posts on this case know, Turner is the South Carolina man who spent a year in jail for civil contempt for his failure to pay child support.  He claimed that he was indigent and unable to pay, but the judge jailed him anyway without making a finding of whether Turner could have paid his debt or not. The Supreme Court ruled in a 5 - 4 decision that Turner's rights under the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment were violated because he was neither provided an attorney by the state nor did he receive "alternative procedural safeguards."
These include (1) notice to the defendant that his "ability to pay' is a critical issue in the contempt proceeding; (2) the use of a form (or the equivalent) to elicit relevant financial information from him; (3) an opportunity at the hearing for him to respond to statements and questions about his financial status; and (4) an express finding by the court that the defendant has the ability to pay.
Those procedural "safeguards" will be sufficient for due process purposes in cases in which the other party is the custodial parent who is not represented by counsel.  In many, perhaps most, cases in which indigency of the obligor is an issue, it is the state that seeks reimbursement for payments made to the custodial parent through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).  The Court's decision doesn't reach those cases. So it is key to Justice Breyer's opinion that it applies only when the custodial parent is the opposing party and she/he is not represented by counsel.
[S]ometimes, as here, the person opposing the defendant at the hearing is not the government represented by counsel but the custodial parent unrepresented by counsel. A requirement that the State provide counsel to the non-custodial parent in these cases could create an asymmetry of representation that would "alter significantly the nature of the proceeding,'... creating a degree of formality or delay that would unduly slow payment to those immediately in need and make the proceedings less fair overall.
Hmm.  Where to begin?  Perhaps with the observation that the justices apparently have no concept of the realities of poverty or the child support process. In the first place, Justice Breyer (joined by Kennedy, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor) is concerned about creating asymmetry between the custodial and non-custodial parents.  I suppose it's too bad that no one told him about the pro-custodial-parent asymmetry that already exists.  Countless fathers and their attorneys could educate the court on that, but I guess none of them did. The idea that custodial mothers and non-custodial fathers walk into a hearing on child support arrearages as equals is far fetched at best.  Whether she has an attorney by her side or not, the custodial mother has the full weight of the state's child support bureaucracy on her side.  That includes the fact that the state receives partial reimbursement from the federal government for every dollar of child support it collects.  It is therefore in the interests of the state to set child support as high as possible, which in turn militates against finding fathers indigent and unable to pay. Second, even if provision of counsel did create an asymmetry, there's a good reason why.  It's a reason that the learned justices could have figured out for themselves, or at least you'd think so.  The reason is that one of the people before the judge stands to go to jail; the other one doesn't.  When Turner and his wife went to court, there was not a chance in the world that she would go to jail or be punished in any way.  Why would she have been? But Turner faced jail if he didn't argue his case effectively, as in the event he did not.  And it is that prospect of jail that should require that he have an attorney; that's what the case is about.  To say, as the majority does, that provision of an attorney to keep someone out of jail gives him an unfair advantage over an opposing party faced with no such threat is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of the proceeding. Third, the majority's objection to providing counsel that it would "unduly slow payment" of child support beggars belief.  For one thing, that's been the objection of every law enforcement agency for all time to the assertion of due process rights by anyone accused of crime.  "How can we fight crime if we're forced to afford the accused due process?" The answer has always appropriately been that due process of law can indeed by cumbersome, but it's required if we don't want to live in a police state. And that's the answer to Breyer.  Yes it may impede, however slightly, the rush to judgment, but that is the whole point of due process rights - to force the state or whoever seeks to deprive the defendant of his freedom to be right.  The more due process corners we cut, the more innocent (or in this case indigent) people land in jail.  Justice Breyer and the majority opted to cut corners. And would it be too much to ask of the majority that they take notice of their own assumptions?  After all, the whole argument that providing an attorney would  "unduly slow payment" of child support assumes that the father is not indigent and therefore must pay.  It is astonishing to say the least that the learned justices apparently can't grasp the possibility of a man's being actually indigent, unable to pay and thus not ordered to pay. That brings us to what the majority considers an adequate substitute for an attorney - a form.  To be precise, the majority's "alternative procedural safeguards" may be alternatives, but they are in no sense safeguards. As the justices see it, a judge would be required to tell the obligor that he can claim inability to pay if he wants to, and, if he does, give him a form to fill out providing financial information and then ask him questions about his financial condition. In short, combining a judge who's strongly motivated from the outset to order child support, with a poor - and likely poorly educated - parent, is an open invitation to abuse.  Again, it's the poor and undereducated who will wind up in jail because of this ruling which is precisely what the Due Process Clause is supposed to prevent. And speaking of invitations, that's just what the Court has issued to the 45 states that currently provide counsel to indigent child support obligors.  South Carolina is in the small minority of states (five) that don't; all the rest do.  Now they know they don't need to. And what do you bet that cash-strapped states will jump at the opportunity?  What could make better financial sense than no longer having to pay those pesky lawyers and simply substituting a pre-printed form.  It makes perfect sense and will streamline civil contempt proceedings into the bargain.  It's a win-win situation except for the dad, but what's a few thousand destitute fathers in jail beside saving the state money? The solution to this was always simple; when a state seeks to incarcerate someone for whatever reason, that person should have an attorney to represent him/her.  Period.  It's a fundamental part of due process rights or should be.  Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens would understand.  That the justices of the Supreme Court don't speaks volumes about their ignorance of how the poor - and fathers - are treated every day in the courts of this country.

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The first is here (Bakersfield Californian, 6/12/11).  It's about our old friend Christian Diaz, and thanks to writer Jose Gaspar for continuing to report on his case. Diaz is the teenager who fathered a child with his girlfriend who was also a teenager at the time.  He always wanted to raise the child and she led him to believe she did too.  But when it came time for her to give birth, Diaz learned that she'd misled him.  First, she didn't tell him which hospital she'd be going to.  When he figured that out and showed up there shortly after his son's birth, she told hospital authorities he wasn't the dad, so he was escorted from the premises without ever seeing his son. The mother had decided to place the child for adoption and already had parents picked out.  But Diaz went to court immediately to assert his parental rights.  He'd already purchased furniture, toys and supplies for the baby and he and his mother had set aside a room especially for the little boy. But the court denied Diaz his right to raise his own flesh and blood.  It did that because, in California, a single father must perform certain acts in order to establish his parental rights.  Single mothers, like Diaz's girlfriend, face no such requirements. Into the bargain, no one lets dads know just what those obligations are.  In his case the court said Diaz hadn't done enough to support the mother during pregnancy, which means he knows that now.  When it mattered, he didn't and so another child with a loving father was taken by adoptive parents.  As I've said many times before, that means that another child somewhere in the world who needs adopting, who doesn't have a loving father to care for it, has been denied adoptive parents. That's what the State of California calls acting "in the best interests of the child."  It's an odd concept.  Denying one child the love of his father and denying another the love of adoptive parents somehow adds up, in the minds of state legislators, to "the best interests of the child." So Christian Diaz is appealing the adoption of his child.  Attorney Marc Angelucci for one sees several problems with forcing adoption on a child who doesn't need to be adopted.
First, the judge denied Diaz a fundamental constitutional right to parent his child, for no good reason except that he's an unmarried father and that the court felt he did not support the pregnancy enough, said Angelucci. Second, the evidence did not support the decision; instead it was based on gender-biased laws that violate the equal protection rights of fathers like Diaz, claims the attorney.
Young mothers have a presumed right to their child; so should young fathers like Diaz, said Angelucci.
Shorn of legalese, let's look at what those concepts mean in the Christian Diaz case.  When reviewing the facts ask yourself "whose behavior is rewarded and whose is punished by the State of California?"  She lied to Diaz about raising the child together, misled him about where she would give birth, refused to tell him about the adoption or the adoptive parents and lied to hospital authorities so he couldn't see his newborn son.  That behavior is perfectly alright according to the California legislature and the judge. By contrast, Diaz did everything he knew to do to prepare for and be a father to his child.  That behavior is punished by adoption law in California. He and she are both young and both are single parents.  But gender equality is an alien concept in family law in California and elsewhere. While he waits for the appellate court to get around to hearing his case, Diaz still maintains his son's room just the way it's always been, waiting for the day he believes he'll gather the boy, now one year old, into his arms for the first time. He's not only never hugged the child, he's never seen him.  That's in part because the adoptive couple have refused to send him photos as long as Diaz contests the adoption.  If he drops the case, he'll get to see the photos; if he doesn't, well, it's his tough luck. About that, Christian Diaz says "there's no way I will ever agree to give up my son." Our second update comes to us from the Houston area.  It's the case of the area high school teacher, Anne Lynn Montgomery, who carried on a lengthy affair with one of her students, Bradman Moore.  It started when he was 16 and she was 31.  She got pregnant - twice - and bore his two children.  At least we think they're his.  Moore says she had sex with five other high school boys over the years. At some point, the two split up after apparently living together for a time.  That was when Montgomery made a mistake almost as big as carrying on a sexual affair with an underage boy.  She went to the county prosecutors and demanded a restraining order against Moore.  The police investigated her claims and found them unsupported by any evidence, but in the process, they noticed the obvious - that the woman had committed multiple sexual assaults on an underage boy. So they arrested her and charged her with two felonies, sexual assault of a child and improper relationship between a student and an educator. Well, this article tells us that Montgomery wasn't too thrilled with her prospects, which could amount to 20 years behind bars.  So she's now on the lam (New York Daily News, 6/17/11).  Apparently Montgomery has disappeared. I don't think that's the smartest move she could have made, but she seems to have a history of not very smart moves.  My guess is that she'll be found, brought back and have yet another charge against her.  In doing so she'll have squandered her female sentencing discount. What I really want to know is where the kids are.  Surely they're not with her.  After all, she's accused of a couple of felonies and could easily do time.  So does he have his children?  Amazingly, no article deems that worthy of mention. Stay tuned.

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Here's an interesting new study.  It's by three researchers at the Boston College Center for Work and Family and is entitled "The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted." It's interesting partly for what it says and partly for what it doesn't. The researchers, Professor Brad Harrington, Fred Van Deusen and Beth Humberd, gave a questionnaire to 963 male employees of four Fortune 500 companies.  All the men were fathers.  The study sought to learn what the men thought of their jobs and their roles as fathers.  It provides information about their practices and attitudes.

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The saga continues and gets more outrageous the more information comes in.  This first article comes to us from up in the "thumb" of Michigan (Detroit Free Press, 6/21/11).  There a seven-year-old boy had spent Fathers Day at his dad's house in Filion and, upon being returned to his mother and stepfather became unhappy and wanted to go back to Dad. So he did what any enterprising youngster would do; he got in the car and went.  Specifically, his stepfather was at work and his mother was asleep having worked a night shift the previous night.  That left no one to look after the little boy who wanted his father.  He took his stepfather's Pontiac Sunbird and headed for Dad's place some 12 miles distant.

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On Fathers Day, President Obama launched his initiative called Strong Fathers, Strong Families.  If anyone can figure out what it is, by all means let me know.  As far as I've been able to ascertain, it looks like a year-long exhortation to fathers to be better than they've been in the past.  If there's more to it, I'd love to know. But what I do know is what the president wrote in his pre-Fathers Day article in, yes, People Magazine here (People, 6/8/11). Reading the piece, it's hard not to hear the president's sincerity.  He really believes that fathers should be involved in their children's lives.  After all, his father wasn't, so he knows how that feels. What I also know is that President Obama is a smart man.  He's well-educated and knowledgeable.  So it's more than disconcerting to realize that he took to the national press to talk about the value of fathers to children, about which he knows a lot, but said nothing about how that comes about.  Indeed, by opening his article with his own experience of a father who left his family, the president strongly suggests that paternal irresponsibility is the only thing keeping fathers and children apart. It's true of course that some fathers don't want much or anything to do with their kids.  In a nation of 300 million people, you'd expect to find some of those dads.  Of course you'd also expect to find mothers who are irresponsible, violent, neglectful, etc., and sure enough you do.  The Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services reports almost a million incidents of child abuse and neglect every year and every year right at 40% of them are committed by mothers acting alone. So, in his concern for children, President Obama could have mentioned those mothers, but he didn't.  He also didn't mention the many ways in which state and federal laws do the exact opposite of what he knows to be best for children.  Those laws frankly keep fathers out of children's lives and do so in an astonishing variety of ways, all of which I've written about before.  From Adoption to child Support to Custody to Paternity Fraud, Visitation and more, there's a whole alphabet soup of laws and practices that have one thing in common - their tendency to separate fathers from their children. They do so based on one simple assumption that the president makes as well - that fathers are either dangerous to or uninterested in their children.  The fact that much social science shows that to be false seems to matter not at all.  Fine long-term studies like the Fragile Families and Child Well-being study that's been going on at Princeton under the direction of Sarah McLanahan show clearly that even those fathers we'd expect to fit the stereotype of the uninterested dad in fact passionately desire an active role in their children's upbringing.   You'd think the President of the United States would know such things and my guess is that he does.  After all, who has more resources at his fingertips than the man in the Oval Office?  So that must mean that he's aware of the many obstacles dads face when they try to remain actively involved with their children, but chooses not to mention them.  Far worse, he chooses not to attempt to do anything about them.  Oh, I understand that family law is, for the most part, a state matter and therefore beyond the president's purview.  But much, like child support enforcement and domestic violence law have roots in federal law and policy; they are therefore within Obama's power to directly influence.  But he doesn't. He could also use the Oval Office as a "bully pulpit" from which to hector states to do the right thing by dads.  But he doesn't do that either. I also understand that those holding public office are always running for reelection.  They therefore choose their words as best they can for maximum electoral effect.  So Obama's piece appeared in a magazine that's read by far more women than men and his message was conducive to mothers' sense of their own self-worth: "Mothers, you bear no fault; it's the dads who need to change." You wouldn't expect to find him excoriating mothers for maternal gatekeeping, denial of visitation, false claims of abuse or paternity fraud in the pages of People.  Come to think of it, pretty much the same could be said of Vice-President Biden's disgraceful interview with Glamour Magazine about domestic violence.  He opted to avoid the truth too.  His brief - that only men commit DV and only women are victims - was preaching to the choir.  Why would he tell the truth about women's commission of domestic violence to an audience of women? Well, one reason would be because it's the truth and the truth has a way of mattering irrespective of the context.  But speaking the truth about such things takes courage and those looking for that attribute among elected officials usually look in vain. And since elected officials can't be counted on to do the right thing, because they can be counted on to do what they perceive as in their best interests, we in the movement for family court reform and fathers' rights need to make doing the right thing in  politicians' best interests.  To be blunt, we need to make our electoral decisions based on each candidate's stance on family court reform and nothing else. Being right on family court reform needs to go to the head of the list of attributes a candidate must possess in order to get our votes.  If he/she is, then we should vote for the person; if not then regardless of his/her other qualities, then he/she doesn't get our vote. And we should let them know why we voted for or against them.  They can't get with our program if they don't know the consequences of not doing so. We should do more than vote.  We should make ourselves indispensable to campaigns whose candidates are right on family court reform issues.  We should give money and put our boots on the ground for candidates who are right and against those who are wrong.  That means block-walking, phone-banking, home meet-and-greets and the thousand other things that make for effective electoral politics. The movement for family court reform and fathers' rights has been on the right side of justice, fairness and science from the start.  But exhortations to political officials to do the right thing have limited effect.  Put simply, until they're scared of what we can do at the ballot box, we'll continue to read arrant nonsense courtesy of presidents and vice-presidents.  And once they've gotten the message that we have electoral power and mean business, all that will change.

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Fathers and Families, Massachusetts Alimony Reform, and others have long agitated for alimony reform in Massachusetts, and it appears these efforts are coming to fruition. This op-ed tells us that the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 passed the House Judiciary Committee and will be taken up by the full House soon (Boston Herald, 6/20/11).
If passed, the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 will allow judges to base alimony awards on the recipient"s actual need for spousal support. It will end alimony payments for long-term marriages at the age of retirement -- sooner for short-term marriages. And it will require that alimony payments terminate upon the recipient"s remarriage or cohabitation.
The bill would be a huge change for the better in Massachusetts whose current alimony law borders on the absurd.  Among other things, it allows judges to order that alimony be paid indefinitely, even past the payor's retirement age.  It does so even in cases of short-term marriages.  It further takes no account of the recipient's ability to support her/himself or whether the recipient has remarried. The op-ed gives some examples that would startle anyone unfamiliar with alimony law in the Bay State.
At the time Gringas and Scanlon married, Gringas was paying his ex-wife $39,000 a year in alimony (or spousal support, as distinct from child support). When Gringas was laid off from his job as a computer programmer, Gringas"s ex-wife agreed to modify the alimony order in light of changed circumstances. But the court held that the adjusted amount of alimony must be based on Gringas"s total household income -- including Scanlon"s salary as a full-time executive assistant.
So it's not only the ex-husband who must pay, but his new wife as well.  She of course had no relationship with his ex-wife and you'd think no obligation to her.  But in Massachusetts, her income gets figured into total household income for the purposes of calculating alimony. On divorce, it's pretty much a calculation of who makes more.  If he does, he pays; if she does, she pays.  And they do so indefinitely irrespective of the length of the marriage.  So a young man who gets married "in a fever" when he's in college and divorces four years later can pay his ex alimony for the rest of his life irrespective of her ability to earn. As the op-ed  makes clear, the very concept of alimony is outdated.  It's based on the notion that women can't support themselves and therefore need the man's support.  That was actually never the case, but notions of noblesse oblige ruled back in the days when alimony laws were originally passed.
[C]urrent law, originally enacted to protect less-skilled women from being left destitute by husbands who walk out, reflects antiquated notions of a woman"s ability to earn a living in the 21st century.
Today, welfare laws reflect current expectations of self-sufficiency, allowing able-bodied persons to receive public support only temporarily. Yet, under Massachusetts divorce law, first spouses can collect alimony for life (even after the payer has retired) regardless of the duration of the marriage.
Thus, a man who earns more than his former spouse of less than five years may be forced to pay lifetime alimony, even if the ex is an educated 30-something fully capable of supporting herself.
But that was then and this is now.  Today, men and women are equally able to work and earn equally and should be encouraged to do so.  That means that alimony should be done away with entirely.  After all, the very concept of divorce holds that the two don't want to be responsible for each other any more.  It simply makes no sense for one person to have to support the other just because they were once married.  Divorce is about moving on; alimony is about maintaining the financial status quo. On the other hand, bountiful alimony laws encourage divorce.  The slightest dissatisfaction with a marriage could easily turn into divorce with the encouragement of a big lifetime pay-off. The only exception I'd make to the no alimony rule is where a couple has been married for a very long time, both are advanced in years, and/or one has become disabled.  In that case, I'd let the obligation to support continue.  But only then. Of course the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 doesn't pretend to dispense with the requirement altogether, but only to make it more reasonable.  As such it's a step in the right direction and no more. One thing about the op-ed that's almost amusing is that reading it you could easily conclude that it's women who suffer the inequalities of alimony law in Massachusetts.  The writer gives two outrageous examples of ex-spouses victimized by the state's alimony law, and both are women. Of course the opposite is actually true.  Across the country and the state, men outearn women.  That means that far more men than women pay alimony in every state and Massachusetts is no exception. But it may be one of the many benefits of greater workplace equality for women.  Now they often earn more than men and in their cases, the shoe is on the other foot.  Plus, one thing we've learned in many different ways is that state legislatures are far more inclined to listen to the grievances of women, at least as they relate to family law, than of men.  So while men have been complaining about alimony laws in Massachusetts for years, it's only now that certain women are on board that change may be around the bend. I hope they succeed, because if they do, countless men and women alike will benefit.  It's far past time that Massachusetts entered the 21st century in the matter of alimony law.

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I've written before about the Urban Institute study that shows that, when they're thinking of taking a child from its mother, or have done so, child welfare agencies routinely ignore the father as a possible placement.  Instead they go straight to foster care to meet the child's needs.  The Urban Institute found that, even though they know the identity of the father in over 85% of cases, he's contacted in fewer than half. Now this case puts some meat on the bare bones of that study (Arizona Central.com, 6/24/11). Jennifer Jansma and Woody Drummond had a son in 2000, but split up at some point after that.  They fought over custody, but the Colorado court gave primary custody to her with the stipulation that she inform Drummond (who's changed his name to Iacovetta) of any changes in the boy's health or welfare.  She then left the state for Arizona. There, on August 3, 2004, she called the CPS hotline saying she was considering killing the little boy, who was then four, and herself with overdoses of morphine. She placed the child in "respite care" and herself in a mental hospital, but that stay lasted only a day.  When CPS looked into the case, the caseworker decided the child was in no danger.  The article points out
Of course, they found no evidence of risk. They didn't go looking for any.
They didn't contact anyone about Jansma's mental illness, despite knowing that she was bipolar and suffered from depression and was a client of Value Options, which at the time provided services to the seriously mentally ill in Maricopa County.
They didn't contact CPS in Colorado, despite Jansma telling them that authorities there had been called to check on Jordan.
And they didn't make any attempt to contact the boy's father, despite finding his name in their own computer system.
Just as the Urban Institute study says. CPS closed the file four months later.  Less than three years after that, Jennifer Jansma
drugged her son with allergy medicine and adult sleeping pills then covered his back with patches containing Fentanyl, a drug more powerful than morphine.
Jordan was dead by the time they were discovered in a Tucson Holiday Inn. She is now serving 25 years in prison.
Woody Iacovetta sued the state in 2009, contending his son would still be alive had CPS notified him about Jansma's 2004 threat. Iacovetta told me he would have immediately filed for emergency custody.
"They cost him his life,' Iacovetta said. "Had they just stepped up to the plate and contacted me and made me aware of these problems. She didn't tell me about it. My son, he didn't know what was going on.'
The state has moved to dismiss Iacovetta's lawsuit saying CPS did nothing wrong.  In its motion, it says,
"CPS has neither the means nor the manpower to conduct extensive manhunts for absentee parents...'
Massive manhunts?  They had the guy in their database (just like the Urban Institute says they do in over 8 out of 10 cases).  How much "manpower" does it take to make a phone call?  Maybe they could have asked Jansma for his phone number. But of course the agency whose "prompt and thorough investigation" didn't include contacting any of the mental health professionals who'd known Jansma and her problems for years, wouldn't be likely to pick up the phone and call a child's father. Here's a question, although I think I know the answer:  Did Maricopa County CPS have the series of manuals put out by the U.S. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect that's meant to educate and guide CPS caseworkers in dealing with those issues?  Specifically, did it have the one published in June of 2006 specifically relating to fathers?  Here it is. It's 127 pages of information about the value of fathers to children and how to effectively involve them in dealing with cases of child abuse and neglect.  In other words, it applies directly to the case of Woody Iacovetta and his son Jordan.
This manual is designed to help caseworkers:
Recognize the value of fathers to children;
Appreciate the importance of fathers to the case planning and service provision process;
Understand the issues unique to working with fathers;
Effectively involve fathers in all aspects of case management, from assessment through case closure;
Work successfully with fathers in a wide range of family situations and structures.
It recites that, in the most recent year for which statistics were available, mothers committed 40.8% of all child abuse and neglect nationwide while fathers committed 18.8%.  It points out that state and federal child protection laws seek to ensure that all children live free from abuse and neglect.  It goes on to educate CPS caseworkers about the benefits of fathers to children.
A noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, is one of the pioneers of the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood. "Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults" in the home,' he says. "Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.'  Fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children. It is important for professionals working with fathers-- especially in the difficult, emotionally charged arena in which child protective services (CPS) caseworkers operate--to have a working understanding of the literature that addresses this impact. Such knowledge will help make the case for why the most effective CPS case plans will involve fathers.
So, given that state and federal laws seek to protect children and that fathers "have a direct impact on the well-being of their children," you'd think that CPS workers would be trained to do exactly what the manual urges them to do - involve fathers in the process.  But they don't.  And Maricopa County CPS didn't in Iacovetta's case. After all, the lawyer who tossed aside the value of fathers with a casual "we don't have the manpower' to make a phone call isn't likely to represent a client with much respect for fathers. So I'd like to know:  are the CPS caseworkers who didn't contact Jennifer Jansma's doctors and who didn't contact Jordan's father even aware of the training materials published by the federal government for the express purpose of involving fathers when abuse or neglect is suspected? If they are, why didn't they follow the steps outlined in the manual?  If they aren't, why aren't they?  The manuals don't do any good if people don't read them. The Arizona Republic writer puts it this way:
1. The law requires you to conduct "prompt and thorough investigation'.
2. Maybe the story that Jansma, the mentally ill woman who killed her son, told about Iacovetta wasn't quite the whole story. You might have found that Jordan's father and grandmother had long been worried about his safety.
And 3. It just might have saved a little boy's life.
It turns out that ignoring a child's father can have real consequences.  Who knew?  Apparently not Maricopa County CPS.

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Not long ago I wrote a piece about the Texas Legislature's unanimous passage of a law allowing men to, at any time, challenge paternity of a child via genetic testing.  If the child turns out not to be his, his child support obligation ceases.  But any arrearages that exist at the time will still have to be paid.  At the time I wrote, Governor Rick Perry hadn't signed the legislation, but he subsequently did.  It is now the law in the State of Texas that men can stop the wrong of paternity fraud even if they can't correct past wrongs. That's a good thing, and I'd urge every man in Texas who's paying child support to get tested.  If you're married, cohabiting or have a girlfriend and there's a child she says is yours and you have any reason to think otherwise, you should do a DNA test too.  It's simple and fairly inexpensive (far less so than paying child support).  All you have to do is go online and locate a DNA testing lab.  Then follow their instructions. That'll include sending them the fee and they'll send you a kit.  You'll swab the inside of your cheek and that of the child in question, and send the samples back to the lab.  In due course they'll send you the results telling you whether you're the dad or not. If it turns out you're not, the test you just did will not be admissible in court.  That's because the court can't know for sure if you did the test correctly (maybe you swabbed the cheek of your next door neighbor).  But the court will order another test whose results will be admissible and, assuming the results are the same, will issue an order terminating your child support. As I said, the new law is a step in the right direction.  But it's got one gaping hole that this case illustrates (KHOU, 6/24/11). Back in 1986, Ray Thomas had a girlfriend and the girlfriend had a baby.  She said it was his and he believed her.  At some point they split up and he began paying child support, but soon became suspicious.  The girl's hair turned red and his is dark.  Thomas didn't dally.  He checked it out with a DNA lab and sure enough, the results came back - "Probability of Paternity - 0%."
Thomas said he went to court numerous times trying to clear things up, but said the judge wouldn't hear it...
"I don"t understand the judge can just give you a baby that ain"t yours and don"t try to try you, and I don"t understand it,' he said.
He said he doesn't understand how the state of Texas can still take part of every one of his paychecks.
That of course is exactly what the State of Texas is doing.  Thomas owes $39,000 back child support, plus $13,000 interest for a child who's not his.  He's known she isn't his, and so has the state for many years, but he still has to pay. And let's remember; this "child" is now 25 years old.  So the "support" he's paying has nothing to do with her.  She's an adult and living on her own.  The money is going to the mother only and benefiting the mother only - the same mother who lied to Thomas about being the father in the first place. "Lied?"  Perhaps she didn't know who the father was, so her statement to Thomas "You're the dad" wasn't a lie but a simple mistake, right?  Wrong. She knew the men with whom she'd had sex at or near the time of conception.  She knew, but Thomas did not.  Neither did the other man.  Only she knew and that placed her in the moral position of telling each possible father that the child might be his.  Had she done so, they could have sorted out paternity at the time.  Had she done so, the right man would have begun paying child support and had the opportunity to be a father to his child.  But she didn't.  Her refusal to do that was not a mistake; it was the intentional withholding of an important fact in order to achieve the result she wanted - to establish Thomas, and not the other man, as the father.  In short, it was a lie of omission. The new law is definitely a step in the right direction.  It's a step toward simple fairness and honesty.  But it is an incomplete one as Ray Thomas would be glad to tell you.  Until we establish as a rule of law that no man can have his parental rights established or diminished until he knows about a child who is in fact his, we'll continue to place fathers' parental rights and the obligations that go with them in the hands of mothers. We can't force mothers to tell the truth.  We can't force them to tell the correct man "this is your child."  Indeed, we can't force them to tell a man about his child at all.  As with most people, most mothers tell the truth, but a few don't and, as laws now stand, that can wreak havoc with men's and children's lives. But what we can do is make legally certain that no father's rights can be diminished (e.g. through adoption of his child)  because he doesn't know about it or doesn't know it's his.  Likewise, we can ensure that no man is stuck with parental obligations for a child who isn't his.  After all, for every one of those there's a father who loses his parental rights and his relationship with his child, all because he doesn't know the child is his.  He doesn't know because the mother didn't tell or told him something that's not true. That's what equal parental rights would look like.  Important as the new Texas law is, we're still a long way from that. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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Reading this article is a bit like drinking a soda water; it's good, but there's not much substance (Center for American Progress, 6/17/11). And that's too bad because the writer, Joy Moses of the Center for American Progress, says a lot that's right, but not forcefully enough for my taste.  I'd even say she's not forceful enough to do the job she clearly knows needs doing.
As our nation celebrates the importance of fathers this weekend, it"s a good time to reflect on how we show them love in the policies we create. And there is no greater place to do that than in the federal government"s Child Support Enforcement program, which needs to make a 180-degree turn from unfairly persecuting our country"s poorest men to actually helping their families through:
Ending punishments for men who are too poor to pay; Emphasizing employment assistance for those in need; Greatly expanding current token efforts focused on visitation.
It's noteworthy that her article was published a mere three days before the Supreme Court published its decision in Turner vs. Rogers holding that indigent parents owing child support aren't necessarily entitled to an attorney even though the state seeks to incarcerate them. My guess is that even if the justices had read her piece, they'd have decided Turner the same way.  Put simply, Moses has a clue about all the difficulties the poor face in the justice system; Steven Breyer and the rest of the majority do not. Two of her major points are ones I've made before.  The first comes straight from the Office of Child Support Enforcement whose publication here says that state courts need to start issuing child support orders that fathers can actually pay. Now, the sane among us would probably consider that nothing but the obvious.  Why issue an order that the non-custodial parent can't pay?  What the OCSE document makes clear is that it happens all the time for whatever the reason.  The mere fact that the U.S. government would have to plaintively ask state judges to please issue child support orders that are within the fathers' ability to pay says more than I ever could on the subject. It's the same publication that reported that 63% of non-custodial parents who are behind on their child support payments report earning $10,000 per year or less.  That makes them poor and it is the poor who are Moses' concern.
In recent years, there has been a new focus on federally funded fatherhood programs that provide parenting support and, at times, employment help. Yet those efforts are dwarfed by the $5.8 billion spent on the Child Support Enforcement program, which reaches the parents of 17.5 million children and half of all poor children. This is the program most likely to be engaging with low-income fathers.
So, the federal government expends huge amounts of money to collect child support, mostly from the poor, but does comparatively little to help ensure that those fathers can get and keep paying work.  Moses, like so many others, sees the futility behind that approach. The second thing I've discussed before that Moses touches on is visitation.
Visitation is also key because low-income parents are often being locked out of systems that allow them to establish visitation arrangements (historically, visitation has been a minor focus of the child support enforcement agencies). Federal efforts in this area must be drastically expanded.
That's putting it mildly.  It wasn't too long ago that I railed at Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott who had the gall to trumpet the fact that he was spending $500,000 on visitation enforcement in the state.  That compared with something like $270 million for child support enforcement.  I opined at the time that those figures accurately reflected the state's priorities regarding support and visitation. But I was wrong; it was worse than I thought.  When I checked the various agencies the visitation money was going to, I found that their priorities were first child support enforcement.  Some didn't even mention enforcement of visitation. So it's good to see Moses calling for drastic expansion enforcement of visitation orders.  By now, plenty of people are aware of Sanford Braver's work in the 1990s that found that mothers who don't interfere with visitation are far more likely than those that do to get full on-time payment of support. Of course with indigent fathers, non-interference with visitation won't have that effect.  If you can't pay you can't pay, irrespective of what the mother does.  But for everyone else, visitation enforcement is one of the keys to child support enforcement. But, just like the failure to spend on employment training for dads, the federal government fails to support visitation enforcement.  Both would lead to improvements in the thing that's nearest and dearest to the federal heart - child support payments, but quixotically enough, the feds aren't interested. Needless to say, punishments for failure to pay only make paying that much harder.
The consequences can include imprisonment, loss of a driver"s license necessary to maintain employment, wage garnishment, and public humiliation as your photo may be published in newspapers and on television. In short, our federal child support enforcement policies can make being both poor and a father into the severest of punishments.
Child support enforcement efforts can punish the poor for being poor and, ironically, make it difficult for them to work and provide for their children.
Joy Moses gets it.  Sadly, people in a position to do something about the multitude of problems surrounding child support and visitation, people like the justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the United States, seem not to.  The former imagine that when the poor face jail they don't need lawyers; the latter blames fathers for problems imposed on them by a judicial system that often seems bent on separating them from their children. Thanks to Jose for the heads-up.

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Wow.  This is one I didn't see coming.  It never occurred to me.  This article tells us about yet another outrage of the foster care system - identity theft (Sacramento Bee, 6/26/11). It seems that sometimes foster parents are just in it for the money - the kid's money that is.  But surely kids placed in foster care don't have much money, right?  Right, but they do have names and social security numbers and with those, foster parents and indeed anyone, can establish lines of credit that they have no intention of repaying.  Why would they?  The debt's not in their name. Oddly enough, the article is about identity theft by foster parents, but the horrendous example it gives is of a girl who's biological mother did the same thing.
Four years after Sacramento County Child Protective Services removed Katrina Haywood from her mother's abusive grip, the woman still has managed to stand in the way of her daughter entering college, finding a job or paying for the roof over her head.
Haywood, 18, has spent the past two months starting to clean up a mess that foster care workers say she couldn't have prevented.
Eight entities, including Bank of America and Pacific Gas & Electric, want a total of $6,000 from Haywood. She says her birth mother started opening lines of credit using subtly crafted aliases and Haywood's Social Security number. Since the bills weren't paid, the credit history associated with Haywood's Social Security number is filled with accounts in poor standing.
Amazing as all that is, you might wonder how prevalent the practice is.  The astonishing answer is that, while no one knows for sure, it might occur in as many as half the cases.
Exiting the state's 60,000-member foster system at about the age of 18 is hard enough for teenagers such as Haywood. For one to five out of every 10 children, the situation is even worse. Their Social Security numbers and birthdays, easily accessible to birth parents, foster parents, siblings, social workers and courts, were hijacked so others could get quick cash from banks, keep electricity and water flowing, avoid criminal conviction or even save on taxes and medical costs.
"You're completely at their whim as children," said Sacramento-area social worker John Morton.
Keep in mind that, in most cases, when foster kids turn 18, they're on their own.  Their foster parents will no longer receive state funds for caring for them, so they don't.  As the article says, that's hard enough on an 18-year-old.  But when he/she steps out into adult life saddled with a mountain of bad credit, it's much, much worse.
"If your credit is bad, you really can't do anything," Haywood said. "You're hit with this big boulder and it just becomes a burden on your shoulder."
She said Target, Century Theatres, Walgreens, Sacramento's Department of Parks and Recreation and nearly a dozen other employers rejected her due to the bad credit. Haywood said appealing to some of them with a pile of documents didn't help.
She wants to attend Sacramento City College, but hasn't found anyone to finance a loan. She's living in a friend's apartment, where the manager won't assign her a lease.
Peter Samuelson, who runs the national foster children advocacy group known as First Start, said the teenagers are deemed "deadbeats through no fault of their own."
And it's not a problem that goes away quickly or easily.  In this economy, issuers of credit are notoriously leery of anyone they see as a bad risk.  That would include a lot of 18-year-olds anyway, but those with large amounts of bad debt don't have a chance. Haywood is luckier than most.  She's found an attorney who's working pro bono to erase the fraudulent debts from her record.  The fact that she wasn't legally an adult when her mother incurred the debts works in her favor. Five years ago, the State of California passed a law requiring social workers to get credit reports on every child in foster care when they turn 16.  Unfortunately, budget concerns delayed implementation of the law, so it wasn't in place to protect Haywood from her mother. And there will soon be a bill in the U.S. Congress ordering yearly credit checks for all kids in foster care. As an aside, there's not a word in the article about what happened to Haywood's mother.  After all, defrauding lending institutions is a crime at the federal and state levels, so she ought to be in prison.  I'd like to know if she is.  I suspect that this aspect of foster care is not well known.  But it's worth remembering, particularly by CPS workers whose preference for foster care over father care was established years ago by the Urban Institute.  There are many reasons why that's not a good idea.  Now we know that there's one more.

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We read a lot about false allegations made in the course of custody battles.  Parents often get so caught up in the fight that they become willing to do anything to win.  We've seen it time and again. But few of those cases have been so carefully documented and reported on as the one described in this article (Los Angeles Times, 6/26/11) or this one (Los Angeles Times, 6/27/11). It's the story of Louis Gonzalez III who spent almost three months in solitary confinement faced with five criminal charges including rape courtesy of his former girlfriend, Tracy West.  Gonzalez was denied bail due to the horrific nature of the crimes West described to police detective David Del Marto.
She said Gonzalez ambushed her in the garage, dragged her to an upstairs bedroom, hogtied her with her clothes, singed her with matches and assaulted her vaginally and anally with a wooden coat hanger. Then, she said, he forced a plastic bag over her head and held it tight, and she feigned unconsciousness until he left.
"He told me he was gonna kill me," she said. "He told me that. Seven or eight different times."
When they had met in 2000, Gonzalez was a successful real estate banker in Las Vegas.  Though he didn't even have a high school diploma, he was starting to make it in that dog-eat-dog world.  He was always impeccably - and expensively - dressed.  High-end suits, starched shirts and top-of-the-line watches were the order of the day for him - every day. West was attracted and they began dating.  The affair didn't last long.  It had been over for weeks when she called him and let him listen to the sound of his son's heart beating within her. After that, they got back together briefly, but that descended into arguing and mutual complaints of violence.  They broke up again and, when their son was born, the inevitable custody duel ensued, with the inevitable result - West got primary custody and Gonzalez visitation every other weekend. But even that seemed too much for West who, Gonzalez claimed made his contact with the boy increasingly hard.
Gonzalez's custody attorney, Denise Placencio, said West tried relentlessly to curtail his time with his son, accusing Gonzalez of domestic abuse and claiming the boy suffered "separation anxiety" when he was away from his mother.
Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles.  That meant that she had to put the child on a plane every two weeks to visit his dad, a ritual that West claimed traumatized the boy.  But Gonzalez never saw evidence of trauma.  He just saw a little boy who was glad to see him and distressed when he had to leave. Then in January of 2008, he called West and said he wanted to come to Los Angeles and check out the Montessori school in which she'd enrolled their son.  West wanted details.  What date?  Exactly when would he arrive?  Was he driving or flying? Gonzalez flew to Los Angeles on February 1st, rented a car with a child safety seat and drove out to Simi Valley to the school.  An administrator showed him around and told him to come back in an hour when the boy would be released for the day. So Gonzalez went to a nearby deli and ordered a sandwich.  But the deli didn't take credit cards, so he walked to a bank to get cash and then back to the restaurant where he ate his sandwich.  All of that filled the hour he had to wait, so he returned to the school to pick up his son. There, before the entire school including his son, police descended on Gonzalez and, without even telling him the charges against him, handcuffed him and took him to jail.  Gonzalez remembers the many little faces pressed against the windows of the classrooms, watching. Once in jail, Gonzalez was denied bail and week after week wore on.  Detective Del Marto had talked to West and investigated the house where the supposed crime had occurred.  He figured he had a man bent on revenge for his loss of custody; he figured this man was extremely careful and well prepared in the execution of his criminal plan. According to West, Gonzalez had surprised her in the garage of her house between 12:30 and 12:45 that afternoon.  He had forced her inside, upstairs and into the bedroom.  There he bound her, tortured her, raped her and, in an unusual twist, placed mittens on her hands to avoid her leaving scratches on him.  He also wore overalls over his suit to preclude any evidence appearing there, or so she said. Gonzalez denied doing anything but attempting to pick his son up for his regular visitation weekend. At first no one - not Del Marto, not his own attorney, not her investigator - thought Gonzalez was anything but guilty as charged.  They all believed West because she was still tied to the bed when her husband got home from work.  She had burn marks on her abdomen and finger.  She had ligature marks on her neck; her face was bruised and puffy from the beating she said Gonzalez had administered. So when Leigh-Anne Salinas, the private investigator his attorney often employed, started looking into the matter, she didn't think she'd find much.  Still, Gonzalez insisted he had an alibi for every minute between his arrival at LAX to the time he returned to the school to pick up his son. And sure enough, he did.  Salinas retraced his steps and everywhere Gonzalez said he'd gone was a person who remembered the nattily dressed young man.  Several places - the airport, the bank - had security cameras.  At others, he'd used a credit card, so each transaction had a date and time. Salinas pieced it all together and found that every minute of Gonzalez's time was accounted for from the time he stepped off the plane to the time the police snapped the cuffs on him.  His lawyer Debra White, was representing an innocent man.  Convincing the police was not such an easy matter, but to his credit, Del Marto followed the evidence where it led.  He, like Salinas, excluded every possibility of guilt on the basis of the evidence he uncovered.  Then there was the problem of physical evidence; there was none.  Not a hair, not a fiber, not a fingerprint, no DNA appeared at the "crime" scene to place Gonzalez there.  Del Marto called the prosecutor's office and told them, for the first time in his career, that he wasn't comfortable with the accused's guilt. As far as prosecutors were concerned, Del Marto's opinion didn't pose much of a problem.  They had planned to put on their evidence at a preliminary hearing through him, but they could always use West.  But,  
On April 21, 2008, the day before the hearing was to begin, prosecutors learned that West was in the hospital. They had obtained a note in what appeared to be West's handwriting.
"The DA asking me to relive my horror of Louis Gonzalez attack is more than I can bear. For them it is a case. For me it is my life shattered," read the note. "I died of Rx overdose -- suicide."
But she didn't die.  Later she would claim she didn't remember writing the note and that the incident had stemmed from drugs her psychiatrist had prescribed.  With no police testimony, none from the accuser and no physical evidence of his presence at the scene, Ventura County didn't have a case against Gonzalez, so they let him go.  But at the time, "jeopardy hadn't attached" so they could refile against him at any time.  Gonzalez was a free man - free to live under an enormous black cloud of multiple charges of violent felonies. To be continued. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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Ohio Governor Kasich has signed HB 121, a bill to protect military parents" child custody rights modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year. HB 121 is the 11th bill inspired by F & F or modeled on F & F legislation to pass in the past 15 months. Legislative victories require work and money--please help fund our success and progress by visiting www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. We salute HB Ohio representative Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), HB 121's sponsor. To learn more about the bill, see F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin's Columbus Dispatch column Custody agreements should survive deployments (4/6/11). This success is yet another vindication of the key tenets of our strategy:

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This piece continues my earlier one about Tracy West's false allegations against Louis Gonzalez III.  When we last saw him, prosecutors had just withdrawn criminal charges against Gonzalez, but retained the ability to refile them at any time. Co-workers looked at him sideways; women he asked out learned of the charges and said "thanks, but no thanks." And then there was the battle in family court.  West had a restraining order issued against Gonzalez based on her allegations in the criminal matter.  That meant he couldn't see his son for eight months after his arrest.  So his attorneys attacked the order which West withdrew rather than face a hearing in family court.  Gonzalez, after all, had no fewer than 10 alibi witnesses and a straight-arrow veteran police detective who said there was no way Gonzalez could have done what West claimed. The court awarded him $55,000 in attorneys fees for having to fight a fraudulently-obtained order.  West filed for bankruptcy protection and hasn't paid a dime. Next came custody of the child.
In her closing argument, Gonzalez's custody attorney, Denise Placencio, said West had been trying to divide father and son for years -- attempting to change the boy's surname, moving him from Nevada to California, offering Gonzalez money to relinquish parental rights.
"The last resort was to frame Mr. Gonzalez and put him in jail," she said.
The judge concluded that West's insistence on Gonzalez's guilt "with no rational basis" was an attempt to remove the boy from his father's life.
"She continues to maintain that he's guilty of this heinous crime, and he's not," the judge said. "The court finds if mom is allowed to maintain primary physical custody, she's more likely to continue with this." She appeared to be a good mother otherwise, he said, and it was with "a heavy heart" that he awarded custody to the father.
In 2009, Gonzalez's attorneys asked the criminal court to do a thing that's almost never done - declare him "factually innocent."  Over the objections of the county prosecutors, the court did just that. The last act of the drama was for Gonzalez to try to convince prosecutors to charge West with criminal wrongdoing in filing a false police report.  They refused.
Asked why West hadn't been charged with filing a false police report, Ellison, the Ventura County prosecutor, gave this explanation: "We could not say with 100% certainty that Tracy West was lying."
That rationalization looks a lot like the family court judge's when he tried to decide whether West had fabricated the incident or perhaps another person had committed the crimes. In that regard, it's worth noting that West knew Gonzalez well and always said he was her attacker.  She told the same story again and again both under oath and not. The judge also had testimony from a psychologist who seems to have held a much firmer grasp of the case than the judge did.
No, testified John Paglini, the court-appointed psychologist who had interviewed West four times: Either Gonzalez attacked her, or she lied.
"She could have said, 'On Feb. 1st I was attacked by somebody, I don't know who it was,' but she picked this guy out, and she was very definite," Paglini told the court. "It couldn't be somebody else. She said, 'I heard his voice, I saw his face.'"
And since it couldn't have been Gonzalez, that means West lied, fabricated the entire incident.  That was obvious to Paglini and, I suspect, to most readers, but not to the family court judge.
The judge was not, however, prepared to accept the psychologist's either-or view of the case -- that if Gonzalez didn't do it, she made it up. What West believed about Feb. 1, 2008, "remains unclear," and the possibility that she suffered a "delusion" had not been ruled out, the judge said.
West would stay in her son's life. She moved back to Nevada.
Writer Christopher Goffard deserves high praise for these two articles.  He patiently and in great detail tells the story of a mother who would go to the extreme of injuring herself and lying to police, prosecutors and the family court, all for the sake of denying custody to a fit, loving father. The articles acquaint the reader with the intimate details of Gonzalez's torment in jail and the readiness with which everyone believed the lies with which West sought to imprison him for the rest of his life.  Police, prosecutors, his own attorney all believed her.  They all looked at Louis Gonzalez III and saw another man, a monster. Perhaps more importantly, the articles show the astonishing good luck that saved Gonzalez from a lifetime in prison.  The simple fact is that, through witnesses, security camera footage and credit card transactions, he was able to account for every minute of the time during which West claimed he was attacking her.  But for that, he'd be in prison to this day without a prayer of ever seeing his son, or the outside of the prison walls, again. So let's be clear about one thing.  The justice system correctly found Louis Gonzalez III innocent of all charges against him.  It could easily have convicted an innocent man. And then there's the prosecutor who, when it came to charging a mother whose malice almost destroyed a good man and a loving father, demanded "100% certainty" of guilt.  That raises an obvious question: "how often do prosecutors have that level of certainty about the guilt of an accused?"  I can't answer, but, if they aren't sure of the case against West, they're not sure about many of the charges they bring against people every day.  Prosecutors, like most other attorneys, rarely know to a certainty that their case is a winner.  They look at the evidence and make a call about whether to bring a case to trial or not.  Ultimately, it's for a jury to decide and it's the rare ADA who's never lost a case. So it's noteworthy that in this case, the Ventura County prosecutor refused to charge a clearly guilty woman because he saw some slight chance she might be found not guilty.  For myself, I look at the facts of the case and I see a verdict of guilty. Likewise, the family court judge, Bill Henderson, couldn't seem to wrap his brain around the obvious - that West had made the whole thing up.  The evidence admits of no other possible conclusion, but Henderson found one last straw at which to grasp - that maybe West was delusional.  Maybe she hallucinated the whole thing. But of course no one had ever raised such a possibility.  She'd been interviewed four times by a psychologist who never said a word about West's being so extremely unbalanced.  And how did Judge Henderson figure that "delusion" caused the bruising to her face, the burns on her skin? Faced with those remarks by an experienced prosecutor and judge, it becomes hard not to notice their willingness to impose extraordinary conditions on themselves before punishing a mother who cried 'rape.'  That special pleading on her behalf by the men who should have brought the weight of the law down on her, speaks volumes about the American judicial system here in the 21st century. That's a system whose family courts give primary custody to mothers 84% of the time and whose criminal ones give sentencing discounts to women vis-a-vis men equal (in one study of federal sentencing) to that of whites vis-a-vis blacks. Unlike other mothers about whom I've written, Tracy West didn't get away unscathed.  She lost the custody of her son, although she seems to still have visitation rights.  She was forced into bankruptcy and her insurance company paid a confidential settlement to Gonzalez for the multiple civil wrong she did him. Still, does anyone pretend that those negatives would be sufficient to deter future false claims by other mothers involved in custody cases?  It surely escapes no one's notice that Gonzalez is free due to one thing only - his own dumb luck. And few will overlook the fact that, given the opportunity to demonstrate that the judicial system doesn't tolerate liars, the prosecutor and the judge refused.  The message is the same as we've so often seen.  For a mother in a custody battle with a father, false allegations are a free shot.  They may work and they may not, but whatever the outcome, she can be confident that she'll pay no price. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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Today's potpourri includes a couple of news items from the world of sports. First up is Tennessee Titans wide receiver Damian Williams who was charged earlier this month with domestic violence against Shelley Anne David.  She called police and told them he had grabbed her by the arm and bruised her in a domestic dispute.  Williams denied the allegations and pointed police to a series of text messages he'd received from David promising to drop the charges in exchange for $5,000.  Read about it here (NFL.com, 6/27/11). The police set up a sting operation in which Williams met with David in a parking lot and handed her a check for $5,000.  That done, police arrested her and charged her with extortion. What's interesting is that David apparently wasn't sure about charging Williams, but the police did so anyway as "per department policy."  So once again, we have mandatory charging irrespective of what the accuser says or wants.  It's the common practice when DV is claimed despite the fact that a recent study shows that mandatory charging policies likely make DV worse because actual victims are hesitant to involve the police and courts in what they see as a private matter. Second up here is wrestler Hulk Hogan whose ex-wife went on the "Today" show with Matt Lauer to peddle her recent tell-all memoir (Ace Show Biz, 6/29/11).  She claimed, in print and on the air, that he was abusive to her throughout their marriage. Hogan recently fired back calling Linda Hogan "delusional" and her claims of abuse a "total, blatant lie."
Hulk explained, "If you step back and take a really good look at this - if you take the Hulk Hogan name out of her situation, her life, her career, the air she breathes... she's out of gas." He added, "She's still riding on the Hulk Hogan name.
What's her explanation for never once going to authorities or anyone else (doctors, lawyers, friends, relatives) during their marriage to report the alleged abuse?   
"I was afraid to say anything. Had I said something, the carpet would have been pulled up underneath his career. I don't know what my kids would have done..."
What would the kids have done?  Well, for starters, their mother could have divorced their famous dad and the kids would have gotten large sums of money in child support.  So that excuse is a non-starter. But what's really interesting is that the two former spouses essentially agree.  He says she's making the allegations for the money, i.e. what's her book really amount to without his name and some juicy charges that now can neither be proven nor disproven?  She says she didn't report him so his career and earnings would remain intact.  In other words, they both agree that it's all about money.  Great minds think alike. The last comes from the San Francisco bay area.  I reported not long ago on the trial of Rosa Hill and her mother Mei Li.  They were both accused of murdering her ex-husband's 91-year-old grandmother and attempting to murder him.  Their motive was to get custody of Rosa and Eric Hill's child. Rosa had tried allegations of child sexual abuse against Eric, but investigations into them showed no abuse.  So Rosa and her mom went to the next step; they started planning his murder.  They bought a variety of weapons including two hand guns, a taser, a sword and a crossbow.  They put together a "to do" list for murder.  They did online research on how to murder someone. Then, on the appointed day, Rosa Hill put on a mask and shouldered a backpack stuffed with the aforementioned weapons and went over to Eric's house supposedly to visit the child. Instead, she went in the back door, attacked his grandmother with a taser and beat and strangled her to death.  She then headed upstairs to finish off her ex, but she only managed to tase him once.  He successfully fought off her other efforts to do him in. So the two were charged with murder and attempted murder and guess what their defense was.  I'm not making this up.  Their attorney told the jury that they'd never intended to kill anyone and that it was all done in self-defense.  Seriously, Rosa just happened to cart all those weapons over to her ex's house for her routine child visitation.  Isn't that what most parents do? Anyway, this article tells us that the pair were convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder (San Jose Mercury News, 6/28/11).  The jury found that Mei Li was culpable in the attacks because she took part in the planning and execution of crimes.  Sentencing will come later.

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There's currently pending in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, House Bill 2684 that would require judges in custody cases to "maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent, to the extent possible."  Fathers and Families has been instrumental in backing the bill.  It's pending before the joint House and Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Here's the text of the bill. HO2684 would establish a presumption of joint custody - not equal joint custody, just custody in which each parent would get some time with the child.  It then goes on to require the maximum time possible for each parent.  It also would require a judge to grant joint custody during the pendency of the divorce.  All of that is subject to the exception of abuse or neglect.  If either parent is found to have abused or neglected the child, all bets are off and the judge can order whatever he/she considers to be in the child's best interests. The bill also requires the judge in a custody case to make written findings if he/she deviates from the presumption.  That's important because, as things stand now, judges frequently make rulings on custody without saying why or making written findings of fact.  A parent who wants to contest the ruling therefore has nothing to point to that can be verified to be wrong, making reversal on appeal a virtual impossibility. Unfortunately, HO2684 faces an obstacle that shared parenting has yet to overcome in the past in Massachusetts - Senator Cynthia Creem.  She's the co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.  She's also a divorce lawyer who receives the bulk of her income from divorce and custody cases.  As such, laws that would make custody cases easier and less contentious aren't in her financial interest. And so, to no one's great surprise, in the past Creem has blocked any bill that would improve fathers' rights in family courts.  She's in a position to do that again irrespective of the fact that she has an apparent conflict of interest regarding the bill. If you want to tell the Massachusetts Legislature how you feel about shared parenting, here's a petition you can sign supporting the bill. There's also a good summary of the bill - what's in it and what's not - by Massachusetts dad, Michael Burgraff.  He also gives some of the social science that argues for keeping both parents in children's lives post-divorce.
• Research shows overwhelmingly that children do better in the short-term and over the course of their lives if they have two loving parents who are actively engaged in their lives.
• Children with two involved parents perform better academically; they have increased cognitive abilities, higher self-esteem and greater social competence, and they have lower risks of delinquency or of emotional, behavioral, academic, legal and social problems.
• This bill supports children and strengthens families by creating a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in divorce cases, so that children can sustain their loving relationships with both parents. It puts the child"s happiness and welfare first.
• Further, the bill preserves "the best interest of the child' standard. The court just needs to make written findings that shared legal or physical custody would harm the child and find that shared legal or physical custody is not in "the best interest of the child.'
• The bill does not mandate any particular division of physical custody, such as 50/50.
• It instructs the court to "maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent, to the extent possible.'
• The bill does not create more parental conflict, but rather diminishes it.
Children overwhelmingly wish to spend time with both of their parents and they benefit from having both parents actively involved in their lives.  A rebuttable presumption of shared parenting would lessen parental conflict because both parents would know beforehand that they would have an active and fulfilling role in their children's lives.  Please support shared parenting legislation both in Massachusetts and other states that seek to improve the lives of children.
Professor Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia has reported exactly what Burgraff is saying.  First, Kruk cites studies showing that 77% of children of divorce say they'd prefer to spend equal time with each parent.  Second, he refers to analyses of North American data showing that shared parenting tends to reduce conflict between parents over time. That last is particularly significant because it hits at one of the few arguments on which the anti-father forces rely to oppose father-child relationships.  They often claim that shared parenting shouldn't be tried in custody cases in which there's a lot of parental conflict.  On the contrary, the data cited by Kruk show that shared parenting tends to ameliorate conflict between parents.  My guess is that's why Cynthia Creem opposes it.  Divorce lawyers thrive on parental conflict; their bank accounts dwindle when parents get along. So by all means, make your voice heard.  Sign the petition and let's  finally make shared parenting a reality in Massachusetts.

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Psychology Today has finally wised up.  Not long ago the magazine ran a truly scurrilous article by Paula Caplan that was supposedly about Parental Alienation Syndrome, but simply recycled a few old and utterly meritless claims.  Those claims are routinely made by anti-father advocates who fear that PAS may deprive mothers of custody. Of course that's correct; any parent - mother or father who engages in parental alienation deserves to lose custody.  Put simply, parental alienation is child abuse. The Caplan article in Psychology Today frankly described PAS as a theory that fathers use to take children from mothers.  The fact that that is simply untrue (PAS supporters have said for years that alienators can be male or female) detered Caplan not in the least. Nor did the fact that the science she cited is long outdated and at least one of the authors has since disavowed the work Caplan relied on. Now comes Dr. Amy Baker here to give readers facts on parental alienation and give Psychology Today at least a figleaf of respectability on the subject of PAS (Psychology Today, 6/28/11).
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 contested custody battle. 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 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 the 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.
Notice that Baker nowhere uses a masculine or feminine pronoun.  For Caplan's information, that's because both sexes engage in the behavior Baker describes.  Baker describes parental alienation of children as child abuse.
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. In essence the child receives the message that s/he is worthless and unloved and only of value for meeting the needs of others. This is the core experience of psychological maltreatment (emotional abuse) as defined by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC).
Most importantly, children who succumb to alienation by a parent are often scarred for life because of it.  When a parent exerts pressure on a child to reject the other parent, sometimes the child may do so in order to maintain a relationship with the alienating parent.  In effect, the child turns away from the target parent to please the alienator. The results often extend far into adulthood.
Research with "adult children" of parental alienation syndrome (that is, adults who believe that when they were children one parent turned them against the other parent) confirms that being exposed to parental alienation represents a form of emotional abuse. Furthermore, these adults reported that when they succumbed to the pressure and rejected one parent to please the other, the experience was associated with several negative long-term effects including depression, drug abuse, divorce, low self-esteem, problems with trusting, and alienation from their own children when they became parents themselves. In this way the cycle of parental alienation was carried forward through the generations. Thus, parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse that damages the child's self esteem in the short run and is associated with life-long damage.
Finally, Baker makes clear that in court, parental alienation can look like nothing more than the child's passionate preference for one parent.  That of course is the whole point of the exercise.  When child custody is involved, what better strategy could there be than to convince the child that his/her well-being depends on remaining with the alienator and rejecting the target parent?  That drama plays well in court and custody evaluators need to be trained and aware of the distinction between a child's rejection of a bad parent and his/her rejection of an alienated one.
As is often true with other forms of abuse, the child victims of parental alienation are not aware that they are being mistreated and often cling vehemently to the favored parent, even when that parent's behavior is harmful to them. This is why, mental health and legal professionals involved in cases of parental alienation need to look closely at the family dynamics and determine what the cause of the child's preferences for one parent and rejection of the other parent are. If the favored parent is found to be instigating the alignment and the rejected parent is found to be a potential positive and non abusive influence, then the child's preferences should not be strictly heeded. The truth is, despite strongly held positions of alignment, inside many alienated children want nothing more than to be given permission and freedom to love and be loved by both parents.
Child custody law is riddled with falsities and misconceptions.  Parental alienation and PAS are prime examples of those very things.  It is beyond astonishing that publications and social scientists would, for the sole sake of attacking fathers and their relationships with their children, engage in the type of blatant intellectual dishonesty that we see routinely regarding parental alienation.  As Dr. Baker says, it's child abuse.  Why are they defending abusers? Whatever the answer to that question is, Amy Baker has been and will continue to be a staunch advocate of sound science.  When it comes to PAS (I couldn't resist the pun) that means we'll continue to learn more and more about alienation and its effects on kids.  And courts will continue to listen over the din of the anti-dad crowd that more and more reveals itself to be anti-science as well.

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A new survey shows that fathers with children at home work more than men without children.  On average, both work more than women, whether mothers or not.
"Men are working longer to bring in more money for their families," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the non-profit Families and Work Institute, which produced the report. "In open-ended questions … their answers were about earning more money. I think the breadwinner image is a part of it, particularly for men with children."
The survey was of 1,298 employed men who have at least one family member living at home.  Of those, 75% had a spouse who also worked and 49% had a child under 18 living at home.  Here's an article reporting on the survey (USAToday, 7/1/11). The survey itself is about the difficulties of striking the work-life balance for men.  I'll write more about that in a later piece, but for now I'll concentrate on the work habits of fathers and their consequences in the event of divorce. What the article makes clear is that, more than men without children, fathers emphasize the value of supporting their families.
Kathleen Christensen, director of the Workplace, Workforce and Working Families Program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, says she's not surprised that dads are working longer hours.
"They feel a very deep and abiding responsibility to take care of their families," she says. "The father's identity as breadwinner is so ingrained in who they are."
That's true and those who track the social science on dads aren't surprised that dads work longer hours, just as Christensen said.  What the study says and the article doesn't is that those longer hours result in greater conflict in those dads over how to allocate their time between work and family.  That's understandable; the demands of fatherhood are additive to those of work.  So a father who works longer hours and then tries to have more time with the kids is stretching himself pretty thin. But what's more important is the fact that, while fathers work longer hours than non-fathers, the opposite is true for mothers.  Moms with kids at home tend to work much shorter hours than women without children or with children over the age of 18 and therefore out of the nest.  As but one recent example of that, the Boston College study I wrote about recently found that, of the 963 working men surveyed, 57% of their wives/partners earned $25,000  per year or less.  And those were well-educated women whose earning capacities are far higher than that.  The simple fact is that, given the choice, those mothers opted to either not work at all (31%) or to work part-time (26%). Stated another way, fathers work more so that mothers can stay home with the kids.  It's a phenomenon we see time and again in study after study of men and women in all walks of life.  Admittedly, it's probably more likely to happen among the more highly educated and higher earning couples.  They're of course more likely to be able to afford for one spouse to either not work at all or to work part-time. Remarkably, when it comes to divorce, this phenomenon is acknowledged only for the purpose of marginalizing the dad in the child's life.  The notion that the primary caregiver should become the primary custodial parent post-divorce is as common as dirt in family courts.  The fact that it was Dad's shouldering the lion's share of the earnings load that made it possible for Mom to do the childcare is ignored completely.  Indeed, in a tour de force of intellectual dishonesty, some have even managed to portray dad's altruism as cold, calculating wrong.  Those are the ones who tell us that he "deprived" her of a career and earnings.  The truth is that it was her choice.  Again, in study after study - of, for example, female law school graduates, female MBA graduates and female graduates of upper-level programs in science, technology, engineering and math - women tend to opt out of paid work in favor of childcare when the first baby comes along.  Men overwhelmingly keep working and earning.   But when Mom and Dad divorce, it is only her choice that's honored by the family court.  In 84% of cases nationwide, she gets custody and he gets some form of meager visitation which, if she interferes with it, becomes even less. Of course all that would be fine if the court's decision truly served the "best interests of the child," but it doesn't.  Again, study after study shows that the preference of courts for maternal custody correlates not at all with child outcomes.  Canadian economist Paul Millar discovered that when he became the first to analyze the raw data over time of custody cases in that country. Not only that, but what we also know is that, even though Dad works long hours, his kids still love him and identify him as their father and protector.  What matters to courts -that he's not their primary caregiver - doesn't matter to them.  So when he becomes at best a visitor in their lives post-divorce, his children feel the loss acutely and their emotional/psychological well-being reflects it. What's needed is not for men to abandon their traditional role of breadwinner, but for courts to abandon their attitude about it.  Fathers work hard because they know their families need them to.  That allows mothers to do what they tend to want to do - care for children.  There's nothing wrong with any of that.  Family courts should acknowledge the family dynamic that shows up time and again.  They should understand that neither parent is the witless victim of the conniving other.  Both make their choices; both are necessary for children's well-being; both should be valued equally in the event of divorce.

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A new survey by the Families and Work Institute finds fathers are torn between work and family far more than are mothers (Families and Work Institute, 2011).  Indeed, today's dads experience work-family conflict more than mothers ever have. "Work-family conflict" is defined as how much each interferes with the other.  The FWI compared mothers and fathers in dual-earner households in 1977 and 2008.  The percentage of mothers reporting work-family conflict remained statistically the same (41% in 1977; 47% in 2008) over the 31 years while the percentage of fathers increased dramatically from 35% to 60%. The authors sought to explain the change and the imbalance between mothers and fathers.  What they found was what they call the "new male mystique."  That's obviously a nod to Betty Friedan, but in this case the term means "traditional views about men"s role as breadwinners in combination with emerging gender role values that encourage men to participate in family life and a workplace that does not fully support these new roles have created pressure for men to, essentially, do it all in order to have it all." In other words, men still view themselves as primarily breadwinners, but have taken on the additional role of father as well.  Those two things combined with employers who aren't inclined to accommodate fathering activities make for conflict.  How can a dad work and earn as much as he feels he needs to and still spend enough time with his kids? One of the significant findings of the survey is that it's specifically work, not family, that provides the stress.  First, the more a father works, the more likely he is to report work-family conflict.  That's nothing more than stating the obvious. Second, 54% of men say they'd like to work fewer hours than they do, and those who want to work less report greater work-family conflict.
Time spent working does not fully explain why conflict has increased substantially over the past three decades, because men spend as much time working today as they did three decades ago: • In 1977 and in 2008, men worked an average of 47 hours per week. • By contrast, women"s work hours have increased from 39 hours per week in 1977 to 42 hours in 2008.
Consistent with emerging egalitarian gender roles, men do, however, spend more time involved at home--e.g., doing chores or caring for the children than men did three decades ago: • In 2008, fathers report spending 3 hours per workday (on average) with their children, up significantly from 1.8 hours per workday in 1977. • Similarly, in 2008, men report spending an average of 2.3 hours per workday on household chores, up significantly from 1.2 hours in 1977.
Although it seems logical that increasing demands on men"s time at home would be a major factor in work-family conflict, importantly and perhaps surprisingly, our data reveal a more complex picture. Although work and family hours, taken together, are indicative of more conflict, when we control for the hours spent at work, we find: • Workday time spent on child care, chores and leisure is not significantly related to work family conflict when taking into account time spent working.
This means that the amount of time men spend working is more important in predicting their work-family conflict than the time men spend on child care, chores and leisure.
Also, the nature of men's work is more demanding and, in some ways, less rewarding now than it was in 1977.
Increasing job demands, the blurring of boundaries between work and home life, declining job security and flat earnings have made it more challenging for men to live up to the new male mystique, thereby contributing to an increased probability of work-family conflict.
Men who tend toward the "all work and no family" model tend to experience more work-family conflict than do those who seek more of an even balance between the two.  But interestingly, the authors found that men and women are about equal in their preference for dads working and earning while moms stay home with the kids.
Our data show that there is no statistically significant difference between men and women on these views--40% of men and 37% of women somewhat or strongly agree with traditional attitudes about gender role values.
Nevertheless, those men who strongly value work over family experience greater work-family conflict than men who place less value on work.  That shouldn't be surprising; the more time a man spends at work, the more onerous family responsibilities become.  He still values his family, so there's greater conflict. And the delegation of family responsibilities makes no difference in the amount of work-family conflict a father experiences. Fathers work more than non-fathers, but, since they have children at home, also desire time with their kids.  That makes for significantly greater work-family conflict for fathers than for non-fathers. Those dads want to work fewer hours, but feel compelled to continue working.
Fathers want to work fewer hours were asked in this study why they don"t reduce their work hours. We find: • 47% say they need the money they earn by working long hours, whether or not their spouse earns more money than they do. • 16% say they could not keep their jobs if they worked fewer hours. • 14% say they need to work long hours to keep up with the demands of their job.
The report goes on to suggest that fathers facing significant work-family conflict would benefit from greater flexibility on the part of their employers and understanding on the part of co-workers, supervisors, etc. All that is well and good, but the authors leave out what to me is an important issue.  The fact is that, as they say at the first of their report, fathers experience conflict between work and family much more than mothers do.  Why would that be true?  After all, both men and women work, and both have kids and the attendant responsibilities to them. So why is it that 60% of fathers but only 47% of mothers report significant levels of work-family conflict? I think the answer is obvious - mothers work less than men when they work and are more likely than fathers to not do paid work.  The authors are clear on their finding that it is specifically work, not family, that is the cause of work-family conflict.  So it stands to reason that the parent who works less experiences less work-family conflict. In fact, among fathers, those who work more have more conflict than those who work less, so it's not surprising that the same is true of mothers. The lesson seems clear.  We can try to wheedle employers into being more flexible, but that's unlikely to make much of an impact on employer behavior.  But what we can do, individual couple by individual couple, is to even out the work and the childcare between fathers and mothers.  That way the work-family conflict will be evened out as well. The arguments in favor of equal parenting are many.  This is another one.

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England's review of family courts continues the country's long-term discrimination against fathers.  Here's a summary of the interim report to the Family Justice Review Panel that's the first of three legislative updates in this post (Family Law Week). Fathers' rights advocates had understood the Tory part of the coalition government to have promised, prior to the election that showed Labor the door, to guarantee fathers contact with their children post-divorce.  But that, as they say, was then and this is now. Now there is no mention of fathers' equal access to their children or any pretense of gender equality in the document.  It seems that when it comes to fathers' rights in family courts or children's rights to meaningful relationships with their dads, nothing will change. And it should come as no surprise that it's all couched in the language of the best interests of children.  Never mind that children do better post-divorce with two parents in their lives.  Never mind that mothers commit twice the abuse and neglect of children that fathers do.  Never mind that children don't want to  lose one parent in the divorce process.  Never mind that studies show that children want both parents in their lives post-divorce.  And never mind that the current system accomplishes the opposite by effectively separating children from their fathers. No, that's all rational and fact-based and therefore has no place in the British government's interim report on the Family Justice system.  As far as the government is concerned, the status quo regarding fathers and children is just fine, thank you. The only exception to that rule is that the report spcifically mentions that non-custodial parents (90% of whom are fathers) can have their "visitation" satisfied via Skype.  "Just send the checks regularly and view your kid for 10 minutes on your computer screen.  That's all the fathering you need to do and all your child needs."  Such is the message to dads from the interim report. Remember, it's all in the best interests of the children. The report makes some good recommendations about technical matters such as unifying the court system and ensuring that a single judge hears a divorce case from start to finish.  Those are good enough ideas that one is left wondering why they haven't been implemented earlier. But the bottom line for dads is that, beyond the money they provide, they're still considered of no importance by the British family court system. Here's an entertaining article about a fathers' rights advocate accosting Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in his driveway with some very pertinent questions about the interim report (Telegraph, 7/3/11). 
''How come, Mr Clarke, it states quite clearly in that review that fathers will not be given equal or shared rights over their children?
''Isn't that against the law, Mr Clarke, gender discrimination?''
Strange, he didn't get an answer. Less blatant but still noteworthy is this attorney's website informing us that, in Indiana, it will now be considered child abuse for a child to witness a domestic violence incident.  Any parent so doing will be entitled to only supervised contact with the child and will have to complete a "batterer's intervention" program.
Indiana law for both paternity (I.C. § 31-14-14-15) and dissolution actions (I.C. § 31-17-2-8.3) currently creates a rebuttable presumption that the court shall order a noncustodial parent's parenting time to be supervised if the noncustodial parent has been convicted of a domestic or family violence crime and said crime was witnessed or heard by the child.   A new subsection will be added to both the paternity and dissolution laws on July 1, 2011.  The new subsections will state that the court may require the noncustodial parent to complete a batterer"s intervention program certified by the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a condition of granting the noncustodial parent unsupervised parenting time.
What's the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence?  Well, it's an organization that, if it recognizes female-on-male violence at all, it doesn't let on about it.  It also fingers the "patriarchy" as the primary culprit in causing domestic violence. So it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out what the coalition's concept of "batterer intervention" must be.  "Batterers" will learn that any affront to one's wife or partner is considered "battering;" men have the power in intimate relationships; men learn from early childhood that it's OK to hit a woman if it maintains their power in a relationship; the only way to undo the above is to remake society so that "feminine" values predominate over "masculine" ones; non-violence is one of those "feminine" values. So it's the law in the State of Indiana that any man who is found, on whatever evidence, to have committed some form of DV, regardless of how slight, must now "learn" the above.  The fact that none of the above is true seems to be of no concern to the state legislature. Finally we come here to Ohio in which the budget crunch has gotten so bad that they're actually giving men behind on child support a slight break (NECN, 6/29/11).  Very slight.  This summary tells us that those men can now be sentenced to "community control, such as halfway houses instead of prison time." Well, thank heaven for small favors.  It's too bad that entirely sensible change in the law was brought about by a desire to save money, but at least it's now the law.  Now child support obligors can stay out of jail and look for work instead of being in the one place in which it's impossible to provide the support their child needs. Thanks to Don for the heads-up on the Ohio law.

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A 14-year-old boy, missing for almost a year, may be a pawn in a custody battle between his parents.  But if it is, it's a disappearance unlike most we see when child custody is involved.  Read about it here (Denver Post, 7/3/11). Andrew Mosier hasn't been seen since August 5 of last year.  It's not the first time he's disappeared from his father's care.  His father is Houston Neurologist, Dr. Dennis Mosier; his mother is Denver dentist Carol Lazell.  Although police have questioned Lazell and investigated her residence, she's not charged in the boy's disappearance.

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Census data show single fathers with kids are one of the fastest growing household types in the U.S.  This article explains that changing attitudes - on the part of fathers, mothers, courts and society generally, are at the root of the change (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/18/11). In a nutshell, mothers are working more and place less emphasis on parenthood today than they did in 1970.  Fathers are moving in the opposite direction - toward embracing the role of parent.
Experts say the numbers reflect not only a shift in court and societal attitudes about child-rearing but women for whom motherhood has become less important.
It shows that perhaps more men are able and willing to be primary caretakers -- and more women are recognizing that they don"t want to or can"t, and are therefore letting their children go, said Julia McQuillan, a sociology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
McQuillan said that society has this notion that work is very important to men and parenting is very important to women, but fatherhood is very important to many men.
"To me, this trend suggests that not only do men say it"s important, they are doing it,' she said.
The societal changes that began in the late 60s and early 70s always held the potential for dads to be more involved in children's lives than before.  That it's taken so long to see a change stands as mute testimony to the intransigence of family courts, state legislatures and anti-father lobbyists that have resisted greater father-child involvement.  That resistance has always come at the expense of children who lose their fathers, fathers who lose their children and mothers who lose the opportunity to have careers.
Matthew Weinshenker, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, said the state trend (in Georgia) mirrors what"s happening nationally, where the number of single dads has almost doubled from 1.5 million to 2.79 million since 1990. In addition, those same census figures, he said, show single dads are older than single moms on average and have higher incomes.
That last is important.  Countless researchers over many decades have bemoaned single motherhood for its propensity to produce children with poorer outcomes in all areas of life than those of two-parent families.  Why should those outcomes be any better with single fathers than with single mothers? At first glance, there's no reason to suggest that they would.  But two things suggest to me that the rise in single fathers shouldn't cause the same alarm that the rise in single mothers did. First, when the increase in single mothers began, it was at the expense of two-parent families.  More children raised by single mothers meant fewer raised in dual parent households.  That was due to the dramatic increase in the divorce rate and the shocking increase in out of wedlock childbearing. Now, the divorce rate is either stable or falling slightly.  Moreover, those single fathers are parenting children who would otherwise be in a single-mother home, not a two-parent one.  That is, instead of living with Mom post-divorce, they're living with Dad. So the rise in single fathers doesn't signal an increase in children in single-parent homes. The second reason is that single fathers tend to earn more than do single mothers.  This Census Bureau report from 2007 shows that 80% of single fathers with children under 18 in the home were employed versus about 70% of single mothers. More importantly, only 26.3% of those dads earned less than $30,000 per year while a hefty 50.5% of single mothers did.  We know that single parenthood is bad for kids apart from the fact that single parents have less money than dual parents do.  Still, the greater incomes that single fathers bring in can ameliorate many of the problems single parents face, alternative childcare being one of the most obvious. The AJC article isn't long and the dads they interview surely aren't representative of much.  Still, one other thing got my attention about the article. The rise in single motherhood over the last 40 years came with a rise of another sort - the rise in articles kvetching about how difficult their lives were.  The theme was essentially unvaried: women with children faced the impossible task of raising the kids and meeting the demands of a job.  These mothers were alternately described as epic heroines or galley slaves, sometimes both. But compare that with what the dads in the AJC piece say about their circumstances.
For his part, Kuklinski said he"s been the primary caregiver of his son since January, when he and his wife started divorce proceedings after a decade of marriage. "It"s been the best six months of my life,' he said recently.
Ziad Minkara of Kennesaw became sole caretaker of his children three years ago. He admits the family had to make adjustments.
"When something like this happens, your whole world stops, but you shift gears and go forward with the minimum impact on the daily life of the kids,' Minkara said. "That"s what"s important.'
Minkara, a real estate investor, is the father of 12-year-old twin boys and a 14-year-old daughter.
"Having to juggle everything I do and still be there for them has been hard but rewarding at the same time,' he said.
No one claims it's easy, but these guys aren't complaining.  They think fatherhood is great and even the hard part is just that - a task that needs doing. And by the way, remember that a recent study by the Families and Work Institute found that men are experiencing much more work-family conflict than women are. It'd be interesting to track the attitudes expressed by single fathers and single mothers about juggling the demands of work and childcare. No one pretends that we're anywhere near gender equality in parenting.  We're worlds away from that and policy makers seem to be far behind the rest of us in realizing the need for greater involvement of fathers in their children's lives. Still, many people seem to be "voting with their feet," i.e. taking matters into their own hands.  That means we're moving toward more complete father-child relationships as the census shows.  That in turn may be producing a fait accompli that, at some point in the future, laws and legislatures will be forced to acknowledge and accommodate.

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