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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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Update 5/10/11: HB 121 passes Ohio House of Representatives. Update 4/13/11: HB 121 passes Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee. --------------------------------------- Fathers and Families of Ohio supports HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year. F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin laid out the case for HB 121 in the Columbus Dispatch -- see his op-ed column Custody agreements should survive deployments (4/6/11). In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:
...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...
The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.
In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this. The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone. More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face. No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.
Read Hubin's full piece here.

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I first posted a piece about Christopher Savoie here .  He's the Tennessee man whose ex-wife abducted their two children to Japan in 2009.  He traveled there briefly to try to get them back, was arrested, released and returned empty-handed to the United States. A court in Tennessee awarded Christopher full custody and issued a warrant for his ex's arrest, but as all know who read this blog, Japan is a safe haven for mothers who wish to abduct their children.  Despite international pressure to do so, it has never signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and its domestic laws so favor maternal custody that Japanese mothers know that they'll suffer no consequences there. That's in spite of the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has specifically found parental child abduction to be child abuse. Christopher Savoie filed a civil suit some months ago to obtain monetary damages from his ex-wife for the abduction of his children.  This article tells us that a Tennessee court has awarded him a judgment against her in the amount of $6.1 million for taking the children (Sacramento Bee, 5/11/11). The chances are, he'll never see a dime of that money, but you never know.  A civil judgment can have the effect of restricting where she travels, how and where she invests money, etc.  So it's not impossible that at some point in the future, she'll be forced to pay him at least some of that judgment. Speaking of civil suits, this article tells us that Col. Parker Schenecker, soon-to-be-ex-husband of Julie Schenecker has filed a wrongful death suit against her for her apparent murder of their two teen-aged children, Calyx and Beau (Tampa Tribune, 5/10/11).  Information on that case to date has Julie Schenecker purchasing the murder weapon days in advance of the killings and planning the crime.  Prosecutors have confiscated her home computers and phones to see if there's further evidence of planning on her part. The civil suit will be easy enough to prove.  There seems little doubt about who killed the children and therefore, Parker should be able to get a judgment against his wife. But the suit has at least as much to do with the division of the marital estate in the divorce case.  Apparently the two together are worth about $2 million, so Parker is clearly trying to make sure that Julie doesn't walk away with half of that in the event she avoids conviction and prison.  My guess is he'll succeed. Remarkably enough, Parker Schenecker may end up paying his wife's legal bills in the divorce case.  It seems it's common in Florida for the higher-earning spouse to do that and it may happen here even though she apparently murdered their children. In a particularly sick twist, the article tells us that after she had shot the children, Julie emailed Parker who was deployed in the Qatar,
telling him to "get home soon -- we're waiting for you!" and discussing the children's grades: "calyx has all b's and a's =yipps i" and Beau had Cs and a couple of As. 
Meanwhile, in neighboring West Virginia, this articletells us that Crystal Seigler Clark has been returned to Mingo County where she's in jail without bail (WSAZ, 5/11/11).  I guess that's what happens when you flee the state; judges tend to conclude you're a flight risk. Clark is accused of murdering her husband, David Clark, and abducting their daughter Chloe.  She made it as far as Memphis before turning herself in to authorities. What's interested me about the case so far is the media's wholesale lack of concern about the deceased.  It's been over two weeks since he was killed and, until the current article, not a single reporter had thought to ask friends, relatives, neighbors or anyone what sort of person David Clark was. Well they've finally gotten around to that, albeit briefly, and here's what they've come up with:
Crystal's friends and family say he was a great husband and father, and that's what makes this entire ordeal even harder to understand. "To us, he was a good boy," Starr said. "We didn't see -- we just don't understand. We don't understand."
That's it.  It's better than nothing I suppose, but it's pretty light on substance.  And it's a small island in a sea of Crystal Clark's relatives extolling her virtues and telling all who will listen how inexplicable it all is. Finally, in one of the most tawdry cases  in a long time, Gary Shirley, sometime boyfriend of "Teen Mom" participant, Amber Portwood has gotten custody of their daughter Leah. Portwood is famous now and she owes it all to her spates of domestic violence against Shirley caught on film and showed to nationwide audiences.  Even though her attacks were common knowledge, it took local police some six months to arrest and charge her.  The incident was almost a year ago and Shirley's just now getting custody. Amazingly enough, according to this article, it has nothing to do with Portwood's violence towards Shirley (TMZ, 5/11/11).  No, apparently someone's recently vandalized Portwood's house and car, so CPS thinks Leah would be safer with Shirley. I don't know if Leah is safer away from Portwood, but I know Shirley is.

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Ohio child support obligor Matt Dunlop, with assistance from our good friends at the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, has filed a class action lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for knowingly overcharging child support obligors and deceiving them about the status of their accounts. Specifically, the suit claims that Ohio has overcharged 114,000 non-custodial parents some $176 million.  In addition, when a non-custodial parent overpays, the ODJFS reports the balance as zero. ACFC  Executive Director Mike McCormick described Ohio's practices this way:
"Overzealous and erroneous child support collection efforts affect all citizens. This case is not about parents who don't, or can't, pay child support.  ODJFS is literally taking money it is not entitled to from tens of thousands of good support paying mothers and fathers who could use those funds for food, shelter, and education for their children when they are with them."
McCormick adds: "The state should not be misleading parents that their child support balance is zero when they are, in fact, overpaid and should have an account credit.  Parents are told they cannot recover the overpayment until the child support case is finished. For many parents that's ten, twelve or fifteen years down the road.
"Ohio regularly incarcerates poor parents who fall behind on their support obligations sentencing them to what are in effect 'debtor prisons.' Now it's alleged the state has, for years, been pilfering from parents who have fully paid their obligations.  There's more going on than can be justified by the typically forthcoming 'computer glitch' excuse.  It appears there are problems in the agency across the spectrum of payers," said McCormick.
The press release notes that this is not the first time Ohio's child support system has been sued.
A decade ago Ohio was sued for wrongly withholding collected child support money from custodial parents. Millions of dollars were paid to affected children and parents.
You'd think that getting sued and paying out huge judgments would encourage ODJFS to start behaving legally, and maybe this will help.  What it will certainly do is force the matter onto center stage of public awareness.  And since countless Ohioans are victims of the system, maybe the suit will spur change. It wouldn't be the first time civil suits have done just that.  Enacting legislation requires effort by elected officials; criminal prosecution requires action by other elected state officials, i.e. District Attorneys.  But civil suits take nothing more than a single wronged individual and a lawyer who's willing to take the case. So Brown vs.  Board of Education led to civil rights legislation.  Suits against manufacturers of consumer products led to products liability statutes and deceptive trade practices laws.  Suits against cigarette manufacturers led to tobacco legislation. Civil suits can raise public awareness and the cost of big judgments can promote changes in laws and the behavior of public agencies like ODJFS.  They're a vital part of our ability to correct the behavior of public and private power. I can't begin to guess the outcome of the latest suit against Ohio's child support agency, but every little bit helps when it comes to pulling down the edifice of unfair and counterproductive child support laws and practices. So good for ACFC.  We'll watch this case closely and see what transpires. Thanks to Mike for the heads-up.

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Here's a study in, among other things, differing media coverage of the same event.  The first article is here (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/13/11).  The second is here (The Age, 5/13/11). It's all about Australian military veteran, Michael "Mick" Fox, who scaled Sydney Harbor Bridge during the morning rush hour, totally stopping traffic for two hours.  He did that to protest the failure of family courts to protect children in divorce matters. Now, if you read the Herald article, you have no idea of what that means.  He could be talking about separating parents from children or about exposing children to sexual abuse or domestic violence.  The closest we get to learning his point of view is from the note he left on the dashboard of his car which read "You've taken my kids.  I've taken your bridge." Fox descended voluntarily after two hours, apologized politely to inconvenienced motorists, was taken to jail and charged with several fairly minor offenses. The Herald article quotes a couple of texters who were disgruntled at the traffic stoppage and the supposed fact that Fox's prank cost the city $2.2 million in "lost productivity." Had the Herald piece been the only one, interested readers would never know what Fox was protesting.  To the Herald, the story was a man on a bridge, not what he was there for.  If he'd been selling lemonade, it would have all been the same to them. By contrast, The Age piece includes a television video link with part of an interview with Fox while he was on the bridge.  It also makes clear why he was there.
When he phoned into two commercial radio stations this morning we learnt he separated from his wife or partner recently and felt he had been denied access to his children. Mr Fox told 2GB he would not go into the details of his personal situation to protect his children but he made reference to "parental alienation syndrome" on Triple M.
"I've asked for help ... so many times, no one wants to help the blokes; the chicks get in first and start throwing stones, the blokes don't stand a chance," he told the station's Grill Team
More importantly, The Age allows details of Fox's custody situation to be known and also details of Fox himself.  It does so through the words of an ex-girlfriend who called in to the radio station interviewing him:
She told listeners she had been friends with Mr Fox for "quite some time" and was his girlfriend for a period during the two years he has spent battling various authorities.
"I was with him for a lot of the time when he was trying to get in contact with DOCS [the Department of Community Services] and the police, purely because his kids were in danger every day," the woman, who did not give her name, told the Grill Team...
The woman described Mr Fox as a "very straightforward kind of a guy who will do anything he can for his kids".
"They're the most important thing in his life and he's willing to do anything for them and obviously going up on the bridge, it's the next step that he felt he had to take," the woman said.
"He's the type of guy who really wouldn't care if he got charged, if he got put in jail, he wouldn't care," she continued.
"Even if he doesn't end up being able to get his kids [himself], he needs to get his kids out of their situation with their mother right now, because they are in danger every day that they are with her."
The Herald gives almost no information about Fox himself, his custody problems or whether his protest might have some validity as criticism of family courts in Australia.  The Age piece is different on all counts.  In it Fox comes across a sympathetic figure who cares deeply about his children and whose ex-wife may be endangering them. None of this exists in a vacuum.  In fact it occurs against a backdrop of anti-father interests convincing the Gillard government that dads are dangerous to children and that pretty much any claim of abuse by a mother, irrespective of how unlikely, should be sufficient to separate him from his children indefinitely.  How much do you want to bet that something very much like that is what happened to Mick Fox? And speaking of that, you'll notice that, due to his bridge stunt, a judge ordered Fox to have no contact with his kids, as if his demonstration in some way endangered them or made him a bad parent.  It's just the way these people think. Nothing Mick Fox does or doesn't do will have much effect on family courts or the coming rollback of fathers' rights in Australia.  But two articles reflect in their limited ways the conflict over fathers and children not only there, but in much of the rest of the world as well.

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This case truly takes me back in time (Blackpool Gazette, 5/16/11).  My earliest work in fathers' rights issues involved what I called at the time, 'the unknowing father,' i.e. men, knowledge of whose paternity was kept from them by the mother.  Now I call it Type B paternity fraud.  Type A is when the mother tells the wrong man he's the dad; Type B is when she conceals the child from the father. For me, that issue was truly the 'door in the low wall' that, when opened revealed a whole world I never knew existed. As but one example, I got to know a man in Houston who received a telephone call late one night.  It woke him and his new wife out of a sound sleep.  The call came from a woman he'd known at work some 14 years previously.  They'd had a brief affair and never really seen each other again.  Her call to him that night was to let him know that her second child was his, not her husband's.  His son was almost 14. He also had tens of thousands of dollars in child support to pay.  The new business he was trying to start crumbled under the weight of the debt.  His new marriage survived, but barely. At the time, what most impressed me, aside from the outrageous behavior of his one-time paramour in refusing to tell him she had a child who could be his, was the dramatic imbalance between his rights and his obligations.  For 14 years he'd had no parental rights to his child, no contact with his own flesh and blood, because the child's mother had decided that it should be so.  But despite that entire lack of rights, his obligation to support the child was there all along. That was 13 years ago, but the same thing -with a twist - is still going on, as the linked-to article well shows.  Back in 1994, Adrian Haddon of Blackpool, England, was serving in the Royal Engineers in Canada.  There he met a woman with whom he had a brief affair.  His unit was stationed in the area for only three months, but the next year, he was back and happened to run into the woman who had a youngster with her. She neglected to mention that the child was Haddon's. Twelve years later, Haddon was arrested in Blackpool because Canadian authorities had decided he owed £34,402 in back child support.  Had there been a hearing?  One assumes so, but, much like the child itself, no one had let Haddon know about it.  So he'd had no opportunity to learn if the child was really his or to show proof of his earnings. That of course raises an issue; since child support is usually calculated at least in part on the non-custodial parent's earnings, how did the Canadian court arrive at a figure? That in turn becomes an issue because Haddon is in fact unemployed.  So (a) how did the Canadian court come up with a figure and (b) how is Haddon going to pay? Those are questions that run-of-the-mill folks like me ask because they're obvious.  But as we've learned to predict, family courts often don't pay attention to the obvious, and so it is here.  And that is where the twist comes in.
Blackpool Magistrates Court heard the debt had been registered in the UK by the Alberta authorities. The Canadians used a reciprocal agreement between the two nations to catch up with Mr Haddon and asked Lancashire Police to arrest him.
Trevor Colebourne, defending Haddon, said: "This is an unusual case. "My client was somewhat shocked to be arrested here for matters in Canada.
"He has not been working and would like to contest the amount and although he can be arrested in this country he cannot apply to vary the order made in Canada in this country.'
Aye, there's the rub.  Once again, Haddon has debt obligations that England is happy to enforce against him, but he has no right to contest the amount of the debt.  After all, the Canadian court's ruling was made in the complete absence of any evidence of Haddon's earnings.  He can be jailed for failing to pay - and has been - but he has no way to show that the amount is incorrect, if it is. I suppose we have to stand in awe of the demonic genius of child support systems around the English-speaking world.  The system of responsibilities without rights, once thought to be impossible, is now thoroughly established and no one so much as blinks. Few would regard what's happened to Adrian Haddon as fair, but there are those who defend the child support system by saying that it's all justified by the need of children for financial support.  According to that logic, whatever the difficulties of the parents, they have an obligation to provide support for their children. But that argument of course has little relevancy to Adrian Haddon's case for the simple reason that the child needed his support for all the 13 years of its life before Haddon knew a thing about it.  It's one of the many nonsensical things about child support; in Type B paternity fraud cases like this one, the child receives no support at all from the father for 13 years and then all of a sudden needs £34,402. For all that time, the child had no father and the father no knowledge of or contact with the child.  And of course it's all done in "the best interests of the child." In a sane world, no father would either lose rights or gain responsibilities until he knows about his child.  Both would come into being only when he learned about the existence of his child and the fact of his paternity.  To do it any other way is to reward paternity fraud, which of course we do in all of the legal jurisdictions I know about. To my knowledge, no mother has ever been punished in any way for withholding knowledge of a child from a father or for telling a man he was the father when he wasn't.  As long as we impose no obligation on mothers to tell the truth about paternity, men like Adrian Haddon will be arrested out of the blue and children like his will go to sleep at night fatherless.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, a candidate for the 36th Congressional District of California."][/caption] Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, a candidate for the 36th Congressional District of California, recently expressed support for family court reform, telling Fathers and Families:
This is an issue of equality.  I believe that fathers should be treated equally with mothers in all areas of

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columbus-dispatch-iconThe Columbus Dispatch has endorsed HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights which is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year. In their editorial they explain:
The bill would protect military parents from having custody arrangements altered while they are overseas. The law also aims to help deployed parents stay in touch with their children, accommodating visits during leaves and letting a close adult - a grandparent, for example - to fill in for them while away.
We suggest you write a Letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch, a 200,000 circulation newspaper in Ohio's capital, by writing to [email protected] In April, Fathers and Families of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin laid out the case for HB 121 in his op-ed column Custody agreements should survive deployments (Columbus Dispatch, 4/6/11). Hubin explained:
...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...
The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.
In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this.
The bill recently passed the Ohio House of Representatives.

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Our founding fathers understood the tendency of governments to arrogate power to themselves at the expense of everyday citizens.  And when governments have power, they tend to use it.  We've learned over the past 30 years or so that what's true of governments is no less true of those everyday citizens. That's part of the Sean Lanigan saga, a story that's still going on.  Read about it here (Washington Post, 5/14/11). Lanigan is the married father of three in Fairfax County Virginia who's just emerged from false allegations of child sexual abuse and is trying to get his life back together with the odds stacked against him.  Lanigan graduated from college with a degree in business and worked in the mortgage industry for a time, but found it didn't suit him.  What did suit him - in fact it suited him to a T - was teaching.  Specifically, Lanigan is a jock and wanted to teach physical education and soccer to kids.  So he went back to school to get qualified.
"I fell in love with it,' he said. "Seeing kids through and watching them develop, mature, grow into productive citizens. I come to work with a smile on my face every day.'
Not any more.  As passionate as he was about his job, as popular as he was with the kids at Centre Ridge Middle School in Centreville, Virginia, he did make one enemy, and that turned out to be one too many. Lanigan's enemy was a 12-year-old girl who hasn't been named because she's a minor.  She decided to exact revenge for some perceived slight on Lanigan's part and got a friend to go in with her.  The two accused Lanigan of taking the accuser to a room near the school's gym, laying her down on a stack of gym mats, fondling her, lying on top of her and refusing to allow her to leave for a time before finally letting her go. That was 100% made up by the girls, but they told school officials that it had happened.  Lanigan was placed on unpaid leave and reported to the police who arrested him without talking to the girls. Enter Nicole Christian, sexual abuse investigator for Fairfax County Sheriff's Department.  In addition to not talking to the accuser, Christian failed to look at the room in which the event was alleged to have occurred.  If she had, she'd have noticed that it was so small that the tumbling mats couldn't have fit inside it.  She did speak with two boys who were in the gym at the time; they said they'd seen none of the three people who supposedly were present when the claimed abuse occurred. But it didn't matter.  Nor did it matter that Lanigan staunchly denied everything.  His complete lack of a police record didn't matter either.  He was charged with felony sexual abuse and turned himself in to police.  Lanigan spent four days in jail and faced 40 years if convicted. It wasn't even close.  At a preliminary hearing, the girls recanted key parts of their claims, but still the DA took the case to trial.  After a four-day trial, the jury took all of 47 minutes to acquit Sean Lanigan of all charges.  The linked-to article reports that jurors were outraged that Lanigan had even been charged.
"It was an easy decision, and we were all in agreement,' juror Asman al-Ghafari said. "I just hope Mr. Lanigan can get his life back.' "There was no evidence,' said Jacklyn West, who wept in the jury box as the lawyers made their closing arguments...
Getting his life back has proved surprisingly hard for Sean Lanigan, an innocent man.  That's because the school district is treating him as if he'd been found guilty.  It transferred him to a different school that's so far away from his home that his wife had to stop working in order to care for their children during the times Sean would normally have done the job. And of course during all the time his criminal case was pending, Lanigan wasn't earning his usual salary.  That, plus his legal fees put him, his wife and children in a serious financial bind. During that same time, he was forbidden by the court to see his children. And what of his accusers?  They're minors and nothing has been done to them in the way of punishment for their wrongful acts.  Nicole Christian?  Immediately after Lanigan's acquittal, another sexual abuse trial in which she was the investigating officer was stopped in progress because she admitted to "misstating" the evidence against the accused.  Has she been fired for her shoddy investigative work and possibly perjured testimony?  No.  In fact, she too has received no discipline whatsoever. What about the District Attorney's office?  After all, it took a case to trial that had no chance of winning, one that in the words of juror Jacklyn West had "no evidence" to support a finding of guilty.  Has anyone been disciplined for that waste of taxpayer funds, that hounding of an innocent father, husband and teacher?  If they have, it hasn't made the news. And there you have it, all wrapped up in a nice neat package.  We place the power to destroy lives in the hands of every woman and girl.  The merest allegation, no matter how improbable is enough to ruin a thoroughly decent, productive man for years.  The system is one in which adults exercise not the least skepticism about claims that are at best probably false.  That brings the full weight of the police and judicial systems down on a man with limited resources to defend himself.  Articles are written, television programs aired and rumors fly.  And when the charges are dismissed or the man is acquitted, no one is punished and everyone withdraws behind the veil of "no comment." And just so we're clear, Sean Lanigan was accused by two girls who are probably too young to come up with a credible story.  With a few more years or a bit more imagination, they could have put Sean Lanigan away for decades.  Of such things is The Innocence Project made and innocent lives destroyed. Sean Lanigan is free and can do what he can to put the pieces of his life back together.  Others will not be so fortunate.  But his story teaches anew the lesson that too much power placed in anyone's hands will eventually be misused.  That we refuse to hold to account any of the many wrongdoers in his case ensures that it will happen again and again until we apply the same standards of due process of law to allegations of abuse that we do to every other criminal matter.

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Our good friend and occasional contributor, Marcy Beildeck sends us this information on a hearing that's to be held May 24th before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights chaired by Christopher Smith of New Jersey.  The subject of the hearing is international child abduction and the goal of those participating is to get Congress to pass and the President to sign a bill creating an Ambassador-at-Large position to deal exclusively with cases of international child abduction. Below is information about the hearing.  Those promoting the bill are encouraging people to attend the open meeting and express their support for the bill.
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) International Child Abduction: Broken Laws and Bereaved Lives

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Here's an excellent piece on being a father and particularly a black father (Daddy-Dialectic, 5/14/11).  The writer is Shawn Taylor whose parents are Jamaican and Puerto Rican and who is, as he says, "visually black."  Moreover, his 22-month-old daughter is clearly of mixed race; this creates interesting and sometimes perilous situations for Taylor when he's out in public with her. The piece is so well done, I'll let him tell it:
1. I"m unsure why, but I get asked--quite often--about the hardest part of being a father. The people who ask me this are almost all younger cats who are about to become fathers or are there already. That question is a Pandora"s Box. Being a father is hard in a million different ways: Balancing fatherhood with partnership; being able to do the things that I love to do on a consistent basis (for example, writing--I"m writing this at 3am, while everyone is asleep and I have a moment to myself); the loss of money; having to send your child to childcare because both parents have to work to afford all the additional costs. Working all day, coming home at night and only seeing your child for forty-five minutes before their bedtime--in these ways and more, daddyhood is hard as hell. But none of this (yes, even the money problems) even comes close to the raging difficulty of being a father of color.
2. Being tattooed, visually Black (I"m half Jamaican and half Puerto Rican), over six feet tall and muscular, holding a little ethnically-ambiguous toddler makes many people double, triple, quadruple take--and also, for some odd reason, loosens tongues, mostly of white folks, and creates an environment of familiarity. And yet they still manage to see me wrong: In my daughter"s twenty-two months of living, I have been labeled ‘uncle," ‘babysitter," ‘guardian," ‘cousin," but never father. I can"t tell you just how crushing a blow this is. I LOVE being a father and I think that I am becoming a better one by the day, but to have one of my greatest joys discounted is painful.
That's one he shares with countless fathers across the country and across the globe.  Having one's fatherhood discounted is one of the most common experiences a dad can have.  Human life may or may not begin at conception, but the marginalization of fathers sure does.  In that, Shawn Taylor joins the crowd. But he's a black father and, as we know, whatever prejudices there are against fathers are multiplied several fold when it comes to black fathers.  After all, just look at the out-of-wedlock childbearing rates among African-American women.  That number - 70% - says much of what we need to know about the status of fathers among African-Americans. If we need to know more, we can just turn to the Fragile Families and Child Well-being studies at Princeton or Kathryn Edin's work at Harvard.  They tell us about the concept of "parenting as a package deal" that exists everywhere, but has unique consequences for black dads. Both men and women tend to view mother and child as a "package," meaning that wherever she goes the child goes.  The dad may or may not come with them, but what doesn't happen is that the child comes with him and not her.  I'd say that maternal gatekeeping is a close cousin of the "package deal." What Edin and her colleagues show is that, although even the youngest and poorest of black fathers passionately desire a close relationship with their children, the combination of no marriage and the "package deal" means that they soon lose most contact with their kids.  That's because, as Mom moves on to other male partners, the child stays with her and the dad becomes ever more marginalized. So when Taylor asks the pithy question, "Do we really live in a society that is still stuck in the lie that Black men cannot be fathers?" the answer is a resounding "yes."  Indeed, that's a great deal of the concept behind what Kathryn Edin describes. Our culture being what it is, the absence of black fathers from their children's lives is blamed not on the known facts, but on - as you might have guessed - the fathers themselves.  What more widely accepted myth is there than that of the irresponsible black father without a thought in the world for his children?  It's so pervasive and so accepted that Taylor himself believed it.
When my partner told me she was pregnant, I had fears that, at the moment of birth, a Greyhound ticket would appear in my hands and I"d leave my partner and new child to fend for themselves. I thought I"d become an absent father sleeper agent--the baby"s first cry would activate me and my mission would be to get as far away from mother and baby as possible. Because, throughout my whole childhood, I never once had a friend or met anyone (of color) whose father lived with them, or in some cases, even knew who their fathers were. There is a generation of brothers and sisters born after Viet Nam and before the release of Ghostbusters that are a tribe of fatherless children. My own father, I saw the bastard five times in my life.
Note who's the "bastard" in Taylor's telling of it and of course his father may have been a person who wanted nothing to do with his son.  Sociology now tells us that's the exception not the rule, but everyone from the President of the United States on down prefers the myth of the deadbeat black dad to the more complex and less judgmental reality of fathers marginalized by mothers. All of which makes Taylor's narrative uniquely compelling.  As a black dad, he's paddling upstream and it's a roaring torrent. The rest of his story involves an encounter in a public park that almost turns violent as he's accused of hurting a little girl who'd fallen.  It's about the interplay of race and fatherhood - those twin burdens Shawn Taylor carries around with him all day, every day. Many thanks to Betsy for the heads-up.

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I wrote recently about the case of Sean Lanigan, the middle-school coach and teacher falsely accused of child sexual abuse by a 12-year-old girl at his school in Virginia.  I pointed out that we place the power to destroy lives in the hands of individuals including young girls.  That's wrong in itself. What's also wrong is the girl's intentional, malicious act of targeting a decent man.  It's apparent from messages on her Facebook page that, once she'd leveled her accusations at Lanigan and the wheels of what's sometimes called justice went into motion, she regretted what she'd done.  By then of course it was too late; the whole process was out of her hands and in that of adults. However wrong the girl was in falsely accusing Lanigan, and she surely was, it was adults who should have known better and acted differently that did the most damage to Sean Lanigan.  What should have happened is that, once the girl and her partner in crime recanted their claims, criminal charges should have been dropped and Lanigan reinstated in his job. If the adults involved had acted responsibly, that's what would have happened, but they didn't.  And chief among the "they" who didn't was Fairfax County Sheriff's Department investigator Nicole Christian. Here's Tom Jackman's blog following up on his original investigative report (Washington Post, 5/16/11).  Jackman's sketch of Nicole Christian is of a woman whose job it is to investigate child sexual abuse.  Judging from her conduct of the Sean Lanigan case, she is plainly unqualified to do that job and should be at least replaced and preferably fired.  Although her fellow officers seem to respect her work, Jackman describes a woman who harbors some frankly false views about child abuse, intimidates witnesses, displays a disturbing willingness to ignore evidence pointing to innocence and possibly lies under oath. It seems that Christian and Detective Rich Mullins have a PowerPoint presentation on child sexual abuse on the internet.  Part of that presentation is the exhortation "believe a child who tells you about a sexual assault."   That's bad police work, bad psychology and bad law.  It was the approach taken by police, prosecutors and others back in the 80s and 90s and its consequences were dire.  The McMartin PreSchool and the Fells Acres Day Care cases are classic examples in which believing the children was the worst possible thing to have done.  Believing the children sent innocent people to prison and wasted millions in taxpayer dollars. More to the point, believing children about sexual abuse is an open invitation to adults who would plant false ideas in their minds confident that the children will repeat them to the detriment of whoever the target might be.  It's also an open invitation to older children like the one who accused Lanigan to irreparably damage the reputation of any man they choose. Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying children should be disbelieved.  Of course, all too often they're telling the truth about abuse.  What investigators should do is follow protocols established by psychologists and law enforcement officials for the proper questioning of child witnesses.  They should also be willing to exercise some of their adult skepticism about cases that smell fishy. Lanigan's, it turns out, was one of those from the start.  Christian and Mullins' own PowerPoint presentation "list[s] numerous physical and behavioral indicators that a child has been sexually assaulted, and the accuser in Lanigan"s case appeared to have few or none of them." So according to Christian's own ideas about victims of child sexual abuse, the girl who accused Lanigan probably wasn't one, but that put the investigator in an obvious bind.  On one hand she could have given precedence to those factors, few if any of which applied to Lanigan's accuser; on the other she had her mantra "believe the child."  She couldn't do both, so she did the latter.     A police investigator who opts for faith over facts is a bad investigator.  One who opts for a faith that's proven time and again its ability to imprison innocent people is far worse. And when it came to faith, Nicole Christian was no tepid believer.  On the contrary she drank the Kool-Aid avidly.  In practical terms, her willingness to believe the child went further than just doing that; she went on to believe that anyone who offered contradictory evidence, regardless of how believable, was part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.
But in this case the detectives became convinced not only of Lanigan"s guilt, but also that people were conspiring with him to cover it up.
True believer that she seems to be, Nicole Christian believed that every bit as much as she did Sean Lanigan's guilt.  She went so far as to threaten with prosecution anyone who brought her evidence that didn't agree with her view of Sean Lanigan as an abuser.
But when others – staff, parents – tried to tell Christian anything she didn"t want to hear, she threatened them with prosecution for obstruction of justice, the staff members and parents said. School district investigator Steve Kerr"s investigative report, written after Lanigan"s acquittal, confirmed those claims, noting that: "Because of the jury"s decision, the detective [Christian] advised that she will not pursue criminal charges against [staff member] or [staff member].'
In addition, the accuser"s close friend and corroborating witness to the incident quickly tried to retract her story, her mother said, but Christian wasn"t hearing it. In a letter to the mother of the witness from assistant superintendent Kevin North after the trial, North confirmed that "you requested a re-interview with your daughter, which the detective declined.'
Face it.  It's the inevitable result of valuing belief over empirical evidence.  When your complaining witness exhibits few or none of the signs of abuse, when her partner recants, when she herself recants in part, when the girl herself wrote on Facebook that the prank had gone too far, it's time for any sensible officer to question the guilt of the accused. But like true believers everywhere, Nicole Christian didn't do that. It gets even more sinister from there.
But when Christian and assistant Fairfax prosecutor Katie Pavluchuk approached the witness and her mother outside Lanigan"s preliminary hearing in March 2010, the girl and her mother refused to speak with them. The girl then joined the accuser in recanting the claim that Lanigan had lain on top of the accuser.
Not long after that hallway encounter, Fairfax County launched a Child Protective Services investigation into the witness"s mother -- the reasons for which have not been made public for alleged inappropriate behavior by her boyfriend.. The witness"s mother was eventually cleared of any allegations of misbehavior, but also had to undergo the pressure of being investigated. The girl and her mother have since moved from the area.
Did Nicole Christian report the mother to CPS?  We'll probably never know, but the coincidence of the two events is remarkable to say the least. Then of course there's the fact that, in another case altogether, the prosecution of the defendant had to be abandoned altogether because Nicole Christian admitted that she had "misstated" certain facts in her report. And as I wrote previously, for her numerous violations of sound police procedure and possibly law, Nicole Christian has so far received no form of discipline.  That pretty much green-lights any future witch trial she may see fit to conduct.

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Here we go again.  Sean Lanigan has just been acquitted of sexual abuse charges that the accuser admitted in tweets that she'd made up just to get the teacher in trouble and that she then regretted.  And Vladek Filler is going back to trial for a "crime" that almost certainly didn't occur. Filler is the Maine father whose wife Ligia accused him of raping her.  But there's never been any objective evidence of a crime, her allegations came in the middle of a custody case and she's made false allegations before.  Their son says that it's Ligia who is violent, not his dad. 

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Sean Keefe is stand-up guy.  If the West Virginian believes in something, he won't back down from defending it, and that means he's not the kind of guy family courts like very much.  Here's an excellent article on Keefe and his dilemma (Divorce.com, 5/11). Keefe was married to Tina Keefe and they had a child.  Sean loved the boy and was always a good father to him.  But he and Tina got divorced and he was ordered to pay child support and alimony.  He did both until he found out his son had been fathered by another man - a man Tina had neglected to mention either during their marriage or in divorce court. But DNA testing proved Sean not to be the boy's biological dad and that's when he decided to take a stand. But it's not about child support; it's about alimony.  Keefe says outright that, whatever the boy's parentage, he's the one who's raised him, he's the one the boy thinks of as his father, and he'll remain just that - an active, caring dad.  That includes paying court-ordered child support. Fine.  What Sean Keefe says he won't do is pay alimony to a woman who's lied to him, lied to his son, lied to the other man and lied to the court.  And when Sean Keefe says something, he means it. He's pleaded his case in two separate family courts and lost in both.  That's because West Virginia family law says that the higher earning spouse must pay alimony to the other.  It doesn't require the lower-earning spouse to have been honest or faithful in the relationship.  So legally, he's bound to pay. But Sean Keefe refuses to pay.  Each month he writes his child support check and from all appearances does so gladly.  Alimony is a different matter.  Sean Keefe has refused to pay his ex a dime more, and that's landed him in jail for contempt of court.  The judge gave him a six-month bit to do, and if that sounds excessive, I suspect it's because the judge prefers contemnors who make excuses for their actions to those like Keefe who act out of principle. Meanwhile, Keefe's situation, his refusal to set aside his principles and the stout work of his wife Caroline have gotten the attention of a couple of West Virginia state senators. 
Senate Bills 502 and 503 were introduced by State Senators Donna Boley and David Nohe, and would allow the court to consider terminating child support in situations where DNA evidence supports the claim that a person did not biologically father a child and would ban alimony where there is proof of an affair in the married relationship.
As things stand now in West Virginia, there is no recourse for a man who's the victim of paternity fraud.  If he's married, the child is presumed to be his and apparently, if he doesn't contest paternity in the event of divorce, it's considered final.  He has to pay support while the biological father has no obligations whatsoever.  And the biological father seems to have no parental rights. It's the same old set of problems with paternity fraud.  Laws protect the mother's power to decide who she wants to be the child's father.  She does that by telling (or allowing him to believe) the man she chooses that he's the child's father.  If the two are married, she doesn't have to say a thing.  He'll believe he's the dad and the law's presumption backs him up. So relationships get established.  The woman's partner, believing he's the father, takes up that role and those duties.  The biological dad has no relationship with the child.  The child believes the man caring for him/her is "daddy." Then somehow the truth comes out and everyone needs to figure out what to do.  In most states the law honors the mother's deceit, although that's beginning to change.  As is so often the case, the passage of time assists mothers at the expense of fathers.  The passage of time once again creates a fait accompli that courts are loath to alter. Just look at the factors West Virginia law considers in deciding whether to even allow DNA testing to determine paternity.
1 - The length of time following when the putative father was first placed on notice he might be the biological father before he acted to contest paternity. 2 - The length of time during which the individual desiring to challenge paternity assumed the role of father to the child. 3 - The facts surrounding the putative father's discovery of non-paternity. 4 - The nature of the father-child relationship. 5 - The age of the child. 6 - The harm which may result to the child if paternity was successfully disproved. 7 - The extent to which the passage of time reduced the chances of establishing paternity and a child support obligation in favor of the child 8 - All other factors which may affect the equities involved in the potential disruption of the parent/child relationship or the chances of undeniable harm to the child.
Seven of the eight factors (#3 is the only exception) are mostly about time.  Therefore, the law prefers the mother's deceit; the longer she's able to maintain the facade, the less likely it is to be overturned by a judge. Boley and Nohe are trying to change that in West Virginia, but even if they succeed, it won't help Sean Keefe.  However respectable his stand against his wife's dishonesty may be, ultimately he'll be the one to suffer.  That's because, when he gets out in six months, he'll still owe alimony and if he still refuses to pay, he'll be in contempt again and it'll be back to the slammer for him. And all that time he's in jail, he won't be working and eventually his money will run out.  That'll mean he'll develop a child support debt to which the state will add interest and fees.  That'll be yet another reason for Keefe to remain in jail and into the bargain, the child whom he truly loves won't receive his support.  And he won't get to be a father to his son. Sadly, there's but one way for Sean Keefe to deal with his outrageous situation.  It's the bitterest of pills, but he needs to swallow it; he needs to pay what the court says he owes and join the ever-expanding fight for sanity in family courts.  He's needed out here with his wife, his family and with the movement for family court reform.  In jail is not where Sean Keefe needs to be.

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If you've read this blog long enough, you may remember a series I did on the so-called Global Gender Gap Report.  It's a product of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and combines many of the very worst, misandric notions extant.  The authors are a group of well-respected economists and researchers from high levels of academia.  Clinton cabinet member Laura DeAndrea Tyson was one. So with all that brain power, you'd think they'd come up with a document that at least met minimum standards of evidence-based reason.  But no.  Apparently it's so common in academia to believe that the word "gender" means "women" that it didn't occur to the authors to notice that it doesn't. In any case, the GGGR devotes one page to each country in the world for which there are reliable statistics.  Data are gathered in a variety of areas to see how each country measures up in the gender equality arena.  So categories like Education, Politics and Health are included and in turn broken down into subcategories.  Primary Education would be an example of a subcategory of Education.  And each country gets a score in each subcategory which are aggregated into a category score which are in turn aggregated into a country score. The scoring was as follows: if a country had true gender equality in a subcategory, it received a 1.  If women were less than equal, it received a score of less than one.  That of course leads the inquiring reader to ask "what happens if men are less than equal in a certain area?"  Well, in that case the country receives a 1.  In other words, anti-female inequality is bad and receives a sub-1 score; anti-male inequality is deemed to be equality.  In the Orwellian world of the GGGR, inequality equals equality, at least where men are concerned.  For example, in the United States, the fact that men don't live as long as women is scored 1 - gender equal - as is the fact that a lower percentage of boys are enrolled in primary school.  To the fine folks at the World Economic Forum, that's equality. Truly, that's how these people think.  Well, whatever those people had seems to be catching.  Here's my evidence for that proposition.  It's from something called the Council of Europe, an organization of 47 member countries that proudly tells us that
The primary aim of the Council of Europe is to create a common democratic and legal area throughout the whole of the continent, ensuring respect for its fundamental values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Good.  We're all for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  Still, some might pause when they see how the COE intends to accomplish those lofty aims.
[W]e try to find shared solutions to major problems such as terrorism, organised crime and corruption, cybercrime, bioethics and cloning, violence against children and women, and trafficking in human beings.
Yep, there's that minor oversight again - about a third of the population of Europe - men.  According to the COE, violence against children and women is bad, and of course they're right about that.  Violence against men?  Not so much.  In fact, not at all. So this publication by the COE should come as no surprise (COE, 2008).  It's called "Administrative Data Collection on Domestic Violence in Council of Europe Member States" and it's the product of - can you guess? - the part of the COE devoted to "gender equality."  See how that works?  The gender equality folks, in their concern about domestic violence, totally ignore violence against men.  Like the World Economic Forum, the Council of Europe finds men's problems of no moment. And sure enough, the publication linked to defines domestic violence as
"…any act of gender-based violence, which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.  This includes, but is not limited to, the following: violence occurring in the family or domestic unit, including, inter alia, physical and mental aggression, emotional and psychological abuse, rape and sexual abuse and rape between spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants (…)'
As your third grade teacher probably told you, you can't define a word using the same word.  Well, the authors didn't get that memo either, defining as they do, "violence" as "violence."  Nevertheless, what's more important is first that the definition requires domestic violence to be "gender-based."  That means that, for example, lesbian women and gay men are out of the picture.  The council isn't interested in them. And of course the biggie is that, in order to qualify as domestic violence, it has to be done to a woman.  That combination of "gender-based" with "to women" ensures that all perpetrators will be men and all victims women.  That, I suspect, is just the way the folks at the "Steering Committee for Equality Between Women and Men" like it.  I think that because in all the many pages of its website, the Committee makes no reference - not one - to the possibility of women's violence against men. And that, in this Orwellian world, is called "equality." I wondered what they would have to say about these issues, so I emailed them a few questions.  That was a week ago, but they haven't gotten back to me. Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.

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Fathers and Families activists testified in favor of our shared parenting bill (H02684) last Wednesday. The bill, lead sponsored by Representative John Scibak, 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. Fathers and Families member Jules Remenar, a Research Fellow at the Boston-area biotechnology company Alkermes, testified in favor of H02684.

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[caption id="attachment_15769" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-holstein-testify[/caption] Fathers and Families activists testified in favor of our shared parenting bill (H02684) last Wednesday. The bill, lead sponsored by Representative John Scibak, 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.

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[caption id="attachment_15816" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families member Howie Simon testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-howie-simon[/caption] Fathers and Families activists testified in favor of our shared parenting bill (H02684) last Wednesday. The bill, lead sponsored by Representative John Scibak, 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.

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This article is about the "feminization" of psychology and social work (New York Times, 5/22/11). It seems that the rise of managed care plus the tendency among psychiatrists (doubtless encouraged by health insurance companies) to replace talk therapy with drug therapy reduced earnings for mental health practitioners.  That tended to drive men out of the profession and women to dominate, which they now do.
Men earn only one in five of all master"s degrees awarded in psychology, down from half in the 1970s. They account for less than 10 percent of social workers under the age of 34, according to a recent survey. And their numbers have dwindled among professional counselors -- to 10 percent of the American Counseling Association"s membership today from 30 percent in 1982 -- and appear to be declining among marriage and family therapists.
And that turns out to have a profound effect on men who seek the services of mental health professionals.  Whether rightly or wrongly, men tend to seek male therapists.  So the near-absence of men in the profession effectively denies services to half the population.
The result, many therapists argue, is that the profession is at risk of losing its appeal for a large group of sufferers -- most of them men -- who would like to receive therapy but prefer to start with a male therapist.
"There"s a way in which a guy grows up that he knows some things that women don"t know, and vice versa,' said David Moultrup, a psychotherapist in Belmont, Mass. "But that male viewpoint has been so devalued in the course of empowering little girls for the past 40 or 50 years that it is now all but lost in talk therapy. Society needs to have the choice, and the choice is being taken away.'
Of course, many men go to female therapists and many doubtless get help from them.  After all, as the article points out, a good therapist is a good therapist; a bad one is a bad one.  And the two aren't sex-specific. Still, it seems that a man tends to be more comfortable talking about intimate details of his life and psyche to another man, and that creates a problem when there aren't many males in the profession. 
In just the past few years, psychologists have identified a number of issues that are, in effect, male versions of the gender-identity issues that so many mothers face in the work force: the self-doubt of being a stay-at-home father, the tension between being a provider and being a father, even male post-partum depression.
"In the same way that there is something very personal about being a mother, something very important to female identity, the experience of fathering is also very powerful,' said Aaron Rochlen, a psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin. "And some men, I think, prefer to talk about that -- the joy of being a father, the stress, how it"s impacting them -- with a therapist who"s had the same experience,' from the same point of view.
There's a small upside to this.  If a man wants a good job, he knows where to find it.  Graduates schools and clinical programs are begging men to apply.
"I remember when I started training, I looked around and realized that for the first time in my life, I was an endangered minority,' said Ryan McKelley, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. "Now I tell my male students, if you"re interested in clinical care, you can write your own ticket. You"ll be hired immediately.'
I have a couple of thoughts on this that the article didn't mention.  The first is that, with the dramatic rise in fatherless families over the past 40 years, and the virtual monopoly women enjoy of teaching, it's possible for a child to reach college age and never have any meaningful dealings with an adult male.  That's not a revelation of course; it's been commented on numerous times. But one of the places a person might go to deal with the problems of having no contact with adult males is to a therapist.  Now we know that that's not an option either. The second is more important.  Anyone who follows family court practices very closely knows about the immense impact mental health professionals have on custody decisions.  Family judges rely on them to an enormous degree to recommend not only custody but the amount of time a non-custodial parent will have with his child and under what circumstances. The fact that 90% of these professionals are women can't help but have an overall impact on custody outcomes in family courts.  Of course we'd like to believe that their professionalism would prevent any sort of bias or prejudice in favor of mothers and against fathers, but experience teaches that that's a "frail reed." Many, perhaps most - mental health professionals strive to do their jobs scrupulously.  But the news has plenty of examples of those who don't and anecdotal evidence of fathers supports the notion that part of the tilt of family courts toward maternal custody comes from the counsellors they rely on.  And in any event, who would be surprised to find a female social worker who's also a mother who's been involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband erring on the side of maternal custody. That's even more likely because of the hesitancy men have with female therapists.  If a dad's not comfortable with a female mental health professional, how likely is it that he'll come across well on her evaluation of him? It's yet another wrong that a presumption of equally shared parenting could help to right.  If a judge has to order equally shared parenting absent a strong showing that one parent shouldn't care for the child half of the time, it would be harder for mental health professionals to skew the results by unflattering evaluations.

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The Times Leader Editorial Board endorsed Ohio HB 121, a military parents child custody bill modeled in part on Fathers and Families' California AB 2416, in its recent editorial Patriot Parents (5/23/11). The Times Leader commended the Ohio House for passing "a bill that closes a legal loophole which stripped many military parents one of their most basic rights - the right to maintain a relationship with their children." They write:
The bill was modeled in part on legislation the organization Fathers and Families has helped pass in other states, including California. Under the language in the bill, deployment cannot be considered a "change in circumstances" by the courts when considering custody and visitation matters. House Bill 121 will also authorize courts to issue orders granting grandparents, stepparents and extended families the ability to exercise a deployed soldier's normal parenting time, allowing children to preserve bonds with their deployed parent and their families. Those behind the bill stress that service members shouldn't have to choose between patriotism and being a parent. This new bill will protect Ohio parents who serve their country.

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[caption id="attachment_15826" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families member Michael Burgraff testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-michael-h-burgraff[/caption] Fathers and Families activists testified in favor of our shared parenting bill (H02684) last Wednesday. The bill, lead sponsored by Representative John Scibak, 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.

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Hundreds of supporters of family court reform packed the Joint Committee on the Judiciary hearings last Wednesday. Numerous determined supporters of Fathers and Families' Shared Parenting bill (H02684) testified--some waiting all day up to 10 PM at night to do so--and their words were powerful and engendered much agreement and sympathy. Now we need you to:
1) Call your state representative and ask him or her to call House Chair Eugene L. O'Flaherty and Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo and ask them to pass the bill. The phone numbers and email addresses of all House members can be found here. [caption id="attachment_15878" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-holstein-testify1[/caption] 2) Call your state senator and ask him or her to call Senate Chair Cynthia Stone Creem  and Senate President Therese Murray and ask them to pass the bill. The phone numbers and email addresses of all Senators can be found here. 3) Tell us what your representative or senator said by emailing us.
Activism is not a spectator sport--we need your calls to help overcome the special interests that are arrayed against us. Women, grandparents and children of divorce are especially needed--we urge you to ask your spouses, parents, siblings and friends to call, too. We've built widespread support for shared parenting among legislators--30% of whom signed on as cosponsors of shared parenting legislation--and with the Governor. But shared parenting is being bottled up in committee by a handful of ideologues--we need your help to get it out. To read the testimonies of Dr. Holstein and Fathers and Families' members Deanna Marchand, Jules Remenar, Michael Burgraff, Howie Simon, and others, click here. We also thank F & F member Richard Fucillo for his skilled legislative work in support of the bill, as well as the many others who attended and in some cases testified, including Roy Corbeil (a grandparent), Terry Brennan, Harris Allen, Tom Hanks, David Harbison, Robert Gada (with his baby), John Peterson, Kevin McCarthy (with his 4 year old boy), and others. We know of only two people who testified against shared parenting, one of whom represented the Family Law Task Force. A Repudiation of the Massachusetts Family Court System [caption id="attachment_15875" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families member Deanna Marchand testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-deanna-marchand-23[/caption] Another positive that came out of Wednesday's hearing was progress on S00665, an alimony reform bill. In Massachusetts, divorced fathers are often saddled with lifetime alimony, as judges are forced to either order alimony without an end or no alimony at all. Fathers and Families has worked legislatively and in the PR area for a decade on this issue, and in recent years the group Massachusetts Alimony Reform has done excellent work to resolve this problem. There appears to be a consensus in the Judiciary Committee that Massachusetts Alimony Reform's S00665 will pass. This is a very positive development in itself, but there's more. Paula Carey, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court, has long publicly held that the legislature need not meddle into family law, as the family court system can and does correct itself. Yet the alimony situation has been a long-running train-wreck which Carey, the family court system, and the higher courts couldn't or wouldn't fix. The fact that the legislature has had to intervene directly to fix this problem serves as a repudiation of the Massachusetts family court system and the higher courts, and could open the door to more reforms. As Dr. Holstein noted during his testimony, "Shared parenting is overdue. We seem to be about to take care of the money [via the alimony bill]; now let"s take care of the kids." Background on H02684 Fathers and Families members' Citizen Lobbyist efforts of the past several months have paid off, as nearly 30% of all Massachusetts legislators signed on as co-sponsors of Shared Parenting legislation. For a complete list of these legislators, click here or see the bottom of this page. F & F's History of Organizing Popular Support for Shared Parenting in Massachusetts

While we have been stymied to date by a small minority on the Judiciary Committee, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of the population of Massachusetts favors shared parenting, and it's safe to say that most legislators favor it, too. We say this because:

  • An  F & F Massachusetts shared parenting ballot initiative in 2004 won by a huge margin (86%-14%).
  • Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told the Massachusetts legislature that if they pass our shared parenting bill, he will sign it, and F & F  has met with Patrick.
  • F & F has consistently been able to gather large numbers of legislative co-sponsors for shared parenting, including future U.S. Senator Scott Brown and many others.
  • Shared parenting was the most-requested plank in the Platform of the Massachusetts Democratic Party in 2009.
  • Shared parenting was endorsed in principle by the editorial board of the Boston Globe in 2008.
To learn more about Shared Parenting bill H02684, including a short summary, a detailed summary, and the full text of the bill, please visit our Massachusetts Shared Parenting page here.

To contribute financially to support Fathers and Families' work on H02684 and Shared Parenting, please click here.

Together with you in the love of our children,

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. Founder, Chairman of the Board Glenn Sacks, MA Executive Director

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Senator Rod Wright (left) receives Fathers and Families' 'California 2010 Senator of the Year' award from F & F legislative representative Michael Robinson (right). "][/caption] Fathers and Families helped introduce SB 481, a California bill to curb the common family court practice of issuing "double dipping" spousal support orders. SB 481 will correct an inequity in California law wherein the same stream of income is counted twice in a family law action -- once for purposes of valuing that income stream as a division of property, then again for spousal/partner support purposes when the spouse/partner receives the income in the future.  Under this bill, family law courts would have to consider the impact of double counting of income when making a spousal/partner support order. SB 481 comes on the heels of SB 1482, an alimony reform bill we helped pass last year. SB 1482 allows some alimony obligors to obtain court orders requiring vocational examinations for their exes and mandates that judges follow the exams" findings when determining spousal support levels. Both SB 481 and SB 1482 are sponsored by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) (pictured), who F & F named its California Senator of the Year for 2010.

Do you pay alimony? If you are an alimony obligor from any state, please fill out our form here.

Syndicated California political columnist Dan Walters has written a column on SB 481 which has been published in the Sacramento Bee and a dozen other California newspapers. Walters writes:
Senate Bill 481 would require divorce court judges "to consider the extent to which income for support was already capitalized and paid to the other spouse in the division of community property, in order to avoid double counting the income when the result would be inequitable." Wright says it's aimed at "double-dipping" for ex-spouses receiving alimony, and if enacted, the bill could result in lower alimony payments. While Wright has support from the State Bar, he has drawn strong opposition from feminist groups, renewing their old conflict with him over rules of the divorce game.
The National Organization for Women has come out against SB 481, and we're embroiled in a major political battle in Sacramento over it. We've lined up a great deal of support from influential California political organizations who realize that this is not a gender issue, but is instead an issue of fairness. We've helped build a consensus that reforming California's spousal support system is best for all, including the many successful women business owners and executives who are sometimes exploited by unfair spousal support laws, just as men often have been. Walters' full piece can be seen here. To comment on the piece, click here. To write a Letter to the Editor, write to [email protected] Walters' piece also covers our political battle over paternity fraud--to learn more, see Part II here.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Senator Rod Wright (left) receives Fathers and Families' 'California 2010 Senator of the Year' award from F & F legislative representative Michael Robinson (right). "][/caption] Syndicated California political columnist Dan Walters has written a column on Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) (pictured) and several bills Fathers and Families helped Wright introduce. The column has been published in the Sacramento Bee and a dozen other California newspapers. Walters covers spousal support reform bill SB 481 (to learn more, click here) and also the battle to fix California's paternity laws. Earlier this year F & F worked with Wright to introduce two new paternity fraud bills (SB 377 and SB 375) into the California legislature. Taken together, the bills will:
1) Help "duped dads' free themselves from being forced to pay 18 years of child support for other men"s children by allowing them to petition the family court to transfer the obligation from themselves to the actual biological fathers 2) Crack open the current, restrictive time limit for challenging paternity, allowing a duped dad the opportunity to file for relief after he "becomes aware of facts that lead him to reasonably believe that he is not the biological father of the child' 3) End the abusive practice of coercing boys under the age of 18 into signing legally binding paternity declarations without parental consent or legal counsel
In addition to Wright, Fathers and Families" legislative representative Michael Robinson has played a key role in numerous legislative and judicial measures to address paternity fraud. These include helping to pass paternity fraud bills (AB 252 and SB 1333) which allow California child support obligors to use DNA evidence to set aside false paternity judgments and the concomitant child support orders. Robinson also spearheaded a successful campaign to counter the County of Los Angeles" California Supreme Court petition to  depublish the historic Navarro decision. Navarro was the first published case to hold that  the statute of limitations did not apply in setting aside an old default judgment against a paternity fraud victim. As Walters details, Wright has long-championed paternity fraud legislation. It can be such a difficult political issue that Wright once described his early attempts to address it as being akin to being "the first ones to hit the beaches at Normandy." Walters writes:

Are You a Victim of Paternity Fraud? We Want to Know About Your Case--Please Click Here.

[I]n 2002 [Wright] won legislative approval of a bill [AB 2240] that would make it easier for men to challenge child-support orders when DNA tests prove that they are not the biological fathers of the children involved.
Wright likened it to the use of DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners, but feminists said it would plunge more children into poverty, and, as Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, put it, would resurrect the "age-old double standard." Davis vetoed the bill.
At the time, we condemned Davis in our column Preserving Paternity Fraud (Orange County Register, 10/3/02). We wrote:
California Governor Gray Davis had the chance to free thousands of falsely condemned men last week. He chose federal funds instead. Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act (AB 2240), which would have helped thousands of California men who were wrongly assigned paternity in default judgments, and who have been compelled by the state to pay years of child support for children whom DNA tests have shown are not theirs. In Los Angeles County in 2000, for example, 79 percent of paternity judgments were decreed by default. Most of these men had no idea they were "fathers" until their wages were garnished. Technical instructor Bert Riddick of Carson is one of the men AB 2240 would have helped. Ten years ago, Riddick was erroneously named by an ex-girlfriend as the father of her child. By the time Riddick realized what had occurred, the statute of limitations for challenging paternity had passed. Riddick, his wife and their three children have fallen from the middle class to homelessness because he is forced to pay $1,400 a month in child support and arrearages. Like many paternity fraud victims, Riddick has never even met the child he is supporting. Davis could have freed thousands of these innocent men and their families by signing AB 2240. The bill would have helped men assigned paternity in default judgments by extending to three years from the date of discovery the period during which such judgments may be challenged through DNA testing. The bill would have allowed courts to vacate default paternity judgments which are shown to be erroneous, thus relieving falsely identified fathers of further child support. Instead of justice, Davis chose money. Under federal guidelines, states must identify the fathers of children whose mothers are receiving benefits or risk losing federal incentive money. In addition, states receive federal funding on child-support orders. Because federal rules do not require DNA testing to prove paternity, states have little incentive to demand accuracy in establishing paternity. Opponents of the bill included NOW, the National Center for Youth Law and the San Diego-based Children's Advocacy Institute. An institute official praised the veto, saying "we're glad that the governor put children first." These critics overlook the fact that when a father is forced to pay support for a child who is not his, his own biological children suffer greatly. If Davis had signed AB 2240, children of falsely identified fathers would not have been deprived of support. Mothers in these cases would do what they should have done all along: disclose the true identity of their children's fathers so the state can then approach them to establish paternity and pay child support. Riddick was devastated by Davis' veto. "Davis and his supporters say they did this for the children. Let him come to my house and explain to my children why this is good for them. "The system lies to children about their own parentage and Gov. Davis thinks that's OK. The system defrauds thousands of innocent men and wounds their families and Gov. Davis thinks that's OK. The system puts money ahead of truth and justice and Davis thinks that's OK. What kind of message is this sending to our children?"
Walters' full piece can be seen here. To comment on the piece, click here. To write a Letter to the Editor, write to [email protected] Walters' piece also covers our political battle over spousal support--to learn more, see Part I here.

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This looks like the Theresa Riggi case all over again.  Riggi is currently sitting in a Scottish prison for stabbing her three children to death.  Mental health professionals said she lacked the mental capacity for murder, so she pleaded guilty to what in this country would be called manslaughter.  Riggi clearly feared losing custody of the three children to their father so she stabbed them to death and jumped out of their third-floor apartment in an apparent suicide try. This case comes to us from Castle Rock, Colorado (Denver Post, 5/24/11).  Here's another article on it (Huffington Post, 5/24/11).    What we know now is that Kelli Murphy and her husband Robert were going through divorce proceedings.  For the first time in their marriage, she claimed that he was abusive to her and the children.  She requested an order of protection which was granted.  She later asked that it be withdrawn and it was.  She then asked that the divorce proceedings stop, but they continued and a hearing was scheduled to decide on a parenting plan.
On April 26, Kelli Murphy withdrew her request to dissolve the marriage, saying: "I do not want to divorce my husband." Her bid to end the proceedings -- which was denied -- said she had filed for divorce "wrongly, out of anger." "I do not want a divorce, and my husband has told me that as well. This needs to stop. We need counseling, not a divorce."
All that came to a halt on Monday when Kelli Murphy apparently killed their two children, Liam 9 and Madigan 6.  Kelli called 911 and said she was about to commit suicide.  When asked if there were children in the home, she said "they're in heaven."  She then slit her wrists.  Police arrived at the home to find the two children dead but with no visible signs of injury.  So far no cause of death has been established. Kelli Murphy was taken to the hospital, treated and released.  She's now in jail charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The day before the killings, Robert Murphy asked police to visit the home in which Kelli and the children were living.  The reason for his request is not yet public knowledge, but a police spokesman said it was related to the deaths.  Apparently police had been called to the home several times over the past few weeks. In addition to the divorce, Robert and Kelli Murphy had recently filed for bankruptcy protection.  For several years, Robert worked for Qwest Communications and earned a good salary, but  more recently his earnings had dropped to less than half of their previous level. Obviously, it's far too early to know exactly who did what and why.  We can't even be certain that Kelli Murphy killed the two children, but I'd be surprised if she didn't.  Still, if she is the killer and if the past is any guide, we can safely predict certain things.  The first is that every possible effort will be  made by Kelli, her attorney and the news media to exculpate her.  The stress of divorce and financial problems will play a part in that as will the protective order against Robert.  We'll be told how emotionally distraught that made her with the none-too-subtle suggestion that she should be excused for her wrongdoing (if any).  Mental health professionals, most of whom will have never set eyes on her, will explain how the stress in her life made her delusional and how she thought she was doing the children a favor by killing them and sending them "to heaven." All of that may be entirely true of course.  At this point, we don't know what was going on in Kelli Murphy's mind.  Or it may be the type of reflexive desire to forgive child injury by mothers that's so routinely a part of public discourse. That has seldom been so apparent as in the LaShandra Armstrong case that took place last month in New York State.  She's the mother of four who drove herself and the children into the Hudson River killing all but the oldest boy who managed to get free of the automobile and swim to safety.  Despite there being no evidence of mental instability on her part prior to the killings, numerous opiners took to the airwaves and the print media to find her delusional. And of course the children's father was pilloried by all and sundry.  The fact that he had once allowed a toddler to roam around unsupervised late at night and that he was heard shouting at Armstrong's door trying to be let in, morphed into an across-the-board indictment of the dad.  Soon enough it was hard to tell from media reports just who had done the awful deed. It got so bad that the Associated Press actually had to say that the children's father wasn't "entirely to blame" for their deaths. So on one hand he may have been negligent in caring for a child on occasion and on the other she intentionally takes her own life and those of three little children and tries to kill a fourth and the press all but convicts him of the crime.  Amazing. That's by way of letting Robert Murphy know what he may be in for.  Whatever the actual facts of the case, it'll be in Kelli's interest to tar him with the blackest brush she can find.  Do I see a plea of battered wife syndrome on the horizon?  I can't be sure, but I wouldn't be surprised. The great thing about battered wife syndrome is that, if a jury is gullible enough to buy it, it's a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card.  That's because the woman claiming the defense need show no objective manifestations of abuse.  Indeed, she may even deny it, because, in a perfect diagnostic Catch-22, denial of abuse is one of the indicators of the syndrome. So the fact that the only claim of abuse in Kelli Murphy's case has been one allegation made during the course of a divorce and custody case that was withdrawn by her matters not at all to mental health professionals who have drunk the Kool-Aid of battered wife syndrome. But I've gone too far afield.  The coming days will allow us to sketch in the details of what happened and what Kelli Murphy's defense will be.  I hope those days will prove me wrong.  I won't be surprised if they don't. Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

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