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.
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 As the op-ed makes clear, the very concept of alimony is outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Feminism and family violence represent two main theoretical perspectives on DV. For decades, feminist and family violence researchers have been at odds over the foci and conceptualization of DV (Johnson, 2008). Feminist DV researchers have focused primarily on violence against women (Johnson, 2008) and pointed to patriarchy, expressed through general male dominance in society and contemporary constructions of masculinity and femininity, as the underlying factor that perpetuates DV (Jasinski, 2001). Feminist DV researchers typically analyze data from agency-based samples, such as women who seek help from shelters (Johnson, 2008). They report that DV is gender asymmetric, with men primarily being perpetrators and women primarily being victims (Johnson, 2008). In contrast, family violence researchers view violence as an outcome of family conflict that is instigated by stress; thus, some violence within families is considered normative (Jasinski, 2001). Family violence researchers typically utilize samples from large-scale surveys of the general population (Johnson, 2008). In contrast to feminist DV researchers, family violence researchers report that DV is gender symmetric, with perpetration and victimization reports nearly identical for men and women (Jasinski, 2001).Haselschwerdt, et al interviewed 23 subjects, all of whom reported having a good bit of experience doing custody evaluations for courts. As Paul Millar indicated, of the 23 subjects, 18 listed their profession as either psychologist or social worker. The researchers relied on narrative answers to the questions posed and, from those answers decided which category, "feminist" or "family violence" each respondent fell into. Nine held feminist views about DV and 14 held typically family violence-related attitudes. Perhaps the most important finding of the entire survey is that only one thing predicted who would fall into which category - their DV training. No other demographic factor - not sex, not age, not education - predicted whether an evaluator would have feminist or family violence attitudes toward DV. Of the 14 family violence evaluators, 10 listed only "several 1-2 hour workshops" as their sole DV training while two said they had no training at all. By contrast, those evaluators of the feminist perspective referred to things like "40-hour DV shelter training," "20-hour DV shelter training,"teaches DV classes/seminars" and the like. In short, the more training these evaluators had in DV, the more likely they were to be persuaded of the feminist point of view on DV. And that, as you recall, means that to them, almost all perpetrators are men, almost all victims are women, patriarchy is at the root of the DV evil, we must change our masculine selves in order to eradicate DV and the only meaningful data come from women in DV shelters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's beginning to look like less training is better when it comes to custody evaluators and issues regarding allegations of domestic violence. The authors elaborated further on just what the mindsets of the two groups consist of. I'll discuss that more in my next post.
Feminist evaluators perceived power and control by male partners as central to the dynamics of DV in the majority of their cases... James explained, "The more common [type] for me is the controlling, and I think that those are the ones that are less likely to settle in a custody [dispute] and more likely to proceed to an evaluation.' One exception was Daniel, who did not differentiate between types but believed that all DV was rooted in power and control.The nine feminist evaluators in the survey found power and control in non-violent incidents.
James recalled one example: "[There were] different dynamics of control that he had exhibited in their relationship whether it [was] through isolation, financial control, emotional abuse, [or] psychological abuse . . . that ha[d] been done for the purpose of trying to assert control.'Those feminist evaluators also believe that a man who they conclude is abusive cannot be a good parent.
All 9 feminist evaluators expressed concerns about a spousal abuser"s ability to be a good parent, the negative effects on children of DV exposure, and the potential for direct child abuse. Thus, they rejected the notion that spousal abuse could be considered separately from the parent–child relationship.The evaluators with a feminist perspective see domestic violence as an intellectual matter as opposed to an emotional/psychological one.
As William explained, "Because abuse is a product of the attitudes and beliefs of somebody who is abusive, I do think that ultimately those [beliefs] are going to have some negative consequences for the children and that the children will be exposed to those [beliefs], so I don"t think the two [abuser and father] could be separated [when considering child custody]."Therefore, abuse is not a product of a treatable psychological condition, but one of wrong-thinking whose proper "treatment" is re-education. Domestic violence is a matter of attitudes engendered by an all-pervasive patriarchy that considers women to be rightly under the thumb of men. Violence by a man against a woman is merely a way of reasserting patriarchal control. And any form of control is the same as violence - simply a way to maintain masculine power. Such at any rate are the teachings of feminism regarding DV and absorbed by the evaluators in their DV shelter training courses. As I said before, the feminist evaluators interviewed for this survey are aware that situational violence (i.e. not resulting from a desire to control) exists. They also admit that fathers who engage in that form of domestic violence aren't necessarily disqualified from being adequate fathers. But there seems to be a catch.
As Joseph explained, "Certain types of violence, [such as] male controlling violence, is a risk 20 years later [after separation], but other types of violence really do kind of dissipate and go away if there"s enough disengagement between the parties and they get on with their own lives, and the risks do go down dramatically."The words "if there's enough disengagement between the parties" jumped out at me. That strongly suggests that in this evaluator's opinion, the only good custody situation in which there's been situational violence is for the father and mother to have as little to do with each other as possible post-divorce. That in turn strongly suggests the most minimal visitation and that probably supervised. Then there was the topic of false allegations of domestic violence.
In general, feminist evaluators believed there was a kernel of truth in all DV allegations and that false allegations in the context of custody disputes were rare. Four feminist evaluators estimated a 10% or lower occurrence of false allegations by women in their cases. Another three acknowledged the potential for exaggerated, but not false, DV allegations.However, there can be false allegations of domestic violence according to the feminist evaluators - those made by fathers. Two of the nine evaluators said that 50% of DV claims made by fathers were false. On those rare occasions when a mother makes a false allegation of domestic violence, it's not her fault.
When false allegations were made by women, feminist evaluators blamed the adversarial process, attorneys who encouraged clients to make false allegations, or the mother"s clinical pathology... However, feminist evaluators emphasized that such situations were extremely rare in their experience.The absence of evidence of abuse is no reason to think that abuse didn't occur.
Nonetheless, a lack of evidence in particular necessitated a thorough investigation but did not indicate an allegation was false because, as John explained, "There are many instances in which the victim has not ever called the police for fear of her life.'These are some of the people on whom family courts routinely rely when making child custody orders. Among them, these nine feminist custody evaluators do 148 evaluations per year. Of course there are countless more just like them. These feminist evaluators were frankly misandric (essentially all DV is by a man against a woman), anti-science (not a word in their responses suggests any knowledge of the huge body of social and medical science on domestic violence) and politically doctrinaire (DV is a matter of power not psychology). Has any one of them ever recommended that a father get primary custody? We'll never know because that question wasn't asked by the researchers. Given all that, is it any wonder fathers can't seem to get custody or even maintain reasonable relationships with their kids post-divorce?
here. We suggest you refer to "Parental Alienation Relational Problem" (PARP) or "Parental Alienation" and that you keep your comments brief and to the point. Full version: A coalition of mental health experts led by psychiatrist William Bernet has been at the forefront of an effort to add Parental Alienation Disorder to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5),
"Parental Alienation Syndrome:" Another Alarming DSM-5 Proposal, which attacks the concept of Parental Alienation and its proposed inclusion in DSM 5. The article's author, Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., claims that such proposals are "Using a medicalizing label to mask child sexual abuse." F & F Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq. wrote a blog piece criticizing the column here.
Their predominant discourse was distinctly different from feminist evaluators in that they perceived most DV as conflict and stress induced, normative, and mutual. Indeed, they reported seeing almost exclusively situational couple violence in practice.They also had an "it takes two to tango" outlook on domestic violence. That is, domestic violence is a product of family dynamics in which there are no clear perpetrators and no clear victims. It's the understanding of domestic violence as well as most things in family life as arising from the integrated system that is the family. For them, all relationships have issues related to control and the ebb and flow of who has power or control at any given time over any given issue describes in part the relationship between the two partners. That of course can be destructive, but need not be. And who has and who wants control in a particular situation is not a matter of gender. Both men and women have a need to feel in control, so there's a continuing interpersonal "dance" between the two. Where feminists see only men having power in relationships and believe that male power is inappropriate, these family violence evaluators have a much more nuanced take on the nature of power between intimate partners. These family violence evaluators distinguish between minor domestic violence such as a push or shove, and "real" DV which involves serious injury such as serious bruising, broken bones, etc. They utterly condemn that sort of DV, but rarely if ever see it in their practices. They opine that abusers like that get weeded out of the custody battle long before an evaluation takes place.
Chris explained, "If [the violence is] that bad, child protective authorities or legal authorities or someone else is going to have already dealt with it.'These evaluators also regarded the minor, mutual DV they see as compatible with parental custody. To them, neither minor violence like a push or shove nor the usual issues of inter-relational power, automatically disqualified a parent from have custody. Unlike the feminist evaluators, the family violence group saw false allegations as common and purposeful.
Whereas feminist evaluators estimated that false allegations occurred in about 10% of their cases, family violence evaluators estimated that 40% to 80% of their cases involved false allegations. Two evaluators thought allegations were "grossly exaggerated,' not entirely false. All reported that mothers made the majority of DV allegations, and false allegations were intended to gain leverage in the custody dispute or alienate the children from their father.Interestingly, this group was the only one of the two that even mentioned parental alienation. They did so in the context of false allegations of DV.
Red flags for a false allegation included suspected parental alienation by the mother, the mother"s demeanor (e.g., angry), and lack of documentation of the abuse.And speaking of documentation, the family violence evaluators were concerned about claims of DV for which there was no objective evidence.
The majority of family violence evaluators emphasized that real DV victims should have documentation (e.g., police reports, pictures, hospital records, witnesses) or physical signs of DV (e.g., bruises); however, there were some disagreements when it came to the importance of documentation. For two evaluators, having an order of protection was the only way to ensure that an allegation was true, but for two other evaluators an order of protection was considered too easy to obtain and did not lend credibility to the allegation.Not surprisingly, this group expressed the belief that both parents were important to children's well-being and attempted to promote that where possible in their recommendations to courts.
Family violence evaluators reported making custody recommendations that emphasized coparenting relationships that facilitated children"s contact with nonresidential parents. Jennifer"s perspective was echoed by others: "I"ve been doing this long enough [to know] that children in the past really suffered from not having enough contact with the other parent--the parent they don"t live with.' Their recommendations focused on modifying negative behaviors of both parties (e.g., conflict management classes or counseling for both parents).If they suspected parental alienation by one parent, this group of evaluators leaned strongly toward custody on the part of the other parent.
As Michael said, "I would tend to lean toward custody with the so called "bad parent' because I know [the allegations are] not true, that the [father] is not like that . . . [it] is more like parental alienation syndrome stuff. . . . That relationship [between the father and child] is going to be over if the kid"s living with the [mother]."In short, these evaluators had different training in DV than did the feminist group and interestingly their understanding of domestic violence appears to be far more congruent with existing science than that of the more trained feminists. For example, they seem to know that both men and women commit domestic violence. They observe that they see little severe DV, and that's what study after study of large populations show as well (see, e.g. the 12,000-person Scottish study showing that 80% of DV resulted in either no injury or only a "minor cut or bruise"). They're aware of the existence of false allegations and the possibility of parental alienation. They make no distinction based on sex about who may make false allegations, while the feminist group said that less than 10% of women's allegations are false, but 50% of men's are. So the overt misandry of the feminists wasn't apparent in the other group. Perhaps most importantly, this second group sought to keep both parents connected with children post-divorce whereas the feminist group opted to radically marginalize dads at even the mere allegation of DV by mothers. As I said before, it's a small study, but it may tell us a lot about what's going on, not in court, but behind the closed doors of the custody evaluators on whom they rely.
here (Houston Chronicle, 7/4/11).
Last year, at least 1,500 children were unlawfully taken to foreign countries by a parent who had been living in the United States, including children who were taken even while a parent was serving in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. Only 578 abducted children were returned to the United States.And, as I've reported before, Mexico continues as the prime culprit in the failure to rapidly return children to their left-behind parents in the United States. Mexican family law favors maternal custody and, when a father in the U.S. seeks his child's return from there, years can go by with no action taken by Mexican courts. That's in spite of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction that calls for return of abducted children within 60 days. Mexico and the U.S. are both signatory nations to the Convention, but Mexico routinely violates its speedy return provision. That's been true in Greg Allen's case.
For nine gut-wrenching years, Texan Greg Allen has been trying to track down his daughter after her mother absconded to Mexico with the 4-year-old during a rare unsupervised visit after the couple's contentious divorce.
"When it first happened, I was unable to function," recalls Allen, 42, an electrical engineer and sonar expert doing doctoral research at the University of Texas' applied research laboratories in Austin. "I went from being a single parent whose whole life revolved around raising my daughter to being a left-behind parent whose purpose in life was gone."He still hasn't seen his daughter and has no idea of where she and her mother are. Allen's remarried with three kids here in the States, but he still holds out hope of someday reconnecting with the girl. She's now 14 and he figures she's probably an Internet addict, so he hopes she'll find him that way. Otherwise, he's pretty much given up on the legal process as a means of getting his daughter back. He's not alone. When legal channels don't do the job - and in the case of international child abduction to Mexico, they clearly don't - people often turn to what attorneys call "self help." That means taking the law into one's own hands. After all, a child abducted can be re-abducted.
Some parents resort to rescue teams assembled by activists such as Mark Miller, who founded the American Association for Lost Children in 1987.
Miller says he has rescued five children from Mexico over the past five years, relying on notarized copies of U.S. custody orders and U.S. birth certificates carried by an ad hoc team of drivers, a private investigator, an interpreter and even a person dressed as a priest to help persuade local authorities to cooperate with the recovery.
"We are going in on our own," says Miller. "We pick up the child and hurry up back to the border as quickly as possible."That's not legal of course, but parents turn to it as a last resort when legal channels don't work. And speaking of laws, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey and others are attempting to sharpen the teeth of existing federal law.
Alarmed by mounting abductions and inadequate cooperation from foreign nations, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J. - chairman of a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel that tracks the issue - and eight House colleagues have proposed the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. It would require an annual presidential report on unresolved cases and threaten U.S. development assistance and preferential tariffs for nations that demonstrate "a pattern of non-cooperation."My guess? That's a non-starter. The idea that the U.S. is going to tie its own hands in international commerce for the sake of a few parents and kids just doesn't have the ring of truth to me, but we'll see. In the meantime I'll applaud Smith for his efforts. The State of Texas, with its long international border has recently passed a law making child abduction a felony. It takes effect September 1st. That too is a good idea, but of course enforcement of the law would mean locating the abducting parent and returning him/her to the state. That's exactly what Greg Allen has been unable to do in nine years, although others have succeeded. Finally, in twist that's new to me, it seems the ongoing War on Drugs has its impact on child abduction to Mexico. In some states where the big Mexican drug gangs are most active, judges are afraid to take action against an abducting parent because he/she might have ties to one of the local drug lords.
But court proceedings often get sidetracked, particularly in Mexican states engulfed by the drug wars such as San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas.
"We have judges who are afraid to do anything," says attorney Pamela Brown of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid in Weslaco, who handles about 20 international child abduction cases a year to and from Mexico. "Judges are terrified that the taking parent might have ties to the cartels so they won't step in."
Adds Allen: "With a civil war going on down there, child abduction is just not a high priority."In truth, it's not a high priority here either. American parents have complained for years about the inaction and seeming indifference of our own State Department that's tasked by law with assisting them. "Just going through the motions" was the common complaint made by several left-behind parents who testified before Chris Smith's subcommittee earlier this year. So while the number of abductions is rising, efforts to combat or rectify the practice remain depressingly the same.
here (ABC News, 7/6/11). I've written before about the difficulties of being an underpaid, undertrained, overworked CPS caseworker. Those people have to make some of the toughest calls of anyone in any job anywhere. The question always is "can this parent care for his/her children properly or are the kids in danger?" A wrong answer one way means taking the kids from a loving parent and placing them in foster care that's known to be overall more dangerous to kids than parental care. A wrong answer the other way can result in a dead or injured child. How'd you like to make those choices every day? And one of the trickiest ones is knowing the difference between poverty and neglect. Was the child left home alone because the parent didn't care or didn't know that it was a problem, or because the parent didn't have the money for a sitter? Not much food in the fridge? Same question. Etc., etc.; ad infinitum. Now, when I first heard that a Houston family had six children housed in a self-storage warehouse, I wasn't the least surprised that Child Protective Services had swooped down and gotten the children out of there. Now I think differently. That's because the storage facility I'd imagined - maybe 10 feet by 30 feet - turns out to be vastly larger than my own house.
The northeast Houston storage unit that the Leonards call home has 10,000 square feet--plenty of room for the parents and their six kids to roam around. It has air conditioning, beds, a bath tub, a microwave oven and two computers--among other amenities.What it doesn't have is running water. But the Leonards get that there at the warehouses.
The Leonards believe they are guilty not of breaking a law, only of having fallen on hard times. "We have access to running water," insists the soft-spoken Charlomane. "We get it right here at the storage facility, in a five-gallon drum."The article mentions nothing about sanitary facilities, but I assume the Leonards rely on the storage units for that too.
The Texas Family Code, says Mrs. Leonard, defines physical neglect as a parent's failure to provide a child with food, clothing or shelter necessary to sustain life and health. She and her husband, she maintains, have provided all those things, notwithstanding their choice of residence. "The law doesn't say you have to have a pretty little house."
Their children, she says, "were not removed due to the breaking of any laws, but because of someone's perception of where we should reside. We are not criminals, drug abusers or child abusers, just plain old loving parents who are working hard to secure a future for our children."In fact, Texas law exempts from the definition of "neglect" the failure to provide the necessities of life that is caused by "financial inability." In short, it requires CPS workers to distinguish between neglect and poverty. For their part, the Leonards are certainly on hard times financially, but that may change soon. Prince is a certified welder and he and his wife think of their situation as temporary. But whether it is or not, they do raise some pithy issues that CPS needs to address.
She and her husband have worked hard, she says, to transform the storage space into a home--one far safer, she says, than the crime- and rat-ridden apartment buildings and motels where the family had lived before. Safer, too, in her opinion, than a homeless shelter.So, running water or not, their choice of abode makes a certain sense. A run-down apartment with rats, drug addicts and nightly gunfire, or a clean safe storage unit without a faucet inside? I suppose I don't have to point out that families have raised healthy children for millennia without indoor plumbing. Few people prefer that given the choice, but it certainly can be done. The owner of the storage units made that very point.
The place where he himself grew up, Hill says, had no running water. "My grandpa's property up in Livingston had no running water, just a well with a pump, and an outhouse." Growing up that way didn't do him any harm. The Leonard's housing solution, he says, "beats living on the street."And then there's something even more pertinent - the health and well-being of the kids. Are they happy, healthy, clean, well-fed, properly clothed? They seem to be in the Leonard's case and, after all, isn't that the point of "child protective services?" The owner of the storage units says the kids are great.
"I have never seen a more happy group of children. Well-mannered. Well-kempt. Their manners are better than my kids. And I live in a rich neighborhood--just a bunch of spoiled brats here."So if the kids are alright, what are they doing in foster care? The answer to that is the classic bureaucratic one.
The family had been living happily in storage until a CPS investigator, responding to a tip, discovered the Leonards' solution to weathering the recession and determined it to be bad for kids. Mrs. Leonard quotes the investigator as having said, "My supervisor isn't going to like this at all."That pinpoints something that seems to be a universal truth when it comes to government bureaucracies, the iron law of CYA. The caseworker seems to have paid less attention to the realities of the children's wellfare than to the realities of keeping his/her job. And speaking of the children's welfare, the Leonard's youngest child was still nursing when CPS took him away from his mother and father. Mrs. Leonard says "my son was forced to wean then and there." Nice. Just to put a cherry on top, the children were taken away one day before Fathers Day. So it goes.
here with the provocative title "How Can We Get Men to Do More at Home?" (New York Times, 7/6/11). Despite its headline that proves to a certainty that the paper has little idea of the realities of the topic under discussion, at least a couple of the commentators do. That said, they also miss a lot. They miss things that anyone with a firm grasp on the subject would at least mention. The setup for the piece is pretty much what we'd expect: women do more paid work than before, so why don't men keep up by doing more at home. As two of the commentators note, they do. Men still don't do as much child care and other domestic tasks as women, but women still don't do as much paid work. And when the two are added together, they come out equal as even a casual glance at the American Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics would tell them. But that's not part of the NYT forum, which I count as odd since it's so obviously germane to the topic. Here's a thumbnail sketch of the forum. Neil Gilbert of Cal Berkeley points out some obvious things about the difference between the classes who chatter about work and family and the vast majority of parents who don't have the means or the desire to hire nannies or daycare. His unstated point is that for them, someone has to stay home with the kids and in fact, someone will probably want to do so given the fact that kids are at home full time for about five years. That leaves the parent 30-40 years in which to enjoy the wonders of paid work. Jeremy Adam Smith, author of "The Daddy Shift" writes that greater workplace equality has indeed resulted in greater equality in childcare at home (contrary to the implicit view of the NYT). He points to "structural and interpersonal sexism" as one of the culprits.
Studies consistently show that 80 percent to 90 percent of mothers still expect fathers to serve as primary breadwinners (and very few will consider supporting a stay-at-home dad). At work, only 7 percent of American men have access to paid parental leave, among other structural limitations.Ute Frevert notes that our attitudes change more slowly than do our laws and institutions (I don't agree). Her culprit is children's books "that lead present-day women to feel responsible for the social and emotional set-up of the family. This comes in handy for men..." who, according to her, leap at the chance to stay at work and avoid childcare. She hopes our "mentalities" on the subject of work and childcare will change, and, although both men and women need to work on that, "[m]en"s education is thus badly needed. If they resist change, our striving is bound to fail." Andrea Doucet of Brock University in Canada has a suggestion that, while sincerely intended, simply won't do much to address the problem. It's non-transferable parental leave for fathers. She cites countries in which it's been tried and high percentages of dads take off work to be with their kids. That's nice, but the leave is only one or two months depending on the country. Needless to say, a month or so of leave for dad will not impact the long-term gender imbalance in childcare in the least. That's particularly true since mothers in all those countries have much longer periods of leave than do the fathers. Add to that the fact that the prospect of the U.S. passing laws requiring parental leave at the bottom of a depressed economy is about as likely as the Houston Astros winning the World Series this year. Sandrine Devillard sees that women "remain at the center of family life," and that they seem to have an aversion to doing what it takes to get to the top of the heap in the corporate world. Devillard sees this as a problem to be solved. (I see it as a suggestion that women have their priorities in order better than men.) Her solution? "Visible commitment by top executives and programs to develop women as leaders stands at the heart of any attempt at effective gender diversity." Needless to say, if every top management spot in the country were occupied by a woman, it would make no discernible impact on the time spent at home and at work by the tens of millions of other men and women in the workplace. That's not all the commentators, but you get the picture. For what is presented by the Times as a serious inquiry into the "problem" of why men do more paid work and women do more domestic work, this is thin gruel indeed. Predictably, not one of the commentators flipped the coin over and looked at the other side. Not one made the simple, obvious remark that if women want to do less at home, they need to do more at work so the dads can tend the kids. The single-minded notion that it's men who must do more at home ignores the fact that women must do more in the traditionally "man's world." Equally predictable is the unquestioned idea that work-family conflict exists for women but not men. As Devillard wrote, "[t]his "double burden" of work and family responsibility weigh (sic) heavily on women..." That's the narrative we've been read for the last 30 years or so; "work, employers, society, daycare, etc. must all change because women are stressed with their "double burden." So the Families and Work Institute's recent finding that for some 30 years, it's been men more than women who've suffered from work/family conflict, must have come as quite a shock - too great a shock apparently for Devillard or any of the commentators to mention. A final oversight is child custody post-divorce. Divorce is common, and people know it. The divorce rate in the U.S. is over 40%. What's also common (far more so than divorce) is mothers receiving primary custody and fathers being kicked to the "visitation" curb. That too is well-known to fathers and mothers alike. So why would dads knock themselves out doing childcare when they know the high probability of divorce and the vanishingly small probability that they'll play any meaningful role in the children's lives they've so diligently helped raise? The answer many would give is that, if fathers opt out of childcare while married, they can't expect a judge to fix it for them. That would be reasonable if we didn't see so many hands-on dads get the same treatment that their less involved peers do. It would be reasonable if we didn't know that a single allegation of abuse, whether founded or not, can be all it takes to deprive the best father of his child. It also ignores the fact that we already have plenty of evidence judges can use to give dads equal time with their kids. In the vast majority of cases, there is no impediment, factual or legal, to their doing just that, but they don't. The fact is that children don't need their fathers less because Dad spent 50 hours a week at work and Mom only 30. Children don't care about that and it doesn't adversely affect their outcomes. But family courts routinely identify the "primary parent" (i.e., the one the father's work allowed to stay home with the kids) and give primary custody to her. We can't realistically ask fathers to sideline careers in the vain hope that, if divorce comes along, a judge will notice. Chances are he won't. So, while some of the pieces in the Times forum have merit (Gilbert's and Smith's notably), the exercise generally is awash in outdated notions of female victimization and male failings. And its central organizing principle - that women really want to chuck this motherhood thing in favor of corporate striving - is loony enough to be certified. Here's a hint. In essentially all mammal species including our own, the female does either all or most of the childcare. That is not a patriarchal construct of gender; it's a biological fact of life. I'm all for women working and earning more; I'm all for men spending more time with the kids. But when individual men and women choose to address the work/family balance their way and not mine, I'm not one to criticize. I guess that's what makes me different from the New York Times. Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.