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

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In Connecticut, courts have procedures to establish paternity that give men actual due process rights.  This good and fairly thorough article describes what happens on "Paternity Thursday" in New Haven (New Haven Independent, 8/2/11). In cities like Hartford and New Haven, there are enough cases to establish paternity that the courts have set aside a special magistrate and a special day of the week to hear them all.  On the Paternity Thursday reported on, 56 cases were heard in three hours.  That's about three minutes per case, but despite the short time, something important happens; the men whom mothers have named as fathers of their children actually receive an opportunity to either accept the designation or contest it.  If they contest it by requesting DNA testing, the cost is a mere $30.  If the accept it, the magistrate, David Dee, carefully explains the consequences and encourages them to reconsider.  That is, he tells them that it's advisable to get paternity tested rather than simply assuming the mother's  claim to be true. That's because, once paternity is established, either by genetic testing or by acknowledgement by the man, Connecticut law only allows the matter to be revisited (reopened) in the case of "fraud, duress or material mistake of fact."  In short, it's next to impossible for a man to change his mind at a later date and get the court to order testing.  Once he agrees, he's stuck with his decision. The whole process applies only in cases of children born to single mothers.  How do those cases get to Magistrate Dee's court?  The article doesn't say, but my guess is that the mothers have filed for child support or the state has paid some form of benefits to her or the child and is seeking reimbursement from the father. So, on Paternity Thursday, men named as father show up in court along with mothers.  The first time a man is in Dee's court, he's asked if he wants testing done.  If he does, samples are taken, he pays his $30 (or nothing if he's indigent), and is scheduled to return to receive results of the testing.  If he doesn't want testing done, Dee admonishes him to reconsider, but if he's adamant, an order will be issued establishing his paternity. If the man doesn't show up, a default judgment will be issued against him, establishing his paternity and assessing an amount of child support. That's it in a nutshell.  The good news is that these guys have an opportunity to be tested.  That's in marked contrast to the process in many states in which Attorneys General seem to stop at nothing to deny men the opportunity to learn for certain whether they fathered the child in question or not.  My recent posting about Keddrick Clemons in Texas is a perfect example.  There, the Texas AG's office knew to a certainty that Clemons wasn't the father, but lied to the him and the judge for the sole purpose of tagging him with support for a child who wasn't his.  So the men get an actual chance to have DNA testing done.  That includes the fact that it's cheap and in some cases free.  I've argued long and hard for mandatory testing of all children at birth and one argument I hear often against it is the cost.  My response is that it's cheaper than the alternative which is years of litigation and heartache.  Now we know states can do testing much cheaper than it's done in private labs. Not only that, but the outcome of the testing actually matters.  That is, if the test comes back negative, the named man has no obligations to the mother or the child.  That's as it should be, but time and again, genetic testing has no such effect.  Until very recently in Texas, if a man got divorced without doing genetic testing, the child was legally his irrespective of its DNA.  Later results showing him to not be the dad made no difference.  The same is true of default judgments of paternity in which any man anywhere can be established to be the father and woe betide him who resists. That's the good news.  The bad news is that, as far as the article shows, there's nothing to prevent the fraudulent taking of default judgments against men who aren't the father and may have nothing in common with him apart from a name.  The article doesn't say what the safeguards are against those orders, so that expedient for states to falsely establish "paternity" apparently still exists. Also, notice that the assistant attorney general handling all these cases in Dee's courtroom works for the state.  She also works for the mothers.
"We do our very best to make sure everyone"s rights are considered,' Assistant Attorney General Amy Guido said during a break between representing the state"s and the mothers" interests in all 56 cases heard Thursday.
Notice too that the entire process assumes that the state's interests and the mothers' are the same.  If they weren't, one attorney couldn't represent them both; she'd have a conflict of interest.  That means that their interests are assumed to be antithetical to those of the fathers. And that in turn makes a difference.
One case was titled Sarah Pena v. Orlando Colon. Pena came to court with a man other than Colon, who never appeared. When her case was called, Pena quickly accepted the results of an independent May 10 paternity test that established someone other than Colon as the father. Assistant AG Guido did not oppose the motion to open the paternity judgment or the finding that Colon was not the father.
So what happened was that Pena named Colon as the father.  Somehow his paternity was established (otherwise there'd be no reason to reopen the case).  That was probably done by default judgment since he "never appeared."  Then testing got done on the guy she's with in court and it turned out Colon wasn't the right man after all. In that case, reopening the case was simplicity itself; the AG's office agreed, the mother agreed and the other party, Colon, wasn't present, so the case was reopened.  No problem.  Gone were the all-but-insuperable obstacles of "fraud, duress or material mistake of fact."  Or, more likely, the state and the mother agreed that she made a material mistake of fact and so the case can be reopened. Notice that that happens easily because Mom and State are on the same side.  But what would have happened if Colon had wanted to reopen the case and contest the finding of paternity? 
"The threshold is very high,' Assistant Attorney General Guido said. A paternity test proving that the man is not the biological father is often not enough.
So when Mom gives the nod to the assistant AG to reopen the case because she likes the guy who's been found to be the father, the case is reopened without a blink.  If the man who's been found to not be the father wants to do the same, all of a sudden "the threshold is very high."  Funny how that works. It doesn't have to be this way.  The guys don't have to be given a choice.  The state has an interest in figuring out exactly who fathers are and who they're not.  So do children.  There's not a reason in the world why this first court hearing has to be a court hearing at all.  It'd be better and cheaper for it to be nothing more than an appointment for a mouth swab.  Once that's done and the results received, the man will either be established as the father or let go.  If it's the latter, the mother will have to provide another name and the process will be repeated. That should be what happens in all the cases in which the putative father didn't appear at the hospital for the birth of the child.  If he did, he should be tested there and paternity either established or not. As this article shows, genetic testing of all kids and supposed fathers at birth would save a lot of time, money and anguish.  In the meantime, at least Connecticut gives some guys a chance to establish with certainty the facts about their paternity.  It's better than a lot of states do.  It's also not nearly good enough. Thanks to Ron for the heads-up.

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All criminal charges were dismissed against Maryanne Godboldo yesterday.  That ends the latest chapter in the continuing saga of how county child protective services, supported by police and S.W.A.T. agents came to take her 13-year-old daughter into care and arrest Godboldo.  Here's the most recent article (Free Press, 8/29/11). The story is yet another in a long line about gross overreaching by CPS caseworkers, but Godboldo's is worse than most.  Godboldo's daughter has some form of emotional/psychological problem.  Godboldo had her on medication for a while, but it seemed to make he symptoms worse, so, in consultation with the girls pediatrician, Godboldo weaned her from the powerful psychotropic drug. That displeased CPS which went to court for an order taking the child into care.  CPS did that on an emergency basis, meaning that Godboldo wasn't present at the hearing to tell her side of the story.  Out of the blue one day, CPS caseworkers showed up at Godboldo's door to inform her that they were taking her child.  Godboldo refused, believing that (a) she knew more about how to care for her daughter than did the caseworkers and (b) as the girl's parent, she had the right to do so. Met with Godboldo's manifestly correct assertion of her parental rights, what did CPS do?  Did it schedule another hearing so a judge could hear Godboldo's point of view and issue an order?  No.  It doubled down. CPS presented the court order it already had to the police who sent the S.W.A.T. team complete with a tank to threaten Godboldo.  That did the trick.  Police got the child away from her mother and whisked her off to a psychiatric facility.  Claiming she had fired a pistol at them, police whisked Godboldo to jail where she was charged with several felonies. My guess is that pretty much any impartial observer schooled in the ways of CPS would have smelled a rat by then.  I know I did.  And sure enough, ever since the day of the original incident, more and more of the rodents keep turning up. First was the fact that the mental health facility to which the girl was taken by CPS declined to give her the very medication Godboldo had declined to give her.  Godboldo's refusal to give the drug was the reason (or the excuse) for the court's order in the first place.  So, many of us found it noteworthy that the mental health professionals at that facility apparently agreed with Godboldo.  In the end, it was only CPS caseworkers whose medical judgment differed from that of professionals treating the girl. Now we know there were a couple of other minor glitches in the way CPS and the police handled the case.  First is the little matter of the court order.  It's completely invalid and should never have been used by the police to raid Godboldo's home.  Why was it invalid?  It wasn't issued by a judge.
[Godboldo's attorneys] said the court order was not valid because a court clerk stamped the judge's name to the order without consulting the judge.
"A judge never looked at this, never saw it," Pitts said. "It has to be an elected authority. This lady took the judge's stamp, stamped the judge's name and off she goes."
Well, doesn't that open a window on how CPS operates.  What that suggests is that there was never even a hearing to obtain the order.  After all, if there had been hearing, the judge him/herself would have simply signed the order.  But no.  It seems that up to now it's been common practice for CPS to have their pre-typed order stamped with the judge's signature stamp. That certainly streamlines the process, but it's far, far from a constitutional way to deprive a mother of her parental rights. So the entire process was illegal from the start. Likewise, it now seems the police were a little short of evidence for their claim that Godboldo took a shot at them.  The judge dismissed the charges against her citing lack of evidence.  Godboldo's lawyers are a bit more pointed.
Folmar said Godboldo "never shot at an officer -- period. It never happened."
Just last week, police got a warrant to search Godboldo's home for evidence of the alleged pistol shot.  That looked like desperation on their part to me.  After all, don't you think they looked for evidence when they first took Godboldo and her daughter away?  If they didn't find it then, why did they think they'd find it a second time?  In the event, they found it neither time. We're getting to the endgame in the Maryanne Godboldo case and it's taught us a lot.  It's taught us the extent to which CPS can and does take the law into its own hands.  CPS differed with the girl's mother about her medication.  There is no way that constitutes abuse or neglect of the child absent some clear evidence given by mental health professionals. So the initial decision to go after Godboldo's daughter was the product of a mindset that has no understanding of parental rights.  In this country, under our constitution, parents get to raise their kids as they see fit.  Yes there are limitations on what they can and can't do and withholding medication can be one of those prohibited activities. But the decision to intervene and force medical treatment on a child when a parent disagrees can only be taken after careful due process of law.  It is that above all that Maryanne Godboldo and her mentally ill daughter were denied. Far worse, it is crystal clear that denial of due process of law is commonplace when CPS chooses to take action against a parent.  The whole case reeks of highhandedness, yes, but of entitlement as well.  No agency with much respect for parental rights or due process of law would have behaved the way CPS did in this case.  Face it, they've gone to Juvenile Court before, handed the clerk an order and gotten it stamped with the judge's signature stamp.  They've done it many times, so many that it simply never occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were doing.  Don't believe me?
As a result of this case, Pitts said, there has been a policy change. Court employees are no longer allowed to stamp judges' names on court orders.
The only difference between this case and all the others is that this time they got caught. So Maryanne Godboldo is free, the CPS habit of having court clerks stamp their orders is a thing of the past and the case slouches to a close.  Godboldo still doesn't have her daughter back, but I suspect that will happen in due course.  The girl has been in the care of her aunt, Godboldo's sister, so I don't imagine Mom is having too much difficulty being with her daughter. Soon will come the inevitable lawsuit that I predict will go favorably to Godboldo.  Finally, the county will pay Godboldo a hefty sum for the multiple wrongs perpetrated against her and her daughter.  How much of that will be paid by taxpayers remains to be seen. Sadly, this case is no more outrageous than countless others against countless parents and children nationwide.  We don't always hear about them, but they, like this one are products of a broken system, a system that believes that governmental employees are better equipped and better motivated than parents to decide matters of children's welfare.  It's a dangerous system; it's a system that needs to be changed.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="499" caption="F & F of Ohio members Terry Kee, Paul Lee, Matt Johnson, Tom Allen, Senator Kevin Bacon, and Donald Hubin, Ph.D., Chair of Ohio F & F's Executive Committee"][/caption] Fathers and Families of Ohio members Terry Kee, Paul Lee, Matt Johnson, Tom Allen, and Donald Hubin, Ph.D. met with Ohio state Senator Kevin Bacon last week concerning several of F & F's legislative projects. These include:

1.    Presumption of Shared Parenting during Temporary Orders 2.    Parenting Time Enforcement 3.    Disabled Parents Protection Bill 4.    Presumptive Child Support in Shared Parenting Cases 5.    Child Support Self-Support Reserve Correction Hubin explained:

Senator Bacon initiated questioning about the presumption of child support in shared parenting situations first, but we discussed all of the issues mentioned [above]...He was attentive and engaged in the conversation and promised to review the materials we gave him.  He was helpful in directing us to other legislators who might have a special interest in or be particularly important with respect to some of the legislative initiatives we presented.  We will pursue meetings with these other legislators.

For more details on these legislative projects, please see Hubin's letter to Senator Bacon here.

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Australia's 2006 amendment to its Family Law Act increased parenting time for fathers, new governmental statistics show.  Read about it here (The Australian, 8/31/11). The data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies show that, although few couples (only 7%) have custody arrangements comprised of equal parenting time, those in which one parent has between 35% and 65% of the parenting time have increased from 9% to 17% of divorced couples with children.

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Lenore Skenazy is a person I've mentioned a time or two before.  She's a writer on child rearing, among other things and maintains the blog Free-Range Kids.  As the name implies, Skenazy advocates what to me has always made perfect sense - parents knowing when to butt out of children's lives and let them be kids. Skenazy isn't advocating anything irresponsible.  She's just asking parents to loosen the reins a bit.  Don't schedule every minute of a child's day; let him/her be alone or with friends.  Don't oversupervise; allow the kids to find themselves away from their parent's watchful eye.  Skenazy wants parents to make sure the kids are safe, but once they are, take some time out and just leave them alone. Of course she gets a lot of like-minded parents writing in to her blog to tell their own stories, some of which make the blood boil.  She says,
As the founder of Free-Range Kids, I often hear from parents being investigated by the cops or child protective services simply because they let their children play outside or walk to soccer practice.
With the police and CPSA assuming the power to micromanage family life, it should come as no surprise that they do exactly that.  And sure enough, right on schedule, I find this. It seems that, on August 25th, Teresa Tryon of Elizabethton, Tennessee answered a knock on her front door.  There was her 10-year-old daughter who was supposed to be in school, with a police officer.  But it wasn't the girl who'd done something wrong, it was her mother. What was her crime?  Allowing the girl to ride her bicycle to school.  The officer told Tryon that "in his judgment," it wasn't safe for the girl to ride her bike to school.  So Tryon called the police department to inquire just what laws she or her daughter had violated.
Major Verran of the police department returned Ms Tryon's call.  She said he told me, "He had spoke with the District Attorney's office who advised that until the officer can speak with Child Protective Services that if I allow my daughter to ride/walk to school I will be breaking the law and treated accordingly."
She asked, "What law she would be breaking to which the answer was 'child neglect'".
Child neglect.  I think the Elizabethton police might want to refresh their memories about just what "child neglect" consists of in Tennessee.  In fact, I'll help them.  Here's the statute.
(a) Any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen (18) years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that, if the abused child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.
(b) Any person who knowingly abuses or neglects a child under eighteen (18) years of age, so as to adversely affect the child's health and welfare, commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, that, if the abused or neglected child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class E felony.
(c) (1) A parent or custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or less commits child endangerment who knowingly exposes such child to or knowingly fails to protect such child from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child.
In short, section (a) refers to anyone who inflicts injury on a child, section (b) refers to anyone who adversely affects the child's health or welfare and (c) refers to anyone who allows someone else to do (a) or (b). Since Tryon's daughter wasn't injured and her health or welfare wasn't affected, where's the "child neglect?"  The answer is that there wasn't any.  Tryon was just doing what any normally responsible parent might do - allow a 10-year-old the freedom to take herself to school. But when it comes to kids, Big Brother knows best, or at least thinks he does.  Just think of Maryanne Godboldo in Detroit.  Big Brother knew she should have given her daughter powerful psychotropic medication, and when Godboldo decided to parent her child differently, CPS came down on her like a ton of bricks.  Many weeks later, that case has just about been resolved in Godboldo's favor, but the point is clear - when CPS decides something, regardless of how erroneous, the full weight of the police and courts will be used to support that decision and against the parent. So Teresa Tryon had best listen when Major Rusty Verran tells her she's breaking the law by allowing her daughter to ride her bicycle to school.  She's doing no such thing, but neither was Maryanne Godboldo.  But that didn't stop CPS from snatching her child or the police putting her in jail.  It didn't stop her having to hire attorneys to defend herself. And so it may be with Tryon if she's so intemperate as to insist - as Godboldo did - that she's a fit mother who has the right to decide how to raise her child.  Oh, she'll prevail in the end because she's done nothing wrong.  But what will happen in the meantime?  Police, handcuffs, arrest, jail, courts, charges, lawyers?  Where will her daughter be then and how much trauma will it cause her? We all know that Tryon can beat the rap but she can't beat the ride.  More outrageously, neither can her daughter. Decades ago, the American family started to fall apart.  That scared a lot of people as well it might, particularly because of its effects on children.  It didn't take long for us to call the police and CPS to do what we trusted parents to do before.  That meant an enormous encroachment by the state into family life of a type and an extent never seen before. Look at the police officer's words to Tryon.  In his "judgment" the girl shouldn't ride her bicycle to school.  That is, he's substituting his judgment for that of the mother, and his has the weight of the law enforcement establishment behind it. And the horror stories just keep happening.  In only the rarest of instances is the state a better parent than the parent.  Its decisions are typically made by CPS caseworkers with no ties to the family or the child.  The caseworkers are underpaid, undereducated, undertrained and overworked.  They owe no loyalty to parents or children and, like most bureaucrats, seek first to cover their you-know-whats.  That's a poor combination for ensuring the welfare of children. Sometimes parents abuse their children; sometimes they neglect them to a criminal extent.  We've all read the stories.  In those cases, the state can't sit idly by; it must act to spare the children further injury.  But that's not what went on in the Godboldo case and it's not what's going on in Tryon's.  Those cases and countless others exemplify the naked, wholly unjustified exercise of state power at the expense of parents and children. In any society that values freedom and justice, that would be totally unacceptable.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Jon Cryer"][/caption] Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer must pay child support for his son of whom he has custody.  Here's the opinion of the California appellate court. Yes, it's true.  Jon Cryer has almost sole custody of his son with Sarah Trigger Cryer.  She has 4% of the parenting time; he has the other 96%.  So you'd think she'd be paying child support to him, but no.  It's the other way around.  He's paying her because a Los Angeles trial court ordered him to and the appellate court upheld the order. As you read the appellate opinion, continually ask yourself that tried and true question "what would happen if the sexes were reversed?" Jon and Sarah were married in 2000.  Both were actors at the time.  They had a son, but divorced in 2004 with Sarah getting primary custody and Jon paying child support.  By 2009, Sarah's life had gone from bad to worse.  Apparently she hasn't had an acting job since 2005.  Indeed, if she's had any job at all, it's not reflected in the evidence before the court.  For that matter, she seems entirely disinclined to look for work, for reasons which will become obvious. Both Jon and Sarah remarried, but it took only a few years for Sarah's second marriage to hit the skids.  She had a son by that marriage too and maintained custody of both boys. Soon though, Jon filed for a modification of custody saying that Sarah was an unfit parent who left the children unsupervised.  His request was denied, but the court admonished Sarah for negligent parenting.  In 2009, her child by her second husband was injured while under her care and both children were taken from her and given to their dads. So Jon did the obvious thing; he asked the court to reduce his child support from $10,000 a month to nothing.  After all, he was the custodial parent and custodial parents don't pay child support, they receive it, right?  Well, as the court admitted, that's usually the case, but not here.  Here, Jon must continue paying Sarah $8,000 a month even though she only sees the child 4% of the time. Why?  Because she's a deadbeat, that's why.  I'm really not making this up.  Sarah answered Jon's request for a reduction of child support by saying it's her only income, which apparently it is.  That's because she hasn't had a job of any kind since 2005.  Into the bargain, she's not looking for one.  In her last filing, she listed her monthly income (outside of child support) as zero and her monthly expenses as over $13,000. So, according to both the trial and the appellate courts, because Sarah is too much of a deadbeat to even attempt to support herself, Jon must continue to support her with the child providing the weakest of pretexts for doing so. How many times have fathers been told that they should stop griping about the countless injustices of the child support system because it's all for the child?  Yes it's unfair they're told, but just put a sock in it and pay; it's for the child, don't you see. Well, this case gives the lie to that and doesn't beat around the bush about it.  No one believes that it takes $8,000 a month ($96,000 a year) to support a child 4% of the time.  The money has nothing to do with child support; it has everything to do with deadbeat Mom support.  In this case, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line, and it is this - Jon earns a lot of money, Sarah earns none; therefore Jon pays Sarah even though he's the custodial parent.  Simple. Now no opinion in a custody case would be complete without genuflections to the best interests of the child, and this is no exception.  Sarah told the court that, if Jon didn't pay her "child support," she'd lose the house she lives in and that he helped her buy when they got divorced.  Assuming that to be the case, that would mean that she'd have to live somewhere else. According to both courts, that would be too traumatic for their son.  Keep in mind that 4% of a month is a little over a day.  So according to the court, asking the child to spend a day and a night with his mother in an apartment somewhere in Los Angeles would be so emotionally damaging to him that it warrants imposing child support on a custodial parent. Of course it would be nothing of the sort.  Millions of children in this country live their whole lives in worse conditions and muddle through perfectly well. Into the bargain, cutting Sarah off Daddy welfare might actually encourage her to better herself.  The judges didn't manage to notice what everyone over the age of about 12 would - that the reason Sarah has no income and is making no effort to work and earn is that she's living off of Jon.  Take his income away from her and maybe she'd start lifting a finger.  Hey, anything's possible. But the courts weren't finished.  Perhaps sensing the radical injustice of what they were doing, both tried another tack.  Because Sarah's children were taken from her by the Department of Children and Family Services due to her neglect, there was a dependency proceeding in juvenile court at the same time the child support issue was being litigated. No one knew what the outcome of the dependency proceeding might have been; they only knew that Jon had custody and Sarah didn't.  That could have changed at any time.  The juvenile court could have done anything from returning full custody to Sarah to terminating her parental rights altogether. So according to the courts, nothing could be done about Jon's child support obligation because, well, the juvenile court might alter the custody arrangement at any time.  Let me remind you; I'm not making this up. We all know that, if the juvenile court had altered the custody situation significantly, either Jon or Sarah could have gone to court and requested a modification of child support based on changed circumstances.  And guess what.  The courts know that too; they even said as much.  But according to them, because circumstances might change in the future, their hands are tied; Jon has to keep paying to support his ex-wife because, well something might happen. It's hard to get more blatant than this.  It's Mommy support thinly disguised as child support.  The child will never see one-tenth of this money.  In fact, she's using it to pay her lawyers in the dependency case. And again, imagine if the sexes were reversed.  Imagine a father saying "Judge, it's true I can earn a living but haven't lifted a finger to do so for six years, and it's true I lost custody because I'm dangerous to the children in my care, but my ex-wife needs to pay me a large sum of money every month for a child I rarely see and we need to pretend it's child support." Would the judge laugh him out of court or toss him in jail?  I can't decide.

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Many Massachusetts child support obligors are being driven underground, out of their homes, and out of their children's lives by impossible child support demands. Fathers and Families filed and pursued a highly-publicized lawsuit challenging the state's new child support guidelines--guidelines which actually raise child support levels in a terrible economy. Our lawsuit made it all the way up to Massachusetts' highest court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled against us. Our lawsuit has garnered extensive media coverage, including the recent pieces Dads' group seeks child-support reform (Boston Herald, 9/2/11), SJC Upholds Child Support Guidelines (WBUR [NPR, Boston], 9/2/11), SJC rejects challenge to child support rules filed by fathers group (Boston Globe, 9/2/11), and Mass. high court upholds child support guidelines (Associated Press, 9/1/11), as well as previous pieces in the New York Times, Newsweek, Psychology Today, CBS radio, WRKO in Boston, FOX 25 TV in Boston, and many others. The Battle to Reform One of the Nation's Most Inequitable Child Support Guidelines In 2001, Fathers and Families was instrumental in winning changes in Massachusetts law which lowered child support by 15%. Our victory saved noncustodial parents over $1 billion---$200 a million a year over five years. That"s $1 billion that Massachusetts non-custodial parents were able to spend on their children themselves. The opposition struck back by stacking a special committee with reliable votes for increasing the child support amounts. Fathers and Families founder Ned Holstein, MD, MS had won a seat on this committee but it ignored the data he presented showing that the proposed new child support orders were far too high for most obligors to pay. Holstein prepared a Minority Report detailing the problems with the new Guidelines, which went into effect January 1, 2009. What's Wrong with the New Guidelines? The new guidelines are causing substantial increases in child support in the vast majority of cases. Many obligors will see increases of "only' 20%, but some will see a tripling of their child support order, even when they are poor and the recipient is wealthy. In high income cases, the child support order for one child could exceed $50,000 per year. How much money is legitimately needed to support a child? Far less than the Guidelines require, in many cases. If a recipient and payor earn the same amount, when all factors are taken into consideration, the recipient will enjoy a standard of living almost double that of the payor. This holds true throughout the broad range of middle class incomes. Instead of the child-friendly "two-condo solution,' the new Guidelines produce a "castle and shack' outcome. Working with attorney Gregory Hession of Springfield, F & F quickly filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Guidelines' implementation. We argued, among other things, that the new guidelines were not formulated using the actual costs of raising a child, as required by federal law, and are thus "arbitrary and capricious.' Additionally, the state bypassed the normal legislative process by having a secret committee prepare them and a single judge declare them to be law, in violation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. To read our original legal complaint, click here. To read the Memorandum of Law, click here. MA Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Us The Court decided to hear our case but ruled against us, writing:

The plaintiffs will have an opportunity to raise their constitutional arguments when their cases are heard before the Probate and Family Court (or other trial court), and to pursue appellate remedies if they are dissatisfied with the outcomes of those cases.

Child support obligors struggling with excessive child support obligations in the worst economy since the Great Depression are hardly in a position to fund long, expensive legal battles as individuals. This is the reason why Fathers and Families' Legal Defense Fund filed this case to begin with--we know individual obligors can't afford to fund their own battles, so we're working to change the guidelines for all obligors. What Will Fathers and Families Do? There are several ways Fathers and Families can fight this ruling, including taking a specific obligor's child support case and appealing it, as well as legislative action. What Can You Do? As Dr. Holstein told the media last week, we're not giving up this fight. We want you to:
  1. Become an F & F volunteer and/or citizen lobbyist to help promote our agenda in the Massachusetts legislature and beyond by filling out our form at www.FathersandFamilies.org/volunteer.
  2. Legal and political work costs money--help fund the group that fights for you by making a contribution at www.FathersandFamilies.org/give.
  3. Write a Letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe at [email protected] about SJC rejects challenge to child support rules filed by fathers group (9/2/11) and the Boston Herald at [email protected] about Dads' group seeks child-support reform (9/2/11). Also, use the links in the second paragraph above to comment about the issue on the news outlets' websites.

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Can a film change child custody laws in Israel?  We'll find out the answer to that question soon, possibly as early as later this month.  Read about it here (Israel National News, 8/26/11). The documentary film Fathers' Rights directed by Isri Halpern was six years in the making.  It tracks the lives of four Israeli fathers and the trials and tribulations they face, all courtesy of Israel's family laws that blatantly discriminate against fathers.  Much of what the film shows will probably seem like old news to people current on family courts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada and the like.
In one memorable scene, the four fathers are sitting in the living room comparing notes. Two of the men met each other in jail, their ex-wives having successfully filed false harassment claims.
As the meeting is being filmed, the wife of the man in whose house they are seated, is upstairs with the children. She eventually calls the police to try and have her husband evicted. The policeman, shown with his face blurred, arrives at the home and tries to explain he is just doing his job by responding to a domestic abuse report.
In another scene, a father tells the filmmaker that he is about to commit an illegal act. The crime? Visiting his son at a youth sporting event. He is technically only allowed to see his children at the arranged supervised times. "How many days do you think its normal for a father to go without seeing his children?" the filmmaker asks the father. The father replies, "How many days can you go without breathing?"
So the false allegations of domestic abuse are there as well as the crazy prohibitions on fathers communicating with their children.  Many readers will remember the Australian dad last year who was jailed for sending his child a birthday card in violation of a family court order prohibiting contact. What Israel adds to the anti-father bent of family courts that other countries don't is it's across-the-board award of sole custody to mothers of children under the age of six.  In most of the countries I report on, that's the all-but-universal practice, but in Israel, it's the law. And it's that law, that a panel of the Knesset is evaluating with an eye toward change.  The same panel is considering whether to punish mothers who make false claims of domestic violence or child abuse in order to deprive a child of its father.  Consideration of those two changes to Israeli law is directly attributable to the film. Another practice that will be familiar to those interested in family court reform is that of child welfare agencies ignoring fathers when they take a child from its mother.  That too happened to one of the four fathers in the film.
This particular parent is shown in one scene of the film standing outside a youth foster care center where his daughter lived temporarily. Child protective services had sent her to live in the facility after she threatened to run away from her mother's home. In the film, the father laments that social services preferred to send her to a facility rather than have her live with him. The movie ends with the girl's Bat Mitzvah after the father gains full custody.
Then there's the issue of child support that in Israel is called mezonot.  There as here, the usual draconian penalties apply to failure to pay.  There as here, the money is often more for supporting Mom than the child.
A father is legally required to pay the mother mezonot from the minute the separation occurs. If he does not, he is liable to have his pay check frozen, his driver's licence taken away and even be put in jail.
"A father ends up becoming a second class citizen. The laws discriminate against men. He has to pay child support regardless of his wife's income." Halpern gives the example of Shari Arison, the owner of Bank Hapoalim and heir to Carnival Cruise Lines. "She is technically entitled to child support by law. Even if her ex-husband were bankrupt and homeless, he would have to pay. Even men who gain custody sometimes have to pay child support to the ex-wife. If a father does not pay child support, one can by law can sue his parents. But on the other hand, the grandparents are not guaranteed visitation access to see the grandchildren."
Director Halpern calls fathers' rights in family courts a "human rights issue," which it assuredly is, as is the issue of false claims of abuse made against dads.  Part of that is the uniform unwillingness of courts to punish those who level false allegations.
The issues of false claims of child abuse, sexual molestation or domestic violence are currently being debated in the Knesset as a result of the film. "In Israel, the courts will not prosecute a woman on false claims or false testimony for lying about sex offenses," Halpern says. "It's carte blanche (a white card). Any woman can make any claim about any man, and she doesn't have to worry that she will get in trouble for it."
Indeed, recent research in the U.S. has shown that claims of abuse are the single major factor thwarting the Oregon legislature's statutory enactment aimed at greater shared custody.  That research showed that the vast majority of the claims were made by mothers.  Other research has shown that abuse claims filed in the course of custody cases are often false, with estimates ranging from 20% to 80%.  Family attorneys across the country have for years bemoaned the use of abuse claims to gain an upper hand in custody matters.  Apparently Israel is no different. Interestingly, the film seems to have already made one convert.
Another significant change, as depicted in the film is that of the National Welfare Officer for Family Affairs at the Ministry of Social Welfare. In the beginning of the film she is shown to be against joint custody. But as the film portrays, she eventually hears requests of the fathers and changes her opinion.

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Alleged prosecutorial misconduct by Maine ADA Mary Kellett has gone international.  In this article, Russia Today reports on allegations of ethical violations against Kellett, the Vladek Filler case and disciplinary proceedings against Kellett by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar (Russia Today, 9/1/11). Complaints against Kellett cover almost a decade.  In all the cases, Kellett brought charges of sexual wrongdoing against men.  Often she did so with little or no credible evidence to back up the charges.  Withholding exculpatory evidence, tampering with witnesses and improper argumentation are also staples of Kellett's conduct in the courtroom.  The Board has received a petition signed by over 1,100 people calling for Kellett's disbarment. It's also received a recommendation by its counsel saying that probable cause exists to discipline Kellett. But local media have so far been at pains to defend Kellett, mostly by ignoring the multiple allegations against her.  It'll be interesting to see how the Russia Todaypiece affects future coverage not only of Vladek Filler's case but also Mary Kellett's disciplinary proceedings.  The article gets a few facts wrong, but there's no doubt about how it - and therefore how many Russian and international readers - view Kellett and the plight of men in Ellsworth, Maine. The article repeatedly calls the scandal a "witch hunt" and the "Rape Hysteria of Ellsworth."  To an audience that only 20 years ago lived under the Soviet communist system of justice, the concept of powerful prosecutors, unanswerable to the electorate, imprisoning people with little evidence of guilt must feel eerily familiar.  Indeed, Mary Kellett can be seen to exemplify what Italian communist Antonio Gramsci called the "long march through the bureaucracy."  By that he meant that any group seeking political power has to populate governmental bureaucracies with its people.  Bureaucrats have considerable power to interpret laws as they see fit and Gramsci understood that the politicization of those countless interpretations is vital to consolidating power by the particular group. So it's one thing to parade in the streets waving signs that read "All Men Are Rapists."  It's another thing altogether to empower that political view with real prosecutions of real men in real courtrooms with the real possibility of prison darkening their horizon.  My guess is that Mary Kellett drank that Kool-Aid a long time ago and it still poisons her mind. I can say the same about the female bureaucrat in the Department of Education who promulgated the new and highly controversial regulation lowering the standard of proof colleges and universities are required to use when a student or school employee is charged with rape or sexual assault.  That standard is now "preponderance of the evidence," the lowest standard of proof in any judicial setting.  Professors and students across the country are crying 'foul' but so far the regulation is still in place. What Mary Kellett is doing in the criminal arena, the new regulation is doing in the academic one.  The two have similar goals; Kellett seeks to put as many men behind bars as possible; the DOE regulation seeks to damage the academic record of as many men as possible.  Both are virulently misandric.  Both seek to expand the concept of due process of law to include police-state tactics with which Russian readers of Russia Today must be all too familiar. Thanks to Tatyana for the heads-up.

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The U.S. Census Bureau reported that children of divorce are more likely to live in poverty than children with married parents.  Here's the most recent Census Bureau report (Census Bureau, 8/2011). Apparently the Centers for Disease Control is cutting back on the data it collects on families and children, so the Census Bureau is trying to pick up the slack.  It conducts what it calls the American Community Survey that consists of questions to about 2 million households.  That was done in 2009 and is our most recent data on the subject. The questions relate to many aspects of marriage, divorce and "widowhood," which interestingly enough includes men.  (So gentlemen, as you read, be aware that if your wife should die, the Census Bureau will consider you a widow.  Why it should do that, I have no idea.) It's no surprise that the report on the survey contains a lot of pretty bland stuff.  For example, the age at which Americans marry has gone up over the past 40 years (an average of 5.9 years for both men and women), women still marry men who are two years older on average than they are. And much of what's reported we already know; the ACS simply reinforces it with new data.  So, women who divorce are far more likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance than are men who divorce.  They're also more likely to do so than women in the general population.
Women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance than recently divorced men (23 percent and 15 percent, respectively). Looking at household income, women who divorced in the past 12 months reported less income than recently divorced men. For example, 27 percent of women who divorced in the past 12 months had less than $25,000 in household income compared with 17 percent of recently divorced men. Similarly, women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely than recently divorced men to be in poverty (22 percent compared with 11 percent, respectively).
So men are over 50% less likely than women to receive welfare following divorce and are half as likely to live in poverty. Since the children in the survey were over 2.5 times more likely to live with their mother after divorce than with their father, it should come as no surprise that they too are more likely than other children to live in poverty.
Overall, 1,100,401 children, or 1.5 percent of children in the United States in 2009 lived in the home of a parent who divorced in the last year...  Children living with a parent who divorced last year were more likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28 percent) compared with other children (19 percent). Children living with a parent who divorced last year were also more likely to be living in a rented home (53 percent) compared with other children (36 percent), and were more likely to be living in households headed by their mothers (73 percent) compared with other children (23 percent). The greater likelihood of children to live with mothers following divorce could explain why a greater proportion of such households were in poverty.
Of course as a general rule, women in the U.S. are less likely than men to work for pay at all and far more likely to work part-time if they do work.  That's because they're more likely to spend their time caring for children than are men.  The result, as the ACS data suggest is that, when they get divorced, they're more likely than men or their undivorced counterparts to suffer serious financial consequences. When divorce happens, women are more likely to be caught with no job or with only a part-time one.  So getting back into the workplace in a job and at a level that pays a living wage is harder for them than for men.  They're paying the price of taking on the primary caregiver role. All of that suggests a couple of fairly obvious responses.  First, as I've said many times before, if women would turn over some of the childcare to men, they'd free themselves up to earn more, they wouldn't lose contact with the workplace or the job market, so divorce wouldn't be such a financial blow to them.  I encourage women to bargain with their husbands/partners for more time at work and men to bargain for more childcare time. Failing that, it must be said that the pro-mother bias of family courts continues to put children in poverty.  Year in and year out, mothers receive 84% of the sole and primary custody in this country.  That means, as the Census Bureau reports, that children of divorce are more likely to live in poverty than are children of married parents.  Children who live with mothers are also more likely to live in poverty than are children who live with fathers. That should raise an obvious question for family courts - "why are you making custody decisions that result in children living in poverty?"  There's no evidence that poverty is good for children and much to the contrary, but family courts still intone the mantra of the best interests of the child, while sending them off to live in seriously straitened circumstances.  Why not give primary custody to dads who are better equipped to support the children they bring into the world?  Better still, why not award equal custody?  That would ameliorate the relative absence of maternal earnings and keep both parents active in the child's life? I've kvetched a lot about judges who penalize fathers for having their audacity to work hard to support their families.  When it comes to divorce and custody, those fathers are shoved to the side in favor of mothers who've done more bathing and diapering but who can't earn enough to keep their kids out of poverty.  This makes sense? It's far past time for fathers' unique contributions to be honored by courts in their custody decisions.  That's partly for the good of fathers, but mostly for the good of children.  As I said, we've known this for a long time; the Census Bureau report just reinforces what we already know.  Now it's time for courts to pay attention and act.

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I've written recently about the proposed amendments to Australia's Family Law Act of 1975.  Those are the amendments that seek to reverse the very modest gains fathers made by the presumption of shared custody in the amendments of 2006. The 2006 amendments were met with an immediate firestorm of protest by anti-father forces across the country.  They claimed that children were being handed over to abusive fathers and courts were ignoring mothers' claims of domestic violence or abuse.  They've been asked to produce evidence for their claims, but nothing at all convincing has been forthcoming. But, as I've pointed out before, Australian family law has long bent over backwards to avoid allowing contact between children and abusive parents.  Even a cursory glance at the existing statute makes it clear that judges are to pay attention to claims of abuse and tailor contact orders accordingly.  That means, among other things, that they can deny contact entirely if the situation warrants.  Indeed, the very idea that courts would not have or use that power is absurd. Still, that's what we've been told by those for whom any contact between a father and a child is too much.  Of course those are the same folks who'd rather walk on hot coals than admit what all reputable data show - that it's mothers, not fathers, who are the primary abusers of children.  So when they tell you they're all about protecting children from abuse, take it with truckload of salt. Meanwhile, this article adds a lot to what I've been saying all along - that family courts already have all the power they need to protect children from abusive parents (The Age, 8/23/11).  In fact, having read the piece by none other than the Chief Justice of all Australia's Family Courts, Diana Bryant, it's easy to conclude that they have too much.
Since the 1988 decision of the High Court in M v M, even if a judge cannot find an allegation proved on the balance of probabilities, having regard to its seriousness, the court may still refuse to make an order for contact between a child and a parent if that order would expose the child to an unacceptable risk of abuse. That is because the court is ultimately deciding what is in the best interests of the child, not whether abuse can be proved to have occurred.
Read that carefully, and understand that it's existing law in Australia and has been at least since 1988.  Understand too that it is that law that the anti-dad crowd deems insufficient to accomplishing their aim of cutting fathers out of children's lives. Justice Bryant tells us some noteworthy things.  First, when a family court judge hears evidence regarding domestic violence or child abuse, he/she does so under the evidentiary standard "the balance of the probabilities," which we in the U.S. would call "preponderance of the evidence."  That is, a litigant must prove her case by producing merely a smidgen more than 50% of the evidence in favor of her claim.  That done, she wins the case.  It's the lowest standard anywhere in law. Second, notice that even if she fails to prove her case by the lowest possible standard, she can still win.  That is, the court can "still refuse to make an order for contact between a child and a parent if that order would expose the child to an unacceptable risk of abuse." In other words, a mother can allege child abuse by the father, fail to prove her case and still have the judge exclude the father from the child's life. "Based on what?" you ask.  Well, based on the judge's theory that the father poses "an unacceptable risk of abuse."  But if the "balance of the probabilities" tip against his ever having done so (as they must, since the case wasn't proven), on what would the judge rest his/her decision that the father posed an unacceptable risk? That's hard to know, but Justice Bryant teases us with this hint: "having regard to [the allegation's] seriousness."  That is, the more serious the allegation, irrespective of proof, the more likely a judge should, under applicable precedent, refuse contact between the father and the child.  The lesson?  The more serious the allegation, the more likely a mother is to prevail, even if she has no proof. That's the law in Australia as explained by the Family Court's Chief Justice. Moreover, it's the law that the anti-dad crowd has managed to convince all and sundry is too lenient on fathers, too likely to lead to contact between abusive fathers and children.  It's hard for me to imagine a law more likely to come between fit fathers and their children than this one.  It plainly violates the most basic notions of fair play between spouses. For a father to be denied access to his children despite having found not to be abusive by the court that heard the evidence is outrageous.  For the law that allows that to be considered insufficiently abusive of fathers' rights to children and children's rights to their fathers would be beyond belief if we didn't read about it so often in the news.

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Should the Transportation Security Administration create a "no-fly" list for children in custody disputes?  That's what Michael Sanchez wants them to do.  Sanchez is the Illinois man whose then two-year-old daughter was abducted to Brazil by her mother. Nigia Machado kept the girl there for over three years, even refusing Sanchez access to her when the travelled there from the U.S.  Now Machado has agreed to allow Sanchez to see his daughter, but importantly, she did so of her own volition.  Brazilian courts seem to have played no role in encouraging her to do so. In that, Sanchez's situation closely parallels that of Sean Goldman who spent five years getting his son back from Brazil, to which his wife had abducted the boy.  Goldman's case took five years to resolved despite assistance from his Congressman and threats by Senators to cut off U.S. aid to Brazil.  Sanchez had no such help. All of that is strange given the fact that Brazil and the United States are both signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  That document gives the country to which a child is abducted 60 days to return him/her to the country of origin.  Needless to say, Brazil makes no apparent effort to abide by the term of the treaty it signed. At that, Brazil is far from the worst signatory country in living up to its obigations under the convention.  That award goes to Mexico that routinely ignores the treaty in favor of domestic laws favoring maternal custody. The point being that there's a treaty in place for the return of abducted children, but it regularly fails to accomplish that one task.  Enter Michael Sanchez who's been victimized by Brazilian courts.  He knows first hand just how ineffective the convention is. He also knows first hand how ineffective the U.S. State Department is at helping U.S. citizens get their children back from any country any time.  Several such parents gave an earful to a congressional subcommittee recently and part of their message was the uselessness of the State Department. So Sanchez wants to short-circuit all of that.  He wants to stop parental abduction of children before it starts; hence his idea for a no-fly list for kids.  My understanding is that a child would be put on the list by order of any court adjudicating custody of the child.  Presumably, the child would be taken off the list once the court ruled on custody, which raises the obvious question, "why wouldn't the parent just abduct the child then?" After all, no court can keep the child from traveling indefinitely, but a parent can abduct a child any time irrespective of whether there's a custody dispute in progress or not. Still, Sanchez's idea, if implemented, would help put a stop to some abductions.  (Notably it would not have prevented Sean Goldman's wife from taking his son; there was no custody matter in the courts at the time she left.) Meanwhile, perhaps the worst national actor in the entire drama of global child abduction is Japan, that invariably provides a haven to which Japanese mothers can flee with their children.  Japan has never signed the Hague Convention, so fathers who lose their children to that country reliably never see them again.  One father, Christopher Savoie, was arrested by Japanese authorities when he travelled there in a failed effort to see his child. Now it seems the Japanese government has vowed to sign the Hague Convention.  But, as this article tells us, don't break out the champagne just yet (Japan Times, 7/27/11).  Face it, anything Brazil and Mexico can do, Japan can do worse.  The prognosis for Japan's actually applying the terms of the convention once it signs it is poor.
Watching the parliamentary debates that have been taking place in the Japanese Diet, it is difficult to believe that Japan intends to abide by the Hague treaty in good faith.
To date, most debate within the Japanese Diet has revolved around creating "exceptions" under which Japan would not have to return abducted children. These telling debates are in obvious opposition to the spirit of the Hague treaty in which signatories purport to want to return a child to his or her home following an abduction. The article's author, Paul Toland, is the national director of Bring Abducted Children Home.  He lists several concerns his organization has that have the eerie ring of truth.
First, members of BAC Home are gravely concerned that the Japanese government will not be willing to address the current cases of parental abduction (since the Hague treaty is not retroactive).
Japan owes it to these children and the parents who have suffered for years from this grave injustice to provide a bilateral framework solution to promptly return these abducted children to their habitual residence without delay.
Second, Japan must utilize standard rules of evidence when domestic violence is alleged. Allegations alone are not adequate to prevent the return of a child. Evidence, originating in the child's country of habitual residence, must be utilized to rise to the Hague treaty's legal burden of proof standard of "clear and convincing" evidence required in domestic violence allegations.
Currently, abductors in Japan are able to cut off all access to the Left-Behind Parent through unsubstantiated hearsay allegations. Facts and evidence are optional, but not necessary under Japan's proposed system for Hague Return Denial, and this is unacceptable...
Additionally, the Japanese government seems concerned that international child abduction is considered a crime in many other nations, and has vowed to not return abductors who are labeled as criminals or charged with a crime. This is not a determination for Japan to make. Japan cannot simply exonerate its citizens who break the laws of another nation while residing in that nation.
Then there's the ubiquitous "best interests of the child" shibboleth that Japanese courts use to justify child abduction by Japanese mothers.
For years the Japanese government has used the subjective phrase "best interest of the child" to justify abductions by its citizens and deny access to left-behind parents...  Typically in Japan,the judge individually defines "best interest" without standards or guidance, using the "best interest" of a child as a "catchall" to justify judicial rulings preventing the abducted child from being returned to the left-behind parent. In one reported case, custody of a child was given to a mother because the "best interest" analysis required that she live in a house with a Japanese garden, which the mother had and the left-behind father did not.
Here as elsewhere, "the best interests of the child" is a group of words in search of some meaning.  Here as elsewhere, the words are a thinly-veiled excuse for judicial or cultural bias.  Here as elsewhere, that bias is pro-mother and anti-father. There's little to suggest that Japan's signature on the already-proven-to-be-ineffective Hague Convention will make one bit of difference to its traditional mistreatment of fathers generally and non-Japanese fathers in particular. Maybe Michael Sanchez's idea isn't such a bad one after all.

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This interview with Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks is highly informative for several reasons (Salon.com, 9/4/11).  Broadly speaking, the topic is the institution of marriage in America, with special emphasis on the African-American community. The interview is interesting mostly because of Banks.  He's intelligent, knowledgeable, empathetic and nuanced in his understanding of his subject.  That puts him in stark contrast to his interviewer who comes to the interview armed with little more than a brand of ideology that should be all too familiar to those who follow debates about marriage and childrearing. The two together - Banks and his interviewer - give readers a pretty good view of those debates.  On one hand we have fact-based science; on the other we have opinion and the desire to alter people and society to conform to that opinion.  Banks respects the people he interviews; the Salon.com interviewer finds them lacking because their values fail to accord with his. So the question/answer format can sometimes feel like the intellectual equivalent of a minor auto accident.  It causes whiplash.  Still, for the insured, it's well worth the read. When Banks talks about the decline in marriage among everyone - whites and blacks - he's actually talking about the decline of stable intimate relationships whether married or not.
It's been the case since the 1960s. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about poorer African-Americans in the '60s -- you may be familiar with the Moynihan report, where he talked about the so-called breakdown of the family in inner city areas and the increase in single parent families among poor African-Americans. Since that time, the same developments have spread to the middle class. If you look at statistics overall, about 2 out of every 3 black women are unmarried. A minority of black men are married, as well. These figures are most pronounced among the poor, but they actually extend throughout the socioeconomic spectrum. College educated black women are about twice as likely to be unmarried as college educated white women by age 40.
Banks is interested in individual people and the impact on their lives of the marked changes in marriage rates over the last 40 or so years.  That is, he's more interested in adults than in children and more interested in individuals than in large populations.  That's where his empathy comes in.  He listens to what women say and reports it.
Women now have more freedom than ever to live life on their own or as they see fit because they're able to work and bring in an income, so they don't have to depend on men for economic support. The pressures to marry aren't as great and people can imagine not being married. At the same time, it is the case that most black women imagine their life with a partner. This is true for most people. They may not want to marry just anyone. They may not want to marry early. They may not be desperate to marry, but did they envision that they would be 35, unmarried, and childless? No. That wasn't the plan and it's not the life that women want, and black women in particular are not able to realize that desire.
But actually listening to the desires and aspirations of black women holds no interest for Salon.com's interviewer.  For him, the ideology that holds that marriage and children are measures meted out by a patriarchal society for the oppression of women is the only legitimate view of the matter.  So he asserts, "A lot of people would consider the notion that happiness and fulfillment is (sic) contingent on marriage and childrearing to be offensive and retrograde." Now of course Banks said no such thing, nor did he suggest that "happiness and fulfillment is contingent on marriage and childrearing."  That's strictly a product of the interviewer's imagination.  What Banks did was listen to and respect what the women said they desired.  They said they wanted marriage and children and were disappointed when they didn't get them.  To the interviewer, those values are "offensive and retrograde."  I wonder if the women know. It turns out that Banks, being an academic at Stanford, had some experience of his own with people who shared the interviewer's biases.  And in his circumspect, academic way, he dealt with them.
I've talked about this with a lot of academic white feminists at Stanford, and I've heard a lot of them ask, "Why do women need to be married? Why can't they have children on their own? And who am I to impose some moral code on women?" My response is that when I went out to interview people, I thought I was going to find a lot of black women who were so happy they didn't have to be married. But I didn't find that. To the people who say black women are leading the charge in being unmarried and we should applaud them rather than subject them to scrutiny, I would say they're really missing the experience that a lot of black women are having. A less charitable take is that it's doing a disservice to black women to manipulate their experience for the ideological ends of feminism.
In Banks's experience, feminists, when faced with women whose needs disagree with feminist ideology, toss the women over the side rather than alter that ideology.  As many people have pointed out before, ignoring actual women is a curious way to be an advocate for them.  It's particularly curious for a movement that claims to honor almost above everything else, the personal stories of (particularly minority) women.  But the interviewer isn't finished with his brief that marriage and children are tools of oppression.  Eschewing questions, he states, "If so much of these women's ideas about happiness are tied to marriage and motherhood, doesn't that suggest that our culture is putting too much value on those two things? " I don't have room to point out all the ways that statement doesn't make sense, so I'll just let Banks do it.
It would be ironic to make that characterization because there is so much less pressure now to marry or have children than ever. There was a time long ago when women in particular had no choice but to marry and have children. We're beyond that point now. The overwhelming majority of people do want to have children because they do want to nurture a young person and project themselves into the next generation. I think an even larger number of people want to have a partner. Maybe they don't when they're in college or just after college, but as they get older, most people tend to want to have an ongoing, intimate relationship with someone. In every civilization we know of, there has been a relationship that was something like marriage, so I get a bit impatient when people talk about marriage as though this is a social construction that is oppressing people and we should just cast it off -- because the issue is not formal marriage, the issue is that people want a partner.
The Salon.cominterviewer is happy to flaunt his misandry.  When confronted by Banks with the fact that young black women have surpassed young black men educationally and economically, his question "how could that possibly be a bad thing?" accomplishes little more than to reveal his bias. Likewise, Banks gives him the information that, in couples in which the man earns less than the woman, both sexes are discomfited by the fact.  But the interviewer is impervious to the fact that women aren't comfortable in such a relationship, having a preconceived notion of the man as the primary breadwinner.  To him, there's only one wrongdoer in any relationship and it's the one with the Y chromosome.
To me, the fact that so many men can't handle women outearning them points to a crisis of masculinity more than anything else.
Well, that may be true, but if he'd pay attention to the rather well-known facts, he'd have to conclude that there's equally a crisis of femininity, but his worldview has no room for facts that contradict his precious preconceived notions. Given that the interviewer has plainly drunk the Kool-Aid of women's studies programs, it's no surprise that his antipathy for men extends to marriage as well.
So many people have healthy, if not better, relationships outside of marriage -- so why care about the institution in the first place?
Of course, if he means to suggest that non-marital relationships are in some way healthier or better than married ones, in this country at least, he's just flat wrong.  In fact, non-marital unions are far more fragile than marital ones, breaking down much more rapidly.  But again, the interviewer has no intention of letting facts interfere with his opinions.  He's got his story and he's stickin' to it. Because Banks is more interested in adults and their relationships, he never even touches on the vast sea of data that tells us that children do better in married relationships between biological parents than in any other situation.  But it's interesting to note how powerful the motivations are to marry and procreate even after so many years of being told that both are "offensive and retrograde." The whole piece is a fascinating reflection of our ongoing debate about marriage, families and children.  It's a scene of scientific knowledge fighting to be heard over a din of radical ideology that's so wrong-headed as to ignore the desires and aspirations of women "for their own good."

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Joyce Winston has opened what's thought to be the first neighborhood walk-in DNA testing lab.  Read about it here (New Haven Independent, 7/22/11). Winston, it seems was involved with two separate men at different times who discovered, long after they'd accepted a child as theirs, that someone else was actually the father.  Entrepreneur that she is, that gave Winston an idea.
Winston said it"s just as important for a man to know that he"s not the father as to learn that he is.
"There are a lot of different situations where the father found out after he had a child that the child wasn"t his,' and yet he still had legal responsibility for the child, said Winston, who"s 39. Fathers who acknowledge paternity officially or ignore legal notices of paternal responsibility often have great difficulty undoing that determination--despite a negative paternity test.
"We want to make it so fathers can get testing early on before it gets to that situation,' she said.
So her store front walk-in lab promises results within 48 hours.  For people who can't afford the $400 price tag, she offers time payments and discounts.  The woman's on a mission to do what states should have started requiring long ago - genetic testing of every child and putative father to establish actual paternity early in a child's life. Winston's New Haven community has noticed and applauded.
"When I saw the sign I thought, `Go progress,"' said Dresha Grier, who owns an eponymous hair salon around the corner from the clinic. "Why go through the waiting and the overpaying when you can find out right here in the community?'
Steven Stewart, 54, who sells newspapers across the street from the clinic, praised the location. "It"s the right spot--across the street from a high school in the ‘hood, as they say,' Stewart said, adding that a paternity test "can provide a lot of closure on a tough subject.'
Willie Penn, 44, and Greg Carter, 45, who were visiting a relative who lives down the block from the clinic, said there is definitely a need for such testing.
"A lot of my friends found out when their children were 20 or 25 years old they were not the father,' Penn said. "At the point the baby was born they didn"t bother to find out because they didn"t want to disrespect the mother. But it"s better to know at the beginning.'
Carter agreed: "Little kids become part of your life. You develop a bond and then you find out you"re not the father. It"s hard.'
...Lance Carpenter also had a personal reaction to the clinic across the street from where he sells newspapers alongside Stewart. The former Marine said he never knew who his father was. "My mother told me three different men were my daddy,' Carpenter recalled. The 54-year-old said he made sure he knew he was the father of his four children. "People should know about their background,' he said, adding "we need it in the community.'
All of that is important in a state like Connecticut that makes it hard for men to "reopen" a case if they acknowledged paternity at the hospital or in court.  I wrote recently about the procedures used by Connecticut courts and, once a man claims he's the father, he's pretty much stuck with that decision irrespective of genetics. Basically, the courts look to how long he's been involved in the child's life and whether the child looks at him as his father.  If so, the court will be loath to overturn the man's previous acknowledgement. On the surface, that looks to be, if not fair to the father, at least fair to the child.  After all, why rip up a child's relationship with its father based on DNA?  The child neither knows nor cares about that; he/she only cares about continuing the love and care of the man called "Daddy." That of course makes sense until you realize that we daily contradict that very precept - that stability for the child is all-important.  Indeed we do so thousands of times a day.  It's called divorce. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in the year preceding its 2009 American Community Survey, over 1 million children's parents divorced.  In every one of those cases, a child's life was torn apart, its world turned upside down by the simple fact that (in 84% of those cases) he/she wouldn't be seeing much of Daddy any more. Moreover, many of the mothers of those children remarried, if not sooner then later.  In so doing, they brought into the child's life another man who the child didn't think of as "Daddy," but who would try to play that role.  And of course the child's previous "Daddy" was marginalized by the entire process of divorce and custody that left him an every-other-weekend visitor with the child. Was that upsetting to the child?  You bet it was.  Time and again we learn and relearn the profound emotional/psychological effects divorce has on children.  That's partly due to divorce itself and partly to the loss of their father.  However it's done, children suffer when their parents split up. We would never dream of restricting parents' rights to divorce and remarriage.  That's true despite the fact that all the arguments against allowing a man to opt out of his role as father when he learns he's not the dad are equally valid against divorce and remarriage.  Those arguments carry the day in the former case but are considered too strange to even mention in the latter.  All of which is to say that, for men and for children, it's far better to do genetic testing as soon as possible.  Finding out the truth about paternity prevents a host of problems, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and sometimes permanent emotional trauma down the road.  States should require it at the birth of every child. Failing that, stop by Joyce Winston's testing lab.  It's right there on the street.  Whatever the results, you'll be glad you did.

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Dear Fathers and Families' Grandparents: Along with you, I am proud to say I am one of Fathers and Families' grandparents.  We are among Fathers and Families' strongest advocates for our children and grandchildren, and we have been at the center of many of our legislative victories. The best way to honor us on Grandparents Day is to make a gift to Fathers and Families. Ask those who wish to honor you to make a gift, because when your son loses custody of his children, you lose too. We represent one-third of the population, with 1.7 million new grandparents added to our ranks each year.  Grandparents lead 37% of all U.S. households.  President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day.  Carter wrote: Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us. During the hearings on our shared parenting bill in Massachusetts, a pediatrician testified about the importance of grandparents and the extended family to children:  Children need to know they have two parents and an extended family that includes paternal grandparents, aunts, and cousins. These relatives have traditionally been excluded and even demonized when Courts automatically determined that children belong with their mothers, with their fathers as occasional visitors. Ask all who celebrate National Grandparents Day to celebrate it with a gift to the one organization that is advocating for your children"s and grandchildren"s best interests – Fathers and Families. To give, please visit www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. Together with you in the love of our children and grandchildren, Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. P.S.  In an upcoming newsletter, Fathers and Families will print the names of grandparents honored with a gift for National Grandparents Day.

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Our society's double standard on domestic violence is like the Energizer Bunny; it just keeps going and going and going. For a couple of weeks or so, this ad for a Canadian hair salon raised hackles and cries of anguish around the world (The Nerve, 8/31/11).  Canadians, British, Australians and Americans all vied to see who could sound the most outraged.  The general plaint was that the ad glorifies domestic violence, which to my mind it doesn't.

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The State of Utah is poised to pilfer yet another child from yet another fit father.  Read about it here (Salt Lake Tribune, 9/6/11). This time it's Floridian Ramsey Shaud who's the victim of a state that makes no secret of its antipathy for single fathers.  There are plenty of states that make the adoption of a single father's child against his wishes a simple matter.  But none comes close to Utah's astonishing disdain for paternal rights and due process of law.  We've seen some real doozies in the past, but Shaud's case may be the worst yet. As assiduous readers of this blog will remember, Kevin O'Dey's girlfriend first lied to him that she'd miscarried to throw him off the adoption trail.

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photo-of-paul-robinson-jrDavid L. Levy, Esq., a co-founder and longtime president of the Children's Rights Council, has written us with the sad news that children's advocate Paul Robinson (pictured) recently passed away at the age of 88. From David L. Levy:

Paul Robinson, the beloved, long time advocate for children and custody reform, has died after a long illness in northern Virginia. Paul leaded Fathers United for Equal Rights and Women's Coalition for more than 30 years. He held regular meetings of his support group at a church in northern Virginia every two weeks, and helped thousands of dads, moms and grandparents who attended those meetings to help their children and grandchildren.

Paul also gave enormous time and energy in meetings with individual parents, and going with them to court when necessary. He also opened his home as a "halfway house" for parents to live in from time to time, in their hour of most desperate need.

After my separation from my first wife, I immediately realized that I needed help. I was a copyright lawyer, but knew nothing about custody. This was about 31 years ago. I found out about Paul's support group and started attending meetings. At the meetings, I met John Bauserman Sr., Michael L. Oddenino, Elliott Diamond, and others who became the nucleus of the Children's Rights Council. Paul's group became a chapter of CRC. he attended all of our 16 national conferences, and other CRC events.

On a personal note, Paul could spot a phony a mile away. During the course of any non-profit organization, there are always people who do not understand the mission and try to cheat the organization. Paul would spot them and interrogate them mercilessly to get at the truth. It is his absolutely honest, straight-arrow approach to life, and integrity, as well as his unflagging commitment to helping reform the legal system in this country, that I and those who loved him so much will most remember.

The memorial service for Paul Robinson was held at the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke, Virginia -- a church Paul helped to found 30 years ago. Perhaps 100 people were there -- family, friends, and divorced parents.

Paul's younger brother David gave the family background, explaining why Paul was so interested in social justice, determined, and a capable flyer of small planes from age 16.

Speakers included other family members, neighbors, CRC members, and representatives from Fathers United for Equal Rights and Women's Coalition, which Paul ran for more than 30 years. Paul's mother was known for feeding strangers who came to her door in the early 1900's, sometimes inviting them to sleep in the family's basement; but she would ask them to work for an hour or two. That must be where Paul got his idea of opening his own house to parents going through ruinous custody battles, inviting them to stay there for weeks or months at a time.

Common threads of Paul's life were devotion to his family and his pursuit of the truth and facts, often asking people, "What do you mean by that?" and "How do you know that?"

God Bless You, Paul.

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Here's news of still more research showing the value of fathers to children (LifeSite News, 9/9/11).  The new data come from a long-term study conducted on children in Quebec.  The study found that children with hands-on fathers had fewer emotional/psychological problems and higher IQs than those with absent fathers.
The study carried out by Erin Pougnet, a PhD candidate in the Concordia University Department of Psychology, and associates, used data from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, an intergenerational longitudinal data set collected in inner city areas of Montreal...
One hundred and thirty-eight children and their parents from lower to middle income backgrounds participated in two waves of data collection: at ages 3 to 5, and again at 9 to 13 years old.
The children were given IQ tests, while their mothers completed questionnaires on spousal conflict and the home environment.
The children"s teachers contributed to the research by observing and reporting the child"s behavior at school.
"Teachers were a somewhat more independent source of information than mothers, fathers or children themselves,' Pougnet said in a press release from Concordia University, "because a father"s absence can result in home conflict, maternal distress and child distress.'
The study found that, "Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older -- even among socio-economically at-risk families...'
The study also found that girls were more affected by absent fathers than boys.
"Girls whose fathers were absent during their middle childhood had significantly higher levels of emotional problems at school than girls whose fathers were present,' said Pougnet.
It's the study, not the results, that's news.  We've known this for decades now, and much more about the value of fathers to children.  We've known, for example, that a father's active presence provides benefits to children across all socio-economic strata.  In fact, whatever the race, religion, class or geographical location, father presence helps and father absence hurts. And what that means - or should mean - is that governments and courts should be bending heaven and earth to make sure that fathers take an active role in their children's upbringing.  Not surprisingly, that's exactly the message the researchers in the Quebec study want to convey.
The research team suggests that the findings of their study not only contribute to the body of research connecting fathers and childhood development, but should also be used by governments to establish policies that support the role of fathers in their families and society.
"These findings add to the increasing body of literature suggesting that fathers make important contributions to their children"s cognitive and behavioural functioning,' the report concludes, "and point to the benefits of developing policies that encourage fathers to spend time with their children (i.e., parental leave for men) and promote positive fathering and involvement through parenting courses.'
Of course that last sentence is a bit paltry.  After all, the reason there aren't more fathers actively involved in their children's lives isn't the lack of parental leave for men or too few parenting courses.  Those would be nice I suppose, but they hardly go to the heart of the problem of children without fathers. No, if you want to get at that problem, you have to profoundly change the behavior of mothers and family court judges.  Someone might point out to the researchers that a man can't be an active dad when a court has barred him from all contact with his child due to false allegations by the child's mother.  So one place to start would be to make mothers prove that fathers have actually posed a risk to a child in the past before denying or limiting contact.  They should be required to do so with actual, verifiable evidence as opposed to just their say-so.  The risk should be of actual violence, instead of some vague claim of being placed "in fear." As we've recently learned, in the late 1990s Oregon amended its family law to promote joint custody, but the effort entirely failed.  Why?  Domestic violence claims by mothers against fathers.  Attorney's have for years pointed out that allegations of violence and abuse are now routinely made for the sole purpose of gaining the upper hand in custody matters.  And why not?  Those claims, when made by mothers, work like a charm, as indeed they must given the astonishingly low levels of "proof" required to get a court order separating a child from its father. But even in the absence of false claims of abuse, fathers are still denied any meaningful parenting time with their children as a matter of course.  I've pointed out many times that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1993, 84.2% of custodial parents were mothers.  By 2007, that figure stood at 83.6%.  In short, despite a mountain of evidence promoting fathers' involvement with children, courts haven't changed in the least.  Now, the researchers say that even fathers who don't live with their kids can have a positive effect on them.  That may be true, but surely we can all agree that fathers with more contact with their children have a better chance of having that effect than fathers who see their kids for two days every two weeks, the standard "visitation" schedule. But custody and false abuse allegations aren't the only reasons dads don't see their kids.  As I've pointed out many times, our legal system gives Mom the power to decide whether Dad will get to see or even know about his child.  Until we start requiring mothers to inform fathers about their children and give them the opportunity to be the type of parents the Quebec researchers describe, fathers and children will remain separate. And then there's the matter of education.  When and where in all our systems of education, whether at home or in schools or elsewhere, do we tell girls that, when they grow up, it's not OK to use their legal power to remove Dad from his child's life?  When do we tell them that maternal gatekeeping is morally wrong? The answers are obvious; we never tell girls that.  Indeed, we tell them the opposite.  As long as the legal system gives mothers a free pass to lie, commit paternity fraud, etc., the message to all is loud and clear. Then there are the politicians who call loudly for "responsibility" on the part of fathers.  Translation:  if dads weren't so worthless, this "absent father" problem would be solved.  The great irony is that it's not the dads who are irresponsible (although surely many are), but the politicians who want to pretend they're addressing the problem while ignoring the hard changes required to actually bring fathers and children together.   Face it, privileged mothers and absent fathers go hand in hand.  Until we admit that fact and change our laws, millions of children will go to sleep every night wondering where their fathers are.  And those same children will grow up to be less happy, less secure and less intellectually developed than they could be. As Walter Cronkite used to say, "and that's the way it is." Thanks to Mike for the heads-up.

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In Canada, mothers who kill their newborns rarely if ever serve prison time for their crimes.  That's what this article quotes a defense attorney as saying and a judge agreeing about (Edmonton Journal, 9/10/11). It seems that Katrina Effert was 19 when she gave birth to her boyfriend's child.  She was living with her parents, concealed her pregnancy from them and gave birth alone in their basement.  She then strangled the child and tossed it over the back fence.  She at first told the police she was a virgin and then told them she'd given the child to her boyfriend. That was back in 2005.  Hauled into court, Effert was convicted of second-degree murder, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.  She was convicted again, by another jury, but once more the conviction was overturned. She's now been convicted of infanticide and sentenced to three years probation.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Joanne Veit called Effert's actions "a classic infanticide case -- the killing of a newborn after a hidden pregnancy by a mother who was alone and unsupported."

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The news media don't often get it right about fathers, children and family courts, but when they do, I like to say so.  In this article, Mike Brunker of MSNBC nails just about all of the important points about child support and the jailing of dads who are too poor to pay (MSNBC, 9/11/11).  The piece includes much of what's appeared in the Fathers and Families blog over the years, so it's not exactly new, but the fact that MSNBC is running it is itself newsworthy. Brunker's chief concern is that parents (overwhelmingly fathers) who are too poor to pay support, nevertheless are found to be "in willful contempt" of court and are sent to jail.  There they can't work, can't earn, can't see their kids and all the while their indebtedness increases. He cites cases familiar to most people who follow this issue.  Randy Miller, the Iraq war veteran, who paid regularly until he lost his job, has been in the news a lot.  He's so far spent 90 days behind bars for the crime of poverty.  When he went inside, his bank account showed less than a $2.00 balance. Brunker also gives us the excellent Sarah Geraghty, a Georgia attorney who fights for parents behind on their support payments.  Geraghty compares imprisonment of the indigent for child support to debtor's prisons of the 1800s that Dickens described in Little Dorrit.  Of course many of us believed those to have been outlawed long ago, but Geraghty knows better.
"I try very carefully not to exaggerate, but I do think that"s an apt comparison,' said Sarah Geraghty, the attorney handling the Georgia case for the Southern Center for Human Rights.
"And I think anyone who went down and watched one of these proceedings would agree with me. … You see a room full of indigent parents -- most of them African-American -- and you have a judge and attorney general, both of whom are white. The hearings often take only 15 seconds. The judge asks, ‘Do you have any money to pay?" the person pleads and the judge says, ‘OK you"re going to jail,"' she added.
That's a scene few people envisage when thinking about child support indebtedness and those who go to jail because of it.  The news is full of "deadbeat dads" with plenty of money who don't pay support because they're irresponsible.  That's the narrative we've come to accept and there are just enough of those parents to keep the myth alive.  What we never seem to see in the news are the people Geraghty sees every day - the poor who will never have the resources to pay in full and who go to jail because of it. Those people often don't have a lawyer to represent them and now, with the Supreme Court's decision in Turner v. Rogers, states know they don't have to provide an attorney for those too poor to hire one themselves.  Up until Turnerwas decided, only six states refused to appoint representation to indigent child support contemnors.  But with state budgets growing ever tighter, it will surprise no one if other states follow suit.  After all, the Supreme Court has told them they don't need to pay attorneys to represent the poor in child support cases, so why would they? The Court's majority opnion in Turnerdemonstrates no comprehension of the everyday realities of the process that Geraghty describes.  According to Justice Breyer who wrote the opinion, it's acceptable for states to rely on judges to make the type of inquiry necessary to ensure that only those truly able to pay go to jail.  No lawyer is required.  Breyer imagined an in-depth investigation by the judge of a father's ability to pay, replete with explanations of the man's rights, etc.  Breyer should get out more.  The reality that Geraghty sees every day is a 15-second "hearing" that has one goal - to get the case off the court's docket and the father behind bars.  Not surprisingly, both are accomplished in the blink of an eye. And that's one of the most interesting things about Brunker's article.  Like the contrast between the reality of child support contempt cases versus the one imagined by the Supreme Court majority, Brunker contrasts that reality with what those who support the current system would have us believe. Compare Geraghty's statement quoted above with this:
Judge Janice M. Rosa, a supervising court judge in New York"s 8th Judicial District and a board member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said the system in her state adequately protects non-custodial parents by guaranteeing them a court-appointed lawyer if they cannot afford one and carefully determining that they have the ability to pay.
"No one here is going to jail when a factory closes down and you"re one of hundreds looking for a job,' she said. "… Every state has said that debtors" prisons are illegal, and you have to give these people a way out. You can only put them in jail if they have money and won"t pay.'
Hmm.  Well, maybe in her court that's true, but not in the ones Geraghty sees.  But of course Rosa is a judge; what are the chances she'll admit to ignoring a father's inability to pay and sending him to jail just to keep the line of cases moving?  My guess is they're not good. Even in states that appoint lawyers for indigent parents, those without the ability to pay can still go to jail.
A 2009 study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank in Washington, D.C., found that only half of the child support debtors in California prisons had reported income in the two preceding years. And the median net income of the others was a mere $2,881.
That dovetails with data from the Office of Child Support Enforcement that show that 63% of all child support debtors (not just those in jail) reported yearly income of $10,000 or less. The same OCSE report excoriates judges for setting child support payments too high in the first place, a practice Geraghty has seen first-hand.
Geraghty, the Southern Center for Human Rights attorney, said part of the problem is that courts often order poor parents to pay too much for child support in the first place, increasing the likelihood that they will fall behind on payments.
"One of my former clients worked at the Piggly Wiggly (supermarket) and they were taking 65 percent of her paycheck,' she said. "It left her in a position where there was simply no way that she could survive on the amount that she had left.'
And it's not like the threat of prison has much effect.  Oh, I'm sure it does for those parents who really can pay but don't.  But those are the exceptions; the rule is otherwise.  As I've reported before, every six months, the State of New Jersey conducts a "sweep" of child support debtors.  That is, police and sheriff's departments get arrest warrants and go out and haul in parents behind on their payments.  Usually they arrest close to 1,000 parents. But, faced with jail or payment, those parents produce one cent on the dollar owed.  The most recent sweep grossed payments of one percent; the previous one took in 1.1%, strongly suggesting that those arrested simply didn't have the money to pay. The entire child support industry is far more complicated than the news would like us to believe.  Thanks to Mike Brunker and MSNBC for doing much to educate the public and dispel the myths. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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A new Texas alimony law went into effect this month, and it isn't friendly to alimony obligors. Changes include:

1)    Longer payment periods. 2)    Recipient is no longer required to look for work or get career counseling. The only requirement now is that they show they need alimony to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. 3)    Limits on levels of payment has been raised. 4)    Makes an exception for DV victims, who now need not provide proof that they need alimony to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. Family law attorney Moises Rios gives the details here. It should be noted that Texas alimony law generally has been fairer to obligors than those of most states, and is certainly more equitable than Massachusetts, California, or Florida law.

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Here'sa blog by a non-custodial mother who gets it.  Sophia Van Buren shows every sign of being the type of divorced parent I wish was the only kind.  On this blog, the stories sometimes seem endless.  The stories of decent, loving fathers done dirt by a family law system that often seems to care not a whit for the wellbeing of children, mothers or fathers come to us every day.  We've taken on the enormous job of combating that system that's rife with injustice, inequality, hypocrisy and downright unreason. But most of what we deal with is what makes the news.  They're the outrageous cases, the system gone spectacularly wrong, judges, litigants, experts run amok.  They're also the exception.  As plenty of data show, the huge majority of divorce and custody cases don't make the papers because adult parents sit down across from each other and agree on what's to be done.  Then they stick to their agreements.  Now, I've pointed out many times that those agreements are made in the context of a family law system that routinely shortchanges dads and their children.  So the agreements reflect, not the ideal of post-divorce parenting, but what dads think they can wrest from a system deployed against them. The truth is that when it comes to child custody, mothers rule; they know it and so do their attorneys; fathers know it and so do theirs.  The not unexpected result is that, when resentment runs its highest, as it does in custody matters, mothers can and do game the system to their perceived benefit.  This is not news. That's why I'd like as many people as possible to read Van Buren's blog on what it's like to be a non-custodial mother.  If all mothers and all fathers had her sense of balance, fairness and flexibility, Fathers and Families would go happily out of business. A couple of caveats.  First, on her blog, we only hear Van Buren's side of things.  Her ex-husband has no voice.  So according to her, their divorce was her husband's fault; he was a two-faced, cheating so-and-so.  Well, I know enough about human relationships to suspect there's more to the story than that, but we have no way to get more. Second, exactly how her ex came to be the parent with primary custody remains distressingly vague.  After all, according to Van Buren, she did everything right, he did everything wrong, so how is it that he gets custody?  I'd like more on that subject. Third, Van Buren describes herself as a non-custodial mother, but never mentions child support.  She seems to be quite content with their custodial arrangement, but never lets on about whether she pays her ex every week or two and if she does, how much. But those are quibbles.  I can live with her gray areas because she understands the need for a child to maintain a relationship with its father post-divorce.  Above all, she's a mother who's been able to set aside her own deeply-felt need for sole parenthood, let the dad into the child's post-divorce life and understand that her own post-divorce life is an opportunity, not a burden.  In short, she's the type of parent, male or female, who makes shared parenting work.  We need more like her. Van Buren was a stay-at-home mother - in spades.  Her identity was wrapped up in motherhood and when working mothers dropped their kids off at her house for play dates, she felt no envy rather a smug sense of superiority.  She was the mother who was doing things right; she was the mother wholly devoted to her kids.
I stayed home with my children, first when they were babies, then as toddlers.  I bought the latest Baby Einstein crib mobiles and educational toys.  I never forgot to pack an extra hat and kept an ample supply of organic graham crackers in the diaper bag.  I would spend hours researching what kind of diapers or sunscreen to buy.  I made baby food and froze it in convenient serving sizes in the ice cube tray.  I subscribed to Family Fun magazine.  I felt confident in my role of Super Mama for over eight years.
Van Buren was body and soul a mother.  She lived and breathed that reality, that role, that self. But she discovered her husband's infidelity about the same time he lost his job because of it (how that happened, she doesn't explain).  That meant not only divorce, but a radical shift in how she lived.  She had to go to work. Meanwhile, her husband who was no longer going to the office every day, found childcare to his liking.  So the pair split up, but since she was earning and he wasn't, he kept the kids.  Soon enough, they were sitting across from each other deciding that he would have the kids weekdays and she weekends.  It was a simple arrangement that fit both their schedules. Eventually, her ex remarried and his new wife liked his children and seems to be a perfectly sensible, loving step-mom. But all of that was an assault on Van Buren's sense of herself as mother first and everything else second.
Unfortunately, I failed to see the repercussions of what amounted to a handshake deal.  Our new set up would come to tear at the very fabric of my concept of motherhood and my identity.  I also hadn"t thought ahead about how other people would view me as a woman and mother.
There it is - not only the value she placed on motherhood, but the importance attached to it by others - friends, relatives, neighbors - by society, by popular culture.  Freeing herself from that was a steep hill to climb and would be for any mother.  It requires a shift in one's values and one's self-concept.  Here's how Van Buren did it.
I asked myself -- what if being a responsible and good mother now means that I need to work outside the home instead of flipping pancakes and shuttling the kids to school and practice every day? Ultimately, I decided that it was my turn to bring home the bacon, and their father"s turn to be the caregiver.  I decided that I would have to let go of what everyone else would think and pay attention to what my children"s practical needs were instead.
In short, she's a mother who put her children's needs before her own.  When she did that, it was easy enough to refigure her own role.  She was no longer the stay-at-home, but the go-to-work mom and that's what was best for her kids at that time.  Far from abandoning her nurturing role, she was reinventing it in another form, a form that fit her and her ex's situations and her children's needs. Again I say, if all divorcing parents were as child-centered and sensible as Van Buren, we'd all be so much better off.  Shared parenting would work the way it's supposed to. As if to prove the point,  Van Buren's blog recently received an email from a woman she calls Melissa.  Melissa is divorced and she's upset about the fact that her daughter who's three and a half has taken to calling her step-mother "Mommy."  Melissa thinks that title rightly belongs to her and wants Van Buren's advice. Here it is and it should be emblazoned on the wall of every family court in the country:
"Melissa, let me ask you this question -- how is whatever name your child calls her stepmother adversely affecting the well-being of this child?
That's a woman with her eye on the ball.  She knows what's important and what isn't.  She knows it and she puts it into practice.
At this point, I encourage you to always use this lens to judge matters involving your kids and your situation.  Again, it's very difficult and it will take a while to get used to it, but that's what I've taught myself to do and I really believe it is a big reason why my kids are well-adjusted, when, on paper, you would think that they would be torn in half.
It's how shared parenting works.  It's the best we can do for children of divorce.

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Much like Los Angeles County, it's now Arizona's turn to hide the doings of CPS from public scrutiny.  Read about it here (Arizona Republic, 9/14/11). Not long ago, I reported here on the Los Angeles County child welfare agency, the Department of Children and Family Services, that has given the one-finger salute to the state auditor who's asking for records on child fatalities.  Never mind that the state legislature has specifically empowered the auditor to look into the activities of child welfare agencies in three separate counties.  Never mind that she unquestionably has the power to do the job the legislature gave her.  Never mind that LA County's DCFS hasn't a legal leg to stand on

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