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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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Everyday people know a lot more about children's needs after their parents divorce than family court judges do.

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For ten of those years the state has known the child isn't Harbin's, but it's keep up the harassment anyway.

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The disconnect between family judges and the people whose cases they adjudicate grows more apparent by the day.

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In county after county nationwide, caseloads far exceed standards for the profession. Given that fact alone, we guarantee that errors will occur and children will be injured, neglected and even killed because of it.

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The Tennessee Supreme Court makes sense about alimony in this case.

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Michigan family law may be poised to take one very small step in the right direction, led by dad Daniel Quinn.

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A 12-year study by the American Bar Association found Parental Alienation in 60% of custody cases.  That's just one of the many remarkable aspects of this article on PAS (Psych Central, 9/2011). The article, by Richard Zwolinski, is excellent for a number of reasons.  First, he understands his topic and conveys his information in a way that's neither too technical and advanced nor too elementary.  Second, it's got a number of good links.  The linked-to video toward the end of the article should definitely be seen, particularly by PAS deniers.

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Human beings are a bi-parental species; we're biologically engineered for both parents to take part in childcare.  We know this because both sexes have hormonal responses to pregnancy and childbirth.  And yet we as a society continue to resist paternal equality in childcare.  Those facts raise some obvious questions.  This is a good article (Babble.com, 7/11/11).  It takes a stab at answering the question "why do mothers resist turning over childcare to fathers?"  And just by asking it, the writer shows she's far ahead of many others who write about that issue but can't read themselves out of the 'mothers good/dads bad' narrative that's so common. It was just a couple of years ago that Parenting Magazine did an online hatchet-job on fathers.

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Michael Chekevdia has custody of his son, but with the end of the criminal case against the boy's mother, the question arises "For how long?"  Read the latest here (San Antonio Express-News, 9/20/11). Back in 2007, Shannon Wilfong abducted her son by Chekevdia during a custody dispute and shortly after Chekevdia had been granted temporary custody.  The boy was five years old at the time.  For two years, she hid the boy in a 5 foot x 12 foot crawl space in her mother's house.
The home's windows were blocked off with shades or other items, and a judge found the boy was deprived of contact with peers, medical care and education. Testimony later revealed the boy was allowed outside only at night or in a fenced-in area not visible to passers-by.
The child lived most of his life indoors.  He didn't attend school.  His social life consisted almost exclusively of contact with his mother and grandmother. Meanwhile, his father searched frantically for him.  Two years after his abduction, he was found in his grandmother's home and placed first in foster care and then gradually returned to his father.  Chekevdia is a former police officer and a lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard. It took months for him to be permanently reunited with his son.  That's because Wilfong, once she was apprehended, claimed he'd abused him.  No evidence of abuse by Chekevdia has ever been produced and no court, police agency, medical provider, child welfare agency or indeed anyone else has ever found him to have abused his son. Wilfong and her mother, Diane Dobbs were each charged with various criminal offenses, and those have finally reached an end with a plea bargain.
Shannon Wilfong, 32, pleaded guilty Monday in Franklin County to five misdemeanors, including obstructing a peace officer. Wilfong was sentenced to $1,500 in fines and 30 days in jail -- a judge credited her with time she already has served -- on that count and fines of $100 on each of four counts of unlawful interference with child visitation.
Wilfong's mother, Diane Dobbs, also pleaded guilty to obstruction and escaped additional jail time when the judge credited her with the 12 days she'd already been behind bars. Dobbs, 53, was fined $1,000.
I'd say those sentences send a definite message.  It goes something like this: "Parental child abduction is no big deal.  We'd prefer that you not do it, but if you do, the consequences to you will not be serious.  So by all means abduct your child.  You might not get caught and if you do, all we'll give you is a tap on the wrist." The prosecutor that agreed to that plea bargain and the judge who approved it might want to read some of the science on parental child abduction that pointedly calls it child abuse.  If they had, maybe they'd have taken Wilfong's abuse of her son more seriously.  As it stands, they've told Wilfong and all other mothers thinking about doing what she did, that they might as well go ahead. The scientific literature on parental child abduction is not ambiguous.  It clearly shows that children abducted by their parents are profoundly affected by the experience.  That's for a number of reasons.  One is the personality of the abducting parent who tends toward the narcissistic desire to have the child all to herself and to have the child live entirely for the parent. A parent like that is going to be a problem for any child whether abducted or not.  But the fact that abducted children lose all their other sources of support and stability makes the situation far worse.  They no longer go to the same school, associate with the same friends, attend the same church, doctor, etc.  Abducted children lose their extended families.   They have to hide out, and come to see every person other than the abducting parent as a potential threat.  Perhaps most importantly, they lose the non-abducting parent. In short, it's no way for a child to live and not surprisingly, abduction can have profound and long-lasting emotional/psychological consequences for the child. I suppose none of that occurred to the prosecutor or the judge.  My guess is they missed the irony of the situation too.  Shannon Wilfong claimed she abducted the child to prevent his abuse by his father; that abuse never happened, but by abducting the boy, she abused him.  Her abuse of her son lasted two years, a long time in the life of a five-year-old. Shannon Wilfong punished Michael Wilfong for two long years.  Once caught, the legal system punished her barely at all. As if to reinforce the message that parental child abduction shouldn't be taken very seriously, it looks like Wilfong will be able to have visitation with the boy in the near future.
Dobbs said the case's "dragging on" in court spurred Monday's guilty pleas, which she said would allow Wilfong to seek visitation with the boy she hasn't seen in four months.
"She wants to start getting a life with her son," the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan quoted Dobbs as saying. "We just want Shannon and (the child) reunited."
My guess is that she won't have much trouble.  Once that happens, the ways are many in which she can marginalize Chekevdia in the life of his son, and they're all nice and legal too.  A couple of spurious allegations of child abuse, coupled with demands for maternal custody should do the trick. We'll see.

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Just when I thought it was safe to come out from under the bed, I run across this (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 9/20/11). It's an article about Linda Hirshman in which the old-guard feminist reprises a lot of the claims, concepts and attitudes that have put the movement in such bad odor over the years.  Hirshman's older but no wiser; she still just doesn't get it. The "it" she doesn't get is respect for her own sex, i.e. women.  As a feminist, you'd think she'd at least take a stab at honoring the choices made by women as long as they're legal and at least arguably constructive in some way.  But no, for Hirshman, any life choice a woman makes that's not working for a living, all day every day, just isn't legitimate.  (That she's arguing for women to behave more like men seems to never occur to Hirshman.)  Her real beef is with mothers who opt out of paid work in favor of doing childcare. Hirshman, it seems, interviewed women for a book she was writing and didn't like what they told her.
And while most of the affluent well-educated women she interviewed had worked full time after college, they left high-powered jobs to stay at home full-time when they began having children, a choice she calls self-destructive and self-defeating.
True.  Those women would be like the ones in the numerous studies of highly educated women who do just that.  Studies I'm aware of include those of graduates of the University of Michigan Law School, the University of Chicago MBA program and three of graduates in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curricula.  Like Hirshman's interviewees, they started out working full time and then dropped out in whole or in part when children came along. Of course those women are among the most intelligent, highly educated ones anywhere in the country.  So it's remarkable the disdain Hirshman has for them.  Face it, if she can't muster a bit of respect for women like that, what must she think of the rest of womankind? "Self-destructive and self-defeating?"  I wonder what those women said when Hirshman mentioned her low opinion of them.  Of course she did no such thing; she reserved that for her book.  But I suspect Hirshman's not just being tactful; cowardly is more like it.  She didn't want to confront these women for fear of being contradicted with intelligent, well thought out responses.  That approach makes it easier to maintain opinions that one cherishes but are less well-reasoned.  Such in any case is my guess. After all, those women might have the type of well-formed ideas you'd expect of anyone with their education.  They might think that working for a living is fine and necessary but one-dimensional.  They might have told Hirshman that they were powerfully motivated to bear and rear children and that personal fulfillment for them was hard or impossible without that.  They might have said that bearing a child and then turning it over to daycare at the earliest possible time thwarts one of the greatest reasons for having it in the first place - the caring for an infant of your own flesh and blood.  But Hirshman didn't want to hear it. Since Hirshman is coming at the whole work/life balance debate from an exclusively ideological standpoint, it's no surprise that she gets a lot of things wrong.
Hirshman, who"s married with three children and seven grandchildren, argues that opting out makes a woman completely financially dependent on her husband and reduces her lifetime earning potential if she returns to work. It prevents her from sharing her knowledge, skills and talents with the world, and from gaining more workplace experience.
No and no.  Actually, opting out is almost always temporary.  SAHMs tend to stay home when the kids are of pre-school age and, once they're out of the house, the mothers start opting back into paid work.  Yes, they've cut their lifetime earnings which means their retirement savings may not be as much.  But the notion that they're "completely financially dependent" on their husbands is absurd.  And since these women are unquestionably smart and educated, my guess is that they understand the financial consequences of their actions. Equally absurd is the idea that a mother's opting out of paid work to raise her kids "prevents her from sharing her knowledge, skills and talents with the world..."  Actually, that's precisely what parenting is.  Admittedly, parents don't do that "with the world," but next to no one else does either, so they're not exactly unique. One of the main claims of Women's Studies is the great value of listening to the personal stories (actually "herstories") of women and honoring their understanding of them.  As Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge point out in Professing Feminism,  for feminists in Women's Studies, women's narratives of their own experiences take precedence over virtually all else.  Not for Hirshman they don't.  For her, any woman with an opinion on work and motherhood different from hers is a dupe of the patriarchy.
Not surprisingly, many readers disagreed and blew up the blogosphere, defending their choices.
"I think that women did not like being told that they had chosen lesser lives. It"s understandable,' Hirshman says.
It is indeed.  That's partly because Hirshman takes it upon herself to judge the legitimate behavior of other women.  It's also because, by any stretch of the imagination, taking a balanced approach to paid work and childcare is imminently reasonable. As the Families and Work Institute reported not long ago, men much more than women suffer the stress of trying to balance the two.  And it's not just that men suffer more, the FWI analysis shows why they do.  It turns out that it is precisely work that's the culprit.  Women balance work and family in ways that are far more agreeable to them than do men.  They work less and parent more.  The none too subtle message seems to be that if men behaved more like women, they'd be less stressed. But Hirshman, if she's even aware of the data on the subject, isn't having any of it.  She wants women working.  Period.  If it means they're more stressed and less happy, that's their tough luck.  Big Sister has spoken. Now, the article doesn't mention it, but there's a great irony in a feminist like Hirshman excoriating women for failing to behave as she thinks they should.  Actually there are so many ironies I can't count them, but here's one:  Feminist Hirshman wants women to "opt out" of childcare, but every feminist organization I know of has consistently opposed even the slightest improvement in fathers' rights in family courts. Feminists don't want women to care for children and they don't want men to do it either.  I'm not sure who that leaves other than the state, but no one believes we're going there, so it's beginning to look like something in feminist ideology has to give. I've argued long and hard that what needs to go is their almost universal opposition to equal rights and equal treatment of fathers by laws and family courts.  That would help dads, it would help children and it would help women to take greater part in paid work.  It would also help feminism to be seen as less misandric than it has been for so many years. So where's the downside for feminists?  It's hard to see, but if Linda Hirshman's any indication, I won't expect good sense or rationality any time soon.

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The extent of illogic required to deny a fit father access to his child is often astonishing to behold, and this case is no exception.

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As I said recently, humans are a bi-parental species.  That means that nature equips both sexes for parenthood.  The exact process by which it does so is complex and far from completely understood, but suffice it to say that not all mammals are bi-parental.  Think about grizzly bears and African lions, for example.  Males of those species take no part in rearing young and are in fact dangerous to them Other species, from prairie voles to a vast array of primates including humans involve males to various degrees in parenting.  A little over 40% of mammal species are bi-parental while some 93% of birds are. I've reported before on an intriguing study of the levels of the hormones oestradiol, prolactin and cortisol in expecting parents.  The study was done back in 2001 and found that the fluctuations in those hormones that produce parenting behavior in other animals and that exist in pregnant women, are also found in those women's partners.  That is, the things that compel adults to care for children are present in both mothers and fathers. Now my understanding is that more recent research has undercut the findings of the 2001 study, but the question remains, given that humans are bi-parental, what is the biology of fathers' attachment to children? In evolutionary terms, the problem with bearing immature children who need a long time to come to sexual maturity is that they decrease the adults' chances of survival.  Immature offspring eat but don't kill.  They can't defend themselves or the group, they're slow, weak and uneducated in the arts of survival.  Pregnant and lactating females require far more calories to survive than do any other member of the group. So on one level, it makes no sense for adults to care for offspring.  And in fact, many or most reptiles do exactly that; once hatched, the kids are on their own.  But mammal babies, particularly human ones, require long periods of care before they can begin to reproduce.  Nature therefore equipped us and many other species with the biological apparatus to overcome our tendency to abandon our offspring.  The species wouldn't have gotten very far if it hadn't. This article delves into that apparatus in men (Babble.com, 9/23/10).  What strikes me most is how insufficient is the evidence of the precise mechanism by which nature recruits human fathers to the cause of childcare.  The author, Heather Turgeon, is a psychotherapist.  She noticed that, when she was pregnant and just after she gave birth, her husband changed to become more protective, not just of her and their child, but of others as well.  "He's a dad, and it has changed his brain."
The biology of fatherhood doesn't get much play -- dad manuals and parenting advice usually focus on how a man can support his partner and take care of her, so she can in turn take care of the baby. But it's becoming increasingly clear that being a dad (and even preparing to be a dad) programs men differently, down to the level of brain cells and hormones...
When scientists look at the brains of these primates (marmosets), they find that after mom gives birth, the dads actually grow more neuron connections in certain areas of the brain's prefrontal cortex -- regions involved in caretaking and bonding. After becoming fathers, they have more receptors for the chemical vasopressin, which is related to nurturing and attachment...
Not only that, male hormones change while mom is pregnant. Prolactin levels go up in the male marmoset and cotton-top monkeys during pregnancy. And after childbirth, human dads have a drop in cortisol and testosterone (which scientists think makes them less likely to fight and more likely to devote energy to caretaking).  
So the human father's connection to his child exists at the most basic level - the biological.  It exists, that is, if Mom allows it.  A mother who keeps dad in the dark about a pregnancy or bars him from being present during her pregnancy effectively prevents him from forming those all-important bonds. But Turgeon tells us Dad's not the only one effected.
And as Dad is changing, want to guess who else is being affected? Last month, a Scientific American article highlighted research that suggests babies change when dad is around.
That research is on laboratory rats, so it may not be applicable to humans.
The research, however, is strong enough for us to assume that, in humans as in rats, dads and babies change each other. We tend to see characteristically maternal behaviors as the gold standard for attachment, but dads can have just as strong a drive to attach (for example, a recent study found that oxytocin levels rise equally in new moms and dads), even if the result looks different on the outside -- moms" soft cuddles and high-pitched "motherese" voices vs. dads" physical play and a tendency to show objects to the baby.
But these are all attachment behaviors, and they all reveal a deeper biological drive to bond, teach, and care for our kids. My husband says that as a father he sees the world through a new lens -- it's part of his identity and he almost can't remember what life was like before. Becoming a parent changes both mom and dad at the core.
The scientific inquiry into the biology of fathers' attachment to their children and how those children are impacted by it has barely gotten off the ground.  Obviously, that science can and should make an enormous impact on fathers' rights in the future. I'm no biologist, but I'd welcome any information readers can provide about advances in research on those topics.

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Bedard is already paying nearly $80,000 a year for his daughter, as well as another $80,000 for his daughter’s education. Most of this money is tax-free to Roberts--a very large sum for one child, particularly in Kentucky.

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Thirty-five percent of children with separated parents had no contact with the non-custodial parent.  That was one finding of a 2008 report by the United States Census Bureau and referred to in this article (Durango Herald, 9/22/11). It's a good article in a number of ways.  Principally, it eschews the usual excuse for why non-custodial parents don't have contact with their kids, i.e. dads don't care about their children.  Having done so, it's free to take a (cursory) look at some real issues, like the many institutional and individual barriers between fathers and children.  (Has the author been reading this blog?)
C. J. Wood will tell you that being a father is about answering questions, going fishing and wearing out the swings at the local playground. 
But sometimes, a father"s willingness to do those things does not guarantee an ability to do them.
Wood is among a number of parents fighting for access to their children. A 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report found more than 35 percent of children whose parents live separately had no contact with their noncustodial parent in 2007. However, advocates and state researchers said it"s impossible to know how many of those cases involved parents who were denied access to their children.
Notice that the non-custodial parent is assumed to be Dad.  That of course is accurate.  About 84% of non-custodial parents are fathers, so it's appropriate to illustrate non-custodial parents with dads.  But according to sociologist Susan Stewart who studied non-custodial parents, mothers in that role are as likely to become "Disneyland Parents" as are fathers.  That strongly suggests it's the system of custodial/non-custodial care that's at fault for separating children from one parent post-divorce, not the parents themselves.
Locally, though, "it"s extremely common for us to get calls from fathers who want to be in their children"s lives more than anything, but someone, or something, is stopping them,' said Eve Presler, director of Advocacy for La Plata, an organization that helps at-risk families and operates a fatherhood program aimed at helping dads increase their parenting time and comply with child-support agreements.
"Someone or something is stopping them."  That puts it in a nutshell.  The "someone" is the custodial parent, usually the mother, who interferes with visitation knowing full well that the "something" - the court - likely won't lift a finger to stop her. But that "something" does far more to separate children from fathers than just non-enforcement of visitation.  Daily, thousands of times a day, it looks at fit fathers and consigns them to the role of visitor for the rest of their children's lives as minors.  It does that time and again all the while waving the banner of the "best interests of the child" even though mountains of data on child well-being show it's that very separation that harms children. One of the ways that "something" goes about separating fathers from children is by accepting allegations of abuse or domestic violence when made by mothers virtually at face value.  It's one of the most common stories we hear: Mom levels an allegation of abuse or violence at Dad for the first time in a custody case.  Little or no evidence of actual abuse or violence is required for a no-contact order to be issued, and so one duly is.  Dad is separated from his kids for the duration of the divorce case at the end of which time he's consigned to the role of visitor.  Fathers know this all too well.
For Bret Burrows, who began working for the fatherhood program at Advocacy for La Plata a year ago, the situation is alarming and somewhat repetitious.
"It"s almost like every story is the same with a few details changed,' Burrows said.
He sees parents fighting over support payments and dodging visitation schedules. Some even have kidnapped their own children, leaving the other parent to fight for months or years just to see their children...
"It"s painful,' Wood said of the children"s absence. "They"re growing, and I"m missing it.'
Burrows said he sees both positive changes and old stereotypes playing out in courtrooms as the families sort through their concerns. Though the laws try to ensure equal rights and responsibilities for both parents, there still are times when "a knee-jerk reaction' in the mother"s favor is apparent, Burrows said. "Fathers are not only having to fight mom for access to their kids, but they"re having to fight the system, too,' Burrows said.
That's pretty much the size of it.  And let's not forget that the "system" Burrows refers to includes state legislatures, parts of the federal government and the news media that too seldom do what the Durango Herald did in the linked-to article - tell the truth about what it's like to be a father in the family court system. Let's be clear.  There are over one million divorces a year in this country.  Millions of children have divorced parents.  The fact that 35% of them have no contact with their non-custodial parent is far beyond disgraceful.  It indicts the entire system of the way we handle divorce and child custody.  More than anything I can think of, that one fact fairly screams that what we are doing is morally wrong and destructive of the legitimate needs of children and fathers.  Children need both parents.  Our system of family courts and family laws resolutely accomplishes the opposite.  That must change.

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What does the domestic violence establishment have in common with John Wayne?  What could a movement that claims to abhor violence - and particularly violence done by men - possibly have in common with The Duke, icon of exactly that?  Well, if this article is any indication, maybe more than you'd think (Huffington Post, 9/19/11). The piece is by one Mary Pauline Lowry and, as articles about DV go, it's a stinker, and that of course is saying something.  Articles about domestic violence routinely ignore violence by women against men.  (Has any article yet called Catherine Kieu Becker's sexual mutilation of her husband "domestic violence?)  They're content to misstate known facts and rely on anecdote over science.  As such they're all of a piece with the anti-intellectual tradition in American life and public discourse historian Richard Hofstadter so aptly described in 1962. But Lowry's piece takes a different tack, one that celebrates female violence against men and myth over science, but with a twist.  She called her article "Hit Her Once, She'll Shoot You Dead.  Did Janice Soprano Have it Right?"
During the second season of The Sopranos (still generally considered to be one of the best television shows of all time), Janice Soprano was totally in love with and happily engaged to Richie Aprile. But when Richie hit her in the face for the first time, Janice picked Richie's own gun off of the table and shot him dead.
Did Janice Soprano have it right? And would the epidemic of violence against women in this country be halted if, for a short time, every woman who was physically or sexually abused killed her abuser immediately? Certainly the word would get out that women are no longer to be beaten, raped and terrorized by their intimate partners. And I am guessing that in a few months, levels of violence against women would drop dramatically.
Now, having titled her article as she did, having led off the piece with two paragraphs wondering oh-so-pointedly if maybe women murdering their husbands/boyfriends might be a good idea, Lowry ducks for cover.  She calls herself a pacifist; she wants us to know that shooting a man is the furthest thing from her mind. And by the end of the piece she tells readers that she would "never advocate for women who have been abused to take such action in real life." Except of course she already has.  Oh, I believe Lowry when she says she's a pacifist.  After all, I have nothing with which to contradict the claim.  But her readers may not be so discerning.  Face it, when you construct a piece the way Lowry did, boilerplate denials take a backseat to the compelling scene of Janice Soprano murdering Richie Aprile. Count on it, non-pacifist women will notice and may take action.  (Did you know that Sharon Osbourne of the afternoon women's talk show "The Talk", on reading of Arnold Schwarzenegger's infidelity, said his wife should slice off his penis and throw it in the garbage disposal?  Two months later, Catherine Kieu Becker did exactly that.) But irrespective of whether Lowry's piece sets off a wave of vigilante slayings, her recommendation of a fictional female character's murder of her fictional boyfriend as causing her to feel a "thrill of justice" has deep roots in America's mythologizing of the West. That mythic narrative originated in dime novels and in Buffalo Bill's Wild West.  Western novels of the Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour type took up the theme, followed shortly by movies and later by television.  The astonishing popularity of mythologized western fiction played out in the 1960s, but the genre has been continued in the guise of the urban crime drama.  Compare Kiefer Sutherland's role in the TV series 24 to any of a number of tough-guy western heroes and you'll see what I mean. The set-up in our western mythology runs to type.  The West is presented as a place in which the law is unable to control the evil impulses of the powerful or the desperate.  The cavalry is too distant to help or, more often, the local sheriff is too weak to do his job.  This void in the police power allows evil to flourish and evil in this context means unchecked power.  Often as not, there's a local cattle baron who, because he's got money and muscle, does what he wants, up to and including murder.  Think Shane. Into this situation of "might makes right" strides the western hero.  He's a lone man, skilled with a six-gun and impelled by a strong sense of right and wrong.  His courage and moral conviction allow him to stand up to evil and prevail, which he usually does.  High Noon is the classic of the genre, but there are countless others.  One of Wayne's best was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. That of course is what happened in The Sopranos episode lauded by Lowry, and the realization that it could be a scene from a western movie (picture Janice and Richie standing in the middle of a dusty street, hands poised over pistols on their hips) helps understand the mindset of the DV establishment as expressed by her. According to that mindset, like the wild West, a woman's home is a lawless place.  Inside the home, men are freed from all restrictions on their behavior which is naturally violent toward the women there.  Because in the home, might makes right and the man has the might, he can get away with anything he pleases.  He's the Miller Gang in High Noon; he's Lee Marvin in Liberty Valence.  He's every man in the radical feminist imagination. And, like them, he'll continue his evil ways until superior force stops him.  That force can't come from the police or courts; remember, the home is a lawless place, a place beyond the reach of civilization.  So the only person who can provide the moral wherewithal to stand up to the evil-doer is the woman.  But does she have the western hero's skill with firearms? Janice Soprano did and Lowry was thrilled to see it.  Justice!  The justice she did was of the quick and dirty variety so beloved of the mythology of the American West.  Let some pointy-headed judge quibble with her methods, she did what had to be done.  Or, as Catherine Kieu Becker said, "he deserved it." My purpose is not to point out the glaring hypocrisy of a DV advocate's encouragement of spousal murder; I only want to show the cultural source of that encouragement.  In so doing, some of the many astonishing fallacies of the DV establishment come to light. For example, like the mythologizing of the West, The Sopranos is fiction.  Fiction of course is different from fact in several important details, one of which is the position of the narrator.  In fiction, we're often told what happened and, unless the fiction is of the postmodern variety, there is no competing reality.  So when Richie Aprile hit Janice Soprano, we know that happened because we saw it.  But in domestic violence situations, that's often not the case.  There's often a he said/she said that someone must sort out and no objective camera to help in the task.  So Lowry's affinity for the television scene is also an affinity for a story to which there's only one side.  As DV incidents usually work out, that side is the woman's because police are trained to arrest men when DV is alleged.  One undeniable effect of a woman's murdering her husband/boyfriend is that his side of the story won't be told.  Not coincidentally, that's the scene being played out in a Queens courtroom right now in the case of Barbara Sheehan who's on trial for shooting her husband 11 times, killing him.  She says it was self-defense.  What would Raymond Sheehan say if he could? Another aspect of the Western myth is that due process of law is a superfluous nicety.  Gary Cooper and John Wayne didn't need due process of law because they were in the right and no one else could stand up to evil.  Indeed, they couldn't afford due process of law because resort to it would allow evil to prevail.  Similarly, much of the history of domestic violence law is the relentless erosion of due process.  Does a woman allege that she's "in fear" of her husband/boyfriend?  Then he's committed a crime.  Never mind that it's beyond his or anyone else's power to disprove her subjective state of mind.  Never mind that there is no evidence of wrongdoing against him.  Those are the quibbles of due process that must be sacrificed to the higher good of preventing domestic violence.    Finally, there's the concept of the home, like the wild West, as a lawless place in which its residents are beyond the protection of the state.  That's a trope that's literally as old as the DV movement itself.  Radical feminists in and out of the DV movement have long claimed that the home was uniquely dangerous to women because the legal concept of privacy shielded men's violence against them.  So once again, and sagging under the weight of irony, the touchstone for the DV movement is our mythologized American West. The confusion of myth and reality can have tragic consequences.  When a DV advocate urges us to think that vigilantism by women against men is not merely acceptable, but an affirmative good (remember, according to Lowry, incidents of DV against women would "drop dramatically" if more women emulated Janice Soprano), they court tragedy.  DV advocates likely wouldn't see it as tragic, but many others would. But more to the point, Lowry wants us to only hear the woman's account of what happened; she prefers her men voiceless, and she views due process of law as an unnecessary encumbrance.  In that, she accurately reflects the values of the domestic violence industry since its inception. The last important line in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence is delivered by a newspaper editor.  He says, "This is the West, sir.  When the facts meet the legend, print the legend."  That could be the motto of the DV establishment.

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It turns out that motherhood isn't a get-out-of-jail free card.  Neither is it a reason to not pay child support.  As Pokey Prothro once said, "who'da thunk it?" This article tells us about a mother in British Columbia who had two children with her common-law husband (Vancouver Sun, 9/23/11).  They separated and at first she had custody and he paid support.  But that arrangement got reversed for reasons the article doesn't explain, with him getting full custody of both kids. 

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Fathers and Families, Massachusetts Alimony Reform, and others have long agitated for alimony reform in Massachusetts, and these efforts have now come to fruition. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an alimony reform bill that will largely end the lifetime alimony burden that family courts have placed on many Massachusetts obligors. F & F founder and Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS explains:

"This is a terrific step forward. It is a win for both men and women. Men will not usually be required to pay forever. Women who deserve short-term alimony will now get it.

"But this law only gets half the job done. The next step is to rid the alimony issue of gender bias -- the idea that only men should pay it and only women should receive it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in two-earner couples today, women out-earn men in about 33% of couples. Yet women are alimony payers in only 4% of cases. We need an even-handed approach."

The Boston Globe explains:

The measure adds some consistency to alimony judgments by curbing lifetime alimony payments and providing caps on the number of years a spouse can receive alimony. The legislation also allows judges more flexibility to make determinations based on a family"s specific circumstances.

In most cases, it will put an end to lifetime alimony payments, instead capping the number of years of payment according to the length of marriage.

But family law attorneys are also hoping that the law will allow people divorcing from shorter marriages - people who previously would have received no alimony - to receive a brief period of payments, just enough to get them through the transition period after the divorce.

Under the new law, a judge can rule to end alimony payments if the recipient is living with a new partner in a marriage-like situation.

Fathers and Families congratulates Steve Hitner of Massachusetts Alimony Reform and all the others whose hard work helped lead to this reform.

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Three years after her mother abducted her, Pearl Gavaghan da Massa has reunited with her father.  This article is fairly sparse on details (BBC, 9/27/11).  Here's a piece I did on the case last March that has more information about the case. The little girl was originally abducted when she was four years old; she's now seven.  Her mother, Helen Gavaghan and her father, Henry da Massa had split up prior to Pearl's abduction.  Gavaghan had primary custody with da Massa having weekend visitation.  But da Massa wanted more and a court agreed, awarding him substantially greater parenting time than before.

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In Australia, it's a race against the clock.  Can the Labor government of Julia Gillard squelch shared parenting in time, or will Australians stop the effort with their preference for greater equality for both parents? As most readers of this blog know, the Howard government ushered in amendments to the Family Law Act in 2006 that urged greater equality in parenting time post-divorce or separation.  That prompted the anti-dad crowd to leap to the barricades with the battle cry "domestic violence and child abuse."  Maybe it should replace the Internationale. Long before the real effects of the amendments were known, anti-father advocates pronounced it flawed because it allowed abusive fathers to get custody of children.  As a practical matter,

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Here's a different twist on paternity fraud (Kansas City Star, 9/26/11).  The particular case is interesting mostly for the article that reports on it. It seems that back in 2004, a woman was fired from her job at the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph (Missouri).  She was upset, so her husband suggested she contact someone at the church for counselling, and that's what she did.  She was counselled by Rev. Joseph Matt who among other things was on the church's Marriage Tribunal, which seems to mean he tried to assist members of the congregation with marital problems as well as dealing with theological issues related to marriage. Into the bargain, Matt had known the couple as churchgoers for many years and they considered him a friend.  Well, he seems to have been friendly enough with her.  So in addition to "counselling," Matt and the woman pursued a two-year clandestine affair that produced a pregnancy and a son. Neither Matt nor the woman thought to inform her husband of (a) the affair or (b) the possibility that the boy might not be the husbands.  So he dutifully raised the child as his own.  Five years later, the man's wife finally came clean to him, acknowledging the affair.
Late last summer, the man said, his wife told him she"d had an affair with Matt. The man said he didn"t even consider the possibility of Matt being his child"s father.
But the next week, he said, "I asked her if there was a chance (the boy) wasn"t mine, and she goes, ‘It"s possible." But she"d never tried to find out.'
He then confronted Matt who acknowledged the affair and that it had gone on a long time.  Matt was later transferred to another church.  He paid for genetic testing that proved the child was his.
A week later, he said, "They called me at my work, the DNA people, and told me that (the boy) wasn"t mine.'
"I lost it,' the man said, his voice breaking...
"It"s been a nightmare,' the man said in an interview with The Kansas City Star. "It"s not a good thing to find out that your son is not yours and the father is actually a priest that you thought you could trust. I still can"t believe it.'
Not surprisingly, the man divorced his wife but intends to continue raising the boy as his own.
"I never thought I"d have to experience something like this,' he said.
As for the child, he added, "Someday, he"ll have to know. I"ve just got to figure out the right time to tell him.'
The man has sued both Matt and the Catholic Diocese, but apparently not his ex-wife, for fraud among other things.   (He's done so anonymously in order to protect his son, hence the absence of names in the article.)  I assume the legal theory is that Matt had a duty to disclose his relationship with the woman to the man as well as the possibility that the child might be his. In the meantime, the church has managed to make a bad situation worse.
The man, who has filed for divorce, said he and his attorney met with [Bishop Robert] Finn and a diocesan attorney earlier this year.
"My lawyer asked Bishop Finn what they were going to do about Joe Matt,' he said. "And his answer was, well, Joe Matt"s done all these great things, he"s been a good guy, he takes care of his brother. All he did was compliment how good of a guy Matt was.'
During the meeting, the man said, "Never once did Finn apologize for what Matt did.'
Not only that, but the church has also left Matt on its Marriage Tribunal.
The tribunal gathers information and then decides whether the couple is still bound to the former marriage or may be free to enter into another one.
Rebecca Randles, the plaintiff"s lawyer, said Matt"s position on the tribunal was "completely outrageous.'
The man said he was shocked that the diocese placed Matt back at St. Joseph the Worker parish earlier this year and left him on the Marriage Tribunal.
"If I wanted to get an annulment, I"d have to go in front of him,' he said.
The Catholic Church generally has been in bad odor for years due mostly to  priests seducing minors and the Church's covering up those scandals.  It's established a pretty unsavory reputation in cases of priests and their illicit sexual behavior, so predictably, that's the slant of the Star piece.  It's mostly about the callousness of the Church generally and Matt in particular. Lost in the shuffle is the behavior of the man's wife.  She lied to him about the affair, lied to him about the child's parentage, lied to the state about the same and allowed the man to develop a bond with the child without telling him he might not be the dad.  My guess is that was calculated.  After all, if she'd told him straight away, he might have divorced her then and obviously a Catholic priest is not going to marry her.  So she'd be on her own but receiving child support from the meager earnings of a priest.  Not a good prospect. And it seems to have worked.  The man indeed bonded with the boy he thought was his son and he's not about to give him up now.  Is he paying child support?  Is Matt?  Is she?  The article doesn't tell us.  It only says the former couple have a shared parenting arrangement for all three of their children. Thanks to Ron for the heads-up.

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Why do American men remarry more readily than do American women?  That's the question Vicki Larson raises in this article (Huffington Post, 9/27/11). I've written about Larson before, and she's generally pretty down to earth.  She also possesses that rarest of qualities in people who opine about marriage, divorce, custody and the like - a lack of misandry.  And so it is in her current piece.  The problem is that neither she nor the various experts she quotes seems to quite get to the heart of the matter.  Larson touches on some good points, but misses an important one - perhaps the most important one. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about one-third of men over 45 remarry after a divorce (or, I assume, the death of a spouse), while only about 25% of women do.  Now, let's not forget that the difference between 33 1/3% and 25% is only 8 1/3%, so in truth, women and men aren't behaving in dramatically different ways.  Also, since there are fewer men than women, it's a safe bet that the hard numbers of men and women remarrying are closer still. But the tendencies are there and it's worth ruminating on why men and women behave differently, if only slightly so.  
For Emily V. Gordon, a therapist and Huffington Post blogger, it may because men don't have the sort of support women do post-divorce:
"In my experience as a therapist and as a friend, it seems that the majority of the breakup resources available are for women and not men. Women, who tend to be more vocal about their emotional struggles, are the squeaky wheel that gets the grease from friends, from online communities, from books, and from therapeutic approaches. Women are encouraged to go on an emotional journey of self-care after a divorce, while men are expected to need help learning how to cook and parent on their own. When you Google "how men handle divorce," many of the links advise women on what to do if their husbands become violent during the divorce process. Why is there so little focus on how men can heal after a divorce?"
It's an interesting point.  Men don't tend to complain or seek support; women do.  Not surprisingly, there are a lot of support services, both formal and informal for women, and relatively few for men. But I suspect there's more to it than that.  Gordon's question about the lack of attention paid to men's pain post-divorce is surely answered in part by the different ways in which men and women are viewed by society generally.  The simple fact is that we still tend to expect men to "stiff-upper-lip" their way through accident, injury, illness, war, depression and of course divorce.  The way the news media treat male suffering strongly indicates the double standard that pervades society and public discourse.  An article recently in The Guardian about the rape of males in the various African civil wars was notable for many reasons.  One was that it was the first of its kind; another was the astonishing prevalence of rape of men and boys and still another was the revelation that international organizations that oppose rape as a weapon of war uniformly opposed the publication of the article.  Their reason?  Bringing attention to the rape of men might siphon off resources from efforts to curtail the rape of women. Back during the war in Bosnia in the 90s, it was well known to policy-makers, the press and the United Nations that it was Serbian policy to exterminate as many Bosnian men and boys of military age as possible.  The various atrocities, so widely publicized, were all aimed at precisely that, and yet the press was astonishingly hesitant to state the fact.  An excellent analysis of five international news outlets' coverage of the conflict revealed that, over years of articles and commentary, almost no mention was made of the fact that it was precisely men and boys who were targeted for death. So I'd say that one of the reasons for the lack of attention paid to the pain men experience on divorce is, in addition to the choices men and women make, also a matter of good old-fashioned sexism. Speaking of which, Larson quotes "Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College."  Now what do you think a professor of "gender studies" would have to say on the subject?  I wonder if he would take the opportunity to denigrate men.  Let's see.
A working woman doesn't necessarily want to "walk right back into the same sort of situation from which she just extricated herself," he said, and the unequal distribution of household chores may have something to do with it. He also wonders about the marriageability of men:
"I'm convinced that one reason that so many divorced women are so reluctant to remarry (and so many women unwilling to marry in the first place) is that frankly, marriage doesn't seem to be a very appealing deal for most women. And one of the reasons why marriage seems unappealing is that the sacrifices of marriage are many, and the benefits increasingly few -- especially considering that an extraordinary number of men may not be worth marrying!"
Larson squelches that misandric nonsense, but one must ask why she included it in the first place.  It's valuable to get competing views on a subject, but if it were me, I'd try to make sure they all at least made sense.  Women don't want to remarry because they do too much of the housework?  Well, why don't men reject remarriage because they do too much of the paid work?  Schwyzer doesn't let on because the fact that men and women do equal amounts of combined paid and unpaid work conflicts with his mythology about the sexes, specifically that men are louts. Most importantly, what neither Larson nor any of her expert" mention is children.  It's been known for a good many years that women are far more likely to file for divorce than are men, and we also know why.  The reason, as Douglas Allen and Margaret Brinig have shown, is that women know they won't lose their children when they divorce.  The overwhelming preference of courts for maternal custody is the greatest encouragement to women to divorce, and correspondingly the greatest discouragement to men. So it seems to me that remarriage holds a promise for men that women simply have no need for - children.  Yes, divorce is painful and marriage means the possiblity of divorce.  Indeed, divorce is probably more painful for men than for women for that very reason - they lose their children.  But remarriage means they can reacquire a family, either by having more children of their own or because their new mate brings children with her. Women, by contrast already have their families, courtesy of the courts.  Remarriage for them would simply be a duplication of what they already have. It's a pretty straightforward concept, but one that escaped Larson and all the people she quoted.  I'd be interested to know if my speculations are borne out by any science on the matter.

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The Helen Gavaghan/Henry da Massa child abduction case looks like it has "legs."  Numerous news organizations in the UK, Canada and the U.S. have run pieces about Gavaghan's arrest and their daughter Pearl's return to her father, da Massa.  And with each new article, new facts become known. For example, I reported that Gavaghan and Pearl had gone by three different names each in the three years of Pearl's abduction.  It turns out there were actually four.  When the police arrested Gavaghan on September 16th, she was calling herself Eve Hart and her daughter, Krista. It now appears that Gavaghan availed herself of the services of the Catholic Worker organization to keep hidden for so long.  The Catholic Worker maintains what they call "houses of hospitality" throughout much of Mexico and the United States.  Those provide way stations for undocumented immigrants where they receive housing, food, clothing and above all, a place to be out of sight of the law.  Such at any rate is my understanding of them, having had some personal experiences with one such house of hospitality in Texas. So it seems that it was the Catholic Worker organization that constituted the "alternative community" that's been reported to have provided Gavaghan the cover she needed to keep Pearl away from her father for so long.  As far as I can tell, members of that organization in Toronto seem to have fully understood that Gavaghan was on the run from the law.  She told them that da Massa is a child abuser, that the courts in the U.K. didn't believe her and that she therefore was compelled to kidnap the girl.  They seem to have swallowed her story hook, line and sinker.  
Gavaghan had told a circle of acquaintances in Toronto -- people who risked breaking the law to keep her Parkdale whereabouts secret -- that Da Massa had been abusive toward Pearl, which is why she fled England six months after a High Court issued a shared residency order...
[Mennonite Pastor Doug] Hatlem was totally convinced by Gavaghan"s account of child abuse and remains so. "Helen was completely believable. She discussed Pearl"s experiences in front of the child.
"I have enough confidence in the story that I was willing to risk a deep, deep involvement in the case.'
The pastor understood that Gavaghan had lost faith in the judicial system. He helped put her in contact with a lawyer who advised resuming the legal battle in court but Gavaghan was fearful of putting her daughter on the stand.
I suppose it never occurred to Hatlem or any of the others who abetted the abduction of a little girl that there might be a perfectly plausible reason why Gavaghan was "fearful of putting her daughter on the stand."  After all, she might tell the truth.  And I suppose it never occurred to them that the British police and courts had gotten it right when they concluded that Henry da Massa was not a child abuser and that he was entitled to participate fully in his daughter's care and upbringing.  And it clearly never occurred to them that depriving a young child of her father might have any adverse consequences for her.  What did they think about the fact that Gavaghan had told Pearl that she didn't have a father, while telling them that he was an abuser? My guess is that some people are unduly susceptible to a fable of a mother's lonely stand against injustice to save her daughter from the depredations of an evil father.  It's the type of hero myth that appeals to some people, it seems.  Still, when you read what Gavaghan posted on her website prior to fleeing the U.K., what comes through is not so much heroism as paranoia.
"He is a very rare (or at least little-acknowledged) type of mentally sick person. The ways he went about damaging me (and now my daughter) are subtle, unbelievably contrived and almost inarticulable (sic) ...'
Gavaghan added: "I am leaving the UK with my daughter soon for the States to escape this dark character"s hold on us..."
The mental illness that only she can see, the great damage to her and the child that's unknown to all but her, the need to flee and hide out from authority, would all be red flags for anyone who cared to look.  Hatlem and the others didn't. In what may be a harbinger of things to come, this article goes to considerable lengths to let Gavaghan tell her side of the story (Toronto Star, 9/28/11).  We see this pretty routinely; the press often treats female and male wrongdoers differently.  Women tend to have their actions understood and excused while male malefactors are condemned out of hand.  Part of that process is the silencing of the men while women are offered the type of forum the Toronto Star gave Gavaghan. So we're told in Gavaghan's words how "shocked" she was to not be seeing her daughter in court or in jail.  She tells us how "worried" she is about Pearl and how uniquely close the two are.  "I'm suffering on many different levels," Gavaghan informs us. As much as we learn about Gavaghan's travails, it's equally noteworthy what the article doesn't tell us.  It says nothing about the debts she left unpaid back in the U.K. or the apparent fraud she committed on (my guess) a credit card company.  Those are the type of inconvenient details people leave out when they're trying to recruit sympathy from readers. Whatever the motivations of the writer, I have a feeling Helen Gavaghan will fail in her role as the victim in this drama.  My guess is that she'll be seen for who she is - a mother bent on depriving her child of her father who stopped at nothing, including child abuse, to accomplish her goal. We'll see.

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Since claims of domestic violence and child abuse are the major tool used to prevent shared parenting, it's always useful to look at what domestic violence actually is and what it's not.  To that end, a friend of Fathers and Families forwarded some data from a publication by the State of Maryland entitled "Crime in Maryland, 2010."  Unfortunately, I can't provide a link. I reported recently on the study conducted by Douglas Allen and Margaret Brinig that looked at the efficacy of the 1997 amendments to its family law by the State of Oregon.  The amendments' purpose was to increase shared parenting and decrease sole custody after divorce.  But Allen and Brinig found that the amendments achieved no such thing.  There was no increase in shared parenting.  In fact, the only change in custody arrangements saw fathers getting slightly more sole custody and mothers getting slightly less. So what was the problem?  Why didn't the new law do what it was intended to? The answer is simple - claims of violence and abuse.  The law, like those everywhere, included an "escape clause" that prevented or severely limited custody to abusers.  Not surprisingly, there was a spike in claims of abuse, 82% of which were made by mothers.  Those claims protracted the divorce litigation and most importantly, thwarted the aims of the law.  Elsewhere we learn that non-feminist custody evaluators believe that between 40% and 80% of abuse claims are fabricated for the purpose of gaining an advantage in the custody case. So domestic violence is an important topic to those who would reform family courts.  It may well be the most important thing. Now, the data sent to me out of Maryland are police statistics.  As we know, the police are powerfully urged to arrest the "dominant aggressor" whenever they get a DV call.  As a practical matter, that means the man.  He's usually the larger and stronger of the couple and, more importantly, the police, like the rest of society, have been trained to believe that women don't commit domestic violence or, if they do, it was either non-injurious to the man or was in self-defense, i.e. he started it. So arrest statistics have never shown the reality of domestic violence.  What they show is the reality of police behavior in the context of their training and socialization on the issue of men, women and domestic violence. Given that, it's interesting to note that the Maryland figures for 201o show that over 25% of the victims of DV in the state were men.  That's far more than I would have guessed would appear in figures compiled by law enforcement. In all, there were a little over 17,000 arrests made for DV in the state in 2010.  That continues a steady downward trend in DV arrests that's been going on for at least five years.  Almost all of those were for assault and 78% of those were of the non-aggravated kind, i.e simple assault.  Eighteen people were killed in DV cases in the state in 2010.  The percentage of male victims increased slightly over five years and the percentage of female victims declined slightly.  The number of African-American victims dropped 24% in five years while the number of white victims declined about 11%. Husbands and wives were markedly less likely to assault each other than men and women who cohabitated. Interestingly, among cases in which it was known to police whether alcohol and/or drugs were involved, most had no such involvement.  Of the total of 17,391 DV cases cleared by the police, in 5,859, it's unknown whether drugs or alcohol were involved.  That leaves 11, 532 with either drugs and or alcohol involved or not.  Of those, 6,839 - 59% -  had neither. The causes of domestic violence are many, but infidelity and children are consistently the top ones.
There are two ways of clearing a case. One is by making an arrest and charging the person (s) with the offense. The second is known as an exceptional clearance. Exceptional clearance means the police know the identity and location of the person (s) who committed the offense and have enough information to arrest them. However, there is some reason beyond their control that prevents them from making the arrest.
In short, Maryland is a mandatory arrest state.  Police either arrest someone or for some reason they're unable to.  Now, there are some provocative data from several sources that suggest that people don't call the police in DV incidents because they don't want them or the courts involved.  That seems particularly true in mandatory arrest states because partners know that a call to the police means that someone's going to jail. My guess is that at least some of the drop in arrests for DV in Maryland reflect that very hesitation on the part of everyday citizens to involve the entire system of law enforcement in what they often view as a private matter. Thanks to Michael for the heads-up.

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senator-larose-smaller Fathers and Families of Ohio's Matt Johnson (left) and Michael Domanick (right) met with Senator Frank LaRose (center) in Akron last week. today.  Senator LaRose was a co-sponsor of HB 121, a military custody bill modeled on Fathers and Families' successful California AB 2416--to learn more, see F & F's Don Hubin's column Custody agreements should survive deployments (Columbus Dispatch, 4/6/11). According to Johnson:

The meeting was very positive. Senator LaRose intends to devote attention to issues involving family court reform and asked me to help organize a meeting in a month in Columbus, Ohio to bring interested parties to the table to discuss ideas for legislation.  He said he will have someone from the Ohio Legislative Commission, the organization which bills must initially pass through, at the meeting.

We discussed various aspects of family court reform, including some issues which the Senator was not previously familiar with. Domanick explained some of the cost savings that many of our proposals would mean for Ohio. These include shared parenting, which frees up the considerable court time spent on needless child custody battles, and our family access motions proposal, which will provide an expedited means for courts to enforce parents' parenting time rights.

Senator LaRose called Hubin afterwards and they spoke at some length about F & F of Ohio's legislative initiatives. Our current Ohio legislative projects 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

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