If anyone thought that North Carolina was the only state failing to learn from the mistakes of Texas and Arizona regarding its child welfare policies, he/she should think again. Maine is, if anything, failing even more miserably than North Carolina, whose latest tribulations I wrote about here (Bangor Daily News, 7/29/18).
Like North Carolina, Maine has decided that the way to improve the lives of children at risk for abuse or neglect is to demand that child protection caseworkers do more with less. The reason for the change in policy is that caseworkers weren’t doing a very good job of keeping up with their caseloads, so the LePage Administration’s “fix” has been to place a greater burden on them.
This is about as stark and hard-hitting an article on family court reform as I’ve read (Lincoln Journal Star, 7/26/18). It’s author, Dr. Les Veskrna pulls no punches.
Veskrna of course is the one who went to court to force the Administrator of Courts in Nebraska to divulge the materials used to train the state’s judges in matters of custody and parenting time. The documents were damning. Not only did judges receive claims that outright contradicted the overwhelming weight of known science on those matters, the skullduggery that preceded that training would have humiliated more scrupulous public figures.
this article in the Toledo Blade, there is a summary of the changes to the law and interviews with those affected by these changes.
Another state is going down the wrong road regarding its child welfare agency (Daily Advance, 7/15/18). This time it’s North Carolina and the wrong road it’s travelling is named “do more with insufficient resources.”
It seems that the legislature passed a bill last year that sets performance standards for the Division of Social Services that’s part of the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s appropriate to get nervous when lawmakers start micromanaging services like those provided by DSS. They don’t know what they’re doing and passing a law that’s equally applicable to every DSS unit in every county in the state is presumptively a bad idea. Face it, the law they passed isn’t flexible, but not all counties are alike.
Our old friend Attorney Richard Ducote is back in the news for a couple of reasons. The first is that he’s once again lost a casein which his client was a woman who accused her male former partner of physical abuse (Deadspin, 1/25/18). Sandra Brooks made elaborate claims about abuse by NFL referee Carl Johnson, but the judge in the case ruled she’d failed to prove her claims and dismissed her action. The local police have now charged her.
This is a fine article (Wall Street Journal, 7/20/18). It’s not only good in its own right, but good in ways I suspect its author never imagined. The writer, Abigail Shrier is intent on calling out the #MeToo movement and, more generally, a type of gender feminism that seeks to infantilize women by absolving them of responsibility for their own behavior. Plus, she sticks up for masculinity.
About all that, Shrier does a pretty good job. She tells about her father and her upbringing with him and her mother and, in the process, says a lot about masculinity and how valuable it is to society. Good for her.
Jason Griffith points out an aspect of shared parenting that’s almost invariably overlooked, at least by me (Cincinnati.com, 7/19/18). Mea culpa; I should have been more thoughtful in my commentary. Griffith is the minority outreach director of Kentucky for the National Parents Organization. As readers will recall, back in April, the Kentucky Legislature overwhelmingly passed the first law in the English-speaking world that presumes equal parenting post-divorce. The governor signed the bill into law and it went into effect on July 14. The new law was an NPO initiative.
Readers well know the multiple benefits to children of shared parenting, but Griffith points out that those are especially pertinent to African-American children and their dads.
I’m privileged to know Molly Olson. She’s a veteran of the legislative wars on behalf of shared parenting in Minnesota. Put simply, no one has fought longer or harder to do what’s right for kids there than Molly Olson.
So everyone should pay close attention when she speaks as she does in this op-ed (Twin Cities.com, 7/19/18). Olson measures her words; there’s no hyperbole in her piece. But beneath the calm surface of her article simmers frustration bordering on anger. She’s not screaming, but we get the feeling she’d like to.
A new survey, conducted for the National Parents Organization in Missouri shows once again overwhelming support for equal parenting. The poll was conducted by the professional polling organization, Public Policy Polling. It asked a representative sample of 468 Missourians about a number of issues related to shared parenting. The results were unequivocal, a landslide in favor of shared parenting.
The National Parents Organization has had another success, this time in Massachusetts (Beacon Hill Patch, 7/13/18). NPO helped draft and pass House Bill 3090 that encourages judges to order shared parenting in divorce cases. The Bay State’s House of Representatives passed the bill that has now gone to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.
If the Rules Committee and the Senate as a whole want to follow their constituents’ wishes, they’ll promptly approve HB 3090. In a non-binding referendum, a whopping 86% of Massachusetts voters said they approved of shared parenting following divorce. As in other states, that support crossed all the usual lines of race, class, sex and party affiliation. As a strictly political matter, it doesn’t get much clearer than that; the voters of Massachusetts want shared parenting. Will their elected officials take heed?
Way back in the 80s, I used to watch what was then “The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour.” It usually dealt with three issues, allocating about 20 minutes to each. The show always had guests with competing viewpoints on whatever the topic was. It was so invariable in that way that it moved some wag to write a humorous takeoff on it, something like “Jesus Christ - Son of God or Jewish Troublemaker? Tonight we have two views…”
This article reminded me of that old send-up of McNeil-Lehrer (Japan News, 7/15/18). It’s about the fact that the Japanese government seems to be considering revamping its child custody laws that desperately need it. Japan is explicitly a sole-custody country. Here’s how the article describes its approach to child custody post-divorce:
National Parents Organization commends the Massachusetts House of Representatives for passing an important child custody bill that not only encourages shared parenting in instances of divorce but also stands to improve the health and well-being of thousands of children throughout the state. Read the article here.
According to the analysis by three lawyers in their article for The Nebraska Lawyer, the best interests of the child rule violates three constitutional mandates – substantive and procedural due process and the equal protection of the law. Given that, how should courts proceed to avoid rulings that violate litigants’ constitutional rights? In other words, is there a constitutional alternative to the current practice?
The good sense and legal rectitude of the article in the Nebraska Lawyer attacking the best interests of the child rule in custody cases continues. Its authors offer a short section on equal protection as a possible way to correct child custody and parenting time orders. It then describes the implications for the future of the law on those issues and prescribes a framework for judges in which to issue orders that pass constitutional muster.
The Equal Protection Clause requires states to behave in ways that don’t discriminate inappropriately between people of different races, sexes, religions, etc. Needless to say, family courts routinely place their thumb on the mother’s side of the scale in deciding matters of custody, parenting time, child support and the like. Indeed, that practice has staunchly resisted all efforts at change. In 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that about 84% of custodial parents were mothers. By 2013, the number was about 82%, i.e. no statistical difference. The survey of Nebraska family court decisions indicated that mothers receive sole or primary custody about five times as often as do fathers.
Allow me to apologize. In my last two posts discussing the article in the most recent issue of The Nebraska Lawyer, I repeatedly referred to the “best interests of the child standard.” Mea culpa; it is no such thing. The BIC is no standard at all and never has been. A “standard,” after all, is some sort of known and agreed-on criterion. By contrast, the BIC is anything anyone imagines it to be. It is one thing to Judge A and another to Judge B in the courtroom next door. It is one thing to Judge A in Smith v. Smith and another to the same judge in Jones v. Jones. Whatever the BIC is, it is not a standard. I therefore make obeisance at the feet of my readers and humbly beg forgiveness.
That done, once more into the breech!
The article in the Nebraska Lawyer magazine entitled “Yes, Virginia, the Constitution Applies in Family Court, Too” is a stunning indictment, not just of the “best interests” standard, but of family court orders generally.
It attacks those orders on three different constitutional fronts – substantive due process, procedural due process and equal protection.
The July/August issue of The Nebraska Lawyer, i.e. the house organ for the state bar association, is quite remarkable. It includes an article by three of the state’s most prominent trial lawyers. Their topic is the dubious constitutionality not only of the “best interests of the child” standard, but of the orders issued by family courts generally. Their article should be required reading for every family court judge and lawyer practicing in those courts. Plainly, neither the lawyers nor the judges have a very firm grasp on some basic constitutional concepts.
One benefit of the excitement over now-rescinded Trump Administration policies regarding undocumented adults entering this country with children is that it’s produced a focus on children and what happens to them emotionally when they’re separated from their parents. This article is a pretty good one in that regard because it truly is about children and the trauma they suffer when removed from their parents (Wall Street Journal, 6/20/18). That is, it’s more than just an excuse to bash the Trump Administration.
It’s hard to know under which category to file scandals like this one (Wall Street Journal, 6/26/18). How about “Government Interference in Families?” Or perhaps “Governmental Deprivation of Parental Rights?” “Big Brother Knows Best” is another possibility. So is “Child Trafficking.”
I first wrote about this way back in 2011. Then as now, thousands of Spanish adults are clamoring for the government to produce records of a policy during the post-WWII Franco regime that encouraged hospitals to take newborns from Leftist parents, tell the parents the children died, produce fake death certificates and hand the children over to parents more friendly to the government. Needless to say, money greased the wheels of this particularly odious practice. It went on from just after the end of the war until after Franco died in 1975.
In 2012, Great Britain decided to prohibit access to legal aid in all cases except those involving domestic violence. And guess what happened. Claims of DV shot up (BBC, 6/3/18). Their numbers have increased 30% since then and are going up again this year. It seems that solicitors are accurately telling potential clients that they don’t qualify for legal aid unless they make a claim of abuse. Unsurprisingly, many people decide that access to free legal help is worth distorting the facts a bit.
Back on May 25th, I wrote this piece on new family law legislation currently before the Canadian Parliament. I pointed out that the bill would do little worth doing. (Changing terminology is hardly earth-shaking.) And of course it entirely ignores the concept of shared parenting. I further said that, since it’s embraced by Canada’s family law bar, the bill is automatically suspect. No family law section in the United States has ever supported a shared parenting bill, mostly because shared parenting threatens lawyers’ fees. Family lawyers thrive on conflict and an equal parenting presumption would tend to make child custody issues easier to understand and less threatening to both parents, thereby reducing conflict.
In short, I excoriated both the bill and the lawyers. Now I learn I was too kind (Advocate Daily).
From Everyone at the National Parents Organization, have an enjoyable and safe 4th of July. Don't even think about family court reform. Save that until the 5th.
The Florida Supreme Court has taken a small step toward sanity in the Sunshine State (WPTV, 6/29/18). For the first time, it ruled that an unmarried father has standing to assert his parental rights to a child born to a mother who’s married to another man. Prior to the ruling, such a father had no legal rights to the child because the law established the husband as the father.