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[caption id="attachment_15826" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families member Michael Burgraff testifying in favor of H02684."]sp-hearing-michael-h-burgraff[/caption] Fathers and Families activists testified in favor of our shared parenting bill (H02684) last Wednesday. The bill, lead sponsored by Representative John Scibak, supports children and strengthens families by creating a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in divorce cases, so that children can sustain their loving relationships with both parents.

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

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

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

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

Together with you in the love of our children,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[caption id="attachment_16127" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="F & F activist Penny Rogers shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a May 26 event. In response to a question from an F & F activist, Gingrich told the crowd that the family law system has an 'extreme anti-male bias'"]gingrich-fundraiser-rogers-gingrich[/caption] [caption id="attachment_16140" align="alignright" width="195" caption="F & F member Deanna Marchand told Gingrich 'Family courts generally allow fit, loving fathers only a few days a month with their children.'"]deanna-marchand[/caption] A contingent of Fathers and Families' Election Campaign 2012 activists attended the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Seacoast Republican Women's Breakfast with Newt Gingrich on Wednesday. F & F member Deanna Marchand (pictured) asked Gingrich:
Family courts generally allow fit loving fathers only a few days a month with their children. This is not only harmful to children since it"s so important level of involvement by both parents in their lives, but it"s also a terrible civil rights violation when the government dictates how much time a father or mother can spend with his or her children. What are your thoughts on family court reform?
In response, Gingrich criticized the family law system for its "extreme anti-male bias." Gingrich added that he was "in favor of fathers having rights...We live in an age that is very different than 50 years ago and I think that it is very often very important...that we have a much greater sensitivity that both sides, both parents, both have rights and have responsibilities..." We commend Gingrich for his awareness of the crisis in family courts and for giving a meaningful response to our question. [caption id="attachment_16260" align="alignright" width="252" caption="Marchand asks Gingrich about the need for family court reform."]gingrich-deanna[/caption] Since family law is usually a state matter, it's a fair question to ask, "What could the federal government do to promote shared parenting?" One answer is this:
The federal government helps shape states" policies in many areas by the payment or withholding of federal reimbursement funds. It works the same way with family law--the federal government reimburses the states billions of dollars each year in child support collection funds. One of the things a pro-shared parenting administration could do to greatly encourage shared parenting is to tie those funds to progress in enacting shared parenting laws, implementing and encouraging shared parenting arrangements, and enforcing visitation orders.

We Want YOU for Fathers and Families' Election Campaign 2012---Click Here to Volunteer Join Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign is a nonpartisan grassroots campaign with the goal of injecting family court reform into the 2012 election campaign. Between now and New Hampshire's February 14, 2012 primary, our activists will be going to candidates' campaign stops, rallies, and townhall meetings, as well as calling in when candidates are interviewed on radio talk shows. We will be politely and persistently asking candidates questions about family court reform, with the goal of garnering media attention for our issues and getting candidates to go on the record with their views. Our central issue is simple--family courts harm children by routinely separating them from one of the two people they love most. How You Can Help No matter where you are, there are many ways you can help:

1) If you are in New England and can volunteer to make appearances at campaign stops and townhalls, please fill out our volunteer form here and type "Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign" at the beginning of the "How I Can Help" section. 2) We understand that many of you can"t participate due to geography or other limitations. We still want you to fill out our volunteer form here and participate by:
  • Helping us organize by making phone calls and doing web research.
  • Making calls to reporters, radio talk shows, and candidates' offices, writing letters and posting comments in response to our campaign Action Alerts. You will see these on our website at www.FathersandFamilies.org, our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/FathersandFamilies, and in our weekly ENewsletter.
  • Our New Hampshire efforts cost money--help defray our costs by giving at www.FathersandFamilies.org/give.
We Are Non-Partisan Fathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and has and continues to work successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle on legislation to promote family court reform. Our primary goal is to protect the loving bonds children share with both parents after divorce or separation, and we're happy to work with any legislators or political figures who share this goal. During the Fathers and Families Election Campaign 2012 we will be intervening at both Republican and Democratic events. However, there are many more Republican events than Democratic events because the Republican primary will be hotly contested, whereas the Democrats have an incumbent running. Newt Gingrich's Daughter Speaks about Gingrich's Highly-Politicized Divorce Gingrich has taken a lot of criticism over his personal life, some of it undoubtedly merited. However, to be fair, he is close to his two adult daughters, one of whom publicly disputes the widely-publicized accusation that Gingrich told his first wife he wanted a divorce while she was in the hospital dying of cancer. In her article Setting the Record Straight, Jackie Cushman Gingrich, Gingrich's 44-year-old daughter, says:
  • It was her mother who requested the divorce
  • It happened prior to her mother's hospital stay
  • Her mother was not "dying of cancer," as many claim, but was instead there for a benign tumor, not cancer, and is still alive and healthy today
  • Gingrich visited her so the couple's children could see their mother, not to discuss their divorce.
[caption id="attachment_16166" align="alignleft" width="500" caption="F & F activists Bob Owen, Shawn Gliklich, MD, Penny Rogers and Deanna Marchand"]gingrich-fundraiser-owen-gliklitch-rogers-marchand1[/caption]

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The Kentucky Supreme Court continues to make strides toward greater fathers' rights.  This case is the latest, but last year it ruled in a parentage case that biological fathers have "inherent, equitable rights." (Supreme Court of Kentucky, 5/19/11)  I wrote about that case here. The new case, J.A.S. vs. Hon. Lisa O. Bushelman and C.H.E. is far more restricted in scope, applying essentially to whether a trial court has jurisdiction to hear the paternity claim of a man not married to the married mother of his child.  The holding?  The man has standing to bring the action and the court has jurisdiction to rule on it. It seems that the woman, J.A.S. was married back in October 2007 when she started an affair with C.H.E. who was technically married but in the process of divorcing his wife.  The affair lasted until about March of 2008, but during all that time, she continued having sex with her husband.  She also successfully hid the affair from him which included lying about certain incriminating evidence like telephone calls.  Sometime in the spring of 2008, J.A.S. discovered she was pregnant.  Given the fact that she had had sex with two men near the time of conception, she was unable to ascertain paternity except by DNA testing.  She and C.H.E. gathered the necessary tissue samples shortly after the baby was born in early September, 2008.  Results showed C.H.E. to be the baby's father. But of course under Kentucky law, it was the husband who was presumed to be the father and thus had rights and responsibilities.  C.H.E. was a stranger to his own child according to the law. Still, C.H.E. went to court to prove paternity which both J.A.S. and her husband resisted.  Among other things, J.A.S. denied that the child was C.H.E.'s despite having genetic testing conclusively proving his paternity. The trial court ruled that C.H.E. had the legal power to assert his paternity, the appellate court agreed and so finally did the Kentucky Supreme Court. Part of the case depends on the what the term "marital relationship" means.  The Court ruled that
"marital relationship" as used in KRS 406 .011 is not merely a synonym for sexual intercourse between a husband and wife, but is instead a collective reference to a monogamous relationship with traditional qualities, such as love, fidelity, and trust, to forge the marital bond between a husband and wife .
Whatever the legalities in Kentucky might be, in the world outside the courtroom, that makes perfect sense.  Inside the courtroom it means that, by pursuing an extra-marital affair and lying about it to her husband, J.A.S. destroyed her "marital relationship" with her husband.  The child was therefore born "out of wedlock," so the presumption of paternity by her husband no longer existed. In short, in situations in which a man has an affair with a married woman who becomes pregnant, he'll be able to claim paternity.  That in turn means he'll be able to assert claims to custody and visitation, which, depending on his fitness as a parent, may be significant or not. Of course, if the husband chooses to stay in the picture, it'll fall to the family court to sort out parenting time among three parents.  But of course that's what happens when people get divorced and one of the parents has another spouse or partner. I've long argued that presuming paternity on the part of a married man regarding a child born to his wife made a certain sense prior to genetic testing.  But we now have reliable scientific tests for paternity and we should use them - not a legal fiction - to ascertain who is the father of a child. The Kentucky Supreme Court agrees using some perfectly commonsensical language to do so.
Throughout the history of paternity adjudications, evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption of paternity or legitimacy has been limited only by the scope of biological knowledge available to prove or disprove a biological connection between a man and a child ... In Fugate v. Commonwealth, 993 S.W .2d 931, 937 (Ky . 1999), we recognized that the scientific reliability and validity of DNA testing had been generally established by the "overwhelming weight of medical and legal authority." DNA evidence is now used widely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of those accused of crimes, and upon occasion, to exonerate innocent persons convicted of a crime. The General Assembly has expressed confidence in the ability of genetic testing to prove or disprove paternity by enacting KRS 406 .111, which creates another presumption of paternity to apply when test results indicate probability of paternity of 99% or more. We see no justification for keeping the traditional presumption of paternity locked in the science of centuries past.
That's exactly my point.  There's no reason for us to pretend that paternity is unknown or unknowable when we have the means to easily ascertain the truth.  And there are many reasons why not so pretending, i.e. not clinging to a scientifically outmoded  and legally unnecessary presumption, is not a good idea. Interestingly, the dissent in the case alluded to several of those reasons, albeit unwittingly.
[W]e hold strongly that only partners to marriage have the standing to question the legitimacy of children born during their marriage . Interlopers cannot use their own adulterous behavior as a license to invade and disrupt the matrimonial circle . The majority here deals with only one child . We speak for the thousands of children yet unborn . For centuries, the institution of marriage has "been the rock in the shadow of which children are born, shaded, protected, and nurtured."
In other words, only a husband or a wife can challenge the presumption of paternity of a child born during the term of the marriage.  All others are "interlopers."  And the presumption of paternity should remain inviolable in order to promote the institution of marriage. There are of course a number of problems with that line of argument which may explain why the judges kept it so brief. The most obvious is that in many paternity cases, probably most, it's the wife and mother who's committing adultery.  Technically in this case, C.H.E. committed adultery as well, but he was at least no longer having sex with his soon-to-be ex-wife.  J.A.S. can make no such claim.  So how he comes to be an interloper in a marriage that the wife herself has done a lot to destroy is a concept I can't quite grasp.  He's not an interloper if she invites him into a relationship, which she did. More importantly, the dissent frankly argues in favor of a wife's power over the parental rights of her paramour.  Because that is what, among other things, the presumption of paternity accomplishes.  If he can't assert his rights to be a father to his child, that matter is left in her hands.  As long as she can maintain the deceit, the biological father will have no connection with his child and the husband will act the part of the child's father in ignorance. Yes, the marriage may well go more smoothly with the husband and the father ignorant, but I call that a difficult policy choice to make.  Plumping for ignorance at the expense of knowledge, deceit instead of honesty, strikes me as a hard row to hoe, and a dangerous one. Contrary to the dissent, I believe that the knowledge that the paramour has rights he can assert in court, may give married women pause before embarking on extramarital affairs.  That would tend to strengthen the institution of marriage, not weaken it. This case of course doesn't do what should be done - require DNA testing of all children at birth.  If we do that, there will never be any doubt about who's the dad, who should pay child support and never a danger that a child's medical treatment will involve erroneous assumptions about his/her genetic heritage. But that's a matter with which state legislatures must grapple.  For now, the Kentucky Supreme Court has dealt a small blow in favor of fathers' rights and against the disreputable institution of paternity fraud. And that can't be a bad thing. Thanks to Jerry for the heads-up.

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The following was contributed by Fathers and Families Reader, David D. Vandenberg.  Anyone who has been forced to deal with the Alice-in-Wonderland procedures of family courts knows that one enters a totally different world than what we expect American jurisprudence is to be. One federal appellate judge, after reviewing a case in New Hampshire family court stated, "This must be what courts in Bolivia do." But it appears that at least one group, the New Hampshire General Court, or legislature, is taking real steps to end the abuse of families in family court. They are impeaching judges and marital masters, who have failed to comply with state and federal statutes and ignored constitutional protections.   Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution provides for the Accountability of Magistrates and Officers.  To that end, the legislature, instituted a procedure for the Redress of Grievances. About 150 years ago, this committee was retired, until now. In November 2010, a supermajority of constitutional Republicans was swept into office by popular discontent with the lawlessness and arrogance of state officers violating the rights of citizens. And where better to begin, but in a venue in which certain rights were summarily suspended decades ago: family court?   However, even before hearings of the Committee for Redress of Grievances began, opponents came forward with calls to disband the committee, claiming that the family courts were just fine.  The Manchester Union-Leader, the Concord Monitor, and the Nashua Telegraph published editorials to disband the committee. Still, supporters of the committee point out that the Judicial Branch has no independent oversight provision by the people and few complaints to the Judicial Conduct Committee have ever been successful. As one legislator put it, the General Court has a responsibility to ensure proper procedures are in place in the form of laws and that state magistrates and officers comply with law. If the magistrates fail to follow the law, then the will of the people, as expressed through the legislature, will be corrupted, as is now the case in New Hampshire family court.   David Johnson says his daughter was removed from him almost completely--he can see her in supervised visits only--contrary to independent assessments of the mother's abuse. Mr. Johnson provides the following narrative of his last ten years in family court:   The child's primary care physician testified twice about the mother's abuses and neglect. In addition, the child's psychologist testified that the father should be the primary custodial parent, because of mental cruelty endured by the child, being coached by the mother to make false statements about the father. The child's physician also testified on behalf of the father. The mother told the court she left the child and her young cousin in a vehicle with the keys in the ignition with a loaded revolver in the unlocked console. Parenting time was divided fifty/fifty, the father voluntarily paid for private school and after-school care, and supported the mother after the separation, including all the expenses of the home, yet he was ordered to pay so much spousal and child support that he could no longer afford his own home for himself and his daughter. Within 24 hours of the father"s motion for primary parenting authority, the mother counterclaimed alleging the father's sexual abuse of the daughter. Twenty-four hours after that the mother made the same false allegations to the police and was ignored. At the next hearing, the physician and psychologist testified a third time and reported still more abuses by the mother. The court ordered primary parenting responsibility for the father, yet ordered him to pay child support, contrary to federal law.   The court appointed a new marital master, Phillip Cross, who is now the subject of impeachment. Mr. Cross started to incrementally take parenting time away from the father, violating his right to due process each time in preliminary hearings. At the final evidentiary hearing, the father still retained primary parenting authority, yet was unlawfully ordered to increase his child support requirement. Medical authority was granted to the mother, even though she had refused to provide prescribed medication. Mr. Cross refused reports from the child protection agency and human services with additional abuses of the mother. Mr. Cross held a criminal contempt hearing against the father, hearings for which a marital master has no authority and in which the father was denied a criminal defense. Mr. Cross later termed the hearing a civil contempt hearing. Yet the father had primary custody of the daughter, not the mother. The father was convicted and jailed for nearly ten weeks, resulting in the loss of his second home, most of the father's and daughter's personal belongings, and the transfer of the daughter to the abusive mother.   New Hampshire family courts are filled with such cases, which the judiciary has misruled on. The New Hampshire newspapers have come out specifically against hearings in this case, after these facts were made public. Marital Master Cross may provide testimony about this matter, or the judiciary may send counsel to the supreme court to represent Mr. Cross. Who arrives for testimony remains to be seen.   The chair of the committee, Paul Ingbretson, is Mr. Johnson's representative and neighbor and apparently drove Mr. Johnson, who became homeless, to visit his daughter. Critics cite the driving of David Johnson, paying for lunch, and sitting with the father and daughter as indicative of Mr. Ingbretson's loss of objectivity, requiring the entire committee to be shut down. Speaker of the House, William O'Brien, and other attorneys have reviewed the matter and determined no conflict of interest exists. Still, Mr. Ingbretson has recused himself from this one case. Yet, the calls for disbanding are still coming.   More cases are in the pipeline and will be reviewed by the committee. While newspaper editors have come out against these hearings, the people of New Hampshire, through their legislators, expressed their serious concern about the inexplicable and lawless behavior of many judges and marital masters. These hearings will go forward and cases like David Johnson's and others will be given a public airing, so that the people will know just exactly what kind of judiciary they have, whether it's up to the standards we expect in the US, or whether it is more like what one expects in a Bolivian court of law.

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This piece is fascinating and, for the most part, excellent. It's a paper presented by Dr. William Fabricius of Arizona State University entitled "The Bad News about Divorce and Children Is Worse than We Thought, but the Good News Is Better than We Thought."  Fabricius is a colleague of Sanford Braver and the paper was delivered to the Roundtable of Family Dynamics of the Senate of Canada, chaired by Senator Anne Cools. In the paper, Dr. Fabricius summarizes the research on divorce, fatherlessness and child well-being.  That's the first part of the "Bad News" that's "Worse than We Thought."  He then goes on to public attitudes about equally-shared parenting and finds that the news on that front is "Better Than We Thought."  The latter is where I take exception to some of what he says. But first the bad news which, if you're a fathers' rights advocate, is also good news since it so powerfully argues for greater paternal

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cnn-may-27-11-glenn-4"The overwhelming majority of these parents are not deadbeat, they are dead broke... even during the recession... child support enforcement agencies are very, very slow to give fathers and mothers... downward modifications. So, you have people who are forced to pay child support on an income that they haven't earned in a year..."---F & F's Glenn Sacks, on CNN Newsroom Fathers and Families Executive Director Glenn Sacks squared off against a leading child support enforcement official on CNN Newsroom on Friday, May 27. To watch the debate, click here. The debate, which pitted DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James and attorney Lisa Bloom against Sacks, concerned new DeKalb measures to deprive so-called "deadbeat dads" of use of their automobiles. Fathers and Families believes that all parents should support their children both emotionally and financially, but believes that most repressive measures against so-called "deadbeat dads" are either unfair or counterproductive. cnn-may-27-11-all-3Below are excerpts from the CNN transcript:
DREW GRIFFIN (CNN Host): States around the country have tried any number of creative ways to get parents who are behind in child support to pay up. Illinois, for example, puts up this website which shows the worst offenders. Other states seize tax refunds, report it to the credit bureau, or refuse hunting or fishing licenses. But some of these enforcement laws affect the way parents get around. Some states are revoking car tags, impounding cars, or requesting that the U.S. State Department deny or suspend that parent's passport. So, while no one can deny the importance of obtaining child support payments, could some of these measures have an unintended negative effect?... District Attorney, let me begin with you. Your county is about to target late parents by having them lose their tags. Why have is you come up with this idea? ROBERT JAMES, DEKALB COUNTY, GA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, we have a very serious problem, not just in DeKalb County, but throughout the state of Georgia and, frankly, throughout the nation. And that problem is parents not paying child support. If you look at the facts, we're not dealing with parents that are just a few days late. In our instance, we are dealing with parents who haven't paid in as long as two years to never. And it's time for that to stop and it's time for parents to support their children. GRIFFIN: So, this is a last resort for those truly, truly dead beats. Let's try to hit them at the car? JAMES: This is absolutely a last resort. We have gone through amnesty days. We've gone through hauling these people into court. We've gone through calling their homes, bringing them down, trying to set up payment plans, and they just absolutely will not pay. And children need support. GRIFFIN: Glenn, is that a good idea to go after their cars? GLENN SACKS, FATHERS & FAMILIES: Well, I agree with Robert--let's look at the facts. The facts are very clear. The overwhelming majority of these parents are not deadbeat, they are dead broke. The federal government's own research shows before the recession over 2/3 of the people behind on the child support earned poverty-level wages. That's before the recession. During the recession, it's gotten far worse because courts and the child support enforcement agencies are very, very slow to give fathers and mothers who are behind on their child support downward modification. So, you have people who are forced to pay child support on an income that they haven't earned in a year, and when they can't afford it, then they get to be called deadbeats and publicly humiliated by programs like this. And a program like this even for the people that, you know, they are trying their best, perhaps trying to work, trying to get jobs, whatever, you are taking away their transportation, making it even harder for them... GRIFFIN: Lisa, I can't believe that the people that the district attorney are going after are trying their best, but I want to ask you if you think that this is the right route, because potentially, you take away somebody's job. I mean, you take away somebody's car, you could take away their way to get to a job. So, they might pay in the future. What's your thought on this? LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY: That's right. Look, children need love and support and attention, but they also need money. Children need shoes and food and tuition, and so child support is very important. I support wage garnishments. I support tax liens. But I don't support this particular proposal, because it doesn't make sense to make it more difficult for a parent to get to work, and in most places in this country, you need a car to get to work. We need to help them to get to work and help them earn an income and garnish the wages, pay them directly to the other parent. It seems to me that's a much more effective way of supporting their kids. GRIFFIN: Mr. District Attorney, can you just -- without naming a name, give me an idea of the person you are going after and whether or not he fits into this category of somebody he's just really trying to find a job or get work, but he just can't because of the circumstances? JAMES: Certainly. We have one parent in particular that is $104,000 behind, and that parent has never paid child support. We have offered that parent amnesty on three different -- during three different years. We have made phone calls. We have tried to work things out. We have hauled that parent into court. He is GRIFFIN: And does that parent have the ability to pay? JAMES: Yes. Yet that parent can pay for gas in their car, which at this point unfortunately, if you have a SUV, it's up to $100...In Georgia, we have an extremely expensive ad valorem tax, that person can renew their tag and pay a lot of money. That person can do everything that they need. But when it comes to supporting the needs for their child, they refuse to do so. And, frankly, you know, if you're not using the money from the employment to pay for your child, then I don't have an issue with perhaps interrupting or compromising that employment. GRIFFIN: Glenn, let me just ask you, you can say what you want, but, hey, man, take a bus, pay up for your kid. SACKS: The fact is that these guys can scrounge together money to fill their gas tanks doesn't mean that they have money, enough money to pay whatever the child support order is. I'd ask this gentleman--he says he has a most wanted deadbeat parent list. I've been looking at those lists all over the country, the states and counties doing for years and years. You never find anybody on the list who's got a decent job. They are day laborers, construction workers, cashiers, roofers, who owe these fantastic sums of money and we are supposed to believe are these wealthy guys who ran out on the kids and now have the trophy wife and the Porsche... GRIFFIN: Well, wait a minute now. Wait a minute. They are plenty day laborers, roofers who are supporting their families, sir. I don't think that just because you are poor doesn't mean you cannot support the family. SACKS: Often the orders are set too high...
To learn more about the new DeKalb County child support measures, see DeKalb puts brakes on car tags for deadbeats (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/26/11). Fathers and Families has brought an enormous amount of media attention to the plight of low-income child support obligors over the past several years. To learn more about this issue, please see: Jeremy Lavine, one of the F & F members featured in the AP story, is an excellent example of the child support abuses we criticize. Lavine worked in the Real Estate industry and had a  $1,100 a month child support obligation based on a $4,500 a month income. Like so many in the Real Estate industry, his income evaporated, and he had to work repairing jet skis for about $1,500 a month. Yet the Florida Department of Children and Families told him his industry was going to bounce back and refused to give him a modification. The kicker? Lavine's kids live with him 50% of the time.

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I've written before about paternity fraud, but never a case like this one (Daily Mail, 5/29/11).  Because the events took place in England and the children are minors, no one is named. The man and his wife were married in 1979.  In 1999, he got the bad news that treatment for his severe arthritis could render him infertile, so he deposited some of his semen at a sperm bank where it was cryogenically preserved for future use should the need arise. But the pair divorced childless a year later.  Then, entirely unbeknownst to him, his ex-wife went to the sperm bank, forged his name on a document (presumably for the release of the specimen), convinced an in vitro fertilization clinic to inseminate her, conceived a child and gave birth to a daughter.  Amazingly enough, she repeated the process two years later and had a son. The man knew none of this.  Indeed, as his own father was dying, the man's ex-wife came to see her former father-in-law in the hospital and brought her daughter with her.  The man didn't know the child was his; his father died not knowing he had a granddaughter. Things went along normally enough for several years until the woman ran short of money, and I suppose there's no regular reader of this blog who can't figure out what happened next.  Of course, she went to court for child support.  The man argued that he had no knowledge of the children, had not consented to father children with his ex-wife, the entire thing had come about through the multiple frauds on the part of his ex and he had been kept from the children through her deceit. All in vain.  The judge ordered him to pay her £100,000 in back child support.  That was on top of the £200,000 he'd already spent on legal fees.  Of course he was given visitation with the children; at first it was supervised and now he sees them every other weekend. That's all true despite the fact that he'd remarried long before any of this came to light and had two children of his own.  He reports that his wife is dealing with the situation well and the two sets of kids get along fine. If you read much in the family law news, you'll soon run into a situation in which a man learns after the fact about a child he's fathered and whom the mother decided to keep secret from him.  That's what I call Type B paternity fraud.  Type A is when a woman tells a man her child is his when it's not.  Type B is when she refuses to tell him about his child or tells him it's someone else's. In those case, when the man seeks to enter the child's life after months or years, we will reliably read something to the effect that "yes, she did wrong, but what's important is the child's well-being and having a man who's a stranger to the child come  into the child's world would be too upsetting, etc."  But where child support is involved, it's funny how you never hear those voices. It's funny how, when it's all about money, unknown men can come and go and no one says "boo" about how upsetting to the child it must be.  That's because children adjust pretty well to new adults in their lives.  After all isn't that what divorce and remarriage accomplish - bringing a new parent into the child's life?  So keeping dads who learn about their kids after the fact out of their lives is not about child well-being.  It's about controlling dads' access to children.  It's about maintaining mothers' power over fathers' rights. And that coincidentally, is the main thing that sticks in our British dad's craw.
He said: 'I was stunned when I found out she had withdrawn my sperm without my consent because at the time we had split up and were going through a divorce. 'It was a deliberate act to bring two children into this world without a father to look after them. I was never at the clinic and I never signed the documents. 'I love the children and spend money on taking them out and buying them clothes, but it is an expense I shouldn't really have. The cost of this has been huge. 'It is scary to think how little control I had over it all. I just can't understand how they believed her.
"How little control." Actually, he had none at all.  And that's the main point.  In a culture that bends over backwards to give women control over their fertility and the consequences of their sexual choices, you might think that men would have the same, but you'd be wrong.  At every bend in the road from conception to childbirth to child rearing, men's parental rights are placed firmly in women's hands.  The least ingenuity on the part of a mother can deny a man all knowledge of and access to his child.  On the other hand it can require a man to support a child who's not his.  It can deny the finest and most loving father the right to even know about the adoption of his child by strangers.  It can deny visitation to a divorced father. That ingenuity can accomplish all those things and far more for one simple reason - the law allows it.  Sanity may dictate that, if we want fathers involved in children's lives, they have to have the opportunity to do so.  But what we do is entirely different.  What we do is reward deception and violations of court orders by mothers.  Never mind that cutting a father out of a child's life is bad for the child, we're glad to paper over the rift with nonsense about the best interests of the child. If you don't believe me, just listen to what the mother in our British case had to say:
The woman who forged her ex-husband's signature so she could have his children by IVF has refused to apologise and revealed she would 'do it again.' She said: 'I don't believe I have done anything wrong. It was getting later and later for me and I wanted to have a child. 'If I had not done it then I would not be blessed with my children. 'I have no regrets - I would do it again.  'The children known they came from the freezer and the younger one says he comes from Iceland, but they know they are loved.'
Who can argue?  After all, the law backs up everything she said.  It's all about her desires and she wasn't getting any younger, wanted kids so why not lie to the sperm bank, lie to the IVF clinic, defraud her ex-husband and deprive her children of a father during their early years?  What could be the problem with that? Well,  most people can find a lot wrong with it, but none of them happen to serve in the British Parliament.  According to British law, she seems to have done nothing wrong, so why should she see it any other way? There's a solution to this.  Every jurisdiction should have a law that says that no father can have his parental rights or obligations either diminished or established until he knows about his child and has an opportunity to take an active part in its life.  And no case shows it better than this one.  It is beyond outrageous that a perfectly upstanding man should be defrauded in this way.  It is worse still that he should be made to pay support to the woman who did the defrauding. Until laws change, children will still go without fathers and fathers without children, and mothers will still tell the world that paternity fraud isn't wrong. Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.

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I've often commented that courts sometimes seem on the verge of making motherhood a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card.  That in fact has been the specific rationale offered by certain jurists like Canada's justice Brownstone for refusing to enforce visitation orders.  After all, we don't want the children to be without their mom.  And it seems fairly routine for an attorney to argue that, since his/her client has children at home, she shouldn't pay the price for her criminal wrongdoing. But so far, those arguments don't work very well, at least in criminal courts.  All that may be changing though in the United Kingdom where this case recently came to light (Daily Mail, 5/28/11).  That may be remarkable, but what's more so is the fact that the beneficiary in the linked-to article isn't a mother but a father. He's Wayne Bishop and he's the sole caregiver for his five children.  He's not employed and on the dole, so he's understandably strapped for cash.  Where the mother of his children is and why she doesn't pay child support is not mentioned in the article. Whatever the case, he and a friend apparently decided to burglarize a club, but only made off with some chocolate.  The sticky-fingered crew were apprehended a few blocks from the scene of the crime, arrested and duly convicted of burglary and reckless driving.  He was sentenced to eight months in prison, but served only one.  Why?  He's got kids, that's why. I'm not making that up.  It seems that the UK passed the Human Rights Act in 1998 which was to give effect to the European Convention on Human Rights.  Article Eight of the Convention reads as follows:
Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life 1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Now, alert readers will have noticed that the prohibition on governmental interference with family life is limited.  Governmental actions that are otherwise "in accordance with the law and... necessary... for the prevention of crime,... or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others," are still OK. Those rather obvious exceptions to the right to family life would seem to be sufficient to keep Bishop in jail for the balance of his sentence, but no.
At the Appeal Court, Mr Justice Maddison and Mr Justice Sweeney agreed that imprisoning Bishop was not in the ‘best interests" of his children, and ordered the sentence to be suspended instead. The court was told that Bishop was the sole carer of his children, aged between six and 13, for five nights a week. Since he was jailed, the children have been cared for by his sister during the week and their mother, Bishop"s ex-partner Tracey York, 30, at weekends. The court heard the sister, a single parent, was already responsible for seven children and lived seven miles from the schools attended by her nieces and nephews. Mr Justice Sweeney suggested it was hardly in the children"s best interests for their father to be out committing burglary and asked who had been looking after them at that time. But he and Mr Justice Maddison together concluded that the judge who jailed Bishop at Nottingham Crown Court had not paid enough attention to the effect that imprisonment would have on  his children. Mr Justice Maddison said: ‘It is important that criminals should not think that children can provide some sort of licence to commit offences with impunity. ‘All of that said, however, we have to be aware of the highly unsatisfactory and difficult situation faced by the children and those now doing their best to look after them."
For his part, Bishop has pronounced himself a "lucky boy." Now, I strongly suspect that the judges aren't truly issuing a get-out-of-jail-free card to all convicts with children.  My guess is that the relatively trivial nature of the offense plus the fact that Bishop was the sole caregiver for the children, plus the unsatisfactory nature of the substitute parenting arrangement all played big roles in springing him from jail. I also strongly suspect that that type of reasoning will, in the future, be used almost exclusively for the benefit of mothers.  They are, after all, more likely than fathers to be the sole caregivers for children. Why Bishop is the children's only parent, I don't know.  But I do know that family courts in the UK are renowned for marginalizing fathers in the lives of their children in every imaginable way.  For the most part, that takes the form of unequal custody awards coupled with their refusal to enforce visitation, but there are plenty of others. So when we couple that behavior by family courts with what looks to be the future of sentencing in criminal courts, a more complete picture begins to take shape.  In short, family courts create 'sole caregivers' and criminal courts turn a blind eye to their wrongdoing as long as they have inadequate back-up parenting plans and commit relatively minor offenses.  It's a sort of perfect, self-contained system brought to you courtesy of some of the looniest laws imaginable. Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.

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Vladek Filler was found not guilty of raping his wife in a retrial of the 2007 charges.  Read about it here (Bangor Daily News, 5/27/11).  Filler is the Maine man who was charged with rape and two counts of misdemeanor assault by his wife Ligia.  Despite being advised by police to be examined medically for evidence of rape, Filler's accuser refused to do so.  In fact, it was almost a month after the alleged incident that she thought to complain about it at all.  And that was immediately after Filler had told her he was going to leave her and attempt to get custody of their two children. Ligia had made false allegations against other men before.  So there was no physical evidence of abuse at the first trial and the couple's son, who was 11 at the time told police that it was Ligia who had assaulted Vladek, not the other way around.  But Assistant District Attorney Mary Kellett took the case to trial anyway and won convictions on all three counts. Vladek was released on bail pending his appeal and, amazingly enough, was given custody of the two children.  The appellate court overturned his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial which came to an end last Friday with 'not guilty' verdicts on the rape charge and one of the assault charges.  Filler was found guilty on the third misdemeanor assault charge.  He was released pending sentencing which, if there's any justice, will be time already served. Even that charge, despite the jury's verdict, seems dubious.  Here's the description by the Bangor Daily News of the 'evidence' supporting it:
"Filler"s wife testified her memory was unclear about the alleged physical assaults and, though there was testimony about Filler"s wife having a bruise around the time of the second alleged assault, there has been no clear evidence introduced at trial about how she got that bruise."
So Filler's announced that he'll appeal that too. The taxpayers of the county in which the case was tried have spent who knows what amount of money to persecute a man who looks to me to have done nothing wrong.  That's mostly thanks to the latest misdeeds of ADA Kellett whose record of prosecuting men for evidence-free allegations of sex crimes has been well-documented elsewhere.  From here Kellett looks like another true believer who swallows any story told by a woman about a man committing an illegal sex act.  The canons of ethics for prosecuting attorneys include the concept of exercising professional judgment about what cases to prosecute and which ones to drop.  Kellett seems to have little understanding of which sexual assault cases are meritorious and which ones aren't.  And the taxpayers of the state pay the price for her inability. Of course a man who is surely innocent of the only serious charge against him has paid an enormous price in attorneys fees, heartache, anguish and time behind bars.  He should never have had to do any of that.  A responsible prosecutor would have looked at the case and seen that the allegations originated during a custody case, there was no physical evidence, the couple's older child said it was his mother who was violent, the accuser was mentally unstable and had made false accusations before.  That same responsible prosecutor would have dropped the case like a hot rock. And speaking of cases, in l'affaire Filler, there is actually an assault case that has some evidence to back it up.  The Filler's oldest son said he saw his mother hit his father in the face on at least one occasion.  Since the testimony comes from the son and not a party to a divorce case who's trying to gain the upper hand, it carries enough weight to convict.  So where's the DA's office on charging Ligia Filler with assaulting her husband?  No word on that as yet.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Award-winning theater director Susan Stroman"][/caption] "As a little girl growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, whenever I found myself in a conundrum I looked to my father for advice. And always he offered the same encouragement: 'Ask yourself, What's the worst that could happen? Someone might tell you no, but there's no harm in that.' "[My advice to graduates is to] Just take a chance.

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The good news in Dr. William Fabricius' paper entitled "The Bad News about Divorce and Children Is Worse than We Thought, but the Good News Is Better than We Thought" is that the public supports equal parenting.  If you read my previous post on the paper, delivered to the Canadian Senate's Roundtable on Family Dynamics, you'll recall that the bad news is the epidemic of fatherlessness and the serious problems fatherless children are prone to having.  Fabricius reprised some of the social science on the physical and mental health deficits children without fathers or with poor paternal relationships exhibit. So the good news is that the general public doesn't want it to be that way.
There is now a strong consensus among the general public that equal parenting time is best for the child. Large majorities favor it in all the locales and among all the demographic groups in the United States and Canada in which this question has been asked, and across several variations in question format.
For example, in a nationwide poll done at the insistence of the Canadian Parliament, 78% of those asked said they "strongly preferred" or "somewhat preferred" a presumption of equal parenting post-divorce.  In Massachusetts in 2004, 85% of voters in a non-binding referendum voted in favor of a presumption of equally shared parenting in custody cases. Those have been followed up by recent studies done by Fabricius and Dr. Sanford Braver.  In 2010, Fabricius asked a cohort of people waiting to serve on juries in Tucson the same question that Bay State residents were asked in the non-binding referendum.  Some 87% of Arizonans asked  favored the presumption of equally shared parenting. This year, Braver, Fabricius, et al went further and designed a study that confronted respondents with various hypothetical fact situations and asked them to, in effect, be the judge, i.e. to "issue a custody order" in each hypothetical case. When parents in the cases were said to have done about equal amounts of childcare during the marriage, 69% of respondents said they should have equal parenting time post-divorce.  When childcare was radically unequal, almost half of respondents still awarded equal parenting time. When parents were equally responsible for marital conflict, respondents awarded equal parenting time in about two-thirds of cases.  The only thing that steered respondents away from equal parenting after divorce was when one or the other spouse was solely or largely responsible for the marital conflict.  When one person instigated conflict and the other attempted to dampen or deflect it, the instigator paid a price in parenting time. Interestingly, fathers were more likely to be punished for instigating conflict than were mothers.  Only 4% of respondents awarded equal parenting time to instigating fathers while 21% gave equal time to mothers responsible for conflict.
This public consensus about equal parenting time revealed in all these surveys is probably best characterized as a cultural value rather than mere opinion, given both its connection to the long-term historical trend toward gender equality, and the evidence for its universality and robustness. Regarding norms of practice, there appears to be a slow trend toward greater amounts of parenting time with fathers, especially equal parenting time. In our data collected in 2005-06 in which the students" parents had divorced on average 10 years earlier, about 9% of students reported equal PT (50%). In Wisconsin the percentage of divorced parents with equal PT increased from 15% in 1996-99 to 24% in 2003-04 (Brown & Cancian, 2007). In Washington, the percentage of divorced parents with equal PT was approximately 20% in 2008-09 (George, 2009). In Arizona the percentage of case files specifying equal PT tripled from 5% in 2002 (Venohr & Griffith, 2003) to 15% in 2007 (Venohr & Kaunelis, 2008).
Then, in a classic example of academic understatement, Fabricius notes:
The above makes it clear that the practice of equal parenting time lags the consensus about its value.
That's putting it mildly.  In other words, what the people prefer, judges and legislators do not. I've kvetched about that very thing a lot and doubtless will again.  Apparently it's not enough that the social science overwhelmingly favors greater father involvement in children's lives post-divorce; nor is it enough that people seem to like the idea of equally shared parenting; nor is it enough that the political concept of gender equality itself argues plainly in favor of equal parenting time.  Judges and legislators aren't having it, as the data Fabricius presents strongly suggest. But that's not the conclusion Fabricius draws.
Thus the reason that the practice of equal parenting time lags the consensus about its value, despite much evidence that fathers desire more parenting time (see Fabricius et al., 2010), appears to be that fathers do not bargain harder because of the guidance they receive from attorneys, and their own widespread belief, that the system has a maternal bias.
And it's there that I part ways with Dr. Fabricius.  I'll say more about that in a future post.

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When Dr. William Fabricius asks the question here why the practice of child custody orders differs so sharply from the widespread belief in equal parenting time post-divorce, he ventures into uncharted waters.  Sadly, he doesn't navigate well. Here's his conclusion:
Thus the reason that the practice of equal parenting time lags the consensus about its value, despite much evidence that fathers desire more parenting time (see Fabricius et al., 2010), appears to be that fathers do not bargain harder because of the guidance they receive from attorneys, and their own widespread belief, that the system has a maternal bias.
In othe words, family attorneys believe there's an anti-dad bias in family courts.  They advise their male clients of their belief and, their male clients, having the same belief, tend to not bargain very hard for parenting time. That of course raises the question of whether those family attorneys are correct in their belief about family court bias.  Oddly enough, Fabricius never once considers the possibility that they might be.  To my mind, when thousands of attorneys who practice daily in family courts agree that there's an anti-dad bias in custody decisions, the smart money doesn't ignore them.  Fabricius does. Instead, he offers his only evidence that family court judges aren't biased against dads.  It seems he attended a conference of family judges and commissioners, gave the same hypothetical examples to them that he'd given to the Tucson jury pool members and sure enough, some 90% of them said they'd give equal custody. The most obvious problem with that survey is that only 30 judges were polled.  It seems a bit much for an experienced researcher to ask us to believe that such a small sample actually represents family judges generally. That seems particularly flawed when he chalks up to a mere "belief" the opinions of experienced family attorneys that there's an anti-dad bias in family courts.  Illogically, he goes on to claim that that "belief," not actual bias, must be the cause of fathers getting the short end of the custody stick. Likewise Fabricius ignores altogether evidence out of Washington State here about the actual practices of family court judges there.  For several years now, Washington State has compiled records on every custody case decided there.  The results suggest that Dr. Fabricius' theory that if dads only ignored their attorneys and tried for more parenting time they'd succeed is too facile by half. The Washington data show that, in the year 2009-10, fathers were awarded less parenting time than mothers in 66% of all cases.  Fathers got more time than mothers in 17% of cases and the rest of the cases saw parenting time divided equally. More to the point, Washington took a look at contested and agreed cases.  In other words, the state examined what happens when dads don't just passively agree to a custody arrangement, but fight for what they want.  In other words, they do exactly what Fabricius says they should. Here are the results:
To examine whether the residential time of children was related to the type of decision, cases in which there were no risk factors for either parent were compared. For agreed cases, 64% of the mothers received the majority of time, and 22% of mothers and fathers received equal time (see Exhibit 6). For the few contested cases, 67% of mothers received the majority of time, but only 5% of mothers and fathers received equal time.
So according to the Washington State data, contesting matters tends to be a bad idea for fathers.  Certainly, those data aren't definitive.  They don't tell us who's contesting what and again the sample size isn't large because the vast majority of cases are agreed to by the parties. But what the data suggest is that things go better for dads if they don't contest the case.  Stated another way, they stand a better chance with their ex than they do with the judge. In agreed cases, mothers get majority time in 64% of cases while in contested cases they rate goes up to 67%.  That's not much, but if a dad is going for equal time, contesting the matter is a bad idea.  His chances of winning equal custody drop from 22% to 5% if he contests the matter. Fabricius might argue that the same holds true for mothers.  After all, her chances of getting equal time drop the same as dad's - from 22% to 5%.  But that argument ignores one large, if inconvenient, truth.  When a father fails to get equal time, he likely gets less; when a mother does, she likely gets more.  So the drop from 22% to 5% of equal custody for both men and women when cases are contested masks an important fact - it's a win for her and a loss for him.   Another fact that suggests bias against fathers and the idea of equal parenting is the fact that, although the idea has been around for many years, no jurisdiction (with the partial and short-lived exception of Australia) has ever passed a law mandating a presumption of equally shared parenting. Granted, judges aren't state legislators and vice versa, but the fact that proposed statutes establishing the presumption invariably fail surely tells us something about how fathers are viewed.  Combine that with Fabricius and Braver's conclusion that there's widespread public support for equal parenting and we're left with an unavoidable question - "why don't legislatures do the will of the people in the case of equal parenting?" I've argued before and I'll do so again that that is a function of political elites deciding what's best for the rest of us.  And it should come as no surprise that what they decide regarding equal parenting is invariably anti-dad.  How can that be anything but bias if the people generally support equal parenting? Finally, let's not forget that the entire nationwide structure of child support militates against equal parenting.  That's because, for every dollar in child support states collect, they get reimbursed a percentage by the federal government.  Equal parenting reduces child support amounts, and therefore reduces the inflow of federal dollars to states. So Fabricius' argument that family judges really aren't biased against dads despite the fact that family law attorneys believe they are and the fact that their rulings in agreed and contested cases alike indicate they are requires a lot more support than a survey of 30 judges in Arizona.

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This is an excellent article by George Chandler, an attorney in Los Alamos, New Mexico (Albuquerque Journal, 5/8/11). It's about the behavior of and laws governing the child welfare agency in that state, the Child Protective Services Division of the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD).  That means it only applies to incidents occurring in the Land of Enchantment, but it contains good advice and information for people elsewhere. His main point is that people tend to use reports of child abuse to the CYFD as a means to take revenge or conduct a vendetta against an ex-spouse, a disliked neighbor or relative.  Not surprisingly, a lot of those reports turn out to be unsubstantiated and a fair number are false or malicious.
In a story on the new hotline recently instituted by CYFD, the Journal on April 8 quoted the secretary of CYFD saying that the previous hotline received about 75,000 calls a year, of which only 4,000 were   substantiated.
That's a little over 5%.  Of course not all of the 71,000 unsubstantiated calls were falsely or maliciously made; surely many of them were by well-meaning people with a genuine concern for the welfare of children.  But just as surely many of them were of the other kind. That's because reporting is anonymous.  CYFD is barred by law from divulging the names of reporters of child abuse, the better to encourage people to report suspicious activities or apparent injuries to children.  The idea may be a good one, but its misuse should come as no surprise. The New Mexico statute says that people who make false reports maliciously or in bad faith can be prosecuted, but apparently no one ever has been.  So reporting abuse is a free shot to anyone who desires to do so. Reports made in bad faith are supposedly weeded out by a screening process, but, as with so much about child welfare agencies, it's understaffed and overworked.  So there's little actual screening done.  It's easier to pass the case along to an investigator who is him/herself under-trained and overworked. All of this would be acceptable if no one got hurt by being investigated by CYFD, but many are.  That's partly because of the notorious heavy-handedness of the agency.  It's also because of the nature of having to defend your parenting choices to a governmental investigator who likely has neither the time nor the interest in grasping the nuances of your child's needs. In Chandler's experience, parents of children with disabilities, particularly autism, have the most difficulty convincing investigators that how they parent their children is appropriate.
These situations often create suspicions in a person who sees a parent, for example, dealing with an autistic child in a manner recommended by autism specialists that looks to the casual observer very much like abuse. Many of these parents are totally absorbed in their children"s care and treatment and have no time in their lives for many of the activities most of us take for granted. A report to CYFD can mean they will be spending weeks and months dealing with overzealous investigators checking absurd allegations made out of total ignorance by a well-meaning neighbor, schoolteacher or caregiver. This is a disruption to that family that can trigger family chaos, and can send their always precarious finances into a tailspin with attorneys fees and additional doctor"s fees.
The real tragedy is that the experience can be as traumatic to children as actual abuse would be, when a CYFD worker shows up at the door with a cop in tow, demanding   to remove the child"s clothes to inspect for signs of physical abuse.
As with so many governmental agencies, CYFD tends to want to do its job at the expense of people's rights.  So Chandler sketches in the rights of New Mexicans when contacted by CYFD.
[A]lthough they are required by law to inform persons of the allegations against them at initial contact, they have never done this for any of my clients. Asked for the allegations by a knowledgeable subject, they will attempt to bargain the allegations for the surrender of another right, for example the right not to submit to an interview with investigators or the right not to allow the investigator into the house. I tell my clients not to discuss anything with CYFD outside my presence, which is their right; one investigator responded to this by threatening to substantiate the report because if my client wanted a lawyer present she must be guilty of the allegations. In Los Alamos, the police department insists on accompanying CYFD to the door, so the investigators like to bluff by threatening subjects with immediate removal of the child, which they cannot do except in exceptional circumstances that are not present in these cases.
What Chandler doesn't say is that child welfare agencies have a nasty habit of circumventing the rights of the parents they investigate by going to court to obtain an "emergency" ex parte order.  In court, without the parents present to oppose their claims, the agency can convince a judge to issue an order to take the kids and, if the parents resist, they can be jailed for refusing to obey the court's order.  That's precisely what happened to Maryanne Godboldo in Detroit. Chandler has some good advice for reporters - don't be too quick to report something you don't know much about.  Take the time to learn some details about who the parents are and why they might be treating a child in a particular way. He's got some advice for CYFD too.
For CYFD I have four pleas: Publish guidelines for these reports. Develop better, realistic screening that includes asking about and looking critically into the relationship of the reporter to the alleged perpetrator. Insist that your investigators scrupulously follow the law on the rights of their subjects -- I have known a number of people who would have cooperated willingly with an investigator had they been approached in a reasonable manner and according to the very clear rules set forth in the statutes and CYFD regulations, and this would have saved CYFD a lot of time and resources.
Finally, put some of your valuable resources into prosecuting some of those malicious and bad faith reporters that you have been ignoring. The statute plainly gives you that option, and the investment will pay off in efficiency in the long run if the reporter understands you will not tolerate being used to accomplish their vendetta.
The last one is of particular interest to advocates for family court reform.  It's well known that allegations of child abuse are routine in divorce and child custody cases.  Many of those allegations are false and made only to gain the upper hand in family court. Since family courts seem unwilling to punish false swearers, it would help if prosecutors would do so.

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This articletells us that the British MP for Northampton South, Brian Brinley has introduced a bill requiring the presumption of equal parenting post divorce, with certain exceptions which the article doesn't describe (Northampton Chronicle and Echo, 6/1/11).  One assumes that those include the usual exceptions such as child or spousal abuse, illegal drug use, criminal behavior, etc. And, predictable as the sunrise, his bill has been met with criticism, this time by a research organization, the Nuffield Foundation.

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ladn-logoFathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS, and Executive Director Glenn Sacks have co-authored Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11), laying out the case for CA SB 375, a paternity fraud bill. The  Daily News is Los Angeles' 2nd largest newspaper, and the piece was the lead op-ed. To write a Letter to the Editor about the column, please click here. To post a comment on it, please click here. In the column we wrote:
The Arnold Schwarzenegger paternity case has revealed a large flaw in California family law, one which, ironically, Schwarzenegger attempted to fix while Governor. The flaw? Schwarzenegger fathered a child with Mildred Patty Baena, who was married to Rogelio Baena at the time. Under California law, Schwarzenegger wouldn"t be obligated to pay a dime in child support--but deceived husband Rogelio Baena would be. Currently the only person who can be held legally responsible to support the child is the mother"s then-husband, who is presumed to be the father because the child was born into the marriage. Judges routinely (and at times apologetically) saddle such "duped dads' with stiff child support orders. In one paternity fraud case, Arthur Gilbert, presiding judge of the Second District, Division 6 Court of Appeal, wrote:
"I reluctantly concur with the majority. Once again I vent my frustration over the state of [California] law in paternity cases…I would reverse the judgment--if I could. But I cannot…[I] suggest the Legislature reconsider…Is anyone listening?'
This year, Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) introduced SB 375, which would end the marital paternity presumption. This ancient presumption is anachronistic and destructive, and has led to horrendous injustices. In some cases, a divorced man must pay child support for the child of his ex-wife and her paramour--and pay it into the household where the paramour and the ex-wife, the two biological parents, now live! In others, there"s "father shopping'--if mom can get more child support out of her ex-husband than her ex-boyfriend, then he"s "dad.' The most common scenario is this: a husband does not learn that the child of his marriage is not his child until after the limited window for challenging paternity has closed. After the couple divorces, the mother minimizes or withholds visitation, sometimes citing the father"s non-paternity as a justification. Yet dad is still forced to pay child support--for children who are not his, and with whom he is not allowed to have a relationship... Getting the biological parentage wrong can have serious and damaging medical consequences for children. Current California law declares that there is a compelling state interest in determining paternity for all children. SB 375 would instead declare that there is a "compelling state interest in determining biological paternity for all children.' Legislation to encourage accurate paternity identifications for medical reasons has been supported by many prestigious medical institutions, including the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In March, over 50 physicians signed a letter to Senator Wright emphasizing that "good patient care includes accurate family histories,' and urging California to "employ reasonable means, including DNA testing, to accurately determine children's paternity'... Texas family court judge David Hanschen, expressing frustration over a paternity fraud case in his court in which the limited time allowed for challenging paternity had expired, recently wrote: "The ultimate victims of [current] laws are ignored--the children. To decide a child cannot know who his real parents are because an arbitrary amount of time has passed is manifestly unjust…the truth doesn't have a statute of limitation."
To read the full column, click here.

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The following was written by Fathers and Families supporter and blog contributor, Karl Hindle. David Goldman is the first U.S. parent to successfully recover his child from Brazil, with Sean being returned on Christmas Eve, 2009. Since then, hundreds of American children have been kidnapped overseas with thousands continuing to be unlawfully retained around the world. Six left-behind parents (including Goldman) testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. In total, 117 parents of kidnapped children crammed into the hot committee room of the Rayburn Building across from the Capitol. Rep. Smith came to prominence on the issue of international child abduction during his support of Goldman in his 5 year long ordeal to convince the Brazilian authorities to return his abducted son. Smith traveled to Brazil on several occasions with Goldman and was a prime mover in building political support, including the intercession of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. For David and Sean Goldman there has been a fairytale happy ending, however as the testimony of other parents emerged, for most left-behind parents the enduring nightmare of separation from their children continues. Few parents are complimentary about how the prime U.S. agency involved, the Office of Children's Issues (OCI) at the State Department has handled their cases.  Carlos Bermudez, whose son, Sage, was abducted to Mexico 4 years ago testified concerning his dealings with OCI, "My God, they put the DMV in charge of recovering my son!' Bermudez is not alone in criticizing OCI specifically and the State Department generally; even in the Goldman case it was not until Congress blocked a multi- billion trade deal with Brazil that Sean was returned home. Sara Edwards was the lone mother who testified before the committee regarding her son, Eli, abducted to Turkey last year. When asked about her interaction with the State Department, a visibly upset Edwards replied, "They are professional but remote, it is as if they were doing only what is required.' When Smith asked how many had contact with the U.S. ambassador in the countries to which their children had been kidnapped, all replied they had not been able to do so. Summing up the dire plight of current levels of support for victim parents, Rep. Smith said, "I have spoken to dozens of left-behind parents and there is a sense I get from many that if they are too strong with OCI there will be retaliation that may come their way or their case will get mothballed.' Smith is not alone in identifying issues with Hague Convention compliance, last year, a British newspaper highlighted the plight of British children abducted to the United States; over one-third of them are not returned to the U.K. Meanwhile, the U.K. is described as a "model partner' by the State Department in its annual Compliance Report on the Hague Convention. How diplomacy and international law failed Goldman, and are clearly failing thousands of other children kidnapped overseas, has obviously influenced Smith. The previous day he re-introduced his bill, which failed to pass last year and is now known as H.R.1940. The new bill provides the president with a graduated list of 18 new powers, including the power to impose economic sanctions on countries which do not comply with the Hague Convention (the international law governing international child abduction). H.R.1940 is likely to find broad, bi-partisan support among lawmakers, many of whom are dealing with constituents with children abducted overseas. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently wrote a strongly worded letter to Costa Rican President Laura Miranda, outlining economic sanctions if Emily Koyama, the 2 year old daughter of Roy Koyama, was not returned to the U.S. In that case, the Costa Rican courts have ordered the return of Emily to the U.S., however the mother, supported by a Costa Rican women"s group, has now filed for refugee status for herself and the child. There is a clear lesson from the testimony of left-behind parents, and from the Goldman experience - when diplomacy and international law fail, robust action must be taken and taken quickly. For Joshua Izzard, Colin Bower, Michael Elias, Sara Edwards, Carlos Bermudez and the more than one hundred other attending left-behind parents, robust action is long overdue. If the threat of sanctions worked for David Goldman, it ought to work for everyone else.

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Recently, I had occasion to take exception to the claim of Dr. William Fabricius that family courts aren't biased against fathers in custody cases.  His sole evidence consisted of a survey he did of 30 Arizona family court judges and commissioners.  Their responses to the hypothetical cases he asked them to decide are strikingly at odds with custody decisions nationwide and in Arizona.  In his hypothetical cases, 90% of the judges said they'd award equal custody. But of course neither they nor the rest of the family court judges across the country and throughout the English-speaking world do anything like that.  His theory that if fathers just bargained harder for equal custody, they'd get it, is directly refuted by data from Washington State that shows that contesting cases results not in more equal parenting time for dads, but less. Now, as if to add an exclamation point to the matter, this case tells us that a family court judge in Arkansas did exactly what Fabricius doubts family court judges do; he discriminated against the father because he's a man. The case is short on facts, but it appears that the father, LaTroy Hamilton was found to be the father of a seven-year-old girl.  Where the mother is remains unknown.  The girl has been taken care of by her maternal aunt, Janet Easter, since birth.  Hamilton has been found to be a fit father and has undertaken all of his parental responsibilities.  Still, when Hamilton asked the court to place his daughter in his custody, he was denied because doing so would not be in her best interest. The appellate court found
We agree that the trial court improperly considered the sex of the parent in awarding custody. The trial court found that appellant satisfied all of the statutory criteria set out in Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-113 (Repl. 2009) except for best interest. The determination that it would not be in the child"s best interest for custody to be awarded to her father was based expressly on the finding that appellant is a man and the child is a girl...
Oddly enough, the trial court's "reasoning" went as follows:
This . . . is so important because while [appellant"s] grandmother is in his home, there is no mother figure with whom D.D. is familiar to answer the questions her body will be asking her in the near future. There is only the one to whom she has looked up to as mother and custodian, her aunt, [appellee] Ms. Easter.
Stated another way, a father can't talk to his daughter about puberty, menstuation, ovulation, sex and pregnancy; only a woman can do that.  I wonder how many mothers are denied custody of sons because of the need to talk to them about puberty, sex, condoms, pregnancy and the like. The overt bias of the trial court judge is the more remarkable because it's explicitly prohibited by Arkansas law.  Arkansas statutes make it clear that the sex of the parent may not be considered in awarding custody.  So, given that the prohibition is there in the law in black and white, the power of the urge to discriminate against fathers is there for all to see, at least in this case. Of course, this case alone means nothing about other cases elsewhere.  But when a judge faced with a clear prohibition against discriminating on the basis of a father's sex does so anyway, is it not entirely possible that similar things occur regarding different issues in family courts across the country?  In other words, whatever the specific situation, there are plenty of excuses to find it in the "best interest of the child" to give custody to Mom and not Dad?  After all, we've been at 85% maternal custody at least since 1993, and before that it was even more radically skewed against fathers. I've said before that I don't believe that judges march into court every morning with the thought "how can I discriminate against dads today?"  I don't think their bias is conscious.  My guess is that if we were to ask the trial judge in LaTroy Hamilton's case if his decision was based on anti-father or anti-male bias, he's indignantly deny it.  He'd tell us that he's just trying to do what's best for the child. And it just so happens that that truly genuine desire on the part of judges results in maternal custody 85% of the time.  They're products of a culture that believes women should be mothers and men should be breadwinners.  Until someone shows me something that compels a different conclusion, that will continue to look like bias to me. So here's a prediction: the appellate court remanded Hamilton's case to the trial level to revisit the issue of the best interest of the child and to make a custody ruling on that basis.  My prediction is that the court will once again decide that the best interests of the child require her to stay with Janet Easter.  The judge will just prudently refrain from mentioning anything about the sex of the father, and it'll all be nice and legal. My prediction is made advisedly.  Here's what the appellate court told the trial court:
For the guidance of the trial court, however, we note that parental preference does not apply with equal strength in cases where a child has been entrusted to the custody of another and familial bonds have been allowed to develop.
For that proposition the court cites a 1955 case.  If that's not a signal to deny custody to the father, I've never seen one.  It's the old situation in which a man learns about his child months or years after the fact, by which time "familial bonds have been allowed to develop."  So the theory is that disturbing those bonds would be too upsetting for the child, so once again, Dad's out of the picture. That of course raises the issue of how it came to pass that LaTroy Hamilton came into his daughter's life so late.  Did he not know about his child?  I'd bet on it.  Otherwise, why would the court say that he's a fit father and has "undertaken his parental responsibilities?" Here's my second prediction:  the mother or the aunt decided to raise the child without Hamilton's knowledge and received Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) from the state.  The Office of Child Support Enforcement got involved to get reimbursement of the state from the dad, at which point, for the first time, LaTroy Hamilton was informed he had a daughter.  That's why the OCSE is a party to the case. That happens a lot in this country in which over 40% of children are born out of wedlock and in which some 7-10% of children are fathered by men who don't know about their children.  When a man's parental rights depend on his knowing about his child and no law requires the mother to tell him, this sort of thing is bound to happen often. But never to mothers.  It biologically can't happen to mothers, only to fathers.  So the laws that allow the development of "familial bonds" in the absence of the father which then deny him his parental rights, begin to look like discrimination against fathers. Which of course they are. Thanks to Tony for the heads-up.

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I've written a fair amount about child abduction - both domestic and international - by parents.  I've referred several times to the paper delivered to the United Nations by psychologist Nancy Faulkner that describe parental child abduction as child abuse. That's true because the abduction deprives the child of every adult who's become important to him/her and replaces them all with one person - the abducting parent.  It's also true because of the way people on the run from the law are forced to live.  They have to change their names and in a number of different ways, can't live as ordinary people.  And it's finally true because the personality profile of the abducting parent is one of a particularly needy adult.  Typically the child is called on to meet the parent's needs. And of course the child is deprived of the other parent.  Whatever relationship he/she had with the other parent is destroyed by a single blow. So given that parental child abduction is such a serious psychological matter for the child, to say nothing of illegal, you'd think that authorities would treat it seriously.  After all, don't family courts intone the mantra of "the best interests of the child" with numbing frequency?  Don't we pay CPS agencies scads of money every year to oversee parental care of children who may or may not be in distress?  We take child welfare seriously, don't we? Or do we?  It was just last Friday that Fathers and Families supporter and sometime blogger Karl Hindle reported on congressional hearings on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  Several parents who have been so unfortunate as to have children abducted by a spouse or partner testified before the committee.  Each without exception described the U.S. State Department as virtually useless in getting children back.  One describe the State Department as essentially going through the motions, but doing little else to support "left-behind" parents. Then there was the case of David Shubert, the Colorado father whose wife kidnapped their two children to Australia.  That country is a signatory to the Convention and, over a number of months, brought an action against Shubert's ex and eventually threatened to jail her if she didn't return the children to the United States. So she did.  She appeared before a Colorado judge who held a hearing and gave her full custody of the children and full freedom to take them back to Australia.  In short, the judge ratified her abduction of the children. The only thing more remarkable about the case was the judge's "reasoning."  He dutifully went through all of the applicable parts of Colorado law on child custody, found that Shubert was the better parent on all of them, found that his ex had violated several provisions, and then simply added a consideration of his own - that she had been the primary parent during the period of the children's abduction. So the judge not only ignored Colorado law, but substituted his own bias in favor of a mother who'd been the children's primary caregiver.  Never mind that it was her own illegal act that allowed her to do so.  And of course there was not a word about child abduction being child abuse. Which brings us to a case that I've reported on before here.  It's about Nancy Fiedler aka Melissa Reed aka Nancy Dunsavage.  Twenty-five years ago, she and her husband Greg Fiedler split up and, during the custody case, he got primary custody of their daughter Eva Marie who was six at the time. So Nancy snatched the girl and successfully hid out in Nevada using several name changes to avoid detection.  Interestingly enough, it was only when Eva Marie, then 32, wanted to get married, was her mother found and arrested.  That's because Eva Marie had no social security number which was necessary to obtain a marriage license.  (How a person gets to be 32 without a SSN is one I'm still trying to figure out.)  When she applied for a SSN, her mother's cover was blown and she was arrested and returned to New Jersey where they'd lived prior to her kidnapping. That was back in October.  This article tells us the sentence for her crime (Greenfield Reporter, 6/4/11).  She spent 18 days in jail last October and that's what her sentence is - 18 days, i.e. time served.  For 25 years she deprived a child of her father and a father of his child.  She deprived her of a grandmother and grandfather, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  They lived as fugitives for 25 years.  Nancy Dunsavage committed child abuse.  For that she gets 18 days. We say we condemn child abuse, but we don't.  The State Department doesn't appear interested and courts at least find many reasons to condone it.

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In 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council "adopted new complaint procedures aimed at addressing "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.' Now five Israeli fathers have taken them at their word.  As this article tells us, the men have filed complaints with the United Nations Human Rights Council about Israel's treatment of fathers in child custody matters (Jerusalem Post, 6/2/11). I wrote a piece recently about one Israeli dad, a journalist, who likened his treatment at the hands of his ex-wife and the courts to a horrific incident of terrorism he'd covered years before.  The fathers who filed the complaint with the UNHRC call it "institutionalized torture." Bombast?  Maybe so, but of course if reasoned discourse solved the problem, it would have been solved long ago.  Fathers in many parts of the world know that. Still, in Israel, things seem to be far worse than in, say the United States.  Indeed, that's all the Israeli men are asking for - to bring Israel's family law into line with that of nations such as the U.S., Canada, England, etc. To me that's far too modest an aspiration, because fathers' rights to a relationship with their children are astonishingly limited and hard to enforce here.  But if nothing else, the desire of the Israeli dads to be treated not well, but only as well as dads elsewhere, speaks volumes about Israeli law and court practice. A closer look reveals a scandal.  First, the Tender Years doctrine is still in force in Israel.  Under it, any child under the age of six is automatically given to the mother. Fathers supposedly have rights of access, but only if the mother approves.  So any mother for any reason can for all times separate a child from its father by fiat. That of course is possible in the U.S., but it usually takes some effort, including lying, secretiveness and the willingness to violate the law for an American mom to keep fathers out of their children's lives.  In Israel, it's official; a word from the mother and he's out of the picture. But Israel has inserted yet another institutional barrier against fathers who want a relationship with their kids - the social worker.  Apparently, even when a mother agrees to visitation by the dad, social workers are delegated by courts to decide how much, when and under what circumstances fathers can see their children and children can see their fathers. This last group the five fathers filing the petition call '"personal criminal Probation Officers' that cancel visitations at whim." One of the dads added:
"We hope that this will change the law in Israel and I will be able to see my son,' commented Daniel Zer, a father who has not seen his son for more than two years.
"A lot of divorced fathers are in this position and they have to rely on the mercy of social workers to see their son or daughter.'
Among those divorced fathers who are forced to beg the indulgence of a despised ex as well as that of an indifferent or even hostile social worker are some 200 divorced Israeli fathers who have committed suicide in the recent past.  Israel's Coalition for Children and Families is currently investigating their cases preliminary to reporting to the U.N. So what the five Israeli dads want is to simply have it as good as dads do in the U.S.  As I said, that's a modest goal. Where they seek to break new ground though is in their attack on the best interests of the child standard that places the burden of proof on fathers to show that they're good enough to have minimal visitation.  What should happen is that father contact with children be presumed to be in the child's best interests and that anyone seeking to separate him from his child have the burden of proof to show he's unfit.  The same of course should apply to mothers and anyone seeking to deny a child access to maternal care.
Recently, MK Yulia Shamolov Berkovich (Kadima) sponsored two conferences in parliament addressing "equality of the sexes' and a petition ("Adam Zer, a minor v. Ministry of Welfare') was submitted to the High Court of Justice by Daniel Zer, who said the practice of forcing men to prove it is in the best interest of the child to see the father violates basic and natural human rights.
The United States Supreme Court has gotten very close to saying that biological parents have rights to children that states may not infringe upon absent a showing of unfitness.  That as much as requires state law to place the burden of proof on anyone seeking to deny a father a relationship with his child to show a reason (unfitness) why he shouldn't have one. And, as I've reported earlier, the Supreme Court of Kentucky has called the rights of biological parents "inherent, equitable" rights.  That comes close to saying they don't stem from the Constitution or any other act of government.  It seems to say that the rights of biological parents arise simply from the fact of their biological parentage.  That too would place the burden of proof squarely on anyone seeking to deprive a biological parent of a child. Likewise, UN conventions establish the right to a family life as a fundamental human right. If all that means nothing, then current laws and practices in the United States, Israel and elsewhere make a certain sense.  On the other hand, if they mean something, then the practice of giving fathers the most minimal contact with their children after divorce and then refusing to enforce even that begins to look like a violation of international law itself. And that is what the five Israeli dads are asserting.  It's not only that existing practices deny children the love, caring, protection and guidance of their fathers; it's not only that those practices have been shown time and again to harm children.  It's also that those practices violate treaty obligations that the various countries have voluntarily accepted. And that of course is a war worth fighting.

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While much of the country's attention is riveted on Florida where Casey Anthony is on trial charged with murdering her daughter Caylee, a continent away, this case is has begun (San Jose Mercury News, 6/1/11).  Here's a second article about the case (San Jose Mercury News, 6/2/11). It seems that Eric Hill and Rosa Hill were married and had a child, but in 2009 Rosa decided to divorce Eric.  Her custody case went awry when total legal custody and 85% physical custody were awarded by the family court not to Rosa but to Eric.  She'd made a claim of child abuse, but when it investigated, Child Protective Services found no evidence of abuse . So, according to prosecutors, Rosa Hill and her own mother, Mei Li went to Plan B - kill Eric and his mother, 91-year-old Selma Hill.  Rosa it seems, had decided that CPS and medical authorities were wrong about the abuse, so what's a mother to do? Prosecutors say Rosa and her mother spent months meticulously planning the murder and above all stockpiling a variety of weapons including a crossbow, pepper spray ,stun guns, guns, an axe, and a sword.   They also researched things like the properties of nerve gas.  The problem came when they were only able to kill Selma.  Eric, hit by a stun gun, fought back and prevented them from taking his life. He's alive today and testified that he'd done nothing to abuse their child. The defense maintains that Eric had mental problems and that plus the custody fight made things stressful on Rosa so, when Eric attacked her, somehow she killed his mother.  How that makes sense the defense hasn't yet explained, but, as Monty Python once said, "I expect they'll get to that in the next bit." It's apparently true that, at least at one time, Eric Hill had problems with depression to the extent of having auditory hallucinations.  He admits to that.  Just when those problems occurred and whether his symptoms are under control, the articles don't say. Still, there's surely a reason why the family court gave him custody.  It obviously didn't consider him a danger to himself or his child and of course there's nothing to indicate that the child has ever been harmed in any way.  So at least for now we'd have to say the court got it right on custody. That raises the question "if Eric has serious mental problems and gets custody, what's up with Rosa?"  The articles don't say except that she and her mother apparently took the life of a 91-year-old woman.
But Rosa Hill's lawyer, Bonnie Narby, told jurors that she does not think the alleged attack was a murder because Hill never intended to kill Eric Hill or his grandmother.
Instead, Narby said she thinks Rosa Hill acted in the heat of passion because she was overwhelmed by the custody battle over the couple's daughter and their divorce proceedings.
So there's a "heat of passion" defense by a woman who prosecutors say spent months planning her crime.  We'll see how that works out for her. In the meantime, it's worth noting that, once again, this is a custody matter in which apparently, a mother has gone to the furthest extreme to assert her parental rights over those of a father, or at least tried to.  Prosecutors place Rosa Hill's motive squarely within the issue of child custody. Based solely on the information in these two articles, I find it hard to believe that any jury of adults would take Rosa Hill's defense seriously.  Prosecutors have written and computer evidence of her planning the crime with her mother.  There is no "passion of the moment" here.  It looks like a classic case of premeditation. We'll have to wait and see what the jury decides.  But in the past, juries have at times showed an uncomfortable willingness to forgive the violent actions of women because they're women and mothers because they're mothers.  The prior is shown in the "sentencing discount" given to women that's discussed by more than one exhaustive study.  The latter appears in numberless family court decisions as well as criminal cases in which violence by mothers is defended by unsupported allegations of abuse by fathers. The willingness of jurors to tolerate violence by mothers may be waning.  I hope it is, but each new case is a test.  Each is a question to a community "do you hold women and mothers who commit criminal acts to the same standards to which you hold men and fathers?" The answer is always interesting because it tells us much about how far we've come on the long road toward gender equality.

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