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

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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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Last year I reported here on research into a male contraceptive pill that seemed to show promise.  It was developed in Israel by Dr. Haim Breitbart and had proven successful when used in mice.  It was able to render the mice temporarily sterile while not inhibiting libido.  Once the mice were taken off the pill, they began producing sperm capable of fertilizing an egg. I've checked to see if there have been any developments since then and apparently Breitbart intends to begin experiments with primate males.  He hopes a male birth control pill could pass governmental muster and be on the market within five years. Breitbart's pill would inhibit the production of a protein in sperm cells rendering them incapable of fertilization.  As such, it's non-hormonal and therefore less likely to produce side effects than would be a hormone-based pill.  Also, a single pill has been shown in the laboratory to render mice sterile for as long as three months at a time. So at this early stage, it looks to be easy to use, highly effective and safe.  Perhaps best of all, it can be taken in private, so men would for the first time be able to control their own fertility for themselves, by themselves. Now there's another approach to a male contraceptive pill that sounds equally effective, but probably not equally risk-free.  Here's an article about it (YahooNews, 6/4/11). The new pill is being developed at Columbia University.  Its modus operandi is to interfere with the reception of Vitamin A by cell receptors.  That in turn would prevent the production of sperm in the testes because those receptors "initiate the expression of genes necessary for the creation of sperm."
"The long and short of what we know is vitamin A and its metabolite are absolutely essential for the production of male germ cells, or sperm," she said.
Like the Breitbart pill, the new pill causes no drop in testosterone levels and sperm production returns after the pill is discontinued. But of course when you inhibit the body's ability to use Vitamin A in the testes, you inhibit it elsewhere, and that could easily create unwanted side-effects. Dr. John Amory of the University of Washington addressed that concern this way:
Even though side effects have yet to show up in their work with the compound, he said: "The concern I have as a clinician about their approach is retinoic acid has multiple functions in multiple tissues so blocking the activity by blocking the receptor, I have concerns that could cause side effects."
As things stand now, men have three ways to prevent conception.  They can abstain from sex, have a vasectomy or use a condom.  Only the vasectomy is confidential; the other two are known to partners and potential partners. So a safe effective male pill is necessary for men to have the type of control over their fertility that women have.  Such a pill would have the ability to place in the hands of men - not women - the decision to father a child or not.  In so doing it would hold the promise of less paternity fraud and fewer instances of unwanted (by the father) children. Currently, if a woman doesn't want children, she can take the pill or use any of a number of other contraceptive options.  If she does want children, she can refrain from using contraception.  Whichever decision she makes, she can keep her partner ignorant of it.  So if he doesn't want a child and she does, she can surprise him.  It's not a rare phenomenon. As I've said before, whether the two have a child or not is almost entirely in her hands.  A safe, effective male contraceptive pill would place the decision about fathering a child where it needs to be - in the hands of the man. Whether men would use it is another question entirely.  As I reported in my piece on the Breitbart pill, surveys show that women in the U.S. know about the pill and other contraceptive devices and how to use them, but often don't.  When asked whether they wanted children, many couples said "no."  But when asked if they were taking precautions to prevent pregnancy, the answer was the same. Incongruous as that may be, it indicates a certain indifference to childbearing that confounds notions about contraception.  What it also does is suggest that, if men get a safe, effective pill, it may not make a lot of difference to decisions about childbearing.  Still, many men will use it and that alone will be a great leap forward in men's ability to control their own decisions about paternity. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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[caption id="attachment_16556" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Fathers and Families supporter Marc Simmons, MD, shakes hands with presidential candidate Gary Johnson at a GOP event June 3."]gary-johnson-and-marc-simmons-md-shake-hands1[/caption] A contingent of Fathers and Families' Election Campaign 2012 activists attended two New Hampshire GOP events over the weekend and asked presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, about family court reform.
In Nashua on June 5, Johnson told F & F activists Roy Corbeil, a grandfather, and Seth Diamond:
"Anything I could do on the federal level I would do, as president, to address [this] real inequality. I recognize it, having been Governor of New Mexico. It's a huge issue...the courts rule...usually [if not] always against the fathers...[in these rulings, fathers rights'] are obliterated, they're nonexistent. I recognize that...I'm open to ideas [on fixing it]."
At a Belknap County event, Johnson responded to a question from F & F activist Shawn Gliklich, MD by telling the audience:
"[Family court] is an area that is really ripe for reform...I understand this issue and have researched hundreds of these cases."
[caption id="attachment_16567" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Presidential candidate Gary Johnson pledges support for family court reform at GOP event June 3."]gary-johnson-at-weirs-beach-event[/caption] At a recent New Hampshire GOP Straw Poll, Johnson finished behind the 1st place finisher, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, in a close knot for 2nd with Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Ron Paul. This is the second success in two weeks for the Fathers and Families' Election Campaign 2012---at the  Portsmouth, New Hampshire Seacoast Republican Women's Breakfast with Newt Gingrich on May 26, F & F member Deanna Marchand asked presidential candidate Newt 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, the former Speaker of the House, 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 both Johnson and Gingrich for their awareness of and interest in the crisis in family courts. To watch videos of the candidates' remarks, visit http://www.youtube.com/fathersandfamilies. 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.

GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson (left) shakes hands with F & F activist Seth Diamond (right) at Nashua BBQ June 5, pledging "Anything I could do on the federal level I would do, as president, to address this real inequality."

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This article tells us that the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a paternity fraud case (WREG, 6/7/11).  Here's the opinion of the appellate court from which the appeal to the Supreme Court is taken.  The case may have the potential to establish (or not) a tort cause of action for paternity fraud in the State of Tennessee. Briefly, Chadwick Craig and Tina Marie Hodge began dating in high school in 1989.  She already had a daughter.  They continued their relationship for a couple of years but then broke up for a short time.  During that time, she had sex with one Joey Hay.  Shortly thereafter she learned she was pregnant. But Tina didn't do what I've many times argued must be done - tell both guys about her pregnancy and that each may be the father.  Among many other things, this case shows the consequences of failing to require mothers to disclose that information. She told Chad that she was pregnant.  He asked "Is it mine?" and she said "Yes."  That scenario was disputed by Tina at trial, but the judge found that she lacked credibility and the appellate court did not overturn that finding. So, based on her saying the child was his, Chad and Tina married and he treated the little boy as his own.  He also adopted Tina's daughter that she'd had in high school. They stayed married for about 10 years until Tina found another man and they divorced.  Tina got primary custody and Chad got visitation and a child support order.  Eventually, the boy came to live with Chad. But as he grew older, Chad realized that the boy bore no physical resemblance to him.  So one night, while the boy slept, Chad swabbed the inside of his cheek and sent that specimen and one of his own to a DNA laboratory.  Sure enough, the boy had been fathered by someone else. That someone was Joey Hay, as subsequent genetic testing showed. So Chadwick Craig sued Tina Hodge under a variety of civil theories that consisted mostly of intentional and negligent misrepresentation that caused damages.  The damages were things like past child support and medical insurance premiums that he'd paid over the years of their divorce.  He also sued for emotional distress. The trial court said "yes" to all of that.  It found that Tina had misrepresented an issue of material fact on which Chad had relied and that caused his damages.  In short, it found she'd committed fraud and should pay over $130,000. The appellate court reversed on all counts.  I won't go into the rather arcane reasoning, but I will hit a few "high points." First, Tennessee law, in accordance with the federal Bradley Amendment, prohibits any retroactive modification of a valid child support order.  That's to prevent non-custodial parents from relitigating child support orders ad infinitum.  Amazingly enough, the court of appeals managed to construe the suit for damages filed by Chadwick Craig as a "modification" of a child support order.  I would argue the obvious - that he was doing no such thing.  He wasn't trying to modify anything at all; he was simply suing for fraud, which he had amply proved and the damages included items he'd been forced to pay by the order.  Is a suit for damages from a breech of contract a "modification" of that contract?  The idea is silly. Another weak point of the appellate court's opinion is that in order to be exempt from later modification, a child support order must be "valid."  The court nowhere considered the possibility that a child support order procured by fraud might not be a valid one. It's that ruling by the appellate court that the Tennessee Supreme Court should overrule.  The appellate court's opinion is shaky and no dictionary definition of the word "modification" includes a suit for damages for a wrong committed.  So we'll look for what the Tennessee Supreme Court has to say about that. Of course if the high court agrees with the court of appeals, it'll be the final word on the issue until the legislature changes the statute.  If the Supreme Court agrees, many of dads' damages in paternity fraud cases will be unavailable to them for reimbursement in a civil suit.  Once again the courts of the state will have scrutinized a woman's knowing deception of a man about one of the most important things in his life and given her the green light.  The fact will not be lost on other women. But, much of the appellate court's treatment of the case depends on a single thing - the poor pleading of Chadwick Craig's attorney.  Put simply, he/she didn't plead certain grounds for recovery of damages.  If he/she had, it's possible that Craig would have gotten an order of recovery that the appellate court wouldn't have reversed.  So in the future, a man who's been defrauded by a mother will be able to sue under those theories and perhaps succeed where Craig has so far failed. Perhaps most important, here's something about the trial court's decision that the appellate court didn't reverse.
Moreover, the evidence also supports the trial court"s finding that, under the circumstances, Mother had a duty to disclose to Husband that Hay might be the father of the child she was carrying, and that Mother intentionally failed to disclose this material fact.
The key word there is "duty."  In order for anyone to recover damages in civil court, the person they sue has to have some duty to them to do, or refrain from doing a certain thing.  If there's no duty, there's no lawsuit. So it's always been a question of enormous import in the area of paternity fraud - "does the mother have a duty to disclose who the true father is or who he might be?"  If she doesn't, then no defrauded man can ever sue a defrauding mother for damages because she has no legal obligation to tell him the truth. What the trial court said and what the appellate court agreed with is that she does have a duty to disclose who the possible fathers are.  (The opinion uses the words "under these circumstances" without indicating what those circumstances are, so the holding may be broad or narrow depending on those.) So, if this case is affirmed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, defrauded men will likely still be able to sue for paternity fraud based on the concept of intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.  They won't be able to get their child support back, but they'll be able to get compensatory and possibly punitive damages. And the high court has the opportunity to disavow the appellate court's frankly odd notion that a civil suit for damages in some way is a "modification" of a "valid" child support order. We'll see what the judges do, but they have the opportunity to significantly advance the just cause of men's and fathers' rights.

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Will wonders never cease?  I never thought I'd see the day that The Guardian, liberal house organ of the UK, would run an article like this one (The Guardian, 6/7/11). Frankly, it's a sensible, fact-based and accurate discussion of domestic violence by women against men.  It's far from perfect, far from complete.  But in her limited space, author Nicola Graham-Kevan gets it right. The article looks like it was inspired by recent reports that more women than ever before have been convicted of domestic violence in the United Kingdom.  Graham-Kevan wonders rhetorically if that's because of more incidents of female-on-male DV or just greater reporting. My guess is that it's a combination of factors, the main one being greater awareness on the part of men and the police of the fact that women commit DV in equal numbers with men.  That greater awareness has led to greater reporting by men and a greater willingness on the part of police to arrest women.  Perhaps paradoxically, I would also suggest that the general invisibility accorded female perpetrators by the news media has spurred women to more easily commit DV.  They can be pretty certain to get away with it without punishment, so why not?  After all, the "dramatic" increase in convictions of women has brought the number to just 7% of all DV convictions. Such at any rate are my guesses about the higher rate of convictions of women. Meanwhile, Graham-Kevan reprises some well-known figures on domestic violence.  Half of it is done by women, about two-thirds of those injured in a domestic violence incident are women and about one-fourth of people killed by DV are men. Then she asks the pithy question "why has women's domestic violence towards men been unreported for so long, and what has changed in the last five years to make it more visible?"  Amazing as the article is, her answer is still more so - feminism. 
One reason may be the feminist movement. Feminism took up the cause of domestic abuse of women in the 1970s, with the world's first women's refuge being opened by Erin Pizzey in 1971. Feminism understood domestic violence as the natural extension of men's patriarchal attitudes towards women, leading men to feel they had the right to control their partners, using violence if necessary. Feminists campaigned successfully to bring the issue into the public arena, thereby securing resources to establish services to help victims. This activism and advocacy led to governmental and public acceptance that "domestic violence" was synonymous with violence against women. 
That's a pretty bland description of the process of demonizing half the population.  She mentions Erin Pizzey, but makes no mention of the fact that Pizzey was hounded out of the women's DV movement by radical activists.  Pizzey even received death threats and perhaps her dog was killed because she'd discovered to her astonishment that women coming to her shelter said "I started it.  I initiated the violence.  I hit too." Pizzey saw from the outset that to stop DV against women meant training those women to refrain from initiating domestic violence themselves.  Sensible and fact-based though that was, it was anathema to the radical activists that quickly took over the movement.  To her great credit, Graham-Kevan gently skewers the all-but-spurious claim by some researchers that, because men commit most societal violence, they must commit most of the domestic violence.  Truth to tell, making that claim against the massive weight of 36 years of studies showing women and men to be equal abusers suggests desperation on the part of the anti-male crowd more than anything. Graham-Kevan makes the obvious point that although most societal violence is done by men, it's also overwhelmingly done against men.  Any researcher recognizing that fact could actually learn something about the nature of male violence.  But of course those doggedly determined to not recognize it won't.    What's also true is that domestic violence is different from other types.  It's different because the psychology and the emotions that produce it stem from intimate relationships.  Those intimate relationships are different from all other kinds, like business relationships, casual relationships, friendships, etc.  Again, this is not hard to figure out if you have an open mind on the subject; but if you're determined to paint men as evil and corrupt and women as good and pure, then the facts and figures of DV become your enemies. Graham-Kevan touches too lightly on perceptions of DV by men and women.  It's surely one of the main culprits in keeping male victims "invisible."  Many studies have shown that women are far more likely than men to consider a particular incident to be domestic violence.  For example, Scotland's survey of over 12,000 people at the end of 2009, shows that 54% of women considered an incident to be DV while only 9% of men did.  So women in that study were six times as likely to call a domestic incident "violence." That's surely in part a product of four decades of teaching that men commit DV and women don't.  Women have been taught to view much male behavior as "controlling" and that all such behavior is DV.  Men have learned no such lessons about women.  "Oh what a tangled web we weave..." The only real shortcoming of her article is Graham-Kevan's neglect of the role of the news media in perpetuating the myth that men aren't victims of DV.  Here in the U.S. one of the continuing wonders of DV reporting is that violence by women against men is virtually never called domestic violence.  Newspapers report the incidents in which a woman is hauled off to jail for assaulting her husband or boyfriend.  But with astonishing regularity, the words 'domestic violence' don't appear. I reported recently on the ongoing trial of Rosa Hill in the San Francisco Bay area.  She's alleged to have attacked her ex with a stun gun and murdered his grandmother outright.  I've read three articles on the subject so far and not one has contained the words "domestic violence." Most recently, Glamourmagazine did an interview with Vice President Joe Biden about domestic violence.  Not once in the entire article was the concept of female-on-male domestic violence mentioned.  Not a word. So I'd like to have seen a bit on the role of the communications media in the invisibility of male victims.  Of course she's writing in The Guardian which is reliably one of the main culprits, so maybe her oversight is understandable.  Still, Graham-Kevan gets right what she does say including her conclusion.
Large sums of money have been spent on educational campaigns to encourage female victims to seek help. Until there are similar campaigns for men, it is unlikely that the true number of male victims needing help will be known. If the current trends continue however, women may find themselves increasingly likely to be charged with domestic assault, and men more likely to be offered help and protection.
Hard to argue with that. The Guardian.  It's enough to make you believe in miracles.

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Across the country, family law is in a state of flux.  The demands of fathers' rights advocates, the demands of common sense, decency and fairness, together with the overwhelming weight of social science are all gradually forcing a shift in how custody cases are decided.  It's a slow process - infuriatingly so - but fathers now have greater respect in custody decisions than ever before and it's only going to get more so. Here's a small part of that process.  The governor of Tennessee just signed a bill into law that would require judges to
order custody arrangements that permit both parents to enjoy the "maximum participation possible' in the life of the child consistent with the location of the parents" residences, the child"s need for stability, and other statutorily enumerated factors.
Now, there are a number of weasel words in there as all can see.  Any judge with half a mind to keep fathers and children separate won't be deterred by the "maximum participation possible" language.  After all, that participation need only be only "consistent" with numerous other factors.  Here they are:
These other 10 factors under the current version of the custody statute are to be considered "where applicable' and include the love, affection and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child, the relative disposition of each parent to provide for the child"s necessities and the degree to which he or she has been the primary caregiver, the importance of continuity in the child"s life, the stability of each parent"s family unit, the health of each parent, the home, school and community record of the child, the reasonable preference of the child if 12 or older, evidence of any abuse to the child, to the other parent, or to any other person, the character and behavior of any other person who resides with each parent or who frequents his or her home, and each parent"s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities.
So the new "maximum participation possible" language by itself won't usher in a brave new world of father-child relationships post-divorce.  There are simply too many 'outs' for the judge who's inclined toward maternal custody. But of course not all judges are, and they'll have something on which to hang their hats when awarding greater paternal custody.  After all, it's pretty clear that the intent of the legislature in passing the act and the governor in signing it is to maximize the time each parent spends with the child given all the other considerations.  It's also clear that the legislature considers spending maximum possible time with each parent to be in the best interests of the child. That's certainly the opinion of family attorney Marlene Eskind Moses here (The Tennesseean, 5/31/11).
The new requirement will alter the way that custody cases are tried and parenting agreements are reached. It is possible and foreseeable that the new standard could lead some judges to increase parenting time for alternate residential parents and could even lead to the equal division of parenting time between parents more often than currently occurs.
Two years from now I'd be interested in seeing if the law has had the effect Moses thinks it will. Meanwhile, here's an article by Tennessee State Senator Andy Berke, who sponsored the bill just signed into law by the governor (The Tennesseean, 5/31/11).  He explains why he sponsored the bill and what it seeks to achieve.
In addition to changes in the family unit, parents" responsibilities have evolved. We no longer expect mothers to shoulder the lion"s share of day-to-day chores in raising a child. Many fathers spend as much or more time with their children as the moms. Our laws have struggled to keep up with these changes. Society moves faster than the legislature, and we have been caught behind the times.
I've said the same thing more times than I can count.  Recently, so did Dr. William Fabricius of Arizona State University.  The times are changing; fathers are taking a more active role in childcare and mothers are working outside the home more than ever before.  But legislatures don't seem to notice.  Well, now the Tennessee legislature has. As Berke makes clear, this new law may result in equal parenting, but it may not depending on the circumstances, but the lodestar of Tennessee custody law is now "maximum participation possible."  Those are the words to which judges who honor the spirit of the law will return again and again in issuing custody orders.  They will also guide attorneys in advising their clients. This law is no presumption of equally shared parenting.  Far from it.  It's entirely possible that it will have no effect whatsoever on judicial practice in Tennessee.  It's also possible that it will move custody decisions toward where they should have been for decades - equal or near-equal parenting time for Dad and Mom. In the process, it's worth noting that this law continues a trend away from parental rights and toward the concept of parental responsibilities.  That may well be the future of child custody law as many attorneys and social scientists have argued.  It's important to remember, however, that the language of parental responsibilities applies only when parenting time is allocated post divorce.  We should not lose sight of the fact that parental rights are still vital to the concept of parenting vis-a-vis governmental power.  When CPS comes for a child, we can't get caught in the language of parental responsibilities and forget that, as to the government, parents do have rights.

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No sooner had Judge Nancy Gordon transferred custody of their two children from Alaina Giordano to her ex-husband Kane Snyder, than the machinery of uninformed reaction went into high gear.  That was back on April 25 when the North Carolina judge transferred custody to Snyder who lives in Chicago. Now the same judge has upheld her previous order.  Read about it here (ABC News, 6/8/11). It seems that the two had had a stormy marriage and divorce with multiple allegations of domestic violence that saw each parent spend time in jail.  There was evidence of mental illness, violations of court orders and what came briefly to be a cause célèbre - Giordano's Stage 4 breast cancer. According to practically everyone who leapt to the barricades to decry the judge's ruling, Giordano's cancer - and nothing else - was what caused the change of custody.  To anyone who took fifteen seconds out of their busy day to actually think about the issue, it surely would have seemed unlikely that a judge would do such a thing. And of course she hadn't.  In fact, there were multiple factors that influenced Judge Gordon to give primary custody to Snyder.  For one thing, Giordano doesn't have a job, and Snyder has a good one.  So financially the kids will be better off with him.
Gordon highlighted other concerns in the original ruling, however, such as mental health concerns and a tendency to involve the children in parental disputes, that called into question Giordano's suitability as a primary caregiver, regardless of her health.
In short, Judge Gordon had a number of perfectly sound reasons for transferring primary custody to the children's father. But the punditocracy was having none of it.  Article after article, blog after blog informed one and all that Gordon had taken Giordano's children because she had cancer.  They never paused to consider the fact that countless parents have some form of cancer and judges including Gordon don't deem them unfit to parent. What came through more than anything was the clear sense of entitlement with which those opiners invested Giordano.  "She's the mother and the kids are hers" was the none-too-subtle message.  Indeed, the number of pieces that called the children "hers" as opposed to "theirs" was astonishing.  If he hadn't gotten primary custody, you'd have thought the children had no dad. Still, one of the reasons Gordon transferred custody was Giordano's advanced cancer which thankfully seems to be in remission at least for the time being.  And that raises a legitimate question - to what extent, if any, should physical illness or incapacity on the part of one parent weigh in the custody balance?
In accordance with the Uniform and Marriage and Divorce Act, it is not uncommon for family court to take into account the health, both physical and mental, of a parent in making custody decisions.
"Substantial case law and psychological research consistently indicate that the physical and mental health of the parent constitute an important factor in considering custody of children following divorce," Dr. Gerry Koocher, professor of psychology at Simmons College in Boston, said.
And Gordon had in fact taken testimony from a psychologist on exactly that issue.
In her ruling, Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley: "The more contact [the children] have with the non-ill parent, the better they do. They divide their world into the cancer world and a free of cancer world. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent."
Hmm.  I'd like to know more about the impact on children of living with a parent with a serious, potentially life-threatening illness.  I'm sure Brantley is right that children want a normal childhood, but countless children adjust to not having one.  The issue is whether living with such a parent truly affects the long-term well-being of the child.  If there's good evidence that it does, then I'll take Brantley at her word.  Until then I'm with Holly Prigerson.
Holly Prigerson, director of psycho-oncology research, psychosocial oncology and palliative care, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said, "Cancer is not leprosy ... young children want to be with their parents, even if ill. That's not to say that seeing a parent so ill will not be upsetting for children -- it will be frightening -- but not seeing a mother and not receiving honest answers about why mommy is not there may be more detrimental to the child's mental health and functioning than the reverse."
It probably depends a lot on the age of the child.  Older children are more capable of understanding and dealing with a parent's illness than are little ones.  The Snyder/Giordano kids are 5 and 11. And of course if an illness truly affects a parent's ability to do the normal daily tasks of parenting, then it's clearly appropriate to limit that parent's time with the kids. On a related note, Fathers and Families has been on the front lines fighting for the rights of parents with disabilities.  In California, for example, we were instrumental in passing legislation that prohibits judges from restricting custody because of a parent's disability unless that disability interferes with the person's ability to parent. But that's not the case with Giordano.  Her cancer doesn't impair her parenting ability, so I'm skeptical of its being used as a factor in deciding custody.  Still, Brantley and those who have researched the matter may be right in advising courts to err on the side of giving custody to non-ill parents.  As I said, I'd like to know more about what they're hanging their hats on. All that said, I'd be surprised to see Gordon's order reversed.  There were many factors favoring primary custody for Snyder.  The fact that Giordano's illness ever made the news is due more to an under-informed punditocracy and a sense of maternal entitlement than a real appreciation of the issues involved in child custody cases where one of the parents is gravely ill. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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Let's say Person A calls the police and says "My partner hit me."  The police come to the house and the caller is there with a black eye and a puffy, bloody lip.  The partner refuses to say anything to police.  That constitutes probable cause to arrest and charge the partner.  Why?  Because they have the allegation of violence by Person A, corroboration of that allegation (the black eye and split lip) and the opportunity on the part of the partner to commit the offense. But that's not what happened in the Scott Bundgaard case in Arizona, about which I've written once before.  Here's the latest (Arizona Central, 6/11/11).  It seems that back last February, Bundgaard and his girlfriend, Aubrey Ballard, went to a gala to raise funds for kidney research.  Bundgaard is a state senator and doubtless his name lent a certain something to the proceedings.  I imagine he thought it would be a good vote-getter too.

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When Chandler, Arizona police arrested Jamie Howell two weeks ago for disorderly conduct, they had no idea of whom they were arresting.  Read about it here (Vancouver Sun, 6/1/11). It seems Howell and her son Valor had gone to a laundromat where the 10-year-old boy got bored and started behaving in some way not to the liking of the other patrons.  So Mom Jamie responded by screaming at them, taking their clothes out of the dryers, throwing them around, throwing laundry soap, etc. Oops.  That turned out to be not the smartest move she could have made because the patrons called the police who arrived and arrested Jamie on a disorderly conduct charge.  That wouldn't have been a terribly big deal except they did a routine warrant search and lo and behold there was the name of Jamie Howell who was wanted by Canadian authorities for kidnapping. Back in December, 2004, Howell and her ex-husband Garrett Taylor were involved in a nasty child custody case.  Howell had custody, but had interfered with Taylor's visitation on several occasions.  He'd complained to the family court judge who wasn't too happy with Howell's behavior and told her he'd have her arrested if she did it again.  Within a month she and Valor, who was four at the time, were gone. At that, the court awarded Taylor sole custody. They were traced to Spokane, Washington, but there the trail went cold until two weeks ago when she was arrested in Chandler, just outside of Phoenix.  It appears she'll be extradited to Canada to face kidnapping charges. This article tells us about what experts believe will face Garrett Taylor and Valor when the two attempt to reconnect after over six years (Edmonton Journal 6/10/11). I've written a good bit about parental child abduction and this case gives some tantalizing facts that seem to agree with Nancy Faulkner's research to which I've referred often.  For example, her description of abducting parents says they tend toward narcissism including wanting the child to be theirs and theirs alone and to live for the parent alone. It's that exclusive relationship in which the child utterly depends on the parent and to a great degree, the parent depends on the child, that is so destructive.  Howell's behavior in the laundromat at the criticism of her child by the other people there strongly suggests that type of personality, at least to me. So does Valor's demeanor in the presence of the police which they describe as "aloof and withdrawn."  That seems to me to describe a boy whose mother has been his entire world for most of his life and who likely has been taught to mistrust all adults except his mom. Meanwhile, the second article quotes a couple of experts, family attorney Lorne MacLean and Bob Finlay who's a family counsellor and mediator specializing in reunification.  And to their credit, they get it right about parental child abduction.
"The question now is how to repair your bond," said Vancouver lawyer Lorne MacLean, who specializes in family law.
"The boy might not remember his father, and two older siblings, or he may have a negative viewpoint about the father due to parental alienation. You have to get the child to reorient. The child will have a distorted view of past events..."
Abduction, or simply disappearing with a child, is "the highest level of gatekeeping or access-blocking, and it is clear that a parent who does that cannot make proper decisions on behalf of the child," said MacLean.
So MacLean knows about maternal gatekeeping and accurately describes kidnapping as the most extreme form of that behavior.  He also nails the psychological problems a parent manifests when he/she abducts a child to keep it away from the other parent. So does Finlay.
Finlay hasn't worked with Taylor or Valor, but he said an abduction case like this typically would involve a destructive pattern of alienating the child from the parent left behind and creating dependency on the abductor.
"It would create terrible confusion for the child. You could get a bit of Stockholm Syndrome where the victim identifies with that parent, he could feel tremendous guilt, feel that he's abandoned her, especially now that she's in jail."
When a parent engages in alienating behaviours, and if the child is abducted at a young age, "the child would become totally dependent on the mother . . . would be vulnerable and susceptible to being brainwashed and accepting a very bold lie as truth."
So the child, who's been made totally dependent on the mother and probably believes she's his only support and refuge, has lost her, at least for a while.  That's the problem with parental abduction of children; it's illegal, so the two lose everyone else - friends, neighbors, extended family, clergy, teachers - on whom we all depend.  And when the abducting parent is arrested, the child loses her too. It'll be a stressful time for Valor Heath Howell. That said, I'd like to highlight the fact that we've come a long way in a short time in understanding and dealing with cases like this one.  Just a matter of a few years ago, I can easily see media articles denigrating the dad and at least suggesting that he and the police should have left well enough alone. "Yes, she did wrong," would have been the tone of the coverage, "but the child's best interests require us to allow the abduction to continue.  It would be too upsetting to the child to lose the only mother he's ever known.  The father's just being selfish."  Etc., etc. But the Journal article is far better informed than that, as are the experts interviewed. It's too bad that certain judges in Colorado and New Jersey aren't as well informed.  They're the one's I've written about recently.  The Colorado judge handed two children back to an abducting mother with no suggestion that he understood the destructive nature of what she'd done to them. The New Jersey judge "punished" a mother who'd abducted her daughter 25 years before with 18 days in jail, days she'd already served awaiting extradition from Nevada. Neither of those judges showed any understanding that mental health professionals understand child abduction to be child abuse.

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You'd think that Psychology Today could do better.  This article by Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D. should embarrass both her and the magazine (Psychology Today, 6/6/11).  Still, if this is the best opponents of Parental Alienation Syndrome can do, the future looks rosy. For a long time now, one of the main arguments advanced by those opposed to fathers having access to their children post-divorce is that fathers abuse children, therefore their access should be limited at best. Those folks are fighting a losing battle as we see every day.  In my 13 years as an advocate for fathers and children, the public debate about fathers has changed dramatically and mostly for the better.  The level of public awareness of the value of fathers to children and the rights of fathers has grown dramatically in that time. That's mostly because facts and fairness are on the side of fathers.  For example, the answer to those who wring their hands about abusive fathers, is that mothers do twice the child abuse and neglect that fathers do.  That statistic is reported every year by the Department of Health and Human Services and it must cause consternation among the anti-dad crowd. So when we read a piece like Caplan's it's not hard to hear the desperation of those who feel themselves on the wrong side of history.  After all, if you oppose the inclusion of PAS in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, and you had a good argument against it, why would you make this one, as Caplan does?
[PAS] is a medical-sounding term for nothing more than "She's a vengeful woman who's trying to make her children tell horrific lies about their father."
Well no, it isn't.  Anyone who spends, say, five minutes on the Internet would learn that mental health professionals say that PAS is not gender-specific.  Sadly, mothers and fathers alienate about equally.  Time and again it's been said and written that men and women both alienate their children. So with Caplan, there are two possibilities; she either doesn't know the basics about PAS or she's intentionally misleading her readers.  I'm essentially certain which one it is, and that's the reason why Psychology Today has no business publishing such nonsense. And just because she leads off her piece with an assertion that is demonstrably false, doesn't mean that Caplan has much more to say on the subject.  It's the same old stuff that we've come to expect and, as we've also come to expect, it's almost completely unsupported by any data. According to Caplan (and others), PAS is a concept unscrupulously used by abusive fathers to deprive mothers of their children post-divorce.  Into the bargain, it's "unscientific." As to the latter, I've said before that I express no opinion.  Whether the syndrome should be included as such in the DSM is beyond my ability to say. What is common knowledge is that some parents attempt to alienate their children from the other parent following divorce.  Unfortunately, the practice is common as dirt.  Whether there's a discrete set of symptoms that alienated children exhibit and that warrant inclusion of PAS in the DSM is, for now, an open question. That doesn't make PAS "unscientific;" it just means the scientists haven't agreed on the answer. Caplan's claim that only fathers claim PAS only against mothers is, as I said, simply wrong.  The same is true of her belief that family courts don't take allegations of child abuse seriously.  It's a well-traveled claim, but it's not only untrue, it's essentially unimaginable. So Caplan plays the card that lets us know to a dead certainty what her true motivations are.  She claims that "it is estimated that 'over 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States.'" The problem with that "estimate" is that it's made by people who believe every mother's claim of child abuse by a father to be true.  Their claims are legion, their proof is non-existent.  Time after time people like Amy Neustein, Jonea Rogers, Sadia Lolliger and the like swear to heaven that their children were taken from them by courts that cared not a whit for their claims of child abuse by the father. But on closer examination, it's revealed that the courts investigated the claims carefully and found them to be unwarranted.  Not only that, but Neustein's daughter has been grown up for a long time now and has said that she owes her well-being to the fact that CPS got her away from her mother and into her father's care.  Does Neustein admit that she's wrong?  Nope; even her daughter's own words don't deflect her from her mission. It's the same mission that Caplan is on - to do whatever they can to keep fathers and children separate.  And if that means making up "facts" about PAS, then they're happy to do it. And, like seemingly everyone else in her camp, Caplan wants us to believe that Dr. Richard Gardner, who first researched and named the syndrome, was an apologist for (male) child abusers.  The fact that that is again simply false deters her not a bit. Gardner is no longer living and it's not legally possible to libel a dead person, which is the only reason these people keep making the claim.  What they hang their hats on is the fact that he did, as an expert witness, on occasion express the opinion that a mother who claimed abuse by the father was actually engaging in alienating behavior.  And if you believe that mothers never lie about abuse, there's only one thing to conclude - that Gardner was shielding pedophiles. It's utter nonsense of course, but again, when you don't have real arguments to make, this is the type of thing you come up with. If you think by now that Caplan's penned a pretty dreadful piece, it's actually worse than that.  One of the commenters is Robert Samery, Vice President of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization, so I'll let him administer the post mortem.
Paula, You have made strong assertions against the existence of PAS, all without balance. You quote old statements without quoting the updates by those same sources and further you say that elsewhere there is no credible research supporting the malady. In 1996 the APA simply found a lack of data, no invalidating data even then, in 2008 their position changed when said they have no position on PAS. You quote Dr. Fink as discrediting PAS without quoting his written retraction and newer validation of the behaviours and damage they cause children. You demean the courts and actually say they do not take domestic violence seriously without any situation whatsoever. Yet you do not site even 1 case where this has been shown as to have happened. I would be happy to site any number or case from all parts of the where the child has been brain washed, and in more extreme cases, abducted or even murder by a parent who testified to the motivation for the behaviour being to remove the other parent from that child"s life. If you have no valid research information about PAS please read any of the over 500 recent peer reviewed situations in over 40 countries as presented by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists Treasurer Dr. W. Bernet in his book "Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11', 2010. If you want empirical evidence you only need look to our website where both children of all ages and parents recount their personal stories of PAS, or look to Dr. Amy J. Baker's research with adult children survivors of PAS, "Adult Children of Parent Alienation Syndrome', 2007. I trust this brief update is helpful to your understanding of parent child relations in high conflict parenting including divorce.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="F & F member Jeff Oligny (right, near cameras) asks  popular presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (left) about family court reform at June 12 campaign event."][/caption] A contingent of Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign activists attended New Hampshire GOP events over the weekend and asked presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman about family court reform. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F member Lorraine Corbeil (left),

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It's good to see Sanford Braver's recent research being exposed to a broader audience than that usually afforded academic studies.  This article gives a good and balanced description of the study and its findings (Huffington Post, 6/9/11). What's troubling is the tendency of pieces like this one and others I've discussed to conclude that the system of family courts doesn't discriminate against fathers.  That's an altogether facile conclusion that's unwarranted by Braver's findings and directly contradicted by much other information. The reason I'm pleased to see the findings getting a wider audience is that they show that the people surveyed strongly prefer equal parenting post-divorce to the usual practice of family courts of giving primary custody to mothers and condemning dads to the status of permanent paying visitors. Braver and colleagues asked their subjects to judge three different hypothetical "divorce" situations.  One had Mom and Dad parenting equally during marriage and the other two had one parent doing 75% of the parenting and the other doing 25%.  In none of the cases were there any allegations of abuse or neglect by either parent. In the 50/50 hypothetical, 69% of those surveyed said they'd award 50% custody to each parent.  In the hypotheticals in which one parent did the lion's share of the childcare, almost 50% of survey participants still awarded equal custody to Mom and Dad.  In all the scenarios, Braver's subjects' parenting orders were radically more egalitarian than those ordered by judges.  Significantly, men and women didn't differ in their custodial decisions. So Braver's study makes a strong case for the proposition that the general public favors equally-shared parenting post-divorce, at least as long as there are no serious problems of abuse, neglect or some other form of parental unfitness. Braver went a step further and asked the same subjects what they thought the family court system would do in the same hypothetical cases.
Here participants thought the legal system would come to dramatically different conclusions. In the case in which both parents had 50-550 (sic) caregiving time, the study participants estimated that the legal system would award equal time in only 28% of the cases, although another 47% estimated that the child would live with mom and get lots of time with dad. In the case in which the mother was described as spending more time with the child, the most common expectation (about 33%) was that the court would rule that the child should live with mom and dad would get "some" time. In the reverse case in which the dad was described as spending more time in caregiving prior to the divorce, again only 27% expected the courts to award equal time to both parents. The study participants did not expect fathers who were caregivers to get the same results as the mothers. Twenty-seven percent expected the judge to rule that the child should live with the mom, but the father would get a lot of time. Likewise, only 24% expected that the judge would rule that the child would live with the father and the mother would get to spend a lot of time with the child.
Statistics kept by a variety of organizations indicate that Braver's subjects were too optimisitic.  In fact their ideas about how much parenting time dads get overestimate the reality.  As most people who follow custody law and practice know, the rate of maternal sole and primary custody has stood at 84% in the United States at least since 1993.  That's according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So what explains the radical difference between what the public wants and what family judges do?  It's here that the article and the researchers too easily conclude that
In writing about the implications of these findings, the researchers note that the perception of the legal system is important because both lawyers and parents may base their choices on what they believe the court will decide. They write, "the mere perception that there is a bias may influence the settlements on which most the judgments are based, [resulting in ] a self-fulfilling prophecy."
It's a happy thought.  I'd love to believe it.  What could be better and simpler than for everyone to simply change their attitudes about child custody?  We wouldn't have to lobby state legislatures or worry about the bias of judges custody evaluators and the like.  And presto!  Parents would have equal custody, children would have two parents and all would be right with the world. But unfortunately, that rosy scenario doesn't bear much resemblance to the reality of family law, family judges and the decision-making apparatus of custody cases.  Most obviously, the great majority of cases are not tried by a judge but agreed to by the parties.  As such they're influenced by lawyers who practice daily in family court, many of them for decades. Now, it's unquestionably true that lawyers and litigants do have the perception of bias in the family court system and they surely make decisions based on that perception.  The question is whether the perception is right or wrong. By calling it a "perception" and a "self-fulfilling prophecy," Braver and colleagues suggest that tens of thousands of divorce lawyers across the country who've tried countless custody cases are in some way uninformed about the tendencies of the judges before whom they practice.  And that assertion needs a lot more evidence than anyone has produced for us to conclude that all those lawyers are misinformed about what goes on before their eyes. Likewise, as I've reported before, Washington State keeps data on all custody cases in that state.  Its statistics show that when either party contests a custody matter, i.e. requires a decision by a judge instead of agreeing with his/her ex-spouse, outcomes for fathers actually get worse.  That could easily mean that the "perception" of judicial bias against dads that attorneys observe and the general public believes exists, does. Finally, if there's no bias against fathers, why does so much law relating to parents frankly treat mothers and fathers differently?  Here are just a few examples:  in almost every state, single mothers have parental rights automatically by virtue of their biological parentage.  Single fathers don't; they must prove their worth as parents and if they don't, can lose their rights entirely. Second, paternity fraud is uniformly accepted by state law.  If there's ever been a mother punished for falsely telling a man he's the father of her child when he isn't, or telling him he isn't the dad when he is, I've never seen it.  Where are the laws and judicial decisions protecting fathers and their children from the caprice of mothers? The point is that, in the case of paternity fraud, as throughout the legal system governing father- child relationships, mothers exercise an alarming level of control over fathers' parental rights, but not vice versa.  That's called bias. Third, visitation with their children is what 84% of fathers receive from courts, and it is visitation that courts routinely refuse to enforce when it's violated by mothers.  Are we seriously expected to believe that it's mere coincidence that it is precisely those meager rights of fathers that courts are happy to ignore? Compare that with the draconian measures and billions of dollars expended at the local, state and federal levels to enforce child support that overwhelmingly benefit mothers and it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the dramatically different treatment accorded fathers and mothers by family courts and the many governmental agencies that enforce what they do. Fourth, in state after state, adoption laws allow single mothers, but not single fathers to decide which children are placed for adoption.  If a single mother wants to place a child for adoption, she may.  But if a father wants to do so, he finds himself subject to her rights and her desires. Worse, if a single father wants to stop the adoption of his child on which the mother has determined, he's got an uphill climb.  That's because in over half the states, he's not entitled to even know about the proceedings if he hasn't signed up with the Putative Father Registry.  Mom has no such obligation of course.  And in non-PFR states, he still has to prove his worth as a dad.  If he fails to do so, he loses his child, but again, the mother is exempt from such rules.  Her fitness and desire to parent are presumed; his are not. Of course, those are all legislative enactments, not judicial ones.  But with that level of overt anti-father bias, are  we seriously expected to believe that judges are immune? Braver and his colleagues have done as much as anyone and more than most to inject reason and fact into the debate about fathers and mothers, divorce and custody.  For that they should be applauded and I've done just that many times.  I will again.  But they shouldn't conclude that anti-father bias is simply a perception that, if changed, would itself change the system.  It isn't and it won't.

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Here's Barbara Kay again with her usual lucid, fact-based piece (National Post, 6/15/11).  In it she raises a number of good points, one of which I should have raised earlier myself.  I'm delinquent for not having done so and will duly fall on my sword at the appropriate moment. That point is simple; over the past, say, 20 years, fathers have taken on more and more of the care of their children.  That's reflected in statistics and it's also reflected in popular culture where we see movies, commercials, sitcoms, novels, etc. about fathers and children or at least involving them in significant roles.  But courts remain firmly stuck in the past; the overwhelming majority of child custody still goes either solely or primarily to mothers. What that means is that children and fathers suffer as never before when parents divorce.  In the past, dad may have seen his role as exclusively the breadwinner and therefore taken little part in day-to-day childrearing.  In the event of divorce, it could be argued that separating him from his child wouldn't be too traumatic for either.  After all, their relationship was a bit distant anyway.  I would object to that argument, but now, with fathers bonding ever more closely to children, consigning him to the role of paying visitor is doubly bad policy. It's an important point and one I'll come back to in the future, partly because the always excellent Dr. Edward Kruk makes it in his new book, to which Kay refers.
Edward Kruk, associate professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, has been studying the changing role of fathers and the problems of father absence for 30 years. His latest book, Divorced Fathers: Children's Needs and Parental Responsibilities, illuminates the tragic toll on fathers first removed from their children's lives by a biased legal system, and then unsupported by a social services network that is almost wholly indifferent to fathers' rights and feelings.
Displaced fathers are overwrought at the loss of contact with their children. They are far more likely to become depressed or unemployed. Worse, suicide rates amongst fathers struggling to maintain a parenting relationship with their children are "epidemic." Divorced fathers are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as married fathers. But since men tend to suffer in silence, the depth of their despair goes unnoticed.
Kruk calls the crisis of father absence -for both fathers and the children they are torn from -"one of the most significant and powerful trends of this generation." Children now form primary attachments to both parents. Losing their father's active participation in their lives is enormously consequential. Trustworthy research demonstrates that children deprived of a meaningful father role are at far greater risk of physical, emotional and psychological damage than those actively parented by their fathers. Children fare better with equal parenting even where there is conflict between the parents; it is only child-directed conflict that hurts children.
Kruk's findings reveal that ironically, precisely because they have taken on equal responsibility for parenting before divorce, men who lose their parenting role now suffer far more grievously than they used to 20 years ago when he wrote his first book, Divorce and Disengagement. He argues for a paradigm shift, away from a rights-based discourse to a framework of "responsibility to needs," in which both children's needs and parental and institutional responsibilities to them would be enumerated.
Kruk rather poignantly asks: "Why are parents with no civil or criminal wrongdoing forced to surrender their responsibility to raise their children?" and "Is the removal of a parent from the life of a child, via legal sole custody, itself a form of parental alienation?"
Kay is frank about why, in the face of all the social science and the popularity of equal parenting, courts and legislatures doggedly continue to resist keeping fathers in the lives of children.
It is clear to any disinterested observer who immerses himself in the subject that almost the only opponents to equal parenting are misandric ideologues and those financially invested in the family court system itself, which would see a drastic reduction in revenue from the professional gold mine all-or-nothing custody battles represent.
If you're a family lawyer or any of the many professionals who make their livings doing custody evaluations, you know that custody cases are the gift that keeps on giving.  In most litigation, cases are eventually decided - over and done with.  Indeed, one of the foundations of our legal traditions is that of finality.  When a case is decided, we don't like to revisit it time and again.  Not so with custody cases.  In those, most courts have "continuing jurisdiction" meaning that, if an issue comes up after the order is issued, the same court hears and decides it.  That way the litigants don't have to re-file an original action before a judge who doesn't know what's transpired before. That makes sense, but, as every family lawyer knows, custody cases have the potential to be litigated time and time again.  Issues of child support, custody and visitation can be ,and often are, subject to "changed circumstances" that may necessitate a new order. With those changed circumstances, therefore, come new motions and of course new fees for attorneys and possibly for the various other professionals who provide advice to family court judges. The anger and heartbreak of divorce are tailor-made for attorneys to exacerbate conflict between spouses all in the service of the lawyer's bottom line.  The presence of children at the center of that drama makes the tendency all the worse.  I've seen it all too often. And of course the child support system in the U.S. is a gravy train for states.  For every dollar of child support collected by states, the federal government reimburses them a percentage.  The more support collected, the more money flowing into state coffers.  But equal parenting holds the potential for reducing child support obligations which would mean lower collections and lower reimbursements from Washington.  And we can't have that, now can we? In "Bleak House," Charles Dickens took on the travesty that was British Chancery Court (i.e. the court that litigated claims on the estates of the dead) at the time.  In the book, he described chancery as a disease that was inevitably fatal to anyone who contracted it.  That is, if anyone actually came to believe that he would ever see a penny of the estate to which he was heir, he'd gotten the disease of chancery and he would surely die.  The reason was that the estate would take years to be resolved and that would happen only when it was completely exhausted by paying the lawyers their fees. I wish Dickens were around today.  Maybe his book about family courts' treatment of fathers and children would light the fire that so many of us, Barbara Kay among them, have been trying to start for so long.

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Fathers Day is fast approaching.  We know that because the jokes about what to - and what not to - get dad on His Day that come immediately before the day itself have been plentiful.  So be advised, among other things, don't get Dad a tie for Fathers Day. Someone should have told the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, a tie is exactly what the Court gave one set of dads just a week before Fathers Day.  And is it ever ugly.  To be clear, the tie the court gave immigrant dads was a 4 - 4 tie. In Ruben Flores-Villar vs. United States, the court voted 4 - 4 with Justice Kagan having recused herself.  In cases of a tie vote in the Supreme Court, the lower court ruling is affirmed which in Flores-Villar means a federal law treating alien mothers differently (and better) than alien fathers was upheld. Perhaps worse, the justices hid inside that old sanctuary the Per Curiam ruling which means no one wrote an opinion, so we don't know who voted which way or why.  For the edification of all, here's the one-page ruling of the Court. If you'll recall, I wrote about the case originally here.  I won't go into the tedious details of the law, but suffice it to say that Congress wanted to prevent children fathered by U.S. servicemen abroad from becoming U.S. citizens.  So it passed a law treating the offspring of fathers born outside the country differently from those of mothers similarly situated.  Here's how Slate described what Ruben Flores-Villar, Sr. was required to do in order for Ruben, Jr. to be a U.S. citizen.
[T]he law holds that Ruben Sr. cannot confer citizenship unless he provides proof of parenthood, legally acknowledges Ruben Jr. before the child turns 18, and pledges to support him. Finally--and crucially in this case--Ruben Sr. must show that he himself lived in America for at least five years, after he turned 14 and before Ruben Jr."s birth. Ruben Sr. satisfied all the legal requirements save the last one, which was physically impossible: He was only 16 when Ruben Jr. was born.
So, not only did the law impose a variety of prerequisites on Ruben, Sr. - prerequisites it does not impose on mothers in his position - in his case one of the requirements was actually impossible for him to perform.  In short, the statute frankly discriminates against fathers on the basis of sex. Many organizations filed amici curiae briefs with the Court objecting to the overt sex discrimination in the law.  As I said in my original piece, much of what they said argued for simple fairness and common sense.  After all, what exactly is accomplished by treating mothers and fathers differently in those relatively few cases covered by the law? I guess we'll never know.  But whatever went on behind the closed doors of the Supreme Court, four justices apparently didn't see anything wrong with that particular form of sex discrimination.  Needless to say, that doesn't bode well for future challenges to the plethora of state laws that treat fathers differently and worse than they treat mothers.  Can we truly trust Elena Kagan to break future ties in favor of fathers? Of course the U.S. Congress can rectify this law any time it wants to.  The offending law is their doing and they can undo it.  In fact, it would be interesting to hear the debate on any proposed change. That's in part because, as I reported earlier, various feminist organizations wrote or joined briefs opposing the law as an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  As I said, much of what they said made perfect sense - that parental roles have been evolving and the law perpetuates untrue stereotypes of mothers and fathers. All of that was fine, but some wanted us to believe that the feminist organizaions (such as the National Women's Law Center) filing briefs argued for treating fathers and mothers equally.  They trotted out those briefs as evidence for the proposition that feminist organizations really do believe in gender-equality. To be blunt, that's not what the briefs said.  In fact, their argument was that fathers and mothers should be treated differently, with fathers getting the short end of the stick.  They did that by arguing that,
[T]hat stereotype (of the uninvolved father) cannot justify treating fathers who have taken steps to establish a relationship with their children differently from mothers.
In short, theirs is the old, outworn and misandric one we find throughout family law - that mothers rights are established by their biological relationship to their children, but fathers must "have taken certain steps" to have parental rights.  For them, biology is not enough; dads must do more. Exactly what they must do is often an open question to be resolved after the fact by courts, leaving dads in the dark about what is sufficient to obtain for them that most humble of desires, the right to care for their children. A perfect example of that is the Christian Diaz case on which I've reported before.  He's the 17-year-old from Bakersfield, California who fathered a child with is girlfriend.  Against his express wishes, she placed the child for adoption, lying to him about what she was doing.  Diaz prepared a room for the child, bought baby furniture, toys and clothing and, in spite of the mother's best efforts, managed to find out which hospital she'd gone to to have the baby.  When he arrived there to see his son, she told the hospital authorities he wasn't the father and he was "escorted" from the premises. When he went to court to contest the adoption, he learned that what he had done was insufficient to establish his parental rights and thus obtain custody of his child.  What would have been sufficient?  The court didn't say, and so how was he to have known? The point being that that is the type of thing that would pass muster with NWLC.  Fathers must behave in ways that some court at some later date finds acceptable in order to gain rights to their children; mothers need not. The solution to all this is simple.  Biological parents - both men and women - should have rights to and responsibilities toward the children they bring into the world, solely by virtue of their biology .  The only way either rights or responsibilities should be diminished is through proof of unfitness. Unlike family law everywhere I know about, that approach is fair and unbiased.  More importantly, it helps to connect children with their biological parents whom much social science shows us to be their best caregivers. Now that would be a great Fathers Day gift.  Better than a tie of any stripe.

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Recently there has been some confusion over the Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign, and we"d like to clear it up. Because of our recent conversations with Republican presidential contenders Gingrich, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Johnson, some people have incorrectly concluded that we are somehow leaning to the right.

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Judge Goldfarb found that [the mother] "has embarked upon an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them. On the other hand, this court finds that D.T. (Dwyane) will, in fact, encourage a close and continuing relationship between the boys and [the mother]." For all those who like to pretend that parental alienation doesn't exist, I urge them to read the judge's findings in the Dwyane Wade custody matter.  I can't link to it, but I can quote from it.  The Final Custody Judgment is 102 pages long and is replete with the day-to-day facts of parental alienation by the mother, Siovaughn Wade. More than that, though, it describes in minute detail the effects that alienation had on the couple's two boys who were 8 and 3 at the time.  The custody evaluator, Dr. Phyllis Amabile, M.D. J.D. and the judge chronicled the progression of the illness that comes from parental alienation. As I've said before, I don't have the background to give an opinion about whether those effects on the children add up to a discrete "syndrome" or "disorder" sufficient for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. But what I can do and what Judge Goldfarb and Dr. Amabile did in the Wade case, is observe and describe the behavior of a mother bent on keeping two young children away from their father.  That alienation clearly led to certain behaviors by the boys that certainly looks like PAS to me.  It's what Dr. Richard Gardner, Dr. Richard Warshak, Dr. Amy Baker and many others have described countless times. Interestingly, the main tool Siovaughn Wade used to keep the kids from their father was healthcare.  For about two years, she had primary custody and he had visitation rights while the custody case was being resolved.  From the judge's description and that of the custody evaluator, Dwyane's visitation was often thwarted by Siovaughn's claims that the children were ill, needed to go to the doctor or actually at the hospital receiving care. Time and again those claims proved to be either untrue outright or overblown.  Therefore, a minor earache meant no time with Daddy.  When their older child fell into the swimming pool resulting in nothing more than a minor scratch, Mom whisked him to the hospital and then frantically searched for a camera with which to photograph him lying on a hospital gurney. The use of the boys' health as an excuse to prevent visitation with their dad was so frequent and so obvious that the judge, in her opinion, took to using the buzz words "drama/trauma" to highlight it. As in so many states, one of the factors a judge must consider when awarding custody is
The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.
Judge Goldfarb found that
This court finds that S.L. (Siovaughn) has embarked upon an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them. On the other hand, this court finds that D.T. (Dwyane) will, in fact, encourage a close and continuing relationship between the boys and S.L.
Siovaughn's attempts to keep her ex-husband out of his children's lives only got worse with time.
This court finds that the progression and history of S.L.'s attempts to alienate Z.B.D. and Z.M.A. (the children) from D.T. and her unwillingness to facilitate a positive and healthy relationship between them is the major cause of this sad custody trial. Her behavior according to Dr. Amabile is almost in the severe range.
Siovaughn used the children's health as a way to frustrate Dwyane's visitation.
Dr. Amabile was critical of S.L. regarding her willingness to foster a relationship between the children and D.T. during this time before court ordered visitation. She stated, "For a long period of time she made visitations challenging for Mr. Wade and the children beyond what could be explained on the basis of concern for the children's wellbeing." After the separation she was "definitely being controlling in terms of his access to them (the kids) ... in a bad way."
At one point she simply packed the kids up and moved them from their Miami home to Chicago where they had no friends and few relatives.  This broke the attachment bond between the older boy and his father. The move violated a court order, but, throughout the case, Siovaughn exhibited little regard for the authority of the court.  That included violating numerous clear, specific court orders, but also lying to the court numerous times about what she had done and why.  Dr. Amabile called her attitude "I will do as I please."
The next two years involved motion after motion, order after order, regarding parenting time for D.T...  As Judge Nega aptly stated on May 10, 2010, "There always seems to be some disruption in pick up and drop off. There's always a struggle about where it's going to be, who's going to be present, who's not going to be present, what the time is, what the location is, and it's just too stressful for the children. That's a statement of fact."
Dr. Amabile specifically noted that even subsequent to court ordered intervention on the issue of parenting time with D.T., S.L. still attempted to interfere with rather than facilitate a relationship between D.T. and his sons that was not in the best interests of the children. "She leaves a strong impression of being controlling and of being resistant to authority on this issue (visitation)" and that included the authority of the court.
Eventually, Siovaughn's relentless campaign of parental alienation began to bear fruit.  The older boy began to criticize his father and not want to be around him.  In the classic case of parental alienation, when questioned by the custody evaluator, he used words and concepts that could only have come from an adult. The custody evaluator described one such incident this way:
"The child made a number of negative and critical statements about his father during his interviews with me. He talked about some past experiences with his dad where he described his dad as being harsh verbally, physically, sounded to me as if they were at least somewhat embellished. He talked about his dad having abandoned them and such things as 'imagine that you're a mother of a five-year old and you were about to have another child, and imagine your husband walks out on you.' Very strange thing for a seven or eight year old child to say. That was another example of what I would consider to be an alienated kind of attitude toward his dad."
All of this was extremely detrimental to the children, particularly the older boy.  It was bad enough that the evaluator recommended Siovaughn see a therapist "who is very familiar with this process of alienation."  Eventually she got around to doing that, but
Nevertheless, rather than showing some modicum of improvement since the May 6''' report, S.L.'s behavior, got progressively worse. Frankly, worse does not quite describe her behavior and how she was willing to utilize Z.B.D. as an instrument against the Wade family and ultimately his father.
The bottom line in the case was this:
S.L. has had over two years to demonstrate an ability to foster a relationship between the children and D.T. Rather than demonstrate a willingness to do so, she has manifested only disdain for the relationship between the boys and their father, despite her claims to the contrary. This court finds that the animosity toward D.T. and his family has become all-consuming for S.L. She still referred to D.T. until the end of trial as "my abuser." Until almost the end of trial, S.L. still sought supervised visitation for D.T...
D.T. on the other hand very credibly and sincerely testified that the children need both of their parents. He stated "I want both parents to be in their kids' lives ... S.L. needs to get healthy.. .to get help dealing with whatever issues she's dealing with .. . if she does that, she gets healthy, I want her to spend as much time with the kids as she wants to spend."
D.T. continued, "I'm not trying to take my kids from her. I want to foster a relationship between both parents, where we have equal rights, hopefully one day we can make decisions together, and our kids can see us together as a parent team to know that we have their best interests at hand."
I wish I could give more of the court's judgment.  It's not just one judge, either.  Judge Goldfarb quotes at least two other judges who dealt with various aspects of the case and who both sing the same song about Siovaughn Wade. I'd like Paula Caplan or any of the other PAS deniers to read the entire judgment of the court and then explain how parental alienation is a figment of someone's imagination and just a plot by abusive fathers to get custody of their kids. Compare Caplan's disgraceful article in Psychology Today with the judgment in Wade vs. Wade and you know which way the winds are blowing on the issue of parental alienation and PAS. Thanks to Michael for the heads-up.

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This article from the Associated Press has a happy headline (Salon.com, 6/16/11).  It reads "Study: Dads Spending Much More Time with Children."  Nice, no? Ah, but that headline obscures more than it reveals.  The study, done by the Pew Research Center, comes just in time for Fathers Day, so why not accentuate the positive?  And the positive is that college-educated men tend to only father children when they're married, and when they do, they're more involved in their lives than their fathers were with them. But of course college-educated men are only a small percentage of the overall population of men.  The far less cheerful news is that 27% of fathers live apart from at least one of their children and of those, 27% hadn't seen or talked to their kids in the past year.  Forty years ago, there were half as many fathers living apart from children as today.
On the other hand, married fathers who live with their children are devoting more time helping their wives with caregiving at home, a task once seen almost exclusively as a woman's duty. Such fathers on average now spend about 6.5 hours a week on child care, which includes playing, helping kids with homework or taking them to activities. That's up from 2.6 hours in the 1960s.
So the title of the Pew research, "A Tale of Two Fathers" is really more accurate than the headline of the AP piece.  Fathers who are married to the mother of their children spend a lot more time than ever before doing childcare.  Those who aren't do less or none at all. Those findings of course dovetail precisely with the concept of "parenting as a package deal" that's well known to sociologists and was introduced to readers of this blog by Kathryn Edin's work on low-income fathers.  Parenting as a package deal means that the mother and the child are considered a package by both the mother and the father.  So when she moves on to a different place or a different partner, the child goes with her and the dad is left behind. That's one of the specific findings of the Edin article I've referred to many times before.  In relationships in which the parents are poor and/or poorly educated and unmarried, the father begins as an enthusiastic caregiver, but over time becomes more and more marginalized in the child's life as the mother moves on to different romantic relationships. It's a dramatically different understanding of the dynamic of fatherlessness than the one usually peddled by the news media and policy-making elites.  Among them, it's de rigueur to place the blame for father absence on the father alone when in fact maternal gatekeeping may have more to do with it than anything. So this Fathers Day we can count on seeing plenty of exhortations to men to be better, more involved dads.  There's nothing wrong with that per se, but what we won't read is the suggestion that mothers have anything to do with father absence. And what we certainly won't read is the idea that the legal system has anything to do with separating fathers from children. Here's President Obama on the subject:
"Father's Day reminds us parents that we have no more solemn obligation than to care for our children," President Barack Obama said Wednesday in calling for fathers to be more involved. "But far too many young people in America grow up without their dads, and our families and communities are challenged as a result."
I couldn't agree more, but the none-too-subtle suggestion is that dads should just stop being so gosh-darned irresponsible and shoulder their parental load.  But the simple fact is that mothers themselves, the legal system and popular culture's depictions of fathers as uninterested in and dangerous to children have far more to do with father absence than does the corrupt nature of men so many people are happy to presume. After all, the "Two Fathers" the Pew Center talks about are largely married ones and unmarried ones.  Married dads are pretty involved with their kids and their kids benefit from it.  Unmarried dads tend not to be.  Hmm.  Now why would that be?  Is it possible that the legal system fails to keep dads connected to their children post-divorce?  Is it possible that the legal system's differing treatment of single mothers and single fathers has anything to do with father absence? It's not only possible, it's an objective fact.  By law and by custom, the system of divorce and child custody has for decades placed children in the hands of mothers and denied fathers the ability to play a meaningful role in their kids' lives.  It's so clear that you'd be tempted to call fatherlessness public policy. It does that by failing to enforce even the minimal visitation orders it "awards" dads.  It does it by refusing to give equal custody.  It does it by honoring false allegations of abuse.  It does it by allowing mothers to move away to places too distant for dads to keep contact with their children.  Child support law does it; so does adoption law.  And yet, with Fathers Day approaching, we hear nothing from policy-makers about taking the obvious, fair steps to keep fathers and children together post-divorce for which countless social scientists and advocates have been calling for decades.  We hear nothing about reasonable family court reform.  The calls are there, but the ears are deaf. It's hard not to conclude the obvious - that the policy-makers who are ever-ready to inveigh against fatherlessness are in fact content with a system that produces exactly that. Perhaps second only to the crumbling of the American middle class, I believe that fatherlessness stands as the gravest single problem confronting this country.  Raising generation after generation of children with only one parent is bad for kids, bad for the dads who can't care for their children and bad for moms who have to spend too much of their time doing so. As far back as the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm and was met with ignorant scorn.  Today, mothers work more and fathers parent more, but how much has really changed about our willingness to effectively confront the problem whose name we know so well - fatherlessness?

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The Gravy Train pulled into Regina, Saskatchewan this week with a big beautiful new package for Professor Mary Hampton of Regina University.  It was from the Canadian government and the package contained $1 million.  Read about it here (Regina Leader-Post, 6/13/11). The money is a grant for Hampton to study domestic violence in rural areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories over a period of five years.  The idea is to learn about the unique needs of DV victims in rural areas and develop an action plan to combat the problem. But there's a catch.  (Face it, you knew there was a catch.)  Mary Hampton and her colleagues are going to use the money to study only violence by men against women.  Male victims of DV along with female perpetrators will be completely ignored.  Again.

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Like millions of other fathers, Shawn Gliklich, MD, a Methuen, Massachusetts emergency-room physician, was allowed limited time with his children after his divorce. He says: "My kids had one of the two people they love most in the world pushed to the margins of their lives. I have the lives of other people"s children in my hands on a daily basis--why is it I"m not allowed to equally care for my own?" In Fathers and Families Executive Director Glenn Sacks' new column Fathers get a bad rap in the media and the courts (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 6/19/11), he writes:
Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards. Eliot Spitzer. John Ensign. Mark Sanford. To hear the media tell it, we live in the era of the Bad Dad. Stories about famous, successful men who submit to temptation and harm their family lives in the process certainly make great headlines and internet fodder, as do the divorces which often follow. But lost in the obsession over this handful of episodes is the fact that research shows most fathers are heavily invested in their kids" lives, and that their presence is vital.
To write a Letter to the Editor about the column, please click here. To post a comment on it, please click here. To read the full column, click here.

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Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death in Saigon in June, 1963 to protest anti-Buddhist persecution.

Thomas Ball, a troubled New England divorced father, took his own life in front of the door of the courthouse in Keene, New Hampshire on Wednesday.  He sat down, doused himself with gasoline, and lit a match. Ball was a Vietnam veteran and apparently his act of protest was modeled on the famous "Burning Buddhist" protests against the U.S.-backed Ngo Dinh Diem government of South Vietnam in the 1960s. The buddhists were protesting the discrimination and mistreatment they suffered at the hands of Diem's pro-Catholic regime. Ball was protesting the discrimination he, his children, and many other fathers and children have endured from the New Hampshire family courts. Ball left a lengthy narrative of his experiences with the court that detailed how he lost his children. He concluded:

I have three things to say to my children. First, Daddy loves you. Second, you are my three most favorite people in the world. And last, that you are to stick together no matter how old you get or how far apart you live. Because it is like Grandma always said. The only thing you really have in this world is your family.

But his story was much more than that.  It revealed a deeply troubled individual who nevertheless understood clearly the workings of family courts - their routinely anti-father decisions and the role that money plays in propping up a status quo that is morally bankrupt, scientifically shoddy and misandric.  Ball understood all too well the price paid by fathers and their children to keep a system functioning that, by no definition of the word adequately performs the task society gives it.  Fathers and Families" Board Chairman Ned Holstein, M.D. said:

The callous and disrespectful treatment of so many fathers by the family courts means that tragedies like this one are sure to befall the most fragile among them.

In his narrative, Thomas Ball's pain and frustration are palpable.  Anyone going through the loss of his children would understand his feelings. But that does not justify the violence Ball advocates in paragraphs 73-78 of his 15 page final statement. I sympathize with him; I feel for his loss.  I will never condone exhortations to violence. There are ways to accomplish the goals of the family court reform movement.  Those ways include the ballot box, lobbying state and national legislatures, media attention, and legal defense work.  Whoever reads the words of Thomas Ball will feel what he felt and empathize with his pain, anger and frustration.  No one should take to heart the violent methods he recommends. And however distant Ball may have felt from his children, however hard it may have been for him to speak to them, touch them, hold them, he is forever lost to them now. His deed is done and there is no undoing it.  We can only hope that it will serve the purpose Ball intended - to draw attention to the countless children who go to bed fatherless every night, not because their fathers don't care, but because their caring is devalued by family courts.

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Every Fathers Day I make a pitch for everyone reading to remember their dads with love.  Fathers are indispensable to their children and today is the one day out of the year we're urged to honor them.  So much of the rest of the time seems to be spent doing the opposite. But this year I think I'll let Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade do the talking for me.  This year saw the culmination of his successful fight to gain custody of his two sons and here's his Fathers Day article that touches on that fight, and what his kids and his own dad mean to him (Newsweek, 6/5/11). And while you're reading his piece remember two things.  First, recall all the things his ex-wife did to make contact with his boys hard or impossible.  Second, remember what Dwyane said in court about her:
"I want both parents to be in their kids" lives … S.L.(his wife)  needs to get healthy.. .to get help dealing with whatever issues she"s dealing with .. . if she does that, she gets healthy, I want her to spend as much time with the kids as she wants to spend.'
D.T. continued, "I"m not trying to take my kids from her. I want to foster a relationship between both parents, where we have equal rights, hopefully one day we can make decisions together, and our kids can see us together as a parent team to know that we have their best interests at hand.'
When you think about it, that's a pretty good statement of the goals of the family court reform movement in a nutshell. To me, Dwyane Wade looks like he's got a big heart.  That largeness of spirit will be there long after he laces up his NBA sneakers for the last time.  Whatever his ex-wife may do, I know his sons will be better boys and better men because of it. Happy Fathers Day!

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