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CBS's "The Talk" found Catherine Kieu Becker's slicing off of her husband's penis to be high comedy.  As you'll no doubt recall, Becker allegedly drugged her husband's food and, when he lay down feeling sick, tied him to the bed and cut off his penis with a kitchen knife.  She then ground it up in the garbage disposal before calling 911.  When the police arrived, she told them "he deserved it." What had he done?  Apparently he'd filed for divorce.  That makes him one of a minority of men who do, since 70% of divorces in the United States are filed by women.  The hosts of "The Talk" found Becker's mutilation of her husband to be great fun.  One of the panelists, Sharon Osbourne, called the savage attack "quite fabulous" and "hysterical."  Host Julie Chen laughed heartily when a woman in the audience called out "that'll teach him" to the news that Becker had done it because he'd filed for divorce. (Chen, by the way is the wife of Leslie Moonves, who's President and CEO of CBS.  She pursued an affair with Moonves while the executive was still married.  Presumably she's glad Moonves' ex didn't do what Becker did when the two split up.) All of the six female panelists got great pleasure from the man's sexual mutilation.  One referred to their delight (and the audience's) as "the buzz," and said she didn't want to "kill" it.  Osbourne added that, if it had been her, she'd have just tossed the penis into the dog's bowl instead of the garbage disposal.  (I guess she's evolving.  Not long ago she said that if she'd been Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, she'd have cut off his penis and put in the garbage disposal.)  Yet another opined that the decision whether to cut off a man's penis "does depend on the reason why" she did so.  In other words, some reasons for sexual mutilation of a man are appropriate while others aren't. After several minutes of glee, one panelist actually realized that "it's not funny," but that remark went unheeded by the others.  Still another found it "a little bit sexist" to be laughing at the incident and wondered if they would find similar humor in a man's severing a woman's breast.  Her remark was not treated seriously. Here's a link to a a website with a video of the episode of "The Talk." To say the least, the entire performance by all six of the women was disgraceful.  As by far the worst of the lot, Sharon Osbourne should be fired immediately by CBS and never get another job there. It goes without saying that, if a husband had drugged his wife, tied her to their bed and sexually mutilated her with a kitchen knife, the ladies on "The Talk" wouldn't have been laughing.  They'd have been calling for his head.  From coast to coast we'd have been treated to an orgy of recrimination and false "facts" about the corrupt nature of men and how prevalent our violence against women is. "The Talk" took hypocrisy to a all new low.  The blatant misandry of all six of the female hosts was shameful.  All should publicly apologize and Osbourne should be fired.  It is far past time to dispense with the public hatred of half the population of the world.  It is far past time to stop the promotion of women's domestic violence against men that we see time and again in popular culture, from casual slaps to murder. If domestic violence is wrong, as we've said for decades, it's wrong.  That means it's can't be right for women but wrong for men.  About 400 men in the United States died at the hands of their female partners last year, and in fact that's an understatement because women tend to hire the job done more often than do men.  Those murders-for-hire are not counted as spousal murder by the police agencies charged with reporting them. Are those men's deaths cause for the type of celebration the women on "The Talk" had for Catherine Becker? The double standard regarding DV that appears everywhere in American law and the practices of police and courts must end.  But it won't until those in the public spotlight take seriously women's violence against men.  That includes the six women on "The Talk" for whom the sexual mutilation of a man is the source of such unrestrained joy. And they'll never change if their utterly unacceptable behavior goes unpunished. To call for Sharon Osbourne's firing and an apology from the rest, go to the link I've provided.  That site has links to CBS's complaint department, investor relations, the Federal Communications Commission, etc.

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"As is so often the case with emotionally-charged claims of child sexual abuse, mere findings of innocence were insufficient to shield Darryl Ginyard from its many adverse effects.  For example, for months at a time after each new allegation, he lost custody of his children." A jury awarded a Maryland man $852,000 due to the ex-wife's false allegations of child sexual abuse.  Read about it here (Home Town Annapolis, 7/17/11). Darryl and Amani Ginyard had two daughters who are now seven and eight years old.  The couple divorced in 2005 and agreed to divide custody equally, but that lasted only two months. According to Darryl's testimony, his ex-wife immediately began to interfere with his access to the girls.  She began by telling the police that he was intending to take the girls out of town, apparently to thwart her access to them.  That was false, but the police paid Darryl a visit anyway. Two months after that, Amani Ginyard made the first of her many allegations of child sexual abuse against Darryl.  It seems that she told the children's therapist that Darryl was abusing the girls and the therapist, being bound by law to do so, reported the allegations to child welfare authorities. They investigated and found nothing to substantiate the charges.  Into the bargain, the girls denied the allegations. Undeterred, Amani Ginyard continued making false claim after false claim - eight in all in a period of two years.  Each was investigated and each was determined to be wholly unfounded. But, as is so often the case with emotionally-charged claims of child sexual abuse, mere findings of innocence were insufficient to shield Darryl Ginyard from its many adverse effects.  For example, for months at a time after each new allegation, he lost custody of his children. Again and again his ex would claim abuse and the family court would order him to stop seeing his daughters.  Again and again Ginyard would be investigated and again and again he was found to have done nothing to harm his girls.  But during those investigations, he would be prohibited from seeing them.  Once in 2006, he was separated from them for nine months. Despite the repeated findings of innocence, police seemed less and less able to convince themselves that a man, so often charged, had done nothing wrong.
He testified last week that as the allegations accumulated, questioning by detectives went from hour-long talks to two- to three-hour interrogations.
Harrowing as that must have been, the police were the least of his worries.
The false reports also affected his job.
In 2006, sometime after his company's human resources department was notified of a court subpoena for child sexual assault, Ginyard was let go from his job at the bank, he testified. He was not able to find work with a bank until January of this year, he said.
I'd like to know just what "his company's human resources department was notified of a court subpoena for child sexual assault" means.  That is, I'd like to know who did the notifying. Whatever the case, he lost his job due to the false allegations in 2006 and didn't get another bank job until earlier this year.  That's almost five years. It took all that to make the judge in the custody case see the light of day.
In February 2010, after a two-day trial, Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. ruled that the allegations were false and that Ginyard did nothing to his children. Harris reversed the earlier custody decision, giving primary custody to Darryl Ginyard. The girls' mother now gets visitation.
[Ginyard's attorney, Lorraine] Lawrence-Whittaker said the case since has gone to the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld Harris' ruling.
That's good news, but the false allegations have had their lasting effects.
Ginyard testified that the years of false allegations damaged his relationship with his daughters. He said he has become withdrawn with the girls and is afraid to do things normal parents do - like hug or snuggle with his children while watching a movie.
"I don't let them stay in my room a lot," he said. "I have to distance myself from them, no matter how much I care about them, because of the way things have transpired.
"… I don't want to put myself into a position like that at all."
Given the malicious and hurtful nature of what Amani Ginyard did in her campaign to deny Darryl access to his children and they access to him, he sued her.  Last week a jury awarded him $852,000 in actual and punitive damages. There's  no word on whether Ginyard ever expects to see a dime of the money he's been awarded.  Likewise there's no word on whether Amani Ginyard, as the non-custodial parent, pays child support. Still, a win's a win in anyone's book. The larger issue is the ease with which false allegations are made, their devastating consequences and the relative indifference of courts to their falsity.  After six years of abuse by his ex using the police and courts as her cat's paw, Darryl Ginyard got custody of his kids and a sizeable verdict. But other dads aren't so lucky.  Other dads see their children taken from them by the same or similar tactics and are unable to prove their innocence sufficiently to either reverse the ruling of the family court or successfully sue the wrongdoer.  As but one example of many, Jeffrey Ruggiero is still fighting to get his daughter back even though his ex-wife is doing 14 years behind bars for her multiple false allegations against him. The lessons are simple.  Until police and courts start taking a balanced approach to allegations of abuse, this will continue to happen.  It beggars belief that a judge ruling in a custody case wouldn't, after the second false allegation, begin to see a pattern.  But in this case it took eight - eight! And as long as mothers pay no price for false allegations, they'll continue to make them.  After all, Amani Ginyard's worked.  For years they did exactly what she wanted them to do - keep the children from their father.  It all went wrong for her in the end, but in another case, they might have continued working indefinitely. Once courts stop believing the myth that fathers are uniquely dangerous to their children, they'll start transferring custody when the first allegation turns out to be false.  And that will put a stop to this nonsense as nothing else will. But until that day, expect more of the same. Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

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The message of equally shared parenting is spreading.  It's now gotten an unequivocal endorsement in the conservative online publication Townhall.  Read the article here (Townhall, 7/19/11). The writer is Rachel Alexander and she nails essentially every important topic on divorce, custody and child support.  And I say that not simply because she gives a shout-out for Fathers and Families or because she seems to have been reading my stuff (who else quotes Canadian researcher Paul Millar?). Alexander's piece isn't long, and it's hard to cover the waterfront of custody issues in the space she has, but she does an admirable job.
Child custody and support laws have become more onerous over the last 50 years due to fewer parents staying together and women becoming equally as capable as men at earning a living outside the home. Instead of reflecting these changes, the laws have lagged behind, continuing to favor mothers over fathers. The laws generally award primary custody to the parent who spent more time at home with the children and less time working, even if the difference was miniscule. The other parent is then ordered to pay a crushing amount of child support, sometimes on top of alimony. In a small percentage of situations, usually where the father was the primary caregiver, this situation is reversed and the laws punish the mother.
I'm glad she didn't frame this as a debate about fathers versus mothers.  It's not and it never has been.  The debate is about parents versus family courts.  The fact that mothers get the short end of the stick in custody cases far less often than do fathers, doesn't mean it can't happen.  And the complaints that fathers have very much reflect those of mothers who end up as non-custodial parents.  It's no accident that many "fathers rights" advocates are mothers who've gotten a view of the custody/visitation/child support scene from the other side. Alexander's also right in pointing out that society has changed a lot faster than have courts and laws on child custody.  The entire concept of custodial and non-custodial parents is an artifact of bygone days.  Those were the days when few people got divorced, so there wasn't much science on the effects of divorce on children.  Nor was there much on the benefits of fathers to children.  Now there is a lot of both, but laws haven't much changed. Likewise, mother as default caregiver harks back to days when many more mothers than now didn't do paid work and dads shouldered the task of earning for their families.  Again, it's different now.  The workplace has opened up for women and so has the system of higher education.  So women can earn as much or more than men, even though on average they don't. And yet state laws on divorce and custody are loathe to acknowledge what has been common knowledge for decades.  Alexander gets that.
Although a few small changes have been made to the laws within the last few years, due to exposure and the efforts of advocacy organizations, there has not been significant progress. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 84 percent of custodial parents are mothers, a figure that has not changed since 1983. This is unfortunate, because Canadian economist Paul Miller analyzed data on families and found that "parental gender is not a…predictor at all of any of the child outcomes examined, that is behavioral, educational or health outcomes.'
Alexander looks favorably on equal parenting and understands that it holds the promise of fixing much that's broken in family courts.
The latest effort to change the system calls for "shared parenting.' Although advocacy groups differ on how shared parenting would be implemented, it generally consists of making the default custody arrangement 50/50 joint physical and legal custody when parents split up, absent egregious circumstances. This would replace the current system which leaves it up to a judge"s whim to decide what constitutes "the best interests of the child.' Shared parenting bills are being introduced in state legislatures around the country, and several states now have some version of shared parenting. In those states, studies are finding that divorce rates are lower and the children are better adjusted. 
She also gets it right on child support and temporary restraining orders.
In addition to passing shared parenting laws, there must be tougher requirements for issuing restraining orders and reform of child support laws. 50/50 shared custody should not include child support unless there are egregious circumstances. Child support creates an incentive to continue fighting. Neither parent wants to get stuck paying it, and some parents greedily want it as a source of income to use as they please, since there is little monitoring of how it is spent. Eliminate child support in all but the most egregious situations, and most of the fighting clogging our family courts will cease.
Mark my words: a tipping point will come in the fight for fathers' rights to their children and children's rights to their fathers.  Just when that will be, I can't say.  But there is too much on the side of fathers and children for them to be held hostage by outdated and inaccurate views about mothers and families.  When that time comes we'll see a cascade of changing state laws that truly seek to keep both parents in the lives of children post-divorce. When that happens, Rachel Alexander will be counted as one who helped tip the balance.

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For two years a Houston mother kept two children from seeing their father who is dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease.  Read about it here (My Fox Houston, 7/18/11). The mother is Kelly Brantley and she was once a beauty queen; she was crowned Ms. Harris County (Houston).  But whatever passionate proclamation of her values she gave to win the crown obviously didn't include anything about the well-being of children or their right to a healthy relationship with their dad.  That's because, for the last two years, she's been keeping her former husband out of the lives of his two children.  Now, you might say that's nothing but garden-variety interference with visitation with a pinch of parental alienation thrown in for good measure.  But this one's different.  As shameful as that behavior is, Brantley's is far worse.  That's because the girls' father, Robert Zach, has ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.  That condition involves a steady and sometimes rapid deterioration of motor nerve functioning.  It kills invariably and the time from diagnosis to death can be short - sometimes less than a year. So the fact is that Robert Zach's time in which he can see his children is short and getting shorter by the day.
While mom keeps the girls away, dad's loved ones say his health is getting worse.
"Six months ago, he was walking and talking, had head movement, could have expressed himself," Don said. "She's robbed the girls of that right."
Even though he's no longer able to tell them he loves them, Zach desperately wants to see his daughters before it's too late.
Nice.  Six months ago the guy was functioning at a reasonable level.  Now he's not and he never will again.  The article doesn't tell us, but it's a certainty that two years ago he was essentially normal.  But during all that time, Brantley did the usual things to keep Dad out of his children's lives.
"My husband hasn't seen his daughters in 2 years,' Robert"s wife Katy said.
"I"ve gone with them to try to pick them up and every time it's the same thing, no one's at home or shut the door on us, same thing every time," Robert's brother Don Zach said.
Now that Robert is almost totally incapable of movement Brantley, through her attorney, says that it would be too traumatic for the children to see their father in his current condition.  Actually, with a little loving preparation from her, the children would probably understand the situation well enough. But what's more to the point is that Robert Zach hasn't been in such bad condition for all of the two years she's denied him his court-ordered visitation.  Would the children have been traumatized then?  No, but she kept them from him anyway. So where was the family court all that time?  After all, two years is a long time even by the standards of the legal system.  Why is it that a dying man couldn't get a court to enforce its order of visitation that no one seems to deny was repeatedly violated by the mother? I suppose the short answer is "they don't."  That is, as I've said countless times before, the same courts that bring the wrath of God down on the heads of non-custodial parents who fall behind on child support, routinely refuse to sanction custodial parents who deny visitation.  In Australia that's actually the decided law, as historian John Hirst has shown.  There, family courts frankly use two legal standards - one for child support and the other for visitation.  The inherent power to punish for contempt is used against non-payers but not against mothers who interfere with visitation. In the United States, we're not that candid about the matter.  Here there's nothing to prevent a court from enforcing its visitation orders, and on rare occasions they do.  But what Robert Zach's case shows clearly is that getting a court to do so is hard, time-consuming and expensive.  And his case is not just one of parental rights and it's not just one of the welfare of children, although it is both those things.  It's also one of urgent need.  Robert Zach will not be around for his children much longer.  In a few weeks or months, they will not have him to turn to.  So the usual dilatory tactics of family courts should have given way to the needs of the moment.  But they didn't. Of course it's possible that the court ordered Kelly Brantley time and again to comply with the visitation order.  But realistically, what's the judge going to do when she refuses to comply - change custody to a severely disabled man?  All that casts a bit of a cloud over the fact that the court has now ordered Brantley to bring the children to Zach's house and to "mend fences."  I hope she does.  But of course for two years Brantley's been under a court order to permit visitation and she hasn't done so.  Why would this one be any different?  Why would this order be more effective than any that's gone before?  If the past is prelude, Robert Zach can file this latest order in the same place as the previous one and the one before it.  But of course he can't do that.

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Australian attorneys may be getting nervous about the recent proposed rollback of fathers' rights.  In 2006, modest reforms were made to the country's Family Law Act.  Those encouraged shared parenting while maintaining strict exceptions for parents who committed domestic violence or were otherwise deemed unfit to parent. But, modest as those reforms were, they were too much for the usual anti-dad crowd which duly swung into action.  They claimed that the new law encouraged judges to grant custody to abusive fathers, despite its clear prohibition.  In vain did advocates for fathers and children point to the plain wording of the law.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Presidential candidate/businessman Herman Cain and F & F member Barbara Gibson discuss family court reform at NH GOP event."][/caption] Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign activists Shawn Gliklich, MD and Barbara Gibson sat at a VIP table at the NH GOP Chairman's Speaker Series with presidential candidate/businessman Herman Cain in Dover, NH on Thursday, June 21. When they laid out the problems with family court to Cain (above left), he told them "You're preaching to the choir," and asked them for solutions a president could implement. F & F member Barbara Gibson (above right), an emergency room nurse and divorced mother of two, told Cain, "My kids are doing great because I went against the courts and the attorneys and decided to share parenting with my ex-husband." Gibson said:

"When I got divorced six years ago my attorney told me I was crazy--she said I should keep sole custody and sole control, and that if I didn't it would cost me money. But my kids love their father...[sharing parenting] was the 'best decision of my life.'"

Cain told Gibson "I sympathize and I understand," and said he'd like to have further discussions with F & F, which we're following up on.

Fathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and works successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle. We will be intervening at both Republican and Democratic campaign events. However, there are many more Republican events than Democratic events because the Democrats have an incumbent running.

Cain is the 6th presidential (or likely presidential) candidate who has come out in favor of family court reform via Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign. These include:
  • Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico. (Johnson met with F & F Board Chair Ned Holstein, MD, MS in Manchester, NH last week--to learn more about that meeting, click here.)
  • Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a 2008 and potential 2012 presidential candidate
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
  • Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty
  • Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman
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.
If you would like to participate, 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. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Presidential candidate/businessman Herman Cain and F & F member Greg Sabine at NH GOP event."][/caption]

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Pennsylvania judge Diane Gibbons ordered a father to take down his website critical of his ex-wife.  Read about it here (Philly Burbs, 7/21/11). Apparently, Anthony Morelli and his ex-wife Allison Morelli have been divorced about seven years.  At some point, Anthony and his girlfriend, Misty Weaver-Ostinato, put up a website he says to air his complaints about his experiences with the post-divorce process.  They called the site "The Psycho Ex-Wife." 
 "We are NOT anti-mother or simply pro-father, we believe all children deserve BOTH parents, unless there are serious issues which prevent one parent from providing a stable, loving environment. An environment where the children are encouraged to love and be loved by both parents.
"We offer a view few judges will ever see. For attorneys, custody evaluators, guardians ad-litem, and judges, a custody case ends with their decision. They make a ruling and walk away with nary a care as to how clients can, and do, go against the orders they have handed down."
Anthony admits that the site was somewhat inflammatory for the sake of attracting readers, but claims he's never identified his wife or children by name.  He also says he went to great lengths to keep the site secret from his kids. But eventually they found out about it and so did Allison.  She went to court to get it taken down and the judge agreed.  Predictably, she defends her decision as in the best interests of the children.
"This is about children,' said the judge during a June 14 hearing...  The judge characterized the original website as containing "inaccurate and denigrating, belittling comments about mother. It is not just venting that I have read in these pages. It amounts to outright cruelty.'
Since the site's been taken down, it's hard to know just what was on it, but the linked-to article's most demeaning quotation has Anthony referring to Allison as "Jaba the Hut but with less personality."  Not flattering, but not actionable either. Anthony Morelli and Misty Weaver-Ostinato have appealed the order saying it violates their right to free speech.  To be blunt, they're right.  Judge Gibbons's assertion of a "best interests of the child" exception to the First Amendment's guarantee of the right of free speech has, as far as I know, no precedent in constitutional law. Respected constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh agrees.
"It"s not limited to libel, it covers all speech about the ex-wife. It"s clearly unconstitutional,' Volokh said.
Gibbons" determination the site was abusive to the children is not sufficient cause to order it taken down, according to Volokh. "That"s not an adequate rationale,' he said.
The courts have ruled even national security is not reason to order a newspaper not to publish, the professor said, citing the example of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the nation"s involvement in the Vietnam War.
"It"s one thing to restrict speech to children, but not to the entire public. At least attempt to narrow the limits of speech,' said the professor.
Volokh continued, "I rarely criticize judges, they have a very difficult job,' but, he said, "this is a blatantly unconstitutional exercise of her authority. She"s flouting the U.S. Constitution.'
That of course means the order will be overturned by an appellate court whose judges, apparently unlike Gibbons, took Con Law in school.  That'll be a good development, and a necessary one for maintaining our free speech rights. But the victory that's sure to come obscures the advent of a less heartening development that likely will as well.  At the hearing in June, Judge Gibbons promised this:
"You may say anything that you would like to say. You may publish it. You may put it on a billboard. But you will not have your children, because that is abusive.'
Aye, there's the rub.  Her order is clearly unconstitutional and will be overturned, but if you thought that was the extent of her power over Anthony Morelli, you were wrong.  He and Allison have some form of joint custody and, if he continues to exercise his free-speech rights, he'll find his access to them denied.  And again he'll be told that it's in the children's best interests. It's odd how that works.  He has some sort of custody now and has for seven years, during which time he's been publishing various items on his website (at least until recently).  But if he continues to criticize his wife online, he'll all of a sudden become unfit to parent his kids.  That of course is pure bunk.  If Gibbons denies him access to his kids because of his criticism of his ex, it'll have nothing to do with child well-being and everything to do with punishing a father for exercising his right of free speech.  But would an appellate court agree?  I doubt it. Of course if Anthony's words had anything to do with parental alienation of his kids, that would be different.  Parental alienation can and should always be grounds for limiting parental contact.  But no one has said anything about his aiming his remarks at his children.  On the contrary, he bent over backwards to ensure that they wouldn't see the site, even though they eventually did. No, the "take-away" on this is the power of family court judges.  The U.S. Constitution contains no 'best interests of children" restriction on the right of free speech, but family court judges can find any facts they wish about parental fitness.  And if that includes taking children from a father because the judge doesn't like what he says about the mother, so be it. Also, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Gibbons's plaint was only partly about what Anthony said about Allison.  I'd say the judge is also angry about what he at least implicitly said about her.  After all, he's griping about how judges walk away from their custody decisions "with nary a care as to how clients can and do, go against the orders they have handed down." That's a slam at the mother, but it's also a swipe at the court for, I'd be willing to bet, it's failure to enforce his visitation rights. Family courts routinely intone the mantra of "the best interests of the child," while simultaneously doing the opposite.  As long as there's no more objective standard than that, we'll continue seeing parents silenced by judges whose power regarding child custody continues largely unchecked. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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[caption id="attachment_17801" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="F & F Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS (left) meets with presidential candidate Gary Johnson (right) in Manchester, NH. Johnson told Holstein "Family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time.'"]photo-holstein-and-gary-johnson[/caption] Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico and current presidential candidate, met with Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday, July 21. Governor Johnson made his support for family court reform clear when responding to questions from F & F activists at several campaign events. At one, Johnson told F & F activists Roy Corbeil and Seth Diamond, "[Family court] is an area that is really ripe for reform…I understand this issue and have researched hundreds of these cases.' As Governor, Johnson set aside one afternoon per month to spend five minutes with any resident of New Mexico who wanted to meet with him. Many who came to see him were fathers who had been treated unfairly in the family courts. He told Holstein, "family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time.'

Fathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and works successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle. We have primarily been dealing with Republican candidates in New Hampshire because the Democrats have an incumbent running.

During their hour-long discussion, Governor Johnson asked Dr. Holstein what he could do as President, given that family law is primarily made at the state level. Holstein replied by pointing out that existing federal law is quite detailed concerning the child support programs that the states must have in place in order to receive their federal welfare funds. Because the federal government is already so deeply involved in child support, this could serve as the federal entry point for changes we support. Amending the existing federal statutes on child support would not require a great new legislative initiative, but simply tweaking existing law. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Governor/presidential candidate Gary Johsnon."][/caption] Holstein specifically recommended that Governor Johnson amend the current child support law to require the states, as a condition of receiving welfare monies, to carry out a bi-annual study of child custody outcomes, with a requirement that they demonstrate significant progress towards shared parenting as time went on. This could be justified by citing the evidence that joint custody of children has been shown to be the strongest factor in improving child support compliance. Holstein then linked the huge federal child support expenditure to Governor Johnson"s other demonstrated priority: aggressive budget cutting. Holstein pointed out that the federal government spends roughly $5 billion per year on child support enforcement. He suggested this was a ripe area for dramatic budget cuts. Most of the federal expenditure is wasted because:

1) In most states, over 80% of the money collected is for current payments, not past due amounts (arrearages). By and large, the current amounts are being paid without government coercion, so much of the work of the collection agencies is unnecessary.

2) Federal incentives reimburse the states for total child support dollars collected. This incentivizes them to focus on big-money cases. In most such cases, the child is perfectly well taken care of financially. This is because custodial parents who were once married to rich people are usually quite well off themselves, either with their own money or with their divorce settlement, or with re-partnering. It is a waste of taxpayers" money to chase noncustodial parents whose children are financially comfortable, even if those parents are not paying the entire amount that had been ordered. The custodial parent in such cases could pursue this on their own, just as noncustodials must pursue parenting time interference on their own.

3) About 70% of all past-due child support dollars are owed by people who earn poverty level wages. It is a waste of taxpayers" money to chase such people to collect money they simply do not have. It has been repeatedly shown that even when these people are jailed (at great taxpayer expense to apprehend and jail), little money is collected. Why? Because they do not have it.

4) A sizable percentage of all past-due child support would not be paid to the mothers but instead to the general coffers of the state, in order to recoup welfare costs. When non-custodial parents in these cases pay up, the children are not helped. Rather, the general revenue of the state is improved. In cases where the poor noncustodial parent was helping the kids off the books, their situation worsens when the state takes all the money he has for itself, leaving him unable to continue to help his kids. Thus, the taxpayer is being fooled into the belief that he is helping poor kids when he pays for child support enforcement; instead, in these cases, the federal money is simply a hidden subsidy to the state"s general revenues that does not help poor kids, or may even hurt them.

Afterward, Holstein said:

Governor Johnson appears to be an energetic and talented person who is a genuine believer in gender equality, shared parenting, and family court reform. He seems absolutely genuine in his interest in the injustices of the family courts. He and his two aides listened carefully and asked perceptive questions.

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.
If you would like to participate, 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.

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A Nebraska family court took custody of a child from the only dad he's ever known in favor of the mom who's a felon.  The state's Supreme Court overturned the trial court, but not its custody ruling.  Here's an article on the case (Omaha.com, 7/23/11), and here's the court's opinion. Both the trial court's decision and that of the Supreme Court are remarkable, so I'll deal with each in separate posts. Cesar C. and Alicia L. lived together from 2004 - 2006 and had an intimate relationship although they never married.  Some time in 2006, Alicia gave birth to a son, Jaime.  Cesar was there at the birth and a day after the child arrived, he and Alicia signed an acknowledgment of paternity that was duly notarized. For a short time, they continued to live together and raise Jaime.  But that all changed in August of that year as the Nebraska Supreme Court explained.
Shortly thereafter [i.e. their return from the hospital], Alicia learned that there was an outstanding federal warrant for her arrest for conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine.  Without notifying Cesar, Alicia fled Lexington and left Jaime with Cesar. Alicia was arrested in Colorado on October 5, 2006, and was later convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in a federal facility in Texas. She was in federal custody until August 2008, when she was released to a halfway house in Omaha, Nebraska, where she lived until she moved into a house in February 2009. After arriving in Omaha, Alicia resumed contact with Cesar and Jaime, who for the last 2 years had been living together in Lexington. The relationship between Cesar and Alicia did not resume. 
Just so it's clear, when she was released from prison, Alicia stayed in Omaha while Cesar and Jaime, who was then two years old, continued to live in Lexington as before.  Omaha is about 200 miles from Lexington.
On June 8, 2009, Cesar filed a complaint in the district court for Dawson County to establish paternity, custody, and child support with respect to Jaime. Cesar asserted that at all times, Jaime had been in his physical care, custody, and control and that they had lived in Lexington Jaime"s entire life. Cesar sought an order declaring him to be Jaime"s father, granting him custody of Jaime, and ordering Alicia to pay child support.
So Cesar hauled Alicia into court demanding child support.  She answered his suit saying that, well, maybe he was Jaime's dad after all.  Alicia demanded a DNA test to determine paternity and also custody of Jaime and an order requiring Cesar to pay child support. Uncontested by Alicia were the facts that
immediately after Jaime"s birth, he asked Alicia whether he was Jaime"s father; that Alicia told Cesar that he was Jaime"s father; and that at no time since, until the present action, had Alicia indicated to Cesar that he was not Jaime"s father. Cesar also alleged that Alicia was unfit to have custody of Jaime for various reasons including, inter alia, her involvement with drugs, her conviction "for one or more federal felonies,' and her abandonment of Jaime.
The judge agreed to have genetic testing done to determine paternity and, lo and behold, it turned out that Cesar was not Jaime's biological father.  Prior to her answering his lawsuit, Alicia hadn't let on to anyone that paternity was in question. That's the background.  On one hand we have a mother who lied to Cesar and presumably the biological father about paternity.  She also lied about paternity to the State of Nebraska and the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.  She had enough of a relationship with methamphetamine that the local U.S. Attorney had a warrant out for her arrest.  That by itself probably means some sort of interstate transfer of the stuff.  She seems to have been a user as well.  After living with her son for only a few days or weeks, she skipped town one step ahead of the law.  Once caught, she spent two years in prison.  By then Jaime was two years old.  When she was released from the halfway house, did she fly like the wind to her son's side?  No, she stayed in Omaha, 200 miles away.  That's mom. By contrast, Dad took care of Jaime every day of the boy's life while Alicia was trying to evade capture by the law and cooling her heels behind bars and later just killing time in Omaha. So to which parent do you think the family court gave custody?  Mom of course. It seems that once the DNA test results came back showing no biological relationship between Cesar and Jaime, the family court applied the "parental preference doctrine" which apparently means an automatic preference for a biological parent over a non-biological one. Hmm.  At this point, I suppose we should mention the miraculous vanishing "best interests of the child" doctrine.  Neither the trial court nor the supreme court referred to that concept, which is odd given the fact that we see it in child custody cases with such numbing frequency. It can't seriously be argued that Alicia was the better parent or that Jaime had any sort of relationship with her or that he didn't see Cesar as the only parent he'd ever known.  No, all of those are repeated time and again in cases in which the father seeks custody after some period of absence.  And time and again they're used to deny or limit his parental rights.  Here?  They go unmentioned.  Funny how that works.
The court found that Cesar failed to establish that Alicia was unfit to parent Jaime or that she had forfeited her parental rights by substantial, continuous, and repeated neglect of Jaime.
So, yes Mom's a felon, yes she'd spent essentially all of the child's life somewhere else and yes, even when she finally had the opportunity to move out of Omaha to where he lived, she opted not to.  None of that suggested unfitness to the trial court.  More to the point, none of it constituted "substantial, repeated and continuous neglect of Jaime." One wonders what a mother would have to do to meet that standard. What one need not wonder is whether the trial court would have reached the same result if the sexes had been reversed.  I think we can be confident of the answer.  A dad who's a drug pusher, who ran out of his child's life almost from the moment he was born, spent the first two years of the boy's life in prison and, when he finally had the opportunity to get back in his son's life, didn't take it, wouldn't get the time of day from a family judge, much less custody. One last thing.  Remember that the trial court hung its hat on the "parental preference doctrine" under which nature trumps nurture?  Well, remember as well that, although Cesar C. isn't him, there is a biological father somewhere, who can likely be identified.  So I wonder, if he showed up out of nowhere and demanded his parental rights, would the preference for biolgical parents apply to him?  Given that such a preference exists in Nebraska law, why has no one attempted to give him notice of the proceedings and bring him into court? It's tough being a dad.  Fathers are excoriated every day for not being responsible, but let one be loving, caring and responsible in ways Mom never got close to and guess what happens. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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In my last post I told the story of Cesar C., who took care of his girlfriend's son for two years while she was running from the law, in prison and in a halfway house.  He continued caring for the boy over five months when the mother, Alicia L. was out of the halfway house but didn't travel from Omaha to Lexington to be with her son.  All of that took place during the first two years of the child's life.  In short, Cesar was the only father - indeed the only parent - the boy had ever known. But despite her almost total absence from his life, despite her criminal record and despite her multiple lies to Cesar, the biological father, child support authorities, etc., Mom got custody of little Jaime.  Even those who expect fathers to be kicked to the curb by family courts should find Cesar's treatment offensive and sexist, which of course it is. I know what you're thinking: the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the trial court's ruling.  Yes, the trial court made an obviously wrong ruling, but it's all OK now because the Supreme Court put things in order.  That was what you were thinking, right? Well, whether or not I read your mind, that's not exactly what happened.  The Supreme Court did in fact overturn the trial court's ruling, but not on the issue of custody.  It did so because the trial court had allowed genetic testing to be done and, according to the plain wording of Nebraska law, it shouldn't have.  Therefore, according to the Nebraska high court, no one should know whether Cesar was the biological father or not. And that opens yet another can of worms.  Under Nebraska law, when a single man signs a form acknowledging paternity of a child and doesn't rescind it in the 60 days the statute allows him to do so, the document constitutes a "legal finding."  That is, it's an unassailable admission of paternity. Since Cesar had signed the acknowledgement and hadn't rescinded it, his paternity was decided, irrespective of genetic facts.  Therefore the trial court had no business granting Alicia's motion to do genetic testing.  That matter had long ago been decided. The exceptions to the rule that a paternity acknowledgement constitutes a legal finding of paternity 61 days after it's made are "fraud, duress and mistake of material fact."  In other words, if someone signed a paternity acknowledgement, not voluntarily, but due to fraud, duress or mistake of fact, his/her acknowledgement can be set aside and genetic testing done to see who the real father is. As a practical matter, it would seem hard for a woman to make out a case of fraud or mistake.  The Nebraska court quoted an Indiana case thus:
In In re Paternity of H.H., 879 N.E.2d 1175, 1178 (Ind. App. 2008), the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that "once a mother has signed a paternity affidavit, she may not use the paternity statutes to deprive the legal father of his rights, even if he is not the biological father.' The court reasoned that "a woman always has the information necessary to question paternity prior to signing the affidavit. A man, however, could easily sign an affidavit without awareness of the questionable nature of his paternity.' Id. The court noted that the legal father was "the only father [the child] has ever known . . . was there when she was born, [and] has provided for her financially and emotionally since her birth,' and the court concluded that "[c]hanging his legal status at this late date is not in the best interests of' the child, the legal father, or the State.
Let's repeat, "a woman always has the information necessary to question paternity prior to signing the affidavit. A man, however, could easily sign an affidavit without awareness of the questionable nature of his paternity.'  I've written almost exactly those words many times.  The woman knows; the man doesn't. Now all that suggests that if it had been Cesar trying to contest his own acknowledgement of paternity, he could have used the fraud/mistake of fact exception to do so.  (The court ruled that Alicia could not because her signature had not been obtained by fraud or mistake, because she knew at the time there was a chance Cesar wasn't the father.)  But is that right? In the first place, notice that the Indiana case relied in part on the fact that the child's best interests required that the non-biological dad remain in his/her life.  In that case,  as in Cesar's, the father wanted to remain part of the child's life, but what if he didn't?  What if the mother's dishonesty and infidelity so offended him that he wanted out?  He could challenge the acknowledgement, but if the court decided his continuing as dad was in the child's best interests, he'd be stuck. So in that event, the court would be ratifying the mother's deception.  It's as if it said, "Yes it's fraud and yes the real biological father will have no chance to raise his own offspring and all because a mother decided it should be so, but that's just the way it goes."  And once again a mother would be allowed total control of a biological father's rights, a non-biological father's rights and the rights of a child.  It's all done under the banner of "the best interests of the child." Speaking of which, recall that I referred to that concept in my last piece as the "miraculous vanishing best interests of the child doctrine."  Now you see it, now you don't.  When it came to Cesar's retaining custody of Jaime because he was clearly the better qualified parent, all of a sudden the best interests of the child concept evaporated into thin air.  The trial court didn't utter the words. But in the same case, if Cesar were seeking to avoid his "parental" responsibilities to Jaime, chances are a court would have said it's in the best interests of the child for him to stay put. Then the court comes to the concept that every man in family court fears, or should.  Quoting this time an Illinois case the Nebraska court referred to "a strong judicial policy favoring the finality and stability of judgments' and found such principles "particularly poignant in the context of parentage determinations that become part of a child"s personal history and sense of self.' In other words, if enough time has passed, particularly when children are concerned, courts simply won't upset existing relationships regardless of parental rights.  So if a man in Cesar's situation wanted out, the court may admit that he's not the dad and that his relationship with the child was brought about by fraud, but that's his tough luck.  He'll stick around and pay child support for a boy who's not his irrespective of his rights.  The best interests of the child require that stability reign. Now once again, that's little more than the ratification by the court of a mothers multiple deceptions.  And once again, it's granting mothers complete control over the rights of both potential dads and the child.  We see it time and again in family law. The argument is that in fact it would harm the child to upset his/her familial relationships, to remove his "father" from his life and bring in another he doesn't even know.  And surely that's correct.  No child, particularly a young one could go unaffected by changes like that.  Courts and commentators make the point frequently and consider the matter closed. What those people don't want us to notice is that in fact we do exactly that - remove the father from children's lives and bring in a new "dad" they've never met - all the time.  And it is indeed an emotionally traumatic process, but we do it every day, hundreds of times a day.  It's called divorce. After all, when a married couple have children and choose to divorce, doesn't that effectively remove one parent (usually the father) from their lives, or at least marginalize him?  Yes.  And doesn't Mom often bring in another man -boyfriend or stepfather - to play the role of dad, a man the children don't know?  Yes.  And isn't it all emotionally devastating for the children?  Yes again. So where are the arguments against divorce that are made routinely against defrauded dads trying to distance themselves from the mothers who lied and manipulated their connections to children not theirs?  Interestingly, you never see them made.  You never see a state legislature discussing a prohibition of divorce for parents with children under a certain age because the whole thing harms children. No, that argument is only made against fathers seeking to assert some form of control over whom they parent and whom they don't. The Nebraska Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to revisit who should have primary custody of Jaime.  I'll be I know how that one turns out.

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Australia is resisting criminal penalties for parental child abduction even as experts call it child abuse.  Read about it here (The Australian, 7/25/11). It seems there's a movement afoot in Australia to make child abduction by parents a specific criminal offense instead of letting family courts decide whether and how to punish them.  But Community Services of New South Wales opposes the move and for some very telling reasons.
"Incarcerating the person who has primary care of a child will never be in that child's best interest and has the potential to destroy the future relationship between the child and the parent who requested their return," the submission says. "Parental child abduction is a matter for the family law system and should not attract criminal sanctions."
"Never be in the child's best interest."  Really?  That statement seems to miss some important facts about child abduction.  For starters, child abduction by anyone, including parents, is a form of child abuse.  Responsible research into the issue by psychologists is clear that parental abductors tend to have serious emotional/psychological issues of their own that make their parenting abilities suspect at best.  As important is the fact that the child is taken away from his/her support system including the other parent, other relatives, friends, schools and teachers, neighbors, etc.  The child therefore comes to rely solely on the abducting parent for all his/her needs.  Into the bargain, the pair are often on the run from authorities which entails changing residences often and sometimes identities.  We jail parents for child abuse and neglect every day, but for some reason, when it comes to parental child abduction, Community Services thinks that incarceration should not be an option.  I found that strange until Community Services' own submission explained it to me.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry into child abductions to and from Australia, community services says it is now mostly mothers who abduct the children -- a dramatic turnaround from 30 years ago when the Hague Convention for bringing children home was signed and the abductors were fathers.
I think I understand.  Now that I think of it, the objection to jail for parents (mostly mothers) who abduct their children sounds very much like Australia's objection to enforcing visitation against custodial parents (mostly mothers).  According to Australian historian John Hirst, family law in that country long ago decided to enforce visitation differently from the way it enforces child support. Child support obligors (mostly fathers) are hounded relentlessly, just as they are in the United States.  Family courts use their power of contempt to jail fathers who don't pay.  But when it comes to using their power of contempt to enforce visitation orders, those same courts demur. Hirst:
When the Court came to consider breaches of orders by custodial parents (chiefly mothers), it returned to soft-headedness.  The typical case was where a mother contrived to deny a father access to his children even though he had court orders allowing access...  In considering its response to such breaches, the Court declared that the paramount interests of this particular childmust prevail.  Since the Court could scarcely fine or imprison a custodial mother without having some effect on the child, these options were effectively abandoned.
Indeed, Hirst goes on to quote one family court judge as saying "I am very slow to attach any sanctions at all to breaches of access orders."   You get the picture.  Australian family courts are happy to levy the most draconian sanctions against non-custodial parents (about 90% of whom happen to be fathers) who fail to pay, but wrongdoing by custodial parents (about 90% of whom are mothers), gets a pass. And that of course is essentially the same as what Community Services is saying about parental child abductors (who turn out to be mostly mothers).  When it comes to punishing them for their abuse of their children, all of a sudden it can't possibly be in the child's best interest to imprison the mother.  All but identically to what Hirst said before, the focus is not on the principle of the court's ability to enforce its dictates, it's not on the child's interest in seeing both parents.  The paramount importance becomes "this particular child's interest" in a relationship with his/her abductor. And just to make sure the point isn't lost, consider this: the original rulings by family courts in Australia weren't about fathers who didn't pay child support; they were about fathers who abducted their children.  In those cases, the courts considered very carefully and specifically the idea that the child needed his/her father - and rejected it! The original case involved a court faced with a father who had abducted his child for four years, depriving the mother of all contact.  Finally apprehended, he was brought before the court whose custodial orders he had flouted.  What to do?  Clearly he had violated the court's orders; clearly the court had the power to punish his contempt.  But there was a problem with incarcerating the man.
[W]as the Court now going to damage the boy further by depriving him of his father with whom he got on well?
After all, sending the man to prison would surely be a blow to the boy.  But the court stood firm; it's orders had to be obeyed.  It reasoned that,
If no punishment is imposed, or if lenience is shown, the court's power to protect not only the individual child concerned, but also many other children, may be diminished.
Notice that in that case the emphasis was not on the individual child's best interest which clearly weren't served by jailing his father.  The court rightly ruled that to do anything but punish the man would open the door to every parent similarly inclined.  So it's interesting that, with the submission by Community Services, Australian law seeks to come full circle - from treating parental child abductors harshly so as to make them an example to others, to treating them leniently because the child needs a continuing relationship with them. What's the difference?  Abductors used to be fathers; now they're mothers. Community Services makes the same argument today that was made back in the mid-70s - that courts should be lenient with abducting parents because harsh penalties would only make matters worse by driving them further underground. But John Hirst reports that leniency on mothers who ignore visitation orders had the opposite (and entirely predictable) effect.  It only encouraged them to violate the orders.  After all, if there are no consequences, why not? Hirst again:
Just as the Court had there imagined, leniency had disastrous consequences for children.  Since access orders were defied with impunity, thousands of children were kept from their fathers, though the Court had ruled that their best interests required that they see them.
So what is Community Services arguing for now?  That leniency actually promotes compliance with the law even though that contradicts known facts and common sense. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Congressman Ted Poe, a longtime VAWA supporter, is calling for reform."][/caption] The domestic violence system is riddled with civil liberties violations, gender bias, and outrageous injustices. Kerry Picket of the Washington Times reports on a significant step forward in the battle to reform the DV system in her new column Rep. Poe looks to have VAWA rewritten as gender neutral (7/21). Picket writes:

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A Minnesota mother abducted her son and is thought to be hiding out in a domestic violence shelter.  Read about it here (Pioneer Press, 7/24/11). The facts of the case are depressingly familiar.  Mom and Dad divorce; she gets custody; he tries to increase his parenting time; she claims child abuse; police investigate and find no abuse; judge grants increased parenting time for Dad; Mom abducts child.  We've seen it countless times, but this one's got a couple of twists. In this case the players are the father, Danny Dimm, the mother, Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm and their five-year-old son Timber.  The family lived mostly in British Columbia and the couple divorced there.  During the proceedings, Bartell-Dimm accused Danny of child abuse.  The court ordered an investigation which was performed by both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the local child welfare agency.  Both determined that the allegations were false - not 'unfounded' or 'unsubstantiated,' but 'false.'  The judge at the time questioned Bartell-Dimm's mental stability because of the false allegations, but Bartell-Dimm still got primary custody.  Into the bargain, when she decided she wanted to move to Minnesota, the court allowed her to do so, leaving Danny to pursue visitation long-distance. But even that proved too much for Bartell-Dimm.  She refused to share the costs of his travel to see his son as the court had ordered, meaning that Danny saw the boy a total of twice in two years. So he went to court to get more time and the court agreed, ordering that he be allowed to have custody of the boy for three consecutive months beginning in September, 2010. 
"He desperately wants the opportunity to bond with Timber and fears that it will soon be too late if he is not given the chance to spend a substantial period of time with his son," a judge wrote.
That was the first time Bartell-Dimm absconded with the child.
When Dimm attempted to pick up Timber in Hastings on Sept. 1, the boy and his mother were gone. Police issued a statewide alert, and a Douglas County sheriff's deputy found Bartell Dimm with her son in Alexandria, Minn., two days later during a traffic stop.
She told the deputy she fled knowing the court order was in effect, according to a police report, and that they had been living out of her car.
Bartell Dimm was not arrested or charged in that incident, said Theresa Gerlach, Dimm's U.S. attorney.
Let me stop here to make a point.  It's one of the ones I made in my last post about the government agency in Australia that opposes criminal penalties for parents who abduct children.  One of the points I made was the obvious one - that leniency only encourages future abductions.  So now I offer Bartell-Dimm as Exhibit A. No one punished her first abduction in any way, so, when the judge next  ordered Danny to have four months of access to Timber, what do you think Bartell-Dimm did.  That's right, she abducted the boy.  Danny Dimm last saw his boy via Skype on June 5th.  He was anticipating his first long-term access to him in years and, three days later, flew to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to get started.  Mom and child were gone, and this time without a trace. It's been seven weeks and police don't have a clue.  There are no credit card charges to follow and no one admits to having seen the two.  And that means, according to police, that she's getting help from someone.
"There are no credit cards, no trace of them at all," Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell said. And as the days pass, those looking for Timber are becoming increasingly concerned about him.
"I worry about his safety," Schnell said...
"I'm confident that she knows we're looking for her," Schnell said, adding that investigators suspect Bartell Dimm might be getting help.
"She has no resources. So she is either roughing it - like camping - or being supported or assisted by someone."
It's been seven weeks, so I think we can safely conclude that the two aren't camping.  That means she's getting help, and one person thinks he knows who that might be. Ed Wunsch is a private investigator who runs a non-profit specializing in the return of children abducted by parents.  He's seen cases before in which mothers hid out in domestic violence shelters which typically don't ask too many questions about who the women are who come to them, or why. And given the fact that there's literally no trace of Bartell-Dimm and Timber, Wunsch's hunch comes to seem more and more likely. Wunsch also gets something that the Australian agency Community Services doesn't.
Ed Wunsch, a Hopkins-based private investigator who specializes in abductions by parents, said the cases are often not taken seriously enough by the public and law enforcement.
"A lot of people think, 'Well, it's just a parent, so how bad can it be?' " he said.
Since 2003, Wunsch and his nonprofit agency have found more than 30 children, one as far away as Bermuda.
"No matter what the situation is, there's always psychological problems with the kids when they return," he said.
Often the motive for parents who abscond is to get revenge on either the left-behind parent or the legal system, Wunsch said.
"They think they are hurting the other parent, when in fact they are hurting the child," he said.
He puts in a nutshell what Dr. Nancy Faulkner and others have written extensively about - that parental child abduction is child abuse.  Children don't come out of it unscathed.  That's particularly true of Timber who has been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate autism. Even before her abduction of him, Bartell-Dimm likely exacerbated Timber's condition by rarely letting him play outside or associate with other children.  By contrast, when Danny had the boy, his condition seemed to be improving.
For the next three months, Timber stayed with Dimm and his sister, a registered nurse and a holistic dietary consultant. They cut sugar from his diet - Timber had 12 caps on his teeth by age 4 - and enrolled him in a preschool. He was encouraged to play outdoors and have social interaction with kids his age, Dimm said.
"It was great. ...You could see the lights coming on in his eyes," he said. "Every day there were huge differences. The highlight of his day was riding the school bus; he just loved it."
Maybe Australia's Community Services should read the case of Timber and his parents, and explain again how criminal penalties aren't appropriate for Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of Timber Dimm and/or his mother, Wendi Bartell Dimm, is asked to call Hastings police at 651-480-2300, 911, or 1-800-THE-LOST.

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Fathers and Families" Robert Franklin, Esq. criticized the media reaction to Catherine Kieu Becker's attack on her husband, where she cut off his penis and put it in a garbage disposal, on the Bill Meyer Show on KMED in Southern Oregon on July 26. Franklin says:

Most people viewed the incident with horror, but not so the five hosts on the CBS daytime show The Talk. From the instant host Julie Chen introduced the topic of Becker"s alleged attack on her husband, both panel and audience were laughing and applauding.

Host Sharon Osbourne called the man"s sexual mutilation "quite fabulous' and "hysterical.' Other panelists avidly joined the hilarity. One frankly said that sexually mutilating a man was appropriate in some situations. For decades now we"ve been told 'There"s no excuse for domestic violence.' Yet, as the panelists on The Talk again make clear, women"s violence against men is routinely excused by popular culture.  It"s also overlooked by police, courts, and the news media. To listen to the audio of Franklin's interview, click here.

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Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik slaughtered 76 people, but guess who's really responsible.  His dad. That's the fact-free opinion of one Katharine Birbalsingh writing here (Telegraph, 7/26/11). Now you may wonder, as I did, what part his father played in Breivik's bloody rampage.  Did he help with planning?  Buy the ammo?  The fertilizer?  No, he did none of those things.  What he did, to his everlasting shame, is seek custody of the boy post-divorce. Really.  Just read Birbalsingh's piece and you'll see.  I didn't make it up; I'm just not that imaginative. Birbalsingh's piece is so disjointed and lacking in logic, it's a bit hard to follow, but I'll try.  She explains that Anders Breivik "shirks" his responsibility for his terrible deeds and then informs us "But Anders Breivik is not the only one to shirk responsibility." She explains:
Jens Breivik says he does not "feel like his father'. Oh really? I wonder whether he felt like Anders" father when he abandoned both him and his mother to marry another woman? I wonder whether he thought about his son"s peace of mind when he thought it best to move to Paris and then put his son through the ordeal of a custody battle where he and his new wife fought to take him from his mother and half-sister (his mother had a daughter when she married his father) and his homeland, in order to attempt to raise him in Paris?
Let's see, Dad and Mom divorced when Anders was a year old.  Birbalsingh knows to an absolute certainty that the divorce was Dad's fault.  Mom played no part in it.  How does she know?  She doesn't let on and of course anyone at all conversant with the reasons for the breakups of relationships knows that there's rarely one innocent party and one at fault. But Birbalsingh's having none of the murky stuff called subtlety or nuance.  For her something that happened between two people thirty years ago - something about which she has no knowledge - is all about good and evil.  And guess who's good and who's evil according to her. Like so many in the anti-dad crowd, she's happy to substitute a made-up narrative of the callous father and the victimized mother and son.  (He abandoned them!)  She has no facts - or desires none - so mythology is a handy stand-in. Notice too that, in her book, papa Jens Breivik, can't win regardless of what he does.  Birbalsingh excoriates him for "abandoning" his son and former wife, but when he tried to get some form of custody of the lad, that's wrong too. She doesn't notice that Jens tried to get custody of his son or at least some form of access to him and apparently failed.  Birbalsingh never wonders why. We don't know, but it's possible that the mother of Anders Breivik kept father and son apart.  When Jens figured it out, he left and relied on the courts to give him what Mom would not.  It's speculation on my part, of course, because no one knows what happened between the two - no one that is except her and Jens. And typical of pretty much all attacks on fathers, we never hear his side of the story.  He's alive and well, and doubtless has something to say, but as usual, the anti-dad crowd don't want to hear it.  In fact, they don't want anyone to hear it, so Birbalsingh sticks to character assassination instead. In an unusually lucid moment, Birbalsingh remembers that millions of parents divorce every year and their kids don't all grow up to be mass murderers.  But alas, the moment doesn't last.  One sentence later, she's back to her theme - that Jens Breivik bears a heavy load of guilt for his son's wrongdoing.
But his father is deeply confused. "How could he just stand there and kill so many innocent people and just seem to think that what he did was OK?' Well maybe he didn"t have a father when he was growing up to teach him the difference between right and wrong.
But wait; isn't she missing something?  Let's put aside the quaint notion that parents only control their children's actions as adults to a very limited degree, if at all.  And let's also put aside the fact that Birbalsingh has literally no evidence that his fathers' actions had anything to do with his son's. Now, let's look at what Birbalsingh neglected to mention.  Anders Breivik lived with his mother all his life.  If anyone were to have taught him right and wrong, she'd have been the one.  We don't like to blame parents for their children's deeds, and we sympathize with this mother's grief. However, it certainly is strange for Birbalsingh to blame the father for Anders Breivik's awful deeds, completely ignoring the possible shortcoming of the person who raised him, his mother. As speculative, slapdash, fact-free and illogical as all that is, it actually gets worse.  Go to the article and at the top you'll notice a link to Birbalsingh's website.  Click on it.  There you'll see a tab entitled "Conservative Conference Speech;" click on that and then on the video of her speech to the aforesaid conference. Gaze in wonder as Katharine Birbalsingh explains to the assembled multitude the value of taking responsibility for one's actions!  She's a teacher, you see, and she tells a story about two little boys who, when in trouble for some infraction, seek to pass the buck, as children often do.  Ah, but Birbalsingh is there to correct them.  She lets them know the necessity of taking personal responsibility for their own wrongdoing. Fortunately, the youngsters are too young to read her Telegraph article that delivers the opposite message, which is "if you do something wrong, you can always blame dad." But I have to say that even that hefty measure of hypocrisy isn't the last of Birbalsingh's unwholesome mess.  To all of the other shortcomings of her piece, we must add a shocking lack of empathy. Jens Breivik's son has just committed what must be the greatest single atrocity in Norway in recent history.  When things like this happen, everyone of any sensitivity wonders "how could someone do such a thing?"  But when it's your own son, imagine the horror; imagine the incomprehension; imagine the pain. Birbalsingh doesn't.  She displays not the faintest trace of empathy for Jens Breivik.  In his hour of darkness, at his time of greatest vulnerability, she attacks.  Never mind her ignorance, never mind her illogic, never mind her hypocrisy.  It is Katharine Birbalsingh's willingness to kick the man when he's down that renders her article, not merely bad, but disgraceful. Fatherhood advocates are used to the lies, misrepresentations and antipathy for science of the anti-dad crowd.  We're used to fathers being attacked for any or no reason.  We're used to seeing mothers being held up as paragons of virtue even when they're anything but. Given all that, it must be said that Katharine Birbalsingh has hit an all-new low.  To attempt to tag an innocent man as an accomplice to mass murder just when he's grappling with the most harrowing event in his life is beneath contempt. "At long last, have you no shame?"

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The Capitol Hill paper Roll Call is reporting on the need to reform VAWA.  Read the article here (Roll Call, 7/28/11). That's important.  For almost 50 years, Roll Call has been the source for news about what's doing in the U.S. House and Senate.  It's read by essentially everyone on the Hill including elected officials and their staff. So the article, by Natasha Spivack, who's Secretary of Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) is a unique opportunity to acquaint everyone on Capitol Hill with the need to reform VAWA. And the need is great.  Indeed, it's far greater than anyone in the Senate Judiciary Committee that recently held hearings on VAWA reauthorization realizes.  For starters, the law should be made gender-neutral.  You'd think that would have happened a long time ago, but it hasn't yet.  Male victims continue to be ignored en masse.
Earlier this month, Catherine Becker, 48, allegedly drugged her estranged husband and tied him to a bed. As he awoke,  police said, she took a 10-inch knife to his penis, severed the appendage and tossed it into a garbage disposal.
Bail has been set at $1 million as Becker awaits arraignment on multiple felony charges.
Given the timing and the particularly gruesome nature of the attack, one would have expected that a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Violence Against Women Act would have featured heart-rending discussions about how similar incidents of gender-motivated violence could be avoided in the future.
But the Becker case was not deemed worthy of mention...
Many studies suggest female-on-male violence has become equal to, or even more prevalent than, the male-initiated variety. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 10 percent of high school girls had hit, slapped or physically hurt their boyfriends in the previous year. In comparison, only 9 percent of boys had been physically aggressive to their female partners.
The name should be changed, but far more importantly, VAWA funding must be changed to reflect gender-neutral policies. As things stand now, essentially all VAWA resources are directed at female victims and male perpetrators.  As everyone who follows the politics around domestic violence knows, there are some 1,500 shelters for women and not one for men in the entire country. Hewing closely to the narrative of the DV establishment for which there are no male victims and no female perpetrators, VAWA does essentially nothing for either.  Given that reauthorization is likely to carry a price tag of about $550 million, you'd think that there would be funding for treatment for women who can't control their anger and lash out at husbands, boyfriends and children.  But there won't be. And speaking of money, there's little information about how VAWA funds are spent and if programs are effective at combatting domestic violence. 
Citing a probe by the Department of Justice inspector general that unearthed shoddy accounting practices at 21 of 22 VAWA grantees, Grassley commented tartly: "Simply put, in today"s economic environment, we cannot tolerate this level of malfeasance in federal grant programs.'
In addition, according to the Office of Management and Budget, VAWA grantees have never promulgated any criteria by which they can be judged.  Stated another way, we don't know much about what they're doing or whether it works.  And we don't know how they're spending our money. Given that lack of government oversight of VAWA funds, if the system isn't rife with incompetence and corruption, it's the first in history.  Standards, regular reporting and oversight are necessary when the government funds anything, but so far the DV establishment has gotten a pass on all that. Still on the subject of money, if we defined "domestic violence" in a sensible way, we'd be able to do a lot more with what we spend.  The simple fact is that much of what we call domestic violence is completely non-injurious.  One government study found that 61% of women and 75% of men said they'd received no injury in the incident inquired about.  Other data show that, even when there's an injury, it's usually a minor one, like a small cut or bruise. That's the type of domestic violence that the vast majority of couples sort out on their own, as they should.  We don't need to spend taxpayer money on incidents of that sort.  What we should spend money on is addressing what's come to be called "intimate terrorism," in which serious injury is done for the purpose of controlling the behavior of the other person. So VAWA as well as state laws, and the practices of police and prosecutors should be tailored to stop intimate terrorism via treatment and jail time where warranted.  That'll mean narrowing the definition of domestic violence in VAWA in order to deal with truly dangerous situations and not with those that aren't.   Coincidentally, narrowing the definition of DV in VAWA is just what Texas Congressman Ted Poe endorsed shortly after the Judiciary Committee hearings. Then there's the problem of false accusations of DV by aliens applying for residency.  That program is riddled with corruption as the Roll Call article says.
Much of the problem arises because the Citizenship and Immigration Services deems a person accused of domestic violence to be a "prohibited source.' So the CIS, in Kafka-esque manner, refuses to accept any documentation that might reveal the immigrant to be a criminal, welfare cheat or perjurer.
It's that old "guilty until proven innocent" problem again.  If your wife tells the CIS you're an abuser, you can't produce evidence to the contrary because any information coming from you is "prohibited."  It's an open invitation to fraud.   Those are scarcely the only problems with VAWA or our approach to domestic violence generally.  We started by conceiving of the problem in ideological terms.  That political ideology ignored the science on DV and predictably got it wrong on what DV is, who does it, why, and how to fix it.  We've been marching in lockstep ever since toward a future that contains much more funding, but little improvement in our DV statistics. With any luck, the worm is starting to turn.  We may be reaching a tipping point at which tight budgets, the science on DV and popular discontent with our current approach combine to move us toward dealing effectively and fairly with a problem with which we've so far done neither.

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Fathers and Families helped introduce SB 481, a California bill to curb the common family court practice of issuing "double dipping" spousal support orders. SB 481 comes on the heels of SB 1482, an alimony reform bill we helped pass last year. To learn more, click here. The Schwarzenegger/Shriver divorce case shows the absurdity of spousal support laws.  Here's one article of many (Time, 7/27/11). As doubtless the whole world knows by now, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver are divorcing after he admitted fathering a child with their housekeeper.  Needless to say, I don't blame Shriver a bit for divorcing him. So in the preliminary jousting over divorce, Schwarzenegger's lawyer filled out a form saying his client didn't intend to pay spousal support to Shriver.  I thought that was perfectly reasonable given the fact that Shriver is fabulously wealthy, worth, as I understand it, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the former governor changed his mind about paying alimony, perhaps, as the article speculates, to try to mend his image which seems to be fraying a bit at the edges.  That's his decision of course.  If he thinks that contesting the payment of alimony to a woman whose net worth is greater than that of more than 99.9% of the world's population, would tarnish his reputation, it's OK by me. But the whole case raises some important issues that no one seems to be discussing.  For example, why is there no wealth cut-off for spousal support?  After all, the very concept of alimony has no relevance to either Schwarzenegger or Shriver.  The long outdated theory is that women can't support themselves and we don't want husbands walking out on wives and leaving them destitute. Needless to say, in the vast majority of divorces these days, the major premise of alimony law is flat wrong.  Women can support themselves and should be expected to.  We surely haven't come all this way toward women's freedom to pursue careers, just to have them say "No, I think I'll let the ex support me."  Or have we? As I've said before, I can see certain exceptions to my proposal that we do away with alimony altogether.  Clearly, in cases in which one spouse is very aged, or physically or mentally impaired, alimony can be appropriate.  Spouses who've made career sacrifices in order to stay home with their children also deserve consideration and time to get up to speed in whatever occupation he/she had prior to taking on the stay-at-home parent role. But please; Maria Shriver?  She'll never have to lift a finger in her entire life.  Her money, conservatively invested should net her tens of millions every year tax-free.  She doesn't need Schwarzenegger's money, so why is she entitled to it?  Why is there no reasonable cap on how much a person can be worth and still ask for continuing support from a spouse post-divorce? It's 2011.  Let's stop living like it's 1911.  Women rightly wanted equality of opportunity in the workplace.  Now they've got it, so let's scrap alimony laws that pretend they don't.

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New Jersey's semi-annual sweep of child support debtors grossed 1.1% of what's owed.  Here's a short article about it (NJ.com, 7/23/11). The Garden State does this twice a year.  Sheriff's deputies fan out across the state arresting the major child support debtors.  Slapped in irons and hauled off to jail, the non-custodial parents then come up with money to buy their way out of an extended stay behind bars. So it's always interesting to see just what the results are of these semi-annual raids.  In the past they've been impressively unimpressive, and this year is no exception. Here are the un-awe-inspiring totals:  Number arrested - 1,074; total amount owed by those arrested - $18.7 million; total collected - $211,000. The average amount owed per person is about $17,400; the average collected per person was $196.  That's a collection rate of 1.1%. But this isn't a story about the incompetence of law enforcement officials or the judiciary.  It's not a story about "deadbeat" parents.  No, it's a story about the child support system whose draconian penalties fall on those least able to either fight the system or pay what they owe. Seven years ago, the Office of Child Support Enforcement published this report.  It states that 63% of non-custodial parents behind on their payments report earning $10,000 per year or less.   Seventy-nine percent earn $20,000 or less.  Now it's true that not all of those parents are reporting everything they earn.  It's part of the child support system's perfidious nature that it drives a lot of people underground into a cash-only economy. But if you report $10k, the chances that you're actually earning a lot more are slim.  And keep in mind, the OCSE report was seven years ago; a lot has changed in the American economy since then, and not for the better.  Back then the unemployment rate was in the mid-5% range.  Now it's 9.2% with men's unemployment well higher even than that. So when we read an article that tells us that 1,074 non-custodial parents were arrested for not paying their child support, that's the portrait of those parents.  Overwhelmingly, they're poor. That often means they simply don't have the money to pay the support ordered by the court.  It also means they can't hire a lawyer to get a modification.  And since the poor are more likely than those better off to be poorly educated, representing themselves in a modification hearing is essentially a sure bet to fail. And even if they are ultimately successful at getting the order modified, it's likely many months after they lost their job or hit whatever wall that made paying impossible.  Those were months during which their arrearages went up and up, with penalties and interest attached.  Those parents can't pay the original amounts, much less several months at a time stacked on top of interest. Those are the folks New Jersey is spending who knows how much to arrest every six months and collect one cent on the dollar of what's owed. Needless to say, there's a better way.  First, as the OCSE has urged for a long time, family courts should set child support levels at what parents can pay.  I know it's astonishing that they don't, but the OCSE has been exhorting them to for years to little effect.  But setting support levels too high is a sure recipe for arrearages and pointless "sweeps" by law enforcement. Second, states should reform their procedures for modifying support orders.  As it is, those are simply too expensive and time-consuming for just about any parent who's newly out of work.  States should appoint special masters who do nothing but child support modifications, up or down.  Those special masters should be tasked with hearing modification requests within two weeks of the time the motion is filed.  Clerks in the master's office should be trained to assist people filing for modifications by explaining what sort of evidence they need to bring to court to get the modification granted.  The rules of evidence should be relaxed to allow documents and testimony that otherwise would be excluded as hearsay.  Parent's requesting modification should be able to represent themselves.  There should be no new filing fees for modification requests. Those expedited summary procedures would ultimately save parents time and the state money.  Child support orders would more accurately reflect the parent's ability to pay and arrearages wouldn't build up while he/she waited to get a hearing.  That would mean fewer police resources would be used to conduct twice-yearly sweeps. The OCSE agrees; it's recommendations are blunt.
The best way to reduce the total national child support debt is to avoid accumulating arrears in the first place.  The best ways to avoid the accumulation of arrears are to set appropriate orders initially, modify orders via simple procedures promptly when family circumstances change, and immediately intervene when current support is not paid.  Parents should share in the cost of supporting their children according to their ability.  Designing a system that establishes appropriate orders will encourage payment of child support.
The child support system in this country is a disaster on many different fronts.  For the most part, there are simple, commonsense ways to fix it.  But it'll take political will to do it.  Sadly the poor don't have much political clout. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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peter-spitz-photo In one of the most outrageous injustices of our time, Peter Spitz (pictured right) was separated from his son and almost lost custody of him after his ex-wife shot him in the face and murdered his mother. Fathers and Families advised Peter, helped him get legal counsel, and also publicized his case, and we are pleased to announce that Peter has now won full custody of his seven-year-old son.

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Tennessee enacted a law requiring judges to give parents the maximum parenting time possible.  Here's the entire text of the bill as enacted:
Section 1.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 36-6-106(a), is amended by adding the following language after the first sentence:
In taking into account the child's best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out below, the location of the residences of the parents, the child's need for stability and all other relevant factors.
Section 2.  This act shall take effect upon becoming law, the public welfare requiring it.
The vote in the House of Representatives was 92 - 0 and 19 - 9 in the Senate, and Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law.  That means that as of now, all new divorce and custody cases in Tennessee will be decided using the new standard. Proponents of the bill believe it'll be a big step in the direction of equal parenting post-divorce.  That of course remains to be seen, but certainly the new law holds the promise of major changes in the way custody is decided in Tennessee. Of course there are caveats.  One is that it only applies to new cases.  The usual rules will apply to parents seeking to modify existing orders.  So parents with orders in place won't benefit from the new law absent a showing of "changed circumstances" necessitating a modification of a custody order.  But any modification would then come under the new law. And of course any judge who is truly anti-father will have no difficulty relying on any of a number of "other relevant factors" to accomplish the usual "primary custody to Mom, every other weekend visitation plus Wednesday, for Dad."  As many people have noted, changing laws and changing people are two different things. And it's not just the few overtly anti-father judges who can do that.  I've said many times that I don't think many judges are consciously biased against fathers.  But I'm essentially certain that judges, like everyone else, hold certain assumptions about parents and parenting.  Those are products of countless influences, from their own upbringing, to popular culture, to news reporting, to intentionally misleading statements by the persistent and ubiquitous anti-dad crowd. All of those things militate against custody for fathers, and judges aren't immune to their influence. So we shouldn't expect an immediate sea-change in the way custody is decided in Tennessee.  But we may see a move, gradual at first and then gaining some momentum, toward greater equality of mothers and fathers in custody matters.  For one thing, the new law explicitly connects "the best interest of the child" with the "maximum participation possible in the life of the child" by both parents.  That should push most judges toward the conclusion that greater participation by fathers is in the child's best interest, if not as a matter of law, at least as a matter of policy. Further, it seems unavoidable that the new law will help fathers get more time with their kids.  After all, the standard visitation schedule gives them and mothers nothing like equal time.  So the new law seems bound to improve matters for fathers, even if they don't get equal parenting time. Finally, it's a step and nothing more.  We'll see how this works.  If dads in Tennessee are satisfied with the new law, however it works, then Tennessee will have done what it needs to do toward equalizing parental rights.  If it proves to be unsatisfactory (probably because it gives judges too much wiggle room), we'll pressure the legislature to do better. Speaking of seeing how it works, it's too bad that Tennessee doesn't have a system in place like Washington's, that records the results in every single custody matter decided in the state.  If it did, we could see clearly if things were improving for fathers or not after the effective date of the statute.  As it is, we'll have to read tealeaves. Still, the new law holds considerable promise.  It's flexible enough to take away the anti-dad argument that it "ties judges' hands."  But it may just be clear enough that judges take note and start paying attention to children's need for their fathers. We'll see. Thanks to Matt for the heads-up.

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The playing field in family court is tilted against fathers according to Tennessee family lawyer Joseph Cordell.  Here's his article (Huffington Post, 7/28/11). Cordell doesn't say anything we don't already know, but it's nice that his piece got posted on a widely read site.  The more mainstream publications that allow their readers to see the truth about family courts and family law, the better, so Cordell's piece is welcome. His article takes on the flagrant inequality of family courts in which mothers are routinely given primary custody.  That alone might not indicate bias, but when mothers and fathers behave the same way, but get different custodial results, it's not hard to tell somethings amiss.
With the growing number of stay-at-home dads and two-working-parent households, one would think that the presumption that a child should spend equal time with each parent is a given--but not so.
I've seen several cases where you have a highly successfully, financial well-off wife married to an unemployed or underemployed husband who cares for the children.
For the most part, judges and opposing counsel see the situation and say, "Why doesn't this guy go out and get a job?"
Now flip the roles. The husband is a high-paid executive and the wife is unemployed or underemployed. There is no presumption here that she should be working. In fact, many believe the woman is performing a perfectly legitimate role as a stay-at-home mom.
So a dad has to struggle to prove he is not guilty of being a deadbeat, but the same is not true when the situation is reversed.
It's not hard to figure out; it's a double standard favoring mothers.  A good number of judges identify the primary caregiver and give primary custody to her.  That practice overlooks several important things. First, the system of primary custody/visitation is bad for children because the non-custodial parent tends to become a non-parent.  That's true even if he never misses a visitation period, because seeing a child for two days every two weeks is insufficient to maintain the role of parent.  That's the message of Susan Stewart's study of custodial parents whom she calls "Disneyland Dads." Spending that little time, that far apart means the parent becomes a mere entertainer.  The non-custodial parent makes no important decisions about school, health, social life, nutrition, etc.  And that's not lost on the child, who sees clearly who is the "real" parent, who makes the important decisions.  Stewart also found that non-custodial mothers experience the same thing.  They quickly become non-parents to their children. So the entire concept of primary parent/visitor erodes the non-custodial parent's relationship with the child, to the detriment of both. Second, the mere fact that Mom stayed home while Dad went off to work doesn't make Dad less important than Mom in the child's eyes, only the court's.  Children don't want to lose either of their parents post-divorce and suffer psychologically when they do.  Dr. Edward Kruk has reported on studies showing that children of divorce overwhelmingly want equal parenting time post-divorce.   But courts doggedly order radically unequal parenting time regardless. The various ways family courts have of finding their way to primary custody for Mom and visitation for Dad have no basis in the science of children's wellfare.  As Canadian Paul Millar found, there is no correlation between maternal custody and improved outcomes for children, while there's some evidence for a connection between paternal custody and improve child well-being. So why does it keep on happening?  According to Cordell, bias on the part of judges is a big reason, and that bias comes into play because judges have a huge amount of discretion in awarding custody.  One of the arguments we've heard against equal parenting statutes is that they'd "tie the hands" of the family court judge.  Cordell suggest that might not be such a bad idea.
In family law, more than any other area of the law, judges have a huge amount of discretion allowing ample opportunity for biases that we all as human beings have.
Since those presumptions are frequently held against fathers, men must spend more time, money, and effort just to try to get to a level playing field in a family law courtroom.
One purpose of the law is to protect us from those leanings of individual judges, but once you give a judge such a wide range of discretion and decision-making then it invites that sort of bias. Historically, it has not worked in the favor of guys.
For example, many states' child custody laws specifically say the child is entitled to maintaining a relationship with both parents, but those same laws do not outline the quantity of time each parent has to establish and foster that relationship.
The result?  All too often it's "every other weekend plus Wednesday night" for Dad. Cordell sees things improving, but not very fast.  He thinks there's been improvement in the shocking anti-father bias of family courts, and I hope he's right.  I believe he is. I'd argue that that's in part because organizations fighting for fathers' rights aren't just pro-father; they're pro-mother and pro-child too.  Social science says that greater paternal involvement in children's lives is good for all three, father, mother and child.  Father with active roles in children's lives are far more likely than childless men or fathers who don't care for children, to be employed, out of jail and not using drugs.  Mothers with active fathers for their children have more time to work, earn, save and be promoted in their jobs than mothers who shoulder all of the childcare load.  And children of course benefit from having both parents caring for them. So those who advocate for family court reform wisely emphasize, not fathers' rights alone, but fairness toward both parents. 
The father's rights movement isn't an anti-mom or anti-woman movement; it's an anti-unfairness movement. It just so happens that moms have most of the power in the family court system in America.
Thanks to Matt for the heads-up.

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globe-magazine-cover-07-31-11The Boston Globe Magazine today printed a letter from Fathers and Families supporter David A. Bardes concerning his experiences with shared parenting. Bardes wrote:

While the pundits argue from one side or the other, my ex-wife and I have actually been doing shared parenting for seven years. We fired the lawyers and told the family courts to mind their own business.

The results can best be voiced by my daughter, who was interviewed for an article at age 15: "Compared to my old life,' she said, "shared parenting is not just one of the best things that has happened, it is the best thing that has ever happened to my family.'

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In Pennsylvania, terminating a father's rights can be as easy as one, two, three. In this case, the Superior Court outlines the steps a mother needs to take to rid the child of a pesky father for the purposes of placing the child for adoption (Leagle, 7/27/11).  Hint: the procedure works particularly well if the father is poor. The child's father, S.G. and mother, R.B. lived together for a time and conceived a child.  That was in the summer of 2009, but the pair broke up shortly after that, with R.B. moving out of their residence in November.  "A few weeks later," R.B. went to court and requested and received a "protection from abuse" order (PFA) against S.G, alleging that he behaved violently and threateningly against her and her child by a previous relationship.  As far as the court's opinion indicates, S.G. was not present at the hearing on the PFA, although he later pled guilty to "harassment" and received yet another no-contact order. The original PFA expires December 10, 2011, which suggests it's a two-year order. Meanwhile, R.B. refused to let S.G. know where she was or provide him any contact information. Shortly before the child was to be born in late April, 2010, R.B. contacted Bethany Christian Services about placing the newborn for adoption.  Bethany then contacted S.G. who informed them that he did not agree to the adoption and would seek custody of the child after it was born.  The adoption agency then bowed out saying it didn't take part in custody disputes. But sadly for S.G., he'd lost his job and was in such dire financial straits that his telephone service was disconnected.  He told Bethany that he intended to hire a lawyer to seek custody, but the attorney's fee was $2,500, so he never did. Four months after the child's birth, the adoption agency contacted R.B. and told her that by law, enough time had passed that she could then terminate S.G.'s rights and place the child for adoption.  So Bethany went to court to terminate S.G.'s rights to his son. The trial court refused to terminate his rights, but the Superior Court reversed it with instructions to terminate S.G.'s rights.  Here's why: It seems that, under Pennsylvania law, a father must do certain things in order to preserve his rights to a newborn child.  If he fails, he will lose his parental rights if,
In the case of a newborn child, the parent knows or has reason to know of the child's birth, does not reside with the child, has not married the child's other parent, has failed for a period of four months immediately preceding the filing of the petition to make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed during the same four-month period to provide substantial financial support for the child.
Notice that I've been referring to the termination of the "father's" rights, whereas the statute uses the gender-neutral "parent."  Could this be used against a mother?  Well, it's possible, but the likelihood is vanishingly small. That's because the section of the statute refers to a newborn and the person whose rights are to be terminated is the parent who doesn't have possession of the child, i.e. the parent who's required to maintain contact with the child and to pay support.  As a practical matter, the person who walks out of the hospital with the child and keeps the child with her during the early part of it's life, is the mother.  Can it be otherwise?  Yes, but what are the chances?  How many fathers have used this section to terminate the parental rights of mothers?  My guess is none. Back to S.G. and R.B.  At least two of the things the statute requires the father to do to avoid having his parental rights terminated - live with the mother and marry the mother - are strictly governed by her.  He may passionately desire living with and marrying her, but if she's not of the same mind, there's nothing he can do about it. S.G. didn't provide support for the child - not because he didn't want to but because he couldn't.  First, he didn't have the money since he'd lost his job.  Second, no one explains how he's supposed to provide money when he's under court order to have no contact with the mother. And the same holds true for his obligation to "maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child."  Remember, the child is an infant; to contact the child, S.G. had to contact the mother.  Had he done so, he'd have been put in jail for being in contempt of the PFA. The Superior Court says he should have had his attorney contact the mother.  But he couldn't afford to hire an attorney.  More to the point, the court never explains what having an attorney contact a four-month-old child would have accomplished.  Surely the purpose of the statute is to promote father-child contact by terminating the rights of those who don't see their children.  Having an attorney go visit the child has nothing to do with that; it lifts form over function. And it's hard to miss the fact that the court never says that, had S.G. hired an attorney who then contacted R.B., its ruling would be different. So the rules for single mothers wanting to terminate a father's parental rights are straightforward.  First, get a PFA.  That seems pretty easy given that S.G. wasn't present at the hearing when his liberty was so severely compromised.  Oh, and when you're getting your easy, do-it-yourself PFA, be sure to only allege actions on the part of the father that occurred in private and would produce no objective evidence of their occurrence.  So things like shouting, threatening and minor domestic violence are best.  That way, if he ever does get into court, it'll be his word against yours. Next, armed with your PFA, move to a place he doesn't know about.  That way, if he does want to violate the PFA and see his child, he can't.  He also can't send support to a person whose whereabouts he doesn't know. Third, do your best to obscure your delivery date.  The PFA prohibits him from being anywhere near when his child is born, but the birth date begins his four-month time frame in which to attempt to secure his parental rights.  No, if you're trying to cut the dad out of his child's life, it's best to leave him in the dark about just when the child was born. As I said, those steps work particularly well when Papa is poor.  Dads with a little in the bank can hire attorneys who presumably know the law, and that can be so inconvenient to a mother who just wants to get a child and its father out of her life. Again, this statute is aimed directly at fathers, not mothers.  In Pennsylvania as in so many states, the rights of single parents depend on possession of the child and mothers are almost invariably the parents in possession.  That means they exercise effective control over fathers' rights. The case of S.G. and R.B. is just the latest of countless similar cases in which laws and courts bend over backwards to separate fathers from their children.

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In this case, a mother's parental alienation of two children cost her custody of them.  Here's the New Jersey appellate court's ruling upholding the trial court.  If you want to read it, block out some time; it's 100 pages long. But at that, it's shorter than the trial court's ruling that ran to 109 pages.  In many ways, it's just a run-of-the-mill custody case in which the mother tries to hijack sole custody by claiming sexual abuse of the children by the father.  In others it's a case history in the many uses and abuses of family courts by litigants. The sheer numbers are alarming enough.  For example, the divorce and custody case took four years to complete, if indeed it's complete yet.  That included some 70 total days of testimony and dozens of expert witnesses.  When all was said and done, the pseudonymous father had custody of the two girls; the mother was ordered to psychotherapy and was given only very limited, closely supervised visitation thereafter.  Into the bargain she was ordered to pay the father over $1.5 million in attorney fees and an additional $300,000 plus in expert witness fees.  That comes to over $1.8 million and seems to be some sort of record in the annals of Garden State divorce law. So in that way, "run-of-the-mill" scarcely describes the case. I suppose lesson No. 1 from the case is "however bad custody cases can be, they're made that much worse by the presence of money." Father and mother are apparently well-known ophthalmologists, which means they're pretty well-to-do.  Or at least they were before the litigation started.  Indeed, it's one of the appellate court's many points that the mother's conduct of the case so depleted the family's financial resources that, by itself, it constituted an assault on the best interests of their daughters who, after all, continue to need their parent's support. The appellate court called her conduct of the custody matter a "vindictive rampage" that ran the gamut from repeated false allegations of child sexual abuse to a blizzard of unnecessary and time-consuming motions to the employment of numerous "expert" witness the trial court found to be unqualified, "incompetent" and biased.  Oh, and let's not forget the questioning of the children about their supposed abuse.  That was repeatedly conducted by the mothers' witnesses, expert and lay, in violation of the protocols established years ago by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse in conjunction with the American Prosecutor's Research Institute.   The children were asked leading questions by interviewers who had allowed themselves to be tainted by receiving the mother's views about the claimed abuse ahead of time.  Of one of the mother's better experts, a psychologist, the appellate court said she "was not and could not be a neutral observer."  The trial court said she was "evasive" and "deliberately false" in her testimony. Yet another expert witness called on behalf of the mother had her testimony excluded altogether, so shoddy was her interviewing of the girls and so complete was her disregard of the interviewing protocols which the court said she "deliberately circumvented."  That expert was Dr. Joyanna Silberg whose conclusions about the validity of the abuse allegations the trial judge described as "not remotely supported" by the evidence. So much for the good news.  Mom was far worse.  Among other things, her false allegations managed to separate the girls from their father for at least ten months during which time she tried to convince two mental health professionals to diagnose him with borderline personality and narcissistic disorders, even going so far as to inform one that another had already done so.  This the appellate court called "diabolical."  Trust me, courts don't usually use that term for parents, even bad ones. Her over ninety conversations with the children in which she coached them in the details of the abuse led the appellate court to say she'd engaged in "continuing, coercive and suggestive manipulation of the children."  The court went on to describe her as "not credible," acting "in bad faith" and referred to her repeatedly "deceptive conduct." All of that, the trial and appellate courts both saw, was nothing less than a blatant and wholly dishonest effort to deprive the children of their father. In short, mix the usual ingredients of a bitter custody battle and heat over a hot fire of money and this is what you get - an abuse of the children, abuse of the courts and abuse of - in this case - the father.  From the hair-raising descriptions, it's obvious that the trial court got the outcome right, but at what a cost! And that's odd because the two started off at least somewhat amicably.  They hadn't been married too many years before problems arose and the mother consulted some dozen divorce attorneys in the early years before Dad finally filed his complaint for divorce.   Before that, they'd separated and had a custody agreement under which he got the kids three days out of every week.  During their entire marriage, there were no allegations of abuse by Dad until he filed for divorce and - Presto! - out they came. As I said, except for the extremes to which Mom went, this is sadly not that unusual.  We've seen it all before. But one (of many) thing that got my attention was the appellate court's description of the events leading up to Mom's getting her restraining order against Dad.  The pair were still married, but separated; Dad had the children for a time and returned them to Mom's house.
On September 25, 2005, father brought the children home after a visit. Shortly thereafter, a dispute arose over whether he should put the children to bed alone because M.M. (one of the daughters) was upset and reluctant to let mother leave the room. The parties agree that, after some argument between them, father touched mother's face and kissed her just before leaving, telling her the marriage was "done," though mother recalled the action as more aggressive than did father. According to mother, M.M., who had been standing near her when father left the house, assured her later that night that she would "protect" mother from father. Mother promptly obtained a temporary restraining order ("TRO") prohibiting father from contacting her or the children on the basis of that incident.  
Say, that was easy.  Dad took Mom's face in his hand, kissed her and said something like "this marriage is done."  And that's grounds for a restraining order under which he can't see his children, nor they him, for ten months. In this case, Dad had enough money to fight both his vindictive ex-wife and the divorce and custody system that asks nothing of a mother who wants her husband removed from his children's lives -no evidence, nothing that remotely could be called a threat, no physical violence, nothing. Needless to say, most fathers aren't in the financial position to do what this one did - dig his heels in, hire the best lawyers he can find and fight hard in the hope that the truth will prevail, as it ultimately did. But watch for this, coming to a website near you.  Part of the anti-dad crowd is a small group for whom every allegation of abuse by a mother against a father is the truth.  (Here's a description of the group Glenn Sacks did earlier this year.)  Never mind the lies, the deceptions, the manipulations of children.  Never mind the multiple investigations by courts, mental health professionals, the police or child welfare agencies that show the claims to be unsupported.  Never mind subjecting little girls to repeated pointless medical examinations.  And never mind the fact that the allegations never arise during marriage, but only when child custody is on the line. No, to the "believe the woman" group, all of that is just fluff.  What matters - the only thing that matters - is one vindictive woman's say-so. So don't be surprised to find this case added to their already lengthy list of those in which "abusive fathers get custody." Thanks to David for the heads-up.

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