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

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Longtime family court reform advocate Lisa Scott, Esq. Lisa Scott discussed the Vladek Filler false accusations case on Blog Talk radio--To listen to Lisa, please click here. Fathers and Families Board member Robert Franklin, Esq. has written extensively about the case. He explains:
This May, Maine resident Vladek Filler will finally get a new trial.  He's been in prison for almost two years having been convicted of raping his wife, Ligia Barrientos Filler. From the outside, his conviction looks to be one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice to come along is a good while.  Of course, I wasn't there, so I don't know all the facts and circumstances, but this one doesn't pass the smell test. Vladek and Ligia had been married for 16 years when he decided to end their marriage.  Ligia responded to that with multiple allegations of sexual abuse of their children.  Filler's website here includes the audio tape police made when neighbors called them to apprehend Ligia who was in the street, partially clad and screaming about sexual abuse. The state Department of Health and Human Services investigated Ligia's claims and found them to be entirely baseless.  The family court judge was so unimpressed with Ligia's claims that she awarded custody of the children to Vladek saying, "[Ligia Filler] accused Mr. Filler of molesting the children.  That allegation was false and known to be false.  She has shown a capacity to manufacture claims… That capacity for manufacturing claims apparently came, not only from her relationship with Vladek, but as well from those with other men previously. Having failed in her attempt to separate him from his children, Ligia then cried rape.  That got Vladek jailed; he made bail and turned his attentions to saving his children from harm at the hands of their mother who seems to have mental/emotional problems.  Such was the conclusion drawn by police and sheriff's deputies.  That's when the family court awarded him custody. But just when it seemed that justice had prevailed, enter stage left, Assistant District Attorney, Mary Kellett.  Kellett looks to be the type of prosecutor who, steeped in the politics of the '80s, assumes all claims of rape to be true.  It seems she takes them all to trial irrespective of their objective merits. Given that rape, unlike most criminal charges, requires nothing beyond the say-so of the complaining witness to get to trial, there's nothing to stop the likes of Kellett from forcing falsely accused men to trial.  That's what it looks like happened in Filler's case. After all, many prosecutors would look askance at a case in which the woman had praised the man as "the most loving and caring man and father" she had ever known, but who suddenly, when he announces his intention to divorce her, levels baseless accusations of child sexual abuse at him. Into the bargain, Ligia refused to be medically examined and there was in fact no medical evidence whatsoever offered by the state at trial. There's more.  Ligia claimed Vladek had assaulted her on several occasions, but the defense was able to prove that many of those times Vladek was elsewhere.  On one of the dates, their 12-year-old son was present.  He testified that nothing had occurred.  He also testified that he'd never seen his father be violent toward his mother, but he had seen her commit violence against his dad. Add all that to that the fact that the complainant has falsely accused men in the past and has evident emotional problems and most prosecutors would know what to do - drop the case. Not Kellett.  She took Filler's case to trial and won a conviction.  How?  She got the judge to exclude all evidence that the allegations arose from a fight over child custody as well as all evidence of Ligia's previous lies. If that weren't bad enough, she then told the jury in closing argument that there was no custody case.  That proved too much even for the trial judge who ruled the verdict to be a product of prosecutorial misconduct and ordered a new trial.  The Maine Supreme Court agreed and Vladek Filler will get another opportunity to prove his innocence.
Ed. Bartlett of SAVE also joined Lisa on the show called "A Witch Hunt in Maine." To learn more, click here.

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It's far too early to know just what happened in this case, but whatever the details, the facts so far are horrendous (New York Times, 3/31/11). In Brooklyn, four-year-old Marchella Pierce was, over many months bound to a bed by her mother Carlotta Brett-Pierce, beaten with electrical cords, deprived of food and water and force-fed medication.  Eventually, her abuse killed her. Marchella's maternal grandmother, Loretta Brett, watched the whole thing and did nothing. The latest allegations by prosecutors claim that a child welfare caseworker, Damon Adams, and his supervisor Chereece Bell failed to make home visits and therefore didn't know the child was in such grave danger.  When the child finally died, they falsified records to reflect home visits and assessments of the child's health that were never performed.  Such at any rate are the allegations of prosecutors. Both Adams and Bell have resigned from the Administration for Children's Services. But that's not all.  Brooklyn prosecutors have charged both Adams and Bell with criminally negligent homicide in the child's death.  Of course they've also charged the mother and grandmother with homicide. Faced with serious criminal charges, Bell points the finger at Adams who points the finger at unnamed managers above Bell in the ACS hierarchy.  District Attorney Charles Hynes is inclined to agree.
...Charles J. Hynes, made it clear that he did not believe they were the only ones to blame. Mr. Hynes said he was convening a special grand jury to investigate "evidence of alleged systemic failures' at the child welfare agency, the Administration for Children"s Services. The grand jury will seek to determine whether the agency had followed through on its plan for reforms after the 2006 death of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old Brooklyn girl, one of a long series of abuse and neglect deaths that have pockmarked the city"s halting efforts to protect its large numbers of vulnerable children.
Meanwhile, ACS commissioner John Mattingly states the obvious, or at least part of it.
But he warned that charging agency employees with homicide could have a chilling effect on recruiting people to the profession, a task already hampered by low pay and a high rate of burnout.
"They are going into people"s homes all hours of the night and trying to do it in ways that keep them safe as well,' Mr. Mattingly said. "If people who are interested in those kinds of jobs see this action taken by the district attorney, we have a concern, with social workers all around the country, that this will hurt our ability to recruit and retain talented people.'
From the sound of it, I'm not sure that Adams and Bell exactly fit the definition of "talented people," but as I said earlier, the facts of this case aren't all in by any means. Still, he's got a point.  Child welfare caseworkers, as I've said many times before are overworked and underpaid.  On top of that, they've got a very hard job to do, one that requires them to make decisions as weighty as who cares for a child and whether a child's health or even life is in danger.  That job would be tough with manageable caseloads, but, in all too many instances, caseloads exceed published standards. So charging these people with homicide won't exactly encourage others to apply for child welfare jobs.  "There but for the grace of God go I" is a concept surely not lost on anyone. The point Mattingly didn't make is that criminal charges will unerringly make future caseworkers much more likely to take a child from a home than they are now.  It's one thing to lose your job because you didn't take a child from an abusive parent; it's another altogether to find yourself in prison for a long stretch with a felony on your record. The point being that, as it stood before these indictments, everything militated in favor of taking children out of homes and placing them in foster care or group homes.  That's because doing so shows that the case worker is aware of the problem in the home and is "proactively" addressing it. CPS workers never see their names in headlines for taking children from homes that turn out to be non-abusive.  But woe betide one who leans a little too far in the other direction and the child ends up hurt or dead. I'm certainly not defending what Adams and Bell did or failed to do.  If the facts turn out to be as they now appear, the two were clearly negligent in the performance of their duties and a child was killed whose death they could have prevented.  What's also true is that they didn't kill Marchella, her mother did. The larger picture is that family breakdown results far too often in single-parent homes which is where the great majority of child abuse and neglect occurs.  For a long time now we've been pretending that intact families aren't important to children's health and wellbeing when we know to a certainty that they are.  Daniel Patrick Moynahan warned of the problems back in the 60s.  He was called a racist.  Barbara Dafoe Whitehead demolished all arguments in favor of non-intact families in her 1993 article in The Atlantic, "Dan Quayle Was Right."  And yet we go on as before. With the huge upsurge in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing, something had to be done to protect kids and that something inevitably was the government.  New York's Administration for Children's Services is one example of that.  The District Attorney's Office is another.  Given all the problems of too little work, pay and training, can we really say that ACS does a better job than parents at caring for and protecting children? Truth to tell, there will always be adults who aren't fit to raise children.  I'd bet good money that Carlotta Brett-Pierce is one of them.  But what's also true is that child welfare agencies can never do what intact families can do for children.  Never.  So here's a modest proposal.  Let's spend half the money we now spend on CPS and foster care on education about how to be a good parent.  Let's teach children from an early age that they shouldn't have a child unless they're ready to be responsible for it.  Let's inculcate the wisdom that being responsible for a child means the two biological parents staying together and raising it if at all possible. Sadly, family breakdown makes child welfare agencies necessary.  Let's do what we know needs doing to make them less so. Thanks to Tim for the heads-up.

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To continue what I started last post, I know you noticed a major omission. My last post discussed the indictment for criminally negligent homicide of two child welfare workers in Brooklyn, New York.  Four-year-old Marchella Pierce had been abused over many months by her mother while her maternal grandmother looked on.  After beatings and deprivation of food and water while tied to a bed, Marchella eventually died. Now the big news is the criminal indictment of the two child welfare workers involved in her case. But what I left for a second post was the dad.  In a lengthy article in the Times, he was relegated to a single offhand reference in the next-to-last paragraph saying simply that he "was not involved in the family." I'd be interested to know why not.  Of course the pre-packaged answer, brought to you in living color by our anti-father culture, is that he didn't care about his daughter, didn't care that she was being bound, beaten and starved to death.  We all know he's just an irresponsible deadbeat, right? Well, of course about this individual dad, we know nothing.  Eight words at the bottom of an article don't tell us much, and it may be that he fits every stereotype ever articulated about the supposedly degraded state of poor single fathers. Paradoxically, though, the very fact that we don't know anything about him may tell us a lot.  My guess is that it means that the Bedford-Stuyvesant office of New York's Adminstration for Children and Families never attempted to find out who he is, where he is or if he'd be a good placement alternative to Mom.  If they did, a single statement by the mother or grandmother that "he's not involved," was enough for them to close that part of the case. That's one reason I think the NYT article is so light on information about him.  If it were in the file, I bet their reporter would have found it.  And since the caseworker is being accused of negligence, wouldn't he be trumpeting to the world his efforts to find alternative placement for the little girl?  Surely he would. So I'll go on record as betting that no effort was ever made to identify him or figure out if he'd make a good father to Marchella. The reasons I think that are numerous.  Mostly, studies show that child welfare agencies tend to prefer to ignore the dad, even when they know who and where he is.  The Urban Institute has a study that found that over half the time in which the father is known, no effort was made to contact him even though the mother had proven herself to be unfit.  Across the country, CPS agencies tend to prefer foster care to father care. It's not like that's a protocol or a best practice, it's just what they do.  In fact, here's a lengthy publication by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was written by one of the most reliable sociologists around, Dr. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia.  It's also peer-reviewed by some of the leading names in the sociology of the family like David Popenoe. Its purpose is to educated CPS workers about the value of fathers to children, the necessity of connecting fathers to children and ways of doing so.  It was published in 2006.  I wonder if Damon Adams or Chereece Bell, who are now charged in the death of Marchella Pierce even know of its existence.  I wonder if they've received any training whatsoever in the necessity of finding the father in cases of unfit single mothers. It's there in black and white and promoted by the U.S. government.  Have they even heard of it? My guess is 'no.'  My guess is that fathers are at best an afterthought in the Bedford-Stuyvesant ACS. And that's too bad because persuasive social science shows us that even young, poor, minority fathers are passionately interested in playing an active role in their children's lives. Much evidence coming out of the ongoing Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study speaks directly to the situation that killed Marchella Pierce.  Dr. Kathryn Edin at Harvard and many others have found that even poor, uneducated, unemployed minority fathers greet their newborns highly motivated to be part of their lives.  Indeed, they often see as their highest calling the protection of the vulnerable infant growing up in dangerous neighborhoods. But over time their relationships with the mothers of their children erode.  Mothers move on to other partners and dads become less and less a presence in their children's lives.  That's partly a function of the concept of mother and child as a "package deal" in the words of sociologists who study the matter. The "package deal" concept means that where mom goes, so goes the child.  And if Dad wants to be part of his child's life, he's got to be part of the mother's life.  If she doesn't want a relationship with him, he loses a relationship with his child. I suspect that maternal gatekeeping is a kind of subset of the package deal idea.  Mothers who don't want to share their child - not even with the father - have a relatively easy time in moving him out of the child's life.  She sees herself and the child as a package and so does he.  Family court judges are likely to see the same thing.  So are child welfare workers as the Urban Institute study suggests. So what the New York Timesis content to toss off as a father "not involved in the family" actually reflects a far more complex family dynamic than the preferred narrative of paternal irresponsibility and maternal nurturance. You'd think that, given the facts of Marchella Pierce's gruesome torture and death someone - the Times, the ACS, the DA, someone - might begin to question the validity of that narrative.  Indeed, year after year the same Department of Health and Human Services that encourages father involvement when mothers are unfit to parent publishes statistics showing that mothers commit twice the abuse and neglect of children that fathers do. Marchella Pierce is now one of those statistics.

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

Fathers and Families has helped introduce two new paternity fraud bills (SB 375 and SB 377) into the California legislature, both sponsored by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood). There are many reasons to support these bills, including fairness for the men targeted by paternity fraud. But there are also compelling medical reasons to combat paternity fraud. In our official support letter for SB 375 and SB 377, Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S., F & F's Founder and Chairman of the Board, wrote:

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Has anyone seen Fidel Oberon Sweeney?  He's four years old and, until last October, was living in Sydney, Australia.  Now no one, except presumably his mother Alice Jopson, knows where he is.  The family court doesn't know and neither do the police.  Most importantly, Fidel's dad Patrick Sweeney doesn't know where his son is.  Read about it here (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/3/11). As you may have guessed, that's because his ex, apparently afraid Patrick was about to get custody of his son, failed to show up in court with the boy.  She hasn't been seen since.
The Federal Magistrates Court is now issuing a plea for the boy's return.
The key word in that sentence of course is 'now.'  Jopson failed to comply with the judge's order to bring the boy, whose nickname is 'Obi,' to court last October 11.  So you may ask why the Magistrate's Court is just now getting around to issuing a recovery order authorizing the police to locate Obi and return him to his dad. I can't answer that one.  After all, more than five months elapsed between Jopson's abduction of the child and the court's decision to try to do something about it.  That seems strange to me. Whatever the reason for the delay, Obi's court-appointed guardian, independent children's lawyer Donna Smith, is upset about his welfare.
''A life on the run is not a life for him to lead. He should have a life where he has no cares at all. We don't know where either she or he is, and that is a great concern to us.''
Smith touches on what I've written countless times - that child abduction is itself a form of child abuse.  Lengthy treatises have been written on the topic by psychologists who rightly point out that, when a child is abducted, he/she loses everything familiar including friends, relatives, home, school, teachers and, of course, the non-abducting parent.  That all adds up to a huge amount of confusion and stress for, in this case, a four-year-old. Into the bargain, a parent who abducts a child to keep it from the other parent aren't exactly prize psychological specimens.  They tend towards narcissism which places additional burdens on the child to exist solely for the parent and to meet the needs of a very needy adult. Just how a four-year-old boy copes with such a situation I don't know, but, as the literature on the subject makes clear, the experience can be scarring.  The emotional/psychological damage can last a lifetime. So Ms. Smith has every right to be concerned for Obi's welfare. During the entirety of the custody battle, Patrick Sweeney, who's Irish and a mechanical engineer, has been a model citizen in court.  He's also spent $100,000 in the process.  From what Smith says, that may be in part because he thought he would win.  She says he's always been "keen for the court process to take place." That suggests an optimism about the likely outcome that Jopson obviously doesn't share. This case will be worth following.  It's interesting in its own right, but also, because of the proposed changes to Australian family law that are likely to be enacted soon.  Sweeney's custody case began under the Family Law Act as amended under the Howard government in 2006.  That law called for greater shared parenting between dads and moms and required that each promote a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent. If the new amendments pass - and there seems every likelihood that they will - the so-called 'friendly parent' provision will probably be part of the new law.  Clearly Jopson has violated her legal obligation to promote a good relationship between Sweeney and his son. But the new law (at least as proposed) also includes some extremely loose language about what constitutes domestic violence, how a person proves it in court and what the consequences of false accusations are.  Even the shakiest claims of DV by a mother may be sufficient to lose a dad custody of his child. Fathers' rights organizations have levelled scathing criticism at the proposals saying that they open the door to fathers losing their children based on unsubstantiated allegations of 'violence' which may be nothing more than discomfiting remarks. Assuming Jopson is found and returned to court, will she avail herself of the new law (if it passes) by falsely claiming some form of "violence" on Sweeney's part?  Of course she may have already done so, and the court may have ruled it unproven or ineffective to deprive Sweeney of his parental rights. But, in the time it takes to locate, her, the law may well have changed.  It'll be interesting to see what effect, if any, that has on which parent gets custody of Obi.  Jopson has proven herself, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be abusive and that should be the end of it. We'll see if it is.  But if it's not, this case will be the canary in the coal mine for fathers' rights in Australia.

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Reading about fathers, mothers, children, families and related topics, it's inevitable that one runs into descriptions of the different parenting styles of mothers and fathers.  Material on that is quite common and worth reading as long as you take it with a grain of salt. Tendencies are after all just that and nothing more.  So mothers and fathers tend to behave differently in their parenting roles, but not always and not always in the same ways.  Generally speaking though, mothers tend to be more verbal and physically restrictive with children, while fathers tend to be more physical and allow more freedom.  Mothers often hold infants facing them while fathers hold them facing outward. Those are simple and by no means universal observations about parental behavior, and of course there are many more.  One important conclusion that comes from the male and female parental stereotypes is that, when a child has two parents, a sort of synergy between the two exists that exposes the child to differing styles, both of which are beneficial and which tend to complement each other. One thing that tends to corroborate that conclusion is that, parents without partners tend to take on some of the behavior of the opposite sex.  So single mothers move closer to dads' ways of parenting and single fathers edge toward the maternal ways.  To me that looks like a sort of unspoken acknowledgement of the differences in- and validity of- both styles of parenting. Here's a short article that features nurse and midwife Jane Barry answering a mother's question about her husband's parenting of their kids.
My children love to play rough-and-tumble games with their dad, but I worry that these could teach them to be bullies. My husband says it didn"t do him any harm and his dad played like this with him and his brothers. Is this likely to have an impact?
Now, parenthetically I can't help but noticing that, to this mother, their children are her children. Into the bargain, since the suicide of high-school age Phoebe Prince about a year ago, there has been a small avalanche of "awareness" by all and sundry about "bullying."  So I suppose I should have seen coming the idea that fathers' physical play produces bullying behavior in children.  After all, men do it and it's physical, so it must surely be a precursor to the violence that men generally are reputed to tolerate, promote and enjoy.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a "study" on that very topic any time. So it's good to see Jane Barry injecting some wisdom into the discourse. Her answer is that this type of fathering is good for kids.  Why?  Because children involved in it learn the limits of play.  They learn when physicality is acceptable and when it's not.  They learn what kinds of physical play are appropriate and what kinds aren't.  In short, far from promoting violence, "rough and tumble" play does the opposite.  Kids who engage in it with an adult learn where the lines are that they may not cross. Not only that, the kids are developing, on a visceral level, a closeness with their dad.
Their bonding and attachment, emotional closeness and connection with their dad are all being built on as they roll around on the floor.
Even though this type of play can appear rough, it is a great way to support your children"s neurological development and build on their emotional and social skills...
When done well, rough play teaches kids about boundaries, how to be sensitive to others and when to pull back and regain self-control.
There was a time we knew all that without having to consult an expert.  But forty years of attacks on dads and families take a long time to undo and Jane Barry is obviously someone we can rely on to do her part. In an aside, Barry tells her readers
There are distinct and measurable differences in the ways in which men and women parent. It"s worth remembering that dads are not the support act in raising their children, they contribute enormously to how their children grow and develop.
"Remembering that dads are not the support act" is in fact something everyone, including family court judges would be well advised to do.  The phrase "not just another pair of hands," when referring to fathers, has been around for a long time, but a lot of people don't seem to want to hear that message. The popular view of fathers as simply imperfect mothers has gained acceptance over the past few decades for, I suspect, a number of reasons.  One is the attack on the family.  If fathers are just poor mothers, then who needs them?  And that of course is the sermon that's been preached by plenty of people throughout our recent Dark Ages.  It can't be an accident that the rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing coincided precisely with the seemingly endless repetition of that sermon. One corollary to that concept is that the more his parental behavior resembles that of the mother, the better parent dad is.  As Barry makes clear, that's a fundamentally flawed notion, but that doesn't keep it from being a common one. Indeed, about a year ago, I reported on a study of same sex parenting whose authors accepted without question the idea that parental behavior typically engaged in by mothers is good, useful and nurturing whereas that engaged in by fathers was at best suspect.  Again, the more like her he becomes, the better, at least in the minds of those researchers. And need I point out that family court judges seem to think the same thing?  As I've said before, dads whose main contribution is support of the family including the mother, are second-class citizens in divorce court.  Is what they do for their children less important than what the mothers do?  Not according to most reputable social scientists, but judges go their merry way regardless.

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This case is excellent, not only because of its result, but mostly because of its sound analysis.  It should serve as a template for courts not only here in the U.S. but in other countries as well. It comes to us from the Supreme Court of New Hampshire and analyzes a situation in which false allegations of child sexual abuse were used by a mother to deprive a father of contact with his children.  It's a familiar pattern of facts and altogether too rare an outcome. In 1999, James Miller met Janet Todd online.  They developed a relationship and, although they never married, had two daughters.  Laurel was born in 2002 and Lindsey in 2003.  Ultimately, a New Hampshire court awarded joint custody with Todd as primary custodian and Miller with visitation rights. But early on, Todd's mother claimed she had seen Miller sexually abusing Laurel.  Thus began a long series of allegations of child sexual abuse against Miller.  They were still going on as late as March, 2009, some five years after the first one. Each and every claim was investigated; each and every claim was determined to be unfounded.  As part of the investigations, the girls were subjected to invasive pelvic examinations at least twice each. False though the allegations were, they served a purpose; they caused the New Hampshire family court to suspend Miller's parenting time with his children throughout the course of the proceedings.  That meant that, for over two years, he had no contact with his daughters and they none with him. Eventually, in July, 2006, the court ordered psychologist Dr. Peggie Ward to thoroughly examine Miller, Todd, the girls and the family situation to determine issues of custody, alienation, sexual abuse, etc.  It took Ward 17 months to produce her 88-page report which the court found to be "extraordinarily thorough." What Ward concluded was that there was no reliable evidence of sexual abuse by Miller.  She also concluded that Todd had probably not set out to deliberately alienate the girls from their father; that probably originated with Todd's mother.  The problem stemmed not only from the various claims of abuse, but from Todd's almost total inability to accurately process everyday occurrences.
[p]sychological testing shows that Ms. Todd has a "serious impairment in her ability to accurately process the information she takes in from her surroundings and the degree of misperception she demonstrates has major implications for her adaptive functioning. Ms. Todd"s level of distortion is substantial and predisposes her to misunderstanding and misconstruing intentions, motivations and actions of other people. This places her at great risk for faulty judgment, for errors in decision-making, and for behaving in ways that are based on inaccurate information.  These data indicate that Ms. Todd will not only fail to recognize or foresee the consequences of her actions at times, but that she will also become confused at times in separating fantasy from reality.'
In other words, Todd was unable to sort out false allegations from real ones.  Into the bargain, Todd failed to protect her daughters from her own feelings and fears about what she thought may be happening, thereby perpetuating the girls' own confusion about the nature of what daddy had or had not done. So, given years of false allegations against Miller and the manifest inability by Todd to (a) distinguish fantasy from reality and (b) promote a healthy relationship between Miller and his daughters, the trial court did what so many of them do; it gave custody to the children's mother. That violated New Hampshire law which requires parents to promote positive relationships between the opposite parent and the children.  It also ignored the rather startling fact that Todd's emotional problems posed obvious risks for any child in her care. So why did the court give her custody?  Because the kids had been with her for several years during which time they'd had no contact with Miller.  They'd developed friendships at school and so, according to the court, their "best interests" required them to see little or nothing of their father, depending on the decisions of their clearly unbalanced mother. If that makes sense to you, please explain it to me. The New Hampshire Supreme Court squashed that one like a bug.  Its opinion grasps what so many courts do not - that continuing, deep and rich relationships with both parents are in the child's best interests.  The mother's obstruction of  such relationships between the children and the father is per se not in their best interests. Why that should be so difficult to understand is beyond me.  The statutes of New Hampshire make it clear as do the statutes and courts of other jurisdictions.  The court said:
"Across the country, the great weight of authority holds that conduct by one parent that tends to alienate the child"s affections from the other is so inimical to the child"s welfare as to be grounds for a denial of custody to, or a change of custody from, the parent guilty of such conduct.'
And yet time and again, courts ignore statute and case law and look only at the fact that the child has been separate from the father for a certain period of time.  They then conclude that the he cannot have future contact or that it must be limited, without ever noticing how his lack of contact came about. The New Hampshire court specifically objected to the concept that Todd had "benefitted from her own misbehavior."  That's a concept I've waited many years to hear a court articulate.  For as long as I've been a student and advocate of fathers' rights, I've been astonished at courts' willingness to ignore mothers' wrongdoing in order to grant them custody.  That happens as a matter of routine in adoption cases. What Miller v. Todd does is to show that the requirement on the part of each parent to promote the child's relationship with the other parent is necessary and beneficial to the child.  It also shows that courts will not reward the alienating behavior of parents. And that, in a nutshell, is how courts should rule in these cases.  They should make it clear that false allegations of abuse are not acceptable and that they will not be used to benefit the alienating parent.  It's a simple concept that more courts need to grasp. Thanks to Timothy for the heads-up.

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There's a lot we don't yet know about this case, but much of what we do know is troubling.  The case is garnering national attention and the mother is getting support from all quarters, left and right.  That alone tells us a lot about people's response to child welfare agencies.  In short, there's a lot of distrust directed by parents at CPS caseworkers and organizations. Here's one article (CBS Detroit, 4/2/11).  And here's another (Detroit News, 4/2/11). The story is of Maryanne Godboldo.  She's a 56-year old mother with a 13-year-old daughter.  The girl seems to have mental and physical problems, although those are so far unidentified.  Apparently, the problems were either caused or exacerbated by a "cocktail" of immunization drugs she was required to take in order to enter public school.  Godboldo had been home-schooling her prior to that. That was last year.  This year, apparently Godboldo was told to give the girl a certain psychotropic medication called Risperdal.  According to her attorney, Mom did her homework and opted not to give the prescribed medication. The next thing she knew, CPS appeared at her door with a court order allowing them to take the girl away from her mother and into some sort of foster care, where, presumably, she'd receive the medication. Now, when I say that "CPS appeared at her door," that's exactly what I mean.   Godboldo apparently had no knowledge that there was anything amiss, or that CPS had gone to Fort Wayne County court and gotten the order with no notice to the girl or her mother. And that's the first thing that's troubling about this case.  After all, I wrote just a few days ago about a Texas judge who's righteously angry at his local CPS for coming into his court without notifying the parents and misrepresenting certain facts of a case in order to get him to sign an order taking children from their parents. He ordered CPS to pay over $30,000 in the parents' attorneys fees.  He also ordered the caseworker and supervisor to write essays demonstrating that they understand Texas law concerning removing children from their parents. My question is, "why didn't Godboldo get an opportunity to go to court and explain, perhaps with the assistance of medical experts, why she didn't want her daughter to take the prescribed medication?"  Was the child in such danger that a few hours or days couldn't have been spared? Or was this simply a case in which CPS did what it did because it knew it could?  After all, it's far easier for CPS to get an order if there's no pesky parent there to oppose it.  So rather than go to the inconvenience of due process of law, the agency flexed its muscles.  Managers there know what kind of power they have and the used it.  That's my guess, anyway. That's not to say that what Godboldo did when CPS showed up was right, though.  She refused to let her daughter go with CPS and, when the police showed up and broke down her door, she may or may not have fired a pistol.  Whatever the case, she's now charged with five felony counts of resisting arrest, assault, discharging a firearm, etc. Godboldo is now out on bail, but her daughter is where CPS wanted her in the first place, Northville psychiatric services agency. Meanwhile, Godboldo's encounter with CPS has touched a nerve with people across the country.
Ron Scott with the Justice Committee said the focus is about parental rights and they have been getting support from all over.
"It"s been unbelievable. People from all over the world have called. It"s everyone from the far right to the far left and everybody in between, who have come together to say, this mother stood her ground to reflect the rights that every parent should have,' Scott said.
Godboldo's attorney echoed the sentiment that many of those people have expressed.
Her attorney, Allison Folmar, said CPS was over-stepping their boundaries when they showed up at Godboldo"s home to take away her child.
"My client is a mother who was protecting her child, against CPS who is acting, over-reaching and outside the scope of their authority. You cannot superimpose your will to give a child Risperdal, which is a psychotropic medication,' Folmar said.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's great unease about turning over parenting decisions to governmental officials.  Whether CPS overstepped its bounds in this case, I don't yet know, but I suspect it did.  But the publicity this case has received and the response by parents stand as mute testimony to the deep concerns many people have about the amount of authority child welfare agencies assert over parents and children. Put simply, if you have a child, the least allegation against you whether founded or not, can plant the CPS boot firmly in your doorway.  And once it's there, it's hard to remove it. Not only that, but consider: parenting is more than just a series of decisions about what clothes to buy, what food to give the child, what school the child should attend.  It's a relationship between two human beings.  And like all such relationships, it depends on trust.  It also assumes that, whatever happens, the parent will be there for the child tomorrow and the next day and the next. By contrast, governmental agencies, be they courts or child welfare agencies make decisions.  They don't have ongoing relationships with children and they haven't taken the time or gone to the effort to establish trust on the child's part.  That's not their job. So when they step in the middle of a family by second-guessing the parent, they tend to undermine the trust that's been built up between parent and child.  Their presence unavoidably means they think the parent erred; children over a certain age get that. Moreover, CPS workers don't have to concern themselves with maintaining the trust of the children they deal with the way parents do.  Their obligations are to CPS protocols, supervisor's dictates and keeping their jobs.  This is not to say they don't care about the parents and children they deal with; many of them surely do. But they have no lingering bonds and that means their level of responsibility is lower than parents'. All that is to say that CPS caseworkers should be more careful about the exercise of their power, not less.  Ex parte orders and unannounced visits to parents with surprise orders to take their children are not the way to do that. Thanks to Lloyd for the heads-up.

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Fathers and Families has been asked and has agreed to publicly endorse California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner's AB 877, a bill designed to help former prisoners reintegrate into society. In our support letter we noted:
[AB 877 will] help California"s young mothers and fathers--many of whom have been incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses--reintegrate back into society and become functional parents for their children.
The Bill's supporters explain:
The number one condition of all probation and parole conditions is to obey all laws.  One of the surest ways to assist defendants in reintegration in society is to assure that they are employable and able to care for themselves and their families.  A defendant who is unable to obtain a driver's license or clear up old Vehicle Code violations is less employable, less likely to pay child support, more apt to drive despite the lack of a license, unable to obtain insurance and even more troubling, inclined to return to a life of crime putting the greater community at risk. Current California law (VC 41500) currently requires courts to dismiss any and all non-felony Vehicle Code violations of anyone who has been committed to CDCR.  Expanding VC 41500 to cover anyone sentenced to a county jail or jail alternative for a period of six or more consecutive months, as well as those who have been incarcerated for 90 or more days in any consecutive 12-month period, will help formerly incarcerated individuals move toward successful re-entry into society. This will result in a decrease in crime and save associated court and incarceration costs. Not having the ability to legally drive is a major barrier to re-entry and becoming a productive member of society.  The proposed legislation will remove that barrier for over 12,000 individuals statewide, allowing these individuals to drive their children to school, secure jobs in locations not accessible via public transportation and act as healthy role models within their families.
The bill is supported by Prisoner Legal Services, San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the San Francisco Reentry Council's Subcommittee on Community Justice and Alternatives to Incarceration, Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer for San Francisco County, the Prison Law Office, Reginald T. Shuford, Director of Law and Policy of the Equal Justice Society, the law firm of Rosen, Bien and Galvin, LLP, and others.

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columbus-dispatch-iconIn Custody agreements should survive deployments (Columbus Dispatch, 4/6/11), Fathers and Families of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin lays out the case for HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin."][/caption] HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year. The Bill will soon be heard by the Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee. We suggest you write a Letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch, a 200,000 circulation newspaper in Ohio's capital, by writing to [email protected] To comment on the piece, click here. In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:
...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...
The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.
In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this. The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone. More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face. No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.
Read Hubin's full piece here.

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It's a small step - a very small step - but a step nonetheless. As of last Sunday, British dads are now legally entitled to ask for paternity leave to be with their newborns.  Up to now, mothers got up to nine months of paid maternity leave; dads got two weeks unpaid.  On Sunday that changed - somewhat.  Read about it here (Telegraph, 4/4/11). Now, after Mom has taken four months of leave to be with Baby, Dad can ask his employer for paid paternity leave that would last up until the child is nine months old.  After that, all leave  for Mom or Dad is unpaid. Now, while that's a more equitable arrangement than what's obtained to date, it's still far from equal.  In the first place, mothers and fathers can't just decide for themselves how and whether to divide up parental leave.  (Why not?  I can't guess.)  For four months, Dad has no right to take time off to be with his newborn. And even then, his rights seem less than Mom's.  You'll notice that I previously said that he can ask for leave, and that's correct.  He can ask.  And his employer can refuse.  Presumably there are certain reasons for denial that are legally acceptable under the new law.  My guess is that employers who don't like the law will become adept at phrasing their refusals in legally appropriate ways. Then there's the problem of the 'paid' part of 'paid leave.'  Leave will be paid at a maximum of £128.73 per week regardless of the parent's sex.  Since women in the U.K., like those in the U.S. tend to work less and earn less than do men, the penalty fathers and their families will pay for his taking leave will be greater than that paid by mothers and their families when she does.  So the structure of payment militates more against dads than moms. Still, on Sunday fathers in fact acquired greater parental rights than they had on Saturday.  Something, even if it's just a little something, is better than nothing. Good so far.  My prediction though is that the new parental leave will barely affect parental behavior, if at all.  That's because, whatever the grand notions of activists and legislators, when it comes to parenting, men's and women's behaviors don't tend to change much. As American sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and British economist Catherine Hakim point out time and again, the reality of parenting roles proves remarkably resistant to change.  Remember the amazing revolutionary Stay-at-Home-Dad, the dad who opts out of work to care for children?  He's close to non-existent.  As of 2008 in the U.S., there were about 140,000 SAHDs in the U.S., compared to about 5,327,000 mothers.  Similar ratios obtain in the U.K. Or how about Wilcox's revelation that, according to sociological data, a grand total of 20% of mothers with children under the age of 18 want to work full-time.  In about 75% of all American families with minor children, the father is the main breadwinner. The simple fact is that, whatever those who inhabit the brave new world of gender equality choose to believe, the vast majority of people behave differently.  They still see women with children primarily as mothers and men as breadwinners.  So it's nice of the British Parliament to open up parental leave to fathers.  I'd never argue with a law that expands paternal rights in the direction of equality with mothers' rights.  But let's not pretend that much will change because of it.  As the article says,
But surveys suggest that despite these more flexible working rules, few men will request this time off because they are worried about their job security in the current economic climate.
That's easy to understand.  When you're the chief earner in your family and you think of yourself as primarily that and your wife agrees, you're unlikely to risk your job in an unhealthy economy for the privilege of taking a huge cut in pay.  No, you'll see the little tyke when you get home from work and let it go at that. By itself, that's not a huge problem, but here's a bigger one.  I'll wager the following:  some time in the not-too-distant future there will be a study of the effects of the new parental leave law; that study will reveal essentially what I've outline above, i.e. that dads are not availing themselves of their new rights to a very great degree; and as sure as the sunrise, someone (probably several 'someones') will use the information as "proof" that fathers don't want to be with their children, don't care about them, etc. In short, a minor advance in fathers' rights will be used to obstruct them. See if that doesn't happen.  I've got a fiver that says it does.

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This blog posting is too much fun to pass up (Cracked, 4/6/11).  Yes, it's long on snark and ignores subtlety and nuance, but it's funny and at the same time raises some important issues. It's about the magazine Cosmopolitan and, if you can stop rolling your eyes, check it out.  The writers, Dennis Hong and Katherine Smith have done what no decent person should have to; they've sifted through many issues of Cosmo and come up with what they refer to as its "psychotic" advice on male/female relationships. Now, let's be clear.  Cosmo is one of the most popular and widely-read magazines in this country.  It has a circulation that would make better-respected magazines weep with envy.  So whatever Cosmo is peddling, plenty of people are buying.  And of course almost all of those people are women; Cosmo is for and about women. So whatever it has to say, a lot of women read, and they keep coming back for more.  The above facts lend a certain gravity to the Cracked piece that it wouldn't have if the topic were, say, Ms. The blog piece is about Cosmo's various takes on how to tell if "your man" is cheating or committing some other dastardly deed.  In a nutshell, we can say that if he's breathing, he's cheating.  Hong and Smith point out that, for example, if he tells his wife/girlfriend too much about his day at work, he's probably cheating.  If he shows renewed sexual interest in his partner, he's cheating.  If he improves his personal grooming, ditto.  If he doesn't give her unfettered access to his PC, iPhone, etc., he's... well, you get the picture. There's more, but the bottom line is that to Cosmo pretty much anything a guy does or doesn't do can indicate dishonesty or infidelity on his part.  And, to an astonishing degree, in the Cosmo cosmos, it does.  My guess is that just reading one of these articles would be enough to make any sane woman suspect that her guy is up to no good.  Several of them and she'd be sure. But Cosmo doesn't stop there.  It's not enough for the magazine to torment its readers with usually unfounded notions of cheating by their significant others.  No, it goes a step further and recommends certain helpful remedies women can use to combat his real or imagined failures. So, if a woman believes (at Cosmo's urging) that her guy is cheating on her, she should do things like crush his testicles, slip Ex-Lax into his food, put red-hot chili powder in his underwear, destroy his personal belongings and cheat on him with his best friend, just to name a few. In other words, if you suspect your man of infidelity, commit domestic violence or other crimes against him. Now it goes without saying that the vast majority of women who read Cosmo take all this with an enormous grain of salt.  Most are smarter and less violent than the magazine would prefer. But does anyone but me find it a trifle sick that one of the best-selling magazines in the country thinks nothing of urging women to commit DV against men on the basis of their speech patterns and body language?  Anyone with a television can see female-on-male violence depicted positively pretty much any time of the day or night, and Cosmo falls right into the same line. Beyond that, it's worth mentioning that our laws, their enforcement by police and governmental funding to combat DV all assume that it's men, not women, who commit DV.  They, like Cosmo, consider women's domestic violence to be either non-existent or justified by wrongs committed by males. The point being that if it were just one semi-sleazy women's magazine promoting female-on-male violence, it wouldn't be much to get worked up about.  But Cosmo fits into a much larger picture that ignores women's violence against men while loudly and hypocritically proclaiming its opposition to DV. We live in a culture that is wracked with problems relating to children and families.  Over the past 40 years, the American family has broken down as never before in history.  That breakdown is one of the major crises of our times for many reasons, not the least of which is its profound effect on children and the adults those children grow up to become. So when a major magazine tells its female readers that (a) if you suspect him of infidelity at all, you're probably right and (b) if so, violent reprisal is the right thing to do, it's frankly aimed at making a bad situation worse.  Put simply, Cosmo is encouraging mistrust between partners and illegal behavior in response. And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high. Thanks to Patrick for the heads-up.

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On the surface, this is a feel-good story (Standard Examiner, 4/6/11).  It's story about the loss and recovery of a child.  It's a story about a mother in terrible mental distress whose actions could have scarred her for life, but ended up for the better. It is also a story of good old fashioned dumb luck. But scratch the surface and there are other facts and suggestions of facts that are less cheering. Back in 2004, Carmen McDonald gave birth to a little girl she named Tamia.  At age 20, McDonald suffered from bi-polar disorder; the arrival of Tamia added postpartum depression to her woes.  So she decided to place her newborn for adoption. Telling her parents who lived nearby that she was going to Ohio to give the baby to its father, McDonald instead travelled from her native Illinois to Utah and placed Tamia for adoption with an agency whose name she'd found in the newspaper. She returned with a check for $600 and no baby.  Tamia had been placed with a couple named Lenna Habbeshaw and Steven Kusaba.  They were infertile and had long wanted to adopt a child. But Carmen McDonald's mother and father had other ideas about who their granddaughter should be raised by.  John and Maria Dorden never let up in their quest to gain custody of Tamia, and that is where the dumb luck came in. In the middle of the fight the adoptive parents were arrested on drug charges.  That was more than enough for the Utah courts to back off on the adoption.  Tamia went back to Illinois to live with her grandparent which she does happily to this day.  End of story?  Yes and no. We've seen plenty of stories about Utah adoptions that look like little more than court-sanctioned child theft.  The Kevin O'Dea case is one; so is the John Wyatt case.  In both instances, mothers were able to avoid the fathers of their newborns long enough to get the babies into the hands of adoption agencies and their attorneys. Those stood ready with adoptive parents and Utah courts stood ready to look the other way on the issue of fathers' rights. Now, in this case, we don't know a thing about Tamia's father.  McDonald obviously knows him and knew where he was at the time of Tamia's birth.  But whether he ever claimed his parental rights remains unknown, at least to us. But apart from the adoption agency's payment to McDonald that may or may not have violated the laws prohibiting trafficking in children, McDonald reports another interesting detail about the "transaction." It seems that, when faced with actually giving Tamia up, she balked.
McDonald flew to Salt Lake City with infant Tamia in December 2004, her ticket paid for by A Cherished Child, a for-profit agency in Utah that advertised in Illinois. McDonald found herself in a motel room, relinquishment agreement in hand. When she tried to back out, she said, she was threatened, including being stranded without airfare home, according to court records.
The handover in the motel room along with termination of rights forms is eerily reminiscent of what happened in John Wyatt's case in which his partner checked herself out of the hospital, newborn in hand and went to a hotel room with Utah adoption agency representatives, the Utah adoptive parents and their Utah attorney. The threats issued to a mentally-unstable mother along with the promise of money if she complied paint a less than pretty picture of the adoption as it's practiced in the State of Utah. And that raises an obvious question.  Why would McDonald or anyone else travel from Illinois to Utah just to place their child for adoption?  After all, healthy newborns (and there's no evidence Tamia wasn't healthy) aren't hard to place, in Illinois, Utah or anywhere else. It's not too unusual that A Cherished Child advertised in an Illinois newspaper.  But why did McDonald choose an agency in a state so far away?  I'd say 'money' was one possible answer.  'They won't ask too many questions,' for example about the father, might have been another. Whatever the case, but for Habbeshaw and Kusaba's drug bust, it's all but certain that the adoption would have gone through and Tamia would be living with them instead of with her grandparents. Whatever her situation with her father, Tamia is another child who didn't need to be adopted.  The Dordens seem to be fine parents and, once McDonald gets over her own drug dependency, the child may develop a fuller relationship with her. So there was never a need for her to be adopted and fortunately for all concerned, she wasn't.  But it was a near thing; it was a case that turned, not on reasonable adoption law but on dumb luck.  And luck isn't good enough.  We shouldn't have to depend on that to save a child who doesn't need it from adoption. Across the country, we force adoption on children who have fit parents.  That's wrong for everyone - the adopted child who has a parent to care for it, the father whose child is taken from him often without his knowing about it and of course all those children throughout the world who don't have parents and who cry for them every night.

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Updating the Maryanne Godboldo case is this article (Detroit News, 4/7/11).  As I said in my first piece on this case, there's a fair amount we don't know at this early date. What we do know is that Godboldo's daughter has some form of mental/emotional problems for which she was prescribed Risperdal, a psychotropic drug.  When Godboldo refused to give the 13-year-old girl the medication, CPS showed up at her house having first obtained a court order to take her daughter into custody.  CPS obtained the order ex parte meaning that Godboldo was not there to contest it or tell her side of the story.  So far we still don't know why the girl's mother wasn't given an opportunity to defend her parenting decisions to the judge. When Godboldo refused to turn over the child, the police broke into her house and forcibly removed the girl after what has been called a "10 hour standoff."  Godboldo allegedly discharged a pistol when the officers broke into her home.  She's currently charged with five felonies stemming from the the standoff and her refusal to turn over her daughter. The article linked to gives a couple of additional details. The first is that, although Godboldo's daughter has been in a psychiatric facility for 13 days since being taken by CPS, she's still not been given any Risperdal.  Godboldo's refusal to give the medication was, of course, the whole reason for the girl's being taken into care. So on one hand, the mother's refusal to give her daughter Risperdal supposedly created such an emergency that CPS couldn't even tell Godboldo about the court hearing to take the girl.  On the other, it's so unimportant that the child has been in a psychiatric facility for almost two weeks and still hasn't received the medication. If there's a reasonable explanation for that, I sure can't figure out what it is. Into the bargain, the lawyer for the girl's father says that the psychiatric facility reports that she's "stable" without the medication.  So maybe Godboldo was right all along. Oh, and speaking of the father, CPS didn't.  Usually, when a child welfare agency decides to take single mother's child into care, caseworkers don't even attempt to locate the father.  And lest you think I'm using the word "usually" in a loose or inaccurate way, I'm not.  The Urban Institute did a study showing that, even when case files contain the identity of the father, they make no effort to contact him over half the time when seeking alternative placement for a child. And that is true despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a 114-page booklet on the importance of fathers.  It's a guide to CPS caseworkers emphasizing the need to locate dads when children are taken from mothers. Clearly CPS did no such thing in this case.
A lawyer for the girl's father, Mubuarak Hakim, also accused protective services of failing one of its mandates to keep families together by not trying to find the father or another relative with whom to place the girl.
From what I can gather, Hakim is not some obscure figure.  He's been part of the protests that have developed around his daughter's being taken into care.  So the question arises, "why didn't CPS contact him?"  He's right about part of their mandate being to keep families together if possible. Doubtless we'll start to get answers as time goes on. As counterpoint to a story about what looks to be the heavy-handedness of on CPS agency, is this one in which the opposite occurred (KiiiTV, 4/6/11). Way down south in Corpus Christi, Texas, 21 month old Texas Ruiz met his end at the hands of his mother and stepfather on New Years Day.  The toddler died of blunt force trauma to the head and stomach.  Lorraine Rodriguez-Garza and Juan Jose Garza have been charged with murder in his death.
But in an exclusive interview, the child's biological father says he had previously warned child protective services that the boy was in danger. Raul and Lisa Ruiz say they did everything they could in calling on those whose job it is to protect children. But nothing was done, and today's capital murder charges they say proves that.
Ruiz has employed an attorney, and I assume that means he'll be suing CPS for failing to protect his child when it had notice of the danger he faced.  I won't be surprised to see Ruiz get a hefty chunk of change due to the negligence and apparent gross negligence of CPS.  And, however that comes about, Texas taxpayers will bear at least part of the cost. Two cases with two opposite results.  In the first, CPS overreacted; in the second it apparently did nothing.  In one it took a child that may well have done fine with her mother or father.  In the other, CPS left a little boy in a situation that was clearly hazardous to his health. But of course there's one similarity between the two.  In both, CPS ignored the father.  And, had the agencies not done so, the bad results in each case may well have been averted.  Had Texas authorities heeded Ruiz's warnings, his little boy could certainly have been saved either by placing him in foster care or by transferring custody to Ruiz and his wife. In Detroit, transfer to the father could easily have avoided the "standoff" and either gotten the girl her medication or allowed everyone to decide to wait, as has been done. There's a lesson in both cases.

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Add Alabama to the list of states to try to pass equally shared parenting legislation.  Senate Bill 196 was submitted to the Children, Youth Affairs and Human Resources Committee on March 9 and is still there pending action.  Called the Children's Family Act, it currently has 21 sponsors.  Here's the bill in full. Much like the bill in the Minnesota Legislature, SB 196 would require a judge to order equal parenting on the part of  the mother and father in all custody cases in which both parents were deemed to be "fit" and in which they didn't agree to another parenting arrangement.

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This may be the single most outrageous case I've come across.  I first wrote about Peter Spitz last December here.  He's the Colorado man whose wife Teresa got up in the wee hours of one morning in 2004, bundled up their young son and took him to a neighbor's.  She then returned to her house, put a pillow over her sleeping husband's head and shot him with a .38.  But he wasn't dead, so she shot him two more times.  Then she murdered his mother who lived with them. Despite all that, Peter lived.  He's permanently blinded and has lost his sense of smell.  Peter is an ex-marine and an all around stand-up guy.  So when Teresa was tried for murdering his mother and attempting to murder him, he testified on her behalf.  He thought she was insane and said so under oath.  She was acquitted of the charges by reason of insanity. That was less than seven years ago and the doctors in the psychiatric facility to which she was committed have decided that Teresa is no longer insane.  By itself, that's a trifle odd because apparently they don't agree on her diagnosis or even if her mental condition rendered her incapable of appreciating the wrongness of her deeds.  Read the update here (Westwood.com, 4/4/11). It's also odd because a few years ago Teresa may have sent a letter to a friend promising to "finish the job" when she was released.  The letter can't be found, but a person who once had the letter claims that it said "she wants Peter dead, simple as that." Given that, Spitz is none too enthusiastic about her release, but released she will shortly be.  That will proceed gradually through a series of unsupervised trips away from the psychiatric facility leading eventually to "community placement." In fact, that's already begun, which brings up the part of the story that's more outrageous than the first part.  Teresa, you see, has more contact with their son than Peter does.  Yes, the woman who tried to murder his father, did murder his grandmother and considered drowning the child in the bathtub gets to visit with him regularly.  The man who barely escaped death, who managed to call 911 on his own behalf and who stood up in court, in the darkness of his blind world to testify for the woman who tried to take his life, is being denied all access to his son. Why?  Well, it seems that while Peter was convalescing from his wounds, the court appointed a couple to be the child's guardians.  As I said in my previous piece, amazing as it may seem, they still have custody of the boy and Peter isn't allowed to see him. Does Peter's disability prevent him from being a good, loving and capable father?  It does not.  He's worked hard to get to a point where he can function normally in daily life and friends, neighbors and relatives uniformly testify to his capabilities.  Maybe he's been abusive to the child?  No, there's no evidence of that and, as far as I know, no allegations. At this point, if there is any reason why Peter Spitz doesn't have sole custody of his son, I don't know what it is.  But he has no contact at all.  The guardians have the boy full-time except of course for the supervised visitation Teresa has. But that's not all.  It seems the guardians want to adopt the boy.  Peter of course opposes that, but they're going ahead with their action anyway.  And I'll give you one guess who supports their bid to take Peter Spitz's son from him.  Yep, you're right.  That one was too easy.  Teresa thinks Peter shouldn't have custody of their child.  It's hard to know why, but it looks like some of the old anti-Peter animus may still be at work.  That and the fact that if he retains his rights, he might have the gall to ask her for child support.

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Since April 25th is Parental Alienation Awareness Day, I thought I'd run apiece about it, and since our good friend Paulette alerted me to this article, now's as good a time as any (New England Psychologist, March, 2011). Significantly, the article is in the New England Psychologist and it provides a very balanced view of parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome/Disorder.  It's a refreshing change from the high-pitched and sometimes inaccurate rhetoric often channeled by MSM articles on PAS. As such, the article would be a good one to save and refer to for the realities of parental alienation and PAS. For example, the article refers to Dr. Richard Gardner who pioneered the concept of the syndrome as a discrete psychological condition.  But it exchews the usual nonsense peddled by the anti-dad crowd to the effect that Gardner promoted pedophilia and the like.  Since Gardner is dead, much of what is said about him falls under the heading of "you can't libel a dead man."   That is, they'd never say this stuff if he were alive because they'd get sued.  And that tells you much of what you need to know about the levels of intellectual dishonesty to which some people are willing to stoop to try to keep fathers from their children. The great irony of that of course is that no responsible mental health professional believes that PAS is solely done by mothers; they know that fathers do it too.  So the fact that those opposed to fathers' rights shout themselves hoarse against PAS means that they're acting against mothers as well.  You'd think they'd get that, but article after article shows they don't have a clue. It's true that originally Gardner thought of PAS as something mostly done by custodial mothers trying to keep dads out of their children's lives.  But that observation was simply an artifact of the great majority of custodial parents being mothers. Therefore most of the parents claiming to be alienated were fathers and most of the alienators were mothers.  But the simple fact is that neither sex has a monopoly on the abusive behavior called parental alienation. The other complaint about PAS from the anti-dad crowd is that it's just an excuse to turn children over to abusive fathers.  The fact that that argument is little better than silly deters them not a whit.  Child abuse, along with domestic violence are pretty much pre-programmed responses on the part of those opposed to fathers' involvement with their children.  Like the "Chatty Cathy" dolls of the 1960s, pull their string and that's what they say.  I've never seen one of those folks acknowledge the fact, long established by the Department of Health and Human Services, that mothers in America do twice the child abuse and neglect that fathers do. Needless to say, no psychologist worthy of the title is in the business of promoting child abuse and neither are courts that deal with custody issues.  As Dr. Amy Baker, one of the world's foremost authorities on PAS and parental alienation points out,
Baker argues that parental alienation was never intended to include abusive or neglectful parents, something that Gardner also said. Rather, it refers to "strategies intended to manipulate the child into rejecting a parent when there isn't a good reason to reject that parent," she says.
There's yet another irony at work here.  Those who oppose admission of evidence of parental alienation in custody cases say they do so to combat child abuse.  But of course in the process, they defend alienating behavior which is itself child abuse.  It's beginning to look like anti-father stances, reflexively taken lead quickly to self contradiction and self-defeat. Meanwhile, the article gives Baker plenty of room to expound some of the more subtle aspects of parental alienation that MSM pieces routinely overlook.
The strategies used by an alienating parent to turn a child or children against the other parent tend to be pervasive, Baker says. One tactic is denigrating the other parent in front of the child.
"It can be taking a minor flaw and making it seem worthy of contempt," she says. "There's probably an endless list of specifics one parent could say bad about another, but what it really comes down to is that the other parent is made out to be unsafe, unloving and unavailable."
Anything a marginalized parent or targeted parent, does can be recast in a negative light, Baker adds: The parent who calls a lot is characterized as a stalker. If the parent pulls away to give the child space, it's abandonment.
Alienating parents often limit contact between the child and the other parent, sometimes in subtle ways - dropping the child off with the other parent 10 minutes late and picking up 10 minutes early, for instance - and not-so-subtle ways, such as texting or calling the child during visits with the other parent.
"For young children who live very much in the present, a relationship is comprised of very many little moments," Baker says. "Whatever is in the child's mind and heart, they can share it with the parent. But if there's no opportunity to do that, the relationship can suffer."
Baker and psychologist Dr. Lynn Margolies also provide some tips for parents who are targets of alienation about how to deal as effectively as possible with it.  Above all, they remind alienated parents that, however difficult the situation is, their relationship with their child is vital and that every little bit of parenting they can do helps. What is the fate of PAS as a diagnosis to be included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that's up for revision?  That seems unclear, although many mental health professionals promote its inclusion. If it's excluded, anti-father folks across the country will doubtless - if quixotically - proclaim victory.  But, since the recognition of PAS would benefit mothers as well as fathers, they'd do well to temper their enthusiasm. But more to the point is the fact that what's important in a court of law is less evidence of PAS than of parental alienation.  A court's hearing evidence that one parent has embarked on a campaign of denigration and exclusion of the other parent will always be relevant in deciding custody.  That's true in no small part because more and more, states are including "friendly parent" provisions in their custody statutes.  That means that they require each parent to promote a healthy relationship with the other parent.  Failure to do so can affect custody decisions as the case out of New Hampshire I recently reported on makes clear. So whether PAS is officially recognized by the APA or not is simply not very important to the equalization of fathers' and mothers' parental rights.  Anti-father groups oppose that equalization, but tying their success or failure to PAS is mostly a waste of time. Thanks again to Paulette, tireless campaigner for fathers' rights, the rule of law and good sense, for the heads-up.

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Around the country, states continue to tweak their custody laws and some consider making big changes.  Alabama and Minnesota, for example, have bills pending in their legislatures that would establish equal parenting post-divorce unless a showing of parental unfitness were made or the parents agreed to another arrangement.  Iowa is considering changing to joint custody in the case of divorce or separation. Here's an article about the more modest approach taken by Pennsylvania (The Mercury, 4/2/11).
Substantial changes to Pennsylvania's child custody laws went into effect on Jan. 24. If you have children and are separated or divorced -- or in the process -- there's a good chance your custody case could be impacted. The good news is that while some of the changes are a possible cause for concern, the majority are smart, positive, and long overdue.
The causes for concern include the fact that judges must now consider whether anyone in the child's household has been convicted of a long list of criminal offenses.  In the custody case, either parent can request a criminal background check on anyone in the other household.  That means Mom's new boyfriend; it also means his teenage daughter; if someone moves back in with their parents or anyone else, anyone in that household can become the subject of a criminal background check.  Haven't I mentioned before something about the breakdown of families opening the door to greater and greater governmental intrusion into our private lives?  Yes, I believe I have.
Now, some better changes: For the first time, judges cannot presume that custody should be awarded to a particular parent based on gender (e.g., they cannot presume that younger children are better off with their mother, or fathers are better suited to raise boys, etc.). This seems obvious, but this language has never before been in the custody statutes.
That's obviously a good thing, for the simple reason that it enshrines in black-letter law that mothersper se aren't to be preferred over fathers for any reason.  How much effect it will have on court orders remains to be seen, but I'd put money on it's being negligible. That's because I seriously doubt many judges consciously discriminate against dads.  They hold certain pre-conceived biases and don't really question them.  Chances are, they don't even know they have them. I think this because, over many years of growing awareness of fathers' value to children, actual custody orders have changed barely at all.  For example, in 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 84.2% of custodial parents with child support orders were mothers.  In 2008, that number had plummeted to 83.6%. My conclusion that the non-discrimination law won't make much of a change is bolstered by the next set of "good" changes.
For the first time, there are specific enumerated factors a judge must consider in determining what constitutes "best interests" of a child. For example, a court must consider past or present abuse by anyone in a parent's household, which parent performs the parental duties, the availability of extended family, the preference of the child (based on maturity and judgment), whether one parent has attempted to alienate the child against the other, how far apart the parties live, the level of conflict between the parties, and any history of drug and alcohol abuse by either party or anyone in the household.
"Which parent performs the parental duties" is the key phrase.  As sure as the sunrise, "parental duties" will be defined in judge's minds as hands-on childcare, i.e. the daily feeding, clothing, bathing, strolling with, reading to, etc. of which mothers typically do the lion's share.  What won't be considered parental duties is earning the money to allow Mom to stay home most of the time and do all those hands-on things.  Such at any rate is my prediction.  I hope I'm proven wrong, but I doubt I will be. Several times recently, I've referred to an article by W. Bradford Wilcox, sociologist at the University of Virginia.  It's a sobering look at how mothers and fathers actually divide up their time and what their aspirations are. Overwhelmingly, mothers with children under the age of 18 would prefer to not work full-time.  And they don't.  Some 75% of households with children under 15 have a man as the chief breadwinner. Those facts stand in stark contrast to the Brave New World narrative we often see in the communications media.  Just last week I read a piece in the Huffington Post extolling the amazing rise of the Stay-at-Home-Dad.  That would be interesting if it had a firm basis in fact, but it doesn't.  Wilcox shows that, as of 2008, there were about 140,000 SAHDs in the whole of the U.S.  That's compared with over 5.3 million moms who stay home to do childcare.    So, on one hand Pennsylvania sternly warns judges not to grant custody based on the parent's sex, and on the other, it tells them to consider what mothers do for their children, but not what dads do in deciding custody.  Admittedly, there's nothing in the new law that prevents a judge from honoring Dad's earnings equally with Mom's diapering.  But they haven't done that so far and I see nothing to indicate they'll start now. It's a slow process, but gradually states are taking notice of the need children have for fathers, both during and after marriage.  The changes to Pennsylvania law take only baby steps in that direction.  Still, the tide of change is moving toward greater parental equality.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" 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.'"][/caption] 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 Town Hall meetings, as well as calling in when candidates are interviewed on radio talk shows. We will be politely and persistently asking candidates questions about family court reform, with the goal of garnering media attention for our issues and getting candidates to go on the record with their views. Our central issue is simple--family courts harm children by routinely separating them from one of the two people they love most. How You Can Help We want you to be a part of Fathers and Families" Election 2012 Campaign. Enjoy this social opportunity while joining like-minded men and women in activism and comradeship to bring our issues into the current presidential campaign. No matter where you are, there are many ways you can help:
1) If you are in New England and can volunteer to make appearances at campaign stops and townhalls, please fill out our volunteer form here and type "Fathers and Families' Election 2012 Campaign" at the beginning of the "How I Can Help" section.

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.

2) We understand that many of you can"t participate due to geography or other limitations. You can still help by:
  • Writing to the candidates, making calls to reporters, radio talk shows, and candidates' offices, writing letters and posting comments in response to our campaign Action Alerts. You will see these on our website, our Facebook page, and in our weekly ENewsletter.
  • Giving to Fathers and Families. Our New Hampshire efforts cost money--help defray our costs by making a tax-deductible contribution at www.FathersandFamilies.org/give.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="F & F activist Penny Rogers shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a May 26 event. In response to our activist's question, Gingrich told the audience that the family law system has an 'extreme anti-male bias'"][/caption] Examples of Our Activism: To date, six different presidential (or likely presidential) candidates have come out in favor of family court reform to varying degrees 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 recently and says "Family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time."
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in response to our activist's question, told the audience the family law system has an "extreme anti-male bias."
  • Presidential candidate / businessman Herman Cain.
  • Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a 2008 and potential 2012 presidential candidate.
  • Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
  • Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
We Are Non-Partisan f-and-f-election-2012-campaignFathers and Families is resolutely non-partisan and has and continues to work successfully with legislators on both sides of the aisle on legislation to promote family court reform. Our primary goal is to protect the loving bonds children share with both parents after divorce or separation, and we're happy to work with any legislators or political figures who share this goal. During the Fathers and Families Election Campaign 2012 we will be intervening at both Republican and Democratic events. However, there are many more Republican events than Democratic events because the Republican primary will be hotly contested, whereas the Democrats have an incumbent running. Is Family Law Also a Federal Matter? Since family law is usually a state matter, it's a fair question to ask, "What could the federal government do to promote shared parenting?" One answer is this:
The federal government helps shape states" policies in many areas by the payment or withholding of federal reimbursement funds. It works the same way with family law--the federal government reimburses the states billions of dollars each year in child support collection funds. One of the things a pro-shared parenting administration could do to greatly encourage shared parenting is to tie those funds to progress in enacting shared parenting laws, implementing and encouraging shared parenting arrangements, and enforcing visitation orders.
Join us by volunteering at http://www.fathersandfamilies.org/volunteer.

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Lately, I've received several anguished pleas from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) calling for passage of the latest round of legislation to correct what they claim to be unequal pay between men and women.  My guess is that the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act won't pass this year any more than it did last year.  If it doesn't, that may be because Congresspeople have finally figured out that sex discrimination in wages is rare and that the male-female earnings gap is due to choices made by men and women about how to spend their time. This article by Carrie Lukas tells it like it is (Wall Street Journal, 4/12/11).  Or at least it does with the exception of the headline, "There is No Male-Female Wage Gap," which is incorrect.  There clearly is a male-female wage gap, but, given the fact that it's purely a product of people's independently-made choices, it's cause for neither alarm nor legislation. As has been shown countless times, most notably by this meta-analysis of some 50 separate studies, the difference in earnings of men and women is due almost entirely to the facts that (a) women do less paid work than do men and (b) women tend to work at lower-paying jobs than do men (CONSAD, 1/12/09). Take out those two factors and the gap in men's and women's earnings narrows to about 5%.  Lukas puts it this way:
Feminist hand-wringing about the wage gap relies on the assumption that the differences in average earnings stem from discrimination. Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women--not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics--are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
The AAUW's track record for intellectual honesty is less than stellar.  For decades it was a prestigious organization, but in the past 30 years or so its publications have won such dubious honorifics as "politics dressed up as science."  That's how reputable psychologist Judith Kleinfeld described the AAUW's essentially fabricated claims that American education "shortchanges" girls. So it should come as no surprise that the AAUW is now promoting the wage gap as requiring congressional intervention.  In this economy that finds men's unemployment continuing to outstrip women's by about half a percentage point, their chances of persuading Congress to further hamstring employers in order to address sex discrimination that exists largely in the minds of certain activists, look to be slim and none. So most of us know, whether the AAUW does or not, that the wage gap is almost totally explained by the facts that women do less paid work than do men and that they work at lower-paying jobs.  That raises the question of why those things are true and why they continue to be true throughout 40 years of second-wave feminism and massive changes in men's and women's education that now sees 58% of college graduates being female. Whether the AAUW wants us to know it or not, there's an answer to that question and it's all about children.  For four decades or so, certain activists have been trying to convince women that marriage, family and children constitute bondage for women.  Although we certainly have much more divorce than we once did, it seems that the message about children still hasn't resonated with many women. The simple fact is that, as a general rule, women are strongly motivated to have and care for children.  Across decades and through strong economies and weak, women tend to place children ahead of work on their list of priorities.  That's found by numerous studies referred to by Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, sociologist of the University of Virginia.  He pointed out that, for example, only 20% of women with children under the age of 18 want to work full-time.  Combine that with the fact that, in about 75% of those households, the father is the chief breadwinner, and the explanation for the different work patterns of men and women appears.  Countless studies of many different professions and occupations show the same thing - women, at all levels of education and earning capacity, often take time out of their jobs and careers to care for children.  Their male partners facilitate those choices by earning the bulk of the family's daily bread. I don't criticize either men or women for their choices.  Working for a living and childcare are both honorable and necessary endeavors.  The twin inequalities between the sexes - earnings and child custody - reflect those choices, whether rightly or wrongly. So if the AAUW really wants to address the earnings gap between men and women, it'll march into battle against the many laws and practices that frankly do discriminate against fathers when it comes to child custody.  The more men are encouraged to be fathers, the more women can work and earn.  And as long as family courts and family laws view fathers as expendable in the lives of their children, women will find themselves with little choice.  Someone has to care for children.  Until we equalize family laws, there'll be no way to convince men to abandon their traditional role of breadwinner. Equalizing the sexes in custody matters would have a real impact on women's earning capacity.  That, unlike fictional notions of sex discrimination in wages, is a worthy undertaking for anyone who truly cares about gender equality, fathers and children, and women's financial independence. Will the AAUW take note?

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In my own ways, I've said much of what this article says many times (The Daily, 4/2/11).  Well-known feminist Jessica Valenti shows she gets it.  What's "it?"  "It" is the connection between cultural expectations of men and women, and fathers' rights to their children.  I'm a lawyer, so I write a lot about the law as it impacts fathers and their children.  After all, there's a lot to say and there will continue to be until state legislatures start to change their statutes. But I've also rattled on a fair amount about the cultural aspects of fatherhood.  The simple fact is that judges, like everyone else, are products of their culture, at least to an extent.  And few if any statutes can be so ironclad that they don't leave room for the exercise of some judicial discretion.  That discretion will unavoidably reflect the biases of the culture in which the judge is steeped. So recently I pointed out that, while the State of Pennsylvania passed a law prohibiting awards of custody based on the sex of the parent, it also requires consideration of who performs the "parenting duties" in custody decisions.   I'd bet good money that that's an open invitation to judges to ignore fathers' earnings that allow mothers to work less and therefore do more childcare.  In other words, judges will be free to act on the bias that hands-on childcare is more important than earning the money that makes it possible.  In short, culture can easily trump law. And in her article Valenti makes it clear that we need to alter cultural conceptions of men as either bad at or uninterested in parenting.  She knows that neither of those things is true in most cases. Valenti rightly says that our cultural preference for mothers
reveals a deep bias we have against men. No matter how progressive our country claims to be, we"re still surprised when men are good dads.
I couldn't agree more. Valenti goes on to quote a recent United Nations Report on the status of men in families.
"Despite an increasing worldwide focus on the role of men in families, burgeoning research documenting men"s contribution to gender equality, the importance of their engagement for work-family balance, and the numerous positive paternal contributions to children"s development, policy-makers have been slow to recognize the need for effective public policy that is supportive of men"s involvement in their families,' the authors write.
There's not much to argue with there.  The simple fact is that laws and judicial practices often seem more intent on separating fathers from children than on doing the opposite.  That doesn't make sense for anyone.  Fathers suffer from the loss of their children in divorce and children suffer from losing their dads.  Mothers lose fathers' help and are unable to work, earn and save equally.  What's the upside to what we're doing now?  I don't see one; it seems bad for all concerned. Add to that the fact that men who are actively involved in their children's lives are far more likely to be employed and far less likely to be in prison or to abuse drugs or alcohol than men who aren't.  So men who are active fathers are exactly the type of men society wants and benefits from. So we ought to be doing everything in our power to connect fathers with children and keep them that way regardless of divorce, regardless of separation, regardless of everything. As Valenti says,
Because, as challenging as it can be (especially when there are diapers or the teenage years to contend with), parenting is a wonderful thing. And by assuming men can"t do it as well, we"re robbing American men of the opportunity to find fulfillment in caretaking.
It may take culture-wide change to equalize mothers' and fathers' rights.  But Jessica Valenti is one feminist who understands the need to do so and the benefits to everyone when we do.

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Denise Hines and Emily Douglas continue their excellent research into the effects of domestic violence on men.  Here's a short article about their latest analysis of data (U.S. News, 4/12/11).  And here's the study itself. I've previously reported on their analysis of this same data, but Hines and Douglas have mined it for still more information.  Their results are reported in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity. For those of you who don't remember, Hines and Douglas obtained self reports from two sets of men.  One set consisted of 302 men who had sought help via a domestic violence help line; the second consisted of 520 men from the community at large. The specific goal of the new analysis was to determine if male victims of domestic violence suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.  Many existing studies of female victims of DV show that they suffer PTSD, but before the Hines/Douglas study, no one had asked about a similar association among male victims. Hines and Douglas use nomenclature that includes IPV which stands for any kind of intimate partner violence.  CCV refers to common couple violence which is relatively mild and not necessarily accompanied by psychologically controlling behavior on the part of the perpetrator.  IT refers to intimate terrorism and means severe physical violence together with controlling behavior.  Perhaps not surprisingly, women exposed to CCV have much lower levels of PTSD than those exposed to IT and the same proved true for the men studied by Hines and Douglas.
PTSD is a psychiatric condition that can follow the experience of a traumatic incident, and according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), its symptoms tend to cluster on three dimensions: persistent reexperiencing of the trauma, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and persistent increased arousal.
Hines and Douglas found that it was especially IT, the severe form of domestic violence, that brought on symptoms of PTSD.
In support of previous research (Coker et al., 2005; Dansky et al., 1999; Hines, 2007), we found that for both samples of men, sustaining IPV was significantly correlated with PTSD and its three clusters of symptoms. However, we also found that in comparison to men who sustain no physical IPV and men who sustain CCV, men who sustain IT (a type of IPV that is characterized by severe violence and controlling behaviors) are at exponentially increased risk for exceeding a clinical cut-off for PTSD.
Among both groups of men, the presence of childhood physical abuse increased the likelihood not only of IPV victimization as an adult but of PTSD symptoms as well.  Controlling behavior on the part of the aggressor also tended to increase the probability of PTSD in the male victim.  Those findings mirror previous research into female victims of IPV. And, as with female victims, male victims' symptoms of PTSD were ameliorated by the presence of social support and treatment.  Needless to say, that has implications for how male victims of IPV should be treated by the community generally, but particularly by mental health professionals.
First, it is important for any treatment provider who encounters a man who discloses physical IPV and controlling behaviors against him by his partner to acknowledge that this man likely has been traumatized. This is an important first step, because previous research on this sample showed that not only did men experience more negative than positive experiences with treatment providers, but every time a man in our helpseeking sample experienced a negative response from a treatment provider, his odds of exceeding the clinical cut-off for PTSD increased significantly.
Stated another way, mental health providers who think that men can't be victims of DV actually make the problem worse; they add to the trauma rather than subtracting from it.  That's a finding that should inform all future efforts to address the problems of male victims of IPV. Hines and Douglas note that female victims of IPV benefit from women's support groups.  Rather forlornly they add that male victims would benefit from similar men's support groups if there were any.
Given that there is no research exploring treatment options for men who sustain IT, we would urge therapists to use and evaluate a similar model for men who sustain IT and seek help, and to then tailor a more appropriate model for men. A crucial aspect of this development would be the institution of support groups for men who sustain IT, which are currently lacking.
This research is not definitive; it has its limitations which the authors describe.  But, particularly given the similarity between men's and women's responses to IT, it seems likely to hold up over time. It's yet another clarion call to our society, our elected officials and our mental health professionals to stop ignoring the truth about male victims of domestic violence.  There once was a bumper sticker that read "There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence."  It's high time the DV industry stopped making excuses for women who attack men.

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I was recently pleased to be a guest on Paul Elam's show on Blog Talk Radio along with Seattle family attorney, Lisa Scott.  The subject was domestic violence and the many roles it plays in the diminution of our civil rights and liberties.  Here's a link to the show (BlogTalk Radio, 4/13/11). Scott is a long-time family lawyer so she's seen the pernicious effects of the domestic violence industry on families, particularly fathers and children.  Here's her website that makes it clear that, when it comes to dads in family court, she "gets it." The interview was a good one.  It was made even better by the many calls from knowledgeable listeners.  One in particular got my attention. A mental health professional called in with some very important information for men in intimate relationships.  She said that she's counseled many innocent men who've found themselves thrown out of their houses, denied access to their kids, tossed in jail, made the subject of TROs - in short, the whole litany of abuse visited on men by the domestic violence establishment. Her message?  Many, many of these men had been threatened repeatedly by their partners, with exactly that.  The couple would have a row and the woman would tell the man that, if he didn't toe the line, she'd call the police and claim DV.  The good doctor said that is a very common occurrence, and her message was that if your partner says that, believe her.  Sooner or later, she'll likely make good on the threat. Into the bargain, as Lisa Scott added, that very threat is itself a form of control that our greatly expanded version of domestic violence is supposed to prohibit.  Needless to say, that's an interesting point.  The ease with which TROs are issued against men and the power of false allegations are in fact a terribly real form of domestic abuse. My two cents consisted in part of discussing the inroads into constitutional rights made by domestic violence law.  The fact that the Fourth Amendment requires a finding of probable cause before a search or arrest can be carried out is routinely cast aside in favor of unsubstantiated claims. Add to that the fact that supposed DV perpetrators are often brought to trial based on something as insubstantial as the recording of a 911 call.  That's one of the results of no-drop policies of district attorneys in cases in which domestic violence is alleged.  In those cases, the accuser has changed her mind and seeks to withdraw her complaint, but ADAs go ahead anyway. Now, there's a little matter of the Sixth Amendment to reckon with.  That Amendment requires that anyone accused of a crime has the right to confront his/her accuser.  As a practical matter, that means the accuser must be brought into court for cross-examination.  Needless to say, you can't cross-examine a tape recording. Lisa Scott pointed out that, however violative of the Sixth Amendment that might be, since most cases are plea-bargained, the mere threat of prosecution - even one based on something as shaky as a 911 call - is often enough to force a defendant's hand. She rightly said that men faced with plea-bargaining to a lesser offense or risking a trial have a daunting decision to make.  Conviction can often mean not only prison but loss of kids, job and more.  Given the fact that few such men can afford the type of drawn-out representation required to not only try a case but possibly appeal a conviction, the results of a charge based even on flimsy evidence are not hard to imagine. Domestic violence is a serious problem in the United States.  That's why understanding it correctly and addressing it effectively are important.  Sadly, since the early 1970s, we've gotten almost everything about DV wrong.  That's because we trusted a radical political ideology to inform us on the subject.  Not surprisingly, that ideology led us down the wrong path. Now, after almost 40 years of federal and state funding, interests that believe in preserving the status quo have become entrenched and unseating them will not be easy.  But more and more, people are coming to realize that what we've been doing isn't working.  It's a waste of public money because it was always based on numerous flawed concepts. Among those are that only men commit DV or that when women do it's only in self defense.  Then there's the claim that women's DV doesn't hurt men and that women don't seek to control men by their violence. How to deal with offenders is likewise flawed.  Mental health professionals actually have some very good ideas about how to deal with perpetrators, but for the DV establishment all that is irrelevant because it fails to embrace the political notion that men abuse women out of a need to maintain a misogynistic patriarchy.  Mandatory arrest of "primary aggressors" is similarly flawed because it too seeks to ignore women who commit DV. The conflation of all domestic violence with "battering" is another favorite misconception the DV establishment is glad to perpetuate.  Time and again we find that the vast majority of what's called domestic violence is either entirely non-injurious or results in no more than "a minor cut or bruise," to quote a recent study by the government of Scotland.  In that study, 80% of incidents resulted in either no injury or only a minor one, in short, a far cry from "battering." I could go on, but suffice it to say that little that we do or say about domestic violence is calculated to sensibly confront that very real problem. But many people outside the DV establishment are fighting back.  We read about it in newspapers, in academic studies and the Internet, and hear about it on television and the radio.  Slowly but surely the worm is turning.

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Update 6/10/11: Governor Kasich signs HB 121.

Update 6/1/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio Senate, goes to Governor Kasich for his signature. An emergency clause has been attached to the bill, so instead of waiting 90 days for it to become law, it will take effect immediately after it is signed.

Update 5/10/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio House of Representatives.

Update 4/13/11: HB 121 passes Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee.

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Fathers and Families of Ohio supports HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year.

F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin laid out the case for HB 121 in the Columbus Dispatch -- see his op-ed column Custody agreements should survive deployments (4/6/11).

In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:

...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...

The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.

In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this.

The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone.

More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face.

No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.

Read Hubin's full piece here.

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