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Child support demands don't get much more outrageous than model Linda Evangelista's.  As the whole world knows by now, she's gone to court to demand $46,000 per month for one child fathered by Francois-Henri Pinault.  He's the CEO of the conglomerate that owns Gucci, Yves St. Laurent and Bottega Veneta and reportedly received compensation of $5.3 million last year. So whatever the judge ends up awarding Evangelista, Pinault can afford it.  By the same token, Evangelista is reported to be worth about $8 million (I'm surprised it's not more), and earned $1.8 million last year, so if Pinault never paid a dime, his son would want for nothing material. But as this article explains, in New York, where the case is pending, child support isn't calculated on the earnings of the spouses who bring home more than $130,000 annually (Huffington Post, 8/10/11).  It's calculated on the needs of the child.  That makes sense because it avoids the type of outrageous child support awards Evangelista is seeking. Reading between the lines, it's easy to conclude that Evangelista's main goal in the child support squabble is to cash in.  After all, this is the same Linda Evangelista who famously said that she doesn't "get out of bed for $10,000," leading the tactless among us to wonder what she goes to bed for.  Now we know. Lawyers for Pinault took Evangelista's deposition and inquired what a small child could possibly need with $46,000 per month.  Her answer included several round-the-clock nannies and a couple of armed chauffeurs.
During a lengthy deposition last Tuesday, Pinault's lawyer grilled her on just why she needs a team of heat-packing drivers who are former police detectives - at a cost of $175,000 a year. Evangelista also wants $80,000 a year for a nanny, Pinault lawyer David Aaronson complained to the judge.
Now think about the work requirements of a highly sought-after model.  How much time does she actually spend - you know - at work?  The answer is bound to be "not much."  She certainly doesn't work 9 AM - 5 PM the way so many parents do.  My guess is that she's actually on the job only sporadically, but it seems that's not all there is to being a super model.
"How many hours a week do you work?" the judge asked the model at one point.
"On days when I do not work, I am working on my image," Evangelista answered, her voice soft, and tinged with defensiveness. "I have to hit the gym. I have beauty appointments. I have to work toward my next job and maintaining my image," she said, "just like an athlete."
Well, that's one way to work on one's image and doubtless necessary to a model.  Another way of working on one's image would be to try to avoid appearing like one was attempting to use the birth of a child to cash in.  But that's the kind of image with which Evangelista seems less concerned. And speaking of motherhood, Evangelista also provided this gem in her deposition:
"She testified that she wants to have a 24-hour nanny because she does not want to be alone with the child..."
Yes, that does make being a mother more difficult.  It also makes us wonder why she had the child in the first place.  Lots of mothers and fathers value that time alone with a newborn more than just about anything, but not Evangelista.  She wants the money.  The kid?  Not so much. All of that is tawdry beyond even what we've come to expect from wealthy and privileged celebrities.  But the linked-to article is even more so, seeking to justify the whole thing.  And that's particularly strange given the fact that the writer understands that child support in the case won't be based on the earnings of the parents.
New York law states that in high income cases where parental income exceeds $130,000, as in this case, an award of child support should be based on the child's actual needs and the amount required for the child to live an appropriate lifestyle.
But the writer, Evangeline Gomez, conflates the needs of the child with those of the mother.  To Gomez, round-the-clock nannies for a mother who doesn't want to be alone with the child is perfectly reasonable, even though she grudgingly admits that armed chauffeurs may be less so. Face it, no child with competent parents needs a nanny 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, much less armed guards.  Courts rightly expect parents to spend some time doing what parents do - taking care of the child.  Evangelista seems not to want to do that, which strongly suggests the case should be more about who gets custody that the amount of child support to be paid. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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[caption id="attachment_18669" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Sacramento attorney Nabil Samaan told Fox News his brother "did the right thing" in murdering his niece during family court dispute."]samaan[/caption] [caption id="attachment_18676" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Two-year-old Madeline Layla Samaan-Fay, killed by her father in an apparent murder suicide."]madeline-layla-samaan-fay[/caption] In a horrific act, Mourad "Moni' Samaan apparently killed his two-year-old daughter Madeline Layla Samaan-Fay in a murder-suicide. Samaan had been involved in a child custody dispute with Marcia Fay, a prominent deputy to state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Samaan disappeared with his daughter after an August 7 visit, leading to a statewide AMBER alert. Their bodies were found inside an SUV, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. Outrageously, Moni Samaan's brother Nabil Samaan, a Sacramento attorney, told Fox News, "I think he did the right thing. I"m proud of him.' Fox TV reporter Chris Biele, to his credit, gave Nabil Samaan a chance to correct or retract his outrageous statement, but Samaan refused, instead reiterating it and saying "I think justice was done." Fathers and Families condemns both Moni Samaan's horrendous murder of his child and also Nabil Samaan's despicable defense of his brother's actions. Nabil Samaan says his brother was mistreated in family court and child custody matters. However:

1) Nothing ever could come close to justifying what Moni Samaan did to his daughter.

2) It is questionable whether Moni Samaan was, in fact, mistreated in family court.

It is absolutely true that many California fathers are manhandled in family court, often cut off from their children, punished without evidence on spurious abuse claims, and bankrupted by confiscatory financial orders and demands. However, Moni Samaan had a decent child custody arrangement, apparently over 30% physical time. In the end he was stripped of all parenting time with his child for a perfectly good reason--he repeatedly disappeared with the girl when it was time to bring her back, violating the court order and causing the girl's mother much stress and worry. Tragically, the mother had every reason to worry. The Center for Judicial Excellence is now involved in the case--see the Capitol Weekly piece here. The CJE works to drive recognition of Parental Alienation out of the family court system and encourage courts to uncritically accept mothers' abuse allegations. We laid out the problems with the CJE and its allies position in our Capitol Weekly column Preventing courts from considering parental alienation will harm kids (2/25/10). The CJE is one of our main political opponents, and we were instrumental in blocking two of their bills last year--to learn more, click here. The CJE also stereotypes fathers as abusers and killers, ignoring the well-documented fact that the vast majority of parental murders of children and child abuse are committed by mothers, not fathers. However, in this case it must be said that the CJE is correct in condemning and making an issue of Nabil Samaan's despicable comments. The case is also being discussed in the American Bar Association Journal here. [Late Note: Nabil Samaan has now issued a statement retracting his previous comments.]

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The rise in single-father-headed households shows a trend toward greater custody for dads. The 2010 census shows that single-father-headed households with children increased 27% in the decade from 2000 to 2010.  That's still a small minority of households overall - only 8% of the total, and single-mother-headed households increased as well, but only slightly. I suspect that the increase in households headed by single mothers has a variety of causes, while those with single fathers has essentially only one - greater success in family courts.  That's because mothers can and do bear children out of wedlock and simply keep the child from the father.  They do that via court proceedings to gain custody of course, but also through other expedients such as not telling him about the child, moving away, etc.  Fathers don't have those options.  With a couple of minor exceptions, the only way an unmarried dad is going to get custody of a child is through proceedings in court. So the increase in single-father households is likely a function of greater willingness of courts to grant primary custody to fathers coupled with a greater realization on the part of fathers that caring for children is something they can and want to do. That's certainly brought out by this article on the census data (Bloomberg, 7/25/11).
Joe Cioffi, a physician from Fairfield, Connecticut, settled for visitation rights to his son after he and the boy"s mother split up. Soon, he decided that wasn"t enough, so he spent four years struggling to win primary custody.
"Why should I be the underdog here?' Cioffi, 59, said of his clash with his former girlfriend. "I"m a professional. I pay my bills. I"m not a criminal. I"m home at night. So we played hardball.'
As a physician, Cioffi is probably better suited than most to play hardball in family court.  Less well-heeled guys are pretty well stuck with the same old arrangement - she gets primary custody, he gets two days every two weeks visitation and pays child support.  But Cioffi and fathers in his income bracket aren't the only ones getting primary custody.  The 8% of single fathers with custody of children has a far more diverse demography.
"It"s time for us to stop assuming that single parents are always women,' said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "There is a visible presence now of single men caring for their kids. We didn"t see that a few decades ago.' 
Cherlin is a highly respected sociologist who's been studying and writing about family dynamics for many years.  And family law professor Margaret Brinig agrees with him.  Brinig has done some of the most important analyses of divorce and custody data in the country.
As fathers have gotten more involved in the lives of their children and mothers have increasingly entered the workforce, it has become less unusual for fathers to seek and gain custody.
"If the dad is really interested in getting custody and wants to have a relationship with his kids, he is far more successful than he was 20 years ago,' said Margaret Brinig, a family law professor at the University of Notre Dame.
All that shows a small trend toward the realization by courts, fathers and mothers that paternal custody should be judged by the same standards as maternal custody.  That's been brought about by more and more women in the workplace who often outearn their male partners and by the growing realization among men that fatherhood is both an honorable calling and one they're good at. But it's just a trend in that direction.  We're a long way from where we need to be.  Up to date data from many sources, such as that compiled yearly by Washington State, show that fathers still struggle to achieve in court what even inadequate mothers would be insulted by.  The Washington statistics show that from year to year, women overwhelmingly receive primary custody and the rate of their doing so actually goes up when men contest the matter. Brinig apparently has recently studied what happened in Oregon in the five years after that state passed a law mandating a presumption of joint physical custody in 1997.  The results have been good - or not - depending on your point of view.
A recently published analysis of Oregon divorce records by Brinig showed that sole custody awarded to mothers dropped to 51 percent from 68 percent in the five years after the law took effect.
That's an improvement of course, but the fact that over half of all cases still resulted in sole (i.e. in which dad has no contact) custody for mothers means there's nothing like equality in family courts.  And keep in mind, that's in a state with a presumption of joint physical custody.  Either the judges can't read or the law provides ample opportunity for mothers and judges to rebut the presumption. As I've said before, we can change all the laws we want, but until we change misandric mindsets, children will still go without fathers courtesy of family courts that loudly proclaim they act "in the best interests of children." The data that tell us there's a trend toward greater paternal custody of children are building up.  That's a good thing because it indicates a greater willingness of courts to honor fathers as caregivers.  But let's not lose sight of the fact that the real goal should be equally shared parenting by mothers and fathers.  Whichever sex has primary custody and whichever one has visitation, it's that system that shortchanges kids.  Substituting fathers for mothers as the primary custodian still marginalizes one parent in the child's life.  That's not what we should be aiming for.  We need to scrap the system of primary parent/visitor in favor of keeping both parents actively involved in children's lives post-divorce.

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An Oregon law, designed to promote shared custody, accomplished the opposite. That's one of the many findings of a recently published analysis of custody outcomes in Oregon following the passage of custody legislation in 1997.  The study by economist Douglas Allen and family law professor Margaret Brinig appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.  Unfortunately I can't provide a link. Anyone interested in advancing the cause of fathers' rights and family court reform should read the Allen and Brinig analysis.  It shows clearly that sensible family court reform will never come without sensible reform of domestic violence laws. In 1997, the State of Oregon passed legislation designed to reduce acrimony in child custody litigation and to increase shared parenting post-divorce.
Before 1997, Oregon"s divorce law regarding custody was fairly typical. It provided for joint legal custody (shared decision making) in the vast majority of cases and physical custody awards "in the best interests of the child.' Although joint physical placement was a possibility, it was not favored. The legislation amending the statute, 1997 Oregon Laws Ch. 707 (S.B. 243), shows the change in emphasis.
The court may hold a hearing to decide the custody issue prior to any other issues. When appropriate, the court shall recognize the value of close contact with both parents and encourage joint parental custody and joint responsibility for the welfare of the children.
The amendments went on to encourage mediation of custody disputes.  But the preference for both mediation and joint custody was negated in the law by allegations of domestic abuse. Allen and Brinig gained access to all divorce and custody records in the state beginning three years before the change in the law and five years afterward.  They randomly selected 500 cases for each year totalling 4,000 that were winnowed down to a little over 3,800.  The authors' goal was to learn the effects of the new law on parental behavior in custody matters.  The results, for many of the variables studied, are not what the authors - or the state legislature - expected. Here's how the authors describe their findings generally:
This article has empirically examined a change in custody rules, and has shown that this legislation did influence behavior on several margins, mostly in ways one might expect. In particular, the movement toward joint custody had real effects on custody awards, the use of mediators, and divorce proceedings. Paradoxically, many changes were not those sought by the legislation"s proponents, who sought more equal parenting in the context of less acrimonious and less costly divorces and mediated solutions. Rather, the legislation created incentives that led to more dragged out and acrimonious divorces and no more equal parenting.
The reason for the perverse outcomes of the law can be stated in four words - claims of domestic abuse.  Because domestic abuse was included in the law as the card that trumped all its other requirements, claims of abuse were used to thwart its overarching goals of more equal parenting, shorter divorce proceedings and less acrimony in the process. The authors identify some changes that are attributable to the new law.  For example, before 1997, sole maternal custody was granted in an average of 66% of cases.  After the law changed, that dropped to an average of 59% of cases.  That drop in sole maternal custody was mirrored by an increase in sole paternal custody, but the number of cases was much smaller.  Sole paternal custody increased from 8% of cases before, to 10% after the statutory change. Meanwhile, shared custody remained statistically unchanged.  Split custody (in which each parent gets sole custody of one or more children) increased from 2% to 3%. The authors explain:
Whereas split custody decisions were declining over time, they start to increase after the legal change. Ironically, and perhaps most surprising, the effect on joint parenting shown in Regression (3) shows there was effectively no change that can be attributed to the law. Thus, the joint parenting law altered custody, but this came through changes in sole and split custody. This result is quite surprising.
So the law that was aimed at greater shared parenting missed the target.  In fact, it simply replaced a bit of sole maternal custody with a bit of sole paternal custody and tossed in some split custody for good measure. Likewise, the length of time it took to finalize a custody case increased. And all of that can be laid at the feet of the universal "out clause," i.e. claims of domestic violence. The authors note that the law's goal of greater joint custody was in fact a threat to mothers who received the overwhelming share of parenting time prior to the change in the law.  They had the most to lose and therefore were overwhelmingly the ones to file claims of abuse (91% before, 82% after 1997), although fathers filed abuse claims as well in an attempt to get sole custody. Overall, claims of abuse rose significantly and false claims doubled from 3% of all cases to 6%.  (The authors defined a false claim as one that was made, but for which no order was made.)  The increase in claims resulted in a "dramatically increasing" number of protective orders after the change in the law.
The bottom line is more divorce cases contained more accusations of domestic violence abuse, and these cases were revisited more often, after the introduction of joint parenting.
One of the hypotheses tested by Allen and Brinig asked whether, faced with the new law, mothers would simply trade decreased child or spousal support for maintaining their pre-1997 level of custody.  That proved not to be so.  There was little or no change in levels of child and spousal support suggesting that mothers preferred to use the abuse exception to maintain both the money and the kids. Here is the author's summary of the new law's effects:
1. A fall in sole custody to mothers, a rise in sole custody to fathers, and surprisingly, little change in joint custody. 2. A strong and significant change in the percentage of mediated divorces. 3. No significant change in the raw number of spousal support motions or in the dollar awards of spousal or child support. 4. A decrease in the speed of divorce. That is, divorces happened later after separation. 5. An increase in the number of abuse actions filed, particularly by wives. These abuse actions led to an increase in court no-contact orders, though not by as much as the increase in claims. The accusations were made by both the husband and wife, and were more likely to be repeat allegations.
Taken together, the results paint the following picture. The change in joint parenting law transferred custody rights to fathers who were able to use them to increase sole and split custody. There is no evidence that mothers bought these rights back through reduced support. In addition, the "abuse' escape clause, although utilized by both parents, was mostly wielded by wives. Thus, at least over the first five years of the law, the formal transfer of legal rights led to more disputes in settling the divorce, leading to longer divorces. Our evidence suggests this increase in the length of trial comes from increased accusations of abuse and battles over custody of children.
In short, laws intended to increase joint parenting will fail if they include the all-purpose domestic abuse "escape valve,"  and they all do.  That points toward a direction that family court reformers must follow - the reform of domestic violence laws and the use of DV claims in custody litigation. Domestic violence allegations will likely always play a part in child custody disputes, so the goal must be to make them function in a non-biased and sensible way.  Non-biased means that allegations by men and women must be treated with equal respect.  Among other things, Allen and Brinig's study strongly suggests that they weren't by Oregon courts during the eight years studied. Second, DV allegations must be subjected to some reasonable level of judicial scrutiny.  That is, reliable evidence must be required for a finding of actual physical violence.  As long as mere allegations of placing a parent "in fear" can be used to deprive a child of its father, family court reform is a dead letter. We've known the pernicious effects of domestic violence allegations for many years.  This study shows plainly that the battle for family court reform will be fought on the field of domestic violence.

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Fathers and Families of Ohio is holding membership meetings throughout Ohio next week, and we want you there. We're lobbying for shared parenting and other family court reforms in Ohio, and publicizing the injustices faced by tens of thousands of Ohio noncustodial parents and their children. Be a part of it by attending the meeting in your area:

Cincinnati Monday, September 12th 6:00 – 7:45 P.M. Wyoming Branch Library 500 Springfield Pike Cincinnati, Ohio 45215

Cleveland Area Thursday, September 15, 2011 5:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M. Holiday Inn 6001 Rockside Road Independence, Ohio  44131

Columbus Monday, September 19th 7:00– 9:00 P.M. Motorists Mutual Insurance Building 471 East Broad Street Columbus, Ohio 43215 We're looking forward to seeing you there---please let us know which of the meetings you will be attending by emailing us at [email protected] or calling us at (617) 542-9300.

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The Editorial Board of the Indianapolis Star has published an editorial sympathetic to the plight of embattled child support obligors and noncustodial parents---we suggest you write a supportive Letter to the Editor by clicking here or comment online by clicking here. The editorial, Amnesty's the right call, states:

It's easy to write off a noncustodial parent who fails to pay child support as a deadbeat who ought to be hauled into court and perhaps off to jail. But the sad fact is, too many don't pay because they can't pay; and prosecution often serves only to make it tougher on kids and taxpayers alike.

That's dead-on, and is similar to what Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS told the Star in their recent piece Those who owe child support get a break (Indianapolis Star, 8/18/11). In the piece, Holstein explains that state laws on delinquent parents are counterproductive and unfairly punish poor parents:

It turns poor fathers into fugitives who have to work in the underground economy and keep moving, and Mom doesn't get anything because of it. They'll go after a guy who is making minimum wage, trying his best but only making 80 percent of the payment.

The editorial notes:

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry has struck a blow for common sense with his new amnesty program for some parents who have fallen behind. Better yet, the initiative reflects a fundamental change in approach toward the huge task of filling the support gap.

"The old philosophy was, 'I'm the prosecutor, I'm just going to hammer everyone equally,' " says Deputy Prosecutor John Owens. "That's not effective today."

Especially with a depressed job market. Especially given the fact that a large proportion of the approximately 76,000 child support cases now before the prosecutor's office involve ex-offenders, who not only find employment hard to find but also face probation and community corrections fees in many instances. Their fragile freedom and finances can't withstand court trouble over nonsupport...

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In Australia, a sperm-donor/hands-on dad's parental rights have been terminated in favor of those of a lesbian mother with no biological relationship to the child.  Read about it here (Daily Telegraph, 8/20/11). The pseudonymous John Williams met two lesbian women 12 years ago.  He wanted to be a father to a child and they needed a sperm donor to conceive one.  So Williams agreed to be the sperm donor and ten years ago, one of the women gave birth to his daughter. Williams was there at the birth and his name was on the birth certificate as father.  He helped pay the costs of pregnancy and childbirth.  He's had court-ordered visitation with the girl ever since, which he's never missed in ten years.  He's paid child support every week for ten years.  He pays the fees for her private school which sends him her report cards regularly.  The girl calls him "Daddy."
He even bought a second house near his daughter's school so that his 88-year-old mother could see her only granddaughter.
He tried to fit with the restrictive dietary regime demanded by her mothers, with vegan meals every two hours, Chinese herbs, homeopathic salts, kombu seaweed, miso, cashew nut butter, spelt bread and supplements.
But no more.  All of that changed recently due to a law passed in 2008 granting lesbian women parental rights.  Somehow that's meant that Williams is no longer considered the father of his daughter, the girl who looks like him, who has his eyes and whom he's helped raise for all of her 10 years.
Yet the District Court judgement this week expunged sperm donor John Williams (not his real name) from his 10-year-old daughter's birth certificate.
The girl now officially has two mothers - the biological mother and her estranged lesbian partner. But by law she has no father, thanks to the introduction in 2008 of retrospective NSW legislation giving lesbian couples equal parent status.
"It's terrible. It's a nightmare. It's just about killing me," said Mr Williams, sitting on his daughter's neatly made bed in his inner-west home yesterday...
"I'm told by the law that she's no longer my daughter and I'm no longer her father," he said.
That's true despite the fact that the two women have split up.  So the law giving lesbian women parental rights somehow has been read to mean that fathers in Williams' place have none. To say the least, it's a strange outcome.  Here's a guy who's done everything right.  He's done everything we say dads should do and none of the things we say dads shouldn't do.  He's been an active, hands-on, loving father for ten years, plus he's the girl's biological dad.  But for some reason, a law giving lesbian women parental rights cuts him out of his daughter's life. Now, elsewhere in family law, children have more than two parents.  It comes about when Mom and Dad divorce and one or both remarry.  The child all of a sudden acquires a new parent or possibly two.  It's called divorce and remarriage, it's common as dirt, and no one thinks twice about it. So why can't the same thing happen in Williams' case?  After all, the non-biological mother who's no longer with the biological mom seems to have visitation rights, so why can't Williams.  As a matter of fact, that same non-biological mother has a new partner, so yet another mother has been added to the child's life.  But for reasons I can only guess at, John Williams is the only person in the whole drama with no rights and no contact with his daughter. And speaking of the child, where is the usual inquiry into the "best interests of the child?"  Apparently the court made none, which is interesting.  That inquiry is almost invariably made in custody matters, and fathers like Williams often benefit from it.  Imagine a straight father and straight mother involved in a custody dispute.  He's done everything Williams has done and there are no allegations of violence against him.  He may not get primary custody, but he'd surely not lose his rights altogether.  Indeed, the court would probably opine that it's in the child's best interests to maintain an active loving relationship with her father.  And that would unquestionably be true. So why not here?
"I just hope that one day, maybe when she's about 15 she'll want her father and she'll come to my door and say 'Daddy I don't want to live with that mother any more'. And when that day comes I won't be sending her back."
Mr Williams has written to Attorney-General Greg Smith asking the state government to amend the law to uphold father's rights.
Mr Smith is on leave but his spokesman said yesterday: "We are considering the judgment."
Fathers and Families has always actively supported the parental rights of gay men and lesbian women.  We'll continue to do that.  But I can think of no reason why parental rights for those groups should be interpreted to lessen the parental rights of fathers, gay or straight.

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Once again the Utah Supreme Court has approved the theft of a father's child in the guise of adoption.  Here's the court's opinion. I've reported on this case before, but now it's final.  John Wyatt will never see his daughter.  He will never see her because little Emily's mother decided he shouldn't.   Secretly working hand-in-glove with a notorious Utah adoption lawyer and an adoption agency, she signed away her rights and the child was spirited out of state before Wyatt got wind of where his newborn child was. That all happened in Virginia where Wyatt and his girlfriend Colleen Fahland lived when they were together and where little Emily was conceived.  They never married, but Wyatt told Fahland from the very first that he wanted her to carry the child to term and the two of them to raise it. And Fahland agreed.  But privately she was making other plans.  At some point, she began contacting adoption agencies.  How she hit on one in Utah is anyone's guess, but however she did it, it was a stroke of genius.  That's because no state in the nation goes to such lengths to deny an unmarried father his parental rights when someone wants to adopt his child. Wyatt had no idea Fahland had backed out on their agreement to keep and raise the child.  But shortly before her due date, Fahland started seeming very distant.  She stopped answering his calls and Wyatt was unable to find her at all as the day drew near.  She refused to tell him which hospital she was going to for her delivery, and Wyatt, desperate to find out and sensing something was amiss, called every hospital in the area. Even when he found the correct one, apparently, the hospital personnel lied to him saying no one by the name of Colleen Fahland had been admitted there.  By then Wyatt was too late.  She and little Emily had already checked out for an appointment at a nearby hotel room with the adoption attorney from Utah, a representative of the agency and the adoptive parents. Two days later, all but Fahland were winging their way to Utah and Wyatt was still wondering where his child was.  He went immediately to a Virginia lawyer and five days later filed his suit asserting his paternity in Virginia court.  There he was adjudicated the father of the child and given custodial rights.  And that, as they say, was worth the paper it was written on. John Wyatt's child was in Utah in the possession of adoptive parents, and when that happens to an unmarried father, he can kiss his child goodbye - or could if he could get near her. Just to be clear about what happened,  Colleen Fahland lied to John Wyatt about keeping and raising the baby.  Everything she did she did in secret for the sole purpose of denying Wyatt's child to him.  The adoption agency, the adoption lawyer, the adoptive parents and various Utah courts all abetted her lies, her secrecy and her desire to cut a fit father out of the life of his child forever.  All gave their stamp of approval to her exercise of complete control over John Wyatt's supposed parental rights. The legal rationale, as expressed by the trial court and the Utah Supreme Court is quite straightforward.  (The Supreme Court's opinion is 53 pages long, but 95% of that deals with an issue that wasn't even raised at the trial level, leaving one to wonder why they're dealing with it at all, but there it is.)  The part of the opinion that denies Wyatt his child runs to a page and a half. The law in Utah is perfectly clear.
[P]rior to the mother"s consent to adoption, the father must have "fully complied with the requirements to establish parental rights in the child, and to preserve the right to notice of a proceeding in connection with the adoption of the child,' of the state where the child was conceived or the last state where he knew that the mother resided.
In other words, John Wyatt, who knew nothing about Fahland's intention to place the child for adoption, had to have gone to court filed a paternity action, filed a form with the state's putative father registry, gotten a DNA test proving his paternity of a child not yet born and received a court order establishing his paternity of the child.  Failure to do all those things, while ignorant of Fahland's intentions, meant that in Utah, he had no right to contest the adoption of his child. Never mind that his failure to do those things was brought about solely by Fahland's fraud.  Never mind that the man had no reason to know Utah adoption law and no reason to think it had anything to do with him or his child.  Never mind that the Utah statute is an open invitation to theft of children by mothers who, for their own reasons, have decided the father of their child should be removed from its life. And of course never mind the fact that the Utah statute treats unmarried fathers differently from unmarried mothers and married fathers. And never mind the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of children throughout this country who actually need adopting, but who won't get adoptive parents.  They won't get them because there are too few adoptive parents (about 125,000 per year) and too many children without parents (about 425,000 at any given time).  Little Emily had a fit father who was eager to be her dad, but he can't be because Colleen Fahland so decreed.  In so doing, she and the rest of her enablers denied loving adoptive parents to one of those 425,000 children. Oh, and never mind the fact that Colleen Fahland later changed her mind and now regrets what she did. No, in Utah, all of that stands aside for the mother's power to decide a father's rights and for the power of the adoption industry in that state.

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tennessean"'The appeals court could have found a reason to award damages to Chad if it cared to, but it didn"t,' said Dr. Ned Holstein, a physician and founder of Boston-based family court reform organization Fathers and Families. 'This father is deserving of being made whole based on the deception he has suffered and the harm to him.'' Brandon Gee of the Nashville Tennessean wrote a detailed piece concerning a paternity fraud case currently before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The case pits duped dad Chad Craig against Tina Marie Hodge, the mother of a son who she told Craig was his. In TN high court to set limits for paternity fraud suits (8/21), Gee writes:

Five years ago, Chad Craig learned a painful truth. The 14-year-old boy living under his roof was, in fact, another man"s son.

Having grown suspicious of his son"s evolving appearance, Craig swabbed the boy"s cheek as he slept and sent the sample off for a DNA analysis. While the results confirmed his fear, he didn"t share the results with the boy, Kyle, who is now 19, and hoped to continue their relationship. He did tell his ex-wife and Kyle"s mother, however, and when Tina Marie Hodge spilled the news, Kyle decided to move out of Craig"s house and back in with his mother...

At issue is whether Craig can sue Hodge for fraud and damages for allegedly assuring him when she got pregnant in 1991 that the child was his, while also withholding the fact that she had recently had sex with another man, Joey Hay, who is Kyle"s biological father. The case asks Tennessee"s high court, for the first time, if it should create a cause of action for so-called "paternity fraud,' or decide that it"s not the courts" role to remedy such betrayals.

In 2009, a Maury County judge ruled in Craig"s favor and awarded him $26,400 for child support and medical expenses he paid between the couple"s divorce in 2001 and Kyle"s decision to move in with Craig in 2005; $8,500 in attorney fees; and $100,000 "for the emotional distress suffered by (Craig) because of the fraud, intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation of' Hodge. Craig claimed he never would have gotten married shortly after high school, taken certain jobs, gotten a vasectomy and made various other life decisions had he known the child was not his...

Last year, the state Court of Appeals agreed that Hodge committed fraud but struck down Craig"s awards, ruling that the reimbursement for child support and medical expenses is barred by a state law that does not allow valid child support orders to be retroactively modified. The $100,000 award for emotional distress also was struck down on the basis that noneconomic damages are not allowed for a claim of misrepresentation.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Craig isn"t disputing the reversal of the $100,000 award for emotional distress but argues that the smaller award did not constitute the retroactive modification of a child support order, but was simply a calculation of damages based on Hodge"s conduct.

"The appeals court could have found a reason to award damages to Chad if it cared to, but it didn"t,' said Dr. Ned Holstein, a physician and founder of Boston-based family court reform organization Fathers & Families. "This father is deserving of being made whole based on the deception he has suffered and the harm to him.'

Others say the issue is not as simple as it seems. For instance, while Holstein believes it"s obvious that Hodge should compensate Craig, Nashville family lawyer Jeffrey Levy notes that child support payments are for the benefit of a child, not the spouse receiving them, so basing a damage award on past child support payments could be viewed as punishing an innocent party...

Nashville family lawyer Karla Hewitt, however, said Craig and similarly situated fathers share some of the blame and shouldn"t wait years to raise questions.

"I mean, he obviously had doubts about the child"s parentage, or he wouldn"t have asked the mother if she was sure it was his,' Hewitt said. "He should have marched right down to the lab when the baby was born and gotten the DNA test. I think he sat on his rights in that regard.

"There should be some responsibility on the part of the father to look into his suspicions by having a DNA test done before the child is raised as his own and obviously has some serious emotional issues as a result.'

Some advocates are citing the gut-wrenching case between Hodge and Craig as evidence that supports calls for mandatory DNA testing of supposed fathers at childbirth to leave no doubt about paternity and avoid anguish down the road.

Rosenburg is in this camp. Holstein supports such tests, too, but only in cases of children born out of wedlock.

"Use science to solve an age-old problem,' Holstein urged. "We have a scientific tool, and we have had it for 15 years, and it"s not being used to its full effect. ... Look at all the heartache that has resulted (from this case).'

We suggest you write a Letter to the Editor of the Tennessean by clicking here and also comment on the piece by clicking here. Fathers and Families and its allies and partners have for many years helped take the lead in paternity fraud reform nationwide. We have:
  • Helped pass paternity fraud legislation (AB 252 and SB 1333) which allows California child support obligors to use DNA evidence to set aside false paternity judgments and the concomitant child support orders
  • Helped spearhead a successful campaign to counter the County of Los Angeles" California Supreme Court petition to  depublish the historic Navarro decision. Navarro was the first published case to hold that the statute of limitations did not apply in setting aside an old default judgment against a paternity fraud victim.
  • Garnered extensive media attention for the issue, doing many radio and TV interviews on the problem and publishing opinion columns on paternity fraud in the Orange County Register, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit News, the Washington Times, and others.
  • Helped introduce a California bill (SB 375) to help "duped dads' free themselves from being forced to pay 18 years of child support for other men"s children and crack open the current, restrictive time limit for challenging paternity. To learn more, see our Los Angeles Daily News column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (6/2/11).
  • Helped introduce a California bill (SB 377) to end the abusive practice of coercing boys under the age of 18 into signing legally binding paternity declarations without parental consent or legal counsel.
  • Worked with the Massachusetts Medical Society to introduce and co-sponsor paternity fraud legislation in Massachusetts.
  • Recruited many prominent physicians to endorse DNA testing to determine correct paternity.

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Should states restrict divorce?  Currently all 50 states have some form of no-fault divorce, but many people point to that as perhaps the single greatest cause of family breakdown over the past 40 years.  Moreover, in this time of ever-tighter state and federal budgets, restricting divorce and the multitude of state employees that go along with it would be a huge cost saver. Those are some of the points raised in this article (Washington Times, 8/15/11).
The average split costs a couple $2,500. A new single-parent family with children can cost the government $20,000 to $30,000 a year. That"s $33 billion to $112 billion a year total in divorce-related social-service subsidies and lost revenue.
Just where those numbers come from is anyone's guess.  Mine is that they wouldn't stand up to much scrutiny, so take them with a grain of salt. Whatever the case, organizations promoting divorce reform have seized on the idea of tight budgets to promote their ideas.
The country is "absolutely' ready for divorce reform, said Chris Gersten, founder and chairman of the nonpartisan Coalition for Divorce Reform.
If states pass the coalition"s legislative model that aims at cutting divorce rates by a third in five years, "the savings to taxpayers will be pretty dramatic,' he said.
Even a "modest reduction' in the U.S. divorce rate likely would benefit 400,000 children and save taxpayers significant sums, wrote retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and University of Minnesota professor William J. Doherty, proponents of a new "Second Chances' divorce reform.
"We have to rethink this ‘easy-to-divorce" strategy,' added Michael McManus, author and founder of Marriage Savers, which promotes a community marriage strategy that has been shown to reduce divorce rates by an average of 17.5 percent.
Americans have consistently supported more restrictive divorce laws. For more than 30 years, the General Social Survey asked Americans if divorce should be "easier or more difficult to obtain than it is now?' The most popular answer is always "more difficult.'
That may be because it can't get much easier, but the point is clear - Americans aren't comfortable with the family breakdown or the ease with which it's accomplished. And that means they're probably smarter than the elites who told us in the 1960s that children would be better off if their parents could split easily.  The theory then was that children would benefit from lower levels of conflict between their parents if the adults could go their separate ways.  Now we know better.  Now we know that divorce itself is harmful to children.
Children of divorce are often stunted economically and can"t seem to work their way into higher-income levels, a 2010 study from Pew Charitable Trusts says.
If the U.S. "enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960,' there would be 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, about 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, about 600,000 few children receiving therapy and 70,000 fewer suicides every year, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in a 2009 paper, referring to research by Pennsylvania State University professors Paul Amato and Alan Booth.
Children of divorce have shorter life spans - by an average of five years - compared to children whose parents didn"t divorce, according to a new study by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.
That longevity data is "the most devastating analysis that we"ve seen … of the impact of divorce on children. They don"t ‘get over it," ' said Mr. Gersten, who was a Department of Health and Human Services official in the George W. Bush administration.
(Brad Wilcox is a highly respected sociologist, and I'm sure he didn't say that divorce reform could save 70,000 suicides a year.  Since about 32,000 people a year commit suicide, that would be impossible.  My guess is it's a typo and that Wilcox actually said 7,000.) So groups pushing for divorce reform are asking state legislatures to take action.
Mr. Gersten"s coalition already has seen a victory: New Mexico state Sen. Mark Boitano introduced the Parental Divorce Reduction Act in this year"s session, and Mr. Gersten expects lawmakers in a dozen states to do so in 2012.
The act requires parents of minor children who are contemplating divorce to first attend six hours of "divorce-reduction' education. They would then enter an eight-month "reflection' period with access to marriage-strengthening materials and workshops. After that, they can go ahead with a divorce, "and we let the lawyers take over,' said Mr. Gersten, who added that couples in certain circumstances, such as domestic violence, would be exempted from the program.
Let's be clear about the real problem with divorce.  If two adults are childless, no one but them should care whether they're married or not.  Divorce may hurt them individually, but no one else.  Who's hurt in a divorce is the child.  Essentially all of the bad data on divorce involves its effects on children.  So any attempt at divorce reform should be aimed solely at couples with children, as the Coalition for Divorce Reform's proposal is. I'm all for the institution of marriage.  There's little doubt that children raised in a marital household with two biological parents tend to do better than any of their peers raised in other situations.  But we've lived for almost 40 years with no-fault divorce and my guess is that people aren't clamoring to be less free than they are now.  Oh, I know people are dissatisfied with the state of marital breakdown, but that doesn't mean they want their freedom to divorce impaired. And it's anything but certain that more restrictive laws will actually cut the divorce rate.  Gersten's group's model legislation calls for education and a period of "reflection."  I don't see that stopping many divorces, although I'd be happy to be proven wrong. More draconian penalties would, I suspect, simply reduce the marriage rate rather than the divorce rate.  To avoid the penalties for divorce people would simply cohabitate, a "cure" that's probably worse than the disease. We'll see how this plays out.  Certainly our willingness to form and dissolve partnerships irrespective of the injury done to children needs to change and indeed, many people have read the writing on the wall and are resisting divorce.  Their stories are mostly anecdotal, but the divorce rate, at least among the better educated, is falling, not rising. As long as we have no-fault divorce, what's needed to soften the blow for children is the assurance that they won't lose one of their parents in the process.  One of the hardest and most injurious aspects of divorce for children is the loss of the non-custodial parent.  Shared parenting legislation that's actually enforced by courts would go a long way toward salving children's wounds when their parents split up. Restricting divorce is well-intentioned, but probably misguided.  We'll see how it goes.  In the next few years, we'll see how open legislatures are to the concept and, more importantly, how well it works at reducing divorce.  If it does, I'll be the first to stand up and cheer. In the meantime, I'll promote shared parenting that'll continue to be necessary regardless of how many divorces there are. Thanks to Don and Ned for the heads-up.

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The Chad Craig/Tina Marie Hodge paternity fraud case is going to the Tennessee Supreme Court.  Read about it here (The Tennesseean, 8/21/11). Back in 1991, Hodge became pregnant and Craig figured the child was his.  But just in case, he asked Hodge and she assured him he was the child's dad.  So Craig did what any responsible father would do; he stood by Hodge and helped raise the boy they named Kyle as his own. Still, when the boy was 14, Craig couldn't resist his growing uncertainty.  The boy just didn't look like him.  So one night as the boy slept, Craig swabbed the inside of his cheek and sent that and a similar swab of his own cheek to a DNA testing laboratory.  Sure enough, the results came back negative; Chad Craig's "son" was not his son. In fact, he'd been fathered by a man named Joey Hay with whom Hodge had had a relationship that she refused to divulge to Craig, even when he asked her.  Craig didn't tell the boy about his discovery, but did tell Hodge who then told Kyle.  To Kyle, that meant he was no longer Craig's son and moved out of his house to live with his mother. Craig sued Hodge for paternity fraud and won in the lower court that awarded him about $26,000 in child support paid and $100,000 for emotional distress.  The appellate court overturned the award saying that the Bradley Amendment foreclosed a recovery of child support because the law prohibits "retroactive modification of a child support order."  The $100,000 award was also struck down because Tennessee law doesn't permit damages for emotional distress to be awarded in cases of misrepresentation.    The linked-to article gives a pretty fair idea of the arguments on all sides of the case.  First, Hodge claims that she didn't commit fraud because she didn't know who the father was.  Both the trial and appellate courts have mad short shrift of that.  The simple fact is that she alone among all people in the world knew with whom she'd had sex.  Therefore she knew who the possible fathers were.  As in any case of fraud, failure to disclose a material fact can be fraudulent.  And failure to tell a man that another man might be the father of the child is, in the words of Tennessee Juvenile Magistrate Scott Rosenburg, a "very material fact." The arguments against a cause of action for paternity fraud just aren't very convincing.  Hodge argues to the Supreme Court what's the law in three states - "that such cases are harmful to the child and too private for courts to deal with." That's just silly.  Courts deal with the most "private" of things all the time, including medical decisions, abortion decisions, religious decisions, etc.  Besides, if there's a legal doctrine that courts shouldn't touch certain areas of human behavior because they're too private, I haven't heard about it. Would such a suit be harmful to a child?  Possibly, but it's a strange set of priorities that promotes the mother's original deception with all its capacity to hurt the child, her husband and her paramour, over the right of a defrauded man to be compensated for the undeniable wrong done to him.
Alaska, Illinois and Kentucky are among the states that have decided paternity fraud is no different than any other fraud and that compensating paternity fraud victims outweighs the potential harm to children.
An Illinois court opinion pointed out that not allowing such cases would be to let deceitful mothers off the hook for lying about a child"s paternity. The court wrote "that public policy does not serve to protect people engaging in' such behavior and that it would not allow a mother "to use her daughter to avoid responsibility for the consequences of her alleged deception.'
There's much to be said after all for honesty and much to be said against dishonesty.  Any state that prohibits a defrauded man from pursuing a civil remedy for the wrong done to him stands on the side of wrong against right.  It stands for lying, fraud and deception against telling the truth.  Moreover, allowing men to sue for paternity fraud would do two of the things civil suits are meant to do - compensate the victim and discourage others from engaging in the wrongful behavior.  That's Magistrate Rosenburg's position, and I agree.
"With this kind of cause of action, maybe everyone will be a lot more careful,' Rosenburg said. "It would almost put an affirmative duty on women to disclose sexual relationships in the period of potential conception. That could be the ultimate outcome of this case.'
It should do exactly that.  Again, it's the woman, and only the woman, who has the information necessary for the men to make informed decisions.  She knows with whom she had sex and they don't.  Therefore if there's any possibility that any of two or more men may be the father, she should be required to say so.  If she does, they can do DNA testing and sort the matter out before years have passed and relationships formed. To do anything else is, once again, to place men's parental rights in the hands of women.  In this case, as in every paternity fraud case, two men and a child have all been hurt for one reason - because Tina Marie Hodge didn't have the moral fiber, the common decency, the simple honesty to tell one simple truth.  "I'm not sure who the father is" may be hard to say, but it sure beats the alternative, as Craig, Hay and the boy can all attest. That brings us to yet another silly argument, that of lawyer Karla Hewitt.
Nashville family lawyer Karla Hewitt, however, said Craig and similarly situated fathers share some of the blame and shouldn"t wait years to raise questions.
"I mean, he obviously had doubts about the child"s parentage, or he wouldn"t have asked the mother if she was sure it was his,' Hewitt said. "He should have marched right down to the lab when the baby was born and gotten the DNA test. I think he sat on his rights in that regard.
No, this is not the man's fault.  This is the mother's fault.  She has the knowledge and a moral (and I'd argue a legal) obligation to divulge facts known only to her.  The idea that the man has an obligation to figure out her deception, but the woman has none to refrain from deceiving is too silly - and, yes, too misandric - to even think about. The final argument that the court of appeals swallowed hook, line and sinker, is that for Craig to recover the amounts he was fraudulently led to pay in child support would be a retroactive modification of a child support order just doesn't make sense.  He's not modifying anything at all.  He's suing for damages for an intentional civil wrong, the way countless people do every day in different circumstances. And that of course is the main point.  For some reason all those opposed to Chad Craig's being compensated for Tina Marie Hodge's 14-year deception of him believe that, for some reason, paternity fraud is different from all other civil wrongs.  They want us to believe that mothers, alone among all other people, should be allowed to lie to men about one of the most important things in their lives - their children.  The Tina Marie Hodges of the world want the law to protect that deception, to create a little zone of safety for them alone in which they're free lie with out consequences. We'll see what the Supreme Court of Tennessee does.  But however this case comes out, the real way to deal with paternity fraud is to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place.  We can do that any time we want to by the simple expedient of genetically testing every child at birth.  That would cost money, but it would save it in the long run by entirely stopping all future paternity fraud and all the litigation that goes with it. Stay tuned.

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Illinois stands poised to enforce visitation orders the same way it enforces child support orders.  A bill, known as the Stephen Watkins Memorial Bill, would become the country's most stringent enforcement mechanism for non-custodial parents, if enacted into law.  The bill has passed the Illinois House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate.  Read about it here (FindLaw, 8/19/11). Stephen Watkins was the non-custodial father who was murdered by his former mother-in-law using his ex-wife's pistol when he went to pick up his daughter for visitation.  Ultimately, a judge awarded visitation rights to Watkins' parents, but mother and child are nowhere to be found.  The mother abducted the child over a year ago and has yet to be located. One of the many problems with the concept of 'visitation' is that courts pretty routinely refuse to enforce the visitation orders they issue.  Generally, a non-custodial parent, 84% of whom are fathers, has to build up a catalogue of visitation interference by the custodial parent.  That usually takes over a year to do.  Then he has to file a motion with the court which, in most jurisdictions is an original filing, meaning it costs in the hundreds of dollars just to file the motion.  He then faces a judge who's often ill-disposed to enforce the order, which results, on the first try, in little more than an admonition to the mother to do better in the future.  If the interference continues, Dad has to jump through the same hoops again and usually on the second or third try, he might get some real enforcement in the form of increased custody or an award of costs and fees against the mother. By then, he may have gone two years without seeing his son or daughter who, if the child is young enough, may barely recognize him.  In other words, the mother's campaign of interference will have accomplished its goal - the alienation of the child.
At present, a non-custodial parent has two options if the custodial parent is not following a court-ordered visitation schedule. The first is to report the visitation interference to the police, as it is a crime, and the State Attorney"s office could then prosecute the parent who is interfering. However, many parents report that police consider this a petty crime and refuse to enforce the law.
The second option for the non-custodial parent is to file a petition for civil contempt and ask for a modification of the visitation order, compensatory visitation, supervised visitation or any other equitable remedy the court deems just. The success that parents have using this method is inconsistent around the state and often results in judges merely dismissing the cases.
That's a sanitized way of saying that convincing a judge to actually enforce a visitation order is like pulling teeth - hard, painful, with a not-very-gratifying result. Of course the parallel order - that of child support - is approached completely differently.  There, the most draconian penalties are meted out to non-custodial parents who are so callous as to lose a job and be unable to pay.  In that case, no punishment is too severe, including prison for those without the money to pay what they owe.
The proposed legislation would bring the penalties for visitation abuse in line with those for failure to pay child support. The bill calls for suspending driver"s and professional licenses of offending parents, as well as fines of $500 for each instance of visitation interference. If the court finds a parent in contempt for visitation interference and the parent commits another offense, the bill allows courts to order the parent to jail or to post a $5,000 bond -- which the parent would lose if he or she committed another offense -- to ensure compliance with the court ordered visitation schedule in the future.
Although the bill passed the House, predictably, it has its opponents many of whom relentlessly parody themselves.
Not everyone is in favor of the bill. The Secretary of State"s office, which currently teams with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to suspend driver"s licenses of those who are delinquent in child support payments, issued a statement opposing the legislation for fear of the expanding role of the office in enforcing the law turning the office into an arm of the police force, unnecessarily burdening the office.
You have to love that last bit, "unnecessarily burdening the office."  Do these people ever pause to notice, as the rest of us do, what they consider necessary and what unnecessary?  Don't they understand that enforcement of visitation is necessary?  As necessary as enforcement of child support?  Apparently they don't. Then there's the part about making the Secretary of State's Office an arm of the police department.  The office is already an arm of the police force in child support matters and no one gripes, but when it comes to lifting a finger for fathers, all of a sudden a different standard applies.  Funny how that works. Maybe someone should let the Secretary of State's Office in on a little secret - non-custodial parents whose visitation isn't obstructed are far more likely to pay child support on time and in full (see, Sanford Braver, Divorced Dads, Shattering the Myths, Taucher/Putnam, 1998).  So enforcing visitation isn't just good for non-custodial parents and their children, it's good for custodial parents and the child support enforcement wing of state government.  You might think that would be important to the very office charged with child support enforcement, but no. Of course none of this would be necessary if family courts would just do what they should have been doing all along - using the power they already have to enforce the orders they issue.  The only reason there's a special bill before the Illinois legislature is the abject failure of courts to effectively enforce the visitation rights of non-custodial parents. So let's give a big shout-out for the Illinois bill that seeks to take visitation as seriously child support.  With luck and a few principled votes, Stephen Watkins won't have died in vain.

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lars-larsonFathers and Families Board member Robert Franklin, Esq. criticized the Utah Supreme Court's decision in the Wyatt adoption case on the nationally-syndicated Lars Larson Show on Monday, August 21. According to Talkers Magazine, Larson has an audience of 2.25 million listeners, and his show is heard on over 200 stations nationwide. In the Wyatt case, Virginia father John Wyatt lost his child in a Utah adoption despite a court order that found him to be a "decent person" and a fit parent.  The Utah Supreme Court has now approved the adoption of John Wyatt"s daughter. Throughout the mother's pregnancy, her partner John Wyatt repeatedly told her he wanted them to marry and raise their child together. She agreed, but as her due date approached, she cut off communications with him. Two days after giving birth and unknown to Wyatt, she was in a Virginia hotel room signing away her parental rights to a Utah couple.  Wyatt had gone to the hospital to see his baby, but was told that Emily Fahland had never been a patient there and no baby had been born. Eight days later, Wyatt filed suit to assert his parental rights and a Virginia judge granted his request. But by then the little girl and her adoptive parents were already in Utah. That was two years ago. Now there is little chance John Wyatt will ever see his daughter. This case highlights many of the ways current adoption laws harm fathers and the children they love. Mothers who want to give their children up for adoption are often able to bypass fit, loving fathers who simply want to raise their own

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Michael Sanchez has at last been reunited with his daughter after her mother abducted her almost four years ago.  Read about it here (Huffington Post, 8/18/11). Over three and a half years ago, Sanchez was scheduled to have some visitation time with his daughter Emily.  But when he turned up at her mother's apartment in Berwyn, Illinois, no one was home.  In fact, mother Nigia Machado and little Emily were nowhere to be found.  She left only a note.
"The letter explained how she felt threatened by the courts, and that she was afraid she was going to lose custody of Emily sooner rather than later," Michael wrote on his website, BringEmilyHome.org. "She was also angry that I knew she was not a legal U.S. citizen and scared that she was going to be deported."
Sanchez filed missing persons reports and soon enough the U.S. State Department learned that Machado had purchased a one-way ticket to her native Brazil. Now, students of international parental kidnapping know that Brazil is a notoriously difficult country from which to extract a child who's yours.  Despite being a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Brazil routinely makes no pretense of compliance with its strictures.  The most shocking example of that is Sean Goldman whose son was abducted from New Jersey to Brazil by his mother.  Despite the clear terms of the Convention and despite the death of the child's mother, it took Goldman five years to regain custody of his son.  But it wasn't just the passage of time that was required; eventually it took the intervention of Goldman's congressional representative and the threat of economic sanctions by the U.S. against Brazil for the child to finally be returned. So Sanchez faced a long, uphill struggle to get Emily back into his care.  It took him almost four years of working two jobs to pay his legal fees.  At one point he travelled to Brazil to see his daughter, only to be told by Machado that he couldn't. But just a few days ago, he got her back.  Remarkably, that had nothing to do with the Hague Convention or Brazilian courts doing what they should have done years ago.  No, it seems Machado had a change of heart.  She and Sanchez have entered into an agreement, the details of which remain confidential.  How much time he'll have with his daughter under the terms of the agreement is known only to him and Machado. A few points.  First, the law that exists to correct one thing and one thing only - international child abduction - failed totally.  Sanchez has his daughter back, but no thanks to the Convention or the Brazilian courts.  How long the case would have dragged on before Sanchez got his daughter back is anyone's guess.  What type of pressure would have been required for that to happen is likewise unknown. Second, once again, a father's rights were placed in the hands of his child's mother, not his.  Machado kidnapped his child for the least compelling of reasons - that a court might take away or limit her parental rights.  Presumably there was a reason why the court was considering that extreme step, but that didn't matter to Machado; she doubtless knew she could take the child to Brazil and there be no legal consequences for her doing so.  Given that, what was the downside to her for doing so? Meanwhile Sanchez was stuck with the Hague Convention, little as it is.  As the parents who testified before a U.S. House subcommittee said, the State Department is worse than useless in dealing with these cases even though it's tasked with doing so.  The State Deparment sees its primary role as promoting commerce and good relations between the U.S. and the various nations of the world.  Demanding compliance with the Hague Convention and threatening sanctions for failure to do so seem low on State's list of priorities.  Sean Goldman and now Michael Sanchez can testify to that. So once again, the law has failed a father seeking one of the most humble things a man can want - a relationship with the child he helped bring into the world. Tellingly, just last week, in a similar case, the three children of a California man were returned to him only two days after they were discovered in Mexico - another inveterate violator of the Hague Convention.  Why did things go so smoothly in his case and not in Goldman's or Sanchez'?  Well, the dad happened to be the son of a U.S. congressman, that's why.  In fact, the Hague procedures were bypassed altogether in that case.  The Mexican police picked up the mother and the children, took them to the border and turned them over to police on this side.  They took Mom to jail, charged her with criminal interference with custody and the kids have been reunited with their father.  Dads like Sanchez and Goldman, and indeed all those who aren't lucky enough to have a politically powerful father have to do the best they can with the tools at their disposal, i.e. the law.  Time and again, the law fails fathers.  It did this time too.

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To gain an advantage in a custody case, Vicky Haigh coached her daughter to call her father a pedophile.  But that's just the beginning of Haigh's wrongdoing and its far-reaching consequences.  Read about it here (Daily Mail, 8/23/11). What's perhaps most remarkable about the case is that the English judges who've heard it have gotten highly incensed about Haigh's behavior.  After all, mothers lying about fathers in the course of custody matters is hardly new.  Mothers falsely claiming domestic violence or child sexual abuse by the fathers isn't either.  Those are so common and any form of punishment for them so rare that the case can't help but draw attention. So the salient feature of the case must be the reason for the judges' pique. Vicky Haigh and David Tune were locked in a custody battle and Haigh, fearing success by Tune, played the abuse card.  She said he'd sexually abused their daughter and coached the girl to back up her claims. But Haigh went a dangerous step further.  She hired one Elizabeth Watson as an "investigator."  Watson's "investigation" consisted in toto of slander and libel.  She fired off multiple emails re-alleging Haigh's claims, all of which might again have gone unnoticed by the judges, but she too went a step further. Watson not only libelled, but named the social workers hired by the Doncaster council to investigate Haigh's allegations against Tune.  Those unfortunates had looked into the claims and found them to be false, so Watson took to the ether to libel them by name as well as the Doncaster Council. And I'd put good money on the proposition that it's that - the naming of the individuals - that got the judges' dander up.  Not only the trial judge, but the highest judge in the British family court system Sir Nicholas Wall, took time out to excoriate Haigh and Watson.
Sir Nicholas said: ‘Allegations of sexual abuse were first made by the mother and not by X. These were false and the mother knew them to be false. X was coached by the mother to make allegations of sexual abuse against the father."
He added that two judges examined the case at previous High Court hearings and both found that Mr Tune was not a paedophile and had not sexually abused his daughter.
Sir Nicholas said: ‘The child"s mother is wholly unable to accept the court"s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson has unlawfully and in breach of court orders, put into the public domain via email and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others. ‘She has repeated the untruth that the father is a paedophile and – without a scintilla of evidence - has attacked the good faith of all the professionals who had had any contact with the case.
‘These proceedings have had a serious effect on the life of the father and have threatened the stability of the child. Her mother"s actions are wholly contrary to her interests."
Watson has been sentenced to nine months in prison.  So far there's no word if Haigh will receive any punishment at all. As I said, this type of thing goes on all the time in family court and it's one of the scandals of the family court system that it routinely allows perjury and false allegations to go unpunished.  The unsurprising result is that the practice of false swearing continues.  Why wouldn't it? But the real issue to the judges was that Haigh and Watson aired the whole thing publicly, and that, as Judge Wall made clear "will not be tolerated." You see, in the United Kingdom, family court proceedings occur in secret.  Usually, no one is allowed to name names or reveal much of anything about who said or did what.  The press is generally barred from reporting anything of substance about family court. And it is that secrecy that is surely to blame for much of the anti-father decision-making of British family courts.  The theory behind the secrecy is that the publicity would be too traumatic for children (another "best interests of the child" argument, don't you know.)  Of course with the number of divorces involving children, 99% of them would never make the papers anyway, and of those that did, most would do so completely outside the child's awareness. So it's always seemed to me that the secrecy imposed by British family courts has a lot more to do with protecting judges than with protecting children.  And I'd say this case bears that out. Enter John Hemming.  He's a Liberal Democrat MP who made the mistake of taking up Haigh's cause in the House of Commons.  He did the same in a previous case.  
The MP said Haigh had been unfairly put under threat of imprisonment by Doncaster Council for speaking to a Westminster meeting about family law issues.
Again, Haigh had named names and among them were the Council and the social workers in her case.  More to the point, he was sticking up for Haigh's right to speak publicly about the doings of family courts.  He picked a uniquely bad case in which to do so, but that's what he was doing.  Now he too is in hot water, with at least one MP calling for his resignation from the office his constituents elected him to. Well, I can't go to bat for two women who slander, libel and defame a father in order to deny him custody, an attempt that failed by the way.  I'm glad Watson is going to prison and I think Haigh should too.  What she did was illegal and should be punished. But what's also true is that courts routinely tolerate exactly that type of behavior with nary a blink.  The reason they didn't in this case is that the pair, plus MP Hemming, made the matter public.  They divested the family court of its cloak of secrecy, and that, and that alone brought the wrath of the court down on them. But the High Court should direct its attention elsewhere.  First, it should punish perjury, false allegations and false swearing in custody cases.  It should do so not in isolated cases that are forced into the public eye, but in all cases.  Only then will the practice cease. Second, it should do away with the secrecy of family courts that serves to shield from public scrutiny the often outrageously anti-father decisions of those courts.  As long as the press can only guess at what happens behind the closed and locked doors of family courts, there can be no effective public clamor for reform. So this case should be seen for what it is.  The judges feign outrage at the lies of two women.  What they're really upset about is the women's breaching the secrecy of family court proceedings. Both must change.

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A Texas judge ordered a gay father to never leave his son with a man he's not related to.  Read about it here (Houston Chronicle, 8/22/11). William Flowers was married to a woman and they had a son.  The two divorced in 2004 and Flowers' ex got primary custody and he got visitation.  At some point, Flowers started having an intimate relationship with a man, Jim Evans, and the two traveled to Connecticut and got married. Back in Texas, Flowers decided he wanted more time with his son and asked the family court to modify the custody order.  The jury that heard the case declined to do that, but continued his visitation with his son.  Then the judge did a remarkable thing; Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr. issued an order prohibiting Flowers from ever leaving his son alone with any man he was not related to by "blood or adoption." That put me in mind of a case I wrote about just a couple of weeks ago.  There, a judge issued a restraining order against a father at the request of his ex-wife.  The order prohibited the man from coming to his ex's place of work "or any other place plaintiff may be."  At the time I pointed out that, with the possible exception of his own house, that order covered pretty much the whole globe.  After all, if the guy went to Singapore, his wife might be there.  At the time, I'd have said that was the most overly broad order I'd ever seen and patently unconstitutional. Here it is only two weeks later and Prine has already gone me one better.  Consider the possibilities that could constitute violations of the order.  A school friend comes over to play and the two go to Flowers' son's bedroom to play together.  Guilty.  Flowers takes the boy to the doctor and leaves him and the doctor alone together.  Guilty.  Flowers takes the boy to school early one day and he and a male teacher are alone in the classroom together for a time.  Guilty. That list is limited only by one's imagination, so Prine's order is ridiculously overbroad.  It's likewise so vague that no sensible person can understand what's prohibited and what's not.  What if the boy misbehaves in school and is sent to the male principal's office?  What if he's the last one off the school bus that has a male driver?  Has the boy suffered a serious injury or medical condition?  Don't let EMS  technicians put him the ambulance alone.  Actually, when he dials 9-1-1, Flowers should request an all-female team, otherwise some ravening man might do who-knows what. But Prine clearly wasn't thinking of those things when he issued his order.  He was thinking of only one thing - that Flowers is gay.  Apparently, in Prine's fevered mind, that means that men - all of them - with whom Flowers associates are presumptively pedophiles.  Now of course there's absolutely no evidence that gay men are more likely to sexually abuse children than are straight men or anyone else.  But that doesn't keep certain people from thinking they do.  Indeed, back in the 80s, there was an overt movement to keep gay men from being school teachers and the rationale was exactly that.  The movement had no data to support the claim, but they, apparently like Prine, felt they needed none. And let's not forget that, throughout the first custody case between Flowers and his ex, as well as the most recent one, there's never been a claim of any form of child abuse made by or against either of the parents.  Likewise, there's no claim or evidence that Jim Evans poses any danger to Flowers' son.  So, as far as I can tell, the order is simply gratuitous. It's also plainly misandric.  The assumption is that men, gay men included, pose a unique danger to children.  We don't.  In fact, fathers do far less injury to children than do mothers - about half as much according to the department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.  But Prine wasn't about to let facts get in the way of his radically misandric and misguided order. Meanwhile, Texas lawyers say they've never seen or heard of an order as broad and patently unenforceable as Prine's.
Attorneys who practice family law in Texas point out that in cases of abuse, it is common for courts to prevent children from being alone with specific people. But those same lawyers say that they"ve never heard of a case in which a step-parent or long-term partner is permanently enjoined from being alone with his or her step-children when abuse is not even alleged, let alone proven. No lawyer consulted for this story has ever heard of an order which prohibits children from being left alone with an entire gender.
And I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that the gender in question is male or that the person restrained by the order is a father.  Flowers is appealing the order.

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A British appeals court stopped a mother from moving to Canada to prevent separating the children from their father.  Read about it here (Telegraph, 8/24/11). It seems the parents are Canadians living in England.  The two have two children, one aged four and one two.  Dad and Mom divorced, Mom got primary custody and after a while, wanted to move back to Canada, effectively cutting off all physical contact with Dad. The father objected, but the trial court didn't see anything wrong with depriving children of their dad and green-lighted the mother's wishes.  Not so fast ruled the appellate court.  Dad's cared for the children 35% of the time (which I assume means two days plus one half day) and it would be traumatic for the children to lose him.  So if Mom wants continued custody of the children, she has to stay in the U.K.  Of course if she wants to go to Canada badly enough, no one's stopping her, but she can't take the kids with her.  In other words, she could do herself what she asked the court to do for her - separate one parent from the children by a distance of thousands of miles.  But it seems that when she's the one to be separated, she's not so enthusiastic about the idea. According to the article, that's the first time such a ruling has been made in England even though some 1,000 move-away cases are heard by courts there each year.  It goes on to say that "almost all" of those move-away requests come from mothers. Interestingly, in those move-away cases, courts have always placed great weight on the "distress" caused to the mother by being forced to remain in England.  In the case reported on, the mother claimed she was distressed by the prospect of not returning to Canada, but the court said the children's welfare outweighed that. 
In brief, the mother"s application was refused because the damage to the children caused by the reduction in the contact with their father, should she be allowed to relocate, outweighed the damage arising from the distress to the mother if the application was refused.
Interesting too is the fact that the appellate court didn't simply rule that the father's visiting the kids via Skype should be good enough for them.  I reported on a case just like that not long ago.  There, the mother wanted to return to Australia from England and the court ruled that that was perfectly acceptable because contact with Dad on the Internet was good enough for the children and good enough for him. So it's with a deep sigh of relief that I'm able to say that neither the trial nor the appellate court resorted to that worst of all possible "solutions" to a mother's move-away request that would take the father out of his children's lives forever. Still, it's worth mentioning the reasoning of British courts in move-away cases.  One of the major - if not the major - factor in the courts' determinations is the "distress" caused to the mother by remaining.  Never mind the father, the courts want to know how upset she'd be by being chained to the island nation.  And that too is interesting.  That's because the single most common rejoinder over the years to the assertion of fathers' rights in custody disputes is "it's not the parents who are important, it's the children."  That is, if Dad really cared about the kids he'd butt out of their lives instead of asserting his rights. Now the ways that argument is bogus are too numerous to list, but the main one is that fathers enhance child welfare.  So Dad's insistence on his parental rights is, with rare exceptions, in the child's best interests.  Opponents of fathers believe the wellbeing of children and fathers' custodial rights are mutually exclusive.  On the contrary, each promotes the other. Turning back to move-away cases, it's always intrigued me how courts in this country and England place so much emphasis on Mom's state of mind.  If staying in a particular place distresses her, children's rights to their father and father's rights to his children all take a backseat.  The reason? 
Until now courts in England and Wales have followed the general principle which was that if refusing the primary carer"s (usually the mother) reasonable proposal for relocation of her family life should impact detrimentally on her emotional state, that in turn would impact detrimentally on the welfare of her dependent children. And family courts work on the basis that the welfare of the child is paramount.
See?  The courts rule openly that mothers and children's interests are the same.  If she's upset, so will they be.  But when it comes to fathers, the opposite assumption wins the day.  Depriving children of their father, in any of a number of ways, is assumed to be either neutral or actually in their interests.  The interests of fathers and children are assumed to be antithetical, so it's OK to separate them, if doing so satisfies Mom. As President Obama said, "When Mama's happy, everybody's happy."  Well, not everyone, but we know what he meant. It's straightforward example of a double standard in a court system that's stuffed to the gills with them. Meanwhile, back in the U.K., the appellate court strongly encouraged Mom and Dad to make the best of things there for the time being. 
The court told the Canadian couple to explore an immediate future in the UK, flowing into a planned future move to Canada.
Here's my prediction:  a few months will pass and Mom will go back to court explaining again how very distressed she is.  Dad will reply that he's still doing a lot of the child care and doesn't want to move to Canada.  The court will find that he hasn't made plans for "flowing" back there and his failure impermissibly contributes to her distress.  And she'll be free to go. We'll see.

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The European Court of Human Rights ordered Hungary to pay a father €32,000 for the abduction of his child.  Read about it here (Caboodle.hu, 8/25/11). An Irish man and his wife living in France had a daughter in 2000, but divorced in 2005.  The French court awarded them joint custody, but in 2007, the girl's mother took her to Hungary and enrolled her in school, planning never to return.  The father went to court in Hungary, presumably asserting his rights under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which Hungary is a signatory nation.  It took six months, but the Hungarian court ruled that the mother had to return the child to France. Here's how the article describes what happened next:
Hungarian authorities unsuccessfully tried to get the mother to oblige.
I love that.  Here's a sovereign nation with a ruling by one of its courts ordering the return to France of a child unlawfully abducted by her mother.  That of course means that she's under court order to take or send the child back to her father.  Refusal to do so is a violation of a court order that the court is empowered to punish by incarceration or other sanctions.  In short, Hungary had the power to force the mother to do what she was legally obligated to do or jail her and return the child itself. So the fact that the country merely "tried to get the mother to oblige," I find... quaint.  The fact that its efforts were unsuccessful is beyond belief.  I see a picture of Hungarian judges and police asking the mother very nicely to please follow their orders, her shaking her head and them turning away with a shrug that means "what can we do?" But Dad wasn't finished.  He got a criminal warrant from a French court to have Mom arrested.  He also got an award of sole custody.  Pursuant to the warrant, the Hungarian police finally got around to arresting the mother, but released her the next day.  She then promptly disappeared with the child and hasn't been found.  That was over two years ago. It would be hard to imagine what else a nation could do to abet parental kidnapping than what Hungary did in this case.  I suppose they could have given her written instructions on how to avoid her legal obligations, but failing that, jailing her and then letting her go the next day was surely the next best thing.  After all, what did that do but tell her to run? At that point, Dad was out of options for getting his child back, so he turned to the European Court of Human Rights for compensation.  The laws of the European Union specify a right to family life that the mother plainly violated.  Moreover, Hungary abetted her violations by failing to do what it was required by the Hague Convention and the charter and laws of the European Union to do. So Dad sued Hungary and won.  He was awarded €20,000 in compensation and €12,000 in legal expenses by the court.  That of course is nothing compared to a lifetime with his daughter.  And the money will do nothing to replace her father in the life of the girl who must be 11 now.  I wonder if, when she reaches adulthood, she too could bring suit against Hungary for depriving her of her father.  I don't see why not. Still, it's worth noticing that, at least in Europe, countries covered by the Union's charter and laws, aren't entirely free to do as they please with fathers' rights and children's welfare.  Unlike so many other places there seem to be consequences, albeit slight ones, for running roughshod over fathers and children. And that's a small step in the right direction.

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The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that non-biological parents can sue for custody and visitation.  Here's the court's opinion. The case involved a relationship between two women, Teri Latham and Susan Rae Schwerdtfeger, who first got together back in 1985.  At some point they decided to have a child and, via in vitro fertilization, Schwerdtfeger became pregnant and gave birth in 2001.  Latham helped pay for everything - the IVF, medical care, costs of childbirth, etc.  She was there at the hospital and helped care for the boy once he was born. By 2005 however, their relationship was on the rocks, and Latham moved out of their residence in 2006.  Schwerdtfeger remained with the little boy, identified by the court only as P.S.  Latham continued to have regular visitation with the boy until 2009, at which point things changed. In testimony, Latham and Schwerdtfeger disagreed about just how much Latham continued to do to keep in contact with P.S.  Predictably, Latham said she did a lot but was often thwarted by Schwerdtfeger.  She seems to have paid support informally.  Schwerdtfeger says Latham made little effort and that P.S. didn't like her and didn't want to be with her. Latham said that, beginning in 2007, Schwerdtfeger began to arbitrarily restrict her time with P.S.  By October 2009, her time with the boy had dwindled to next to nothing, and Latham said that was her former partner's doing.  In short, Latham said that Schwerdtfeger was cutting her out of the boy's life. So she filed suit requesting visitation rights and custody.  But there was a big problem with that - in the eyes of the law, she had no relationship with P.S.  She wasn't related to him by blood or adoption, and she wasn't related by marriage since Nebraska doesn't permit people of the same sex to marry.  And yet, she'd unquestionably spent a lot of time, energy, love, affection and money playing the part of parent. So, at the trial court, Latham invoked the doctrine of in loco parentis (in the place of the parent).  That's a common law doctrine that essentially holds that a person who's done the deeds of a parent and acted parentally towards a child should have the rights of a parent.  But the trial court poured her out saying that the doctrine "didn't apply" to Latham in this case. But the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed that ruling.  It said that the doctrine of in loco parentis may well establish parental rights on behalf of Latham.  It sent the case back to the trial court to obtain evidence of Latham's relationship to P.S.  If she can establish enough of a relationship with P.S., she'll be granted some form of parental rights including the right to seek visitation and custody, as well as the obligation to pay support if visitation is granted.
[A] person standing in loco parentis to a child is one who has put himself or herself in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations incident to the parental relationship, without going through the formalities necessary to a legal adoption, and the rights, duties, and liabilities of such person are the same as those of the lawful parent.
So, for example, a stepparent who's actively cared for a child may be ruled to have the rights and duties of a biological parent via the in loco parentis doctrine.  So may a grandparent, or indeed, anyone else whose ongoing behavior toward a child is that of a parent. Moreover, what's important in deciding whether a person has taken the actions necessary to qualify under the doctrine is his/her relationship with the child, not his/her relationship with the other adult.  So what the trial court now has to decide is whether Latham and P.S. have the type of relationship, the absence of which would be detrimental to P.S.'s interests.
The in loco parentis basis for standing recognizes the need to guard the family from intrusions by third parties and to protect the rights of the natural parent must be tempered by the paramount need to protect the child"s best interest. Thus, while it is presumed that a child"s best interest is served by maintaining the family"s privacy and autonomy, that presumption must give way where the child has established strong psychological bonds with a person who, although not a biological parent, has lived with the child and provided care, nurture, and affection, assuming in the child"s eye a stature like that of a parent.
The Nebraska court's reasoning makes sense to me.  Latham clearly established a parental relationship with P.S.  For the first five years of his life and for some time thereafter, she did all the things loving, hands-on parents do.  Doubtless, through all that, she and the boy developed a parent-child relationship that shouldn't be tossed aside at the whim of his other parent.  Clearly, it's in his interest to maintain ties with Latham. That said, much time has passed.  It's now 2011.  Latham hasn't seen him nor he her, in two years, and their visits were few and far between for two years before that.  So they've had limited contact for about four of his 10 years.  By now a court may well find that, in fact, their relationship isn't worth preserving. Still, the principle stands and it has the potential to affect fathers.  Certainly gay men who raise children conceived and given birth to by another will be affected.  Likewise, a man defrauded by a mother will have his rights protected by the doctrine.  So, he may not be the father, but if he desires a continuing relationship with the child after he learns he's not, he'll be able to assert his rights in loco parentis irrespective of the mother's wishes. The term "the best interests of the child" is much used and much abused by courts nationwide.  Often it seems to be little more than a mantra judges intone hoping it has magical powers to confer benefits on children.  That's because rulings judges make regarding child custody are often at odds with social science on what promotes healthy outcomes for kids.  Most importantly, social science shows no correlation between maternal custody and improved child outcomes, but year after year, 84% of primary and sole custody goes to mothers. But this is a case in which the actual best interests of a child (as opposed to those presumed by judges) seems to have won out.  When children develop bonds with an adult who takes the role of parent over a significant period of time, those bonds shouldn't be broken willy-nilly by the other adult.  Importantly, the adult who stands in loco parentis to the child should have his/her own parental rights that he/she can assert independently of the other adult.  Men and fathers know all too well how often the law takes their parental rights and places them in the hands of the mother of their child. This Nebraska case does the opposite and should be applauded for doing so. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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There's still more information on the value of shared custody to children.  Robert Bauserman has published an analysis of data that shows that children of divorced parents do better across a range of child welfare markers if their parents share custody than if one has sole custody. Here's an article on Bauserman's analysis (Naples News, 8/26/11). Bauserman has been researching shared parenting for over a decade that I know of and probably longer.  He's one of the many principled researchers on the topic, so his work should carry some weight with policymakers.
Continuing research by Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, affirms that children do better in joint custody arrangements. His studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody, with sole-custody settings, with the adjustment characteristics of intact families.
Joint custody is defined as either physical custody, where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with either parents or shared legal custody, where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child"s life.
Here's the nitty-gritty of Bauserman's latest findings.
Bauserman concludes that living situations are not as influential as the time children are able to spend with each parent. Children from divorced families, who either live with both parents at different times, or spend certain amounts of time with each parent, are better adjusted than children who live and interact with just one parent.
Joint custody children had less behavior and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. "And,' said Bauserman, "these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children. This is probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents.'
Let's hope family judges read that; let's hope they get the message.  In fact, let me encourage each and every one of them to take one sentence out of the quotation, enlarge it so they can read it from several feet away, and tack it up on the wall of their offices.  This is the sentence: "[L]iving situations are not as influential as the time children are able to spend with each parent." See, isn't that simple?  Children don't want to lose a parent just because the parents want to lose each other.  More importantly, they suffer when they do; some of them suffer all their lives.  The next time a judge decides custody, it's all but certain he'll be required by law to act in the best interests of the child.  Well, there it is.  The best interests of the child are served by maximizing time with both parents. Yes, there are parents who've proven themselves incapable of parental responsibility.  In extreme circumstances, they should be denied custody or have it strictly limited. But fathers routinely lose almost all parenting time with their children on the thinnest of pretexts or sometimes none at all.  A naked allegation of domestic violence made for the first time during a custody proceeding and with no corroborating evidence is more than enough to separate a child from its father at least for a time. And even without that, fathers are shunted off to the role of non-custodial parent for the sin of working too hard to provide support for their wives and children.  Failing to be the primary caregiver to the child is usually enough to land a father in non-custodial limbo. If courts truly want to act in the best interests of children, that must change.  It is far past time that courts acknowledge what's been know to social science for decades - that fathers desire full relationships with their children post-divorce, that children want to stay connected to their dad and that children do better if that happens. But Bauserman isn't finished.
Joint custody is also better for parents. Couples reported less conflict, possibly because both parents could participate in their children"s lives equally, and not spend their time arguing over childcare decisions. It also gives each parent a break from continuous childcare responsibilities. Unfortunately, a perception exists that joint custody is more harmful because it exposes children to ongoing parental conflict. In fact, the studies in Bauserman"s review found that sole-custody parents reported higher levels of conflict.
It's a claim that the anti-dad crowd relies on - shared custody results in increased levels of conflict between parents.  The problem is that in most cases, it's just not true.  Shared custody takes the stress off the one parent who we'd expect to get sole custody - Mom.  Dad benefits because he sees more of his kids than under the usual one-weekend-every-two-weeks arrangement.  The kids benefit because they don't lose one parent. I reported recently on the Allen-Brinig study of custody cases in Oregon.  They found that claims of domestic abuse utterly derailed the state legislature's aim of increased joint custody under a new statute.  That pretty much pinpoints the problem - the use of abuse claims, the overwhelming majority of which are by mothers, to thwart not only fathers' rights to children and children's rights to a father, but public policy as well. Bauserman and countless others have demonstrated the value of fathers to children and shared custody to all concerned.  So what needs to happen next is for state legislatures to put reasonable restrictions on abuse allegations.  Those restrictions should include requirements of actual proof of actual violence (as opposed to uncorroborated allegations that Mom was subjectively "in fear").  They should also include real penalties for false allegations made for the purpose of gaining an upper hand in the custody case. The anti-dad crowd will scream bloody murder, but that's what has to happen in order to keep fathers and children together post-divorce.

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In Connecticut, courts have procedures to establish paternity that give men actual due process rights.  This good and fairly thorough article describes what happens on "Paternity Thursday" in New Haven (New Haven Independent, 8/2/11). In cities like Hartford and New Haven, there are enough cases to establish paternity that the courts have set aside a special magistrate and a special day of the week to hear them all.  On the Paternity Thursday reported on, 56 cases were heard in three hours.  That's about three minutes per case, but despite the short time, something important happens; the men whom mothers have named as fathers of their children actually receive an opportunity to either accept the designation or contest it.  If they contest it by requesting DNA testing, the cost is a mere $30.  If the accept it, the magistrate, David Dee, carefully explains the consequences and encourages them to reconsider.  That is, he tells them that it's advisable to get paternity tested rather than simply assuming the mother's  claim to be true. That's because, once paternity is established, either by genetic testing or by acknowledgement by the man, Connecticut law only allows the matter to be revisited (reopened) in the case of "fraud, duress or material mistake of fact."  In short, it's next to impossible for a man to change his mind at a later date and get the court to order testing.  Once he agrees, he's stuck with his decision. The whole process applies only in cases of children born to single mothers.  How do those cases get to Magistrate Dee's court?  The article doesn't say, but my guess is that the mothers have filed for child support or the state has paid some form of benefits to her or the child and is seeking reimbursement from the father. So, on Paternity Thursday, men named as father show up in court along with mothers.  The first time a man is in Dee's court, he's asked if he wants testing done.  If he does, samples are taken, he pays his $30 (or nothing if he's indigent), and is scheduled to return to receive results of the testing.  If he doesn't want testing done, Dee admonishes him to reconsider, but if he's adamant, an order will be issued establishing his paternity. If the man doesn't show up, a default judgment will be issued against him, establishing his paternity and assessing an amount of child support. That's it in a nutshell.  The good news is that these guys have an opportunity to be tested.  That's in marked contrast to the process in many states in which Attorneys General seem to stop at nothing to deny men the opportunity to learn for certain whether they fathered the child in question or not.  My recent posting about Keddrick Clemons in Texas is a perfect example.  There, the Texas AG's office knew to a certainty that Clemons wasn't the father, but lied to the him and the judge for the sole purpose of tagging him with support for a child who wasn't his.  So the men get an actual chance to have DNA testing done.  That includes the fact that it's cheap and in some cases free.  I've argued long and hard for mandatory testing of all children at birth and one argument I hear often against it is the cost.  My response is that it's cheaper than the alternative which is years of litigation and heartache.  Now we know states can do testing much cheaper than it's done in private labs. Not only that, but the outcome of the testing actually matters.  That is, if the test comes back negative, the named man has no obligations to the mother or the child.  That's as it should be, but time and again, genetic testing has no such effect.  Until very recently in Texas, if a man got divorced without doing genetic testing, the child was legally his irrespective of its DNA.  Later results showing him to not be the dad made no difference.  The same is true of default judgments of paternity in which any man anywhere can be established to be the father and woe betide him who resists. That's the good news.  The bad news is that, as far as the article shows, there's nothing to prevent the fraudulent taking of default judgments against men who aren't the father and may have nothing in common with him apart from a name.  The article doesn't say what the safeguards are against those orders, so that expedient for states to falsely establish "paternity" apparently still exists. Also, notice that the assistant attorney general handling all these cases in Dee's courtroom works for the state.  She also works for the mothers.
"We do our very best to make sure everyone"s rights are considered,' Assistant Attorney General Amy Guido said during a break between representing the state"s and the mothers" interests in all 56 cases heard Thursday.
Notice too that the entire process assumes that the state's interests and the mothers' are the same.  If they weren't, one attorney couldn't represent them both; she'd have a conflict of interest.  That means that their interests are assumed to be antithetical to those of the fathers. And that in turn makes a difference.
One case was titled Sarah Pena v. Orlando Colon. Pena came to court with a man other than Colon, who never appeared. When her case was called, Pena quickly accepted the results of an independent May 10 paternity test that established someone other than Colon as the father. Assistant AG Guido did not oppose the motion to open the paternity judgment or the finding that Colon was not the father.
So what happened was that Pena named Colon as the father.  Somehow his paternity was established (otherwise there'd be no reason to reopen the case).  That was probably done by default judgment since he "never appeared."  Then testing got done on the guy she's with in court and it turned out Colon wasn't the right man after all. In that case, reopening the case was simplicity itself; the AG's office agreed, the mother agreed and the other party, Colon, wasn't present, so the case was reopened.  No problem.  Gone were the all-but-insuperable obstacles of "fraud, duress or material mistake of fact."  Or, more likely, the state and the mother agreed that she made a material mistake of fact and so the case can be reopened. Notice that that happens easily because Mom and State are on the same side.  But what would have happened if Colon had wanted to reopen the case and contest the finding of paternity? 
"The threshold is very high,' Assistant Attorney General Guido said. A paternity test proving that the man is not the biological father is often not enough.
So when Mom gives the nod to the assistant AG to reopen the case because she likes the guy who's been found to be the father, the case is reopened without a blink.  If the man who's been found to not be the father wants to do the same, all of a sudden "the threshold is very high."  Funny how that works. It doesn't have to be this way.  The guys don't have to be given a choice.  The state has an interest in figuring out exactly who fathers are and who they're not.  So do children.  There's not a reason in the world why this first court hearing has to be a court hearing at all.  It'd be better and cheaper for it to be nothing more than an appointment for a mouth swab.  Once that's done and the results received, the man will either be established as the father or let go.  If it's the latter, the mother will have to provide another name and the process will be repeated. That should be what happens in all the cases in which the putative father didn't appear at the hospital for the birth of the child.  If he did, he should be tested there and paternity either established or not. As this article shows, genetic testing of all kids and supposed fathers at birth would save a lot of time, money and anguish.  In the meantime, at least Connecticut gives some guys a chance to establish with certainty the facts about their paternity.  It's better than a lot of states do.  It's also not nearly good enough. Thanks to Ron for the heads-up.

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All criminal charges were dismissed against Maryanne Godboldo yesterday.  That ends the latest chapter in the continuing saga of how county child protective services, supported by police and S.W.A.T. agents came to take her 13-year-old daughter into care and arrest Godboldo.  Here's the most recent article (Free Press, 8/29/11). The story is yet another in a long line about gross overreaching by CPS caseworkers, but Godboldo's is worse than most.  Godboldo's daughter has some form of emotional/psychological problem.  Godboldo had her on medication for a while, but it seemed to make he symptoms worse, so, in consultation with the girls pediatrician, Godboldo weaned her from the powerful psychotropic drug. That displeased CPS which went to court for an order taking the child into care.  CPS did that on an emergency basis, meaning that Godboldo wasn't present at the hearing to tell her side of the story.  Out of the blue one day, CPS caseworkers showed up at Godboldo's door to inform her that they were taking her child.  Godboldo refused, believing that (a) she knew more about how to care for her daughter than did the caseworkers and (b) as the girl's parent, she had the right to do so. Met with Godboldo's manifestly correct assertion of her parental rights, what did CPS do?  Did it schedule another hearing so a judge could hear Godboldo's point of view and issue an order?  No.  It doubled down. CPS presented the court order it already had to the police who sent the S.W.A.T. team complete with a tank to threaten Godboldo.  That did the trick.  Police got the child away from her mother and whisked her off to a psychiatric facility.  Claiming she had fired a pistol at them, police whisked Godboldo to jail where she was charged with several felonies. My guess is that pretty much any impartial observer schooled in the ways of CPS would have smelled a rat by then.  I know I did.  And sure enough, ever since the day of the original incident, more and more of the rodents keep turning up. First was the fact that the mental health facility to which the girl was taken by CPS declined to give her the very medication Godboldo had declined to give her.  Godboldo's refusal to give the drug was the reason (or the excuse) for the court's order in the first place.  So, many of us found it noteworthy that the mental health professionals at that facility apparently agreed with Godboldo.  In the end, it was only CPS caseworkers whose medical judgment differed from that of professionals treating the girl. Now we know there were a couple of other minor glitches in the way CPS and the police handled the case.  First is the little matter of the court order.  It's completely invalid and should never have been used by the police to raid Godboldo's home.  Why was it invalid?  It wasn't issued by a judge.
[Godboldo's attorneys] said the court order was not valid because a court clerk stamped the judge's name to the order without consulting the judge.
"A judge never looked at this, never saw it," Pitts said. "It has to be an elected authority. This lady took the judge's stamp, stamped the judge's name and off she goes."
Well, doesn't that open a window on how CPS operates.  What that suggests is that there was never even a hearing to obtain the order.  After all, if there had been hearing, the judge him/herself would have simply signed the order.  But no.  It seems that up to now it's been common practice for CPS to have their pre-typed order stamped with the judge's signature stamp. That certainly streamlines the process, but it's far, far from a constitutional way to deprive a mother of her parental rights. So the entire process was illegal from the start. Likewise, it now seems the police were a little short of evidence for their claim that Godboldo took a shot at them.  The judge dismissed the charges against her citing lack of evidence.  Godboldo's lawyers are a bit more pointed.
Folmar said Godboldo "never shot at an officer -- period. It never happened."
Just last week, police got a warrant to search Godboldo's home for evidence of the alleged pistol shot.  That looked like desperation on their part to me.  After all, don't you think they looked for evidence when they first took Godboldo and her daughter away?  If they didn't find it then, why did they think they'd find it a second time?  In the event, they found it neither time. We're getting to the endgame in the Maryanne Godboldo case and it's taught us a lot.  It's taught us the extent to which CPS can and does take the law into its own hands.  CPS differed with the girl's mother about her medication.  There is no way that constitutes abuse or neglect of the child absent some clear evidence given by mental health professionals. So the initial decision to go after Godboldo's daughter was the product of a mindset that has no understanding of parental rights.  In this country, under our constitution, parents get to raise their kids as they see fit.  Yes there are limitations on what they can and can't do and withholding medication can be one of those prohibited activities. But the decision to intervene and force medical treatment on a child when a parent disagrees can only be taken after careful due process of law.  It is that above all that Maryanne Godboldo and her mentally ill daughter were denied. Far worse, it is crystal clear that denial of due process of law is commonplace when CPS chooses to take action against a parent.  The whole case reeks of highhandedness, yes, but of entitlement as well.  No agency with much respect for parental rights or due process of law would have behaved the way CPS did in this case.  Face it, they've gone to Juvenile Court before, handed the clerk an order and gotten it stamped with the judge's signature stamp.  They've done it many times, so many that it simply never occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were doing.  Don't believe me?
As a result of this case, Pitts said, there has been a policy change. Court employees are no longer allowed to stamp judges' names on court orders.
The only difference between this case and all the others is that this time they got caught. So Maryanne Godboldo is free, the CPS habit of having court clerks stamp their orders is a thing of the past and the case slouches to a close.  Godboldo still doesn't have her daughter back, but I suspect that will happen in due course.  The girl has been in the care of her aunt, Godboldo's sister, so I don't imagine Mom is having too much difficulty being with her daughter. Soon will come the inevitable lawsuit that I predict will go favorably to Godboldo.  Finally, the county will pay Godboldo a hefty sum for the multiple wrongs perpetrated against her and her daughter.  How much of that will be paid by taxpayers remains to be seen. Sadly, this case is no more outrageous than countless others against countless parents and children nationwide.  We don't always hear about them, but they, like this one are products of a broken system, a system that believes that governmental employees are better equipped and better motivated than parents to decide matters of children's welfare.  It's a dangerous system; it's a system that needs to be changed.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="499" caption="F & F of Ohio members Terry Kee, Paul Lee, Matt Johnson, Tom Allen, Senator Kevin Bacon, and Donald Hubin, Ph.D., Chair of Ohio F & F's Executive Committee"][/caption] Fathers and Families of Ohio members Terry Kee, Paul Lee, Matt Johnson, Tom Allen, and Donald Hubin, Ph.D. met with Ohio state Senator Kevin Bacon last week concerning several of F & F's legislative projects. These include:

1.    Presumption of Shared Parenting during Temporary Orders 2.    Parenting Time Enforcement 3.    Disabled Parents Protection Bill 4.    Presumptive Child Support in Shared Parenting Cases 5.    Child Support Self-Support Reserve Correction Hubin explained:

Senator Bacon initiated questioning about the presumption of child support in shared parenting situations first, but we discussed all of the issues mentioned [above]...He was attentive and engaged in the conversation and promised to review the materials we gave him.  He was helpful in directing us to other legislators who might have a special interest in or be particularly important with respect to some of the legislative initiatives we presented.  We will pursue meetings with these other legislators.

For more details on these legislative projects, please see Hubin's letter to Senator Bacon here.

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