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

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March 4, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The final section of David Brooks’ piece in The Atlantic is painful to read (The Atlantic, 3/2020).  Almost every sentence made me want to scream and tear my hair.  For example, he recites that, during the earliest days of our country, when Europeans landed in what’s now New England, some of them went to live with Native American tribes, but essentially none of the indigenous peoples lived with the Europeans.  Brooks’ conclusion?

When you read such accounts, you can’t help but wonder whether our civilization has somehow made a gigantic mistake.

Well, Brooks may wonder that, but the rest of us who value things like Mozart and living beyond the age of 35 don’t wonder at all.  Does Brooks have any idea of how people in hunter-gatherer societies lived?  He should look it up sometime.  If he does, he’ll no longer engage in such nonsensical musings.

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March 3, 2020 by Lori Grover, NCM,  Chair of Rhode Island NPO and Divorce Mediator

Read Part I here.

Entitlement. A hallmark characteristic of high-conflict personalities (HCPs) is the belief that they’re entitled to more of everything than anyone else. The assertive or even aggressive nature of these personalities is a mask they wear to hide the deep insecurity and lack of self-esteem that exists at the deepest levels of themselves. Most people in relationships with people with these personalities never understand this deep void in their spouse, parent, sibling or coworker. Instead, their experience is one of confusion, fear, abuse and in many cases, an unknowing enabler. The impenetrable psychological walls they build and their persona of grandeur are mechanisms HCPs use to control and manipulate their environment whether it’s their spouse, child or others. Chaos in the lives of these personalities is as essential to them as having air to breathe. 

When there’s smoke, there’s fire. According to the largest study ever conducted by US National Institutes of Health on personality disorders, about 10 percent of the population have either Narcissistic or Bipolar Disorder or both. Among those who met the criteria for BPD, 53 percent were women and 47 percent were men. Among those who met the criteria for NPD, 62 percent were men and 38 percent were women. Among people who met the criteria for one of these disorders, nearly 40 percent met the criteria for both. Such people may appear charming, quite social and very down to earth with a great personality. This is the same mask most high conflict personalities wear in public, but people close to them live with someone quite different. If you blame yourself for not seeing the signs sooner, don’t. These disorders are difficult to diagnose and their behaviors often aren’t apparent until months after a relationship begins.  

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March 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin,JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This article by New York Times columnist David Brooks is well worth reading (The Atlantic, March, 2020).  It provides a huge amount of information and a point of view that demands attention.  At the same time, Brooks misses a lot.

His thesis is the family or, more precisely, its decline.  Brooks sketches (very lightly) the history of the family and finds that the typical living arrangement for most people during most times has been that of the extended family.  That of course is generally true.  For countless reasons, extended families – mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews, cousins – lived together.  That provided a certain security for all involved.  If one person got sick, there was someone with the time to care for him.  If one person became disabled and couldn’t work, others took up the slack.

Plus, as the social capital theory of child well-being has it, all those relatives made different perspectives on the world, different skills (Uncle John makes really good shoes!) and different resources available to kids and in fact to everyone.

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March 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Last time I began discussing this article by NYT columnist David Brooks (The Atlantic, 3/2020).  It’s title – “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” - indicates both Brooks’ thesis and where it jumped the tracks.

As I said before, Brooks extols the extended family as having been the bedrock of human society for almost all of our history.  That’s true enough, but where he goes wrong is failing to acknowledge that the extended family only existed because of the nuclear one.  All those many aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. came together solely because of their relationships with Dad, Mom and their children.

That’s more than an incidental error on his part, because it leads to Brooks’ subsection entitled “The Short, Happy Life of the Nuclear Family,” in which we find,

For a time, it all seemed to work. From 1950 to 1965, divorce rates dropped, fertility rates rose, and the American nuclear family seemed to be in wonderful shape. And most people seemed prosperous and happy…

During this period, a certain family ideal became engraved in our minds: a married couple with 2.5 kids. When we think of the American family, many of us still revert to this ideal. When we have debates about how to strengthen the family, we are thinking of the two-parent nuclear family, with one or two kids, probably living in some detached family home on some suburban street. We take it as the norm, even though this wasn’t the way most humans lived during the tens of thousands of years before 1950, and it isn’t the way most humans have lived during the 55 years since 1965.

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Clayton Craddock

By Clayton Craddock, Chair, National Parents Organization of New York

Originally published on http://claytoncraddock.com/ and The Altamont Enterprise

Why must kids miss out on certain family relationships when parents separate? It’s cruel for children, who love both parents, to suddenly lose access to everything they once knew when their parents no longer want to live together. Does a child’s love and need for both parents suddenly end when parents decide to separate? A couple may no longer want to be together, but a child wants to remain close to their parents. Most children are willing to do what is necessary to be in a relationship with their caregivers as long as it means that they continue to see them as much as possible after separation.

Barring exceptional circumstances, a child’s right to both loving, fit parents should not be allowed to be used as leverage against the other while personal differences are ironed out in a settlement or in family court. 

Our culture is due for a drastic paradigm shift. It’s time to stop seeing one parent as the  default and the other as just a visitor. These assumptions are often sexist and outdated. If the parents can no longer live together, the next best thing is for the child to have equal time with each parent.

Our current domestic relations law here in New York State makes no effort to require, or even encourage, that healthy, fit, loving parents spend equal time with their child after a separation. Family courts usually pick one parent  to “win custody.” However, in the long run, the children are the biggest losers. When one side of their family suddenly is cut off, children have a strained relationship with not only the non-custodial parent, but the extended family as well. For example, they may rarely see their aunts, uncles, cousins and/or grandparents who they used to see frequently. Extended family relationships are often a vital support system.

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February 27, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Last time I wrote about the scandalous case of Megan and Andy Carter and their five-year-old daughter Ellie (NBC News, 2/14/20).  Ellie had multiple health problems due to her having been born very prematurely.  Her many visits to doctors and hospitals and her difficulty combatting an infection drew the attention of Mary Bridge Hospital’s child abuse pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Woods who seems to have believed that Megan was overtreating the child and withholding care to keep her sick. 

Woods’ intervention into Ellie’s parental care resulted in the child being taken from her mother for over a year, Megan’s being charged with child abuse and the Carters shelling out some $300,000 to defend against allegations that were not only unfounded, but contested by other experts.  To accomplish all that, Woods made numerous statements under oath that were either untrue or stretched the truth beyond recognition.  The judge in Megan’s trial laid into Woods:

Most of Woods’ testimony, the judge wrote, was “without supporting factual basis.” Amini dismissed parts of Woods’ conclusions as “not plausible” and “speculation at best.”

But Woods wasn’t finished.  Six months after all charges had been dropped and the family reunited, the Carters got a visit from Child Protective Services.  They had a report that Megan was giving Ellie unnecessary oxygen treatments.  Who made the report?  CPS officials didn’t say, but the only person fitting the description of one of the reporters was Elizabeth Woods.

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Ginger Gentile Film Director

NPO’s Executive Director, Ginger Gentile, has received an offer to direct a new documentary, not yet titled, that focuses on the promotion of better parenting practices and how society can help children. Because filmmaking is Ginger’s passion and because of her ongoing commitment to promote the well-being of children, Ginger has decided to accept this offer. Unfortunately for NPO, this means that Ginger will be leaving her post as Executive Director of NPO as of February 27, 2020.

During her tenure with NPO, Ginger worked effectively to promote NPO’s mission. She launched the 2019 NPO Shared Parenting Report Card with a press conference in New York’s Lincoln Center which garnered press coverage in the New York Post, Fox News, US News & World Report, and Yahoo. She also opened new NPO affiliates in seven states and brought new leadership to two other NPO affiliates. Ginger also helped us build alliances with a number of state-based shared parenting organizations to facilitate collaborative efforts to promote shared parenting.

We are sorry to see Ginger leave as our Executive Director but we wish her every success in her new endeavors. We know that Ginger remains strongly committed to the mission of NPO and she will continue to serve the organization in an advisory capacity.

Don Hubin, Chair

National Parents Organization

Working with the affiliates of NPO, who are volunteering long hours on raising awareness of the importance of shared parenting has been inspiring. They are turning personal pain into the energy needed to create a better future for their children, and all of our children. I enjoyed working with Chair Don Hubin and the other board members who are strongly committed to creating systemic change. 

I am confident that NPO is poised, along with other family court reform organizations, to make divorce and separation healthier for families. Right now there are a handful of states poised to join Kentucky in making Shared Parenting the legal norm. While I am sad to leave NPO, I am happy that I will be able to continue in an advisory role on issues related to messaging and strategy. All of the erased parents who watch my documentary ERASING FAMILY will be encouraged to join NPO to work on legislative advocacy, judicial education and distribute the great research produced by NPO. 

Remember, almost everyone supports shared parenting (literally! 93% in the last NPO poll conducted in Virginia) and research says this is best for kids. So by applying effective messaging we will quickly solve this public health crisis of kids not having both loving parents in their lives. 

Ginger Gentile

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February 26, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Here’s more on child abuse pediatricians (NBC News, 2/14/20).

This time, the story comes to us from Washington State and Mary Bridge hospital.  That’s where Megan Carter, her husband Andy and their four-year-old daughter Ellie were put through a legal, medical and emotional wringer over a period of over a year.  Megan was charged with medical child abuse of Ellie and eventually exonerated, but not after having been forcibly separated from both her children for a year and spending over $300,000 to fight the case.

Ellie was born at 24 weeks of gestation, i.e. extremely premature.  Unsurprisingly, that meant that, from day one of her life, she’s had medical issues.  She’s spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals.  She’s had a feeding tube inserted into her stomach and ventilation therapy to help her breathe.

When she was four, she contracted an infection that her immune system had serious difficulty combatting.  Megan took her to her pediatrician multiple times and eventually to Mary Bridge hospital.  That’s where she ran afoul of Dr. Elizabeth Woods, a child abuse physician who decided that Megan was engaging in medical child abuse.  In this case that meant overtreating the child, much like Munchhausen’s Syndrome by proxy.

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February 25, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Joan Meier, are you paying attention?  Are your fellow travelers in the movement to asperse the concept of parental alienation? 

Here’s yet another authoritative article by a psychiatrist, Dr. Christine Adams, who’s been a clinician for 40 years and a forensic scientist for 20 (Psychology Today, 2/18/20).  She’s worked and written extensively about parental alienation.  She knows whereof she speaks.

Parental alienation begins long before divorce occurs…

With the birth of a child, each parent forms a bond, or attachment, to the baby. For the alienating parent this bond is based on the parent having his or her needs met by the child. Mostly these are emotional needs. The relationship reverses from one that meets the needs of the child to one that meets the parent’s needs.

In short, the seeds of alienation are planted long before divorce occurs or is even contemplated.  They’re planted in the fertile soil that is the psyche of the future alienator who is emotionally needy.  The child learns to meet those needs and, when the process of divorce begins, the pressure on the child ramps up.

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February 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors

On March 24th, the Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case with the potential to severely erode the rights of biological parents (Lifesite News, 2/11/20).

The father, C.J.C. and the mother, D.A.W. had a daughter who remains unnamed in the legal documents.  The two parents split up and agreed to an almost equal parenting time arrangement.  D.A.W. began a relationship with her boyfriend, J.D. with whom she lived for about 11 months.  So the child spent about 5 ½ months of that time with her mother and J.D. and the same amount of time with her father.  There has never been either evidence or an allegation that C.J.C. is anything but an entirely fit and loving father.  When the child was four, D.A.W. was killed in a car accident.

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Lynda Steele

February 21, 2020 by Lynda Steele, Furnishing Fatherhood

The reaction to a simple act of kindness from a community of people who systematically do not see support is a humbling experience. Reaching out to a father to say “I do this because you matter,” even though I do not know him personally, is important to both of us. I fully understand that, to their children, they matter as much as anything in the world. That is why I provide furnishings for homes for non-custodial fathers.

The typical response I get from men and fathers when we meet up is “Wow, I didn’t think you were real.” With shock and watery eyes they approach me and follow up with “It just seems like no one cares about dads.” Most of these men, by the time we find each other, are emotionally exhausted and half expecting Furnishing Fatherhood and the support it offers to be a scam. When we finally connect and they are provided the items they need for their homes and children, emotions flow freely.  They tell me how much they care about their children, as if they are used to having to explain themselves. I greet them all with a big smile a warm hug and continue to remind them that I do this because their fatherhood matters. I reassure them that I can see how much they love their children and in that moment they begin to feel like they can breathe again and that they aren’t alone. I could have never imagined that showing up to father's home with a car seat or box of clothes for their children could bring such a huge sigh of relief. It doesn’t take someone with a lot of money or resources to help, it only takes someone with compassion and willingness to put in the work.

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Lynda Steele

February 20, 2020 by Lynda Steele, Furnishing Fatherhood

Laws help to protect our rights, liberties and freedoms, but they need to be improved to protect parental rights and children's rights. That said,… 

What law could be created to ensure that a divorced parent will have to share the child’s possessions and needs between the two homes? What law could be created to make people treat each other amicably? What law would make sure a parent who is going through a divorce or separation doesn’t end up homeless?

No law can or will do those things. The answers to those questions lie in resources and support. We have to look beyond laws to allow people to do the right things and create solutions that empower people to live better lives and rebuild following divorce. 

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February 19, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The horrifying case of Dr. John Cox is far from over (NBC News, 2/6/20).  I first wrote about it here and here.

Cox is the Milwaukee emergency room physician who made the mistake of taking his one-month-old adopted daughter to the Children’s Wisconsin hospital due to his concern that he might have inadvertently harmed her.  Cox had fallen asleep with the baby beside him and, when he awoke, he had rolled partially onto her.  The child exhibited no pain or distress, but to be on the safe side and after consulting his wife who’s also a doctor, he took her to the hospital.

There the child was the subject of a string of medical errors, some obvious, some less so.  One physician’s assistant insisted that a birth mark was a bruise.  A child abuse pediatrician decided that a bruise on the sole of the child’s foot was suspicious for abuse when in fact it had been caused by a pin prick done at the hospital for diagnostic purposes.  In all, some 15 doctors who either examined the child at the time or who reviewed her treatment later have said that no abuse occurred.  One called the proceedings against Cox “preposterous.”

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February 19, 2020 by Linda Reutzel, National Parents Organization of Missouri

A clear, responsible and elegantly written maintenance policy reform has been filed by Senator Ed Emery in the Missouri Senate.  His legislation, SB 961, updates an out-of-date law that was last substantially updated in the early 1970’s. 

Senator Emery’s bill would set durational limits and allow for a rehabilitative plan to get training or degrees for employment, and allow maintenance to be awarded for a party to bridge to a secure lifestyle; however, a judge could over-rule the limits or terminate a plan when it was determined that it was not being implemented. When a judge does not follow the limits, the court would be required to put the reason why in writing.The need for this provision, and indeed, the overall bill, is simple:

Current law is ambiguous, lacks definition, and both payors and recipients cite instances where court-room decisions are arbitrary and unfair so that similarly situated parties are not treated equally under the law.  Both genders face the potential for an unfair outcome.  It is also simple common-sense that in today’s courtrooms judges are reluctant to provide for maintenance reform to bridge to an independent lifestyle,because once a maintenance order is granted, it is hard to end. 

Without bright lines and more uniform outcomes, it is understandably difficult for both parties to enter into reasonable settlement agreements.  Instead the current law enables repeated litigation with inconsistent results.  This hurts children who suffer from watching their parents return to court. Inevitably, children are the collateral damage. Their parents struggle with the animosity and anger that results from repeatedly hitting the financial and emotional wound from ending a marriage.  This prevents families from moving on with their lives, and causes deep rifts.

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February 18, 2020 by Lori Grover, NCM,  Chair of Rhode Island NPO and Divorce Mediator

The emotional reality of ending a marriage is never easy. Whether a divorce is a mutual decision or made by one spouse, coming to terms with the end of a marriage and processing the loss is different for everyone. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve but certain behaviors can signal the existence of a bigger issue. Anyone who has been divorced, or knows someone who has, understands the roller coaster of emotions that effect the ability to think and function. Most divorcing people manage to work through the emotional and logistical challenges their divorce presents and in time, begin to focus on rebuilding their lives. But there are others who function differently; they’re driven by retribution, control, and perpetual conflicts. These are divorces involving high conflict personalities (HCPs).

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February 17, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Once more a man who’s not the father of a child has been forced to pay child support for it.  That’s true despite the fact that all parties acknowledge that the man isn’t the child’s father and he apparently has no relationship with it.  The case demonstrates the inanity and injustice of failing to require mothers to accurately identify the fathers of the children to which they give birth.

In April of 2017, Abriel Gonzalez gave birth to a child.  She named Jonathan Ortiz as the father even though she knew he might not be.  Ortiz too had questions about his paternity, but, at the hospital when the baby was born, Gonzalez threatened that, if he didn’t sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity, she wouldn’t allow him to see the child.  So he did.

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February 14, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

It’s that time of year again in Florida.  Early Spring?  No, it’s the time when the legislature is in session, there are two bills that would reform alimony and parenting time law and, of course opposition to both from family lawyers.  Here’s one example from Amy Hamlin who’s president of the Family Law Section of the Florida State Bar (Florida Politics, 2/10/20).  We’ve been down this road in Florida many times before and, predictably, the family lawyers there have no new arguments to make in their desperation to head-off sensible reform.

Well, to be entirely accurate, Hamlin does have one new argument that comes in the subtitle to her piece.

Hasty changes to alimony reform won’t yield better results for Florida families.

“Hasty?”  Er, not exactly.  In fact, alimony reform and shared parenting are possibly the best-known, best-understood and most extensively vetted of any issue before the legislature.  That’s because they’ve been introduced as bills, heard by committees, argued to the full House and Senate and voted on for at least four years now.  That’s not what I call “hasty.”

Weirdly, Hamlin admits as much.

For the last several Legislative Sessions, there has a push for sweeping changes to Florida’s alimony statute…

So, according to the article, the effort is hasty and at the same time it’s been around for several years.  Make sense?  As it turns out, it makes about as much sense as the rest of Hamlin’s piece.

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Lynda Steele

February 13, 2020 by Lynda Steele

“Sorry my organization only furnishes homes for non-custodial fathers, but I can direct you to an organization that can help you”.

Have you ever heard of an organization for only non-custodial fathers? Think about that for a minute. On a daily basis one-half of parents are turned away from certain support and resources because they are marked in family court with the title of “Non-Custodial”.  It’s as if, all of a sudden, they have been cast out by society, condemned to no support and diminished credibility in their children's lives.

Furnishing Fatherhood came about one day when a young father reached out to me and said, “Hey I heard you help fathers. I don’t know how to ask you this, but do you by chance have a car seat? My child's mother said she is not going to share the car seat anymore and, if I don’t have my own by my next visit, she will not let me have that weekend with my son.” Shocked, slightly irritated and now intrigued, I had a laundry list of questions. If he was missing a car seat and she wouldn't share “hers” what else was this dad missing? 

As it turned out, this dad had absolutely nothing. Since his relationship ended, he had for a year been “couch hopping”, paying his child support and saving money for his own place. When they split up all he was “allowed” to have was a back pack of his clothes. After hearing his story, I knew he needed more than just a car seat. I went to Facebook Marketplace and created a post asking for clothing for his son, living room furniture, a bed for him and his son, kitchen appliances and dishes - anything I could think of for a home. 

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February 12, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

In discussing parental alienation of children, I’ve many times commented on how thorny a problem allegations of PA can present to judges and custody evaluators.  In about one-third of cases in which child abuse is alleged, alienation is as well.  Imagine being a judge and having to sort out the competing claims and proffers of evidence and arrive at a decision.  There may be no abuse and no alienation or there may be both.  Or there may be alienation and not abuse or vice versa.  And all allegations are presented in the most heated rhetoric.  Sound easy?  It’s not.

Trickiest of all is the question whether a child’s rejection of a parent is justified or not.  One of the key indicators of PA isn’t simply rejection, but unjustified rejection.  So how’s a judge to figure out whether an angry and rejecting child is engaging in appropriate or inappropriate behavior?  There’s no case a judge less likes to hear than one including allegations of abuse and alienation.

Understandably, judges usually try to reach the right conclusion by resort to mental health professionals.  After all, at least they have training and experience in evaluating children’s behavior and therefore may be in a position to identify PA or its absence.  The problem with that approach is that, whatever their training and experience, making that evaluation can be hard for court-appointed evaluators too.  Indeed, complaints of wrong findings of alienation and wrong findings of no alienation are rife.

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February 10, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

NPO’s shared parenting bill has passed the state Senate by a whopping 39 – 1 margin.  Here’s SB 157 in its amended form.

The key language of course is,

(2) In making an order for a temporary parenting plan, there shall be a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for fit, willing and able parents to have temporary joint legal custody and share equally in parenting time.

The bill only applies to temporary orders, but that’s a good thing for two reasons.  First, the custody arrangement during the pendency of the divorce case can easily become the arrangement afterward.  Temporary orders have a way of becoming permanent. 

Second, as we saw in Kentucky three years ago, once the legislature passes a shared parenting bill that applies to temporary orders, it becomes easier the following session to pass one for permanent orders.  Temporary orders get the camel’s nose under the tent and, once in, it’s only a matter of time before the beast is all the way inside.

Now of course the bill goes to the House.

It’s not a perfect bill, but few are.  The main danger to shared parenting comes here:

(1) I
f there is presentation of documentation or other information by a parent that would support a finding of good cause that domestic abuse has occurred or is occurring, there shall be a presumption that it is not in the best interests of the child for the parents to have temporary joint legal custody and share equally in parenting time.

That’s scandalously (unconstitutionally?) vague language that can mean practically anything.  Notice for example that the section says nothing about evidence, so apparently, none of the “documentation” or “information” need be admissible in a court of law.  That opens the door to, well, anything anyone wants to toss up on the judge’s desk.  Likewise, the words “would support a finding” are subject to a wide array of interpretations.  What, for example, is the quantum of evidence required before such a finding can be made?  The section is silent.  Again, the bill offers no guidance to judges about what they can or can’t do when an allegation of DV is made.

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February 7, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This article gives a pretty good idea of the dysfunctional nature of the child support system in the United States (Kansas City Star, 1/26/20).  The state in question is Missouri, but the issues are the same from sea to shining sea and beyond.

Case in point: that of Rebecca Greenwell.  Back in 2001, she was ordered to pay child support for her two kids.  She did for almost five years, but then experienced health problems (emphysema and herniated spinal discs) that severely limited her ability to work and earn.  The state’s solution?  Put her in jail.  Of course that didn’t help her pay, nor did it improve her health, so Greenwell plunged further and further into debt.

So the latest threat against her is a six-month stretch in jail, a prospect Greenwall understandably dreads.  But she probably won’t go inside again.  Why?  Because her daughter, who’s now 20 years old, pays the child support for her.  That’s right, the daughter for whom she owes the support in the first place is paying it for her mother.  Amazing, but true.

Now, what the article doesn’t mention is that other versions of Greenwell’s case are actually fairly common.  It’s true that the payor isn’t usually the child for whom the support is intended, but the fact remains that, when a parent is faced with jail, others often step up to make sure that doesn’t happen.  So, relatives, friends or neighbors often pitch in to pay child support they don’t owe, just to keep the state from jailing a parent who’s too poor to pay.

And, speaking of the poor, that’s who typically fall under the State of Missouri’s axe in child support court.  That’s not surprising, given that the same is true throughout the country and, as elsewhere, in Missouri, the poor don’t get much of a day in court when they fall behind on their payments.

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February 6, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors

I’ve written many times about the tendency of child protective authorities to overreach, i.e. to intervene in families when doing so isn’t warranted by the situation.  Last time I wrote about the case of Dr. John Cox who, despite over a dozen doctors saying he hadn’t injured his infant daughter, has had the child taken from him and his wife and now faces felony child abuse charges.  Key to the child’s removal by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families were the opinions “child abuse pediatricians,” a small but growing set of medical specialists whose very existence is troubling to many.  Dr. Cox’s case looks like a good example of why and NBC and the Houston Chronicle have publicized several others.

But even those who believe that the current approach to child protection is, on balance, doing its job well, would have to admit that the use of child abuse doctors has its disturbing downsides.  In my last post, mentioned the tendency to exacerbate overreach and the problem with conflicts of interest, but there’s another problem.

Cox’s ordeal has also opened a rift at Children’s Wisconsin, where some treating physicians say they are so alarmed by what’s happened to him that they now hesitate to refer injured children for evaluations by child abuse pediatricians, fearing that an abuse specialist might jump to the wrong conclusion and needlessly report parents to Child Protective Services. 

In other words, the existence and nature of child abuse doctors sometimes causes other doctors to avoid their input into cases of injured children.  Surely that’s not the result child protective officials would want, but it’s the one their interactions with child abuse doctors has produced.  After all, Dr. Cox put the matter succinctly when he said,

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CT Capitol

February 4, 2020

A video-taped symposium on ‘Reducing Parental Conflict and Harm to Children’ was held last week at the Connecticut Legislature.

The first invited speaker was Professor Martin Kulldorff at Harvard Medical School, who talked about the ‘Scientific Evidence on Shared Parenting’ (video @32:00). Based on a review paper by Dr. Linda Nielsen, he presented the scientific evidence that shared parenting is in the best interest of the great majority of children, in terms of mental health, physical health, behavior and inter-personal relationships. From tables containing effect estimates from each outcome in each study, there were overwhelming evidence that shared parenting is better, and for some outcomes, the differences were surprisingly large. He concluded that there is a family court paradox between (i) the best interest of the child principle, (ii) the scientific evidence that shared parenting is in the best interest of the vast majority of children, and (iii) the fact that only a minority of children live in a shared custody arrangement. Dr. Kulldorff ended his presentation stating that if shared parenting was a medical drug, it would easily be approved by the FDA for its mental health benefits and the pharmaceutical company would make billons from it.

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man and boy sitting on floor near body of water 1161442 1

February 4, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This excellent article is the latest in a series by NBC News and (sometimes) the Houston Chronicle (NBC News, 1/27/20).  The series deals with the rising “specialty” of child abuse physicians, i.e. those who are supposedly uniquely trained and qualified to diagnose intentional injuries to children.  Those physicians don’t necessarily have a conflict of interest, but, as the article demonstrates, they often seem to adopt one.  Plus, as the NBC piece also makes clear, the very existence of the specialty can produce other more sinister ethical violations.

The piece is long and too detailed to adequately describe here.  Suffice it to say, that Dr. John Cox, an ER physician and his wife, Dr. Sadie Dombrozsi, an oncologist and hematologist, were in the process of adopting a baby girl.  They’d already adopted two boys and appear to have been entirely loving and fit parents to them.  But, not long after they’d brought home their one-month-old daughter-to-be, Cox fell asleep with the baby beside him.  When he awoke, he was partially on top of her.  The child was in no distress, but Cox was concerned.  He called his wife who was out of town with the boys and together they decided to “err on the side of caution” and take the baby to Children’s Wisconsin hospital at which they both worked.

As events developed, that turned out to be the least cautious thing they could have done.  Months later, the baby has been taken from them by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and John is under felony indictment for child abuse.  The latter of course threatens not only his freedom, but his livelihood.  That is all true despite the fact that there is no clear evidence of abuse, the pair have always been good parents to their other children and numerous doctors have looked into the case and found no reason to believe abuse occurred.

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