June 5, 2014
By Robert Franklin, Esq.

On Wednesday, June 4, National Parents Organization founder and Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS, participated with other shared parenting luminaries in a panel discussion sponsored by Newswise Live, a program that seeks to educate journalists on the important issues of the day. The panel consisted of Dr. Holstein; Warren Farrell, PhD, longtime supporter of the rights of men, fathers and boys and author of numerous books including Father and Child Reunion; Canadian family lawyer Georgialee Lang; and actor Jason Patric who recently won Round One of his two-year battle to play a real part in the life of his son, Gus.

The takeaway from the presentations of all panel members and the answers to reporters’ questions was that equal parenting and equal parenting supporters are on the right side of history. Dr. Holstein cited a long-term shift in the direction of equal parenting both in courts and legislatures, and in the popular imagination.

Lang, who has practiced family law in British Columbia for 25-years, reported that she’s seen sea-change in the awareness of parents and judges of the value of fathers to children. She cautioned though that even judges who might be inclined to issue orders for greater shared parenting and more equal parenting time for fathers and mothers often find themselves hamstrung by legal precedent. Those judges, of course, are required to act within the parameters of the law, both statutory and judge-made. The simple fact is that much precedent, both in Canada and in some states of the United States, oppose equal parenting outright. Much as judges may want to, they can’t issue orders that contradict existing law. If they do, their orders will be reversed by a court of appeals. But slowly, precedents supporting shared parenting are being established, Lang said.

So the point Lang made most vigorously was that laws have to be changed and doing so takes political will. It’s a point that was made on the National Parents Organization blog site just last week in the wake of the defeat of Maurice Vellacott’s equal parenting bill by the Canadian House of Commons.

Impressively, the shared parenting movement has a powerful and dedicated ally in actor Jason Patric. National Parents Organization blog has written about his case twice. He’s the biological father of his son, Gus. But because the boy was conceived by in vitro fertilization, California law calls into question Patric’s parental rights. Never mind that Patric and his partner, Danielle Schreiber, agreed from the outset to raise Gus together and never mind that Patric signed 20-pages of documents at the IVF clinic naming him the “intended father.” And, according to the trial judge, never mind the fact that, for the first three years of Gus’s life, Patric was a loving, capable hands-on dad. No, according to the trial court, because he and Schreiber had conceived their child via IVF instead of intercourse, Patric had no rights and Gus no father. Patric hasn’t seen his son in over a year.

Fortunately, just three weeks ago, an appellate court overturned that decision and ordered the case back to the trial court to decide the usual issues of custody, child support, visitation and the like. As day follows night, for the first time Schreiber leveled allegations of abuse at Patric.

The point being that prominent actor Jason Patric has had a taste — no, a huge helping — of family laws and family courts. And that’s made him a staunch, dedicated and highly informed supporter of the equal rights of fathers and mothers. He’s devoted to changing laws, but he rightly pointed out that, until that happens, countless fathers and children will suffer.

So he’s put his money where his mouth is. He’s rounded up some of his buddies in the entertainment industry and they’ve started a fund. The fund is to pay lawyers in Los Angeles in custody cases. That is, any dad who doesn’t have the money to fight his own custody fight, will have a lawyer paid for by Patric’s fund. To say the least, that’s huge. The fund only applies to custody fights, but, at least for now, fathers in the L.A. area will no longer have to accept what crumbs courts toss their way. They’ll have their own lawyers to fight for them. Thank you Jason!

Patric also demonstrated his understanding of the long view of the history of gender relations and where the current equal parenting fight fits in that. He said that, just as it is now inconceivable to believe “a woman’s place is in the home,” or that her work should be valued less, or that we should turn a blind eye to domestic violence, in time we’ll come to think the same of unequal parenting. With all the benefits of fathers to children and the benefits to mothers of fathers playing an equal role in their children’s lives, Patric expressed a strong certainty that in time equal parenting will be a “given” in family courts.

For her part, Lang sees the good and the bad of family courts. Over 25-years, she’s seen a sea-change in attitudes toward father involvement with children. When she started practicing, maternal custody was essentially unquestioned, but now that’s no longer true even if the outcome still usually favors Mom. But she sees the attitude of her female clients being one of unquestioned entitlement to custody. Put simply, that’s the idea they arrive with when they first walk into her office. To Lang, attorneys owe their clients — both men and women — the obligation to damp those types of expectations. Attorneys need to educate their clients on the value of both parents to children. Sadly, she reports, few of her colleagues concur.

Those lawyers are some of the entrenched interests Dr. Holstein mentioned when he referred to the opposition to shared parenting. As we know, bar associations are always the first in line to lobby against whatever shared parenting bill may be before a state legislature. Family law thrives on parental conflict and the adversarial system of winner-take-all custody; fan the flames of conflict between parents who are already none too friendly. The result is bad for kids.

The role of mothers in promoting shared parenting needs to be a point of emphasis, the panel agreed. Dr. Holstein pointed out that mothers need to learn that not only children but they themselves benefit when Dad is a hands-on caregiver. The sad fact is that some 46% of single mothers with custody of children live in poverty and their median income is only $23,000. Greater involvement from fathers in childcare means mothers can work more, earn more, advance more, and be more independent financially.

Along those lines, Dr. Farrell recounted how, prior to his marriage, he dated a number of single mothers. The one word he heard from all of them was “overwhelmed.” They had too little time and energy to do a proper job of supporting themselves and their kids, and felt drained and unable to cope. Plus, they understood that their children were paying the price for the lack of their fathers’ input.

Little by little the tectonic movement of laws, public policy, public opinion, and judicial practice heads in the direction of equal parenting. Jason Patric is correct. Someday we’ll look back on the marginalization of fathers in the lives of their children and all the personal and social havoc it wreaks and shake our heads in wonder that we could ever have been so blind. Until then, the Newswise Live event was another galvanizing force. And, in Jason Patric, we have an important new ally.

#JasonPatric, #WarrenFarrell, #NedHolstein, #GeorgialeeLang, #Father, #Child, #Sharedparenting

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