National Parents Organization's core belief is that children should have two parents actively involved in their lives, both of whom bear the rights and responsibilities of parenting, including the responsibility for financial support. True gender equality and a strong presumption of shared parenting embraces every issue separating children from loving fathers, grandparents, and other relatives: alimony, child custody, child support, disabled parents, domestic violence, military child custody, move aways, parental alienation, and paternity fraud.
Shared parenting is a solution that prominent and respected experts in child development have shown through research that children ardently desire; makes them happier; improves their schooling; decreases delinquency, gang violence, and trouble with the law; decreases substance abuse and teen pregnancy; increases child support compliance; and diminishes parental conflict and domestic violence.
National Parents Organization's ultimate goal is shared parenting in every state. This is key to implementing remedies for the host of financial, custody, and alienation issues the family courts address. It is our belief that this will:
- Actively protect the child's access to both parents.
- Provide an increased sense of security and safety for children
- Promote the sharing of the parental roles and responsibilities of children.
- Increase voluntary compliance with child support orders and direct financial support for children.
- Provide equal and consistent treatment of mothers and fathers in the family courts.
- Encourage enforcement of parenting time.
- Increase parental harmony when accompanied by education and non-adversarial problem solving mechanisms.
- Increase employment opportunities for women.
- Support self-sufficiency of both mothers and fathers.
- Encourage equitable division of family assets.
- End expensive legal battles.
- Lower divorce rates.
Shared parenting is a solution that prominent and respected experts in child development have shown through research that children ardently desire; makes them happier; improves their schooling; decreases delinquency, gang violence, and trouble with the law; decreases substance abuse and teen pregnancy; increases child support compliance; and diminishes parental conflict and domestic violence. Shared parenting has been endorsed by 86% of Massachusetts voters in a 2004 ballot referendum, and has been co-sponsored by 30% of the State Legislature.
The Problem for Our Children. The fact of the matter is that a vast and rapidly growing number of children are being raised in split households, where the mother and father no longer live together. The nature of the family court system is adversarial, creating a disincentive for parents to mediate. It discourages parents from being parents, and ultimately harms children.
The Center for Disease Control, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of the Census report: 30% of children who live apart from their fathers will account for 63% of teen suicides, 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 71% of high-school dropouts, 75% of children in chemical-abuse centers, 85% of rapists, 85% of youths in prison, 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders, and 90% of homeless and runaway children.
Children want both parents. Professor of Women's Studies Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University reports seventeen studies showing that children of divorce want shared parenting. No studies show the opposite.
Shared parenting after divorce is best for children. Decades of social science research clearly establish, except in rare cases, that children do best if both parents share in the day-to-day responsibilities of rearing the children after separation or divorce.
That's why Dr. Michael Lamb, Head of the Section of Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, of the National Institutes of Health, has written, "…Parenting plans that allow children to see their fathers every Wednesday evening and every other weekend clearly fail to recognize the adverse consequences of weeklong separations from non-custodial parents…Instead of promoting parenting plans that marginalize one of the parents, custody evaluators should promote continued involvement by both parents."
Shared parenting is the only measure that reliably increases child support compliance. Researcher Sanford Braver of Arizona State University found that when shared parenting is awarded, child support compliance increased to 97%.
Presumption of Shared Parenting During Temporary Orders
Decades of social science research clearly establish that, except in rare cases, when parents divorce, children do best if the parents share in the day-to-day responsibilities of rearing the children. Unfortunately, many states do not encourage—and, in fact, actively discourage—true shared parenting. This begins at the stage of temporary orders, when parents first come before the court. At this time, the court designates one parent to be the custodial and residential parent and the other a mere visitor in the children's lives. This sets a destructive pattern for the family—one that is often difficult for the disenfranchised parent to change.
Oklahoma has successfully addressed this problem with a legal presumption of shared parenting during temporary orders when it is requested by one of the parents (§43-110.1). Recently, Alaska enacted similar legislation (AS 25.20.070).
Child Custody and Parenting Time Enforcement
One of the most corrosive patterns of behavior exhibited in separated parenting is interference with a parent's court-ordered parenting time. Such interference hurts the children and causes frustration and anger in the other parent. Currently, the only legal redress for interference with parenting time is a motion for contempt. This is an inadequate remedy because it is expensive, time consuming, and unlikely to be effective unless the pattern of violation is extreme and very persistent.
National Parents Organization favors an approach pioneered by Missouri. This approach provides for aggrieved parents to file a simple "Family Access Motion" when parenting time has been unjustifiably interfered with. Courts are required to address the issue quickly and with appropriately sized sanctions for violators. Missouri's experience with these motions has been very positive.
Move aways should be avoided unless it can be presented and proven the move is in the best interest of the children, not the custodial parent. Most often the best interest of the children is preserving their relationships with two parents, according to eminent researchers.
Parental alienation is child abuse. National Parents Organization is working on making shared parenting the norm because we believe this is a solution for parental alienation.
One of the researchers in the field, Edward Kruk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, has questioned whether or not sole custody is a form of parental alienation. It certainly provides more of an opportunity for it.
Dr. Kruk poignantly asks, "Why are parents with no civil or criminal wrongdoing forced to surrender their responsibility to raise their children?" and "Is the removal of a parent from the life of a child, via legal sole custody, itself a form of parental alienation?"
In her book Parenting Apart, parent educator and author Christina McGhee gives five key signs of parental alienation:
- The child has a black-and-white view of his parents, perceiving the alienating parent as good and honest and the target parent as all bad. Negativity toward the other parent eventually turns to hatred and contempt, which is reinforced by the alienating parent.
- The child mimics accusations and opinions about one parent but denies being coached or influenced by the other parent, insisting the ideas are his own.
- The child's negativity extends to the other parent's extended family, including grandparents, even if a close relationship existed before.
- The child's contempt and rejection are not based on actual circumstances such as abuse or harmful behavior, but rather on seemingly unwarranted or unsubstantiated reasons.
- The child consistently rejects one parent and refuses to see or spend time with him or her, regardless of how close their bond was in the past.
Military Child Custody
Divorced or never-married military parents deployed overseas often face the possibility of losing their custodial arrangement and their relationship with their children. Thus far, thirty-seven states have passed legislation protecting and maintaining military parent's child custody.
A parent's disability should not affect his or her custodial status unless that disability would impair the ability to care for the child. National Parents Organization proposes: In any proceeding to determine child custody or visitation under this part, in which at least one parent is disabled as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12101 et seq.), there is a rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of proof that the disability of that parent may not form the basis for an order granting custody or visitation to another party, or for an order for imposing any condition or limitation on an award of custody to or visitation by the disabled parent, unless that other party establishes by clear and convincing evidence that a grant of custody or visitation to, or a condition or limitation on custody or visitation by, the disabled parent would be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the child. This applies to any proceeding regarding custody or visitation, including, but not limited to, a request for a modification of an existing order for custody or visitation.
DNA testing benefits children by providing them access to their actual paternal fathers and extended family. It gives them an accurate family medical history, thus allowing physicians to better treat acute illnesses and prevent or prepare for genetic illnesses and conditions. It allows them the opportunity to develop a relationship with their fathers who may otherwise not have been aware of them.
National Parents Organization recommends:
- Requiring a putative unmarried father to obtain genetic marker testing before signing a paternity acknowledgement form.
- Allowing the putative father to waive testing only if he is represented by counsel.
- Allowing him to challenge legal paternity for up to five years by use of genetic marker testing.
In many cases children enter family court with two parents and leave with one primary parent and a payor/visitor, pushed to the periphery of their lives. The Guidelines are based on the assumption that children have primary residence with one parent and spend approximately one-third of the time with the other parent, rather than an assumption that a child will spend equal time with both parents. In most cases, the Guidelines create a windfall for the custodial parent as a child support recipient.
National Parents Organization proposes that the guidelines be developed to:
- Treat the child support obligation of both parents in a shared parenting situation where both parents are custodial and residential parents equally unless the court finds that such treatment would be unjust, inappropriate, and not in the best interest of the child.
- Lower support amounts with due regard to the needs of the child.
- Base child support on after-tax income, not gross income.
- Not include earnings form overtime and second jobs.
- Not include bonus income.
- Encourage equal treatment of all children, including first and second families.
- Encourage shared parenting.
- Incorporate a true self-support reserve for poor payors.
- End or modify the child support after high school, unless special needs exist.
- Remove legal requirement to pay for college.
- Clarify how the child support is to be used, and specify the types of expenses it covers.
- Base child support on actual income not attributed income.
Curbing Alimony Abuses
Family courts are rife with abuses and injustices in awarding alimony/spousal support and in dividing divorcing couples' assets. Improvements National Parents Organization seeks include:
- Protecting high income earners who also own businesses from alimony "double dipping" and "triple dipping." Currently, spouses often receive a sizable monthly income from the profits of a business, are awarded half the business in a divorce, and also get spousal support based on the obligor's earnings from the business.
- Limiting court-required payout of assets in marriages of less than 10 years in which one person provides the lion's share of the couple's wealth.
- Setting caps on how much alimony courts can order obligors to pay and for how long.
- Allow some alimony obligors to obtain court orders requiring vocational examinations for their exes and mandating that judges follow the exams' findings.
- Requiring that the party receiving alimony must make every attempt to improve their own earning potential through education and other opportunities.
- Ending life-time alimony.
Domestic restraining orders are necessary in some cases to protect both men and women from danger from an intimate partner. The issuance of so-called temporary restraining orders has saved lives, and this law cannot simply be repealed.
On the other hand, the actual administration of the restraining order law as carried out daily in our courts constitutes a wholesale trampling of basic rights. In addition to those who are truly dangerous, large numbers of innocent people who have no intention of harming anyone are summarily thrown out of their houses; separated from their children; entered into a lifelong criminal database; lose control of bank accounts, investments, financial records, and valuable belongings; and are denied sensitive jobs.
All of this happens based solely on the request of a partner who has much to gain by fabricating or exaggerating her fears.
Commonly confused and without money for legal representation, fathers sometimes agree to restraining orders as a way to make peace or to end proceedings, not knowing that their assent can cause problems with their child custody rights, parenting time, and employment, as well as landing them on domestic violence registries.
National Parents Organization recommends a restraining order advisement that would mandate that before a respondent can agree to a restraining order, he or she must first receive an advisement from the judge as to the possible implications of his or her agreement.
Removing the Innocent from Child Abuse Registries
Accusations of child abuse are also often used as weapons in custody battles. Many of the accused are eventually found to be factually innocent or the claims against them are ruled unfounded. Incredibly, many states' child abuse registries do not provide a process by which innocent people can be removed from the index.