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.
July 9, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Bad facts make bad law, at least Australian Labor MP Graham Perrett hopes they do.
Perrett has seized on a single horrible incident that took place in February of this year to attempt to (a) change Australian family law to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children even more than they already are and (b) short circuit the inquiry into family law now in progress.
On February 19th, Rowan Baxter poured gasoline on his three children and their mother, Hannah Clarke, and set it alight, killing all four. He then stabbed himself to death. Baxter and Clarke had been embroiled in a child custody case prior to their deaths.
A family tragedy doesn’t get much more shocking and appalling than that and Perrett was johnny on the spot, ready to make whatever legislative hay he could from the deaths. Strangely, he’s put forward a bill that would do away with the presumption of parental responsibility that’s the last vestige of fathers’ rights in Australian family law. “Parental responsibility” is what we in the U.S. call “legal custody,” i.e. the right to have a say in children’s schooling, medical care, etc. How removing that presumption would have changed the Baxter/Clarke tragedy, I can’t understand and Perrett hasn’t explained. It seems that, in the Land Down Under, it’s always open season on dads and their access to their kids.
July 9, 2020 by Indiana Lee
No one enters into a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. No parent wants their child to have to face the separation of her parents. But not even a divorce can change the fact that you, your former spouse, and the children you made together are, and always, will be a family,
If parental separation is handled well, a child of divorce doesn't come from a "broken home". She has two fixed homes. Together, you and your former spouse can shepherd your child through this transition. No, it won’t always be easy. No, you won’t always have all the answers and you may sometimes feel as if you simply don’t know what you’re doing. And yes, you will make mistakes.
But that’s okay. Because you’re human and humans make mistakes. And when your child sees you and your former spouse facing adversity together as a whole family, even in the face of divorce, then they’re going to learn resilience.
July 8, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Amazing but true, The Guardian has a positive article about fathers, and a reasonably accurate one too (The Guardian, 6/30/20). Of course the article is well behind the research it deals with and barely scratches the surface, but, within those limitations, it gives its readers valuable information.
It seems there’s some recent research out of Cambridge University on fathers playing with their children and how that influences children’s behavior, both immediately and in the years to come.
Research carried out by Cambridge University’s faculty of education and the LEGO Foundation looked at how mothers and fathers play with children aged 0 to 3 years and how it affects child development.
While there are many similarities, it found that fathers tend to engage in more physical play like tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides, which researchers claim appears to help children to learn to control their feelings.
The research is based on a review of data from 78 studies, carried out mainly in Europe or the US between 1977 and 2017, which found a consistent correlation between father-child play and a child’s ability later to control their feelings.
July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Is Greece poised to make a great leap forward toward parental equality in family courts? This article says it may be; I’m less confident (Open Democracy, 6/29/20).
It seems the current government has put forward a bill that would significantly overhaul current law relating to child custody, child support and parenting time. That may be a good thing. The linked-to article’s writer, Vassillis K. Fouskas, is a professor of international politics and economics at the University of East London. He identifies three major defects in current Greek family law.
“First, middle and lower-middle class fathers who dared to enter litigation demanding shared parenting/joint custody risked losing their child(ren) at the same time that they were asked to pay enormous amounts of money in child maintenance.”
As I understand it, Greece has no clear system for ordering child support, such as the guidelines that govern in most parts of this country, so each judge simply makes it up as he/she sees fit. That can mean lower-earning fathers can end up with ruinous support orders.
July 3, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Psychologist Jennifer Harman and Nebraska attorney Nancy Shannon have an excellent op-ed here (Omaha World Herald, 6/27/20). It’s nominally about maternal gatekeeping, but spills over into parental alienation as well. Now, maternal gatekeeping and parental alienation are two different things, but the former can be the latter and gatekeeping behavior could easily become a precursor to alienation.
That said, Harman and Shannon pull no punches.
“Extensive research shows the importance of fathers to their children’s well-being. These studies show children in father-limited environments are almost four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and twice as likely to commit suicide. They also have significantly lower educational attainment, are more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, have higher risk of being victimized by crime, have higher risk of physical and mental health issues, and have lower life expectancies.”
Given that, we should of course bend heaven and earth to keep fathers involved in their children’s lives. But gatekeeping and alienation by mothers often interfere with our attempts to do so. Indeed, Harman and Shannon alert their readers to a 2015 report by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families on maternal gatekeeping. Its findings are remarkable.
July 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
In a much anticipated and long-awaited ruling, the Texas Supreme Court has done the right thing, albeit the obvious thing as well. The case is entitled In re C.J.C., Relator.
C.J.C. had a six-year relationship with an unnamed mother. They had a daughter, Abigail in 2014. In 2016, C.J.C. and Abigail’s mother split up and he went to court to request custody. The trial court ordered a roughly equal temporary parenting time schedule, but, before the case could be concluded, the mother was killed in an auto accident.
Abigail’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s boyfriend, Jason, petitioned the court for custody of the little girl. C.J.C. resisted, but, in the end, the trial court awarded Jason some limited visitation that increased with time.
Professor Linda Nielsen’s newest book is out now! Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and Their Dads is essential reading for daughters and their fathers, as well as for their families and for therapists. This friendly, no-nonsense book by father-daughter relationships expert, Dr. Linda Nielsen, offers women and their dads a step-by-step guide to improve their relationships and to understand the impact this will have on their well-being.
Nielsen encourages us to get to the root of problems, instead of dealing with fallout, and helps us resolve the conflicts that commonly strain relationships from late adolescence throughout a daughter’s adult years. Showing how we can strengthen bonds by settling issues that divide us, her book explores a range of difficult issues from conflicts over money, to the daughter’s lifestyle or sexual orientation, to her parents’ divorce and dad’s remarriage.
With quizzes and real-life examples to encourage us to examine beliefs that are limiting or complicating the connection between fathers and daughters, this guide helps us feel less isolated and enables us to create more joyful, honest, enriching relationships.
You can buy the book here.
June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that family court’s order restricting a father’s derogatory remarks on Facebook about his ex-wife violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech (New York Times, 5/9/20). Good for it.
I wrote here, here, here and here about the many ways in which family courts routinely violate constitutional guarantees with their orders. Prior restrictions on speech, travel, association and others are par for the course in family court and yet, curiously, they’re rarely challenged.
Jennifer M. Lamanna, a lawyer who represented Mr. Shak in the appeal, called the ruling a “game-changer” because family and probate judges in the state frequently give such orders, and treat violations as contempt of court, carrying severe penalties.
“There are thousands of these out there, which is why this is, for Massachusetts purposes, a landmark ruling,” she said. “People ask for them routinely and they are just handed out.”
June 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
I suppose the first thing that comes to mind about this article is the obvious – that if the sexes were reversed, the article never would have been written and, if it were, the fathers would be raked over the coals (Sydney Morning Herald, 3/17/18). It’s about three Australian mothers who left their husbands and children, something the article calls a “tough decision.”
That’s right in the headline and it sets the tone for the rest of the piece. That tone is one of understanding and sympathy for the mothers, not a hint of rebuke or faultfinding, and barely a word about how their leaving might have adversely impacted their kids. Needless to say, words like “deadbeat” never appear.
The main point of the piece seems to be that the women were criticized for leaving their children, to my mind, an understandable response. Somehow it seems to assume that, if a father did the same, he’d be clapped on the back and stood a pint by the lads at the nearest pub. But, when mothers leave their kids, they’re the victims in need of our care and concern.
May 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
This is a shocking case (Daily Mail, 5/18/20). Or, that is, it would be if we knew its facts. But we don’t, and that’s the other shocking part.
As far as I can determine, child protective caseworkers botched a case somewhere in the U.K. I think this because the judge’s words suggest serious malfeasance on their part.
However, [the judge] said publicly: ‘I do not think I have ever had to criticise a local authority to the extent that I have found it necessary to do in this case.’
He added that social workers ‘disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection’.
Strong words. I wonder what they mean. The Daily Mail article gives us this much:
June 25, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
As I said in my last piece, the tide of denigration of fathers on Father’s Day seems to have ebbed substantially this year. That’s good news of course, but what’s less so is the latest study of the depiction of fathers in TV sit-coms. Whatever may be true on dads’ one day per year, is emphatically not so the other 364.
The study, by UMass Amherst professor of Communications Erica Scharrer and six colleagues, is entitled “Disparaged Dads: A Content Analysis of Depictions of Fathers in U.S. Sit-Coms Over Time,” and was published in May by the journal Psychology of Popular Media.
Now, given all that we’ve learned over the years about the value of fathers to children and how fathers are doing far more hands-on parenting than ever before, you might think they’d get a break from pop culture. After all, surely their depictions therein would have improved over time, right?
June 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Wake Forest professor Linda Nielsen has some advice for parents and children who find themselves cooped up with each other during the COVID-19 restrictions (Institute for Family Studies, 4/30/20). Particularly fathers and daughters should use their newly-expanded time together to get to know each other better. Doing so would be good for both.
Nielsen has been studying father-daughter relationships for thirty years. She’s asked her students to fill out questionnaires about their relationships with their fathers and used the accumulated information in her book on the subject coming out around Father’s Day.
What she’s found is that fathers and daughters often fail to create the type of depth in their relationships that would benefit both, but particularly daughters. The dangers of not doing so can be dire:
[T]he impact of a distant, superficial, or estranged relationship with dad can range from mild to life-threatening for a daughter, including: leading to more troubled relationships with men and higher divorce rates, lower adult incomes and more poverty, more stress-related health problems, and higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol problems, dating violence, teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases…
Moreover, a daughter is more likely than a son to suffer from clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide, all of which are closely related to the quality of her relationship with her dad.
In short, daughters need their fathers. We ignore the importance of that relationship at our – and most importantly at their – peril. How do fathers and daughters become estranged? The distance between them comes about for several reasons.
One of the most common is the breakup of the parents’ relationship with each other. Another is the mom’s gatekeeping—behaviors and attitudes that close the metaphorical gate between fathers and their children and make it difficult to build strong bonds, especially with daughters. And particularly when the parents’ relationship with one another is coming apart, mothers are more likely to share damaging information or to bad-mouth the dad to their daughters. Then, too, there are a host of damaging, yet untrue, beliefs about men as parents, especially about father-daughter relationships, that work against dads. For example, some people believe there is a “natural” and stronger bond between mothers and daughters because they are both female—and that women have a maternal instinct that men lack. Some also believe that mothers have more impact than fathers do on their children, especially on their daughters.
None of that of course is inevitable. All those wedges between fathers and daughters exist because we allow them to. Divorce courts too easily sideline one parent – usually the father – in their children’s lives by providing too little parenting time in the final order. Maternal gatekeeping comes about because we’ve done too little to publicize its detriments to kids and train mothers to include fathers in child rearing. And the educational system, news and popular culture do far too little to make us all aware of the vital role fathers play in children’s lives and healthy development.
For thirty years, Dr. Linda Nielsen has been fighting to correct all those shortcomings in public policy and culture. We all benefit from her work. It needs to start playing a larger role in public policy and the important ways we understand children and their need for two parents in their lives.
June 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
So, we managed to get past Father’s Day without the usual barrage of dad-hating articles. I’m sure there are some I missed, but, for the most part, it seems like a pretty good year. But it wouldn’t be Father’s Day without at least one, so, here it is (Harvest, 6/20/20).
The writer, Pastor Gregg Laurie, knows nothing about his subject. He makes assertions that are patently untrue and, predictably, unsourced. His swipes at fathers are entirely gratuitous. In short, his article is what we’ve come to expect in the run-up to Father’s Day. The only difference is that Laurie is a pastor and his piece is larded with religious references and a spiritual tone. How Laurie can call himself a Christian and be so dismissive of fathers, I can’t guess.
Here’s Pastor Gregg:
Not only that, but probably more fathers attend church on Mother’s Day than on Father’s Day. Next to Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day has the highest church attendance. But Father’s Day is one of the days with the lowest church attendance.
June 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors
I’ve posted a few pieces on the very dubious ways family court judges use their power. Many of those are of questionable constitutionality, but they’re seldom, if ever, challenged. Here’s such a case (Detroit Free Press, 9/19/19). It’s not a recent one, but it’s well worth mentioning.
Jonathan Vanderhagen had a son with a woman who goes unnamed in the article. A family court of course gave primary custody to her. But Vanderhagen complained. He filed an action to gain custody for himself claiming his ex was unfit to care for their son, Killian. He filed that in the court of Judge Rachel Rancilio although it was heard by a special master. Vanderhagen’s request was denied and, sometime later, Killian died in his ex’s care. She says she had nothing to do with his death. Vanderhagen disagrees.
Whatever the case, Vanderhagen posted to social media some harsh criticisms of the family court system, including Judge Rancilio. Even though none of what Vanderhagen posted was remotely threatening or abusive, Rancilio complained to the county sheriff who brought charges against Vanderhagen. He was arrested, posted the $1,000 bond and a no-contact order was issued against him.
The first celebration of a “Father’s Day” was in 1908 when a West Virginia church commemorated the deaths in a mining accident of 361 miners, 250 of them fathers. The beginnings of a general celebration of fathers began a few years later, in Spokane, Washington, when Sonora Smart Dodd, inspired by a Mother’s Day celebration, urged her minister to declare a similar day for recognizing fathers. There were several unsuccessful attempts to establish official recognition of Father’s Day by Congress, but they were defeated. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith criticized Congress for ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents”. In 1966, President Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June ‘Father’s day’ and in 1972 President Nixon signed a law making it a permanent national holiday. (Credit goes to Wikipedia for the brief history.)
One reason Congress resisted making Father’s Day a holiday was concern that the day would be commercialized. This fear was not unfounded, of course, though with respect to commercialization, Father’s Day doesn’t match Mother’s Day. But commercialization isn’t the only disparity between the two holidays. Anyone paying attention over the past few decades has seen instances where Father’s Day is used not to honor but to disparage fathers. (For some examples, Google: deadbeat dads “Father’s Day”.) Father’s Day has even been used as a day to target fathers who are behind on their child support obligations, as documented here by Glenn Sacks and Ned Holstein.
June 19, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
This piece builds on my last two detailing the most recent (May, 2020) data from the U.S. Census Bureau on child custody and support.
The Bureau reports this information every couple of years and has since at least 1993. One of the most remarkable aspects of the data is how little child custody arrangements have changed over the past 27 years. Most noteworthy is the fact that the ratio of maternal to paternal custody has remained essentially unchanged over all that time. In 2017, 80% of child custodians were mothers and 20% fathers. In 1993 the numbers were 84% and 16% respectively.
It’s hard to believe that, with all we’ve learned about the value of fathers to children that so little headway has been made toward increasing fathers’ custody. The simple fact is that the social science on fathers and children is now far ahead of what it was in the 1990s, so you’d think that we’d see that reflected in child custody data, but we don’t. It’s as if all that vital information, all that painstaking work has gone for naught.
These are uncertain economic times for many families. Once thriving businesses are struggling and sometimes failing. Workers are facing cutbacks in their hours, furloughs, and layoffs. It’s a time when many families can’t responsibly consider increasing their contributions to non-profit organizations like National Parents Organization no matter how much these families support the mission of that organization.
It’s also a time, though, when many families are doing more online purchasing than ever, often from the 300-pound gorilla of online shopping, Amazon,com. And that means that there’s a no-cost way for people to support the mission of NPO.
Through its Smile program, Amazon will donate .5% of your eligible purchases (which are likely to be almost all of them) to the non-profit organization of your choice. And this doesn’t cost you a penny.
Read the news coverage and op-eds about our Shared Parenting Report Card at the links below:
May 17, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Last time I introduced the latest Census Bureau data on custodial and non-custodial parents and child support. As usual, hard facts make for some interesting reading.
Some of that interesting reading includes the fact that, since 1993, the amount of child support ordered by courts has been declining. In 2017, the latest year for which the Bureau has statistics, the average amounts ordered by courts for both non-custodial mothers and non-custodial fathers, was at the lowest point since 1993. I speculated that the reason for that is that perhaps judges have come to realize what so many of us have known for a long time – that child support orders are often set too high. So possibly the decline indicates a coming to grips with that fact on the part of courts.
Two very wise people have offered other explanations. One is that the incidence of equal parenting may be on the rise and, since some states reduce child support as parenting time increases, average orders decrease accordingly. I suppose that’s possible, but we really don’t have much evidence to let us know one way or the other. One reason given the Census Bureau by parents for not requesting a formal child support order was “child stays with other parent part of the time,” but obviously that bears little on the incidence of shared parenting. And the data don’t go into types of custody or parenting time.
June 15, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The May, 2020 publication by the Bureau of the Census, “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2017,” is a mass of good information. The facts stated in the report militate strongly in favor of changes to both custody and child support laws.
First, a few basics:
About 22 million children in the U.S. lived with a custodial parent household when their other biological parent lived elsewhere. That’s 26.5% of all children under the age of 21 in the U.S. (Since when are 20-year-olds classified as “children?”) Almost half (48.8%) of black kids live with a custodial parent and without the other biological parent. About 13 million custodial parents cared for those kids.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone. And that includes parents who are paying child support. In fact, the economic devastation the virus has produced threatens to be disastrous for many of these parents. And NPO is taking a strong stand to try to protect these parents.
When parents in an intact marriage have any sort of economic setback, they tighten their belts to work through the hard times. When parents who pay child support have an economic setback, they get in arrears on child support and these arrearages can build quickly and be difficult to discharge even when income is restored. This is a troubling, but familiar, problem. What’s new—what the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought—is on a different scale. Without swift government action, we’re headed for a catastrophe for millions of parents.
The mandated economic shutdown will result in millions of paying parents who have never been behind on their child support payments suddenly being in arrears. The closure of many courts means that these parents can’t file a motion for modification of their child support. Even when the courts open up, there will be significant backlogs. And, unless lawmakers and child support officials take dramatic action, the strong enforcement measures intended to coerce child support evaders—those who have the ability to pay but are unwilling to—will be applied to parents who have lost income because of the deep economic recession.
June 12, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The American Enterprise Institute’s Naomi Schaefer Riley has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece here that’s well worth reading (Wall Street Journal, 6/8/20).
As all the world now knows, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to disband the police and “replace” them with mental health professionals and, apparently, vigilantes. Here’s what they told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday, June 8:
“This is the beginning of the process of putting together a “police-free future,” they vowed, by investing in more community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.”
To my mind, that’s one of the nuttiest ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Aside from the fact that we actually do need the police to protect us from crime and that relying on “community members to respond to public safety issues” is another term for vigilantism, the state-issued municipal charter for the City of Minneapolis requires that the city council establish a police force. So it’s beginning to look like the council didn’t exactly do its homework. What it’s resolved to do appears to be ultra vires, i.e. beyond its power.
During the COVID-19 crisis, you’d think that courts would understand that millions of people have lost their jobs and need to reduce their child support payments. After all, existing orders were made on the basis of pre-COVID realities and those have substantially changed. And no judge can seriously consider the notion that a person laid off from his employment due to the lockdown is “voluntarily un/underemployed.” So the sensible thing to do is for courts to adopt expedited procedures for non-custodial parents to prove they’ve lost work due to the lockdown and for downward modifications of child support orders.
But, if this attorney’s advice is any indication, such is not the case in Canada (The Lawyer’s Daily, 6/3/20). Indeed, it looks very much like business as usual there. Plus, attorney Darlene Rites appears to live in a world unknown to many divorced Canadian parents.