Monday, March 28, 2005

Debate rages over child custody bill - Alabama

Excerpts below:

Debate rages over child custody bill

He and other noncustodial parents are asking state lawmakers to pass a measure that would give them equal custody of their children. Proponents say the new law would create a shared parenting arrangement for divorcing and separating parents and eliminate current joint custody statutes from Alabama divorce law. Critics believe the measure seeks a "cookie cutter" approach to settling custody disputes and unduly blocks judges' discretionary power.

Rusmisel, vice president of the Alabama Coalition for Fathers and Children, said the proposed legislation is "far overdue" in Alabama.

Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, is sponsoring the bill. Currently, courts may order some form of joint custody without the consent of both parents. McMillan's proposal would require formal consent.

Also, parents would have to submit a comprehensive parenting plan, addressing such issues as the child's education, day care, health insurance and visitation. Either parent could submit the outline or they could present a joint plan.

"The motivation is for them to work together to come up with a plan that is in the best interests of the children," Rusmisel said. "We're trying to get custody situations standardized as much as possible."

The legislation, now assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, is not without opposition.

Jerry Baxley, executive director of the Family Law Association of Alabama, said the measure sidesteps the authority of judges.

"On its face it looks good, but it should allow the court to make the decision, not the Legislature," Baxley said. "That's why we have judges. It's trying to make every divorce a cookie cutter. It has to still be the judges' responsibility to make those types of decisions."

The shared-parenting bill is not the only proposed measure that noncustodial parents are talking about. A separate legislative proposal, proponents of which stress that it is meant to protect Alabama's children in child-custody battles, is drawing vocal opposition from noncustodial parents.

Under existing law, there is the presumption that a change in a child's principal residence is not in the best interest of the child. Weiss noted that Penn's bill removes such language.

However Penn's measure keeps wording that places the initial burden of proof on the person seeking the residential change. If that burden is met, however, then the parent objecting to the change -- that is, the noncustodial parent -- has to convince the court that such a move is unjustified.

"I would think it would be fair," said the Family Law Association's Baxley. "The court shouldn't presume that the noncustodial parent is right. There should be a burden of proof for the noncustodial parent.

"Forcing a child by law to contact a noncustodial parent ... seems to me to be something very bad. There should be no law that requires a child to have to contact the noncustodial parent. Under this law, a child that has been abused could be forced to contact the noncustodial parent. It should be the parent's responsibility to contact the child."

Says Weiss: "The overwhelming theme is to eliminate anything that previously constrained a parent seeking to make a distant move away with the children."

Among other concerns of the bill's opponents is the removal of language in current Alabama law that requires judges to take into consideration whether the custodial parent has a past history of noncompliance with certain court orders.

"We feel this is an undisguised and bald attempt by the lawyers and judges lobby to eviscerate present law because judges do not like it and because the law removes some of the discretion of the court in order to protect parents and children from arbitrary or biased rulings," Weiss said.

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Dads Bring Custody Bills To Lawmakers -CT, New London, CT

Excerpts below:

Dads Bring Custody Bills To Lawmakers
They Contend System Is Biased Toward Mothers

Now he and other divorced dads are taking issue with the state's laws and court system, claiming that they are biased toward mothers in custody disputes. The fathers back a bill before the General Assembly that promotes shared parenting, which encourages judges to have children of broken families split roughly equal time with both parents, unless one parent is deemed to be unfit.

“The court situation really is modeled on criminal situations where there's a right and a wrong, and a winner and a loser. And I think that's the exact wrong way to handle it,” said John M. Clapp, chairman of the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut.

Under current state law, joint legal custody is awarded only if parents agree. But arrangements for children spending time with both parents can vary greatly depending on family circumstances. Backers of the bill say the system doesn't encourage co-parenting because children often live with one parent and visit the other.

Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said a group of lawmakers will study the issue more carefully.

“The vast majority of the time, one of the two parents is going to get physical custody. The vast majority of the time it is going to be the parent that stays in the family home. The vast majority of the time that is going to be the mother,” Lawlor said. “How you change that, what law you can do to change that, I'm not exactly sure.”

Determining if bias actually exists in the system also is difficult. The state's Judicial Department does not track how frequently children are given to mothers and fathers in divorce cases. Though complaints can be filed against judges, lawmakers say they are often filed by people who are just dissatisfied with the outcome of their cases.

Proponents of shared parenting look to Oregon's law as a model, which encourages parents to get out of the courtroom and into mediation to develop a parenting plan. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey have also begun discussing how to better encourage involvement from both parents following a divorce.

The issue has been studied in Connecticut before. In 2002, the Governor's Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children found that the divorce and custody process takes too long, is too expensive, and is stressful on parents and children.

One of the commission's key recommendations was to change state statutes to emphasize the role of both parents in a child's life and get parents to file parenting plans with the court. The plans would detail schedules and how the parents planned to make decisions about medical matters and school, and remedies if a parent didn't adhere to the plan.

“When children have responsible and actively involved parents they do better during and after divorce,” the report said.

A bill before the Legislature would also put that recommendation and others from the commission into law. Clapp, the leader of the state's shared parenting group, said he's also supportive of that bill.

“What could be more in the best interests of the child than active involvement by both parents?” he said. “What is better than that? Is there anything you can think of? It's just common sense.”

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Military Dads Denied Father's Rights

Military Dads Denied Father's Rights - Wendy McElroy

Excerpts below:

Sean may never hear that lullaby again, not because his father Gary died but because Sean's mother relocated him to Israel. She visited family there during one of Gary's re-deployments and simply stayed, seeking a divorce from abroad.

"I am paying $2,100 a month not to see my son," Gary told Fox News in 2003.

This is the new face of father's rights, a face men's rights activists are determined you will see in coming months: the military man who is 'processed' by the family courts during his tour of duty or upon his return. A father who returns 'home' to children he cannot see and, often, to support payments he cannot make.

"Sometimes I wonder what I risked my life for [in Afghanistan]," Gary told fathers' rights activist Glenn Sacks. I went to fight for freedom but what freedom and what rights mean anything if a man doesn't have the right to be a father to his own child?"

The grassroots organization American Coalition of Fathers and Children has just launched a vigorous ad campaign to educate the public on how anti-father bias in the courts is destroying the family. An ad currently being prepared by the ACFC highlights the dilemma of military dads who are victimized by zero-tolerance and unreasonable legislation that was passed to deal with "deadbeats."

An indication of how strong the public backlash might be came in the early '90s with the Bobby Sherrill case. Sherrill wasn't a member of the military proper; he was a Lockheed employee and divorced father working in Kuwait when Iraq invaded.

Sherrill was held captive by the Iraqis for five months. Upon his return to North Carolina, he was arrested for non-payment of $1,425 in child support that accrued while he was a hostage.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Shared child custody legislation aired in the N.H. House

Shared child custody legislation aired in the N.H. House - Fosters

Excerpts below:

Under the bill heard by the House Children and Family Law Committee, New Hampshire would join Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin in adopting shared custody of children.

Mark Snider of Nashua said he is recovering from his contested divorce by spending the last 10 weeks lobbying for the bill, including on his Web site,

Lawyers, child advocates and anti-domestic violence administrators have a conflict of interest in trying to kill the bill, he charged.

“The entrenched divorce industry has a vested interest in making sure the expensive destruction of nuclear families continues,” he said.

Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen supported the bill through an aide, John Williams.

“Shared parenting goes toward eliminating the perception that one parent is preferred over another due to her gender,” Williams said.

Rep. Claudia Chase, D-Francestown, backed the bill, saying she has seen both sides of divorce court, first as the mother who got primary custody.

“In the seven years we were divorced, he never visited his children. That’s the choice he made,” she said. But more recently, Chase said, she has been the wife of a second husband who vainly has fought for equal treatment stemming from his divorce. “This is a bill to find wholeness in the wake of brokenness,” she said.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Minnesota - Child-support, custody laws moving along

Excerpts below, full article at the St Paul Pioneer Press

Child-support, custody laws moving along

Sen. Tom Neuville has introduced SF630, which would revamp the child-support laws. A companion bill, HF 1321, authored by Rep. Steve Smith, has been merged with similar bills offered by Reps. Rob Eastlund and Tim Mahoney and is moving through the House.

Neuville's bill would more fairly allocate child support between mother and father. Under current law, child support is based solely on the income of the parent who pays it, usually the father. Under Neuville's proposal, child support would be calculated based on the income of both parents.

Indeed, there are 37 states with "income-share" models that factor in the income of both parents for child support. Neuville's bill also includes adjustments for parenting time, which about a dozen other states already factor in.

"If the father has the kids 25 percent of the time, he's going to pay 25 percent of food, transportation and entertainment," he said. "We have to acknowledge that the noncustodial parent incurs some of those costs."

"Our present system encourages parents to wage war over the 'ownership' of the children," McNabb testified. "It gives financial and emotional rewards to the 'victorious' parent. It puts the children in the middle, where they lose no matter which parent 'wins.'"

In 1998, the Minnesota Supreme Court set up a task force of judges, lawyers, legislators and women's advocates. In January 2000, it issued its report, recommending "separating the amount of child support from parenting-plan issues will prevent parties from using a parenting plan to manipulate the amount of child support."

McNabb also cited Section 518.17 of the Minnesota statute, which reads in part, "In determining custody, the court shall consider the best interests of each child and shall not prefer one parent over the other solely on the basis of the sex of the parent."

Despite these past efforts, the House sponsors feel their bill is necessary because mothers are still predominantly named the custodial parent in Minnesota. After hearing the testimony of McNabb and others, the House committee agreed to an amendment that would make joint physical custody the default position if divorcing parties can't agree to a parenting plan within 270 days of filing for divorce, a change from the 90 days the bill originally proposed.

"We may try and split the difference," said Mahoney. But while he thinks the bill has a good chance of passing the House, he doesn't hold out much hope for the Senate. Neither does Neuville.

Ironically, Neuville's bill doesn't have widespread support from fathers or mothers, either.

"I get it from both sides," he said. "Fathers don't think the bill goes far enough. Mothers' groups and family lawyers don't want to see money leaving the system."

That's too bad. Because both the House and Senate legislation offer common-sense solutions to what has been a historical unfairness. It'd be a shame to see all this legislation result in only minor changes in a system very much in need of widespread reform.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Support Groups

I get lots of requests for help or for direction to a local support group. My capacity to help all of those who email me is severely limited and the majority of the time I get requests from men who do not have an attorney.

For that reason I feel compelled to say again that I am not an attorney and CANNOT offer legal advice. All I can offer is practical advice from my own experience and the experiences of others I have become involved with.

Also, people seem to be refraining from using the forum board and continuing to email me. It is extremely difficult for me to even slog through my email these days. I am asking again that you try and post to the forum before you email me. I have addressed all of the questions on the forum (I believe) and will continue to do so, generally much more thoroughly than I will through email.

I realize the expense of an attorney can be astronomical but in every case, if you are facing a potential legal battle, it is absolutely in your best interest to retain an attorney. I have discussed this several times and here are links to posts in this blog: Retaining Custody Step 1 Enter the Custody Evaluator Retaining Custody Step 2.

Here are various links from the blog of support groups I have discussed. I am not endorsing ANY of these groups as I do not have personal experience with them. But if they are local for you, it wouldn't hurt to check them out. If you know of others, or have personal experience (good or bad) with any listed here, please post that information in the forum. Because of the format of a blog, at times it can be very difficult to access old information so the best place to post info that can be easily accessed all the time is in the forum. Any posts that are about support groups or the like I will make sticky so they always appear at the top of the forum.
Parkersburg, OH Support Group

Jersey Support Groups

NH Co Parenting Classes

Ohio Legal Aid

Dads of Michigan

CT Custody and Visitation Seminar

Butler, PA Support Group

Alaska Self Help Legal Stations

Mississippi Legal Aid

Tennessee Legal Aid

San Bernardino Legal Aid

Also Men Against Discrimination (MAD) have chapters in the following states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington & West Virginia. They are working on chapters in Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. If you don't see your state they are looking for people to help start new chapters.

Again, no personal experience with MAD, but it would not hurt to check them out.

Another place to look for fathers groups in your specific area would be on They have a category for Fathers Rights, Non Custodial parents, Dads & Single Parents.

There is support out there, sometimes you just have to look a bit for it. All of the links on the left are also groups involved in fathers, joint custody, etc... and are good places to look for all kinds of information.

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Pennsylvania - Bill would give 50-50 custody

Excerpts below, full article at

Bill would give 50-50 custody

The rally, sponsored by Fathers’ And Children’s Equality, was meant to show support for House Bill 888 which advocates say would order that children of separated parents begin in joint custody arrangements, spending half the time with each parent.

"Pennsylvania is one of the states where in a case of separation, divorce or out-of-wedlock birth, for no rhyme or reason, there is a presumption that the child is best off with the mother," said Rep. Robert Belfanti, D-107 of Mount Carmel. Fathers are often forced to petition the court to gain more time with their children, the legislator said.

The proposed legislation would "put both parents on an equal footing," Mr. Belfanti said.

Under the proposed legislation, the parents are asked to develop a parenting plan to be approved by a judge. If the parents can’t agree on such a plan, the "guideline parenting plan" would be used: the father would get the kids the first and third week of the month; the mother would get them the second and fourth week of the month.

If one of the parents wants to petition to change the custody from 50-50 joint custody to a different arrangement, he or she can still do that, Mr. Belfanti said

Northumberland County hearing officer Michael Seward said that currently the court typically uses "shared custody" arrangements which give one parent primary custody. The criticism of joint custody is that by making them split time evenly between two homes, the children don’t have one place that they can really consider their home, he said.

Mr. Belfanti said that the change is needed because the current situation is unfair.

"If we’re going to have gender-based equal rights, then it should be across-the-board," Mr. Belfanti said, adding that he often supports legislation that is aimed to benefit women’s rights. "Let’s not compare apples and oranges," he said.

The current proposal is a revised form of legislation Belfanti initially introduced seven years ago.

Two Northumberland County judges — President Judge Robert B. Sacavage and Judge William H. Wiest — contacted by The Daily Item Thursday disputed the notion that women have an unfair advantage in custody disputes.

State Rep. Russell Fairchild, R-85 of Winfield, said he signed as a co-sponsor of the legislation because he hopes it will provide a better means of determining custody arrangements.

The movement to increase joint custody is one that has support from some mothers as well as fathers, he said. "It works both ways," Mr. Rummel said. "There are women who want the fathers in the picture to help out more."

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Illinois - NIU College of Law to host child custody symposium

The MidWeek News Local


Individuals interested in child custody issues, whether professionals in the field, attorneys, social service workers, students or parents, can hear some of the latest in family law research at NIU’s “Current Issues in Child Custody Law” on March 24, 8:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the university’s Holmes Student Center.

The registration fee for the Symposium is $50 for general attendees, $25 for NIU faculty, administration and staff and $15 for full-time students. To reserve by phone, call 800-345-9472. Register online at the Web site

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Washington Support Groups

From HeraldNet

Divorce Care: Divorce recovery, 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Monroe Community Chapel, 23515 Old Owen Road, Monroe; 360-794-6599.

Working parents: 5:30 to 7 p.m. second and fourth Mondays at Family Support Center, 6330 195th St. SW, Lynnwood; 425-670-8984.

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Minnesota 'An event instead of a tragedy'

St. Paul Pioneer Press


The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota ( was started here about 15 years ago by Minneapolis attorney Stu Webb. Today, less than 5 percent of the divorces in Minnesota are settled through collaborative law, a school of thought that, according to Hennepin County Family Court Judge Stephen Aldrich, "is making the divorce process an event instead of a tragedy."

According to the group's Web site, collaborative law's values are:

• A focus on solutions that meet the needs of the entire family.

• Recognizing that relationships need to continue after the marriage ends.

• Making decisions that mitigate the impact of divorce on children.

• Developing a "future focused" strategy rather than dwelling on the past.

• To work together respectfully, honestly and in good faith.

But what is attracting a lot of couples to collaborative law is its focus on reducing the impact of divorce on children. As a result, many collaborative law cases result in joint physical custody, a statistical anomaly in Minnesota when divorce is litigated through the courts.

"Sometimes it's just labeled a 'parenting plan,'" said Ousky. "Whatever it's called, it gets parents away from the formulas and guidelines that can trip them up."

There have been collaborative law cases that have resulted in sole physical custody being given to one parent, "but not usually," Ousky said.

"They typically don't want one person identified as the sole custodial parent because they come into it understanding that the kids need both parents to be actively and amicably involved."

"I've litigated for 20-some years and my top-five adversarial clients — the very best and easiest — are probably less satisfied than the average collaborative law client."

And judges like it, too.

"They've been very supportive of it," said Ousky. "Most judges tell clients that they're better off making their own decisions, which is what they're doing in collaborative law."

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New Hampshire -New Bills Introduced

Concord Monitor Online

Excerpts below:

Two bills working their way through the Legislature would encourage parents to work together to formulate a plan for raising their children after a divorce. It's hoped that the measures also make the experience more civil.

The Presumption of Shared Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act would create a legal presumption that parents should share equally in raising their children, both in decision-making and physical custody.

"In determining parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall be guided by the presumption that equally shared parent rights and responsibilities are in the child's best interest," the bill reads.

Both bills also separate laws relating to parents and children from laws relating to marriage and divorce so as to avoid confusing the issues, and both bills replace the terms "custody" and "child support" with "parental rights and responsibilities."

The most important difference between the two bills is that while the second encourages parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising their children, the first calls for the sharing to be equal.

"I felt that we needed to go one more step," said Rep. David Bickford, a New Durham Republican. Although he is chief sponsor of both measures, he prefers the first.

Bickford said state courts seem inclined to try to perpetuate whatever family structure existed before the divorce, giving primary custody to whichever parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage.

Bickford argues divorce should be viewed as restructuring families, not trying to preserve old arrangements.

"Right now the whole thing is based on looking for who the better parent is or who the primary caretaker was," Bickford said.

New Hampshire Bar Association spokesman Dan Wise said that while everyone agrees parents should try to cooperate more, the presumption of shared custody is a controversial idea.

"There are a lot of lawyers who do divorce work who are very skeptical about the idea," he said. "They think that's sort of a parents' rights view of the situation," rather than being focused on what's best for children.

Bickford said state courts seem inclined to try to perpetuate whatever family structure existed before the divorce, giving primary custody to whichever parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage.

Bickford argues divorce should be viewed as restructuring families, not trying to preserve old arrangements.

"Right now the whole thing is based on looking for who the better parent is or who the primary caretaker was," Bickford said.

New Hampshire Bar Association spokesman Dan Wise said that while everyone agrees parents should try to cooperate more, the presumption of shared custody is a controversial idea.

"There are a lot of lawyers who do divorce work who are very skeptical about the idea," he said. "They think that's sort of a parents' rights view of the situation," rather than being focused on what's best for children.

Bickford said state courts seem inclined to try to perpetuate whatever family structure existed before the divorce, giving primary custody to whichever parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage.

Bickford argues divorce should be viewed as restructuring families, not trying to preserve old arrangements.

"Right now the whole thing is based on looking for who the better parent is or who the primary caretaker was," Bickford said.

New Hampshire Bar Association spokesman Dan Wise said that while everyone agrees parents should try to cooperate more, the presumption of shared custody is a controversial idea.

"There are a lot of lawyers who do divorce work who are very skeptical about the idea," he said. "They think that's sort of a parents' rights view of the situation," rather than being focused on what's best for children.

Bickford said state courts seem inclined to try to perpetuate whatever family structure existed before the divorce, giving primary custody to whichever parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage.

Bickford argues divorce should be viewed as restructuring families, not trying to preserve old arrangements.

"Right now the whole thing is based on looking for who the better parent is or who the primary caretaker was," Bickford said.

New Hampshire Bar Association spokesman Dan Wise said that while everyone agrees parents should try to cooperate more, the presumption of shared custody is a controversial idea.

"There are a lot of lawyers who do divorce work who are very skeptical about the idea," he said. "They think that's sort of a parents' rights view of the situation," rather than being focused on what's best for children.

Bickford said state courts seem inclined to try to perpetuate whatever family structure existed before the divorce, giving primary custody to whichever parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage.

Bickford argues divorce should be viewed as restructuring families, not trying to preserve old arrangements.

"Right now the whole thing is based on looking for who the better parent is or who the primary caretaker was," Bickford said.

New Hampshire Bar Association spokesman Dan Wise said that while everyone agrees parents should try to cooperate more, the presumption of shared custody is a controversial idea.

"There are a lot of lawyers who do divorce work who are very skeptical about the idea," he said. "They think that's sort of a parents' rights view of the situation," rather than being focused on what's best for children.

The Family Law Task Force does not endorse Bickford's favored version or the idea of presuming anything about where and with whom children should live, Gardner said.

"We do not believe in the strict legal presumption of joint custody,"she said. "We believe each family is unique and you have to look at the needs of the children in each family. It's not always appropriate. It's not always in the best interests of the children."

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005 - Al Knight Custody laws revisited - Al Knight

I'm trying to post this using the BlogThis! button - so we'll see how it goes...

Voters last year in many areas of Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly in favor of a terse little ballot measure that endorsed "shared physical and legal custody" for divorcing parents.

Not surprisingly, there are now those in Colorado who would like to see a similar measure put on the state ballot next year.

The subjects of child custody, visitation and parenting time are not new to this state. There were two recent unsuccessful attempts to pass a law creating the "presumption" that divorcing parents in Colorado, absent proof of unfitness, should be granted shared parenting time.

These efforts failed largely because of claims that the new, shared-parenting arrangements would increase court costs. The sponsors insisted the changes would cut costs, but given tight state budgets under consideration at the time, the fear of higher court costs was enough to kill the bills.

The drive for legislation to level the playing field in family courts is by no means limited to Massachusetts and Colorado. A number of states have dealt with the issue. Often, the same familiar facts have been cited. Nationally, women in the vast majority of divorces get custody of the children. In a typical case, the non-custodial parent will see the children a couple of weekends a month, an arrangement that makes the father little more than a footnote in the lives of his children.

Dr. Steven W. Newell of Littleton, who was active in the earlier legislative battles, would like to try changing the parental landscape through the initiative process. He and others took a proposal to the Legislative Council last month which features a non-binding ballot measure patterned on the Massachusetts model.

Slightly modified, the Colorado measure reads:

"Shall the State Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation requiring that in all separation and divorce proceedings involving minor children, the courts shall uphold the fundamental rights of both parents to shared physical and legal custody (shared parenting) of their children and the children's right to maximize their time with each parent, so far as is practical, unless one parent is found unfit or the parents agree otherwise, subject to the requirements of existing child support and abuse prevention laws?"

The Colorado Legislative Council apparently assumed that the sponsors of the measure were really interested in something that would have legal force and effect and so the staffers drew up a six-page measure that would actually rewrite the divorce laws in Colorado.

Newell rejects this approach, reasoning that such a measure would be so complicated that even he could not support it. He also suggests such a campaign would galvanize the large number of people who make their living off the current, lopsided system. What he proposes instead is an advisory measure that would give the voters of Colorado their first real opportunity to be heard on an important issue that has already affected many of them personally. The hope would be that, given a favorable vote, legislation could follow.

Newell has pointed out that for every divorcing couple with young children, there are a couple of sets of grandparents whose access to their grandchildren has been affected. Because there are about 40,000 divorces in the state each year, he says, and 25,000 of them involve children, there are a couple hundred thousand voters who have had very recent experience with the family court system.

Whatever the quality of this experience, the affected parents are bound to have an interest in a ballot measure on the value of shared parenting.

Opponents of the Massachusetts measure last year sounded very familiar themes, including the claim that "shared parenting" is nothing more than a smokescreen for divorcing fathers who want to avoid paying child support. Still, the measure was favored by 85 percent, indicating that many voters think that the family court system could easily be improved to the benefit of children.

Who knows? Maybe something like that could happen in Colorado. In this state, unlike Massachusetts and some others, the ballot hasn't heretofore been used for advisory measures. But if there is a way to adapt the Colorado procedures to the task, it's hard to think of a topic more deserving of public attention.

Al Knight of Fairplay ( is a former member of The Post's editorial-page staff. His columns appear on Wednesday.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

GUEST OPINION: The Parent Trap

From the Illinois Leader

GUEST OPINION: The Parent Trap

- Michael Burns

OPINION - As community and faith-based initiatives introduced by President Bush attempt to provide a solution to saving marriage, heated debates have ensued in recent years on the topic of how to strengthen the position of parents and children. One of the most critical of issues concerns how to effectively deal with divorce and child custody situations.

There are often a handful of reasons for why parents split-up, but few equitable remedies under a state-sponsored legal system which profits from divorce.

What makes us different?

One noticeable disparity is the latitude that parents have to engage in frivolous and prolonged litigation in order to keep the other from being actively involved, even if that parent is fit to engage in the care, nurturing, and development of their children.

Family court judges often dictate that if one parent doesn't agree to joint care, the other parent can't have it. Once that parent becomes a "visitor," substantial inequities evolve between the standard of living that child support and visitation are suppose to address for both the original and second family of the non-custodial parent.

On one side, our policies dictate that parents must support their children in order to maintain a standard of living, rather than to prevent harm, which was the original intent of supports for recouping funds for parents receiving welfare payments.

When it comes to visitation, many family court judges refuse to allow a parent to spend substantial time with their kids if there is parental conflict. There is also a financial disincentive if the non-custodial parent seeks to modify support due to the additional time they spend with the kids, as the state would lose federal child support incentive grant monies (.60 per dollar collected) should a parent have more than 90 overnights per year.

As parents sometimes behave as children in divorce and child custody proceedings, one could liken the scenario to that of children fighting over a prized toy or possession. If they can't get along, the deciding factor shall be for only one to prevail, rather than dividing the time and responsibility equally to enhance cooperation and involvement.

The mere absurdity of these policies should be clear to anyone involved in the formation and modification of these laws: Illinois can do better for its parents and children, and we ought to confront it head-on.

Family law professionals may be quick to disagree in support of their own proposals, which seeks to eliminate the notion of maximizing the involvement of fit parents, (see Illinois HB 1286) and thus would compel more legal battles derived from familial conflict.

Other groups who profit from broken homes are also in disagreement with changing the current system in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Sadly, the quality of life in urban communities in particular will continue to erode as lawyer-dominated legislative committees put-off these important issues for other causes while their brethren in family court continue to profit from the misery of others.

Some lawmakers candidly tell parents that they want to help fix the problem--but cannot offer a workable solution or proper sense of accountability in the survival of the original, intact family.
This goes double for the lack of attention to the torturous and gut-wrenching treatment that fit parents are forced to endure and the burden created on the community at-large when one parent works to thwart the relationship against the other, and when predictably that parent leaves the scene completely.

Noteworthy in 2005, Illinois lawmakers have sponsored a bill which aims to provide families with a tangible solution that shows promising results. Illinois House Bill 1431 would establish a presumption favoring shared legal and physical custody for divorcing or unmarried parents, or following parental separation in cases where a family court determines that both parents are fit to care for their children, thus creating an incentive for teamwork in our family courts, regardless of inter-marital strife.

Often referred to as "shared parenting," it refines a post-divorce parenting arrangement that attempts to approximate the parent-child relationships in the original two-parent home.
With shared parenting, both Mom and Dad have equal rights and responsibilities for their children's welfare and upbringing--but also have an active role to play in the daily routines of their children's care and development, and in which each other remain salient attachment figures in their children's lives.

As the living arrangement that most closely resembles the pre-divorce family in cases where both parents had an active parenting role before divorce, shared parenting encompasses both shared physical caretaking (the actual day-to-day care of children) and equal authority regarding children's education, medical care, and religious upbringing.

A novel concept? In Illinois, yes. In others, no.

After decades of practice by forward thinking parents across the country, shared parenting would not be an experiment. Several states that provide this presumption have enjoyed increased numbers of family court actions settled by stipulation, higher rates of child support compliance, and fewer returns to court.

Essentially, shared parenting picks-up where joint legal custody and single parent child-rearing fall short: to inspire better cooperation rather than conflict in contested divorce and custody matters.

What's good about shared parenting?

Parents know well in advance that there's no room for drawn-out battles, creating an incentive to work things out. The non-custodial parent, usually the father, will be able to spend more time with the kids, giving Mom a much needed break for work, school, socializing, or self-care. It provides for less family conflict, more contributions to child support and college tuition. And less legal hassles and return visits to court.

What's bad about shared parenting?

Lawyers will starve. Not bad, considering how bad they've done to families and communities over the past 30 years since the introduction of no-fault divorce and Soviet-styled child support for non-welfare situations.

Despite 15 years of research illustrating better outcomes for children with shared parenting, joint legal and physical custody is ordered in less than 10% of all cases on average.

As a collective community, it is clear to those concerned that we will be unable to compensate for the growing number of broken, single parent homes unless substantial changes are implemented within our family courts.

This fact is of no mystery to the millions of distraught parents who must endure such a costly and unnecessary trap, while eventually losing touch with their kids and watching them grow-up from a distance, wondering what happened to their sense of relationship as they are turned into "visitors," in the lives of their own children, rather than to enjoy the full benefits of being a parent.

At last count, there are more than 12 states considering shared parenting legislation.

What will be the ultimate remedy short of banning divorce all-together? An incentive to end the parent trap of our family courts should be our first priority.

Michael Burns is the Founder and Executive Director of Dialogue on Sustainable Community, a public interest Think-tank located in Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

New York - Opinion Articles on No Fault Divorce

New York has been considering a bill to turn it into a no fault divorce state. Below are excerpts from opinion articles both for and against. Link to see the entire article.

Time for no fault divorce? NO : Proponents also argue that New York needs no-fault because we are almost the only state without unilateral no-fault. That means that one party, with no grounds - legal reasons - for divorce, can walk out, abandon the family and then claim that abandonment as a ground - legal reason - for divorce.

By not encouraging Separation Agreements, more cases will be sent into court. The failure to negotiate drives the issues of child custody, child and spousal support and property division into court, where women continue to face gender bias, a fact admitted by the court administration itself.

Do we need divorce reform? Yes! We have a whole list of reforms needed in New York. Among them are:
1. A bill that requires judges to award attorney fees and expert fees during the divorce action to the spouse without access to the marital money to "level the playing field."
2. Better medical coverage from the spouse who has the coverage to the noncovered spouse after divorce, such as in Massachusetts.
3. Custody awards that provide stability to children after divorce by having the children live with the parent who did most of the care-giving during the marriage.
We would like to see these and some other reforms to current law before we consider no-fault divorce.

Christ, I copied almost the entire article. Just so we all know - while my position on fault/no fault divorce has not quite yet been cemented- I find this article atrocious. I might eventually decide I fall on the side of preferring fault divorce - but never for any of these reasons. In fact, having read this all of the sudden find no fault much more appealing that I have previously.

We all need to know that the NO editorial was authored by: Kozak and Jacobs, are co-chairs of National Organization for Women's Domestic Relations Law TaskForce in New York. So that explains the "reforms."

My take on these "reforms" is that one parent wants to be able to access the money of the other parent for purposes of litigation - but that same parent does not want to "share" parenting responsibilities - that they were likely able to be the primary caregiver of as the other party was out making an income with which to support that arrangement. So what NOW is saying - share the money, not the kids. What a wonderful message for liberated women to be espousing.

Anyway, I digress, on to the Yes editorial:

Time for no-fault divorce? YES : Individuals here must prove cruelty, which is the infliction of emotional or physical pain, adultery or spousal desertion (or, no sex) for at least one year.

Because of New York's divorce law, some couples agree for one to be at "fault." But there is no purpose served by using fault-based divorce rules in ways that lead to disrespect for the law.

Some have argued that we shouldn't make it easier to get divorced because this will lead to unnecessary breakups of more couples. But experience with no-fault systems in other states shows this is unfounded and divorce rates 10 years later were no higher than before the change.

Litigants should not feel compelled to lie about "fault" to end their marriages. It is time for New York to join the 48 states that have already adopted no-fault divorce.

Standard is president of the New York State Bar Association

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Back to Normal Shortly

Well, I got back a bit earlier than expected but now have tons of work to catch up on in my office, so don't expect regular blogging to resume right away.

I see there have been some anonymous news posts made - as well as in the forum.. I think it is apparent that this *poster* and I may be on opposite sides of the fence on most issues. However, I welcome rational discourse and certainly know there are people out there with differing view points than my own. This anonymous contributor obviously wants you to know - moms get screwed by the courts too as well as by their ex's. And I concur, this is absolutely true.
As I have said before, the true victims of the family courts are the children. The courts ignore the fundamental right children have to stay as close as possible to the two people they have become accustomed to seeing on a daily basis - their parents.

And as much as I appreciate this anonymous contributor stepping in for me while I was out of town - I have to say, I would appreciate hearing directly from the contributor. I know I post quite a few articles with no commentary - but this is my site and there are surely places one can look within the site to ascertain my *feelings* on issues of custody. However, inasmuch as I agree both genders suffer at the hands of our judiciary, my primary concern is the outright and abject manner in which the majority of family courts have elected to completely ignore the rights of fathers to their children and children to their fathers. Best interests of the children (BIC) is an entirely subjective manner in which to decide custody- one cannot very well appeal against such rulings, and usually with the cost of these cases, one cannot afford to anyway.

Any patriotic American should be disgusted at this annihilation of civil liberties. Mothers would be up in arms if the status quo was to award primary custody to fathers because it was "in the child's best interests" to be with the party that made more money (not making generalizations here, just the converse of the "primary caregiver" argument) and they would have every right to be. Our judiciary should support family in that parents and children have as much meaningful contact as possible - and the presumption should be 50/50 - there is no other "fair" way for the children or the parents. This would (as seen in states with presumptive joint custody) reduce divorce, reduce extended litigation, reduce stress, reduce expenses, reduce animosity between the parties and help maintain the bond the child has formed with BOTH of their parents.

Whoa, little tangent there!

I suppose what I am getting at is this: To my anonymous friend - If you want to continue to post on this site, I expect you speak up, offer an opinion, your reasoning, support for it, etc.... Then we can have a meaningful, civil conversation about the issue. If you want to remain anonymous - have at it. I couldn't care less. But this site is NOT your newsroom, so if all you want to do is post articles about your interests in family law, divorce, custody... then you should look at getting your own site. I recommend Blogger - that is how I got this one.

Anyway, in other news, quite a bit going on in family law over the past week. Dependent on how quickly I catch up, I'll try to get as much stuff posted as I can.

Hope you all enjoy your weekend!
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