Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bill's mandatory joint custody not best for child - Alabama

al.com: Living

What can I say? A child and family psychologist doesn't feel presumptive joint custody is best... could that have anything to do with reduced "evaluations" as a result of such legislation?

I have to wonder, when I read articles of this type, has this person ever lived through divorce - ever been ripped from a parent they are accustomed to seeing everyday to having that person become a 2x a month visitor? I especially like how she alludes to "studies" but fails to cite any. How can we ask children to split time between homes is a legitimate question but why we ask children to "deal with" divorce at such an alarming rate is not....


In the Alabama legislative session just completed, there was a bill (HB650) before the legislators that, if passed, would mandate joint custody for all divorce cases, except those where one parent can show that the other has been found "guilty, under criminal standards of proof, of a violation of the law which bears directly on the care of the minor child involved."

The bill states that all existing custody orders may be "re-litigated on an expedited basis." This means that all existing divorce settlements could be brought back to court and the custody issue tried again. This bill did not leave chambers this session but will be reintroduced in the fall.

Research studies have shown that children raised in homes with chronic conflict between the parents fare better emotionally after a divorce if the fighting stops. Mandatory joint custody would force parents, who couldn't work together in the first place, to continue interacting. The conflict for the child would not end with the divorce.

The bill coming before the Alabama legislature in the fall would give divorced parents equal say over day-to-day matters such as choosing a doctor, choosing a school, or choosing a church. While it sounds reasonable that both parents should participate in these events and choices in the life of their child, it only works if the parents can agree or can come to a compromise. Many divorces occur precisely because parents cannot agree on these issues. Our courts might be inundated litigating day-to-day parental decisions.

Some joint physical custody arrangements specify that the child resides with each parent every other week. Few adults would choose to live like this, yet we ask our children to do so. In the few cases where the parents agree to switch residences and leave the children in one place, the parents often abandon this arrangement after only a short time. It is hard to live like this.

Divorce is a lose-lose game. You cannot take 100 percent, divide it in half, and have either side feel like he got a good deal. We all lose in divorce, but let's not make our children pay the price by being cut in half. They need to see both parents, but they need one place to live and one primary life director. Leaving the children in the middle of the conflict is not the answer.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

More on Fathers' Rights: The State Matriarchy

More on Fathers' Rights: The State Matriarchy - Paul Robbins, Ph.D.


Under the current system of family law, fathers typically lose their children in return for financing the destruction of their own families. When the system fails to work as promised, fathers are blamed and put in jail. But the system is at fault, not fathers. The system makes it far too easy for mom to expel dad, keep the children, and force him to pay for her decisions using the police power of the state.

This is the hallmark of the system that I call "state matriarchy": the creation of single-mother families followed by calls for more government programs to help those families. We are assured the problem is not single-mother families; the problem is a government that doesn't do enough to help these families.

I have no problem with society expecting fathers to meet their responsibilities to their children. But society in turn must protect fathers' rights to the care and custody of their children. That is a fair an equitable arrangement, not unaccountable judicial power backed up by unaccountable state power in the service of divisive social theories.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Short Hiatus

This blog will be on a short hiatus at least through Wed the 25th while I am out of town.

Unfortunately, after going through my email, I realize there has been a lot of relevant stuff going on over the past couple days. I will do my best to post what I can when I get back.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bush to sign paternity, child support bill - Florida

AP Wire 05/20/2005 Bush to sign paternity, child support bill


Gov. Jeb Bush planned to sign a bill Friday aimed at making it easier for the government to establish paternity and make sure child support payments are efficiently made.

The measure (HB 1283) makes several changes, many of them technical, dealing with how it is determined who the father of a child is and how child support is collected.

Among the changes is one that would allow the posting of information about undistributed child support on the Internet and another that could allow paternity to be established without a court order in some cases when genetic testing is conclusive.

For child support to be ordered, there currently must be a court ruling on paternity. Under the bill, if genetic testing shows paternity with more than 99 percent certainty, the court order could be skipped, although men who are involved could still bring the case to court to contest it.

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Self-help center receives award for its free help - California

Oroville Mercury Register - Local

This should be of particular interest to pro se litigants in California...


Many citizens cannot afford a lawyer or they choose to represent themselves in a legal action, and they need assistance in preparing legal documents and navigating the court system. The Self-Help Assistance and Referral Program or SHARP provides self-represented litigants with assistance and instructional workshops in a variety of areas of law and helps them comply with the procedural processes of the court system.

The types of issues and cases that the SHARP center does provide assistance and referrals for include family law matters, divorce, legal separations, child custody, guardianships, unlawful detainers (evictions), domestic violence restraining orders, temporary restraining orders, among others.

There are SHARP centers in Oroville and Chico in Butte County, and there are centers in Orland and Willows in Glenn County. The Tehama County SHARP center is in Red Bluff. These centers are linked together with sophisticated teleconferencing equipment, which allows attorney and staff resources to be shared simultaneously at all SHARP locations.

The SHARP center in Oroville is located in the old downtown courthouse, 1931 Arlin Rhine Drive. For more information, call 530-532-7015.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

New Blog Additions!

I have added Kansas Family and Divorce Lawyer and the Maine Divorce Law Blog to the Other Blogs section. Both sites are run by attorneys’ and can be a very valuable resource to residents of those particular states.

Father's Rights Movement to Get English Invasion

FOXNews.com - Views - ifeminists - Father's Rights Movement to Get English Invasion

This is the latest Wendy McElroy article... You should also be able to access it at ifeminists.


Fathers 4 Justice -- a fathers' rights group that originated in Britain to crusade for child custody and access rights in divorce--has just landed on American shores with the creation of F4J-US .

What do F4J and its international chapters demand? F4J essentially seeks the removal of any anti-male bias from the family court system. The specifics include a wide range of measures, including the court enforcement of visitation orders and the linking of child support payments to visitation rights.

Father's rights advocates and their opponents have waged a public strategy war, to be sure, but their weapons of choice have generally been a flood of contradictory studies, re-interpreted data, personal tales of injustice, accusations, and blasts of fury.

F4J advocates "peaceful non-violent direct action based on the Greenpeace model with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure." In Britain, the group is famous for high-profile stunts that taunt and disrupt authority.

For example, last September a F4J member dressed as Batman scaled Buckingham Palace. (search) Standing for over five hours on a ledge next to the palace's main balcony, he unfurled a huge banner reading "Super Dads of Fathers 4 Justice." "Batman" was arrested "for suspicion of causing criminal damage."

Plans for similar but unspecified "guerrilla" acts in the United States have been announced. It is not clear how aggressive the stateside actions will be.

Jamil Jabr, head of F4J-US, has been quoted in the Telegraph as saying, "We will try to maintain the audacity of the stunts...but if anyone tried that [the batman stunt] at the White House, they would be shot."

Not just the American authorities but the American public is likely to respond more harshly as well. It is not likely that New Yorkers will tolerate a re-run of the London publicity stunt by which "Spider-Man" occupied a crane that "caused" police to stop traffic flowing across the heavily-traveled Tower Bridge from early Oct. 31 to Nov. 4.

Two members of the British group visited NYC to help organize F4J-US and to scout the city for possible actions. They were followed everywhere. Jabr described one member of the surveillance team: "We learned later that he was the head of New York's terrorism intelligence branch. He had FBI connections and orders to make sure that there would be no Buckingham Palace-type incidents."

On the other hand, the father's rights radicals apparently went out for a beer with the men assigned to watch them.

I wish F4J-US well; I believe its cause is just. I also wish it prudence because I believe post-9/11 America is likely to stomp on anything that vaguely hints of violence against an official or the disruption of infrastructure.

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Sperm donor gets sympathy,still must pay - PA

Philadelphia Daily News 05/18/2005 Sperm donor gets sympathy,still must pay

I hate to say it men, but if I were you I think I would stay away from women all together...


Several justices said they were concerned by the wider public-policy implications of the case, which arose after a woman who convinced her ex-boyfriend to help her conceive by in-vitro fertilization later changed her mind and sued for support.

A Dauphin County judge excoriated the mother, Ivonne V. Ferguson, but awarded her up to $1,520 a month from the biological father, Joel L. McKiernan. The decision was upheld last year by the Superior Court.

Justice Ronald D. Castille asked Ferguson's attorney, Elizabeth A. Hoffman, whether letting Ferguson renege on her deal would make it harder for couples to obtain sperm donors. Castille offered the example of a lesbian couple who needed a donor to conceive.

"What man in their right mind would agree to that if we decide this case in your favor? Nobody," Castille said.

Ferguson and McKiernan had a two-year affair while they both worked at Pennsylvania Blue Shield in Harrisburg, although according to court records it had "waned" before the twins, now 10 years old, were conceived. Their birth certificates list her ex-husband as the father, although DNA tests later confirmed that McKiernan is the biological father.

McKiernan later moved to the Pittsburgh area, married and fathered two other children.

In exchange for his sperm, Ferguson released McKiernan from "any obligation, financial or moral," according to the Superior Court ruling. She filed for support in 1999, five years after the twins were born and three years after her most recent contact with Mc-Kiernan.

The county and Superior courts both sympathized with McKiernan and called Ferguson's actions "despicable," but they also ruled against him, saying "legal, equitable and moral principles" made it impossible to enforce their contract.

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VAWA Law Polarizes the Sexes, Weakens the Family



That process of family and social disintegration is spurred by the Violence Against Women Act - VAWA for short -- the $1 billion-dollar-a-year law that was passed five years ago at the behest of the radical feminists. VAWA comes up for renewal later this year in Congress.

When you look closely, it becomes clear that VAWA has an agenda that reaches far beyond the protection of women.

VAWA-funded educational programs push the time-worn storyline of the violent man and a brutalized woman. But that stereotype is false. The truth is, members of the fairer sex are just as likely to commit domestic violence as men. [www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm]

But once society comes to believe that members of the male sex are a menace to women, it becomes easy to enact laws that strip men of their Constitutional rights of due process and equal treatment under the law.

One of the tools promoted by VAWA is the use of restraining orders. At first blush, the idea sounds common-sensical: a woman who is being abused should be able to get her husband removed from the house.

But in many states, judges crank out restraining orders like Confederate one-dollar bills, not pausing to verify the woman's claims or even to hear the man's side of the story.

A 1995 Massachusetts study found that 60,000 restraining orders were issued each year. In fewer than half of those cases was there even an allegation of physical violence. In the other cases, the woman simply claimed she felt afraid, or maybe there had been a marital spat. [www.salon.com/mwt/feature/1999/10/25/restraining_orders/]

Recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became concerned that this epidemic of restraining orders was fraying the fabric of judicial impartiality. The Court opined that judges must "resist a culture of summarily issuing and extending these orders."

Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, was even more candid: "Restraining orders are granted to virtually all who apply...In many [divorce] cases, allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage."

Tactical advantage? Ms. Epstein was referring to the fact that while hubby is barred from the house, the wife quickly files for a divorce, and cleverly requests temporary custody of the kids. That paves the way for near-automatic award of sole custody once the divorce is finalized.

So last month, family advocates in California set out to challenge these perverse incentives by introducing the Shared Parenting Bill. Their aim was to encourage equal participation of fathers by granting them joint custody of their children in the event of divorce. [http://cspaonline.org/index.php]

Who could ever be against that?

The ladies from NOW, that's who. Their argument? Changing the practice of awarding sole custody to mothers would expose the kids to all manner of abusive dads.

That smear conveniently ignored an interesting fact: it's mothers, not fathers who are far more likely to abuse and neglect their children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [http://faq.acf.hhs.gov/cgi-bin/acfrightnow.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_fa qid=70&p_created=1001611491]

So two weeks ago, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee killed the Shared Parenting Bill. And divorced children were rendered fatherless by a spiteful gender stereotype.

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Child support revision passes - Minnesota

Child support revision passes

This is a much more comprehensive article regarding the legislation in Minnesota...


For the first time, both parents' incomes would be considered when determining child support payments. Currently only the income of the noncustodial parent, typically the father, is considered.

Support levels would be based on gross income, not net income, which has allowed parents to hide money in 401(k) plans and other shelters. Meanwhile, the state would create a website with a simple child support calculator for parents to use.

The child support formula hasn't been changed in more than 20 years. During legislative testimony, fathers argued that the current rules don't make adjustments for the financial status of their ex-wives or consider the cost of raising a new family after a divorce.

Custodial mothers, meanwhile, have told lawmakers that the actual cost of raising children is far greater than current guidelines recognize. Even if the child spends time with the father, custodial parents still must pay for housing, groceries and the children's other basic needs, they argue.

Considering the income of the custodial parents when deciding payments would put Minnesota in line with 37 other states, said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who worked with Neuville on key sections of the bill.

A custodial parent with one child would get less support, in most cases, he said. A custodial parent with two or more children would get more support -- until the income of both parents is equal. After that, the support would be lower than today.

The bill also would:

• Reduce support payments for noncustodial parents who have additional children after the divorce or separation.

• Not allow support payments to drive parents into poverty.

• Create a "parental expense adjustment." If parenting time is 10 to 45 percent for the noncustodial parent, there would be a 12 percent reduction of child support. If parenting time is equal between both parents the expenses for the children would be equally shared. And if the adjusted gross incomes of both parents were also equal, then no support would be paid.

Father's rights groups have said the bill doesn't go far enough in equalizing the playing field between both parents.

A companion bill, with some policy differences, is likely to reach the House floor this week.

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Legal Services For Underprivileged - Virginia

WCAV Legal Services For Underprivileged

The University of Virginia Law School is teaming up with Hunton & Williams to provide free legal services to low-income Charlottesville residents.

The pilot program began in the fall with eight law students and four lawyers housed in The Legal Aid Justice Center, who also refers most of the clients.

"We'll be handling primarily immigration alyssum cases, which is what we piloted this year, and then family law and domestic violence cases," said Kimberly Emery of UVa School of Law.

Family law clients will include domestic matters such as child custody, support, and divorce. The work is primarily volunteer with a long-term goal in mind.

"[The goal is] to expose law students to a structured and well supervised pro-bono experience while in law school with a hope that they will learn to do pro bono and as they practice will continue to do pro bono," said Emery.

The partnership currently works out of 1000 Preston Ave., but will move to the nearby Rock House after renovation.

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Senate Approves Child Support Recalculations - Minnesota

WCCO: Senate Approves Child Support Recalculations

St. Paul (AP) The Senate has approved a major reform to the way child support payments are calculated.

The new system would base levels on the incomes of both parents instead of just the noncustodial parent.

Senate members voted 60-to-2 in favor of the measure, saying it more closely reflects the financial realities faced by most families.

The bill would give noncustodial parents a financial break on child support for spending significant amounts of time with their children. It also would reduce child support for noncustodial parents who have more children after their divorce or separation.

A companion bill has been moving through the House.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Divorce And Child Support Are Eviscerating Military Recruitment

Divorce And Child Support Are Eviscerating Military Recruitment David R. Usher


Men are not stupid. They have learned that when they are patriotic and join the military, the chances are better than 50% that they will end up divorced and come home to a huge child support debt and perhaps even a jail cell on criminal nonsupport charges.

Divorce rates in America are still over 50%. For the military it is even higher -- albeit nobody knows exactly what the real number is since the Pentagon doesn’t report home-front casualty rates.

A man on duty overseas can be hit with a surprise divorce, lose everything he owns, and have a “temporary” child support order levied against him. There is nothing in any federal or state law or the SSCRA requiring that child support orders be based on real contemporary income.

Courts are quite likely to base the child support order on imputed civilian pay – which is commonly much higher than military pay. It is not exceptional to see military men paying over half of their pretax income as child support.

The U.S. military suggests reservists seek a support modification when called into active duty. The Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) instructs similarly.

Where only 4% of civilian men are able to get support modifications, we can safely say it far more difficult to accomplish from a tent in Iraq.

This delivers military men directly into the clutches of criminal federal and state child support laws. If a man becomes either $5,000 or six months (FILO basis of accrual) in support arrears, he becomes a felon. He then automatically loses his passport, driver’s license, business license, professional licenses, and vehicle licenses. If convicted, he loses his right to vote in most states.

Two states, California and Illinois have bills pending this session. The National Organization for Women is opposing the Illinois bill (as we would expect).

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On Fathers' Rights: What to Do

On Fathers' Rights: What to Do - Paul Robbins, Ph.D. - MensNewsDaily.com


The most problematic issue for fathers is the custody decision. A custody decision is not a decision that grants rights to the winner (usually mom); it's a decision that takes away the rights of the loser (usually dad). The basis of that decision is the judge's determination of who is the better parent–mom or dad. A dad doesn't lose custody of his children because he's a bad parent; he loses custody because the judge believes he's not as good a parent as mom.

The system of sole mother custody would also collapse if child support were not paid. Child support is the oil that fuels the engine of divorce. And the powers that be know this, which is one reason so much effort is expended in collecting child support.

The truth is that children need financial support. The other truth is that if the government can simply seize a man's income he has no way to resist the government's power to seize his children. It's a no-win situation for a divorced dad: pay your child support, and the unfair system continues as is. Don't pay your child support, and your children suffer.

So what can men do? They have a few options.

One is to simply not play the game. If men don't want the problems associated with divorce, they should not get married. Modern family law gives men little reason to get married and gives women little reason to stay married.

Not playing the game also means avoiding sexual relations with women, since even unmarried fathers are now part of the system. In short, not playing the game means a life with a good job, a good dog, and a lifelong subscription to Playboy.

The most likely venue for change is the state legislature. Courts have become a power unto themselves, defining and redefining family law in ways that define fathers out of existence. The state legislatures gave the courts this power and the legislatures can take it away.

Of course, most legislators won't listen, as I know from experience. The state benefits too much from divorce and child support to change the system. As it is, the legislators can simply blame the courts; if the legislators change the system, they can get blamed.

Currently, the US government claims, rightly or wrongly, that some $94 billion in child support is owed. About 30% of that, or around $30 billion, is actually owed to the states as reimbursement for welfare costs. In addition, the states receive federal reimbursements for their collection efforts and incentive payments for increasing the amount of support they collect. Child support supports the states as much as it does children.

There are also state governors. But while some governors are willing to sign pro-father legislation, most know they will not get elected if they push too hard for fathers' rights. Most politicians know, as Bill Clinton knew, that they can't afford to rile up the feminists.

Modern family law has destroyed more than marriage. It has also destroyed the fundamental rights of fathers and men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

At one time a few men began a revolution because their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was denied by a distant king.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nicholas Stix: This is Your Brain on the New York Times

Nicholas Stix: This is Your Brain on the New York Times

This is a reaction to the piece "“This Is Your Brain on Motherhood,” that ran in the New York Times.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More about child support, custody - New Hampshire

More about child support, custody - Fosters

This is written by State Representative David A. Bickford. I am reprinting the entire article...

A recent Associated Press article about child support and custody which appeared May 2 mischaracterized some issues. As vice chair of the commission to study child support and related child custody issues, I feel compelled to fill in some of the blanks.

The commission did not recommend cutting child support to the bone. The commission does need to have information about costs of raising children and basic costs is a starting place for government to study what that should include. But it won’t be bare-bones. What luxuries should be added is up for debate.

Paying “only” half the costs as the reporter put it would actually be an increase for some people to pay. The commission also recommended a sharing of child-care costs by both parents which is not done in the present system. That wasn’t reported.

The commission did recommend judges presume custody will be shared unless credible evidence shows a different arrangement is in the best interest of the child and felt it was an appropriate starting point. Constitutionally and statutorily both parents are considered in the best interest of their children with equal custody of their children, so why arbitrarily assume otherwise.

The present system assumes divorcing parents are low-income and would consume 25 percent of their income to support a child and 33 percent of their income for two children, 40 percent for three children and 45 four for four children. The present system also assumes one of the parents is absent 100% of the time and has no child related expenses at all.

New Hampshire thought it had adopted an income-shares model, but the commission discovered it had inadvertently adopted a “percent of obligor” model instead, meaning child support only applies to one parent regardless of the income of the other parent.

New Hampshire has no underlying study to support the present system. The studies thought to support it show there should be a decrease in the percentage to be awarded as income increases. New Hampshire adopted an incomplete plan. Also, most states cap the amount of income to be considered for calculating child support known as a presumptive floor. They recognize the costs of raising children have limits. New Hampshire never incorporated the limits. The commission learned there is no way of assuring money over and above the cost of raising a child is spent on the child. The commission felt it needed more information from an economic study to determine what that limit should be rather than just copy another state.

For states to get matching federal funds the federal government requires states to review, and if appropriate revise, child support guidelines at least every four years, and when reviewing the guidelines a state must consider economic data on the cost of raising children. The data the commission had was outdated, and the economists that developed it would not stand behind it to be used as a presumption in law as the federal government also requires states to do.

Some quotes by commission members appear to be misapplied in the story. No model was recommended that would leave children in one household having just “broth and bread” as a quote from attorney Tom Cooper implies.

A quote by commission member attorney Catherine Feeney states, “The mothers were not represented” is misleading. The commission had two very capable mothers representing custodial parents, however there was only one non-custodial parent represented on the commission. The commission held four public hearings in various locations around the state. The commission had no funding to advertise but did put out public notices in newspapers and in child support offices throughout the entire state. Everyone that came was heard.

The NH Women's Lobby followed the commission's work very closely and attended meetings as well as the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The Commission on the Status of Women was well aware of the commission’s work. These organizations have a very successful history of getting the word out to women. More parents sending child support did show up at the public hearings. However, the commission did not allow emotions or "disgruntled dads" to skew or inspire its recommendations.

Rep. David A. Bickford, a state representative from New Durham, is vice chair of a commission studying child support and custody issues in the state.

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Federal incentives exist to make children fatherless

Phyllis Schlafly: Federal incentives exist to make children fatherless

Excerpts (admittedly, this is most of the article):

Why has Congress appropriated taxpayer money to give perverse incentives that break up families and deprive children of their fathers? The built-in financial incentives in the current child-support system have expanded the tragedy of fatherless children from the welfare class to millions of non-welfare divorced couples.

Congress tried to reform the out-of-control welfare system by a series of child-support laws passed in 1975, 1984, 1988, 1996 (the famous Republican welfare reform), and 1999. Unfortunately, these laws morphed the welfare system into a massive middle-class child-support system that deprives millions of children of fathers who never abandoned them.

People think that child-support enforcement benefits children, but it doesn't. When welfare agencies collect child support, the money actually goes to the government to reimburse it for welfare payments already given to mothers, supposedly to reduce the federal budget (which, of course, is never reduced).

In 1984, Congress passed the Child Support Enforcement Amendment. It required states to adopt voluntary guidelines for child-support payments.

In 1988, Congress passed the Family Support Act, which made the guidelines mandatory - along with criminal enforcement - and gave states less than one year to comply. The majority of states quickly adopted the model guidelines conveniently already written by a Department of Health and Human Services consultant who was president of what was shortly to become one of the nation's largest private collection companies, which makes its profits on the onerous guidelines that create arrearages.

The 1988 law extended the guidelines to ALL child-support orders, even though the big majority of those families never had to interact with government in order to pay or receive child support. This massive expansion of federal control over private lives uses a Federal Case Registry to exercise surveillance over 19 million citizens whether or not they are behind in child-support payments.

The states collect the child-support money and deposit it in a state fund, but the federal government pays most of the administrative costs and, therefore, dictates the way the system operates through mandates and financial incentives. The federal government pays 66 percent of the states' administrative overhead costs, 80 percent of computer and technology-enhancement costs, and 90 percent of DNA testing for paternity.

In addition, the states share in a nearly $500 million incentive reward pool based on whatever the state collects. The states can get a waiver to spend this bonus money anyway they choose.

So, in order to cash in on federal bonus money, build their bureaucracies and brag about successful child-support enforcement, the states began bringing into the government system middle-class fathers with jobs who were never (and probably would never be) on welfare. These non-welfare families have grown to represent 83 percent of child-support cases and 92 percent of the money collected, creating a windfall of federal money flowing to the states.

The federal incentives drive the system. The more divorces, and the higher the child-support guidelines are set and enforced (no matter how unreasonable), the more money state bureaucracies collect from the federal government.

Follow the money. The less time that noncustodial parents (usually fathers) are permitted to be with their children, the more child support they are required pay into the state fund, and the higher the federal bonus to the states for collecting the money.

States have powerful incentives to separate fathers from their children, to give near-total custody to mothers, to maintain the fathers' high-level support obligations even if their income is drastically reduced and to hang onto the father's payments as long as possible before paying them out to the mothers. The General Accounting Office reported that in 2002 that states were holding $657 million in undistributed child support.

Fatherless boys are 63 percent more likely to run away and 37 percent more likely to abuse drugs. Fatherless girls are twice as likely to get pregnant and 53 percent more likely to commit suicide. Fatherless boys and girls are twice as likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to end up in jail.

We can no longer ignore how taxpayer money is providing incentive for divorce and creating fatherless children. Nor can we ignore the government's complicity in the predictable social costs that result from more than 17 million children growing up without fathers.

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The Fathers' Crusade - New York Times

The Fathers' Crusade - New York Times: "The Fathers' Crusade"

I had gone back and forth on what to do with this article. The New York Times requires a subscription after a certain point to access articles - but the article is so long and can be found on other fathers' sites...

But I decided to reprint the entire thing anyway...

The Fathers' Crusade
Published: May 8, 2005

"After tomorrow, I'll have done everything there is to do," Jason Hatch said one night in February, staring wistfully into a near-finished glass of beer at a bar in Shrewsbury, England. Just a few hours earlier, he and some friends were enjoying a raucous, boisterous evening, all but driving out the other diners at a decorous French restaurant. Now, after several drinks at the bar, the lateness of the hour and the increasing proximity of Hatch's plans for the next day seemed to be catching up with him, and his mood took a turn toward the tense. By the following afternoon, Hatch, a 33-year-old former house painter and contractor, intended to scale a government office building near the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street. His friends, many of them co-conspirators, had gone home, the revelry had died down and he was clearly trying to regain some focus. Was he getting nervous? ''The police say Jason doesn't have fear like other people,'' he said, speaking of himself in the third person, perhaps hoping they were right.

If, earlier in the evening, others at the restaurant looked over to Hatch's table (and given the noise emanating from it, they surely did), they would have seen that Hatch wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the purple logo of Fathers 4 Justice, a political group that is well known in Britain for staging high-profile stunts to raise awareness about the custody rights of divorced and separated fathers. (In one memorable incident, a member pelted Prime Minister Tony Blair with a condom filled with purple flour.) Some might even have recognized Hatch and made a note to mention their brush with semi-celebrity to their friends: this was the man who scaled Buckingham Palace last year dressed as Batman, unfurling a banner in support of fathers' rights and spending more than five hours perched on a ledge near the palace balcony as security officers tried to talk him down. The event, which made news around the world, saturated the British media for nearly two days.

Hatch was arrested, but he was promptly released and never charged with a crime. ''I even got me ladder back,'' he likes to mention. Nonetheless, the police keep a close eye on him, even outside his own country. Several months after his Buckingham Palace stunt, Hatch, hoping to broaden his group's support in the United States, flew to New York, where a team of police tailed him and his colleagues for the duration of the five-day visit. (The cops finally announced themselves, befriended Hatch and his fellow would-be protesters and ended up escorting them to various downtown nightclubs, passing them off as royalty -- anything, apparently, to keep them from putting on capes and scaling the Brooklyn Bridge.)

At the bar in Shrewsbury, as Hatch fretted about the details of his next major stunt -- could he get a lighter ladder by tomorrow? -- he seemed overtaken by melancholy. He hadn't been sleeping, he said; his head ached. Three and a half years ago, Hatch's second wife left him, taking their two children with her. When he finally caught up with them, a family court granted him visitation rights. He later claimed in court that his wife regularly ignored the ruling, refusing to let him see the kids, but, he told me, the court did little to satisfy him. ''It really takes it out of me,'' he said. It had been so long since he'd seen his kids -- Charlie, who's 5, and Olivia, who is a year younger -- that their mother now claims they didn't want to see him, he said. They had started calling their grandfather Dad. (His wife has declined to speak to the press, other than to say that Hatch's activism has disturbed the children.)

Hatch first contacted Fathers 4 Justice a year and a half ago, after reading about their protests in the newspaper. The group's founder, Matt O'Connor, a 38-year-old divorced dad with a gift for public relations, visited Hatch at his home in Cheltenham to gauge his commitment -- and, as it turned out, to scope out some possible locations for protests. Two weeks later, Hatch found himself with three other fathers, standing atop a 250-foot-high suspension bridge in Bristol, dressed like a superhero, hanging a Fathers 4 Justice banner. For the 28 hours that Hatch and his colleagues remained on the bridge, the police rerouted commuters, as reporters and curious pedestrians gathered below. After years of ineffectual legal struggle, Hatch could finally see results: traffic had literally stopped on account of his cause. He went on to scale a series of other targets, including several court buildings, York Minster Cathedral and, finally, Buckingham Palace. The grandiose, symbolic gesture had become more satisfying than the niggling, humiliating legal maneuverings that never seemed to pan out.

Hatch's sense of despair about his estrangement from Charlie and Olivia has apparently swept away any concern he might have had about the most basic requirement of parenthood: his continuing good health. When he scaled the ladder at Buckingham Palace, the guards cocked their rifles, a sound captured chillingly on a videotape of the event. ''I'm not afraid to die, but I don't want to,'' Hatch, who now has a 14-month-old daughter with his current girlfriend, Gemma Polson, told me. ''I feel sorry for Amelia, obviously -- Amelia being me little daughter. If anything happens, she's going to lose out, but I still have to do it. I still have to go out there and get the law changed, and when the law's changed, you won't see me again.''

Now a full-time salaried havoc-wreaker for Fathers 4 Justice (the group raises money through membership fees), Hatch has a martyr's self-righteousness but also an adman's instinct to feed the media beast ever bigger morsels of a story. ''If I got shot, but survived,'' he said just before heading to bed for the night, ''that would be brilliant.''

Although some of the issues raised by Fathers 4 Justice concern quirks of the British custody system, most of them overlap with demands of divorced-fathers' groups in other countries: stronger enforcement of visitation rights, more shared-custody arrangements, a better public and legal acknowledgment of a father's importance in his child's life. In the United States, the influence and visibility of those groups have waxed and waned since the mid-70's, but they appear to be agitating now as never before. In the past year, class-action suits have been filed in more than 40 states, claiming that a father's constitutional right to be a parent guarantees him nothing less than 50 percent of the time with his children. And on the legislative front, last spring Iowa passed some of the strongest legislation to date in favor of joint physical custody -- the division of the child's time between the two parents as close to equal as possible. The policy, which resembles some legislation that Maine passed in 2001, encourages judges to grant joint physical custody if one parent requests it, unless the judge can give specifics to justify why that arrangement is not in the best interest of the child.

There are dozens of fathers' rights groups in the States, including the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Dads Against Discrimination and the Alliance for Noncustodial Parents Rights. They may not have the name recognition that Fathers 4 Justice has on its own turf, but they work quietly behind the scenes, pushing for custody laws like the ones Iowa and Maine have passed, lobbying Congress and generally doing what they can to improve not just the rights but also the image of divorced fathers. In this last task, oddly enough, these groups have benefited from federal initiatives designed to motivate divorced or never-wed fathers who care all too little about their kids, as publicly financed ad campaigns remind the public how indispensible fathers are. (''Fathers Matter,'' shouted ads on New York City buses last year.)

Fathers' groups also benefit from a more general recognition that fathers, at least in some socioeconomic circles, are now much more involved in their children's lives. Some of that involvement is born of necessity, given how many mothers work, but necessity also seems to have effected a cultural shift, ushering in the era of the newly devoted dad. The traditional custody arrangement, with Mom as sole custodian and Dad demoted to weekend visitor, may have been painful, but practical, in a family with a 50's-style division of labor; but to the father who knows every Wiggle by name, the pediatrician's number by heart and how to make a bump-free ponytail, such an arrangement could be perceived as an outrage, regardless of what might be more convenient or who is the primary caretaker.

On the other hand, divorced dads still face some serious image problems, a function of well-known statistics that are hard to spin. In the United States, in the period following divorce, one study has found, close to half of all children lose contact with their fathers, with that figure rising to more than two-thirds after 10 years. Although child-support payments have crept up in recent years, in 2001 only 52 percent of divorced mothers received their full child-support payments; among women who had children out of wedlock, the number was around 32 percent. Fathers' rights groups have a tall order explaining those statistics, convincing judges -- and the country at large -- that if fathers skip town, or refuse payment, it's a function of how unfairly family courts treat them rather than the very reason that the courts treat fathers the way they do. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, told me that fathers' rights groups are ''focused only on the rights of fathers, and not on the rights of children, and particularly, not on the obligations of fathers that should go with those rights.''

Some fathers' rights advocates in the United States fear that the Fathers 4 Justice approach to image overhaul will slow the movement's bid for respectability, but others are ready to try some kind of major action. To date, none of the fathers' groups in the States have managed to spark a sympathetic national dialogue in the way Fathers 4 Justice has done in England -- striving to recast divorced dads, en masse, as needy and lovable rather than as distant and neglectful. Without that sea change, fathers' groups here in America acknowledge, there's only so far they can go in changing the way judges rule, no matter what the laws can be made to say.

In January, Ned Holstein, president of Fathers and Families, a Massachusetts organization committed to improving fathers' access to their children, decided to devote one of the group's bimonthly meetings to a debate about the merits of Fathers 4 Justice-style tactics. To date, Holstein's organization has pursued its goals through traditional nonprofit pathways: hiring a lobbyist, an intern, a program coordinator, all financed by member-donated dollars. The group reached a milestone last fall, when it managed to put a nonbinding question about shared custody on the ballot for the November elections; 86 percent of those who voted on the issue supported a presumption of joint physical and legal custody. Despite the results his approach has yielded so far, Holstein told me before the Fathers and Families meeting, he was curious to see how his constituency would respond to the idea of following Fathers 4 Justice's lead, opting for what he calls ''the flamboyant route.''

Holstein, now 61, resolved his own divorce amicably about 10 years ago, arranging for shared physical custody of his kids. But the court consistently treated him, he says, like a crank, and he started to collect stories from fathers who fared far worse. Before long he had a cause. A doctor who frequently testifies in trials, Holstein has an easy way with statistics and studies and evidently enjoys his public role. As he drove me to the group's meeting at a private school in Braintree, Mass., he made an eloquent case for increasing fathers' access to their kids. He has no problem with the existing ''best interests of the child'' guideline that judges follow in reaching custody decisions, he explained. He simply contends that, as a matter of practice, judges underestimate how important a father's active involvement is to the best interest of the child -- and weekend visits twice a month don't constitute active involvement, in his view. ''At that point,'' Holstein said, ''visitations become painful, because they remind parent and child of what they don't have, which is intimacy.''

Holstein arrived at the school to find 40 or 50 men and a handful of women (mostly girlfriends and second wives) already there -- a fairly typical turnout, he said. After a short, rousing speech to start, Holstein turned the subject of the meeting to Fathers 4 Justice. Matt O'Connor, the British group's founder, had declared purple the color of the international father's movement, and Holstein said he was hoping the men in the audience would consider wearing a purple ribbon. ''I hope you will join me, and won't decide it's too . . . whatever,'' he said with a nervous laugh. ''Now I need someone to go around with the scissors, so we can cut up and pass around some ribbons.''

This apparently sounded suspiciously like sewing; there was an awkward silence. Finally, a woman in the third row raised her hand, but Holstein balked. ''We can't let a woman do this!'' he said.

''She wants it done right!'' someone chimed in, getting a big laugh. Soon enough, a middle-aged man in a mock turtleneck and khakis rose to the challenge, and the ribbons started circulating.

Choosing purple was one of Fathers 4 Justice's more savvy branding decisions. The color works for the group for the same reason Holstein worried his fathers might feel too ''whatever'' wearing it -- it's sort of a silly color, a kid's color and definitely not macho. Given the particular American constructs of masculinity, it's not clear how other elements of the Fathers 4 Justice aesthetic would play in the States: could a man running around in public in tights and a cape, mocking the law and defying security, ever be an emissary on behalf of American fatherhood? For some time now, O'Connor has considered starting a march of fathers in drag (''It's a drag being a dad,'' the signs would read), which suggests the size of the gap between his sensibility and that of the average American.

Humor has clearly been a key to the success of the British campaign, distancing Fathers 4 Justice from overtly misogynist groups like the Blackshirts in Australia, masked men in paramilitary uniforms who stalk the homes of women they feel have taken unfair advantage of the custody system. O'Connor realized early on that men marching in the street and shouting look like a public menace rather than like nurturing caretakers deserving of more time with their children. In England, the group has managed to offset that threat with goofy playfulness while holding on to enough dignity to maintain respectability. That balance might be even harder to strike in the States.

In the auditorium, Holstein's fathers sat for half an hour and watched video footage of Fathers 4 Justice, much of it set to a stirring soundtrack of U2 songs. ''Would everyone who's willing to be arrested please get on the bus?'' Matt O'Connor called out during one protest. There were scenes of a father and his daughter playing with their pet sheep, which the father had dyed purple; scenes of dozens of men dressed as Father Christmas staging a sit-in at the children's-affairs office of a government building; and scenes from two of the group's largest protests: the Men in Black march (which featured about a thousand fathers, as well as supportive mothers and grandmothers, dressed in sunglasses and black suits, to symbolize their grief), and the Rising, a march through London that drew more than 2,000 protesters.

Afterward, Robert Chase, a 39-year-old clean-cut Dartmouth graduate who met with Jason Hatch and his colleague when they came to New York, led the group in brainstorming protest ideas of their own. Men started offering suggestions: they could protest from one of Boston's duck boats; they could march to the harbor for a Boston Tea Party, only throwing their divorce decrees, not tea, into the water; they could dress up like Barney; they could dress up in burkas! The group seemed receptive to costumes, but there wasn't much enthusiasm for storming court buildings.

''I'm not in the mood to get arrested,'' one man called out. ''I got arrested enough during my divorce.'' This got a laugh.

''I like the idea of a parade, but it needs to be funny,'' another man said.

''Humor!'' Holstein exclaimed. ''Humor works better than anger!''

For most of American legal history, the laws required judges to consider sex the most significant factor when making custody decisions, although which sex had the advantage changed over time. Until the mid-1800's, under common law, a father's right to custody in the event of a divorce was so strong that it practically functioned as a property right. Toward the end of that century, this principle was reversed by the ''tender years'' doctrine -- the presumption that young children need to be with their mothers -- which lasted in a handful of jurisdictions into the early 80's. For the most part, however, by the late 70's, the ''tender years'' doctrine had given way to the less prejudiced, but also less clear, directive that judges base their decisions on the so-called best interest of the child. Today many fathers' rights advocates -- particularly those who filed the 40-some class-action lawsuits demanding a 50-50 split of custody -- would like to usher in a new paradigm: one that values parental rights as highly as the child's best interest.

Michael Newdow is one of the fathers who have been trying to make that case. He is best known as the California emergency-room doctor who represented himself last year in a case before the Supreme Court, arguing that the words ''under God'' in the Pledge of Allegiance violated the establishment clause of the United States Constitution. Newdow, an atheist, brought the suit on the grounds that the pledge forced the government's spiritual views onto his daughter, impeding her freedom of religious choice. The Supreme Court ruled that Newdow, given the particulars of his case and his custody issues, didn't have the standing to bring the suit. For five years leading up to his appearance before the Supreme Court, Newdow had two driving passions in his life: fighting for more custody of his daughter and fighting to eliminate ''under God'' from the pledge. When the court dismissed his case, the two passions collided and combusted, the destruction of one cause taking the other down with it.

Though he still practices emergency-room medicine, Newdow finds time to tour the country, speaking at conferences and law schools about the separation of church and state. Last winter, I met up with him at the University of Michigan Law School just after he finished giving a talk to some students. He was carrying a guitar and looked a little flustered, two details that turned out to be related: during his talks, he likes to sing a song he wrote about the establishment clause, only this time he flubbed the lyrics.

Fast-talking and faster-thinking, Newdow, 51, is a tall, thin man who manages to look crisply dressed in even informal clothing. Conversationally, he toggles between two modes, aggrieved and outraged, and he has an expressive face that seems well designed to reflect those emotions. That evening, sitting in the lobby of the Michigan Union, he talked for close to two hours about his troubles -- the custody battles he endured with his daughter's mother (whom he never married); the impassioned exchanges that alienated the family-court judge; the injustices he feels he suffered at the hands of foolish mediators; the court appearances over all manner of arcane disputes, including whether he could take his daughter out hunting for frogs one night (no) and whether he could take her to hear him argue before the Supreme Court (again, no). Although the courts deprived him of final decision-making power over his daughter, who is now 10, he does spend about 30 percent of the time with her, a relatively generous arrangement. Nonetheless, Newdow, who has spent half a million dollars on legal fees, the lion's share of those incurred by his child's mother, claims that the family-court system has ruined his life. He's a second-class parent, he said; he can't do the things he'd like to do with his daughter. The system allows his daughter's mother to stifle his freedom to care for his child the way he'd like. ''It's as bad as slavery,'' he said.

As a spokesman on behalf of fathers' rights -- or rather, as he makes a point of stressing, all parents' and children's rights -- Newdow is a brilliant, confident speaker, but sometimes he lacks a light touch. Hyperrational, occasionally tone-deaf, he'll admit that he knows enough to know that his logic often offends people, sane as it seems to him. Early on in our conversation, when he started to digress about the imbalance in reproductive rights -- women can choose to end a pregnancy but men can't -- he cut himself off. ''That's another issue, and it alienates people, and I don't want to alienate you,'' he said. ''Although I will eventually.'' It wasn't a threat, or a joke, or a regret -- it was just, to him, by now, a probability.

The following day, Newdow delivered a second talk at Michigan, this time on the subject of family law, to 50 or 60 students who filled a classroom. (Newdow himself attended Michigan Law School before becoming a doctor.) While the students listened, tossing back free pizza that a student group had provided, Newdow began discussing Troxel v. Granville, a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that has been warmly embraced by fathers' rights advocates. In that decision, the court held that a grandparent's visitation rights could not be granted without a parent's consent, even if a grandparent's visits were in the best interest of the child. In Troxel, Newdow noted, the court stated that parental rights are ''perhaps the oldest of fundamental liberty interests recognized by this court.'' If to be a parent is a fundamental constitutional right, he asked, how can the government violate that right without a showing a compelling state interest?

A hand went up. ''Isn't the best interest of the child a compelling state interest?''

This is one of Newdow's favorite questions. ''How do you prove what's best for the child?'' he asked. ''Somebody tell me what's best for the child. Let's take lunch. McDonald's or make tuna fish at home -- what's best? O.K., lunch at home, you don't risk a car accident, maybe the food's healthier. McDonald's, on the other hand, maybe it's more fun, maybe the kid sees something new, gets the confidence to go down the slide for the first time. When you're talking about two fit parents, who's to say what's best?''

But what also worried Newdow, he continued, was not the problem of how to determine what's ''best'' for the child, but rather the assumption that you can deprive someone of his or her fundamental parental right simply in order to make a child's life more pleasant. Of course, he conceded, society has an obligation to protect those, like children, who cannot protect themselves. But there is a world of difference between protecting someone from harm and improving his life more generally. ''We've gone from protection to suddenly 'make their lives better,''' he said. ''And that's a violation of equal protection -- because you're taking one person's life and ruining it to make another person's better. If you can show real harm to the child, the kind of harm that the state would protect any child in an intact family from -- abuse, neglect -- sure, of course, protect it. But when it's just what someone thinks might be better for the child, you have to weigh that compared to the harm suffered by the parent.''

In short, forget for a moment about tending to a child's optimal well-being: what about what's fair? If a child's parents are still married, courts don't worry about whether it's in the best interest of the child to go frogging late at night -- so why should they have the power to weigh that issue the instant two parents separate? Split the custody 50-50, Newdow proposes, and let each parent make independent decisions during his or her time with that child.

A young woman with long dark hair raised her hand. ''So you want to just split the kid 50-50, like Solomon?'' she asked. All around her, students looked either amused or incensed by the argument Newdow was making.

''Why is 70-30 so much better?'' he countered. ''And if 50-50 is so terrible, why do courts have no problem with parents who mutually agree to 50-50 arrangements?''

A quiet girl in the front row had a trickier question. ''What about when one parent wants to do something that permanently prohibits the other parent's freedom to exercise their own constitutional right to parent the way they see fit?'' she asked, searching for an example. ''Say, getting her daughter's ear pierced. You can do that on your own time, but it's permanent.''

For that kind of thing, Newdow conceded, you go to court. Here his logic seemed to be leading him to strange places: a father could take his teenage son to a strip club, but over an ear-piercing, he'd have to go to court?

The young woman's question illustrated the particular thorniness of parental rights. By exercising his or her own right, a parent may end up negating the other's. An accuser's right to hire an attorney doesn't complicate the right of the accused to legal defense; my right to free speech doesn't inhibit your right to the same. But if two parents are at odds, parental rights become a kind of zero-sum game of constitutional freedom.

David Meyer, a University of Illinois law professor who specializes in the intersection of family and constitutional laws, agrees with Newdow that the courts have recognized a fundamental parental right. The problem, Meyer says, is that so-called strict scrutiny -- the process by which the court determines whether there's a state interest so compelling that it should override a fundamental right -- is complicated when multiple people in a single family are asserting their fundamental constitutional rights. In Troxel, he notes, ''the court was forced into a mushy kind of balancing test, balancing the interests of the children and the parents and all kinds of facts.'' In his opinion in Troxel, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the question of why strict scrutiny wasn't being applied. ''None of the other justices answered him,'' Meyer told me. ''But implicitly the answer is: it just doesn't work here.''

Although Newdow rarely loses his temper, his complicated rationales for simple solutions can exasperate those who engage him in any conversation about the subject of custody. Joining Newdow at an informal law-school dinner the night before he spoke, Christina Whitman, a former professor of Newdow's, lost little time on congratulations before challenging him. ''Your [constitutional] right guarantees you equality in making your case before the judge,'' she pointed out, ''but it doesn't guarantee you equal custody. You have the right to an answer, not an answer you'd like.'' Only if the court's decision was arbitrary, she pointed out, would it be a violation of his constitutional right.

Newdow replied that the judges' rulings are, in fact, arbitrary, often depending on the expert opinion of psychologists to whom he grants zero scientific credibility. He cited textbook cases of judges making absurd decisions based on their own value judgments about what kind of parent would be the better custodian.

''But just because unfair decisions happen doesn't mean 50-50 is the answer,'' she said. ''That's a child's approach to equality.''

The two went round and round until Whitman took a breather to ask how old Newdow's daughter was. ''Ten,'' he told her. Whitman laughed. ''Just wait two years,'' she said, clearly speaking from experience. ''You won't want her anymore.''

Standing on the plaza outside Boston City Hall, an observer had to take a close look, amid the sea of Red Sox caps, to see the signs of romance on Valentine's Day. A teenager walked across the plaza with a handful of red and white carnations; a minute or two later, a man in a business suit passed by briskly, a Mylar balloon trailing behind him. As another man in a suit helped a young mother get her stroller down the plaza stairs, a deep chanting from the street below made its way to the plaza -- the echoing, slightly eerie sound of shouted slogans magnified by a bullhorn: ''It's Valentine's Day, and we can't see our kids!'' And then: ''What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!''

Robert Chase, the Dartmouth grad from the Fathers and Family meeting, didn't have much luck persuading those fathers to take to the streets, but he had managed to round up 30 or so protesters, a few from New Hampshire, his home state, to march under the banner ''Fathers 4 Justice US.'' (Similar protests were organized in 11 other cities across the country that day.) An entrepreneur who runs his own consulting business, Chase has custody of his two sons every other weekend. Several years ago, he lost the right to a third weekend per month when a judge determined that it was logistically onerous for the kids, which is what their mother argued in court. It was the last in a series of outcomes over the years that disappointed him. Chase, who speaks in considered, wholesome-sounding phrases, says that he has made peace with the arrangement now, especially since his children are teenagers with lives of their own. But he mourns the opportunities lost.

''We can't reclaim the together-time we lost while they were growing up,'' he told me. ''When you're spending only two or four days a month with your kids, you can't really teach them values, the difference between right and wrong. All you can do is love them, provide a positive example and hope they're getting what they need when they're outside your influence.''

In the years after the breakup of his marriage, Chase initially sought the help of various fathers' groups, but he told me he felt that most of them ''didn't do anything but sit around and complain.'' Like Jason Hatch, he got interested in Fathers 4 Justice after reading about the group in the news. A father for the first time at 22, Chase, now 39, said it suddenly occurred to him that his older son, now 17, could be a father himself in five or six years. He decided he should take whatever action was possible to make sure his sons and any future grandsons wouldn't encounter the same custody system he faced, should they ever suffer an unhappy divorce.

Outside City Hall, Chase and his team, mostly men but including a few women, started shuffling their way down Congress Street, some of them blowing whistles and horns. One man wore a devil's mask, with horns atop his head, and a judge's robe; another man in a judge's robe looked even scarier, with a mask of blue eyeballs, no nose, missing teeth, a misshapen skull and several well-placed boils. Other men, including Chase, were dressed in sunglasses and white decontamination suits that had purple hand prints (a Fathers 4 Justice symbol) smeared on them. Something about the mix of white and the flowing robes lent the men a vaguely Klannish aesthetic. As they whistled and bellowed their way down the street, they seemed to have lost sight of Ned Holstein's exhortation to try humor, not anger. A mother with her child approaching them on the street crossed over to the other side.

After a half-hour or so of chanting and marching, the group arrived at the main family-court building in Boston. At the plaza of the courthouse, one protester started beating a drum. A compact man with a neatly trimmed beard, a green tie and a houndstooth cap left the courthouse and passed the protesters. ''It could happen to you!'' the protesters chanted.

''It did happen to me,'' the man said. ''She went nuclear on me.'' In the fathers' rights community, the real weapons of mass destruction are false allegations of abuse. Fathers' rights advocates claim it's all too easy for women to use that strategy; feminists counter that too many family-court judges dismiss women's valid concerns about domestic violence. ''Two years and three-quarters of a million dollars later,'' the man continued, ''I got full custody of my kids, and was fully exonerated. But I've been living this for two years.'' Now the man, who declined to give his name, watched as some of the protesters performed some street theater: a monster in a judge's robe tearing up a kid's photo, one of the fathers punching him to the ground, a man in a decontamination suit with a broom pushing at the heap of a human on the street. ''I don't know about this,'' he said, gesturing at the protesters' garish pantomime. ''But the system does need fixing.''

While they were marching, members of Chase's group passed out fliers promoting fathers-4-justice.org and detailing all the harms that children without fathers are more likely to suffer -- drug problems, depression, less education. Unlike Michael Newdow, Chase pays little attention to legal rights, arguing exclusively that the interests of the father are aligned with those of the child, given all the social-science research that suggests that fatherless children fare poorly.

But some scholars argue that this reasoning mistakenly assumes that children's welfare works roughly on a sliding scale -- that if children with no fathers at all suffer various emotional and social setbacks, then children who see their fathers only, say, every other week might suffer roughly half those setbacks. Margaret Brinig, a professor of family law at the University of Iowa, has examined a longitudinal study of a national sample of more than 20,000 junior-high and high-school children, close to 3,000 of whom had divorced parents and lived with their mothers. Studying that select sample, she found that there was only one sort of custody arrangement that noticeably harmed children: having the child visit the father for sleepover visits only several times a year. Children in such arrangements, Brinig found, were significantly more likely to suffer from depression and fear of dying young. But whether a child had a sleepover with his father a few times a month or a few times a week didn't seem to influence that child's well-being in any measurable way. (Kids who had sleepovers with their fathers several times a month were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than kids who didn't, but Brinig posits that result as an exception to her overall conclusion.)

Fathers' advocates like Ned Holstein argue that Brinig's study might have found more positive results if more of the fathers in it had 50-50 custody, creating more intimate relationships, rather than measuring the difference between, say, one night a month and two nights a month. ''It's like prescribing one aspirin for cancer or two aspirin,'' he said. But Brinig remains wary of a presumption of joint physical custody. ''There's quite a bit of evidence to suggest that joint physical custody is definitely not good for kids when there's a high-conflict situation between the parents,'' she told me. The more shared the custody, the argument goes, the more the parents have to interact and the more the children are exposed to nasty exchanges and power plays. Fathers' rights advocates, by contrast, contend that it's the current winner-take-all system that creates conflict by forcing fearful parents into vitriolic attacks.

Since the early 90's, scores of studies on the subject of joint custody have been fired back and forth between the competing camps -- studies suggesting that joint physical or even joint legal custody, which gives each parent some decision-making power, fuels conflict; studies claiming that sons fare worse with a mother's sole custody; studies suggesting that children crave stability; studies suggesting that joint physical custody improves child-support payments; and so on. Some of the studies, accurate though they may be, can lead to difficult, even distasteful conclusions. Should policy really be based on studies that basically conclude it doesn't matter how often a father sees his kid, so long as it's more than a few times a year? On the other hand, it's almost impossible to measure how a presumption of joint physical custody affects the motivations of parents on both sides, how that extra bargaining chip might be abused. In one particularly influential study, researchers at Harvard and Stanford found that even in cases in which joint physical custody was granted, the arrangement often devolved into a primary-custodian situation, with the mother taking more responsibility -- but perhaps receiving less child support under the equal arrangement.

Robert Mnookin, director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project and a professor at Harvard Law School, is the rare expert who concedes that each side has legitimate concerns. A presumption of joint physical custody would have ''some nice symbolic attributes,'' he told me; but he worries about how it would play out in practice. He notes that the parents whose custody negotiations end up going all the way to court tend to be the parents who fight the most. In those cases, he argues, forcing judges to implement joint physical custody is a bad idea for the kids, since it only perpetuates their exposure to the conflict. He contends, however, that if divorced parents know that a judge is disinclined to award joint physical custody in circumstances with a high degree of conflict, it creates an incentive for a parent who wants sole custody to create conflict. Mnookin says he doesn't favor the presumption of joint physical custody, although he concedes that without one, the system gives mothers an advantage. ''In times of cultural transition like this,'' he said, ''the law struggles.''

As Chase's group was marching through Boston, men all over the city paused to nod grimly and unload stories of how they felt they'd been abused by the custody system, or of how a friend had been. They weren't offering broad theories about constitutional rights or citing chapter and verse from social-science studies. Their complaints were mostly about the logistics of the system, its (to them) arbitrary rule over their finances, its judgments about their life choices, the punishments it doles out, its power to splinter into useless small pieces whatever relationship they'd struggled to build with their children -- all complaints that probably would have been echoed by as many women, had it been women marching down the street protesting about mothers' rights to custody.

One man in a blue oxford shirt ran down from his third-story office to get some contact information from Chase's group -- his brother-in-law, he said, was about to be arrested because he could no longer keep up with the child-support payments the court demanded. Another man said he had lost custody because he was home with the kids. ''And a man who's home with the kids isn't a homemaker; he's just unemployed,'' he said. Another passer-by had lost custody of his kids, he said, because he wasn't the primary caretaker; the child-support payments were killing him, he said (in Massachusetts, they can run up to 30 percent or more of gross income) and even still, he didn't have nearly as much time with his kids as he would have liked. The court held his wife in contempt for blocking his visitation, ''but she didn't care,'' he said. ''It's a slap on the wrist.'' A man with a Scandinavian accent, wearing a black zip-down sweater, said that he was supposed to see his kids every third weekend but that his wife moved out of state and uses every legal loophole she can to stop him from seeing them.

Boston that morning felt like a city of walking wounded -- men who stopped on their way to or from their workplaces to compare notes with one another about their losses; men who seemed eager to get someone to pay attention to what they saw as the tragic absurdities of their lives. Their stories came out fragmented, no doubt one-sided, but moving nonetheless. They were short chapters in much longer novels that could be written, that have all but been written, in fact, by those who have best captured modern-day male alienation -- Andre Dubus, Robert Stone, Richard Ford, David Gates -- with their stories of imperfect men and frustrated women and misunderstandings and low expectations all around. The city blocks that Chase's protesters walked must have contained thousands of divided families, and every one of the fathers in those families has hundreds of stories, every one of which he would happily tell to a family court, if only the judge had the time to really listen.

The morning Jason Hatch was scheduled to scale the building on Downing Street, Matt O'Connor, the Fathers 4 Justice founder, was sitting nervously at the coffee shop of the Thistle Hotel in London, a few blocks from Downing, waiting for a phone call. Leaders of social movements may have once hailed from the ranks of unions, sweatshops and churches, but it seems inevitable that in today's culture, O'Connor, one of England's most successful activists, had a career as a brand designer for hip restaurants. Sitting with his girlfriend at the time, Giselle, a yoga instructor, O'Connor left his cellphone out on the table, waiting for it to sound its customary ring: the theme song from ''Mission: Impossible.'' In the days before, whenever he spoke to me about Hatch's plan, he would take the battery out of his phone to thwart the government agents he was convinced could otherwise listen in. The police, he suspected, had been given advance warning of a few recent Fathers 4 Justice stunts they had managed to disrupt. As he waited for the phone call, he rehearsed for me some of his sound bites: ''Our government is turning a nation of fathers into a nation of McDads'' was one; ''We have a government of dysfunctional misfits who are trying to create a generation of dysfunctional kids'' was another.

O'Connor wasn't sure he'd have the chance to use his one-liners. Fathers 4 Justice had had a string of bad luck lately, and the security at Downing Street was thick. He was in the process of describing to me how Hatch had cased the building when his phone rang. It was a colleague on the scene at Downing Street calling from his cellphone. ''He's up!'' he yelled. O'Connor, in his camel's-hair coat and snakeskin boots, and his girlfriend, chic in oversize sunglasses and a broad hat, ran out the door of the coffee shop and hailed a cab. Heading for the site a few blocks away, catching their breath in the taxi, they could hear the sirens of police cars heading in the same direction.

When we arrived at Downing Street, the area surrounding the building had been cordoned off. High up enough that he looked quite small, Hatch, dressed as Batman, was standing on a ledge, along with two other men, both Fathers 4 Justice members, one dressed like Robin, the other dressed like Captain America. The three men had driven a truck up to the side of building and onto the pavement, mounted a ladder and, without a hitch, climbed up. They had made their way across the balcony to the corner of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building, where they stood on what looked like a fairly narrow perch. They hung a large banner, reading ''Access Denied.'' The police apparently didn't notice anything until the men were already up and a crowd of onlookers had started cheering.

A cluster of boys in their school blazers waved wildly up to the men. Hatch put on his mask and twirled his cape. Six or seven teenage girls, also waving wildly, started screaming, Beatles-fan style, and blowing Hatch kisses. He blew a few back. Some more tourists and locals joined the crowd, and several large men in sunglasses and street clothes seemed to be keeping a particularly keen eye on the crowd. ''How are you, darling?'' Giselle said into O'Connor's cellphone, looking up nervously at Hatch, who had his own phone pressed to his ear.

Reporters lined up to get their sound bites from O'Connor. The press turnout was solid but perhaps a bit perfunctory. The media in England had already addressed the security angle in previous coverage, and after Buckingham Palace, every possible angle on paternity in Britain had been thoroughly worked. ''Right, we don't need to hear their message again, do we?'' I overheard a BBC reporter say into his cellphone to his producer. The press had also already exhausted its love affair with Hatch as Hero Dad. It had become public knowledge that Hatch had been convicted of threatening his second wife and that he had another child, with his first wife. After he scaled Buckingham Palace, his girlfriend told the press that she had dumped him because he was devoting too much time to Fathers 4 Justice and not enough to their baby. (The two have since reconciled -- ''I was very post-partum'' at the time, she told me -- but that story hasn't received as much play.)

As the afternoon wore on, the already gray day turned a little grayer, and a cold, wet wind picked up. The reporters down below, in scarves and boots, complained about their chilled feet. Several hundred feet up, on the ledge, it could only have been colder and windier, with superhero tights providing little protection. The three men had brought a knapsack filled with chocolates and Red Bull, but eventually the cold and the fatigue got to Captain America, who came down around 5 p.m. An hour or two later, Robin capitulated, too. By then, the crowd of bystanders had pretty much dissipated, but Hatch stayed put, his cape wrapped around him for warmth. Long after everyone else had gone home to dinner and kids and, finally, bed, he was still on the ledge, an outraged father, determined, cold and alone.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Collaborative divorce is gaining fans in Santa Fe - New Mexico

Article available at the Free New Mexican


Divorce is almost always emotionally and financially painful for couples. But it doesn’t have to end in a costly, all-out war over the house, the bank account, the kids — or even the cat.

Collaborative practice is different from mediation, where a neutral, third party helps the disputing parties settle their case. In collaborative practice, the spouses and their attorneys make these decisions in fourway discussions.

In some cases, the divorcing couple might select a specialist to represent their children and a neutral financial expert in addition to their collaborative lawyers.

Advocates say this model is cheaper and faster than traditional divorce, reduces family conflict and results in higher compliance with agreements.

You keep control of the process without going to court. Children’s needs are given priority. You and your partner commit to reaching agreement through a problem-solving approach. An atmosphere of respect preserves self-esteem. Open communication provides tools for effective problem solving in the future. There is full disclosure of facts and information. Face-to-face meetings allow for mutually created resolutions. Process helps couple plan for their futures.

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Divorce should not shortchange children - New Hampshire

Full article at Foster's Online

Excerpts below:

HB 640, passed by the House and currently before the state Senate Judiciary Committee, aims to change this mercenary practice. If successful, the bill would redefine parental rights and responsibilities based on the needs of the children, not how much a custodial parent is paid.

Currently, child-custody and support guidelines assign a value to each child. It is not based on need or real-world costs, but rather mathematics. For example, for one youngster that amount is 25 percent of a non-custodial parent’s income. For four children, it is 45 percent.

The result, as recognized by the Commission to Study Child Support and Related Custody Issues established under former Gov. Craig Benson, is a custody fight based on how much money the custodial parent can be awarded by the court, not a child’s needs.

HB 640 would require both parents to develop a written parenting plan, describing each parent’s rights and responsibilities.

In cases where either parent is not forthcoming, the court would be authorized to develop the parenting plan.

The bill stresses the need to keep both parents involved. It encourages parents to “share” in raising their children after being separated or divorced, rather than fighting for sole custody.

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New Additions!

Two new additions:

Under other blogs I have added Feminist4Fathers and under Links I have added Shared Parenting Works


The latest article by Stephen Baskerville can be accessed at Fathers for Life.

The article was originally published in Crisis Magazine and will eventually be available on their website as well.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

AB 1307 Update: Shared Parenting Bill Defeated in Assembly Judiciary Committee

I am copying this verbatim from an email I received:

AB 1307 Update: Shared Parenting Bill Defeated in Assembly Judiciary Committee

May 3, 2005

Despite the massive support we generated for AB 1307, the new California Shared Parenting bill, children and the parents they love and need were defeated today in the California Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Two thousand of you called, faxed or wrote Sacramento in support of AB 1307. By contrast, the opposition, led by the California National Organization for Women, the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence, the California Judges Association, the State of California Commission on the Status of Women, and the California State Bar Family Law Section, had no discernable popular support. Nevertheless, they successfully attacked the bill by claiming that a rebuttable presumption of shared custody puts women and children in danger of abusive men. They also claimed that fathers who fight for custody are usually abusers.

As my listeners and readers know, these claims are spurious. Mothers are far more likely to abuse children than fathers are, and women are as likely to commit domestic violence as men are, though women's injuries tend to be more serious. Moreover, AB 1307's presumption of shared custody applies only to fit parents, not abusers.

The California Shared Parenting Alliance's presentation at the hearing was impressive, particularly the testimony of family law attorney Denise Placencio. The highlight of the proceedings came near the end of the testimony when Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally, the bill's principal author, said "here's my final witness"--and held up a box with almost 2,000 of our letters in it!

Our defeat represents the triumph of special interests over children and families. The California Shared Parenting Alliance won the endorsements of dozens of mental health professionals and family law experts, as well as veterans and retirees groups. These were backed by popular support vastly beyond anything the special interest groups opposing us could muster.
CSPA has plans to continue this fight, and Dymally says he will be bringing the bill back next year.

A Personal Note to the Sackson Horde
This is our sixth
His Side with Glenn Sacks Listener Campaign and our first defeat. I thank all of you for your support and faith in us, and I'm sorry we were unable to deliver another victory. I knew from the beginning that this one would be tough, but I also believed that we had to fight the good fight regardless of the odds.

Special credit goes to CSPA lobbyist Michael Robinson, who spearheaded both AB 1307 and SB 1082 in Sacramento, and was one of the heroes behind our successful campaign to preserve the LaMusga move-away decision last summer. To donate to support CSPA and Michael's lobbying efforts, click here. Thanks also to the American Coalition for Fathers and Children for its support.

Best Wishes,
Glenn Sacks

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Child support commission: Split custody, costs - New Hampshire

The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News - 02-May-05 - Child support commission: Split custody, costs


They're getting help from a legislative commission that wants to cut court-ordered child support to the bone, making each parent responsible for only half the actual cost of their children's "basic needs" — food, shelter, clothing and medical care — regardless of each parent's income.

The commission also wants judges to presume custody will be shared, and that if it is, no money will change hands.

Under state child support guidelines, most non-custodial parents pay a flat percentage of their income in child support to parents with primary custody — 25 percent for one child, 33 percent for two children, 40 percent for three and 45 percent for four — although judges can make exceptions for hardship or special circumstances.

That leads to unfair results in some cases and promotes litigation, David Amico told a state Senate committee last week.

"We need to remove this prize of child support. If it were more equitable and fair, there would be more incentive for the parents to work together in the best interests of the children," he said.

"We need to do a major overhaul to our system," Bickford said.

Paying for anything more than half of a child's basic needs should be optional for divorced parents, just as it is for married ones, he said. Otherwise, deciding what extras must be covered becomes a "slippery slope."

However, a minority on the commission, which issued its recommendations late last year, supported a so-called "standard of living adjustment" based on parents' incomes. The minority also said judges should start with no presumptions about custody except what's in the children's best interests.

Everyone on the panel agreed the child support formula can be disastrous for low-income parents and unfair to high-income ones. They also agreed the Legislature should devise child support guidelines for cases of shared physical custody.

House Bill 529 would require judges to start with a presumption of shared physical custody, but it has been shelved in favor of House Bill 640, which requires judges to make the best interests of the children paramount.

Both would change the term "custody" to "parental rights and responsibilities," require parents to come up with parenting plans addressing their children's needs and allow courts to order parents into mediation.

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