A New – and Newly Scurrilous – Tactic in the War to Stop Shared Parenting

March 23, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Dear readers, here’s a test for you. Read the following excerpts from past NPO communications and see if you can spot a trend. The first is by our Chairman, Ned Holstein.

The Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association, together with a couple of influential Senators on the Judiciary Committee, have succeeded in gutting the proposed reforms of custody law that were fought out over two years ago by Governor Patrick’s Working Group…

In a classic double-cross, three representatives of bar associations who served on the Working Group pretended to support the bill when we finished our 18 months of work and sent it to Governor Patrick. Then, once the bill got into the Judiciary Committee, they went behind closed doors to do their bloody work.

Now here’s part of a piece I did just one day later.

The fight to get Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign Senate Bill 668 took a step backward with the announcement that the Family Law Section of the Florida State Bar now opposes the bill it was instrumental in writing.

And here’s language from the Orlando Weekly that I quoted in my piece (Orlando Weekly, 3/16/16).

Just before the end of its 2016 session, the Florida Legislature approved a bill to go to Gov. Rick Scott that has put the Florida Bar Association in an odd quandary: The Bar’s Family Law section is now urging the governor to veto a bill that, for the most part, it wrote, lobbied for and wanted to see pass this year.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote last May. The topic is a Nebraska shared parenting bill, LB 437.

“We’re not necessarily opposed to shared parenting, but getting to that point puts victims at greater risk,” said Robert Sanford, legal director of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

No, actually they are opposed to shared parenting. I know this because a source informs me that the hearing before the Judiciary Committee was far more exciting than the Times article lets on. It seems that one member asked Sanford if there was any change to LB 437 or indeed any shared parenting bill at all that his organization could support. Sanford couldn’t think of any. Not necessarily opposed to shared parenting? Ha.

But anti-shared parenting forces didn’t stop there. One of their witnesses, Tara Muir, said “There’s no evidence shared parenting helps kids.” Another informed the committee that, whenever there’s high parental conflict, one parent is always its source.

Still another wished for greater collaboration on the part of shared parenting advocates. To that, a witness in favor of the bill pointed out that DV activists had been consulted on LB 437, had their language included in the bill and had attempted to shut shared parenting advocates out of the process. How’s that for collaboration?

Did you spot the trend? That’s right, in three separate states – Massachusetts, Florida and Nebraska – anti-shared parenting advocates have been included by pro-shared parenting forces in the writing of proposed parenting legislation. In committees and working groups, family lawyers, domestic violence activists and child welfare advocates have sat down together for countless hours over months and sometimes years. They’ve hammered out language that’s acceptable to all parties and written bills to be carried by various legislators. Those bills have everyone’s name on them – their stamps of approval.

All that of course is as it should be. After all, if you’re asking legislators to vote for a bill and the governor to sign it, it only makes sense to have as many interested parties involved as possible. When those in favor and those opposed both endorse a bill, it gives elected representatives the assurance that the bill isn’t just special pleading on behalf of a single interest group, but one that’s passed muster with all concerned. Plus, those opposed and those in favor of any legislation are also those most interested in it. They’re likely to know the issues touched on by the bill better than anyone. So elected officials can be confident that the bill before them is sound.

But what our perspicacious readers will have noticed is that, although that painstaking process was followed in each of the three states, and although bills were produced that had been “signed off on” by everyone involved in their drafting, in every case, those opposed to shared parenting did an abrupt about face and opposed the very bills they’d helped write.

In Florida, the family bar’s newly-discovered opposition is absurdly trivial. The lawyers knew the language was in the bill that they now oppose, but they agreed to it. It involves alimony paid in marriages that have lasted 20 or more years. That’s the only thing in the bill and it would be simplicity itself to simply propose corrective legislation next year. But no, the lawyers want the entire bill – including the shared parenting provision – scrapped.

In Massachusetts two years ago, Governor Duvall Patrick asked for a working group to be formed to draft legislation. Their work had the tacit imprimatur of the governor’s office, but, once the bill was drafted, a few members of the working group took it upon themselves to drastically change the entire group’s work product so as to make what was supposed to be a shared parenting bill anything but.

And in Nebraska, family lawyers and the domestic violence establishment went before the Judiciary Committee to oppose a bill they’d helped write. They did so on the flimsiest of pretexts, making patently untrue claims that, for example, there’s no evidence that shared parenting is in kids’ best interests.

What’s up? It seems apparent, or at least possible, that we’re seeing a coordinated effort by anti-shared parenting forces. To me it seems too much of a coincidence that the same tactic was used in three states within a nine-month period. The tactic seems to be to sit in on the working groups, add your two cents, agree to the final bill and then turn around and try to sabotage it.

Why would these people adopt an approach that smacks of such desperation? My guess is that it’s that very desperation that drives them. As I’ve pointed out many times, the move toward shared parenting is gaining momentum and the resistance is weaker than ever. That’s mostly because essentially all of the reliable social science on children’s welfare favors shared parenting when their parents divorce. The reality of what’s good for kids is overwhelming.

And what’s good for kids serves society as well. We devote untold resources to trying to fix the problems kids of divorce – and the adults they become – manifest, when a healthy relationship with both parents would go a long way toward making those resources unnecessary.

Plus, fathers are healthier and happier when they have meaningful relationships with their kids. And mothers are more able to work, earn, save for retirement and generally be independent when they’re not saddled with 80% – 100% of the parenting time.

In short, shared parenting is a winner for all concerned and opponents know it. The current system has allowed them to feather their nests. Family lawyers take the conflict engendered by sole/primary parenting laws straight to the bank. And the domestic violence establishment rightly sees its funding diminishing with shared parenting’s tendency to reduce conflict between parents.

Many times on this blog I’ve wondered what those opposed to shared parenting would come up with next to justify their opposition. They have nothing real, so they’ve been reduced to misrepresentations and in some cases, outright lies.

But now it seems they’ve truly scraped the bottom of the barrel. This latest tactic is simply delay. They appear to go along and then disown their own work. It’s a cut above the six-year-old who claims the dog ate his homework, but that’s about all it is.

#sharedparenting, #familylawyers, #Florida, #Nebraska, #Massachusetts

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