Attorney Marilyn York: Warrior for Family Court Reform

black and white boy child childhood 208106 2March 26, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

With good reason, I’ve often criticized family lawyers.  And why not?  They routinely stand in the way of needed, salutary reform of family courts and laws.  Worse, they do so to ensure that their paychecks don’t get cut even a little bit.  Worse still, they trot out the most tired and shopworn excuses for doing so.  Their claims long ago failed to stand up to even minimal scrutiny, a fact they all but certainly know.  But they keep saying the same things over and over.  And worst of all, they do all that in spite of what’s good for children.  Yes, fathers and mothers suffer the slings and arrows of the family law bar, but children take the brunt of it.  Time and again, the lawyers tell us all that kids don’t need both parents in their lives.  Oh, they don’t say it in those words, but what everyone in the reform movement knows is that standing against shared parenting stands in favor of poorer lives, poorer outcomes for kids.

So I criticize family lawyers.  They richly deserve it.

But not all of them do.  A few, like NPO’s Ashley-Nicole Russell, stand for what’s right and put self-interest where it belongs – second to the well-being of children, second to the welfare of parents and second to improving the judicial system.

Now comes Nevada family lawyer Marilyn York who gave this Tedx talk that’s about as perfect as it’s possible to be in 14+ minutes.  York doesn’t beat around the bush; she nails point after point after point.  Every state legislator in the land should watch the linked-to video.  So should every judge who hears child custody cases.

It’s all there.   Some 40% of kids in the U.S. are growing up without their father.  York sat on the board of a non-profit organization to help homeless girls.  All of them came from fatherless homes.  Indeed, 90% of homeless kids, 71% of high school dropouts and 63% of youth suicides are fatherless.

By contrast, kids with actively involved fathers have stronger cognitive functioning, better physical and mental health, are better problem solvers, are more curious about the world around them and more empathetic than are other kids.

For at least 30 years, we’ve known all this and more about the value of fathers to children, and yet fatherlessness continues to rise.  And the main contributors to that rise are divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing.

As I pointed out in my last post about the data out of Wisconsin on family court outcomes there, as bad as family courts are for married fathers, they’re far, far worse for unmarried ones.  York understands why.  She’s most emphatic when her subject comes to paternity law.  She points out that no state in the nation requires a woman to simply inform a father that he has a child.  That information is crucial when it comes to establishing parental rights for fathers.  If a dad doesn’t know he has a child, he can hardly establish his rights or form a bond with the child.  And yet every state allows a mother to conceal a pregnancy and a child from the father.

Likewise, telling the wrong man that he’s the father is also winked at by law and public policy.  That’s true despite the fact that doing so not only means the wrong man supports the child and bonds with him/her, it also means the right one doesn’t.

York mentions her own experiences in law practice, representing fathers.  She understands how vital fathers are to children, but often fathers themselves undervalue their worth to kids.  In that of course, they’re just mirroring societal biases.  Dads can read all those messages as well as anyone.  It would be surprising if many of them didn’t take them to heart.

One amazing bit of evidence from York’s experience representing fathers: over the years, she’s represented 100 fathers who doubted that they were the father of the child in question in the case.  Of those 100 dads, just two of them were wrong in their suspicions.  98 of them knew the truth without being told.

York says we can’t overrate the importance of reforming family courts and laws.  The fates of nearly half of American children depend on our doing so.

It’s a must-see video.  Good for Marilyn York for standing up for what’s right and being such a strong advocate for reform of family law and public policy that’s the single most important thing we can do to better this society.

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