Suzanne Venker on Couples Who Reverse Roles

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March 27, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Here’s an excellent blog by Suzanne Venker who’s one of the best observers of contemporary male-female relationships (Suzanne Venker, 3/25/20).  Her topic this time is role reversals in marriage and whether they’re likely to work.  Put simply, they aren’t.  The reason is unsurprising.  Particularly once children come along, couples tend to opt for traditional sex roles of Mom the caregiver to kids and Dad the provider of resources.

“There was a time (not that long ago) when few women would entertain the thought of marrying a man who lacked career aspirations. But things have changed. Today, women make their own money. Ergo, the idea that a woman would assess a man’s financial prospects seems unnecessary, and a little, well, archaic.

But it isn’t…”

Indeed it’s not.  One of the most persistent behaviors among women is hypergamy, i.e. the tendency to “marry up.”  It’s less so now than it used to be, but still, women often respond to ancient evolutionary motivations that find them most attracted to the best resource provider.  During most of our evolution, that made sense.  Female hominids tended to seek out members of the dominant male hierarchy with whom to mate.  Doing so tended to mean a better chance of survival for them and their offspring.  And, like most of our evolved biology, that tendency on women’s part is a tough one to ignore, even now when it’s not strictly necessary.

Meanwhile of course men have little to no interest in women as providers, a fact that also reflects our evolved selves.

So, an astonishing percentage of women abandon some or all of the obligation of breadwinning once the first child is born.

“Because in the vast majority of these cases, these same ambitious women will drop out of the workforce or cut back considerably when they have children. In fact, part-time work or no work at all is the ideal choice for most married women with children. On average, 72%.”

Remember the study done by Judith Warner back in the early 2000s?  She followed 22 women who’d been high flyers in demanding fields like law and business, but who’d chucked it all when they had their first baby.  Years later, when little Andy or Jenny was well established in school, 21 of those 22 women either hadn’t returned to work or were working at much less demanding (and less remunerative) jobs.  And many of their husbands weren’t at all happy with the change.

“Problem is, as a culture we encouraged women to be obsessively focused on their careers—so much so that many men now hitch themselves to ambitious women, going so far as to follow their girlfriend’s career trajectory.

No one told these couples what would likely happen down the road once they had kids. Instead, they got the message that this new relationship dynamic has no implications at all. But it does.”

In other words, as a society, we’ve been selling men and women a bill of goods.  For decades now we’ve told women that all along all they wanted to do was tie themselves to the corporate grindstone.  We hoped they wouldn’t remember their own fathers dragging home in the evening, throwing themselves down in their easy chair and exclaiming “it’s a jungle out there.”  We hoped they’d forget the term “rat race.”

And a lot of them did.  But now they’re learning those terms for themselves, experiencing them in their own lives, and guess what.  Given their own biological predisposition to care for their children and the reality of the rat race, it’s no surprise that many mothers opt out of the latter and into childcare.

And that preference on mothers’ part has consequences for fathers.  First, they need to step up their breadwinning game when the first child comes along, and usually they do.  It’s a commonplace among data on fathers’ and mothers’ behavior that, when the first child comes along, fathers increase their time at paid work.  Plus,

“In a study published in the American Sociological Review, Harvard sociologist Alexandra Achen Killewald found that a husband’s breadwinning mattered a great deal. If he was employed full time, there was a 2.5% chance of splitting up in the next year. But if he wasn’t, there was a 3.3 percent chance.”

In fact, the loss of his job is the single strongest predictor of divorce for a man.

Venker goes on to list three other factors that are landmines for couples in reversed sex roles: “Men who do a lot of housewife-type tasks are less likely to have sex.  When Dad stays home, the breadwinning wife becomes jealous of her husband’s close relationship with the kids.  Breadwinning wives have high expectations for how things should be done at home.”

Like the others, those are problems specific to couples in non-traditional roles.  They’ve tried to make Dad Mom and Mom Dad and it’s far from easy.  Whatever they’ve heard, whatever they believe about the interchangeability of the sexes, their evolved biology isn’t buying it.  And therein lies the rub.

Needless to say, non-traditional marriages can work perfectly well and traditional ones can fail.  But it’s worth remembering that the former are paddling against the current of the biology that’s brought us this far.  It’s not something to be cast aside casually.


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.


A Critical Gap in Our Covid-19 Response


March 25, 2020 by Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, National Parents Organization

As of Tuesday, March 24, far more men than women had died from Covid 19. Yet this has barely been mentioned in the public discourse on the pandemic, and comprehensive data on the subject could not be obtained by CNN reporters.

In almost the only public airing of this issue, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, stated at the White House press briefing last Friday, “From Italy we’re seeing another concerning trend, that the mortality in males seems to be twice in every age group of females.” CNN reached out to Dr. Birx for further comment, but without response to date.

Such a sex difference is very large and carries crucial implications for control of the pandemic. For instance, based on Chinese data, the overall case fatality rate  —  the probability of dying if one contracts the virus  —  is 14.8% among those in their 80’s and older. This statistic has been widely reported and has assumed central importance in discussions on how to control the pandemic.

According to my calculations, this overall number masks a huge sex difference that has been ignored. The case fatality rate for women in their 80’s must be about 8%, while that for men in their 80’s must be about 26%  —  more than three times higher. The risk of death for men in their 80’s who contract the virus is thus considerably higher than the risk of death for people with heart attacks who make it to the hospital.

This is because there are far fewer men in their 80’s than there are women to contract the virus in the first place. Only 38 percent of people in their 80’s are men (U.S. Census Bureau), so it is extraordinary that a minority of the population in this age group can provide two-thirds of the deaths (according to Dr. Birx).

According to CNN reporters Katie Polglase and Gianluca Mezzofiore, the CDC has not responded to CNN’s request for actual numbers of deaths by sex.

Sarah Hawkes is professor of global public health at University College London and co-director of Global Health 50/50, a research institute examining gender inequalities in global public health. She has stated that across many countries, “…there is between a 10% and 90% higher rate of mortality amongst people diagnosed with Covid if they are men compared to if they are women.” She emphasized that the problem is most certainly not an absence of the data, but the failure to collate it.

Hawkes’ colleague, Dr. Kent Buse, co-founder of Global Health 50/50, stated, “What Covid-19 reveals is a classic case of failing to use data for decision making.”

And distinguished bioethicist Arthur Caplan at New York University told CNN, “All data establishing risk, ability to recover, infectivity is crucial in a pandemic.”

The large sex difference in Covid 19 mortality must immediately become part of the public and academic discussions on how to minimize the effects of this pandemic.

Thanks to Katie Polglase and Gianluca Mezzofiore of CNN for quotations 


Good and Bad News on Parenting Time in Wisconsin

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March 24, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, Board of Directors

I’ve been known to bemoan the fact that there’s so little hard data on custody outcomes in family courts.  What we have is a patchwork of different studies using different methodologies in different states, each of which of course has different laws.  And we have the data maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Now, all those point in one direction.  They all suggest that equal parenting time orders are pretty rare, that mothers are far more likely than fathers to get meaningful time with their kids and that how kids are treated in court depends to a great degree on where they live.  As an NPO study of family courts in Ohio demonstrated, a child in one county may have a good chance of seeing his/her parents equally post-divorce, but the child’s friend three miles away in another county has almost no such chance.

What’s needed is a larger study done in several states with differing laws, differing demographics, differing political inclinations, etc.  As a practical matter, such a study would take a lot of money to conduct because it would require a lot of people pulling and coding a lot of files in family courts.

Still, until such a study is conducted, we make do with what we have, which brings me to this data from Wisconsin Fathers for Children and Families.  All in all, it’s pretty encouraging.

Now there’s no data past 2010, but there’s hope that the state will update the figures this year.  But, as of 2010, 35% of custody cases resulted in an even 50/50 split of parenting time.  That’s up from 16% in 1998.  In 2010, dads received sole custody in 6% of cases, got 25%-49% parenting time in 15% of cases and less than 25% in 42% of cases.  In short, the upside for fathers is pretty good, while the downside is pretty bad.  As many as 42% of fathers receiving less than 25% of parenting time is not a good situation and cannot be justified by their unfitness or bad behavior.  Face it, there’s no way that 42% of the state’s fathers in divorce cases can be that deficient as parents.

I’d like to see that 25%-49% category broken down into at least two and preferably three parts.  When it comes to children’s welfare, the difference between 25% of the time with a parent and 49% is enormous.  So if the majority of the kids that fell between 25% and 49% of their time with their fathers got 25%, then the system of custody and parenting time is deeply flawed.  If, by contrast, they got close to 49% then the system and the kids are much better off.

Meanwhile, those are the numbers for married fathers.  Since about 41% of kids are born to unmarried mothers, that means a lot of fathers are unmarried too.  Unmarried fathers in Wisconsin (as elsewhere) do much, much worse when it comes to parenting time.

So, for example, just 9% of unmarried fathers got 50/50 parenting time while a whopping 81% got less than 25%.  In other words, not being married to the mother of your child is the short route to not having a relationship with that child.  Stated another way, if you’re a man, use the best contraceptive method you can until you get married.

The dramatic difference in parenting time outcomes for married versus unmarried fathers is probably explained by the almost complete control unmarried mothers exercise over unmarried fathers’ parental rights.  In the first place, no jurisdiction requires any woman to inform the father of her child that she’s pregnant with or given birth to his child.  Obviously, married fathers are much more likely to know that information.  And of course the presumption in the law that a child was fathered by the man married to his/her mother makes it far more likely that a family court will grant the father some form of parenting time.

With unmarried fathers, it’s far more difficult to be an active, hands-on dad, and that naturally makes gaining parenting time much harder.  And, without the presumption applicable to married men, unmarried fathers usually have to go through some legal process (depending on the jurisdiction) in order to establish any parental rights at all.  The fact that many men don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, pay the filing fee, pay for the DNA test, etc. in order to establish their rights is just their tough luck.  No jurisdiction requires mothers, whether married or not, to clear those legal hurdles.

Federal and state governments find the money to enforce child support obligations in the most draconian ways.  They should also find the money to help fathers establish and enforce their parental rights.  Until they do, fathers – particularly unmarried ones – will continue to see themselves sidelined in their children’s lives and their children will continue to suffer higher rates of poverty and a range of social and behavioral ills that beset the fatherless.

NPO in the media

March 20, 2020 Bucyrus Telegraph Forum “Hubin: How does Crawford County care for children of divorce?” Don Hubin, National Board of Directors

Telegraph forum

March 20, 2020 by Don Hubin, Ph.D., Chair, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Are Crawford County parents less important to their children’s well-being than those in counties like Ashtabula, Carroll, Clermont, Holmes and Tuscarawas? That seems to be the message Judge Sean Leuthold is sending to divorcing parents in Crawford County.

Imagine two children, Amy and Brittany. Both live in Ohio: Amy in Bucyrus and Brittany in New Philadelphia. Unfortunately, both girls’ parents are divorcing. This will be a rough time for the girls but, fortunately, all four of the parents are good, loving parents — divorcing each other, not their daughters — and each wants to remain fully engaged in their daughter’s lives.

Because Brittany lives in Tuscarawas County, when her parents go to court to settle how they will continue to raise the child they both love, they will be presented with a local rule of the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas that treats them both equally and presumes that they will continue to be equally involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of raising Brittany.

Read the rest at the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum


Guardian Editor Pretends Parental Alienation Just a Scheme by Dads Against Moms

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March 20, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Having misled her readers about the incidence of fathers getting custody of their children in U.K.’s family courts, Guardian editor Sonia Sodha stumbles on to the topic of parental alienation (The Guardian, 3/5/20).  Predictably, she’s no more factual with it than with her previous subject.

Recall that Sodha linked to a study by Harding and Newnham to attempt to buttress her theory that family courts are as likely to give custody to fathers as to mothers (Nuffield Foundation, 5/2015).  The remarkable fact of course is that it does the opposite.  The two researchers were very clear that, overwhelmingly, when fathers got some form of child custody, it was because the mothers with whom they were involved were so deficient as parents that social services organizations all but ordered the dads to seek custody. 

It also shows that, in over half the cases studied, the judges ordered that the fathers should have no overnight time with their children at all.

According to Sodha, that constitutes gender equality in family courts.  Amazing, but true.

And so it is with her take on parental alienation.  As with custody, Sodha has nothing new to say.  Hers are the standard tropes of the anti-father movement that crop up like toxic weeds now and then.  So naturally she elides the differences between parental alienation syndrome and parental alienation.  And of course she’s at pains to pretend that claims of alienation are only made by fathers against mothers and never vice versa.

That of course is simply untrue, as even a cursory glance at the science on PA would have revealed had she bothered to do so.  Or, if reading’s to hard for her, she could have just picked up the phone and called a mental health expert who’s schooled in diagnosing PA.  But needless to say, Sodha didn’t do that either.  Her aim is to mislead, not to learn and disseminate facts.

Then there’s Sodha’s refusal to admit that PA even happens.  Never mind the fact that mental health professionals all over the world have seen it, diagnosed it, testified and published about it.  And never mind the fact that any family lawyer who’s been around for as long as a few years, has seen it and probably more than once.  No, to Sodha the very idea of PA is nothing more than a scheme hatched by clever dads to wrest custody from “protective” mothers.  Nowhere in her article does she admit that some claims by mothers of domestic abuse are fabricated to gain an advantage in the custody case.  Nowhere does Sodha admit that many claims of PA, whether by mothers or fathers, are objectively true.  And nowhere does she admit that PA is what it is – child abuse.

And, speaking of abuse, nowhere does Sodha admit that women sometimes assault their husbands.  For her, domestic violence is a one-way street; only men are perpetrators and only women and children are their victims.

Does Sodha quote a single person with a point of view different from hers?  She does not.  Does she quote from any source of any kind in opposition to her ideas?  Nope.  Does she make even the slightest pretense that her piece is balanced?  Not a chance.

I don’t know if it’s nonsense like this that’s caused The Guardian’s readership to decline to almost nothing over recent years, but my guess is it could be.  Sodha’s piece is so dramatically at odds with well-established facts and so bigoted in its opinions that I can easily imagine readers abandoning the rag as the simple agitprop it so often is.

If we really care about children, we’ll all admit that, sadly, parental alienation exists, that neither sex has a monopoly on the behavior and that courts must be educated in the nature and uses of PA.  We need to do all we can to ensure that judges get right cases in which allegations of PA arise, that they can tell the difference between true PA and PA allegations used only for their impact on the case at hand.  Until we do those things, we’re not doing our best for children.

Sonia Sodha and others like her mislead readers about parental alienation.  As such, they demonstrate that they care little or nothing about the sometimes-terrible damage done to children by PA and, in so doing, make common cause with alienators and child abusers.  It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an accurate one.


In a Pandemic, Two Parents Are Better than One

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March 19, 2020 by Don Hubin, Ph.D., Chair, National Board of Directors

Parents around the country are struggling with the disruptions to life caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Increasing numbers of schools and daycare facilities are closing—many for the duration of the school year. This poses unprecedented challenges for all parents of young children. And these challenges are magnified when there is only one parent actively involved in the children’s day-to-day lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 more than 60% of families with both parents living together were ones where both parents worked. More than 55% of such families with children under 6 years old were dual income families. This means that, in the majority of such cases, there isn’t the “reserve capacity” of one stay-at-home parent to take on the additional tasks of full-time child care.

These families are scrambling to find ways to manage the novel challenges facing parents around the world. In some cases, these parents will now be working from home which will allow (require!) these parents to juggle child care and work. But many are engaged in work that cannot be done from home. In these cases the juggling of responsibilities presents even greater challenges.

But now consider the plight of children whose parents do not live together. Census Bureau statistics show that more than a quarter of America’s children live in single-parent households. The vast majority of these children are subject to a parenting arrangement that places them in the care of one parent for the vast majority of the time and allows them only weekend “visitation” with their other parent.

How do the parents of these children handle the need to take over fulltime care of their child(ren) and continue to work? Even if they are now working from home, they’re doing double duty. And matters are even worse if they must leave home to work. Schools and other child care facilities are closed, relatives might not be available to take on daily child care work. These parents will face extremely difficult choices.

Some children whose parents live apart are more fortunate. Their parents have been sharing child rearing responsibilities; neither has been sidelined. Both parents have been involved in the day-to-day child care responsibilities that constitute parenting.

Things won’t be easy for these families either. But because they have greater “reserve capacity,” they will have more resiliency. If one parent cannot work from home, perhaps the other can and, for the duration of the current situation, the children’s schedules can be adjusted to allow for this. Even if neither parent is able to work from home, having two engaged parents provides greater flexibility and more options for dealing with the challenge. For example, there is a greater chance that one or both parents can change their work schedule to cover the additional child care time needed.

The disruption in families’ lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic poses challenges to all families with children. But those challenges are exacerbated for those families where one parent has been marginalized in the children’s lives. There are many lessons to be learned from the coronavirus pandemic. But one we would do well to take to heart is that keeping both parents fully engaged in raising their children is protective for children; it provides an extra source of support for the children, the value of which becomes even more apparent in times like these.


Guardian Ignores the Explicit Findings of the Study it Cites

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March 17, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

This continues from my previous piece on Guardian editor Sonia Sodha’s, article claiming that it’s a “fallacy” that fathers aren’t treated equally by British family courts.  To that threadbare claim she attempts to recruit a 2015 study conducted by Profs. Maebh Harding and Annika Newnham.  Her effort fails miserably on many counts as I described last time.  It also fails when Sodha tries to convince readers that, even when DV is proven against fathers, they still get custody.

Harding and Newnham examined 174 divorce and custody cases in England and Wales.  In a grand total of nine of them did a father who was found to have committed DV get custody.  Is that shocking?  Outrageous? 


For one thing, the study’s definition of domestic abuse is, to use its word, “broad.”  It includes physical violence, but also “allegations of any controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour including physical violence, sexual violence, and emotional abuse.”  So “domestic abuse” can mean almost anything.  Did Dad try, on more than one occasion to get Mom to spend less?  To refrain from spending so much time with the heroin addicts down the street?  If so, he’s abusive.

More importantly, the study is crystal clear that the reason Dad got custody over Mom is that Mom was so defective a parent (and a human being), that the courts had no choice.  As I showed last time, that is the same reason fathers got custody in non-DV cases.  It’s also true in cases of abuse.

There were five cases in which a father who’d committed DV got sole custody.  Here’s what Harding and Newnham say about them.

In two of the cases it was feared that the mothers would not adequately protect the children from dangerous third parties, in two cases the mothers had serious mental health issues. In one case, the children had come home and found their mother in bed with another man; they were now staunchly opposed to any kind of direct contact. In addition there was problematic drug or alcohol use in relation to three of the mothers.

In the other four cases, a shared parenting order was issued.  In all those cases, the parents’ relationship was characterized by high conflict and dueling claims of abuse, unfitness, etc.  The courts in those cases opted for shared residence in an effort to ameliorate parental conflict.

Now, in 86 of the cases examined by Harding and Newnham, there were allegations of DV, 69 by the mother against the father, three by the father against the mother and 14 in which each accused the other.  In 45 cases, the allegation was considered to have been proven, although the study makes no mention of which of the cases were and which weren’t.  So it’s impossible to know what the percentage of proven cases against a father also resulted in his gaining sole or shared custody.  Whatever the case, the nine cases in which fathers did get some form of parenting time, despite a finding of DV, are hardly cause for alarm.

In short, virtually the only way fathers got custody in the Harding/Newnham study is if Mom were extremely deficient as a parent or a person.  Needless to say, mothers bore no such burden in achieving custody.

In fact, the most robust finding of the study, the one the authors call the best predictor of custodial outcomes, is the status quo ante.  That is, whoever the primary caregiver to the child was before the application for custody/parenting time was filed is the parent to whom the court gives sole or primary custody.  That of course is usually Mom.  That also fails to conform to the dictates of the science on children’s well-being and parenting time post-divorce.  The simple fact is that mothers tend to do the lion’s share of parenting and fathers the lion’s share of paid work.  For this, mothers are rewarded and fathers punished by family courts, regardless of the science on the child’s best interests.

Harding and Newnham correctly point out that the courts are about equally likely to give custody to primary-caregiver dads as to primary-caregiver moms, but the facts remain that (a) the practice contradicts applicable science and (b) fathers still end up with far less custody than do mothers.

Finally, there’s the fact that the researchers candidly admit that the study is in no way representative of Britain’s family courts.  That’s because the cohort studied was too small and no effort was made to ensure that it was representative of fathers, mothers, what they request of British courts or how the courts respond to those requests.  This study just is what it is and nothing more.  It can’t be relied on to describe British family courts or whether fathers do or don’t get a fair hearing in them.

But that’s precisely what Sodha does.  Of course she does.  She takes a study that’s inapplicable to the population at large and assumes it is.  She uses a study that demonstrates how unequally fathers are treated by family courts and cites it to show they’re treated equally.

She’s not the first.  That was one of my points back in 2015 when the study first came out.  The article reporting on it then did what Sodha does now – pretends that the Harding/Newnham study shows that fathers and mothers are equal in family courts. 

I suppose that’s what people do who oppose shared parenting, but who don’t have real arguments to make to support their cause.

But Sodha’s still not finished misrepresenting what fathers face in family courts.  More on that next time.


Guardian Editor Calls Family Court Bias Against Fathers a ‘Dangerous Fallacy’

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March 16, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

When I first opened this article, at the bottom of the page there appeared a highlighted box with the title “When Disinformation is Rampant…” (Guardian, 3/5/20).  To me it read like the punchline to a good joke; I literally laughed out loud.  Of course the box is The Guardian’s way of trying to drum up donations for its rapidly declining brand, but, given the article that preceded it, it was hilarious.  That article, by Guardian editor Sonia Sodha, is as good an example of disinformation as you’re likely to find.  Sadly, the box – and the punchline – now seem to be gone.

The title says it all – “The idea that family courts are biased against men is a dangerous fallacy.”  After that, those of us who toil in the family court reform vineyard know what’s coming, and Sodha doesn’t disappoint.  First she denies that family court outcomes disproportionately treat fathers worse than mothers.  More on that later.  Next she claims (of course she does) that, when mothers allege domestic violence by fathers, the fathers are given custody.  And finally we’re informed that parental alienation syndrome is “junk science.” 

In short, Sodha repeats the usual talking points the anti-dad crowd have been relying on for years.  Nothing new here.

So, let’s return to that first point, i.e. that really fathers get an even break in family courts.

[A] review of published court decisions found that they promote as much contact as possible with fathers, even in cases of proven domestic violence

Notice the weasel words “as much contact as possible.”  That of course can mean anything.  Is one day per year of contact between a father and his child all that’s “possible?”  If so, the court did its job, according to Sodha, if no one else.

But her real dishonesty comes from her use of the link.  It’s to a study conducted by Profs. Maebh Harding and Annika Newnham of the universities of Warwick and Reading respectively.  I posted about that study here and here when it first came out in 2015.  Put simply, it gives the lie to anyone who claims fathers in the U.K. get an even shake from family court judges.

Harding and Newnham want to convince readers that courts treat fathers and mothers equally, so they resort to a couple of remarkable intellectual conceits to accomplish the task.  First, they look at what fathers and mothers ask for in family courts and compare that to what the courts order.  That would be sensible except that their definition of “success” in court, i.e. the court’s ordering something requested, is so absurdly broad as to guarantee them their preferred finding.

So, if Dad asks the court for 50/50 parenting time and the court gives him every other weekend, according to Harding and Newnham, he won.  According to Dad and most sensible people, he lost, but not to the two researchers.  The fact that the fathers in their study got any form of overnight contact with their kids in fewer than half the cases qualifies as “success” according to the authors.  Here’s a piece I wrote on that and that links to an excellent article by Glen Poole eviscerating Harding and Newnham’s work.

Second, the two researchers quite honestly note that, on the occasions when dads get sole or primary custody, it’s because Mom is clearly unfit for the job due to a variety of shortcomings such as mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, violence, etc.

As highlighted in Chapter 2, there was a clear correlation between the presence of very serious child welfare concerns and applications by fathers for residence orders. 26 out of 32 applications by fathers for residence orders featured alleged child welfare concerns. There was what we classified as significant Local Authority involvement in 15 of these cases. This included 10 cases in which the fathers sought residence orders on the advice of the Local Authority who had placed the child with them and 4 cases where the fathers sought residence at their own initiative but the Local Authority approved of the proposal.

In short, Harding and Newnham’s (and now Sodha’s) claim that fathers are treated equally in custody cases founders on the researchers’ own findings.  Fathers dared to seek custody only when they knew they had an almost certain probability of winning.  They were so certain that, in 15 of the 26 cases, local authorities basically told them they needed to have the child.

So the claim that fathers succeed well in family courts is entirely an artifact of the methodology used by Harding and Newnham.  They “define” “success” so broadly that almost anything can qualify and clearly state, but then refuse to notice, the selection bias of their own study.

Needless to say, Sodha isn’t interested anything that would contradict her thesis, so she ignores the facts that make the Harding/Newnham data a nullity as regards equality in family courts.

But Sodha is far from done.  More on that next time.


Another Family Lawyer Attacks Equal Parenting Bills

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March 11, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

As two equal parenting bills make their way through the Florida Legislature, this article came out against reform of child custody and parenting time (Sun-Sentinel, 2/28/20).  And guess what.  It’s written by a family lawyer.  Of course it is.  Mark Sessums is the President-elect of the Florida chapter of the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers.  That means he gains pretty close to all his income from family law cases, which in turn means he profits from clients who fight.

Unsurprisingly, Sessums has nothing new to say about child custody or parenting time.  All his arguments are retreads and not a one of them withstands even casual scrutiny.

First, he trots out the tired old claim that existing law is all about the best interests of children, but HB 843 puts parents first. 

What utter nonsense.  Let’s take the first part of his argument first.  It’s true that Florida law, like that of every other state, requires judges to act in the best interests of children when deciding custody and parenting time.  The problem is that they don’t do it very often.  Why?

In the first place, judges aren’t trained in what forms of custody and parenting time are beneficial to kids.  Judges are lawyers, not child psychologists.  Doubtless they try to get their orders right, but the sad fact is that they don’t know the science that strongly militates in favor of equal parenting post-divorce.  Tellingly, in other states, family lawyers have strenuously objected to judges being taught that science.  So it’s no surprise that judges often make orders that aren’t in kids’ interests.

Second, as economist Paul Millar has pointed out, the single best predictor of any custody case is the sex of the parent.  Mothers get custody and fathers don’t is about as hard and fast a rule as exists in American law.  And, as Millar also points out, there’s no correlation between the sex of the parent and better outcomes for the child.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been no statistically-significant change in child custody for at least the past 27 years.  In 1993, 84% of custodial parents were mothers and today it’s about 81%.  So no Mr. Sessums, judges aren’t acting in children’s best interests, irrespective of what the law says they’re supposed to do.

And then there’s the fact that the “best interests of the child” is such a legally vague concept as to probably be unconstitutional.  After all, who has ever defined it or even tried to?  I defy anyone to come up with a definition that could serve as a reasonable guide to making custody and parenting time orders.  And if the very concept of the child’s best interests is that hard to pin down, how does Sessums figure that family court judges in the state are getting it right in all the custody cases they hear?

And then there’s his threadbare claim that equal parenting is all about parents.  It’s not.  It’s about children.  It’s also about science.  It takes cognizance of the fact that, as long as both parents are fit and non-abusive, equal parenting time is the best arrangement for children.  Some 62 different studies demonstrate the fact, including massive studies done in Sweden that conclude that equal parenting is second only to two married biological parents at promoting child well-being.

Equal parenting is good for kids, fathers and mothers.  The only ones who suffer are family lawyers who see their earnings diminished by the reduced conflict equal parenting time tends to engender.

Sessums was already scraping the bottom of the barrel when he came up with this outworn and much debunked claim.

A study in Massachusetts found that fathers who actively sought primary or joint custody obtained it more than 70 percent of the time.

Yes, and guess why they did.  When fathers get custody it’s usually because the mother in question is so deficient for one reason or another – she’s in prison, on drugs, alcohol-dependent, violent, abusive, mentally/emotionally unequal to the task, etc. – that they figure they have a chance.  In short, the study suffers from selection bias on a grand scale.  The same held true for a similar study done in the U.K.

Having failed so miserably, Sessums moves on to just making stuff up.

Additionally, this bill will roll back important protections against abusive or controlling former spouses.

No, actually it won’t.  The bill makes precisely zero changes to existing law regarding the impact of domestic violence and child abuse on custody outcomes.  That of course is as it should be.  Equal parenting is the right arrangement as long as parents are fit for duty.  When they’re not, other arrangements must be made.  HB 843 in no way hinders that.

I can only hope that Mark Sessums makes better arguments in court than he does in the newspaper.