Government Created Challenges to Black Families

February 28, 2021 by Don Hubin, Ph.D., Chair, National Board of Directors


I’m not an historian and I’m certainly not an expert in Black history. But I don’t want Black History Month to pass without some notice in the NPO Blog of the ways in which the history of American law and policy has functioned—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally—to undermine the Black family.

 The institution of slavery—American’s original sin—did immeasurable harm to Black families not just during the 246 years of chattel slavery in the U.S. but for generations after emancipation. Families were often split up, especially those enslaved on small plantations, where children were 49% more likely to live in single-parent families than were children enslaved on large plantations (Miller, see also Dunaway). Family separation was so traumatic to enslaved people that it contributed to enslaved people taking their own lives (Snyder).

Wealth plays an enormous role in the stability of families and the wealth gap between White families and Black families is enormous. It is well known that there is a racial income gap in the U.S. but that gap pales in comparison to the wealth gap; the wealth gap is quite large even for Black and White families with equal incomes (Brookings Institute). There are many reasons for this. A significant factor, though, was government laws and policies that prevented Black families from accumulating wealth (Hamilton & Logan). These laws and policies included allowing restrictive covenants, which prohibited home sales to Blacks, redlining, which defined Black communities as unsafe, thus reducing property values, and more. (Details of this shameful history are related in Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.)

In addition to these government policies, there was also a pattern of racial discrimination by private actors, including racial discrimination in housing and employment. There were, as well, mob actions that undermined progress in Black families’ wealth, such as the little-known (in the White community) race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921 that destroyed what was known as “The Black Wall Street,” one of the most affluent Black communities in America at the time.

These legal and extra-legal impediments to the accumulation of wealth by Black families contributed to instability of the family unit. Certainly poor families can stay together and wealthy families can split up. But the inability to achieve a level of wealth that provides some security stresses family relationships. As the Tavistock Institute puts it, “the evidence is clear that income does matter—and that poverty and lack of money is in fact a major cause of relationship breakdown, as well as a consequence of it” (emphasis added).

There are, though, more direct ways in which government policies have undermined all poor families and, so, disproportionately Black families. And some of these policies were in programs that were designed to assist poor families.

The roots of public assistance to the poor in the U.S. are deep. After the Civil War, there were programs to assist veterans and their families (Skocpol). From the 1890s to the early 1920s, there were programs to provide pensions for widowed mothers (Skocpol). The Great Depression, though, was the beginning of large-scale Federal anti-poverty programs.

For decades, many of these programs applied a “man-in-the-house” rule. Under this rule, “a child who otherwise qualified for welfare benefits was denied those benefits if the child’s mother was living with, or having relations with, any single or married able-bodied male” (“Man-in-the-House Rule”). The thinking was that if there was a man in the house, he, not the government, should be supporting the woman and her children.  And the rule was applied even if the man was not the father of the child.

The man-in-the-house rule meant that, often, the best thing that a father could do for his children financially (not emotionally), was to leave the house. And a single mother was discouraged from starting a relationship with another man, as well.

This misguided rule was struck down by a Supreme Court ruling in 1968 (King v. Smith). But prior to that time, and probably for sometime after that because of the lag in people’s understanding and trusting of the new rules, “the no-man-in-the-house rule actually encouraged the breakup of stable, two-parent families” (Baltimore Sun).

The saga of policies that hurt Black families continues today.

Black children are far more likely than other children to be taken into the foster care system. Prior to the enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997, there was an emphasis on kinship care when parents were unable to care for their children and on family reunification if the inability was temporary. “ASFA, however, effectively eliminated the “reasonable efforts” [at family reunification] requirement and focused on adoption as the best solution to ensure permanent placement of children in foster care” (White).

Furthermore, as regular readers of this Blog know, poor families—and this means disproportionately Black families—where the parents live apart are hammered by unreasonable child support obligations. The public acceptance of high child support obligations for poor fathers and its support for draconian enforcement measures were fueled in part by negative stereotypes of the “deadbeat dad” and the “welfare mom” (Cammett). Unreasonable child support obligations and severe penalties hurt poor fathers and create barriers to their being involved in their children’s lives (Urban Wire, The Guardian, Center for Family Policy and Practice, and Brito, Pate, & Wong).

Finally, the gender bias in family courts is well documented. (This is certainly not to deny that mothers are subjected to horrible court decisions, or even to deny that gender bias can work against mothers, as when a judge assumes it’s best for children to be with the dad because he has remarried and his new wife is staying at home.) But there’s reason to believe that Black fathers experience even greater bias in family courts. At least that is the opinion of Joleena Louis, a domestic relations attorney in New York City.

None of this should blind us to the fact that a great many Black families are thriving. Many Black fathers, regardless of their income or wealth and whether together with the mother or not, are caring for and supporting their children. But neither should we be blind to the fact that the history of government laws and policies have created impediments to the Black family, and especially to Black fathers, that make such success more challenging.


Study: Kids, Parents, Teachers Benefit from Kids’ Free Play

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February 25, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Lenore Skenazy has long argued for parents and the state to give kids a freer range to be what they are – kids.  “Helicopter parenting” has no more fervent and informed critic than Skenazy. 

I’ve always been one of her strong supporters because what she says and what she stands for, to me, make sense.  That’s partly because of my background.  I was definitely what Skenazy would call a “free range kid” and I value the experience.  The closest my mother ever got to a helicopter was to tell us kids to be home before dark and to watch out for snakes.  I can’t begin to express the value of that freedom to me, both then and now.  Inventing your own games with their own rules is worlds apart from being taught to play soccer.

So to me, it’s crystal clear that children need time away from their parents’ watchful eyes.  They need time and freedom to try and fail, to try and succeed, to try, fail, make adjustments and try again.  They need to be able to hang out with their peers and find their niche among other people.  That’s how they learn and how they mature.  And almost none of that will result in any lasting injury to the child.  Children today in the U.S. are overwhelmingly safe.   For parents, teachers, the police, CPS or anyone else to try to substitute their own adult learning for a child’s lived experience is a recipe for failure. 

Of course my own lived experience as a child may be nothing more than coincidental; it may be simply a fluke that my upbringing succeeded well for me and the kids I knew.  After all, what my parents and my friends’ parents did and my take on what they did is hardly a scientific study of the matter. 

But now there is such a study and it confirms what Skenazy, I and countless others have believed for a long time.  Giving children free time to experiment on their own and with their peers is beneficial to them and to others.  This is something I shouldn’t have to say.  It’s something that eons of parents have known and would shake their heads in disbelief to know that we in the 21st century have to relearn it.  But, in one of the safest countries for children in the history of the world and at one of the safest times for them, we took a side road toward ever greater adult oversight of children and now need to return to the main highway, the one that’s marked “Let Kids Be Kids.”

This report on the new study has this to say (IF Studies, 1/6/21):

In response to the recognized crisis in childhood play, the researchers were curious to see the results of one attempt to mitigate the problem. [Researchers Cohen and Parrott] identified the commitment by one school superintendent to increase play time during the day by requiring 40-minutes of recess in all seven of the district’s elementary schools, along with initiating a Let Grow Play Club before school one day per week. Cohen and Parrott then studied both the effect on students as well as what teachers had to say about the impact of these changes. 

“Students perceived Play Club as helping them to stay focused during school, improve their mood, and to socialize and make new friends,” the researchers report. “Much of what elementary students do during recess—including making friends, deciding what is fair, and developing rules for games—involves social skills.” But “social skills” aren’t what made the biggest difference. One participant said that he had few friends in his grade, but that the Play Club allowed him to meet and make friends in other grades. “I liked that I made new friends,” he said. 

One teacher remarked that a girl whose personality was more forceful and commanding (aka bossy) found it possible to self-regulate when involved in the Play Club because younger kids were looking to her to keep the play going and she in turn was motivated to maintain their involvement and enjoyment. “I think longer recess [and the Let Grow Play Club] really does help—them being able  to  socialize,  problem  solve,  and  be  creative  in  what they’re playing, then adapt their game to meet different hurdles and challenges that they come across while playing,” one teacher told researchers. 

Overall, teachers felt the impact of free play before school and longer recess time during the day helped with the students’ ability to concentrate in the classroom. “They are more focused when they come back and start to get into the academics of their school day,” a teacher reported.

According to the researchers, “teachers do not believe that students have enough unstructured play at home but do believe there are benefits to having unstructured play incorporated within the school day.”

The study is obviously not a definitive one.  Self-reported attitudes can never be taken without a grain of salt.  Still, its results comport with common sense, so I suspect other researchers will do other studies to try to flesh out the benefits or detriments of free play versus activities closely monitored by adults.  I also suspect that Lenore Skenazy will be one of the people encouraging that inquiry.


When Child Support Goes to the Child and not the Government, Everyone Benefits

February 24, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


This report is over a year old, but it’s still important to know about (Urban Institute, 8/28/19).  In San Francisco, a pilot study was conducted to gauge the effects of welfare forgiveness on child support payments.  The results are very much as we’d expect.  When non-custodial parents paying child support know that their payments are going to their kids and not to the government that made welfare payments to the custodial parent, everyone benefits.

The San Francisco child support debt relief pilot tested this possibility, and the results are clear. When parents’ public assistance debt is paid off, so 100 percent of their child support payments goes to their children, parents make more consistent and timely payments, children receive more financial support, parents’ employment barriers are reduced, and parents’ housing status and credit scores often improve. Parents’ relationships with each other and their children also improve. 

About 87% of parents ordered to pay child support are fathers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  And about 84% of those receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families are women.  So it’s fair to assume, as the linked-to article does, that the great majority of those adversely impacted by the current system are fathers.  The authors interviewed fathers owing child support to mothers who’d received TANF benefits.

The fathers who participated in focus groups explained that they felt they had to choose between paying formal child support to the state and directly supporting their children. When their income was insufficient to do both, the pull was to show their children they cared by providing for them, even when it meant falling behind in formal payments. Nonetheless, the 10 percent interest on reimbursement debt grew so quickly that even when fathers diligently paid their arrears, they had little hope they would ever be free of the haunting debt.

The other punitive consequences for parents falling behind in child support payments—such as revocation of driver’s and professional licenses, garnishment of wages and assets, and threatened jail time—are also counterproductive in increasing compliance with child support orders. Fathers in focus groups shared stories of the stress and punitive consequences of carrying child support debt and the reverberations in their ability to maintain employment, secure housing and transportation, access credit and manage their finances, and ultimately support their children. They described how it negatively affected their relationships with their children and coparents.

Contrary to the lingering notion of the “deadbeat dad,” those fathers often had to make a Hobson’s choice – between paying child support to the state’s child support authority and paying directly to the child’s mother.  If they did the former, they’d be credited for the payment and not incur any indebtedness and the corresponding interest the state charges, but the child and the mother would never see a dime of it.  If they did the latter, little Andy or Jenny would receive the money, but Dad would go into arrears, his drivers and occupational licenses would be threatened and he might go to jail.  Quite a choice, and it’s telling that so many of the dads chose to support their kids directly and take on themselves whatever punishments the government doled out.  Deadbeats?  I think not.

And, strictly as an aside, if the State of California wants to do right by non-custodial parents, it should do away entirely with the interest it tacks on to child support debt.  Ten percent is a fanciful number.  Essentially no investment pays anything like that and the people who amass child support arrearages are the poorest of the poor.  They can’t pay what they owe, much less what they owe plus ten percent.  As the Administration for Children and Families has been telling us since at least 2008, almost half of all child support debt is simply uncollectible and should be written off.  Adding a whopping interest obligation doesn’t make Dad any more able to pay.  On the contrary, it makes him all the more likely to simply throw up his hands in despair and disgust.

Meanwhile, the authors of the study take their own much deserved swipe at the “deadbeat dad” claim.

The pervasive narrative of parents’ shirking responsibility may lead some to reject the idea of forgiving the debt they owe the government, but this pilot adds evidence that the false narrative and the policies built on it contribute to the debt in the first place. This pilot’s evidence indicates and the fathers’ own testimonies corroborate the benefits of recognizing parents’ desire to support their children and empowering parents to provide that support by providing complete relief from their government-owed child support debt.

It’s a strange system.  When mothers receive TANF or other government benefits, the fathers of their children obviously receive nothing, but they still incur the obligation to repay money they never received.  What was never a loan to the mother becomes nevertheless a debt obligation to the father.  Meanwhile, payments they make, supposedly for their kids, are never seen by those kids.  It’s a system that’s bound to fail and has been for decades now.  Time for a change.


Co-Parenting Communication: Helping Children Understand Proper Computer Usage

February 23, 2021 by Indiana Lee


Whether you have shared custody of your children or one parent has sole custody and the other has visitation, communication between children and both parents is important. It helps to establish more equal parenting time and can be beneficial for your children’s mental health.

In recent years, computer communication has become more prominent than ever. Thanks to video chats, FaceTime, and even chatting online and emails, your child can effectively communicate with both parents with just a few simple clicks. Doing so can help to prevent parental alienation and keep both you and your co-parent in the loop about what is going on in your children’s lives.

But, if your child is going to spend time on the computer, there must be some ground rules in place. Your greatest priority should be to keep them safe and to teach them healthy habits of communication that can be used throughout their lives.

So, how can you and your co-parent work together to establish healthy online communication with your children?

Setting an Example

One of the best ways to help your children understand proper computer usage is to practice it. Using electronic communication is a great way to stay in touch with your co-parent. You can privately discuss things like:

By setting a positive example for your children when it comes to how to effectively communicate online, they’re more likely to do the same.

Keep in mind, however, that your child might not be ready to use a computer just yet. It’s recommended that children under three years of age don’t use computers, as the devices likely don’t match the appropriate learning style of that age group. However, as you probably already know if you have a little one running around, toddlers love watching everything you do, and they are fantastic imitators. When they see how you communicate using the computer, they may adapt to it more naturally when they’re old enough to do the same.

Establishing Healthy Computer Habits

When it’s finally time for your children to use the computer, establishing healthy habits early on can not only help them to communicate effectively but can show them that computer privileges aren’t to be abused. As a parent, you are the one who should be deciding how computer time is limited and how that time should be used.

You can make it easier for your children to understand these limits by trying things like:

  • Using programs that set times when a child can use the computer.
  • Setting a timer.
  • Using music/a playlist to track computer time.
  • Creating a paper chart to track weekly computer time.

Limiting your child’s computer time will not only improve the efficiency of their communication, it will encourage them to do other things. Too much time on the computer can lead to everything from sleep issues to physical problems. If your child isn’t limited in their usage of computers and other tech, they could develop poor habits and health issues that can follow them into adulthood. These include vision problems, posture issues, or things like “tech neck” that can cause a lot of pain in the neck and shoulders.

Make sure if you’re setting limits and rules, they are followed in both parental households. If not, your child might start to argue or fight back about certain restrictions in one house or another. Consistency is key if you truly want healthy computer habits to stick.

Keeping Your Children Safe Online

Again, your top priority should be your child’s safety when they’re on the computer. Working with your co-parent to establish rules and educating your child on how to stay safe online is of the utmost importance.

Teaching your children how to be safe early on will instill habits that will stay with them into adulthood, so they will be well aware of some of the most common cyber dangers. Some of the most important things to teach them include:

  • Understanding the potential dangers, including online predators and scams.
  • Protecting their personal information.
  • Securing their devices and accounts.

It’s also important to talk to them about the dangers of cyberbullying. If your children are going to be spending time online communicating with your co-parent, they are undoubtedly going to be exploring other areas of the Internet. They may even want to talk with classmates and friends. Unfortunately, cyberbullying remains a big problem, especially on social media. So much so, that 36% of students say that they have experienced some form of it. Make sure to talk to your children about recognizing the signs of bullying online, including:

  • Harassment
  • Exclusion
  • Teasing
  • Trickery
  • Dissing
  • Negative talk

 When they know they can come to you if they are being teased or tormented, you can put a stop to whatever is going on and keep them safe.

The most important thing is to be on the same page with your co-parent when it comes to helping your children understand how to use the computer. It can be a fantastic communication tool, but it comes with big responsibilities. The more you’re willing to work together to establish rules and safety guidelines, the better.

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and healthy lifestyles. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana enjoys mountain bicycling and hiking on her off time and has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to contact her at or follow her on twitter @indianalee3


Halle Berry Understands Fathers Taken Advantage of by Child Support System

February 22, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


Doubtless actress Halle Berry’s been reading the NPO blog.  What else can we conclude when we read this (All About Laughs, 2/9/21)?

Several years ago I penned a few pieces on Berry’s custody and child support agonistes with former model Gabriel Aubry and their daughter Nahla, who’s now about 12.

The upshot back then was that Berry had a new boyfriend who lived in Paris.  She and Aubry had joint custody of Nahla, but Berry wanted to take the girl and move to France.  A custody evaluator and the judge in the case said ‘no,’ because doing so would have deprived Nahla of her father.  That made complete sense, but of course the press was indignant that Mom shouldn’t get her way.  The always reliable Huffington Post claimed that the judge told Berry she couldn’t move away.  Naturally, that was utterly untrue.  Berry could travel anywhere she wanted.  What she couldn’t do was take the child with her and deprive Nahla of a meaningful relationship with her father.  Writers at the HuffPo were entirely unable to grasp the concept that a mother couldn’t do exactly what she wanted with her child.

But that wasn’t all.  Aubry was ultimately given primary custody of Nahla and Berry was ordered to pay child support, first in the amount of $20,000 per month, and later $16,000.  Meanwhile Aubry chose to eschew gainful employment.  I said both were outrageous.  I said that it doesn’t take $16,000 per month to raise a child and that Aubry should get off his duff and get a job.  Doing so might have lowered Berry’s payments, but more importantly, it would have demonstrated to Nahla that her father wasn’t a deadbeat and that one should support oneself.  Aubry’s failure to get a job also meant that he was living off the child support, i.e. the money that was supposed to be exclusively for Nahla.  After all, the money to pay the bills came from somewhere and certainly wasn’t from him.

In her most recent comments, Berry seems to agree.

“However, as for child support, I feel I can speak on it as I’ve been paying it for a decade now. I feel if a woman or a man is having to pay support that is way more than they reasonably need to help SUPPORT the child, I think that is wrong.”

“I understand some parents (man or woman) may need help, but I feel in these modern times both men and women have the responsibility to financially take care of their children and work hard and make every effort to do so.”

She continued: ”The way many laws are set up, people are allowed to USE children in order to be awarded money to live a lifestyle that not only did they not earn, but that is way above and beyond the child’s reasonable needs and that is ‘THE WRONG’ and where I see the abuse.

She concluded with “The laws are outdated and no longer reflect the modern world. This is just my opinion, I clearly don’t own the truth. I can say I’m living it every day and I can tell you it’s hard. I do totally understand the feelings of those men who feel they are and have been taken advantage of by the system.”

I completely agree – with all but one of her points, that is.  Berry claims “it’s hard.”  It’s not.  For Halle Berry, paying $16k per month is nothing.  When last we checked, she was worth $60 million, so each year she doles out less than 1/300th of her net worth in child support.  No, Halle, it’s not hard.

But I do understand.  It’s not the money, it’s the principle.  It’s the very idea that a child should receive in support vastly more than she could ever need.  It’s the fact that non-custodial parents routinely don’t use “child support” for the child, but for themselves.  And yes, that grates.

In NPO’s continuing battle to reform family courts, maybe Halle Berry could take some of that vast net worth and put it to work.  She can complain all she wants to, but that’ll never make matters better.  So Halle, why not put your shoulder to the wheel along with the rest of us and really make a difference?  Help NPO make family courts make sense.


Richard Wexler Took a ‘Mandated Reporter’ Training Course

February 19, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


I’ve often criticized child protective agencies for overreaching, for being too ready to take kids from their parents, even if only temporarily.  I’ve also criticized the child protection system for incentivizing governmental interference in families.  Stasi-like the system encourages neighbors, friends and complete strangers to report parents to child protective authorities at the least sign that a child may be abused or neglected.  That can result in those with a vendetta against a parent contacting CPS with dubious or even false claims.  And the system’s confidentiality ensures that those who do report remain unknown to everyone but CPS.  And of course the child protective agency works almost entirely beyond the prying eyes of the press and, in some states, the legislature.

In short, it’s a system set up to over-report and overreact.  Part and parcel of that system are “mandated reporters,” people who are required by law to report even the barest suspicion of child abuse or neglect.  Those include medical personnel, teachers, the police, etc.  Do those mandated reporters tend to “err on the side of caution” which is another term for over-reporting?  I’ve long suspected that they do, but now I know it (Youth Today, 2/10/21).

The article is written by Richard Wexler who’s been for decades one of our most knowledgeable commentators on the child protection system.  Wexler’s now on a committee of the Philadelphia City Council whose job it is to investigate the city’s child welfare system.  So he took a course in how to be a “mandated reporter.”  It’s a free online course that anyone can take.  Unsurprisingly, Wexler’s commentary on the course is spot-on and revealing.

It was a tough year. Perhaps at some point your child became more aggressive or more anxious or more mistrustful or more prone to seek attention — or more withdrawn or more passive or too compliant. Maybe he flinches easily and avoids being touched. Maybe he just doesn’t get along with his peers. Maybe he feels very tired. Maybe he depends too much on adults. Or maybe he’s just not acting his age.

How about you? Are you socially isolated? Are you physically disabled? Emotionally challenged? Are you more stressed and anxious? Are you more frustrated or impatient? Does your mood change suddenly? Are you impulsive? Do you have issues with authority? Are you feeling emotionally insecure? Do you lack organizational skills?…

I only ask because in at least one state, Pennsylvania, even one of these “signs” or “risk factors” is enough to put you on the radar to possibly be reported to ChildLine, the state’s child abuse hotline, as a child abuser.

Yes, as so many of us suspected, even the most minor behavioral difficulties a child experiences, even the everyday stresses of being a parent can put both in the crosshairs of a state agency with the power to remove a child from its home and make life hell for the parents.  That’s because mandated reporters are taught that any of those behaviors, plus countless others, could indicate abuse or neglect.

Plus, if a mandated reporter (or anyone else) observes any suspicious behavior on the part of a child or parent, then he/she is encouraged to report the matter to CPS.  Why?  Because, while the reporter may only have a hunch about the situation, the CPS caseworker is “an expert” and knows best what to do.  Needless to say, the mandated reporter course fails to mention the financial incentives that encourage the agency to overreach.  Nor does it mention that the caseworker may know little or nothing about child abuse or neglect.

As for “specially trained child welfare professionals,” once again, sometimes that’s true. But in Pennsylvania it’s also possible that the person sent out as a result of your report could be someone who just graduated college with a degree in English literature, has 12 credits of gerontology and got 10 to 12 weeks of training before making life-and-death decisions for children and families.   

There are other things the training fails to mention.

It also is true that terrible things can happen if you report an innocent family, if the child is traumatized by the investigation, if the family is placed on a blacklist that can drive them deeper into poverty, and, especially, if the children are consigned to the chaos of foster care. Those terrible things can include the high rate of abuse in foster care itself.

The course ignores all this in favor of sending just one message over and over and over: Report! Report! Report!

As I’ve said too many times to count, taking a child from its parents is per se traumatic.  The potential help removal can confer must always be balanced against the known trauma of separation and placement in an unknown place with unknown people.  But mandated reporters aren’t told about the harm to children often inflicted by CPS.  They’re not told even when they ask.

The message is summed up in a slide that begins with the question: “But if I report could that make things worse?” 

The course replies: 

“Report to ChildLine. You only need reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of abuse. The consequences of not reporting your concerns could seriously endanger a child’s safety or even put a child’s life at risk.”

In other words, “there’s only one way to make matters worse – by not reporting.”  That’s objectively untrue, but it’s the message mandated reporters receive.

So how does a reporter figure out if abuse or neglect is occurring?  About that, the training is about as vague as possible.

Pennsylvania law requires mandated reporters to call ChildLine when they have “reasonable cause to suspect” abuse or neglect. But the legislature never defined “reasonable cause to suspect.” So it means whatever local authorities want it to mean…

 In determining if you have “reasonable cause to suspect,” the training specifically says to consider “gut feelings.”

At least one doctor says that every time she sees a child for a sports injury, she reports the matter to CPS.  So if little Andy or Jenny sprains an ankle playing soccer, look out.  Mom and Dad may experience the knock on the door of CPS caseworkers come to search their house, ask intrusive questions and, if they don’t like the answers, whisk the child, ankle boot and all, away for parts and persons unknown.

The takeaway is what we’ve long suspected – that, in keeping with the rest of the child protective system, mandated reporters are encouraged to over-report, to bring families into the crosshairs of CPS whether they need it or not.  The system is entirely calibrated to arrogate power to itself and it does so at the expense of family cohesion, parental authority and, all too often, child well-being.


Survey: Moms’ Income, Well-being Enhanced by Equal Parenting

February 18, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


The breathless news from a new survey is that single mothers with primary or sole custody of children tend to earn less than other mothers (Parents, 1/15/21).  That of course is the oldest of old news.  We’ve known for decades that single mothers with children in the home are the most likely of all adults to live in poverty.  Part of that stems from the fact that those mothers are responsible for a lot more childcare than other parents and therefore are unable to work, earn and save as much.  It’s not a difficult concept, but Emma Johnson, who did the survey, is a friend to equal parenting, so the survey contains some important facts bearing thereon.

Johnson surveyed 2,279 single moms about their income, feelings about work and income, and their time-sharing arrangements with their kids’ dads.

So she garnered information on mothers with equal parenting arrangements, how they felt about those arrangements and how they were doing financially.  The results are both telling and unsurprising.

Additionally, the survey found that moms who had a 50/50 parenting schedule were:

54 percent more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad). 

More than three times (325 percent) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100 percent time with their kids.

More than twice as likely to earn $65,000+, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100 percent parenting time. 

34 percent more likely to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom compared with moms who care for their kids 100 percent of the time. 


[A] whopping 98 percent of [mothers with equal custody] reported being content with it. Meanwhile, 51 percent of single moms surveyed have their children 100 percent of the time, and about 70 percent of those moms feel parenting gets in the way of self-care versus just 50 percent of moms with 50/50 schedules.

For Johnson, the bottom line is this:

“There is a direct correlation between single-moms’ income and overall well-being and time sharing-equality with their children’s dads.”

That’s impressive stuff and should be shared with judges and state legislatures everywhere.

Alas, neither the survey nor the article takes on certain obvious questions.  For example, if mothers are happier with equal parenting and earn more money, why don’t more of them request it in court?  Indeed, one of Johnson’s findings is that only 13% of the mothers surveyed had a 50/50 time split with their ex.  The simple fact is that, overwhelmingly, in study after study, it’s mothers who demand sole or primary custody when Mom and Dad split up.  No one requires them to do so, but they do.  In all my years of researching and writing on family courts, I can’t recall a single instance of a mother who requested equal parenting, but whose ex demanded that she have sole or primary custody.

The simple fact, as borne out by countless studies and sets of data, is that mothers are highly motivated to spend as much time with their children as they can.  That fact, coupled with family courts’ “winner take all” approach to custody and anti-father bias, result in mothers having the lion’s share of parenting time and fathers pleading for more.

I hate to mention it to Johnson, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that her survey suffers from selection bias.  That is, the mothers with equal parenting were those who gravitated to the idea in the first place because they thought it served their and their children’s needs better than any other arrangement.  So it’s no surprise that, having been granted what they wanted, they’re happy with it.

Still, my speculations aside, it’s good to see data on mothers’ earnings and contentment with shared parenting.  As I said, judges and legislatures everywhere need to see Johnson’s results.  My guess is that nothing will spur them to action like a desire to help mothers.


Meanwhile, Back at Pop Culture…


February 15, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Media researcher Erica Scharrer recently completed a new study of depictions of fathers in television sitcoms (The Print, 1/23/21).  She did something similar back in 2000 and, amazingly, things seem to be getting worse, not better.  The more parenting fathers do, the more we realize their importance to kids, the more we understand that fathers are every bit as competent at parenting as mothers, the more television touts the opposite.

Scharrer, et al studied TV sitcoms from the early 80s to about 2017. 

For our study, we identified 34 top-rated, family-centered sitcoms that aired from 1980 to 2017 and randomly selected two episodes from each. Next, we isolated 578 scenes in which the fathers were involved in “disparagement humor,” which meant the dads either made fun of another character or were made fun of themselves.

Then we studied how often sitcom dads were shown together with their kids within these scenes in three key parenting interactions: giving advice, setting rules or positively or negatively reinforcing their kids’ behavior. We wanted to see whether the interaction made the father look “humorously foolish” – showing poor judgment, being incompetent or acting childishly.

The results?

Interestingly, fathers were shown in fewer parenting situations in more recent sitcoms. And when fathers were parenting, it was depicted as humorously foolish in just over 50% of the relevant scenes in the 2000s and 2010s, compared with 18% in the 1980s and 31% in the 1990s sitcoms.

Now, over that same time, 1980 – 2017, fathers have roughly tripled their time spent in hands-on care of their children.  Indeed, that’s one of the major behavioral changes among parents to have occurred during that time, so we might think that increased parenting by fathers would be reflected, if only in a rough way, in TV sitcoms.  But if we expected that, we would be wrong.  In fact, the opposite has happened.  Dads are depicted less as hands-on parents than before.

Meanwhile, portrayals of fathers as bumbling incompetents have increased substantially, from 18% of the sitcom scenes studied involving fathers to over 50%.  Needless to say, fathers’ parenting abilities haven’t eroded over that time and their parental experience has greatly increased, so they’re far less likely than before to actually be the buffoons depicted, but sitcoms show them to be far more so.

In short, TV sitcoms are digging in their heels, refusing to accept the reality of what fathers actually do.  To the extent that pop culture shapes attitudes and understanding, rather than simply reflecting them, that’s a trend that can only be harmful to fathers, children and mothers.  We read and hear a lot about the extremist political views of those working in the entertainment industry, so it’s possible to tentatively conclude that Hollywood/Burbank elites view increasing paternal investment in children and competence at parenting with alarm and are at pains to do what they can to put a negative spin on what is unquestionably a positive trend.


Erasing Family: Documentary Heals the Trauma of Divorce and Reunites Families

February 12, 2021 by Ginger Gentile

Erasing Family is available for free on YouTube and Tubi

Ginger Gentile Film Director 2021 Headshot (1).jpg

Film is a powerful tool to change perceptions and open hearts. The documentary Erasing Family is designed to change the views of two very divergent groups: adult children of high-conflict divorce who have been alienated from one parent and legislators to vote for default shared parenting legislation. For all members of NPO, this film can help them not only heal our laws, but their own families. 

As a child of a high-conflict divorce, I directed Erasing Family because I understand what it is like to be put in the middle of a nasty custody battle and be asked to choose between one’s parents. Many children of divorce carry this trauma into adulthood and continue the blame game of aligning with one parent over the other. Erasing Family shows young adults working through this trauma and expanding their circle of love. 

Parents aren’t to blame. The court system is where the fault lies. The adversarial nature of custody trials combined with local statutes that promote sole custody over joint custody means that parents are incentivized to “win”. . . at all costs. And the kids lose. Erasing Family exposes that our system can be improved with the adoption of default shared parenting as well as low cost mediation. 

The pandemic has only increased the ability to alienate children from parents who are not granted custody following a high-conflict divorce. I made this film to shed light on the brokenness that our divorce courts are creating in the lives of young people and to initiate a conversation on how to create healthy co-parenting relationships following divorce.

I encourage you as a member of NPO to share the film–it is easy to do with a link via email, text or Facebook messenger–with a young person. Ask them to watch the film and give you their opinion. People love to give their opinion and you shouldn’t mention your own story or any other information on parental alienation. The film will do the work on its own. And if the film doesn’t speak to them, they will share it with a person who is suffering from erased parents. 

You can also share it with legislators, lawyers, psychologists, anyone who works in family court. Ask if the local court can make it required viewing in parenting classes. See if your local AFCC chapter can host a (virtual) screening. You have the facts, the polling data (more than 90% of those polled support shared parenting, Erasing Family will perform that last step of opening up their hearts

Erasing Family premiered at the Lincoln Center in 2019 in a VIP screening sponsored by NPO  and is currently available to watch on Tubi, Amazon, where it has a 4.9 star rating,  Vimeo, iTunes, and YouTube. The film will be released on Amazon Prime starting February 14, 2021. 

For more information, including a new Bill of Rights for kids of divorce, resources and press about the film visit We have also set up a free text line (865)4FAMILY for anyone who needs emotional support after watching the film. It is for kids and parents.


Canadian Lawyer Bemoans Family Court Conflict, Ignores What Would Reduce It

February 10, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


In Canada, the family law system is so fraught with conflict that even (some) lawyers are alarmed (Canadian Lawyer, 9/15/20).  Attorney Geoff Carpenter raises some interesting points and makes some telling admissions, but nowhere does he admit the obvious.

Carpenter criticizes Canadian family lawyers for being too vexatious, too willing to exacerbate conflict, all for the purpose of lining their own pockets.

Handling high-conflict cases is an effective, and lucrative, business model. More conflict results in more letters exchanged, documents drafted, court appearances and hours billed. Lawyers simply make more money from high-conflict files than from amicable separations, and so there is a financial incentive for lawyers to engage in high conflict litigation.

Indeed.  I’ve said the same thing more times than I can count.  The family law system takes the natural conflicts between divorcing parents, makes them far worse and cashes the ensuing check.  This results in some truly amazing legal bills in family law cases.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees are not unusual.  One lawyer I know jokingly claimed he asked his clients “How much justice can you afford?”  Often there seems to be a positive correlation between the size of a litigant’s bank account and the amount of conflict in the divorce proceedings.

Judges notice too.

Justice Marvin Kurz of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice recently addressed the role of family law counsel in Alsawwah v. Afifi, 2020 ONSC 2883. In a motion for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home in the midst of COVID-19 the parties produced voluminous materials, much of which he characterized as “unnecessary, excessive, distracting and unhelpful.”

I’ve seen other judges be far blunter than that, but their words don’t alter behavior.  Again, that should surprise no one.  When we offer large cash incentives for particular behavior, we can’t pretend surprise when that behavior occurs.

So far, so good, but where Carpenter goes off the rails is in his apparent belief that changing the code of professional conduct for family lawyers would make any difference.  It’s true that family lawyers have to deal with the sometimes competing requirements of (a) zealously representing the client (i.e. the parent) and (b) promoting the best interests of the child.  To do (a) may mean ramping up conflict even though doing so may mean harming the child.

Of course prosecutors in criminal cases are required by ethical codes to temper their pursuit of a conviction by limiting the power they themselves wield, a fact Carpenter notes in passing.  Like family lawyers, they sometimes face a conflict of interest.  But of course no one should look to the behavior of prosecutors for a model of ethical behavior.  If the Canons of Ethics for prosecutors were to control their behavior, we’d see a lot fewer wrongful convictions, coerced confessions, withheld exculpatory evidence, etc. than we do.  The point being that those canons are a frail reed.

That’s made all the more clear when we notice that, in the U.S. at least, prosecutors are almost never disciplined even slightly by professional organizations for their ethical violations and they’re all but immune from civil suit liability.  Carpenter nowhere produces evidence that bar associations in Canada are effective at disciplining members for abusing the judicial process.  I suspect that’s because there isn’t any.  Bar associations are well known for protecting all but the sleaziest, most blatant wrongdoers among their members.

But, what Carpenter calls the “elephant in the room,” isn’t.  That “huge old beast” isn’t, as Carpenter claim, the tendency of lawyers to exacerbate conflict in order to jack up fees.  It’s the absence of equal parenting legislation.  Carpenter’s quite frank and accurate when he says that much of the conflict stems not from lawyers, but from clients.

If lawyers are willing they will always be able to find a client who is so emotionally hurt by their separation that they want to fight about every issue and raise every grievance that has arisen from the relationship. The problem is not that lawyers are driving the conflict; it is that lawyers are not stopping their clients’ emotions from driving it.

But he never stops to wonder why clients are so upset.  Perhaps the main reason is the entirely justified fear on the part of parents of losing their children.  Equal parenting legislation is invariably opposed by family lawyers.  They routinely lobby against it, often not hesitating to violate their members rights to do so.  Equal parenting laws unequivocally tell parents that, as long as they’re fit to do the job, divorce won’t mean the loss of a real, meaningful and full relationship with their children.  Those parents march into their lawyer’s office secure in that knowledge and therefore far less likely to demand the “flame thrower” approach to the divorce process.

It’s a remarkable omission by Carpenter.  He bemoans the problem of lawyers taking high conflict to the bank, but promotes a “solution” that’s been proven not to work and ignores a solution that would.