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Abell Foundation: Three Sensible Child Support Reforms

July 23, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

rfranklinThe Abell Foundation’s report on the child support system in Maryland doesn’t simply criticize, it offers solutions as well (Abell Foundation, June, 2019). My first piece on the report appears here.

The report, written by former commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, Vicky Turetsky, pulls no punches. It points out that support orders are routinely set too high for non-custodial parents to pay resulting in skyrocketing debt, most of which is uncollectable. All of that hits the poor disproportionately hard and results in the marginalization of non-custodial parents (most often dads) in their children’s lives.

So the report urges three fixes for the current system: (1) base orders on non-custodial parents’ actual incomes, (2) reduce uncollectable child support debt and (3) ensure that children, not the state, get the money intended for them.

Turetsky comes down hardest on imputed income:

A major culprit behind unaffordable orders is using attributed, or imputed, income as the basis for calculating support obligations in low-income cases. Imputed income is fictitious income.

Child support orders based on fictitious income are almost certain to go unpaid in large part. How could it be otherwise? A parent may have once had a good job, but if he/she is out of work, that income no longer rolls in, irrespective of what a judge may decide. In Maryland, a full one-fourth of all child support orders were based on imputed income. Plus,

Parents having orders based on imputed income actually earned 72 percent less than the amount listed on the child support worksheets.

Unsurprisingly, parents with imputed income paid far less of what they owed than did parents whose orders were based on actual earnings.

Fortunately, the OCSE amended its regulations in 2016 to discourage the use of imputed income. The new standard

requires support orders for low-income parents to be based on “earnings, income, and other evidence of ability to pay,” established through fact-finding about the parents’ specific circumstances.

As to uncollectable arrears, the Abell report urges states to first write off uncollectable debt. The Administration for Children and Families has, in the past, calculated that some 40% of current arrears will never be collected. In that case, states should admit the obvious and write of those debts as uncollectable. But doing so isn’t just an accounting function.

There is ample evidence that many low-earning parents facing substantial child support debt become discouraged and leave formal employment. This usually is because they cannot afford to live on the earnings that remain once child support has been deducted from their paychecks. High arrears can substantially reduce child support payments, earnings, and labor force participation by noncustodial parents.

Worse,

Indebted noncustodial fathers have significantly less contact with their children, are less engaged in their daily activities, and provide less frequent informal support.22 Indebtedness is associated with greater parental depression, alcohol overuse, poor health, worsened family relationships, less effective parenting, and deteriorating child behavior.

In short, high levels of child support debt are bad for everyone, the child, the non-custodial parent and the economy. That’s a powerful argument for reform.

Last, the Abell report argues for what many others have before: that children, not the state, receive child support money. As it is, when a custodial parent receives Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, any child support that comes later goes to repay the state until that debt is paid in full. Only then do child support payments go to the custodial parent.

It’s a system that’s well-known to discourage payment. Non-custodial parents are often hard enough pressed to pay at all, but when they realize that whatever they pay goes, not to the child, but to the state, many simply keep the money.

When Vickey Turetsky talks, people should listen. Turetsky knows the path to more sensible child support practices that would help kids and parents alike, plus cutting state bureaucracies. Can sensible child support reform be far away?

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The Need for Child Support Enforcement Reform

July 9, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The move toward more realistic child support policies is gaining momentum. That system has been called “broken” too many times to count for reasons this informative article makes clear (Foundation for Economic Education, 6/28/19).

The Abell Foundation issued a report authored by the former commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, Vicky Turetsky, who, during her time with the OCSE, worked tirelessly for reform.

The first problem with child support practices is that orders are often set at levels the obligor is unable to pay. That’s often because courts “impute income” to non-custodial parents. That is, they base their orders, not on actually earnings, but on what the court considers it possible for them to earn. The assumption being that parents commonly seek to lower their payments by reducing their employment. That of course may happen on occasion, but there’s essentially no evidence that it does so as a matter of course. After all, why would an adult damage his/her own standard of living just in order to damage that of the child he/she dearly loves?

The practice of setting support levels above what parents can pay became established in the 1980s due in part to an error in arithmetic by researcher Lenore Weitzman. She announced that her data showed women suffering a drop in their standard of living of 76% when they divorced. That alarmed other researchers whose numbers were nowhere near that. A decade later, Weitzman admitted that her data indicated a 24% decrease in living standards, but by then her research had formed the impetus for child support policies nationwide. State laws had been written to ameliorate a decrease in living standards that largely didn’t exist.

The FEE article quotes the Baltimore Sun:

“Child support orders set beyond the ability of noncustodial parents to comply push them out of low-wage jobs, drown them in debt, hound them into the underground economy, and chase them out of their children’s lives,” Vicki Turetsky wrote in the 55-page report. Much of the analysis is rooted in research by the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

That highlights another shortcoming of the child support system: its draconian methods of enforcement hit almost exclusively at the poor. As Turetsky’s OCSE reported, well over 60% of those in arrears on child support report earnings of under $10,000 per year. So the enforcement mechanisms deny parents mostly to poor children, i.e. arguably those who need them most.

Perhaps the most wrongheaded enforcement mechanism is the suspension of the driver’s licenses of those parents who fall behind. Countless commentators have noted the obvious – that doing so only makes paying harder.

 A report cited by the Abell Foundation,

states that 42% of individuals who had their licenses suspended jobs as a result of the suspension, 45% of those who lost jobs could not find another job, and 88% of those that were able to find another job reported a decrease in income.

Needless to say, making it harder on non-custodial parents to pay isn’t a sensible way to collect child support.

One of the best cures for what ails that system is equal parenting. When each parent has equal or almost equal time with the children post-divorce, the need for child support diminishes considerably. As long as a parent only has to support the child when little Andy or Jenny is in their care, there’s little need for either parent to pay the other, although sometimes it may be necessary.

Still, 50/50 parenting time isn’t always feasible, so child support will always be with us. That’s why it’s urgent to get right a system that supports children and doesn’t expect the impossible of parents. Hopefully, we’re headed in that direction.

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Welcome, Ginger Gentile, to National Parents Organization

National Parents Organization is excited to announce that Ginger Gentile has joined NPO as Deputy Executive Director. Ginger brings a broad range of talents, skills, and knowledge as well as a deep understanding of the problems that NPO is addressing.

A film director and documentary maker, Ginger is best known for her highly anticipated, forthcoming documentary film, Erasing Family, which examines the trauma children suffer when a loving parent is erased from their lives. You can watch the trailer for the film here and follow the film on Facebook here. When NPO saw the massive following that Gentile had amassed in advance of her film, and her advocacy about children deserving equal access to both loving parents, we knew that her talents and skills would help us widen our base of supporters, including young people adversely affected by the family court system. As the debut of her film drew nearer, we felt it was the ideal time to invite her to take her activism to the next level by joining NPO in a leadership role.

Welcome aboard, Ginger. Together we’re going to do great things for our children.

Don Hubin
Chair, Executive Committee, NPO

 
Making divorce and separation healthier for children is an issue close to my heart, as my work is driven by my own experience as a teenager as well as the countless families that reach out to me asking for help with their family court horror stories. A child losing access to a loving, fit parent after divorce is one of the largest public health crises of our day. But it is something that we don’t talk about. Our courts and legislatures are reluctant to create reforms that most people support, which is shared parenting and providing resources to reduce conflict.  

While I will continue to work on the distribution and impact campaign of Erasing Family, which will include creating resources to help kids “caught in the middle” and bringing the film to a wide audience, my role at NPO will allow me to create clear messaging for advocates working on the front lines of this issue. I hope that my role as Deputy Executive Director will bring new voices to the table and usher in an age of different groups working together with the shared mission of making divorce healthier for children.

Over half of the supporters of Erasing Family, and the stories we filmed, are mothers who cannot see their children. I look forward to working towards ensuring that children have the right to love both parents equally and ways to move the debate beyond moms and dads, to how to help the entire family heal.

I look forward to reaching out to not only members and supporters, but to different groups who are working on aligned issues. And of course, reaching out to those who disagree with NPO’s mission to find common ground. Together, we can raise a generation of children who will never be forced to choose, or have the choice made for them, of which parent gets to be a parent, and which gets to be at best a visitor, or at worse, completely erased.

Ginger Gentile
Deputy Executive Director, NPO
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Happy Father’s Day?

June 16, 2019 by Don Hubin, Ph.D., Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

“Happy Father’s Day!”

On the third Sunday in June, those words are welcomed by loving dads across the country. But for far too many of those dads, the annual celebration of fathers is a bitter reminder of what was taken from them and of the hole in their lives that cannot be filled.

I’m not talking about all fathers who are divorced or separated from their children’s mothers. Most of these fathers have been sidelined by our family courts that still see fathers primarily only as financial resources, not as loving and capable parents. But in most cases the standard parenting schedules, cruel as they are to children and fathers, at least allow the children to spend Father’s Day with their dads. These dads at least get to hear “Happy Father’s Day” from the children they love.

I’m talking about the dads who have been, either through court action or through court inaction, largely erased from their children’s lives.

How does this happen?

Sometimes courts, after awarding full custody to Mom, allow her to move the children far from the father. Sometimes there are compelling reasons for the move; tough choices have to be made. But often judges simply reason that the court can’t tell adults where they can live and, of course, Mom can take the kids with her because … guess what? … she has custody.

These fathers might at least get a phone call from their kids on Father’s Day. They might hear the words “Happy Father’s Day” through the tinny speaker of their cell phones. They won’t, though, be able to take their kids to the park, hug their kids, or feel their kids’ arms around their necks.

But some dads have it worse. Sometimes their children’s love and affection have been turned to hatred or fear by a selfish and destructive campaign of parental alienation by the other parent. Parental alienation goes far beyond an occasional negative comment about your children’s other parent made in front of the children. Parental alienation is a concerted effort to enlist the children to one’s own side of the divide by portraying the other parent as unfit, uncaring, or dangerous. It is horribly damaging to children. It is a form of child abuse. Sometimes when these children reach adulthood, the scales fall from their eyes and they reconnect with the targeted parent and blame the alienator. But, all too often, parental alienation leads to a lifetime rift between the children and one of the parents who loves them.

The sole physical custody arrangements still favored by our courts in contested custody cases contribute to parental alienation by designating one parent the primary parent and limiting the time that the other parent has to maintain a relationship with the children.

Some dads’ kids have been abducted, taken far away, sometimes to foreign countries, in violation of court orders. These dads won’t get even a phone call on Father’s Day and their separation from their kids may well be permanent.

Our courts and family law system don’t cause parents to abduct their children from the other parent. But they do precious little to help locate the child who has been abducted. There is an enormous governmental bureaucracy working to track down child support obligors who try to hide by moving away. We’re willing to go to great lengths to ensure that children are not deprived of the financial support that courts have ordered. And that is a good thing. But when parents’ children have been abducted in violation of courts’ orders, parents are largely on their own to try to correct this problem.

To those dads who can share the day with their children, National Parents Organization says, “Happy Father’s Day!” And, to those who have been wrongly deprived of this joy, we say, “We understand your pain; we understand the harm that is being done to your children; and we’re working hard to change the laws and court practices that made this destruction possible.”

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Vancouver Sun Discovers Domestic Violence Against Men

June 14, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s a good article on domestic violence (Vancouver Sun, 6/7/19).  Apparently, Simon Fraser University criminologist, Alexandra Lysova, has been studying Canada’s General Social Survey that’s conducted every five years.

One of her main points – and one of the article’s – is that men too are victims of domestic violence.  Indeed, in Canada, they’re more often victims of DV than are women.  The latest figures show that 4.2% of men and 3.5% of women have been victimized in the past five years.  Now, to begin with, that’s good news.  Those figures have been steadily declining to the point that, on average, 0.7% of women and 0.8% of men have been victims of DV in the past year.  Canadians seem to be cleaning up their act at least as far as intimate partner violence goes.

A few points of interest in the data: when all physical violence, including sexual assault is considered, 2.8% of men and 1.7% of women report victimization.  As to severe violence with sexual abuse, 1.2% of men and 0.5% of women were victimized.

But the other issue emphasized by both the article and Lysova is that men’s victimization remains very much in the dark.  It comes as a surprise to most people that men and women are victimized about equally.

It shouldn’t.  The simple fact is that we’ve known that women are as likely as men to perpetrate DV against an intimate partner for well over 40 years now.  The earliest studies conducted on the subject revealed the fact and literally hundreds have subsequently. 

So why isn’t it common knowledge?  Because the press and the DV establishment haven’t publicized the fact.  As researcher Murray Straus said several years ago, simply reporting the facts about DV can get an academic attacked by those who, for whatever reason, have a stake in the status quo.  That status quo includes the idea that DV is a gendered phenomenon, that men commit DV to maintain power and control over their female partners and that only realization of that phenomenon can permit men to change their evil ways.

That essentially none of the above is true as a general principle troubles the DV establishment not a whit.  Year after year we see the same claims and with the same results.  Here in the United States, there are about 1,500 DV shelters for women and perhaps three for men.  In Canada, the article makes clear, there are none.

That’s not for lack of trying.  Several years ago, one activist, Earl Silverman, attempted to start a DV shelter for men, but was denied any funding by the national and provisional governments to do so.  Needless to say, shelters for women in Canada don’t lack for public funds.

Much like Nancy Shannon and Jennifer Harman, about whose article in the Lincoln Journal Star I wrote twice last week, Lysova calls parental alienation a form of domestic violence against the targeted parent.

While [psychologist Denise] Hines has found females are more likely to report being called names or prevented access to family income, male spouses more often said their partner tried to control their every move or denied them access to their children.

The latter is leading to increasingly common cases of “parental alienation,” Lysova said, in which one partner, particularly after a separation, unjustly poisons the reputation of the other spouse in the minds of their children.

Partly because so many people are uneducated about men’s victimization, men tend to shun the system that’s supposedly there to help victims of DV.  Among those ignorant of the realities about DV faced by men are the police, social workers and judges, i.e. the very people who might help an abused man in family court.

The issue of DV comes up frequently in contested child custody cases, so it would benefit men and make the process much fairer if those people knew the facts about domestic violence.

Perhaps they could start by reading Lysova’s work.  And of course there’s plenty more in the same vein.  And other news publications could follow the lead of the Vancouver Sun and publicize men’s victimization with the same vigor and diligence as they’ve publicized women’s over the many, many years.  

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Maternal Gatekeeping and Nebraska Courts

June 8, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The ever-excellent Jennifer Harman co-wrote this piece with Nebraska family lawyer Nancy Shannon (Lincoln Journal Star, 6/7/19).  It’s an excellent article about maternal gatekeeping and recent responses to it by Nebraska’s courts.

Maternal gatekeeping is a common occurrence in one form or another.  Much of it consists of barely noticeable but still effective behaviors that serve to block Dad’s everyday access to his child.  “That’s not the way to diaper the baby, John; here, let me do it,” illustrates the phenomenon.  Many mothers report having to check their instincts to avoid coming between the child and its father.  Failure to do that can, over time, sideline fathers in the lives of their children.

But Shannon and Harman are concerned with more serious forms of gatekeeping.  They cite a 2016 report by the Administration for Children and Families.

According to this report, “more than half of nonresident fathers offered accounts of gatekeeping behavior, ranging from refusing to grant physical access to making frequent last-minute schedule changes. Gatekeeping also came in more indirect forms, such as refusal to communicate in person or by phone, withholding information from the father about the child or berating the father.”

Now, let’s be clear.  The report cited in no way claimed that half of mothers engage in gatekeeping behavior.  Half of mothers in the study were reported by fathers to have done so.  And those fathers were part of certain Responsible Fatherhood programs that were studied by the ACF.  That means the population studied bore no relationship to the population generally.  The men there were far more likely to be poor, black or of Hispanic origin and poorly educated than men in the U.S. generally.  Shannon and Harmon should have mentioned the fact.  Here’s my piece from 2016 about that report.

Motives for gatekeeping vary. Sometimes, it’s used to control the other parent. Other times, it’s used for financial gain. According to the Federal report, “mothers would sometimes restrict access when a father failed to provide ‘extras’ over and above the required child support.”

Those are some of the motives, but we shouldn’t confuse motives with causes.  Maternal gatekeeping is caused by the biologically based ancient role of women as the primary caregivers to children.  Interfere with that role and you come between not only a mother and her child, but between her and the role she’s played in human (and pre-human) societies from far, far back into pre-history.  Few cast aside a role so deeply ingrained.

Plus, since the biology of the paternal role urges him to be the secondary parent (see, the work of Ruth Feldman at Bar Elan University), it’s easy to see how (a) mothers tend to assert themselves as the primary parent and (b) fathers tend to acquiesce in their doing so.

For a good while now, particularly affluent Western societies have said that we want to abandon gender-based roles.  We’ve shouted that to the heavens for decades now, but when it comes to actually doing so, we tend hesitate.  However many women have embraced paid work outside the home and however many men have embraced the paternal role, the fact remains that men still tend strongly to be the chief earners and women the chief caregivers to children.  And, when asked about their preferences, working women tend to say they’d prefer to work less than they do and men to say they want to work more.  Getting people to ignore their age-old roles isn’t an easy task.

I’ll have more to say on this next time.

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Arizona DCS Excoriated by Appellate Court for False Claims Against Fit Father

June 7, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Eleven months ago, an Arizona court terminated the parental rights of a California father who, known to the AZ Department of Children and Families, the AZ Attorney General’s Office and at least one judge in the case, had been described by California authorities this way:

California’s child-welfare investigators, asked by DCS to check him out, gave the man a glowing report. His ex-wife called him “a good father, who cares and provides for his children.”  A California social worker wrote that it “is obvious that (the children) feel loved and cared for by their father and that he is very involved in their lives.” (AZ Central, 5/29/19)

The child’s mother didn’t want the father to have custody of her and neither did the state Department of Child Safety.  The scheme nearly worked.  It may yet.  For now though, an Arizona appellate court has overturned the termination of rights and excoriated caseworkers, the Attorney General’s Office and the judge.

The father and the mother of the little girl named Melody had a brief affair in Sacramento.  While pregnant, the mother moved back to her native Arizona.  That was in 2014.  The man told her that he wanted to play an active paternal role.  Mom was apparently unfit to care for the child who was taken from her by DCS immediately after birth.

But DCS wasn’t interested in doing either the right thing or the simple thing.  That would have meant ascertaining whether the father, who’d called the agency and told them he wanted to care for his child, was fit and willing to do so and, if he was, handing her over to him.  Case closed.

But the agency that has routinely (and rightly) complained in the past about having too little money and too few caseworkers wasted both in its headlong effort to deprive a child of her father and a father of his daughter.  If that meant lying to multiple courts, the caseworkers were happy to do so.  If it meant placing obstacles between the father and Melody, they were willing.  If it meant going to court to swear that Dad’s failure to clear those obstacles indicated his unfitness and abandonment of his child, that too was acceptable.  DCS did all that and more.

The AG’s Office pitched in too as did juvenile court judges.

[Appellate Judge Paul] McMurdie also questioned the ethics of the Attorney General’s Office, which represents DCS, for even filing the dependency petition given that there was no evidence that the father was unfit.

“The lack of factual support for the allegations in the petition relating to Father’s unfitness creates significant concerns about the ethical propriety of filing the dependency petition claiming Father abused or neglected and abandoned Melody,” he wrote.

He also dinged the judges for rubber stamping a “baseless dependency petition” and severing a father’s rights with no evidence to support DCS’s claims.

“The petition’s generic assertions failed to support the conclusion that an out-of-state parent – seeking to establish paternity of a less than one-month-old child, who has been in DCS custody since birth – abused, neglected, or abandoned the child… ,” he wrote. “Moreover, the record is devoid of any evidence supporting the unfitness allegations in the petition, a fact DCS acknowledged at oral argument before this court.”

The case and the child are now over four years old.  Melody has been with her foster parents for almost all that time.  She doubtless thinks of them as her parents but, solely because of DCS’s determination to wrongfully keep her father out of her life, will be forced at this late date to forget them and look to her father for her care. 

In short, a child welfare agency is guilty of gross child abuse.  By doing everything in their power to thwart a fit father in his quest to assert his rights and his daughter’s welfare, DCS and the rest have damaged an innocent child, quite possibly permanently.

Antipathy for fathers is a well-known phenomenon among CPS caseworkers nationwide.  Back in 2006, the Urban Institute studied caseworker behavior and found that, in barely half of cases in which a child was taken from its mother was any attempt made to even contact the father.  One Ninth Circuit opinion held that the failure to do so is a violation of the father’s civil rights.

Of course the Maricopa County caseworkers couldn’t very well avoid contacting Melody’s father.  He’d made that impossible by contacting them and following their every instruction.  Still, it took over four years for him to overcome their recalcitrance in court.

The case is far from over.  Just because a court has overturned the order terminating the father’s rights doesn’t end things.  After all, the lower court will likely order a transition period during which Melody spends more and more time with her dad and less with her foster parents.  How long that will go on is anyone’s guess as well as whatever new impediments will be dreamed up by DCS authorities who will be none too pleased to have been shamed by the appellate court.

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Nebraska: Has a Presumption of Equal Parenting Entered the Law Unheralded?

May 15, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The recent Nebraska case of Dowding v. Dowding gives us a good opportunity to take a second look at our fairly invariable support for equal parenting.  This blog has always recognized that there are plenty of instances in which equal – or even shared – parenting either cannot work or isn’t in a child’s interests.  Serious child abuse is one example, parental unfitness is another and significant geographic separation of the parents is another.  None of those is present in Dowding and yet the court’s decision to grant primary custody to the father isn’t clearly wrong.  Neither is it clearly right.

Timothy and Cameo Dowding were married for about three years, but had an ongoing relationship well before that.  They had a son, Treton, in 2010, but separated in 2016.  Because they weren’t married at the time Treton was born, they both signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity to establish Timothy as his father.

So it was altogether strange that, when their divorce pleadings were filed, Cameo alleged that Timothy wasn’t Treton’s dad and demanded genetic testing.  The court refused the request because, under Nebraska law and the circumstances of the case, the only way to rescind an Acknowledgement of Paternity is to produce evidence that it was brought about by “fraud, duress or material mistake of fact.”

The question then arose how it would be possible for the child’s mother to be the victim of a material mistake of fact.  After all, as this blog has said many times, unlike men, women almost invariably know with whom they have intercourse.  That means they know who their child’s father is or, at the very least know that they can’t be sure.  In the latter instance, signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity would be inappropriate and probably illegal.

Interestingly, the Nebraska Court of Appeals made much the same point when quoting an Indiana court.

[O]nce a mother has signed a paternity affidavit, she may not use the paternity statutes to deprive the legal father of his rights, even if he is not the biological father.” The court reasoned that “a woman always has the information necessary to question paternity prior to signing the affidavit. A man, however, could easily sign an affidavit without awareness of the questionable nature of his paternity.

So Cameo’s effort to rescind the Acknowledgement rightly came to naught.

That left the issue of child custody.  The evidence adduced in court left little doubt about who was the better parent and who provided the child with the better home environment.  Cameo’s work history was unstable in the extreme and she’d chosen to remain unemployed for two years due, she said, to uncertainty about the outcome of the custody matter.

No such considerations kept Timothy from continuing his employment with the BNSF railroad.  Plus, his mother Sharon not only worked at Treton’s school, she was always available to fill in when Timothy couldn’t do hands-on dad care due to employment conflicts.

Most importantly, Treton seems to have been a happy, smart, well-adjusted little boy who had many friends.

Sally Agena testified that she is the Syracuse Public Schools’ guidance counselor for kindergarten through the eighth grade. She described Treton as happy, “spirited,” “chatty,” with a “good heart,” and “friendly.”…

Kathleen Weiler testified that she is Treton’s second grade teacher. Weiler described Treton as “a very smart little guy” who is an average to above-average student and is friendly and well-liked. She expressed no concerns regarding any behavioral issues and stated that Treton appeared to be happy.

So, living with Timothy, Treton was doing well and interrupting that arrangement could have caused problems for him.  Cameo’s living arrangements weren’t the best, but she is clearly a loving, caring parent, however hostile she’s been toward Timothy.  Under those circumstances, I’d be calling loudly for an equal parenting-time order.  As long as both parents are fit and loving, that’s the way it should be as I’ve said many times.  Yes, the two lived about 45 miles apart, but that fairly short distance shouldn’t stand in the way of a child having a full relationship with each parent.

But there was a problem.

In this case, both parties testified that they are unable to communicate effectively with each other and both parties expressed that they would be unable to share parenting time equally with Treton and effectively co-parent.

In short, neither parent wanted equal parenting time.  They did so because they couldn’t get along well enough to make such an arrangement work.  It’s similar to a parenting plan filed by two parents for unequal parenting time.  They know best what they can do and what they can’t, what their schedules permit and what they don’t.  Generally speaking, a court will rubberstamp the agreement of parents.

But, while both Nebraska courts gave sole legal and physical custody to Timothy, their reasoning suggests something a bit different.  Both courts seemed to “hang their hats” on the fact of the two being unable to make equal parenting work.  To me that suggests the assumption that equal parenting is the default position in the case of two fit parents, an assumption from which a court can deviate if necessary, but an assumption all the same. 

And of course that’s very much what the Nebraska Supreme Court did in the case of Leners v. Leners that I reported on here.  Its language there strongly suggested that it was stepping back from previous case law that presumed against shared parenting.  Higher courts never like to simply overrule previous decisions, preferring to erode their impact over time.  It may just be that the Leners wording was heard loudly and clearly by the lower courts and that all are moving, albeit slowly, toward a de facto presumption of shared parenting.

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The Role of Child Abuse Pediatricians in Child Welfare Cases

February 3, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Did you know that there’s a sub-specialty of Pediatrics called “Child Abuse Pediatrics?”  I didn’t until I read this article (WXYZ, 1/29/19).  Did you know that a physician can become board-certified in that specialty through the American Board of Pediatrics?

Did you also know that many people reject the very concept of that specialty because they doubt that any doctor can accurately intuit the cause of a particular injury?  They can diagnose the results of physical traumas to the body, like broken bones, ruptured spleens and many others.  But what caused those injuries, in the absence of reliable descriptions of what happened, edges into the realm of guesswork.

A law professor at the University of Wisconsin says Dr. Mohr’s way is a recipe for disaster.

“It’s just a recipe for error and for injustice,” said University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Keith Findley.

Findley says Child Abuse Pediatricians have a huge amount of influence with the jury, and when they make a medical diagnosis of abuse, your presumption of innocence is gone.

“So to say that doctors can diagnose the conduct and intent of some third party actor is really beyond, beyond what medicine can support,” Findley said.

But few readers of this blog will be surprised to learn that Child Abuse Pediatricians are often relied on to the exclusion of other medical experts in assessing allegations of child abuse.  In Michigan, one such pediatrician is Dr. Bethany Mohr of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

They are called Child Abuse Pediatricians, and they say their mission is to protect children. However, local parents, attorneys and even some doctors say some of these specialists are tearing families apart.

The Parker family says they were emotionally and financially devastated after a false accusation of child abuse. Their lawyer says she’s had to fight against the same Child Abuse Pediatrician who accused the Parkers about 20 times, and they want to warn other families.

That doctor is Bethany Mohr.  She doesn’t work for Michigan CPS, but “communicates closely with them.”  To me that sounds like she’s their go-to doctor, the one CPS can rely on to err on the side of taking kids from parents.  Indeed, Mohr’s own public statements tend to suggest exactly that.

“How many kids would potentially be in harm’s way if we only filed on things that were really clear cut,” Dr. Mohr asked during the presentation.

Her response: “Tons of kids.”

That sounds like someone who sees herself standing between kids and abuse more than someone who dispassionately analyzes facts in the context of children’s and parents’ legal rights. 

But the reality is that kids in the U.S. are statistically very safe from abuse at the hands of their parents or anyone.  The Administration for Children and Families reported for 2015 about 3.2 million reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.  A whopping 80% of those reports were judged by CPS agencies to be meritless at the outset.  About 680,000 involved some level of abuse or neglect and only about 180,000 involved abuse.  That’s out of about 73.6 million children under the age of 18 according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s figures for 2016.  That in turn is about 0.24% of kids who suffer abuse each year.

But Mohr’s position is that there are “tons of kids” whose abuse exists but isn’t clear-cut.  Much of the abuse of those 0.24% of kids was surely as plain as the nose on your face.  So in fact, the children imagined by Mohr who are abused but the abuse isn’t clear are quite rare.  Tons?  Hardly.

Now, Mohr may well offer the “better safe than sorry” defense to her actions.  That is, if a doctor suspects abuse, it’s better to remove the child from the home and let the legal system decide if abuse actually occurred.

But such a position ignores important facts.  The first and most important is that removal from the home is itself traumatic to children.  Without knowing for certain that abuse suffered in the home would be worse for the child than removal, it’s hard to justify taking the kids away.  Second, innocent parents pay a steep price emotionally and financially when they see their children taken by CPS and have to fight the system to get them back.

Back in 2015, the 7 Investigators showed you how several parents had to battle allegations of abuse and neglect, even though they say their children had medical causes for their illnesses and injuries.

Ultimately, none of their parental rights were terminated. The Parkers say their experts showed the court that Dylan’s rib fractures were caused by brittle bones from a severe vitamin D deficiency, not abuse. The case was dismissed.

“By the middle to the end of the trial, we were indigent, we were already petitioning the court for funds for our last witness,” said Jimmy Parker, Dylan’s father.

 So Dr. Mohr’s “better safe than sorry” stance cost one family untold heartache, emotional trauma to the child and the family’s life savings.  Who’s sorry now, Dr. Mohr?

Meanwhile, at least one doctor doesn’t mince words about Dr. Mohr.

“I’m seeing a great number of families that are being torn apart because they’ve been falsely accused of child abuse,” said Dr. Douglas Smith, a retired University of Michigan Pathologist. “There are simple explanations or medical conditions that explain the injuries to the child.”

Dr. Smith volunteers his expertise for families facing abuse allegations from Child Abuse Pediatricians, including eight who have been accused by Dr. Mohr.

“I think Dr. Mohr misleads families,” Dr. Smith said. “She examines the child but she doesn’t treat any of the injuries. She will be the number one witness against the family if they’re prosecuted.”

And that, as far as I can tell, is the sole function of a Child Abuse Pediatrician.  She doesn’t treat the child, but she does testify against the parents.