March 1, 2010
Fathers and Families founder Ned Holstein, MD, MS and Fathers & Families members John Gagnon and Brian Ayers appeared on a Fox Boston report on Massachusetts’ new child support guidelines yesterday. In 2001, Fathers & Families won changes in Massachusetts law which lowered child support by 15%. Our victory saved noncustodial parents over $1 billion—$200 a million a year over five years. That”s $1 billion that non-custodial parents were able to spend on their children themselves. The opposition struck back by stacking a special committee with reliable votes for increasing the child support amounts, ignoring the data Holstein presented them showing that the proposed new child support orders were far too high for middle class people to pay. Holstein sat on this committee and prepared a Minority Report detailing the problems with the new Guidelines. Last year Fathers & Families filed a highly-publicized lawsuit against Massachusetts’ new child support guidelines. Fathers & Families” lawsuit has been covered by the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Newsweek, Psychology Today, and numerous other publications, as well as by CBS radio, NPR, WRKO, and many other radio stations. So far our legal actions against the guidelines have been unsuccessful, but we are still weighing other legal options. From Fox’s report Are child support rules unfair to fathers? (2/28/10):
“I went back to live at my parents, I had to, from a cost standpoint, until I could afford to live in a decent place, and then you feel kind of like a second class citizen because your kids are coming to a small place when you”re used to mom”s nice house,’ says John Gagnon, who has been paying alimony and writing out child support checks for eleven years. He now says he pays $2,700 a month for his teenaged daughter. He says she stays with him nearly half the time and his 19-year-old son lived with him full time before going off to college this fall. He feels the guidelines don”t take into account how much time he spends with his kids. “It really didn”t matter from a child support guideline standpoint if they had stayed one night a month, or zero nights. I would have paid the same as having them 13 nights,’ Gagnon says… “We want kids to be well supported. We want kids to have enough support, but we don”t want to create this huge windfall prize that creates conflict between the parents,’ says Dr. Ned Holstein, the founder of the father”s rights group “Fathers & Families’. He sat on the task force and says the system is still unfair. For instance, he says some states pro-rate support according to parenting time spent with the child. He also says judges in Massachusetts may order both child support and college expenses until age 23. “We have a long way to go, but the worst thing is the pervasive gender bias in family court. Men are still looked at a breadwinners, and women are still looked at as nurturers of children,’ Dr. Holstein says.
To read the full article and watch the video, click here. To join in the vigorous debate in the comments section, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page. A few comments on the Fox piece: 1) Fox misidentifies Fathers & Families as a “fathers’ rights group.” We are, in fact, a family court reform organization. As Holstein is fond of saying, F & F isn’t asking for anything for fathers that we don’t also want to ensure for mothers: protection for the parent-child bond; both parents sharing roughly equal physical time with their children; both parents treated fairly financially; the abused protected from abuse and the innocent protected from false allegations of abuse; and similar principles. When mothers are mistreated by the system, wherever it be military moms like Vanessa Benson, lesbian noncustodial moms like Michele Hobbs and Janet Jenkins, or moms like Joyce Murphy who were legitimately acting to protect their children from the fathers’ abuse, we sympathize and defend them. We are named “Fathers & Families” because it is usually fathers who are pushed to the margins of their children’s lives after a divorce or separation, but we resolutely defend all fit parents’ loving bonds with their children. 2) Ayers’ child support is stiff but not necessarily outrageous–the real problem is that he’s a good, loving father who is being prevented from exercising equal parenting time with the infant son who adores him. I don’t know what the child’s mother earns, but when both parents earn roughly the same income, are fit, and are equally willing to care for the children, parenting time should be split roughly equally and child support is largely unnecessary. [Update: Ayers claims that his total available weekly income, after taxes and child support are considered, is $776.97, while his ex’s is $1,271.16–a $25,697.88 per year difference favoring the mother. His ex disputes these figures.] 3) Gagnon’s case is really unfair–he pays a stiff amount in child support for children who have spent as much time with him as with their mother. 4) Fox reports on the case of Crystal Arnhold, a “single mom who relies on her child support checks.” According to Fox:
She says she receives just under $250 a week to raise her 2-year-old son, and 5-year-old daughter with Down”s Syndrome. “I work what I can and still just barely make it. Like this month, I have $29 to get food for the next two weeks,’ Arnhold says. She works part-time at night while her mom watches the kids, but money is tight. She says under the new guidelines, she stands to lose more because she”s trying to work. “I”m not greedy by any means, I just want to try to get for my kids what they need,’ Arnhold says.
Fox portrays her sympathetically, and as a whole she probably deserves that sympathy. Still, we certainly don’t know that she’s being treated unfairly. She receives about $1,000 a month, which isn’t a lot for two small children, particularly when one has Down’s Syndrome. But we don’t know what her ex makes–he may well only make $2,000 or $3,000 a month before taxes, in which case the child support he’s paying is quite a strain on him financially. Also, we”re not told whether, as is often the case, the father wants to care for the children himself half the time, and the mom won”t allow it. But if Crystal Arnhold’s ex makes a good income and isn”t willing to share parenting time with the kids equally, I agree that she”s not being treated fairly. 5) Family law attorney Marilynne Ryan, who sat on the child support task force with Holstein and others, disputed Holstein’s assertion of anti-father family court gender bias. She said:
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have 24 female judges on the probate court and 24 male judges on the probate court. To suggest that everyone has grouped together and is biased against the fathers, it simply doesn”t happen.
This is hardly a reasonable response–Holstein never asserted that anti-father gender bias was caused specifically by female judges–if anything, we sometimes find that female judges treat men more fairly than traditional, chivalrous male judges do.