March 12th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Minnesota’s shared parenting legislation is before the state House Judiciary Committee and needs all the support it can get. That’s in spite of the fact that this article reports a “rare consensus” among committee members that the bill should be passed (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 3/7/12).
Here’s the full text of the bill, HF 322. It provides for a presumption that each parent receive at least 45.1% of physical custody of a child on divorce.
That presumption can be rebutted in a long list of ways involving abuse, neglect or inability to parent that must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Another exception to the presumption is if the parents’ geographical locations would make it impossible for them to keep the child in a single school during the school year. Under the bill, parents would be completely free to make any agreement on parenting time they wish.
Amazingly, the article reports that the bill enjoys strong support on the committee and majority support among those testifying about it.
In a political season of divisiveness and discord, a hearing in the Minnesota House Judiciary Committee recently offered something surprisingly different: unity.
Rarely, in fact, have so many strange bedfellows come together in support of a bill which, in this case, recognizes the rights and obligations of dads. The Children’s Equal and Shared Parenting Act, or HF322, awards each divorced parent at least 45.1 percent of parenting time, with clear exceptions, and gives them wiggle room for the remaining time.
Testifying in late February, liberal activist Mary Hansen issued an emotional plea to fellow feminists to “support the men we brought up right,” by championing the bill, and family lawyer Michelle MacDonald concurred, referencing God and the Bible. There was 26-year-old Sarah Olson Andrews, whose college fund of $125,000 dissipated during a protracted custody battle, and 77-year-old social worker Jerome Schoenecker, who said the current system makes everybody a villain, “even Mom.” The late Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, who threw his support toward the bill in his final days, was not in attendance, but his presence was felt. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Blue Earth, bellowed to a detractor from his seat on the committee, “I couldn’t disagree with you more. This is a great bill.”
But, don’t be deceived. We the People may want this bill, but powers behind the scenes are strongly opposed. Who are they? The redoubtable Molly Olson, of the Center for Parental Responsibility reports that “[t]he third branch of government (courts, judges, Bar Assoc/AAML) is working hard to block the bill.” (The AAML is the American Academy of Marital Lawyers.)
In short, the lawyers don’t want any part of equal parenting, because they know its tendency to reduce conflict between divorcing parents. Reduced conflict means reduced legal fees. As the article cogently points out, the child support system strongly encourages conflict all by itself. The less time Dad gets, the more money Mom receives, so Dad wants more time and Mom wants him to have less. Ergo, conflict that’s bound to continue well past the date the divorce decree is signed.
The arguments against the bill are threadbare.
Family lawyer Michael Black calls HF322 “a mandate disguised as a presumption. There is no imbalance in the system,” Black said, noting that child custody decisions lead to “as many disappointed women as men.”
It’s hard to be so wrong in so few words. Let’s see, “a mandate disguised as a presumption?” No, actually it’s a presumption that, like all other legal presumptions, can be rebutted by appropriate evidence. Therefore it’s not a mandate. And of course the divorcing parents can choose any other arrangement they desire. So the idea that this creates “mandatory” shared parenting is just plain false. Read the bill; it says what it means.
“There’s no imbalance in the system?” Huh? With barely 17% of fathers having primary custody in this country there’s no imbalance? Divorced fathers are, for the most part, entitled to see their children two days out of 14. That’s not an imbalance? And that’s of course if Mom allows it to happen at all, which she may not. That decision on her part is routinely ignored by family courts. That’s not an imbalance?
“As many disappointed women as men? Uh, no. If women had the same negative experiences in family courts that men do, why are they so eager to file for divorce? Why is it that 70% of divorce actions are filed by women? Come to think of it, we know why; as researchers Douglas Allen and Margaret Brinig informed us long ago, mothers file for divorce because they know they’ll get the kids. So how is it that Black figures they’re as disappointed in custody outcomes as men?
The answer is simple; he’s got no basis for saying what he did. He’s opposed to the bill because he’s got a yacht payment to make and he’s afraid passage of HF 322 will jeopardize his ability to do so.
It’s clear from statements like Black’s that the opposition to shared parenting has no justification. If they had good arguments, they’d make them. Opponents have been reduced to wild claims that no serious observer of family courts believes to be true.
As has always been the case, those who oppose change are obligated to make the case that the status quo is working. Today, Americans are faced with some very discomfiting facts about the way we do divorce and custody. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35% of children of divorced parents have no contact with their fathers. Opponents of shared parenting need to explain to us why that is not only acceptable, but so desireable that we should make no effort to improve matters.
For well over 20 years now, boys’ educational achievement has be dropping, and a recent study out of the University of Chicago strongly suggests why. It seems that single mothers shortchange their sons; they invest less time and nurturing in their sons than they do in their daughters. With millions of children losing their fathers to the whims of family judges, it comes as no surprise that boys are doing less and less well in schools. Again, opponents of fathers’ rights need to explain to the rest of us why society should accept those outcomes.
Tellingly, they don’t even try. How could they? No, the case in favor of equal parenting post divorce has been made; it overwhelms all arguments against it. So opponents of fathers’ rights to children and children’s rights to fathers have one thing to fall back on – naked power. They don’t have an argument, but they do have a stick. And when you’re talking about the power of the state bar association including the judges who rule on individual cases, all the moral suasion in the world might not be enough to pass HF 322, a bill that cries out for enactment.
So by all means, contact the following legislative leaders via email and then with a follow-up phone call.
Sen David Senjem (Majority Leader) 651-296-3903 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen Julianne Ortman (Deputy Majority Leader) 651-296-4837 email@example.com
Sen Warren Limmer (Chair, Senate Judiciary) 651.296.2159 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep Kurt Zellers (Speaker of the House) 651-296-5502 E-mail: email@example.com
Rep Matt Dean (Majority Leader) 651-296-3018 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep Mary Liz Holberg (Chair, Ways & Means) 651-296-6926 E-mail: email@example.com
Here’s Molly Olson’s message to you:
PASS THIS BILL (HF322/SF1402) in 2012 FOR THE CHILDREN – the presumption for joint physical custody and shared parenting is long overdue. Remind them this is and should be a non-partisan bill with bi-partisan support “for the people” – this should not be a bill “for the courts” or lawyers – this is “the peoples” legislature and this bill has been blocked for too many years by the courts and lawyers. It’s time to show the citizens of Minnesota the parties can work together and pass a bill for the CHILDREN. Remind them this will help kids maximize time with both parents who love them, and reduce conflict between the parents. Children want and need both parents. When the law is silent on this, the courts have legislated from the bench against equality for both fit parents. This is wrong and completely contrary to all social science research that says child do better with joint physical custody and shared parenting as equal as possible. Tell them citizens are watching and waiting.
· If you can, forward them any piece of supportive information – article, research document, anything that supports this cause – they are in abundance (check www.cpr-mn.org if you need ideas). BUT, don’t just attach the article, summarize the article for them, taking out the 1-2-3 KEY SUPPORTIVE QUOTES from the article and add them to your email. They don’t have any more time to read than you do.
· Get as many people as you know – family, friends, co-workers, etc to do the same.