Iowa Joint Custody Bill Faces Rough Sledding

Here at Fathers and Families, we advocate for equally shared parenting in case of divorce or separation.  To us and to countless advocates for family court reform, that just makes sense.  Equal parenting would help keep fathers in children’s lives; it would free mothers to earn more, save more and advance more in their occupations and careers.  And of course it would cushion the blow of divorce on children by maintaining their relationships with both parents.

What’s not to like?

Well, people come up with all sorts of reasons to not like equal parenting even though many of those “reasons” sound more like excuses.

The tried and true one of course is domestic violence.  Somehow, the anti-male, anti-dad crowd has convinced a lot of people that fathers are uniquely dangerous to children.  Put a kid in a dad’s hands and look out; the tyke is in mortal peril.

Of course some dads do harm children, but twice as many mothers do.  Eight years of data compiled by the Deparment of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families from state child welfare agencies show the same thing every year – mothers do twice the abuse and neglect of children that dads do.  Twice as much, every year.

You’d think that would matter; you’d think that when the anti-dad crowd raises the specter of dads harming children, the media, politicians, etc. would raise the obvious point that children may well be safer with fathers than with mothers.  But they don’t.

DV is now a kind of trump card.  Just toss it down on the table and you win the hand, irrespective of what the other person is holding.  And it’s gained that status because people allow it.  A certain willful ignorance pervades discussion of the issue.

And speaking of willful ignorance, check out some of the quotations in this article (Examiner, 3/24/11). 

It seems there’s a bill before the Iowa state Senate to that would establish a presumption of joint custody in divorce cases.  Whether the word ‘joint’ means ‘equal,’ I don’t know.  I suspect it doesn’t. 

But whatever the case, the bill handily passed the Iowa House and now is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It’s prospects don’t look good. 

That’s in part because the senator who’s been assigned to floor manage the bill appears to know nothing about the facts of divorce and to be hostile to the concept of fathers and their parental rights.  Here’s Senator Gene Fraise on House File 345:

“There”s no easy solutions to figure out where we want to be,’ Fraise said. “You don”t want to take the judge”s discretion away to say this person should have the children. It”s kind of a no-win deal. My greatest desire is, don”t get a divorce. Stay with the kids. When you do that, you create a lot of emotional problems for the kids. Most kids adjust to it, some don”t. Then we have to deal with those disturbed kids down the road. There”s just no easy answer.’

Fraise said he”s getting emails from men advocating for the bill, which would give divorced fathers more time with their kids rather than what joint legal custody with visitation rights currently provides.

“They seem to think they are discriminated against, but why did they get into that situation? I don”t know. Maybe not a good husband, not a good father,’ Fraise said. “Irregardless of which way we go, there”s going to be unhappy people.’

His reaction to a child custody bill is “don’t get a divorce.”  Well, as I’ve said many times, divorce is bad for kids and should be avoided if at all possible.  But of course divorces do happen and so Iowa needs to deal with that.  Fraise’s plaint is silly.

Then there’s the “don’t take away the judge’s discretion” argument which the bill plainly doesn’t do.  Does Fraise really not understand the concept of a legal presumption?  It’s really simple; it just means that if the party opposing the presumption doesn’t produce evidence to rebut it, or not enough evidence, then the presumption stands.

So, as we all know, there’s a presumption of innocence in criminal court.  That in no way ties the judge’s hands; it just means that the prosecution has to prove its case.  Would Fraise do away with that presumption too?

By far the worst though is the notion that dads don’t get custody because they’re bad husbands and fathers.  No, actually they get divorced because their wives know that they’ll get the kids and it’s wives who file 70% of divorce cases.  That’s the clear finding of a large amount of social science of which Fraise seems blissfully unaware.

He’s also unaware of the social science that shows that courts prefer maternal custody not because it’s in children’s best interests, but in spite of it.  Canadian researcher Paul Millar has found that there is no correlation between child outcomes and maternal custody and that there’s some correlation between good outcomes and paternal custody.

As to discrimination claimed by all the dads who’ve been emailing him, how does Fraise explain 83% maternal custody in this country?  That’s currently over 13 million non-custodial dads in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau.  They’re all bad fathers and husbands and none of the mothers are?

No, there’s a much simpler explanation for officeholders like Fraise hiding behind any excuse that comes to hand for refusing to do the obviously right thing – they pay no price for their behavior.

At some point the movement for fathers’ rights and family court reform will start bringing our weight to bear on these politicians who spout nonsense like Fraise’s.  Let just a few of them find themselves looking for other work and we’ll start to see sensible changes in state laws.

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