Fathers and Families and our allies recently introduced a wide-ranging package of California bills which include child custody reform, child support reform, protection from family court financial abuses, and others. Our lobbying team has spent many months laying the groundwork for these bills, and we are confident of their passage.
California legislation is widely recognized to have an enormous impact on other states and the federal government. California ushered in the era of no fault divorce in 1969, and many of the draconian domestic violence laws common throughout the US were first passed in California in the mid-1990s. The military parent/child custody legislation we passed in California in 2005 has led to the passage of similar legislation in over two dozen states. California losses are national losses–our California victories on this legislation will be national victories.
Effective legislative advocacy goes far beyond passing bills–it also is important to defeat or amend bad legislation. For example, last year Fathers and Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson helped build a professional coalition to scuttle AB 612, a bill that would have banned target parents of Parental Alienation from raising PA as an issue in their cases. In 2004 and 2006, we helped defeat bills that would have allowed custodial parents free rein to move children far away from their noncustodial parents.
F & F is the only family court reform organization in the country with a fulltime lobbyist (as well as an associate) working within the capitol of a major state. Fathers and Families is currently tracking 77 different pieces of family law-related legislation in the California legislature. So far, in part because of our strong Sacramento presence, none of the new bills introduced are particularly harmful. However, this can change at any time–one of the reasons family law has become so unfair is that our movement wasn’t able to effectively monitor and defeat/amend hostile legislation. We have that capability now.
Our new legislation and related efforts are detailed below. This large-scale legislative effort costs and will continue to cost money–give to fund this important work by clicking here. One very affordable way to help is to make a monthly gift–to do so, click here and enter an amount under “monthly contribution.”
Together with you in the love of our children,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers and Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers and Families
Child Custody Reform
AB 2416 (Cook): There are two elements of this bill:
1) At Fathers & Families we receive many letters from military parents grappling with serious and painful family law problems. One of the most common complaints is that when deployed soldiers call their children at the court-specified time, nobody ever picks up.Letters are written, but they never reach the children.
Needless to say, it is extremely difficult for a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan to effectively overcome this visitation interference. Given the length and frequency of current deployments, many soldiers lose all contact and sometimes even their relationships with their children, particularly if the children are young.
Fathers & Families has worked with the American Retirees Association, Assemblyman Paul Cook, and others on AB 2416 to remedy this problem. AB 2416 authorizes courts to issue orders granting grandparents, stepparents and extended families the ability to exercise a deployed soldier’s normal parenting time. By encouraging courts to issue such orders, we allow children to preserve their loving bonds with their deployed parents, and also protect the important relationships children share with their grandparents, stepparents, and other extended family. The bill will substantially reduce the current problem of deployed servicemembers being unable to enforce visitation/contact orders.
In addition, AB 2416 creates a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders will revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children’s lives, and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate their case.
Take a moment to watch deployed sailor Bill Hawes’ tearful reunion with his little son here and little Siri Jordan’s reunion with her divorced father Dan Jordan here—AB 2416 will help protect precious relationships like these.
Child Support Reform
SB 578 (Wright): At Fathers & Families we’re inundated with calls and letters from dads struggling with child support problems, and this has been particularly true during the recession. Currently the interest rate on child support in California is a whopping 10%, and at least a third of California’s staggering $14.4 billion child support debt is interest. Particularly in the recession, this interest saddles hard-luck child support obligors with huge paper arrearages they can’t possibly pay. This sets them up for abusive enforcement action or drives them underground, making it difficult for them to function as parents for their children.
Fathers & Families is working publicly and behind the scenes to resolve this problem. Democratic State Senator Rod Wright’s SB 578 is one component of that work. Currently child support obligors who do manage to make their monthly child support obligations still fall behind because interest keeps accruing on their arrearages. Under SB 578, the Department of Child Support Services cannot charge a child support obligor any interest in any month where they have made their normal monthly payment–an important bread and butter reform for many child support obligors.
SB 580 (Wright): SB 580 will ensure that noncustodial parents aren”t saddled with an unreasonably high percentage of their children”s medical care costs.
Participation in the Department of Child Support Services’ Programs Workgroup
Fathers & Families’ Robinson is a member of the Department of Child Support Services Programs Workgroup–the only member of an advocacy group to hold such a position. Fathers & Families has also been invited to participate in the California Administrative Office of the Courts’ Child Support Guideline Focus Group, which is reviewing the “fairness, appropriateness, and comprehensibility of the California Statewide Uniform Child Support Guideline.”
The Groundbreaking COAP Program
Fathers & Families’ Robinson has been at the forefront of child support reform, including working with Wright and California DCSS on the groundbreaking COAP program, which allows parents who are unfairly saddled with inflated, unpayable child support arrearages to settle them for modest cash payments. We are currently involved in efforts to expand the COAP program and simplify the application and approval process.
Protection from Family Court Financial Abuses
SB 1355 (Wright): A recent Department of Justice study on reducing prisoner recidivism focuses on an important but little-mentioned problem child support obligors face–the crushing child support debts which accrue while they were behind bars. Since interest accrues rapidly, many former prisoners struggle under a staggering debt they will never pay off. Some return to jail because of nonpayment of child support. Others are re-incarcerated after turning to illegal activity to support themselves, because at low wage lawful jobs, 50% or more of their paychecks are garnished to pay the debt.
These debts often make it impossible for ex-offenders–many of whom are young fathers who were incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses–to play a meaningful role in their children”s lives. And prisoners pay for their crimes with their time behind bars–these debts often amount to a punishment artificially extended beyond their sentences.
SB 1355 will address this problem by mandating that “the obligation of a person ordered to pay child support is suspended for the period of time in which the person ordered to pay support is incarcerated or institutionalized.” It’s a common-sense solution in an area where common sense is often lacking.
HB 2348 (Arizona): Although federal law is clear, judges are often ignoring it and calculating veterans” disability compensation into divorce settlements as a divisible asset. Very often these payments are the only assets a veteran has. When judges include it as income, it creates great hardship for those veterans, who rarely have the resources to hire legal help to contest the taking of their benefits.
Last year Robinson successfully worked to pass California SB 285 (Wright) which protected disabled veterans’ VA disability compensation, and has worked with advocates and legislators from several other states on similar legislation. One of the first of these is Arizona HB 2348. F & F did an Action Alert in support of the bill in January. The bill has now passed both the Arizona House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee and the Rules Committee and is being fast-tracked to the Arizona House floor for a full vote.
HB 1165 (Indiana): A military parent bill also modeled on SB 285, Indiana’s HB 1165 is moving rapidly through the Indiana legislature and is expected to be signed by Governor Mitch Daniels within the next few weeks.
Other Fathers & Families’ Family Court Reform Legislative Projects
The Elkins Family Law Task Force
The Elkins Family Law Task Force is conducting a comprehensive review of family law proceedings and will recommend to the Judicial Council of California proposals that increase access to justice for all family law litigants. The Task Force recently issued its draft recommendations and Fathers & Families submitted our official comments in response here. Robinson appeared at the Task Force”s February meeting at the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco–his statement to the Task Force is here.
Federal Legislation to Protect Military Parents
Fathers and Families and its legislative representative Michael Robinson have also helped pass federal legislation to protect military parents. In 2007 Robinson worked closely with Ohio Congressman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) on Turner’s efforts to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in the National Defense Reauthorization Act (HR 1585) and (HR 4986). Through these efforts, family court and child custody proceedings were specifically added to the SCRA via HR 4986, which was signed by President Bush.
Turner continued his efforts in 2008, and the resulting National Defense Reauthorization Act (HR 2647) mandated that the Secretary of Defense produce a report on child custody litigation involving members of the Armed Forces, as well as international intrafamilial abductions of servicemembers” children. HR 2647 was signed by President Obama in October, 2009–to see these provisions, click here.