Minnesota: Fit Father Shoved to the Sidelines

May 16, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s a balanced and informative article on the push for shared parenting in Minnesota (KARE11, 5/14/19).  NPO’s good friend, the redoubtable Molly Olson has been battling the state legislature on behalf of shared parenting for well over a decade now, so it’s good to see her getting a bit of a boost from the press.

The article starts with Scott Vogel and his donnybrook in family court.

Unable to agree on a schedule for the kids, Vogel took their case to court where he has spent three years and more than $150,000 hoping a judge will award him equal parenting time.

Needless to say, it’s utterly unconscionable that a child custody case should take that long or cost that much.  Perhaps the main reason it so often does is that one parent wins and the other parent loses.  One parent ends up with the kids 80% of the time and the other gets the remaining 20%, usually every other weekend, some extra time during holidays and maybe a month during the summer.  A presumption of shared parenting would mean that neither parent wins or loses, that each would maintain real, meaningful relationships with their children post-divorce.  So there’d be less need to fight, resulting in fewer court appearances and therefore drastically lower attorneys’ fees.  So what did all that time, money and heartache achieve for Vogel?

“I have four nights a month with my son and two nights a month with my daughter,” said Vogel.

But surely, that must mean Vogel’s a problematic parent, right?  Well, no.

In a court ordered custody and parenting time evaluation, the evaluator found no issues with physical, mental or chemical health from either parent and found both parties “willing and highly capable of providing care for the children.”

So why was Vogel relegated to about 14% of the parenting time?

Yet, the evaluator recommended giving Vogel his son 34% of the time and his daughter 25% of the time without explaining the reason for the schedule. 

In other words, the well-established pro-mother/anti-father bias of family courts is alive and well, at least in the court Vogel finds himself in.  The judge has yet to decide the matter finally, but has the evaluator’s report and recommendations.

Fathers have had a remarkably hard time cracking the family court system that routinely sidelines them in the lives of their children.  Back in the late 90s, they thought they’d had a breakthrough when they were successful at amending state laws to include laundry lists of considerations judges were required to weigh before deciding custody and parenting time.  Surely, the thinking went at the time, when all those factors were considered and both fathers and mothers came out well enough, judges would conclude the obvious – that equal or near-equal parenting time was appropriate.  Minnesota was one such state.

There are 12 factors evaluators must look at in determining what’s in the best interest for the child.

However, according to one of the only studies of its kind in Minnesota looking at divorce cases from seven counties, the average parenting time for dads was 36 percent.

In fact what judges tend strongly to do is to weigh the various factors and, if one parent comes out slightly ahead, then that’s the parent who gets sole or primary custody.  So, if 11 of the Minnesota factors end in a tie between Mom and Dad and one weighs slightly in Mom’s favor, then the kids lose a meaningful relationship with Dad.  Make sense? It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but that’s the way it is.  When it comes to custody and parenting time decisions, judicial discretion has a way of meaning kids lose their fathers.  One-third of the children of divorce in this country have little or no contact with their fathers.

I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.

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