January 20th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Here’s yet another excellent op-ed out of Nebraska (The Independent, 1/18/13). It’s about the many virtues of shared parenting and specifically a call to pass LB 22 that can be found here.
The writer, Ray Keiser, points out that family court rulings in custody cases not only are biased against fathers but are perceived as such by essentially everyone involved, especially the general public.
Voices for Children reports there were 3465 Nebraska divorces involving children during 2010. The mother received custody in 2156 (62.2%), the father received custody in 348 (10.0%) and joint custody was ordered in 876 (25.3%).
Other studies also suggest there is a strong pro-mother bias in family court, especially among older judges. According to a survey of judges in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, 36% of younger judges and 71% of older judges agreed that “mothers are the preferred custodian when children are under the age of 6,” while none of the younger judges and only 1% of the older judges agreed that fathers are the preferred custodian. Another study found that 44% of judges in Maryland, Missouri, Texas and Washington agreed that custody awards are made “based on the assumption that young children belong with their mothers,” and only 33% of judges believed that courts give fair consideration to fathers.
A 2010 survey of Arizona family law attorneys found that 60% thought that state’s legal system was biased in favor of mothers, and only 35% thought the system was not gender-biased. Views of bias did not differ between female and male attorneys or between attorneys whose clients are predominantly mothers or fathers. The same survey reported that the general public was even more likely to perceive a slant toward mothers (83%) with only 16% perceiving the legal system as unbiased. This is consistent with other studies that reported experienced divorce attorneys, female and male, believe the legal system is biased toward mothers.
Keiser is right when he says that child well-being is a public health issue. More and more, that’s coming to be the accepted way of seeing custody cases and the deleterious effects of father loss on children. And why not? After all, children’s health, particularly their mental health is clearly impaired by divorce and the marginalization or loss of their father. That’s something society has to deal with and so it’s clearly appropriate to describe the anti-father bias of family courts and the damage it does to children as a public health issue.
Here are some key provisions of LB 22.
The Legislature recognizes the potential profound effects on children who have minimal parenting time with either parent as well as its related public health consequences. The Legislature finds that maximized parenting time with each parent protects children from harm to the father-child relationship, from harm to the mother-child relationship and from harm due to parent conflict…
The Legislature recognizes that both parents and their children have a unique and legal interest in, and a constitutionally protected right to, companionship. The substantive due process right to family integrity protects not only the parent’s right to the companionship, care, custody and management of his or her child but also protects the child’s reciprocal right to be raised and nurtured by his or her biological parent. Both parents and their children have cognizable substantive due process rights to the parent-child relationship.
The Legislature further recognizes that the interest of parents in the care, custody and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests. It is the declared public policy of this state and the general purpose of the Parenting Act that, absent evidence to the contracy, it is in a child’s best interest to have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents and to have both parents participate in decisionmaking about the child…
Consistent with the child’s best interests, and absent evidence to the contrary, the court shall adopt a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decisionmaking regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time. The court shall not prefer a parent’s proposed plan because of the parent’s or child’s sex.
Those are vital concepts that LB 22 recites. We’ll follow the progress of the bill and support its passage. Currently, it’s just been assigned to the Judiciary Committee for hearings.