Saturday, March 27, 2010

ACFC March Update on shared Parenting Laws and Family Law Reform

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There is a significant bill moving in the Tennessee legislature which would assure parents equal time with their children in the event of divorce if the parents are unable to reach their own parenting plan agreement. 

Tennessee requires divorcing parents to submit a parenting plan to the court on filing of divorce, what's needed to 'close the circle' on the Tennessee statute is enactment of HB 2916.  

I recommend watching the legislative hearings on House Bill 2916, the video's are a real education.  Movement in Tennessee is the result of a team effort.  Hat's off to William Fain, Tony Gottlieb, Walter Brumit and Stanley Charles Thorne as well as the Hopkins family and many others for their efforts in moving this legislation forward.  USA Today carried a story on the bill earlier this week. 

We have created a page dedicated to tracking the bill, related news and hearing video's which is available here.  


The Illinois Family Law Study Committee continues meeting regularly and expects to submit its recommendations for modifying Illinois' divorce and custody statutes to the legislature by year end.  If you are an Illinois resident concerned about the future of family law in the state you should connect with Illinois Fathers at  We'll be calling on you soon to weigh in on this important discussion.  Custody laws typically only undergo significant changes every 10 - 20 years.  The current Illinois statute was enacted in 1977.  

One significant item being discussed is changing the Illinois child support model from a percent of obligor income methodology to income shares.  Illinois is one of only a handful of states still using percent of obligor income as its child support calculation method.  As the name implies only the non-custodial parents income is considered in calculating the support obligation.  

We witnessed a truly gratifying sight in the judiciary committee last month.  HB 925 and HB 950 are shared parenting bills being offered which would move the states custody laws in a significantly positive direction.  925 is being offered by a democrat sponsor while 950 is sponsored by a republican.  When it came time for the bills to be presented by their sponsors, both delegates sat down at the witness table TOGETHER and requested their bills be considered jointly.  

Friends, we have long maintained shared parenting rises above political lines and should be supported regardless of party affiliation.  It was impressive to see the spirit of bipartisanship embraced when both a republican and democrat sat side-by-side and endorsed each others bills for the sake and benefit of our children.  We applaud and thank Democrat delegate Jill Carter and Republican Tony McConkey for recognizing the basic inequality that exists in our family courts and having the courage to take a stand. 

These bills have a long way to go to become law.  As reported in an earlier newsletter Maryland is trying to increase Child Support guideline amounts approximately 30% for the average payer.  Maryland's legislature is controlled by democrats.  Delegate Carter has been attempting to amend her Shared Parenting bill (925) to the child support bill.  She has indicated she considers shared parenting a basic issue of civil rights and has promised to bring the bill every year until it passes.

There is activity going on across the nation for shared parenting.  ACFC has been working continously with our affiliates, volunteers, professional and citizen lobbyists, law makers and their staffs.  As your representative I have presented testimony on all the bills mentioned in this newsletter.  Additionally, ACFC has been providing educational support material to decision makers on the importance of two parent involvement in child development.  We'll report further in an upcoming newsletter.

'The Liberator' should be in your mailbox late next week.  It has been printed and will mail later today.  Our managing editor Kelley Dupuis has put together another great edition.  If you are not receiving 'The Liberator' quarterly you're only getting half the family law reform picture.  You'll be fully in the loop when you join ACFC.  Your membership dues include a one year subscription to the paper.  

We hope you enjoy and are encouraged by the information you read here today.  We want to work with you to bring about change.  The  ACFC website has a tremendous number of resources to assist you.  Please help get the word out by reposting this newsletter on your webpages and blogs.  Please help continue these and other efforts by making a contribution to ACFC.  We appreciate you.

Mike McCormick, Exec. Dir.

        PS use the 'Tell A Friend' link below to forward this message to others interested in family law reform efforts.

ACFC Washington Office 1718 M St. NW. #187 Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: 800-978-3237 Email:

Tennessee moves to split custody evenly in messy divorces

This is another clear sign more sanity is gaining a foothold in legislatures in different jurisdictions around the world. For more links visit the Fathers & Families page here. 
Eric Kyle, a divorced father of two 
children, would like to spend 
more time parenting.

By Mandy Lunn, The (Nashville) Tennessean Eric Kyle, a divorced father of two 
children, would like to spend more time parenting.

A Tennessee bill that would evenly split child custody in contentious divorce cases is drawing national attention and dividing groups along gender lines.

On one side is an alliance of women's groups, some judges and the Tennessee Bar Association, who say the change would make divorces tougher to settle and give abusive ex-husbands leverage they shouldn't have. Spending half of the time with each parent would also impose impractical schedules on kids, they say.

On the other side are fathers' rights groups who say kids get deprived of full relationships with both parents. Courts have too long ignored laws calling for custody decisions to be made in children's best interests, they say, and judges are overly influenced by notions about the mother-child bond.

The state's House Children and Family Affairs' Family Justice Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today to review divorce-related data it requested from the Tennessee Bar Association, as it works to determine whether to send the bill to a second committee that could send it to the full House.

Other states, including Missouri, start from a presumption of an even custodial split unless there has been abuse, said Janet Richards, a law professor at the University of Memphis who specializes in child custody matters. Tennessee would be alone in requiring clear, convincing evidence that one parent is unfit before dividing custody unequally, she said.

"This law sets up a standard of proof that's just short of the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt," Richards said.

Committee hearings on the bill have drawn standing-room-only crowds full of mothers wearing saucer-size lapel stickers that read "Vote no on HB 2916" and fathers wearing everything from military fatigues to business suits.

Right now, parents divorcing in Tennessee — or unmarried parents trying to work out custody arrangements — are urged to work out a plan with a mediator. Under the pending bill, courts automatically would divide children's time equally between moms and dads who are unable to agree unless one parent can prove the other utterly unfit.

The way Eric Kyle sees it, he hasn't been able to properly father his children since his 2005 divorce.
Kyle, who lives in Davidson County, Tenn., wanted his son and daughter to split their time equally between him and his ex-wife, who lives in Williamson County, Tenn. But when Kyle sought an attorney willing to try to negotiate that kind of arrangement, one after another told him the same thing.
"You either have to dirty up your ex and do whatever you have to to get full custody, or you accept what I understand is a pretty standard 80-20 time split," he said. "Of course, it's dads that get the children 20% of the time, in most cases."

Rep. Mike Bell, a Republican and the bill's key sponsor, said he introduced the bills after constituents' complaints and hopes it might encourage more parents to reconsider divorce.

"It's a concern that children are being deprived of one parent or another in most cases in a custody battle," said Bell, who has been married 25 years and has five children.

Opponents want to scare the public with claims about children being shuttled back and forth and attending multiple schools, said Mike McCormick, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Coalition for Fathers and Children.

"I say — with the recognition that there is nothing like (this bill) in the country — all it would actually do is require parents to be on equal footing in courts of law," McCormick said. The bill ignores the problems some families have, said Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Some parents divorce after years of the kind of controlling, domineering or even violent behavior by one party that doesn't go away just because the relationship ends, Walsh said.
She said the bill could prompt victims to stay with their abusers so they don't have to leave their kids alone with the other parent.

Monica Gimbles said she doesn't think the bill is realistic. She is in the process of finding an attorney to work out custody arrangements for her 5-year-old daughter with her onetime fiancé.

"This is the kind of idea that people come up with when they haven't ever actually taken care of a child, a small child that needs a lot of care and takes a lot of time," Gimbles said. "It just makes the child's life topsy-turvy."

Agony of the frozen-out fathers

A very rare look at the state of family law in the U.K. and almost supportive of dads left out on the margins.  The author thinks dads in Batman costumes are extremists. That's an interesting commentary on peaceful demonstrators taking direct action against what she now perceives as grossly unfair.  If dads protesting peacefully are extremists what then are Tamils taking over cities and disrupting life, students at the University of Ottawa (substitute Obsequiousness for Ottawa) denying Ann Coulter free speech through intimidation and damage, and better yet terrorists blowing up tube stations.

Could the BBC series discussed in the column be a history making or changing program? We'll need to wait and see but it sounds hopeful. MJM



A new BBC series explores the reasons why fathers lose touch with their children post-separation. Cassandra Jardine investigates.

Watching a preview of next week’s BBC series Who Needs Fathers?, I felt ashamed to be a woman. The men on the programme appeared to be loving, attentive fathers – not extremists in Batman costumes. All they wanted was to play their part in the upbringing of their children. But, at every turn, it seemed, vengeful, short-sighted women were selfishly trying to thwart them.

These mothers cancelled contact arrangements, scuppered telephone calls, made false allegations of abuse, and prevented the men taking their children on holiday. “Honestly, I feel like throwing in the towel,” said one tearful father, who sat in his car outside his ex’s front door, waiting in vain for the children to come out. Only an emergency court order won him the day.
Not only did these women want total control of the children – believing their love was enough – they also expected their exes to keep them in the style to which they had become accustomed, while the men lived in cramped bedsits. When one man finally manages to remortgage his own home to keep a working mother in hers, her response is: “OK, so I can book a holiday.”

The programmes not only seek to explain why 40 per cent of fathers lose touch with their children within two years of divorce – the figure is likely to be even higher when unmarried parents separate – but also why this matters. Looking at the confused faces of children being fought over by parents like favourite toys, it was not difficult to imagine what might happen when they grew into teenagers, unsure about their loyalties and identities. Indeed, in the third programme, we see fatherless teenagers behaving appallingly.

The prospects for children who don’t see their fathers are bleak, according to a Unicef report in 2007. Educationally, they do less well. They are more likely to get in trouble with the police, and to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also find it more difficult to form relationships. If Broken Britain – that over-used moral call to arms – has roots, they lie in broken homes.

A third of children are now growing up without parents living under the same roof. Each of the 150,000 to 200,000 separations per year is a source of sadness for the children involved, children who yearn – however unrealistically – for mummy and daddy to live together happily ever after. But those partings can be handled more or less well. “The emotionally healthy 18 year-olds,” says Judge Nicholas Crichton, who works in the family courts, “are those who can say, 'Whatever happened between my parents, I knew I was loved and that I was free to love both parents without feeling guilty.’?”

Too few children are growing up with that balance. Ninety three per cent of children live with their mother after a separation, and half then lose touch with the non-resident parent. That’s a tragedy not only for the fathers, but for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who would otherwise provide a support network for those children.

Acrimony is unavoidable when relationships end, but some couples, such as Chris and Angela in the first programme, succeed in suppressing their irritation with one another for the sake of their children. Why then do so many children lose a parent to this game of bitterness and revenge?

“Henry” (not his real name), who is seen in the second programme, tells me he blames a court system that is biased against fathers, as well as being expensive, slow and ineffectual. When his daughter was born, Henry wanted to be involved, even though he had subsequently married. In return for maintenance, he saw his daughter alternate weekends and took her on holiday. “She was a massive part of my life,” he says. “Then her mother decided to live abroad.”

He fought the move but, as in 99 per cent of cases, the mother won in court. “All a woman has to say is that refusal will psychologically damage her. There’s a view that whatever is in the mother’s interests is also in the child’s interests, even though nine out of 10 non-resident parents then lose touch.”

Henry did not wish to be one of them, but despite a “mirror order” giving him visiting rights and regular contact, he has had to fight for every glimpse and chat, at a cost of £70,000, putting considerable strain on his marriage. “When we meet it’s wonderful, but it’s hard to slot into a role if you haven’t seen a child regularly.”

During the whole court process he felt “like the puppet in the hands of a puppeteer”. He says: “I can understand why mothers use whatever power is at their disposal, but there was an imbalance.” Many fathers feel the same. “In order to be considered equal, you have to be twice as good,” says Simon Ramet, who has fought for half his child’s time.

“The courts are still stuck in a 1950s paradigm of mothers doing the caring, and fathers doing the earning,” says John Davies, chief executive of Families Need Fathers.

Women are also more likely to get legal aid than fathers, who have to weigh up the cost of pursuing a case against the fear that the longer they go without seeing a child, the weaker their case for maintaining contact becomes. “As few parents with young children can afford it, access to the law often depends on having wealthy parents. It tends to be a middle-class privilege,” says Sara Feilden, producer for Films of Record, who made the BBC series.

Despite fears that speaking out will harm participants’ contact arrangements, Fielden is glad to have found the brief window of opportunity in which to tell their stories. Last year, it became legal to report on the family courts, but a Bill is going through Parliament that would make it impossible, once again, to film people who have been involved in family legal disputes. “It’s unlikely that we would ever again be able to make a programme about this important issue,” she says.

The men filmed are eager to highlight the shortcomings of an overburdened legal system. Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), which appoints guardians to represent the child’s interests, is so stretched that it can take nine months to produce a report. When allegations of misconduct are made, contact is rightly refused until they have been investigated. But sometimes they are purely vexatious.

Families Need Fathers is fighting for a number of changes on behalf of all non-resident parents, mothers as well as fathers. These include publication of judgments so parents know what to expect (and may therefore avoid court), sanctions for those who make false allegations, and financial recognition that non-resident parents also have to maintain a home suitable for their children to visit.

The current system finds favour with few, least of all those whose lives are dominated by endless hearings and court orders. “You should be reasonable when splitting up,” says Juliette Thomas, who was brave enough to defend on air her reluctance to allow Alex, her ex, his share of their four sons’ time: she claimed lack of clarity in his plans. Unable to agree, the court process has made the gulf between them wider and Alex resentful.

Family breakdown is not unique to the UK, but some countries seem to handle it better. In Australia, an assumption of shared parenting was introduced four years ago, backed up by family centres where separating couples could be given information and counselling on sharing their children. More children are now staying in contact with both parents as a result.

Dr Mandy Bryon, chief psychologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, tells parents: “Whether you like it or not, you will remain in a relationship with one another as parents of your children.” To prepare for that, she believes couples need to acknowledge the errors in thinking that occur when people are angry and upset, and to anticipate the problems that cause flare- ups – late delivery back, changes of plans, and so on.

“If parents are living together and a child comes back from a visit to the park with the father in tears, the mother will try to reassure both parties. If they are separated she will say, 'Never again.’ The father might ask the child not to tell Mummy. Then, when the child blurts out what Daddy said, the mother thinks something sinister is going on.”

Judge Crichton already sends many parents on courses to learn about sharing. If we adopted a system similar to the Australian one, that would be compulsory before a couple go to court. “A good thing too,” he says, “as the courts are not the best place to sort these matters out.”

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have reviewed the family-law system. Henry Bellingham, shadow justice minister, talks of introducing automatic shared contact, if the Conservatives are elected, and using Sue Start centres for counselling. Looking at the worried eyes of children caught up in disputes that they don’t understand, change can’t come too soon.

'Who Needs Fathers’ starts on BBC Two at 9pm next Wednesday.