UK Family Law Reform

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Shared Parenting Legislation Submitted in Nebraska
By Ray Keiser, Member, Fathers and Families

There’s a widespread belief that our family law system is biased and unfair to fathers. Almost everyone has heard at least one story about a good, involved father who, through no fault of his own, now sees his children only every-other-weekend — just two days every two weeks. Are these stories typical or outliers?

Voices for Children reports there were 3,465 Nebraska divorces involving children during 2010. The mother received custody in 2,156 cases (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.

Any perception of judicial bias is troubling. However, it’s even worse in these cases because these decisions have long-term health consequences to children.

Children of divorce who don’t have enough contact with both parents have greater risk of many mental and physical health issues. In particular, they are more likely to be depressed, use drugs and alcohol, have discipline and delinquency issues, and have higher risk of suicide and early death. They also tend to be less able to concentrate, to be aggressive but not assertive, and have less empathy. This is especially true where children see one parent less than 35% of the time.

This problem can affect all of us. Adam Lanza, the Connecticut school shooter, is reported to have begun his downward slide when divorce separated him from his father.

A reform bill, LB 22, is now pending before Nebraska’s Unicameral. Under this bill, parents are always free to adopt whatever parenting plan works best for them. However, if they are unable to agree, judges are directed to adopt a parenting plan that provides for parents to share legal decision making regarding their child and maximizes their respective parenting time.

It’s well known that children need their fathers to thrive. Unfortunately, family court often tears children from their fathers. LB 22 is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

The first step is to get the bill out of committee to the floor. It is set for public hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 1:30 p.m. LB22 needs overwhelming public support to encourage the Judiciary Committee to pass it along and "allow it out" of committee. Otherwise, the bill dies and is never called for a vote by the legislature. People who wish to speak in support of these bills are given three minutes each.

Comments can also be submitted to the Judiciary Committee in writing to the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Brad Ashford. Send this email asking the Judiciary committee to allow LB22 out of committee. One click, fill in your name and contact information, and hit send.

If you live in Nebraska and wish to get more involved, please email Rita Fuerst Adams.

Shared Parenting Legislation Submitted in Hawaii

By Rita Fuerst Adams, National Executive Director, Fathers and Families

Chris Lethem

Chris Lethem, a Fathers and Families member, has introduced three pieces of legislation in Hawaii: shared parenting, HB477; child support guidelines, HB188; and grandparent’s visitation, HB172.

HB477 provides that in awarding custody and visitation of a minor child, the court shall award custody to both parents to ensure maximum continuing physical, emotional, and meaningful contact with both parents.

HB188 repeals the requirement for a noncustodial parent to continue child support payments beyond a child’s nineteenth birthday when the child is pursuing a post-secondary education.

HB172 provides factors the court shall consider when ruling on a petition for child visitation by the grandparent.

All three bills are in the Judiciary Committee. Help Chris get these three bills out of committee and heard by the legislature. Send this email to Karl Rhoads, Chair, and/or Sharon E. Har, Sharon E. Har, Vice Chair, asking the Judiciary Committee to “calendar” these bills. One click, fill in your name and contact information, and hit send.

Chris Lethem has served for several years on a special legislative task force that discusses family law issues and challenges and recommends improvements for our children. Help Chris get these bills out of committee and heard by the legislature.

If you live in Hawaii and wish to get more involved, please email Rita Fuerst Adams

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