Female family lawyers meeting

Confessions of a Family Law Reform Activist

When I graduated from law school in 1987, the Parenting Act had just been passed by the Washington State Legislature. I began practicing family law shortly thereafter, under the new law. The Parenting Act introduced a comprehensive new way to address disputes between divorcing parents over their children. It replaced the terms “custody” and “visitation” with a detailed “parenting plan” addressing residential time, decision-making and dispute resolution. The Parenting Act was supposed to be the end of custody battles between parents. They were supposed to work things out, for the best interests of their children.

Well, apparently, a whole lot of divorcing parents didn’t get the memo. Within a few years of beginning practice, I had been involved in numerous custody battles. Not just disagreements between spouses, but knock-down, drag-out custody wars with all the trappings: allegations of child abuse, neglect, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental problems, and that 800-pound gorilla of them all: domestic violence.

Virtually every time I represented a father in a parenting case, he was accused of abuse. I began to anticipate the dreaded “crimes list,” that litany of alleged wrongs committed by my client against the wife and children, beginning with “he kicked me in the stomach while I was pregnant” (15 years ago) culminating with “his abuse is escalating,” “I’m fearful for my safety,” and of course, “he’s inappropriately touching the children.” It’s as though these allegations were produced by the same scriptwriter, since so many of the buzzwords were repeated over and over.

As I would learn later, they often were produced by the same writers, the “battered women’s advocates,” who appeared to be taking a few extreme cases of domestic violence and applying them across the board. Men who physically battered their wives started by verbally battering them, so in their twisted logic, every man who verbally “abused” his spouse necessarily must be physically battering her too. Women who wanted an easy way of out a marriage, and to assure custody of the children, eagerly signed up for “victim’s benefits.” All the woman had to do was say she was abused, and the domestic violence advocates eagerly welcomed a new customer. Never mind that the wife was playing fast and loose with the real facts: she was routinely abusing the husband and children, had mental or substance abuse issues, and/or was having affairs with everyone from the milkman to the soccer coach.

It became clear to me that the Parenting Act had been hijacked by the domestic violence industry. The good intentions of the Act’s progenitors had been overcome by single-issue extremists. Every factor determining the children’s residential time with each parent could be trumped by one nearly irrefutable claim: domestic violence. And even if domestic violence were not determinative, fathers were still losing. The Parenting Act, although written in gender-neutral terms, was usually being interpreted to favor mothers receiving primary residential care, even when both parents were substantially equally involved in parenting.

After several years of custody battles and beat-dead dads as clients, I decided I had to do something. In 1998, I co-founded a reform group called TABS: Taking Action against Bias in the System. TABS’ goals were to eliminate gender bias in the family law and domestic violence system, promote shared parenting rights and responsibilities, and reduce the incidence of ugly divorce and custody battles.

Over the past few years, we have supported shared parenting and friendly parenting bills in the state legislature. Shared parenting provided that each parent was presumptively entitled to at least one-third of the residential time with the children. In the eyes of the reformists, this would avoid many of the battles over residential time by ensuring a substantial amount of time was afforded to the “non-primary residential” parent.

Friendly parent would add a factor in determining residential placement of the children. So long as limiting factors (such as child abuse, neglect, mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence) were not determinative of the schedule, the court was required to also consider “which parent is more likely to allow and encourage the child frequent and continuing contact with the other parent.”

Essentially, the concept is that all other factors being equal, placing the children with the parent most likely to foster the children’s relationship with the other parent ensures that the children benefit from healthy post-divorce relationships with both parents. The 1999 Washington State Parenting Act Study, by Dr. Diane Lye, concluded that no particular post-divorce residential schedule was best for children, but that high parental conflict was the number one detriment. Friendly parent was promoted to encourage parental cooperation and cut down on the custody wars so often fought by divorcing parents, replete with false allegations of abuse, game-playing and dirty tricks.

Several friendly parent bills have been introduced, and different versions have passed almost unanimously by both the House and Senate. But despite being a reasonable bipartisan reform, politics has prevented it from passing both houses in the same legislative session. Some opponents of the bill portrayed it as the coming of the apocalypse. They claimed it was a stealth weapon to be used against, you guessed it, domestic violence victims, who would be forced to share parenting time with their abusers. Thanks to a few brave legislators who stood up against the domestic violence perpetrator lobby, the Parenting Act was saved from defilement.

Other opponents claimed friendly parent would actually increase conflict between divorcing parents, resulting in parental one-upmanship, to see who could be the “friendliest” parent. With as much conflict as the system has already, why it would be bad for parents to compete over who could be the nicest, I could never figure out. One famous anecdote used against friendly parent was a mother who was judged to be “unfriendly” because she would not let her child go see the father immediately after the child had heart surgery. If the mother had a statement from the child’s doctor recommending he not go anywhere, I can’t understand how she could have been faulted.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Parenting Act

Over the last six years, I have spent hundreds of hours working on family law reform issues, meeting with legislators, testifying at committee hearings, writing letters and articles, organizing events, talking to and assisting people, many on a pro bono basis. Both on a system and individual level, we have had some successes.

But, looking back at our efforts over the past few years, I now realize that I was naive, misdirected, and even manipulated, by the so-called family law reform movement that I so eagerly embraced.

“Family Law Reform” is just a thinly-disguised front for the Father’s Rights Movement. I was duped into supporting this radical agenda by greedy, controlling fathers who just wanted out of child support payments, and to further abuse their victims.

I now see the error of my ways. I now see the fraud that is friendly parent. It’s not about the best interests of the children, it’s about selfishness and greed. If passed into law, it will require thousands of mothers of children with heart defects to be forced to send their deathly ill children to visit their insensitive fathers. Not to mention their no-good, child-abusing, domestic violence-perpetrating, non-support paying deadbeat sorry-excuse for a parent.

“Shared parenting” is really just a code-word for no child support. Fathers demand more time with the children only to get residential time credits, plummeting their child support payments from $800.00 per month to $49.95. Then they palm off the children, and all the costs, on the mother. Fathers complain that the child support table does not credit them for any direct financial contribution towards the children even when they have 25 per cent of the time. However, this argument lacks any factual basis in most cases. Since when does it cost anything to live in a van down by the river?

Numerous studies, interviewing both men and women, have concluded that men still don’t equally share household and childcare duties. Toilet-plunging, gutter-cleaning, and spider-killing and carcass disposal, while essential household tasks, are not listed parenting functions under the Parenting Act. Oh, men may do a few things here and there, but generally they’re just useful idiots, waiting for step-by-step instructions from their wives on how to do the most basic things. They’re barely able to follow their wife’s grocery list. Dads may take the kids to daycare, but it is the mom who researches, chooses and monitors the provider. If it weren’t for mom’s meticulous attention to every detail, dad would have the kids babysat by the registered sex offender down the street.

Ask a dad who the kids’ doctor or dentist is, and most likely he won’t know. He might be able to point in the vague direction of the children’s school. But ask dad for the win/loss ratio of every team in the NFL, and he’ll be able to recite it flawlessly.

Moms plan and prepare nutritious, balanced meals. Dads zap hot dogs in the microwave and pop open a can of cola. They don’t know fabric softener from cough syrup. If you don’t believe me, check out most TV commercials for household products, showing the husbands as big dummies when it comes to even the simplest task. The true nature of men: they wouldn’t be able to punch themselves out of a Ziploc bag to save their lives.

Dads may buy the kids clothing occasionally, but they’ll let a 9-year old girl wear fishnet stockings and lipstick to Sunday school. Moms never make inappropriate wardrobe or grooming decisions, if you don’t count nose, eyebrow, tongue, or body-piercing. Besides, Dads who don’t let their kids jump on the bandwagon of every new fad are abusive, controlling and punitive.

The family law reform movement, i.e. father’s rights, has tried to make the Parenting Act more “fair” and less “biased.” But the only ones ever complaining were men, who because of the gender-neutral language of the Parenting Act, thought they had an equal shot at getting custody of their children. But the Parenting Act, with all its good intentions, can’t change the basic nature of men and women. The Parenting Act recognized parenting functions as important and even anticipated that men might be able to do them once in a while. It’s clear to me now, fathers just aren’t qualified to parent their children without intense supervision by the mothers, or some fundamental change in the nature of men that would qualify them to be custodial parents.

So, rather than continue a losing battle to reform the Parenting Act to make it more (father) friendly, I’ve decided that the only way to make any progress is to change the way fathers function, both before and during divorce. Everything they need to get custody of their children is right there in the Parenting Act. It’s been there all along, and women have used it to the hilt for years. It’s time for men to stop whining about reform, step up to the plate and show that they are just as capable of being the best parent. There’s no bias in the system, just laziness and incompetence.

Fathers, how can you use the existing Parenting Act to get custody of your children? Make the Parenting Act work for you. Millions of women have been happy to accept the benefits of the culture of victimization. It’s almost intoxicating, being exalted, praised, and getting all the attention, but none of the blame. Men can get these same benefits too. First, find your inner victim. Start seeing a counselor who can help you recover memories of being abused. Dig deep down into your psyche. You were abused by your parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, coaches, family dog, cat, ferret, and now, by your spouse. Wallow in your life-long suffering. Courts love to give custody to damaged people.

Discover the efficacy of pre-divorce tactics. Call 911 whenever you feel “afraid” of your spouse. Cry rape whenever she demands sex. Call your friends and family constantly and report her unrelenting abuse. You’ll need their declarations in court later. Get in her face and provoke her into punching you (or just say she did; remember no evidence is required when you’re the victim). Have her arrested and removed from the family home, then go get a domestic violence protection order to keep her away.

Before you and your spouse separate, quit your job and go on unemployment for as long as possible. Cite job stress, nebulous medical problems, or the need to “find yourself.” Then you can claim you are the “primary caretaker,” assuring you can win custody over your two-job-holding wife.

Get in touch with your feminine side. Stay home all day and watch Oprah and Martha Stewart. Start talking about potpourri and decoupage. For that extra touch, start cross-dressing. Just don’t take your wife’s clothes. Go buy your own. No one will criticize your alternative lifestyle. Have your children start calling you “mommy.” No matter what ideas your wife comes up with, or how well she does things, constantly criticize and demean her for her incompetence. Complain about how she doesn’t make enough money. By the time the divorce starts, she’ll be too depressed and dejected to go for custody.

Overdraw the checking account by thousands of dollars, then claim your wife is abusive and controlling when she never lets you touch the checkbook again. If you’re having an affair and get caught, immediately accuse your wife of domestic violence. Get her arrested and tossed out of the house. Then move your girlfriend in. Be sure your girlfriend uses your wife’s treasured personal things and redecorates immediately. Encourage your children to start calling your live-in “mom.” Go to their school and take their mother off the contact card. Tell them she is an abuser and not to let her near the children.

Go to court and get child support from your wife, based on when she was working two jobs to get the family out of the mountain of debt you helped run up. Continue to avoid employment at all costs, and spend the child support check on booze, gambling and internet auctions of collectible cabbage-patch dolls.

If your true nature does come out during this process (i.e. your intrinsic domestic violence tendencies), all is not lost. If you slap, scratch, bite, or knee your wife in the groin, use one of these sure-fire excuses to evade any consequences:

“I was only defending myself from HER abuse; I’M the real victim here”
“She taunted me into hitting her”
“It didn’t hurt her anyway”
“Lee Press-On Nails are not weapons”

Once you have obtained a protection/no-contact order against your wife, call her constantly, then report her to the police for violating the order. When you can’t get red wine stains from your alcoholic binges out of the upholstery, call your wife and sweetly ask her to come over and help. After she has successfully gotten the spots out, get into an argument loud enough for the neighbors to hear, so they’ll call 911 and get her arrested. When she protests that you invited her over, insist that she constantly pressures you to let her come back. Remember, you are the victim of domestic violence and can do no wrong.

And don’t worry about that pesky Rule 11 or signing declarations under penalty of perjury. Blatant lying is rampant in the family courts, and never punished. Why else is it referred to as Liar’s Court or the Perjury Calendar?

If, after you have successfully thrown your wife out of the family home, gotten her on trumped-up domestic violence charges, and messed with her mind, she still might try to go for shared parenting. Not to worry. Ensure that shared parenting will never be allowed by sabotaging cooperation and constantly creating conflict. Oh, and be sure to blame her for it. Even though you’ve spent most of the years of your marriage saying “Yes Dear” to your wife, now your stock response is No, No, No. No matter what she does, says, or wants, it’s wrong. She wants more time with the children? NO. She wants to participate in their school and extracurricular activities? NO. She wants to talk to them on the telephone? NO!

Be assured that accountability of the custodial parent is not part of this process. When the children end up on drugs, pregnant or in jail by the age of 15, you still get to blame the non-custodial parent. Just repeat the mantra that if it weren’t for her years of child abuse and domestic violence, the children wouldn’t have turned out that way. If things get really bad, agree to sign custody over to her, but on condition that you don’t have to pay child support.

So, there you have it. There’s absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with the Parenting Act as it exists today. You can get anything you want. You just have to know how to use it to your advantage. Reform anyone?