Level playing fields, or not? “One lady’s” response to Rob Hahn’s piece in the Huffington Post

 (Note: This is rather long – You can scroll down to the bottom to see the summary of my points)

Apparently, Rob Hahn believes his Huffpost piece is a level playing field to my e-mails. It is not. And that’s not the only unfair playing field he believes in.

Hahn believes he has created an “equality” model called EAP – Equality through 50/50 shared physical custody as the legal presumption.

(Here’s a source that contradict the idea that shared custody is equal: 

Joint Custody Laws Facilitate Abuse by Jack C. Straton

http://www.europrofem.org/contri/2_04_en/en-viol/30en_vio.htm

Treating parents equally at divorce time ignores past child care time and effort, parenting skills and history of abuse. We don’t get equal pay checks for showing up at work – nor should we get equal custody for showing up at family court —f amily court, of all places – – “the place” for couples with moderate-to-high conflict and abuse cases (domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse).

He says there should be “accountability by judges.” That’s a good one. Judge Lemkau, for instance, accused Katie Tagle of fabricating lies to deny the father access to their 9-month old baby. He gave the father custody. The father rode off into the mountains and killed the infant and committed suicide. Shouldn’t this judge be held accountable for his decision? Many more mothers have similar stories of abusers getting custody.

Katie Tagle case: http://ncmbts.blogspot.com/2010/02/tagle-garcia-transcript-of-deadly.html

Goher case: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/7244130.html  and http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7210150.html

 Choosing Jail Over Joint Custody by Michael A. Lindenberger

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1696721,00.html

Abused Mothers’ Mental Health http://www.hhs.gov/news/healthbeat/2010/11/20101101a.html

Research citations: http://leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/dv.html

In defense of this accusation, Hahn proposes “prevention” of domestic violence through “divorce courses.” Tell that to the women who’ve been stalked, strangled, and kicked in their pregnant stomachs. Two hours (his proposal) of domestic violence “prevention” is an absurdity. It’s thrown in as a crumb to victims of family violence. 

He goes on to mention the “well-documented research” that supports shared custody. Since shared custody is in its infancy in the US, I would like to see the “well-documented research.”

How about studying the effects of joint custody where’s it been used longer and more widely than the US, like Australia?

Shared parenting in Australia (it’s “hurting children”)

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/08/28/2669245.htm?section=justin

And yet Hahn, who you would think has researched this topic extensively, believes criticism is “down right perplexing” as if there wasn’t supposed to be an opposing viewpoint to this perfect plan.  

Actually, many couples do voluntarily choose shared parenting so it’s more perplexing that he believes legislation that forces couples to share children 50-50 and go through a 2 hour course on domestic violence is anything less than ideal.

He writes, “one lady emailed me that she was “dismayed” that I could support shared custody.” That “one lady” was me.

“She went to great length to note all her credentials and pointed me toward studies that did not specifically address my repeated questions about how shared custody and domestic violence prevention could co-exist in legislation. (Note 1)

Hahn questions my statement that most couples make their own parenting plans. About 10-15% actually go to court to have a judge settle custody for them. If he disagrees with this, I’d like to see citations instead of taking his word for it. Surely, he can enlighten me.

He says he talked to a representative from a battered women’s organization and that the “lobbyist went so far to suggest a legal presumption of shared custody and best interest of the child(ren) are mutually exclusive.”  This, he says, sticks in “his craw.”

Tell me Mr. Hahn, how would legal presumption of shared custody help children who were abused physically, sexually or emotionally? How would shared custody help children who weren’t abused themselves but witnessed it in their parents (which many studies state leads to future problems)? How would shared custody help children whose parent controls and coerces the other? How can shared custody help children whose parents argued extensively prior to divorce? How can shared custody help children whose mother now lives in poverty because she didn’t work during marriage and will receive little if no child support during shared parenting? How will breastfeeding during shared parenting work for babies? How will timely medical decisions be made? What will be the result of a child that flip-flops back and forth between two homes, some since infancy?

If he doesn’t have the answers to these important questions, how can he say the lobbyist’s statement ‘stuck in his craw.’  How can he say he’s never been given “any semblance of an explanation of how shared custody and domestic violence prevention could coexist in legislation.” I personally referred him to several sources on domestic violence. I would imagine if he’s proposing legislation that includes domestic violence, he would be quite up to date on what it involves. And rather than take accountability for his lack of understanding, he blames others.

“Nor has any of these individuals offered any reference to legislation – successful or not – they’ve helped introduced or supported that included custody issues and domestic violence prevention.” Why would anyone support legislation that includes custody issues and domestic violence prevention unless it would be to enforce supervised visitation?!? This is so utterly ridiculous. Domestic violence can’t be “prevented” at the time of divorce (if it can, again, please enlighten me).

Most experts believe domestic violence prevention needs to be introduced in schools in order for it to be effective (which I mentioned to Hahn in our email conversation.) Does he really think that after a woman has gone through hell with a man that she’d be willing to co-parent with him? (Some women do choose this route – because society tells them the child needs both parents. Other women want to escape their abuser at any cost and question the abuser’s ability to parent or cooperate. For women that suspect child sexual abuse, I can’t imagine they’d want the other parent in the child’s life, can you?)

Hahn says his model addresses judicial accountability and identification of potential high conflict cases. How? He never quite tells us. You can’t sue a judge. The best you can do is appeal your case. Judges are not accountable for abusers getting custody. Nor are they accountable for injuries or deaths that occur due to their judgments.

And, as for Hahn identifying potential high conflict cases. Again, How? Batterers can be upstanding citizens. They can be charming. They can be more in control of their emotions than their partners. They can lie. They can manipulate. And they deny, deny, deny. Often judges uses their gut instincts – but it is far easier for any one of us to believe a woman is lying than a man is abusive or a potential killer.

Hahn says his model will be a “giant step” in assuring both parents start on a level playing field with custody decisions. I asked him, “Why doesn’t shared parenting start at birth?” Because if shared parenting started at birth, there’d be no need to force it on couples when they divorced. “Best interest of the child” could still be used (safety would be more important than access) and the parent that provided the most childcare would have more time with the child (based on merit not entitlement).

Here are my points about shared parenting:

  1. Shared parenting should start at birth not divorce – that would be true equality.
  2. Shared parenting is best left to couples that voluntarily and willingly accept it. It shouldn’t be something that’s forced. If children witnessed arguing and violence during the intact marriage, it will surely follow during the co-parenting stage (and a 2-hour course will not prevent it).
  3. Shared parenting works best for couples with low to moderate conflict. Experts agree, it is not recommended for those with high conflict or abuse.
  4. In the argument that “both parents are needed,” why is it that women can be punished with loss of custody if they “alienate” a child. If both parents are necessary, why transfer custody – which both punishes the mother and ignores “best interest of the child.”
  5. The argument that “both parents are needed” ignores death of a parent, lesbian and gay couples, as well as other alternative family situations. In effect, saying “father absence results in social ills” is akin to blaming society’s problems on single mothers. In reality, poverty, drugs, and gun laws, to name a few, have more to do with social ills than gender, marital status, or having two adults in your life. It is more important to have good role models than it is to have shared time with a parent that is unsafe, makes poor decisions, or lacks parenting skills. 
  6. Safety is far more important to the child than being forced to live with two adults for the sake of their “equality.” Access does not trump safety. The best interest of the child takes safety into consideration while shared parenting takes access into consideration. The best interest of the child is being replaced with best interest of the adult.

The Liz Library

http://www.thelizlibrary.org/site-index/site-index-frame.html#soulhttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/005.htm

Shared parenting arrangement doesn’t require a special law

http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/271156_parentingrebut23.html

Note 1 (cut & pasted from parts of our email conversation)

Here is the explanation for me noting my credentials at “great length:”

Hahn:  “I think I can elucidate some misconceptions.”

Me: I do take offense at the comment that I have “misconceptions.” While I’m not an expert, I have excellent credentials and have been active in family court issues specifically for 4 or 5 years and I have experience in health, human rights, and violence against women. I serve on 2 boards, belong to a commission, and write on the subject when I can. I also worked for a domestic violence organization for a short time, but was furloughed when budgets got tightened. I should not have to say this, but I’m defending myself – I shouldn’t have to when there’s mutual respect.
 
Otherwise, I’m quite happy to continue this conversation so that we may both be enlightened, as I’m sure we both have something to contribute to the conversation.

Hahn: How can shared custody and domestic violence prevention co-exist?

Me: How can you get an abuser – somebody who uses physical violence, perhaps sexual violence, threats, intimidation, and coercion – akin to what some call “terrorism” – get shared custody? I referred him to Lundy Bancroft’s book on batterers as parents. It’s the best I can do because I don’t know how on Earth one prevents an abuser from abusing. Many of the batterer programs actually fail because – like alcoholics – until the batterer admits his abuse, there really is no help.

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