California NOW Family Court Report 2002

By Trish Wilson, © 2002.
All rights reserved by author

Glenn Sacks's Op-Ed appeared in two right-wing local rags, the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal on July 11, 2002. It also appeared on the fathers/men's rights web site Sack's text is indented in black. Trish's comments are in royal blue.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

California NOW's Family Court Report 2002:
Faulty Research, False Conclusions

By Glenn Sacks

In an apparent attempt to thwart the growing movement in the US for equal rights for fathers and for shared parenting, the California National Organization for Women recently released its Family Court Report 2002. The report turns reality on its head by claiming that California family courts are biased against women.

The study upon which NOW's claims are based is not a randomized, scientifically credible poll, but instead a Self-selected Listener Opinion Poll, known among authentic researchers as a SLOP. The poll was conducted exclusively from a pool of less than 300 of NOW's own sympathizers, all of whom were willing to spend hours filling out NOW's 20 page, 331 question Internet questionnaire. NOW's poll was conducted in a manner which guaranteed a biased response. In fact, its solicitation for survey respondents even says "Did you find justice in the Family Law Courts? If not, fill out our questionnaire to help more women and children get justice." NOW's survey is junk social science.

What was NOW's basis for its conclusion that California family courts discriminate against women? NOW asked its all-female survey pool "do you feel that you were discriminated against because you are a woman?" Respondents were given the choice to answer "yes" or "no." Since there was no question asked about bias against men, and no male respondents to the survey, the survey was structured so that it could only demonstrate bias against women.

Did Sacks read the report? CA NOW didn't say this was a scientific study. The intention of the report was to encourage dialogue about court reform in the area of family law, especially in California. CA NOW's position was very clear when it stated that "... this report makes conclusions and statements intended to contribute to the discussion and efforts around court reform in an informed and pro-active manner. This is action research with a social justice agenda. It does not profess to be unbiased, or neutral. CA NOW is a political action organization dedicated to taken (sic) action to end discrimination against women. The goal of this report is to raise awareness about the procedures and processes used in the current family law courts to evaluate custody as it pertains to care takers, the bulk of whom are women." [pgs. 11 - 12]

Since NOW stated outright that the Family Law Report was an action report as opposed to scientific research or a poll, Sacks errs in claiming that the authors used what "credible researchers" called a SLOP. The report cited existing credible research but did not conduct a scientific study itself. Credible journalists conduct proper investigations before making baseless criticisms.

In nine occasions the report mentions fathers' desire for more parenting time or joint custody, and on all nine occasions the report promptly explains that these fathers' motivation is to have their child support payments reduced. How did NOW come to this conclusion? By posing only one question about fathers' motivations for more parenting time: "Do you believe the father is trying to gain greater amounts of custody to avoid paying child support?" No other possibilities are allowed for by the survey. Not once in the entire report does NOW consider that fathers might want more time with their children because they love them and want to play a meaningful role in their lives.

CA NOW rightly pointed out that the fathers' rights movement lobbies for mandatory joint custody. "Achieving Equal Justice For Men And Women In The Courts - The Draft Report of the Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Gender Bias In The Courts" [The California Gender Bias Report - 1990], which was cited by the NOW Family Court Report 2002, did find that some fathers used joint custody as a means of lowering their child support obligations.

Dr. Mary Duryea, director of Family Court services in the Alameda Superior Court stated the following: "And you get things -- like you overhear people in the hallway saying , now, how many days do I need to get before my child support obligation is reduced, and you get a mixture of motivation in people coming in and asking for more time with their children, when what they're really asking for is less money."

Per the same report, a San Diego certified family law specialist stated the following:

"But one that happens quite frequently in this county and in other counties, perhaps, is a father, for instance, suggesting that joint custody, joint physical custody is very important to him. That he wants not only quality time, but quantity time with his children, and I think that that's a wonderful wonderful motivation as long as it's in good faith.

Now, one thing that I'm finding quite often is that dad says that, and dad gets that, and dad also gets something else when he gets that, generally, he gets a smaller child support award. And then, lo and behold, dad doesn't exercise that joint custody that he fought so vehemently for.

All of a sudden he's on a more traditional, once every other weekend, once a month, maybe on Christmas, all of a sudden the children aren't hearing from dad at all, and what mom has is the children on a full-time basis, which she probably likes, but she has half as much money as she would have had had it meant a traditional child custody and child support situation.

Her remedy, then, of course, is to go back to court, and more times than not there's a financial disparity. It's going to cost mom to go back, if she even has any money to obtain the services of an attorney, she probably is going to get a token award of attorney's fees at the end."

NOW uses its SLOP to make a number of startling assertions about anti-woman gender bias which are contradicted by established, scientifically credible research.

See above about Sacks's shoddy investigative skills regarding the fact that CA NOW's report was intended to encourage dialogue and action regarding court reform.

NOW asserts that "the present system takes children from fit mothers who have been sole or primary care givers because of false 'parity' with the father as soon as separation occurs" and claims that women's "loss of custody through gender bias" is widespread. Yet every scientifically credible study ever conducted, including the well-known work of Stanford University psychologist Eleanor Maccoby and Stanford law professor Robert Mnookin, has found that women win custody in 80% to 90% of contested cases.

WRONG!! Sacks needs to learn the art of informed reading. "Every scientifically credible study" did not state that women "win" custody in 80-90% of contested custody cases. 80-90% of divorces are settled out of court with both parents deciding on their own that the mother should have custody. When these cases go to court, child custody should not awarded to someone who *thinks* he or she can do the job, but to the parent who had been doing the bulk of the work from day one. Most often that parent is the mother. Court intervention is not necessary in those cases.

"Despite the spousal conflicts leading to divorce, almost ninety per cent of divorcing parents are able to reach a mutual agreement regarding custody and visitation with little or no intervention from the Court." [Parental Alienation Syndrome: Frye v. Gardner in the Family Courts, by Jerome H. Poliacoff, Ph.D., P.A., Cynthia L. Greene, Esq., and, Laura Smith, Esq.. copyright 1999 Jerome H. Poliacoff, Ph.D., P.A.]

The wishes of adults who demand their "rights" should not be the issue. Why should a primary caregiving mother who had been doing the job from day one step aside and let daddy do it because all of a sudden, after years of little interest in the role, he "wants to be a parent"? Parents set their mode of parenting long before divorce becomes an issue. In effect, they have long ago chosen how they will "share" parenting, and that already existing mode of "sharing" should be followed through in divorce. Most parents have no difficulty with that concept. The court need not step in and make those decisions for them. If a man is interested in primary parenting he should start doing it from the moment his children are conceived, not years later in a court room hoping to avoid a child support order or otherwise manipulate the situation to his advantage.

In addition, when it comes to contested custody cases (which are only approximately 10% of all divorces), fathers stand over 50% chance of getting some form of custody. Most men with custody have joint legal custody, not physical custody. Abusive fathers are much more likely than nonabusive parents to contest custody, not pay child support, and to kidnap children. Fathers who contest custody and win some form of it get it not because they had been the primary parent but because they had the ability to fund litigation and to pay for "expert" witnesses who would support their side. They keep the case in court with multiple appeals and frivolous litigation until they get what they want. This is not in the best interests of the child. There are plenty of good fathers out there. Some of them have custody, and some of them don't. However, it should be noted that there is a much higher percentage of malcontents who contest custody than is common in the general divorcing population.

Perhaps the most comprehensive study of divorce ever conducted is Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen's "These Boots Are Made For Walking": Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women" from the American Law and Economics Review. Studying 46,000 divorces, they found that the vast majority of divorces involving children are initiated by women, in part because women expect to and usually do receive both temporary and permanent custody of the children in the overwhelming majority of cases.

It's not that simple. Women filed for the majority of divorces long before no-fault. Brinig and Allen mention this themselves in stating that for most of the 19th century women filed 60% of divorces. After no-fault, they filed as much as 70% of the time. While Brinig and Allen acknowledge that women preemptively file for divorce anticipating that they will be awarded custody of the children, the presence of those children is more likely to prevent wives from leaving their marriages: "...having a child in itself makes wives less likely to file for divorce. The presence of children also makes divorce less likely in the first place, as couples stay together 'for the sake of the children.'" Wives also file for divorce to escape a bad or exploitative marriage. Brinig and Allen stated that "[w]ives who file in an attempt to flee an exploitative relationship resulting from the nurturing asymmetry that often arises between them and their husbands are clearly made better off by divorce and should by virtually all accounts be allowed to leave the marriage."

NOW's report and public statements assert that judges commonly grant custody to abusers with criminal records. According to Dianna Thompson, Executive Director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, NOW's assertions are exactly the opposite of what typically happens in family courts in California or elsewhere, where charges of abuse are taken very seriously. She adds: "In the context of an impending divorce is not unusual for a woman to make a false accusation of domestic violence against a man in order to obtain a restraining order or eviction order and to seize control of both the children and marital property. NOW terms a man who is a victim of this tactic an 'abuser with a criminal record'--because of the unproven allegations in the ex parte restraining order."

Thompson's opinions simply are not true. Bona fide false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse are rare. All of these misrepresentations about domestic violence, restraining orders, and child abuse are addressed on these pages:

False Allegations of Abuse Propaganda

NOW also claims that family court mediators and evaluators "side with the father, especially when abuse is an issue," but Thompson says, "I doubt that NOW would get many judges, lawyers, or anybody else involved in the family court system to go on record as endorsing this ridiculous assertion." NOW also claims that the quality of legal representation is better for fathers than for mothers. However, in divorce it is husbands, not wives, who are more likely to be left without legal representation. In fact, the Violence Against Women Act's reauthorization in 2000 provided for $200 million of federal money in legal assistance to mothers. Similarly, most of the child support apparatus provides representation to mothers.

WRONG! The "child support apparatus" provides representation for the states who want reimbursement for child support monies going to custodial parents (mostly mothers) on welfare. Any credible journalist who had properly investigated how Child Support Enforcement operates would know that.

In low-income cases where neither party can afford a lawyer, public funds usually provide only mothers with legal representation. In middle and upper-income cases, the father may be able to afford quality representation, but generally he will be required to pay for his wife's lawyer too.

WRONG!! This applies to criminal cases, not civil cases. A parent does not get a free lawyer for divorce and custody cases. An upper-income father will be required to pay for his wife's lawyer only if the court orders it. Most mothers pay for their own lawyers.

A section of Family Court Report 2002 attacks the fathers' movement which, we are told, is a cabal of misogynists and wife-beaters who seek to restore patriarchy.

It does? Where? It actually says (italics in original): "The fathers' rights groups that are the subject of this research are backlash father's rights groups, which should not be confused with other men's groups, which are supportive of women. As distinguished from the mythopoetic movement, pro-feminist men's groups, and men's recovery groups, these men's rights groups wish to turn back all progress made by the women's movement, and in the area of child custody, have no concern for the impact of their actions on children. Quite often they are abusers in their former marriages."

The core of the NOW report's evidence is the "Fathers' Manifesto," an Internet document signed by many fathers' rights activists, which calls for stripping women of the right to vote.

In reality, the "Fathers' Manifesto" was a hoax employed by an anti-Semitic, racist, woman-hater on the fringe of the men's movement. NOW's report identifies this individual as "John Knight." An Internet petition called the "Fathers' Manifesto" was circulated which proclaimed equal rights for fathers and the importance of fathers in the life of a child. Over one hundred fathers' rights activists signed this Internet petition, including many Jewish and African-American activists.

With the wealth of material in CA NOW's lengthy report, Sacks chose to shine a spotlight on ... Fathers' Manifesto? It's not the "core" of NOW's report. Fathers' Manifesto (which originated in California) was important to bring up in that it exposed the very ugly agendas of fathers' rights activists who were at the time attempting to rewrite themselves as as "children's rights" and "family rights" activists who promote "equality" and "shared parenting" in order to broaden their appeal (and disguise their patriarchal men's/fathers' rights origins) to legislators. Sacks expended a great deal of energy attempting to explain it away. Fathers' Manifesto signatories were not part of the fringe. They were -- and are today -- very active and vocal members and leaders of the movement. Signatories hope that time will erase Manifesto's stink but the backwash continues to splash them..

If Fathers' Manifesto was a hoax (it was not and is not), how would that absolve the THOUSANDS (not "over one hundred") of fathers' rights advocates who had endorsed it? How would that excuse the backchannel promotion of it on fathers' rights mailing lists? Fathers' Manifesto was criticized on the mailing list for Fathers' Rights and Equality Exchange not for its hateful content but for its tone. Activists rightly pointed out that introducing something like Fathers' Manifesto to Congress would make fathers' rights activists look like lunatics.

Fathers' Manifesto is anti-semitic, racist, and misogynistic. It's listed as a hate group by several watchdog organizations. It is also very real and continues to be active today, albeit the original signatories have backpedaled and danced as far away from Manifesto as they can get since its public outing in 1996. Fathers' Manifesto exposed the true nature of their agendas.

Fathers' Manifesto did not proclaim "equal rights for fathers and the importance of fathers in the life of a child." It sought to restore male chattel rights. This is what Fathers' Manifesto signatories had endorsed when they signed the signatory page:

August 17, 1995

I) Marriage is a social contract for a woman to share her reproductive life with a man. It is the only agreement by which a man can have a family and legitimate children. Enforcement of this contract is vital to securing the interests of family and children.

II) The power of feminism to destroy families is exemplified by statements like: "I don't want to lead the life that my mother had" or "most mother-women give up whatever ghost of a unique and human self they may have when they 'marry' and raise children. " The present feminist concept of women's "independence" really means a government-enforced entitlement to be paid for the rewards of being a mother, without the responsibilities that go with it: to men, to children especially, and ultimately to the world at large.

III) To accommodate this "independence", the marriage contract is discarded by the woman and not enforced by the courts allowing women who want only the benefits and not the responsibilities of marriage to throw the father of her children out while keeping the fruits of his labor. No matter how little she has contributed to their joint assets, no matter how unsupportive or unsympathetic she has been as a wife, the man must continue to support his children without the benefits of his marriage while his children lose the benefits of the two-parent family created by this contract. The man who wants a family is powerless to prevent this.

IV) This creates and supports fatherlessness which is the industrial world's worst crisis, damaging boys and girls alike and creating social pathologies which harm every citizen. Fatherless homes absorb the majority of welfare spending and produce the majority of criminals. Most prisoners behind bars grew up in fatherless homes.

V) Children have the right to be raised and cared for by fathers, and fathers have the right to preserve their incomes and families. Enforcement of these rights will remove Incentives for divorce and illegitimacy, eliminate fatherlessness, reduce violence, reduce welfare spending; remove lawyers from family affairs, free police to fight real crimes, reduce the public debt incurred through attempts to replace fathers with government, restore incentives and vitality to our economy, reduce taxes, and enable healthier and happier children who grow up with a greater sense of commitment to the society that raised them.

VI) THEREFORE WE THE UNDERSIGNED FATHERS AND FUTURE FATHERS RESOLVE to oppose all attempts to replace paternal love with sole-maternal custody abetted by government largesse. We resolve to fight anti-father bias by honorable, vigorous, and sustained means . We commit ourselves to protecting the family and honoring fatherhood. We vow to provide physical, legal, and emotional care to current and future children to remove all government involvement from family matters by the establishment of the father as the head of the family, under God.

Signatories were horrified when the petition reappeared on a white supremacist website in a radically altered form--a form which included a call to repeal the 19th amendment. Dozens of signatories demanded that their names be removed, and many activists made clear statements disassociating themselves from it.

Of course the signatories were horrified. They were outed, big time. In 1996, John Knight uploaded the ENTIRE signatory list, polls, "fatherlessness" propaganda, Manifesto message board postings, and e-mail fathers' rights advocates had assumed was private on a very public web page. Those advocates who had endorsed Fathers' Manifesto backchannel via private e-mail and mailing list postings yet publicly chastised Knight and Manifesto on Usenet have been scrambling for nearly a decade to explain away their endorsement. Leaders of newer fathers' rights groups and individual activists have endorsed Fathers' Manifesto's DEMAND.

In 1997, Fathers' Manifesto was reaffirmed at the Purple Heart house in California, home of one of Manifesto's founders, Christopher Robin. The Purple Hearts for Fatherhood Fathers' Day rallies were organized and promoted by many leaders of the fathers' rights movement, including Dianna Thompson, of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC). She was scheduled to speak. At the time she was a spokeswoman for California's Coalition of Parent Support and a California chapter of the National Congress for Fathers and Children. ACFC -- an offshoot of the American Fathers' Coalition -- was founded during the Purple Hearts rally in Washington D. C. These rallies were publicity failures that brought the anti-woman/anti-child focus of fathers' rights groups, leaders, and activists to light.

However, Trish Wilson and Liz Kates, two web-based opponents of the fathers' rights movement, posted brief biographies of many of the Father's Manifesto signatories, and mischaracterized them as misogynists based largely on the altered, illegitimate document.

Why so much focus on Fathers' Manifesto and so little on the rest of the Report? The cottage industries that have turned family law into a cash cow for some professionals are addressed in great detail. Fathers' rights activists have been complaining for years about the prohibitive costs inherent in mandatory parenting classes, mediation, and psychological and custody evaluations. Since this Report was designed to encourage dialogue, why haven't father's rights activists voiced their own oppositions to the rising costs of divorce that resulted from the burgeoning "divorce industry"? Could it be because the Report rightly ties those rising costs to fathers' rights demands for mandatory joint custody?

NOW cites Wilson and Kates as its sources for much of its most serious charges against the fathers' movement. As one fathers' rights activist remarked, "If the Fathers' Manifesto's author had been an active opponent of equal rights for fathers, he could not have done anything more effective and more devastating than what he did."

That activist's remark was related to Fathers' Manifesto's tone, not to Manifesto's hateful content. John Knight didn't do what he did alone. He had a lot of help and support from people today who today hold themselves up as leaders of the movement. Those men and women signed it. They endorsed it. They've been outed since 1996.

NOW's strategy in Family Court Report 2002 is transparent. They began by conducting a rigged and scientifically indefensible report. They then publicized a few aberrant examples to bolster the report's alarming conclusions, such as the Idelle Clarke child custody case in Los Angeles, and they portrayed these rarities as the norm. Finally, they declared a "crisis" for women, and urged the media to publicize results which completely contradict serious research, as well as common sense.

And what will NOW say as critics take a closer look at the "research" and discredit it? The report itself already provides the answer--NOW will explain that the opposition is a "backlash" by men who "wish to turn back all progress made by the women's movement."

The crisis is not that abusers have gained custody of their children. That is a symptom of much larger problems. The CA NOW Family Court Report found discriminatory practices that denied women due process. It found that the "court system uses extrajudicial personnel to make decisions where judges and evidence codes and procedures should be used." It found that the Family Court System is overburdened, resulting in cursory reviews and incompetent handling of cases. It is not the first report to find conflict of interest and corruption in California Family Courts, especially regarding mediators, evaluators, supervised visitation centers, and children's attorneys. It addressed the use of "junk science," such as Parental Alienation Syndrome, in penalizing protective mothers and abused women. Despite attempts to discredit this report, California is currently preparing hearings about corruption in the Family Court system.

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