Barbara Kay: Yet more family law gender injustice


A year ago 19-year old Preston King was a light-hearted young Southern California man in love with his high school sweetheart. Her pregnancy changed their lives dramatically. But, even though the couple’s relationship deteriorated and they chose to live apart, King accepted approaching fatherhood with admirable commitment and indeed pleasure.

As the birth date approached, though, King was shocked to learn that the mother planned to give the baby up for adoption, whether or not he agreed to it. The adoptive couple had already been selected by the mother, and King was invited by an adoption agency – via text message – to meet them. King immediately petitioned the Orange County courthouse for paternity testing, and in the weeks leading to the birth, went to court several times to claim his paternal rights.

In spite of his best efforts, though, King was not allowed to sign a declaration affirming his fatherhood and was denied the right to paternal mention on the birth certificate. After King spent a mere 15 minutes alone with his baby, born September 7, the infant went home with his adoptive parents.

King continues to press for DNA testing and the right to parent his child.

According to a Facebook page created to tell his side of the story – the mother claims King was not an engaged father-to-be or supportive of her needs – Mr. King was both engaged and supportive. He maintains he attended medical appointments, bought maternity clothes, pampered his ex with spa treatments and excursions, and bought baby furniture, a layette and decorative accessories for the nursery.

Response to the story has been unequivocally sympathetic to King and highly critical of the state’s dismissive attitude to fathers his case represents. An online petition has been set up to push for a change in California’s laws to prevent more such “unethical” adoptions.

Observers of the family law system in Canada will be reminded of the quite similar 2007 case of Hendricks vs Swan in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon dad Adam Hendricks was in the same position as King. He was a willing father, whose girlfriend unilaterally adopted their baby out to well-off strangers. The judge decided that blood ties are only one factor in awarding custody, and could not trump others. Kinship was “a pivotal point” 50 years ago, the judge explained, but today the “best interests” of the child must be the paramount consideration.

What do these two cases tell us about the prevailing culture as filtered through the family law system? That mothers count in a child’s life and fathers don’t.

And even if King could prove paternity, he might still lose the child if the court decided it was in the child’s best interest to live with biological strangers offering a pony

When a mother – who might be poor, shiftless, unemployed, or otherwise disadvantaged – chooses to keep her child, the state does not intervene, and in fact will support her, if the child’s father (biological or presumed) cannot be run to ground. In the case of mothers’ rights, biology always trumps all other considerations. And yet, if the mother doesn’t want the child, suddenly the “best interests” of the child pivot from kinship – i.e. a willing, loving father’s natural rights – to the seductions of a detached home, a big back yard and a pony for Christmas.

So, in King’s case, if the mother had wanted to keep the child, the court would have ordered him to pay child support without any proof that the child was his biologically. On the other hand, even though she doesn’t want to keep the child, he has no right to custody unless he can prove paternity – which he cannot do unless the adoptive parents consent to a DNA sample being taken. And even if he could prove it, he might still lose the child if the court decided it was in the child’s best interest to live with biological strangers offering a pony.


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How apprenticeships can empower fathers and strengthen marriages


This is an excerpt from the fourth article in a four-part series, written in partnership with, examining the role of fathers in American families.

Young men are more likely to drop out of high school and are less likely to aspire to college than their female peers. Young men who are poor, live in a city and are black or Latino are at even higher risk of unemployment and unplanned teen fatherhood than their peers in other demographics. As men’s earnings have stagnated, marriage has declined. It’s a vicious cycle: Being unmarried weakens men’s commitment to the workforce, but stagnation in earnings is contributing to the decline in marriage.

Robert Lerman — an economist at American University and fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research center in Washington, D.C. — has a solution. He believes bringing apprentice-based learning to America’s schools would both raise earnings and give young men the skills they need to be good husbands and fathers. Put boys in a real-world situation outside the classroom with skilled adults as mentors, Lerman says, and students have a chance to engage in on-the-job training in a wide range of fields from baking to boat-building, farming to architecture, public health to civil engineering.

This is learning in context, and it’s what young men (and women) crave: It feels immediate and real. It is not isolated or abstract; it is refreshingly relevant, and it is taking place in real time, in real space, and among adults who take young people seriously. Youth apprenticeship has an immediacy that engages students who have trouble paying attention in class by giving them the time and the means to develop genuine mastery in a given field. At the same time, they are cultivating skills — such as how to communicate effectively, problem-solve, work in teams and maintain a positive attitude — that help them become reliable partners to their future spouses and present, stable fathers to their future children.

“If we teach everything entirely in a classroom context, we’re not going to be as effective — even when it comes to academics,” Lerman says. “The reality is that people learn best — whether it’s cognitive or technical skills or even how to get along with others — in context.”

Skill-based learning has fallen out of favor in the past few decades. Once popular, career-oriented courses have been phased out since the 1980s in favor of academic courses aimed at preparing students for the knowledge economy. For instance, shop classes — once a mainstay in most American high schools — are being eliminated in California schools in favor of courses that prepare students for university. A good education is increasingly defined as a college education: thinkPresident Obama’s national goals for college to be affordable, accessible and attainable for all, and for America to have the “highest number of college graduates in the world” by 2020.

Though well intentioned, the shift away from skill-based learning has not served all students well, especially those most at risk of dropping out of high school:poor, urban, minority boys who have a history of not thriving in school and consequently self-identify as poor learners. Although our high-school graduation rate used to rank number one among OECD nations, it’s now among the lowest.

The idea of college for all, Lerman says, is the reason it’s uncommon today for schools to offer specific career-oriented courses comprehensive enough to allow students to attain full competence. And a college-preparation-focused curriculum that doesn’t incorporate innovative learning strategies is misguided, leading disaffected youths to become bored with seemingly irrelevant coursework in high school. In one survey by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, almost half of high school dropouts surveyed say they left school because their classes felt boring and irrelevant.

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Should welfare programs pay more attention to dads?


This is an excerpt from the third article in a four-part series, written in partnership with, examining the role of fathers in American families.

The 10-month-old twins call Frandy “Da Da.” He changes their diapers, mixes up their formula and helps shoulder the burden of providing food, clothing and medical care.

But the girls aren’t his children; Frandy’s girlfriend Cassie was pregnant when they started dating. When, a few months later, the two decided to move in together, “I knew raising the kids was part of the package,” said Frandy, a 23-year-old from inner-city Boston.

His own 6-year-old daughter lives across town with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Frandy sends a check every month.

Such complex family arrangements are becoming increasingly common — particularly among the poor, like Frandy and Cassie. Nearly 40 percent of unwed parents with low education levels share child-rearing responsibilities with a co-residential boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a 2013 report from the United States Census Bureau. Oftentimes these couples share at least one biological child, but in 27 percent of relationships, moms or dads are stepping in to raise children they didn’t conceive.

U.S. government programs designed to help such families, however, haven’t evolved with the population. Based on decades-old stereotypes that single mothers are raising children alone and single dads are “deadbeats,” the majority of U.S. anti-poverty programs almost exclusively serve women and children, said Jacquelyn Boggess, co-director of the Center for Family Policy and Practice, a Wisconsin-based think tank that focuses on supporting low-income parents.

The welfare system, as a result, can become a muddled mess of rearranging rather than relieving poverty. Single, non-custodial fathers bear the brunt. But dads don’t suffer alone. Because the poor pull together to support one another, everyone absorbs the pinch.

“It’s like seven people in bed together, sharing a very small blanket,” Boggess said. “If you move the blanket over to cover up one person who’s chilly, someone else is going to get cold.”


The biggest flaw in current anti-poverty policies is that they don’t take into account the increasing role that fathers play in children’s lives, Berger said. As mothers go to work at higher rates, fathers are taking on more child-rearing responsibilities. Even if parents are splitting the financial burden, though, only one parent can benefit from anti-poverty programs like SNAP or the earned-income tax credit. So, while mom gets help paying the bills, dad, who is oftentimes just as poor, is held responsible for his share of the costs.

“Helping women and not men creates huge gender asymmetry, which makes it harder for couples to stay together,” said Harvard sociologist Kathryn Edin, author of “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City.” “Men can’t earn enough money to earn a place in the family. They become dispensable.”

Expanding the earned-income tax credit to include non-custodial parents could go a long ways in addressing poverty, Edin said. Not precisely welfare, the EITC is a tax subsidy for low-income workers that increases as wages go up. The idea, she said, is to make good on the promise that “if you work, you won’t be poor.”

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The father factor: What happens when dad is nowhere to be found?


This is an excerpt from the first article in a four-part series, written in partnership with, examining the role of fathers in American families.

The dad factor

“I think there’s consensus that cultural and family factors are causing children’s family lives to be more unstable than in the past,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of “The Marriage-Go-Round” and director of the Hopkins Population Center at Johns Hopkins University. Experts debate whether recent cultural shifts or economic changes most undermine family stability, but, said Cherlin, “most who I respect believe both are at play.”

Most children weather family turmoil and wind up OK, said Cherlin, who coined the term “family churn” to describe what happens to families as couples split, often moving dad out of the home and a new man in. A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family said children in such homes experience an average of more than 5.25 partnership transitions. That’s tough for kids who are used to having their own fathers within reach.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of “Father and Child Reunion.” Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

Burgos said one of his biggest challenges growing up without a father figure has been impulse control and anger management. He had no guide to teach him effective ways to handle frustrations — and he’s had a lot of them in his young life.

The time a dad spends with his children is a particularly strong predictor of how empathetic a child will become, according to a commission of experts who wrote a proposal asking President Obama to create a White House Council on Boys and Men. The group, which Farrell helped assemble, compiled research showing infants with dads living at home were months ahead in personal and social development. Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity. If dad is around, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens.

As early as 1993, studies showed that dads also influenced whether their sons became teenage fathers. A Temple University study found no boys born to teen mothers became teen fathers if they had close relationships with their biological fathers, compared to 15 percent of those who didn’t have that closeness.

“None of this implies men are better as dads than women are as moms,” Farrell and the commission emphasized. Children need both.

But dad’s place is not always secure. The commission report said, “The U.S. has done a better job of integrating women into the workplace than in integrating men into the family — especially into the lives of children in the non-intact family. We have valued men as wallets more than as dads.” The result is “moms feeling deprived of resources and dads feeling deprived of purpose and children feeling deprived of the full range of parenting input.”

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Why the number of single dads is on the rise


This is an excerpt from the second article in a four-part series, written in partnership with, examining the role of fathers in American families.

There are a few reasons why the state push for joint parenting is resulting in more single dads.

1. It empowers fathers to ask for more, and believe they deserve it.William Fabricius, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and chair ofArizona’s committee on child custody statutes, says that most men want to share parenting time equally, but assume courts have a strong maternal bias.

“Dads think that the courts will favor mom, and so they will settle for less parenting time,” Fabricius said. “They see other dads in the neighborhood who spend time with their kids every other weekend, and assume that’s the way it is. They don’t ask for more parenting time because they don’t think it’s the norm.”

Since only 5 percent of child custody cases ever make it to trial, these perceptions of the norm are important. If men realize that courts are granting more parenting time to fathers than they have in the past, fathers will be more likely to ask for more time with their child, and fight to get it. Men used to assume that there was no way they’d get custody of their kids, and that maybe it was for the best.

“When most of my friends started having kids 10 years ago, they all used to say, ‘I don’t know how to take care of a kid,’ and ‘that’s not what men are supposed to do,’” said Malliet.

But now attitudes are changing. More fathers are starting to believe that they have something important to contribute to their children’s lives. There might be a steep learning curve to single parenting, but men are much more likely to push through the three-in-the-morning screaming fits if other people — particularly the courts — think they can handle it.

2. Sharing is complicated. Joint physical custody can be a headache for two people who just don’t want much to do with each other anymore. It involves seeing your ex on a regular basis and living nearby so that your child can stay in one school.

“If you ask a woman what kind of custody deal she wants, she’d probably say that her first preference is for her to get sole custody, her second preference is for the father to get sole custody, and her third preference is joint custody,” said Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the Oregon study. “Most people don’t want to share.”

On top of their own personal issues with shared parenting, divorced couples might also worry about how it will affect their children. They don’t want their kids to feel confused or disoriented when they pack up and move to a different house every week.

These hesitations create an interesting paradox: legislation that supports joint physical custody is actually promoting single fatherhood. If fathers are empowered to ask for more parenting time than they’ve had in the past, mothers may be more likely to give up their part of the custody.

With the courts putting more faith in single fathers, Malliet thinks the next big hurdle will be those fathers having faith in themselves. Single dads are more easily discouraged than single moms, he says, because men suffer from a lack of parental training. While women often grow up tucking their dolls into bed at night, young men are rarely conditioned to take care of someone else. This lack of experience can make single dads begin to doubt whether they are really cut out for this, after all.

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AVFM Interview with Dr. Stephen Baskerville

Baskerville, a professor at Patrick Henry Collegein Purcellville, VA and author of “Taken Into Custody,” has long been thought of as the academic hero of the fathers rights movement.  He has spoken extensively in the news media concerning the family courts and the demise of the rights of fathers.

His book, Taken Into Custody, is a must read.