Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giving parents equal parenting time by law ~ Washington State

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - Page updated at 04:13 PM

Giving parents equal parenting time by law

Special to The Times

For the third time in 22 years, Washington state is leading the nation in family law reform. This time, the report is called the Residential Time Summary Report prepared by the state Office of the Administrator for the Courts. This is a first-in-the-nation compilation of post-divorce breakdown of parenting time for children, mothers and fathers. The numbers are collected case-by-case and county-by-county.

Amazingly, 46 percent of children of divorce, statewide, are ordered to spend a minimum of 35 percent parenting time with their biological fathers. Parenting time is broken down by large percentages, and meaningful shared parenting starts in the range of 30-35 percent. This is about 300 percent better results than anyone could have expected from the time the Parenting Act was first approved. If there ever was any doubt, Washington state is now an official shared-parenting state for families impacted by parental separation.

In 1987, Washington required divorcing parents to detail parenting schedules in Parenting Plan documents that are filed with the court. Over 30 states have adopted this family law reform. Again, in 1991, Washington Department of Social and Health Services first developed and used the Paternity Affidavit for unwed, never-married, fathers. Staffers were pleasantly shocked and surprised with how forthcoming fathers were to provide financial information used to help create child-support orders.

However, the question has always been placed — how much post-divorce parenting time are children of divorce actually spending with their male parents? Now we see some actual results statewide and county-by-county.

The King County and Pierce County numbers are higher than the statewide average at 50 percent with Snohomish close by at 49 percent. The two highest counties are Whatcom at 66 percent and Skagit at 59 percent. Yakima County comes in the lowest at 28 percent.

The summary report and study was advocated for by fathers' organizations and shared-parenting advocates as a way of documenting why an official shared-parenting law is needed in Washington. Sen. Jim Kastama introduced Senate Bill 5342 addressing this issue but it has not moved out of committee.

The 46 percent is a great number. However, there are probably another 30 percent where the fathers and some mothers arbitrarily are restricted to the typical every-other-weekend. In these cases, the fathers and mothers with limited schedules actually feel more like aunts and uncles than meaningfully involved parents. The children are the biggest losers. The new law is needed for these other parents to avoid decisions that are strictly perceived winners and losers.

The report statistic that rings the loudest and truest is that 93 percent of the final decisions are by agreement of the parents. This means that good mothers and fathers are operating with one reality most in mind: These children had two involved parents before separation and this should be the end result as well. These good parents are sending society and our courthouse officials a loud message.

Unfortunately, our elected superior-court judges, appointed court commissioners and family law lawyers seem stuck in 1987. This is the time before the positive and encouraging language of the Parenting Act was approved and the Tender Years Doctrine was still operational.

Children of divorce are our most fragile social statistics: over 70 percent of high-school dropouts and pregnant teen girls come from fatherless homes as well as the 80-85 percent of male teens in juvenile justice centers and more than 90 percent of men in prison, all from fatherless homes. Society has paid a huge price to keep fathers away from their children. Now we see good dads fighting to stay involved and our children are better off for this effort.

The time has come for children of divorce to be guaranteed continuing parental involvement such as the children in the above numbers coming from homes where both parents are legally fit. It is time to stop divorcing children from one of their parents, most often the father. We can do better.

Bill Harrington from Pierce County was a commissioner with the US Commission on Child and Family Welfare.


The Geezer said...

Is the report he was referring to.

The way I read it, over 50% of the orders are around the "every other weekend model"

If you take from 35-65%, just less than half have that which I would consider shared in some fashion.

Now, understand the data. While required by law, the clerks don't demand the summary sheets nor do judges. Lawyers may or may not do it, because they know the object of the drill, and may only fill out those cases that are close to half and half to make things look better, and keep the money rolling in. Pro-se's, well, you can't tell if the winner or loser filled it out, or the mental horsepower of those parties to get it right, or the bias and potential for mis-reporting.

And, Bill could not have been a better spokesman for those that oppose us, with his verbiage. The part about”the great majority are agreed orders” works like this. I pull a gun, and put it to your head, and demand money. You reach in, grab Hip National Bank, and give it to me. You agreed. So, 90% plus of the victims of muggings agree to give their money, just like these orders are agreed to.

They are agreed because men know that is the best they can get. It is in no way agreed, or negotiated in the classic sense. We edumacated Mr. George, the writer of the report, on what that means. As you can see, the DV divas are right in that if you spend a ton of money, man represented, woman not, you can get a slightly better result, but not much.

Still over half are every other weekend, if you look at the charts. Also, this data was part before the new law, removing the presumption AGAINST shared parenting, and part after. We have no way to know what data came from when.

So, since we have incomplete data, we pulled via public disclosure request the data since this report, and parsed it ourselves. Bottom line, all data was after the favorable change in law, but demonstrates that nothing changed, or as Senator Jim Hargrove (D) Hoquiam says, "the judges still don't get it." He believes we still need a bill to get judges to obey the law, and is willing to schedule a hearing in Sept on the next data pull's report, just in time to crank something up for the next session.

On Bill Harrington, love him dearly, but he chooses to not work collaboratively. I don’t care what your do, but you should give your fellow soldiers in the fight a heads up, before you do it .He is an old street fighter from his hippy days, and a formerly well plugged in liberal. Now just an old liberal. He was part of the earlier movement in WA where they spent a ton ‘o cash on a lawsuit, and got thoroughly smacked down by the court on every point.

Since they did have a substantial machine, we convinced him to come out of retirement and show us how he built his organization. He came out, but was short on details, did not get specific, but enjoys "Bill exposure", so is a bit of an uncooperative wild card. As I mentioned before, he did us no favors by this, repeating those who oppose us's line, but did get a byline for Bill. I have lobbied in this state for education for over 20 years, and the sure death sentence is to have a legislator tell you "you guys aren't even on the same page, so we aren't going to deal with you".

We are getting close to that, after many worked cooperatively, and made great strides.

No wins, nothing changed, and this article was a hindrance, not a help, because it does not demonstrate what the figures show, IMHO. Half is not what we want. We want all orders to be from 35-65%, all of them.

The Geezer

Michael J. Murphy said...

There appears to be some momentum in WA which many weren't aware of and unless I misread it there is a bill in committee. Hopefully it will get out of committee and on the legislative agenda.

I wish you well and we will watch how it progresses. Your gains can help others, even up here in Canada.

The work of Fathers 4 Justice and the Pain of Fathers ~ Activism in the UK

Equal and Shared Parenting ~ The Movie