Scientific Research Rejects the “Tender Years Doctrine”

What is the “Tender Years Doctrine?” This is the belief that very young children – infants, toddlers, and children up to four years of age – should spend all their overnights in one location.

  • It has been used to justify many court orders denying or restricting access between a fit parent and his or her children.
  • But it is not supported by a broad consensus of scientific researchers.
  • A definitive “Consensus Report,” published in a widely respected journal shows that the evidence supports overnights with both parents when the parents live separately.
  • At a scientific conference on Monday, May 29, 2017 the author of the Consensus Report, Dr Richard Warshak, told the story of an attempt by several prominent clinicians to suppress the Report.
    • They tried to prevent publication.
    • They asked the journal editors not to publish the names of the 110 scientists who support the Concensus Report.
    • They then resorted to calling the report “divisive.”
    • Not surprisingly, the clinicians trying to suppress the report profit from high conflict divorce cases.

In the dry language of science: “Sufficient evidence does not exist to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. The theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children are more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development.” (p. 46, Warshak, 2014).

Source: Dr. Richard Warshak, Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report.”  Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. 2014, Vol. 20, No. 1, 46–67. This journal ranks in the top 75 out of 252 psychology journals according to Scopus statistics on citation impact.

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Shared Parenting Conference May 29-30, Boston

This is an important conference, with a stellar international group of researchers on shared parenting. With this conference, shared parenting has gone mainstream, much as the civil rights and gay marriage movements did in another time.

Shared Parenting Research: A Watershed in Understanding Children’s Best Interest?

Dr. Richard Warshak is the author of the widely known “Consensus Report” of 2014. The conclusions of this comprehensive literature review of children’s outcomes as related to post-divorce parenting plans were signed by 110 eminent authorities from around the world.

The research of Profs Malin Bergström of Sweden and Patrick Parkinson of Australia reflects the fact that shared parenting has been very common in both countries for almost a decade, thus reducing the research problem of selection bias.

Sponsored by the NPO and by the International Council on Shared Parenting

I will attend. Let me know if you plan to attend also: john.m.clapp@gmail.com

Register at: http://npo-icsp2017.org/

 

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Massachusetts Senate fails to pass shared parenting

A shared parenting bill passed the MA house in July 2016, but failed in the Senate. The key sentence supporting shared parenting:

“The general court finds that every child in the commonwealth has the right to a safe,          healthy and meaningful relationship with both parents, subject to the court’s                        determination of each child’s best interest, and encourages shared parental                        responsibilities.”

Do you agree that state legislatures should actively encourage shared parenting?

Should state legislatures strongly support shared parenting?
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Your Turn: Comment on Guardian ad Litem Reform

Connecticut’s Judicial Branch is seeking written public comment on its draft report to Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers. Written comments will be accepted on or before Tuesday, January 12, 2016. The comments may be e-mailed to external.affairs@jud.ct.gov or mailed to the External Affairs Division, Supreme Court Building, 231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106. Anonymous submissions will be considered but afforded less weight than signed submissions.

This is a great opportunity to be heard on GAL reform.

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Do you know where your kids are, but can’t see them?

A Hartford Courant article (October 6, 2015, p A1) quotes a parent as saying that this “is the worst possible experience a father and mother could have. Your children are alive, you know where they are, but you can’t see them.” This describes very accurately “splitting” or alienating behavior. Too often the state of Connecticut assists in splitting children from one or both parents.

Too often, a parent with some easily treated disability such as ADD is prevented from seeing their child. Massachusetts is moving to change court ordered alienation according to the Courant article:

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-children-taken-from-couple-under-predictive-neglect-20151005-story.html

 

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Even Abused Foster Children Do Not Reject a Parent

By Linda J. Gottlieb Kase, LMFT, LCSW-r

March 18, 2015

Research Observation:

Despite the abuse and neglect suffered by the 3000 foster care children who had been under my care, it was extremely uncommon for those children to refuse contact with a parent—even with an overtly abusive parent. Rather, abused children tend to protect and cling to the abusive parent. Moreover, in the rare cases in which that did appear to happen, there was always some evidence of indoctrination or programming (typically by foster parents who had the surreptitious goal of adopting the child).  Thus, it is counter-instinctual for a child to reject a parent—even an abusive parent.  When a professional observes a child strongly reject a parent in the absence of verified abuse, neglect or markedly deficient parenting skills—which should never be assumed based on the child’s self-reporting—one of the first thoughts should be that the other parent is an alienator.  Moreover, one should never assume that, because a child has rejected a parent, the parent must have done something to warrant it.

Having observed thousands of genuinely-abused children during a period of 24 years, I have concluded that a child’s innate desire to have a relationship with his or her parents is one of the most powerful of human instincts, surpassed only by the instinct for survival and the instinct to protect ones young; among normal children, in the absence of an alienating influence, that instinct is seldom suppressed because a parent exhibits relatively minor flaws, deficiencies, or idiosyncrasies.

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Government Agencies Deal with Excessive Child Support Orders

On Friday, June 27, 2014, Connecticut’s Department of Social Services (DSS) sponsored a one-day conference. This conference focused on the relationship between child support and effective parenting. It emphasized the importance of co-parenting and of father involvement with their children. The judicial branch, Support Enforcement Services (Charisse Hutton) and Family Support Magistrates Division (Norma Sanchez-Figueroa) emphasized the importance of parental involvement and the negative influence of excessive support orders.

  • The keynote speaker was Vicki Turetski, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.
    • She emphasized that regular child support payments increase with parental involvement.
    • She lauded the Fatherhood Initiative, a federal program that began in 2000.

Brief Summary of Conference Themes
The themes of the conference centered on the connection between parental involvement and financial support for children living with one parent. Even in cases with past domestic violence, a structured program and a commitment to change behavior can lead to successful co-parenting. There was general agreement that parental time and decision making responsibility are at least as important as child support dollars. The dollars can interfere with parental involvement when support orders are unrealistic or when arrearages build up due to illness, unemployment of incarceration. The conference proposed specific remedies such as in-kind child support payments and easy ways to reduce support orders after illness or unemployment. Child Support Guidelines in Connecticut are unrealistic at low income levels, but currently the Commission has failed to appreciate the damage this does.

Possible conclusions with respect to root causes of excessively high child support orders
The root cause of the problem addressed by the Conference is, in my opinion, the economic studies used to justify excessively high support orders. The studies are flawed in many ways, including: 1) The assumption that percentages should be based on an intact family; 2) the assumption that only one parent, the “custodial parent,” is capable of making financial decisions on behalf of children.

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Connecticut’s legislature votes no confidence in the family court system

On Friday, April 25, 2014, both houses of Connecticut’s legislature unanimously approved a bill that restricts judges in family court matters. Parent who have been unfairly denied access to their children and bankrupted by the court turned out in large numbers to testify in favor of the legislation. Given that judges and divorce lawyers fought hard against the measure, this can only be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the way family court operates today in Connecticut.
The bill passed on April 25 deals with technical issues associated with the court appointed Guardians Ad Litem (GALs). The issues generating the no confidence vote centered on:
1. Poor training. GALs require only 30 hours of training. No law degree, no study of child behavior, no other experience with children.
2. No accountability. As a practical matter, parents paying the bills could not fire the GAL! And, GALs have immunity from law suits.
3. Some GAL’s had few meetings with children and refused to meet with those intimately involved with the children’s lives.
4. Excessive pay. Hourly rates were reported in the $200-$850 range and some total billings were in excess of $20,000 per year. Some testimony suggested that GALs are more interested in the pay than in the welfare of children. Parents can be jailed for failure to pay GALs.
5. In some cases, getting a high paying GAL assignment required a cozy relationship with an attorney representing one side of the custody case.
The legislation that will take effect in October, SB 494, addresses most of the complaints listed above. Specifically, it allows parents to agree on a GAL or an attorney for the minor child (AMC) from a list of fifteen candidates proposed by the judge. If they can’t agree, and the judge appoints a GAL, then this decision is appealable. Most importantly, the judge is required, within 21 days, to issue an order clarifying the work to be done by the GAL or AMC, to set forth the fee schedule and to set deadlines on the completion of that work.
This increase in transparency strongly discourages a cozy money-making relationship between GAL’s and others in the court system. A judge needs to refer to one or more of 16 factors defining the “best interests of the child” when appointing a GAL/AMC and the GAL/AMC will be accountable for using these 16 factors when they represent a child.
Is this real reform or is it an effort to appease advocates for reform? We believe that it represents an important first step towards reform, and that it signals a new direction in the relationship between the legislature and family court officials. For one thing, the judiciary tried to head off the legislation by promising internal court reforms. For another, judges and court insiders lobbied hard to prevent any legislative interference with their activities. Thirdly, “John McKinney, the Republican leader of the state Senate said the bill is a modest first step towards fixing a system ‘that has fallen apart’ (Hartford Courant, Saturday, April 29, 2014, page B4).” Finally, the unanimous vote in a legislature where many members are lawyers provides a compelling indication that family court system must change.
Those advocating for reform include a large, vocal group of parents, grandparents and families known as the Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform. Jennifer Verraneault, a GAL based in New Haven and member of a task force studying the issue, has emerged as the leader of this group. Two formally organized groups support broad reforms designed to reduce conflict in custody cases and increase involvement of both parents unless there is evidence of abuse or neglect: the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut (SPC) and the National Parents Organization (NPO).
Rep. Gonzalez embraced the need for family court reform, even at the beginning of the process when she was ridiculed as a radical. After the unanimous vote, senators and representatives thanked Rep. Gonzalez for not giving up on the legislation. Congratulations and hugs rewarded her hard work and dedication to the legislation.
This legislation points towards a sea change in Connecticut family law. For the first time, the legislature has substantially restricted the actions of family court judges, imposing specific limits on how they act. Prior to this, judges had broad latitude to determine vaguely defined “best interests of the child,” and this often resulted in marginalizing one parent, as well as fostering greater legal dispute. A small change embedded in the new legislation may have broad consequences: in any case, even one not involving a GAL or AMC, judges are now required to articulate which of the 16 factors (or possibly some other consideration) they use when determining the best interests of the child.
A new direction was set by the Connecticut legislature on April 25, but much work still needs to be done to ensure that children are not arbitrarily deprived of access to a capable parent, or disadvantaged financially by the excessive cost of a custody dispute. The SPC and NPO have expressed a willingness to meet with family court officials to hammer out further improvements in the family court system.

The full text of SB 494 can be found at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/amd/S/2014SB-00494-R00SA-AMD.htm

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Testify for Shared Parenting, GAL Reform and Alimony Reform on Monday, March 31

When: Monday March 31, preferably near 8am, but any time after that is OK.
Between 8am and 10am you sign up for a lottery number. After that you sign at the bottom of the list of speakers. Expect to compete with many people testifying.
Where: Legislative Office Building, Second floor. Driving directions:
http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/DrivingDirections.asp. If the Parking Garage is full (which is likely), there’s a pay garage in a commercial building on Oak Street opposite the entrance to the Appellate Clerk’s office.
What: Bill 6685 – shared parenting; RB 494 -GAL reform; Bill 5524, alimony reform

If you can’t attend, submit written testimony by email: JUD.Testimony@cga.ct.gov . You can even submit written testimony through Tuesday, April 1.

Please testify to any of the following points that agree with your thinking and experience:
• Most of the problems – alienation, excessive cost, and experts trying to substitute their opinions for the parents’ – could be solved if judges, family relations officers and others simply asked repeatedly: which parent is more likely to provide “frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact” between the child and the other parent?
o The courts need to clearly send the message that each parent must promote frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent.
o Of course there are exceptions in cases with proven violence, neglect or abuse.
• Guardian Ad Litems (GALs) need to be carefully supervised as specified in RB494. Here is a link to the full text: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/S/2014SB-00494-R00-SB.htm
o RB 494 will be hotly contested by professionals who are making lots of money on the existing family court system.
o The Shared Parenting Council supports RB 494 as a step in the direction of much needed reform.
• Modify RB 494 to require GALs to promoting active involvement by both parents.
• Alimony requires guidelines for judges to follow. This will ensure consistency across courts in Connecticut.
• Absent abuse, neglect and domestic violence, children have the constitutional right to have both parents equally involved in their lives.
• There’s no oversight or accountability of the court appointed professionals such as GALs, AMCs, Psychological Evaluators. This opens the door to a few who want to exploit the system. Only in very rare circumstances should a judge appoint a GAL or any other individual to a family absent proven abuse and neglect.
• Absent findings of abuse or neglect the judge should be required to tell counsel and parties that we have a presumption of shared equal parenting time. If the parents disagree about the amount of time, then the burden of proof is on the parent who is not agreeing to up to 50% time for the other parent.
• The judge will enforce the laws and then sanction parents who lie to the court or mislead the court in an attempt to seek more parenting time. Sanctions need to be monetary and/or in the form of community service.
• Parental alienation: a Judge needs to be alerted in an emergency hearing that a child about potential alienation. DCF will be called in. Hopefully this will be a detergent for any alienator in their early stages of abuse.

We had a tremendous turnout in January, and as a result the Judicial Branch is beginning the process of reform.
Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in these major changes in Connecticut law.

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Parental Alienation: This Time Proven in a Connecticut Court

I get a stream of complaints about “parental alienation” in Connecticut, the attempt by one parent to minimize or eliminate the other parent’s role with the children. Every year, two or three of these cases come to my attention. Clearly, Connecticut has a problem with parental splitting or even alienating behavior.

The case of Tauck v. Tauck provides court evidence of splitting behavior. Court records show that in 2005 allegations of child molestation were filed against the father; in addition, it was claimed that he had downloaded child pornography onto his laptop computer. During the trial, it was found by Judge Abery-Wetstone that Mr. Tauck could not have downloaded the images because he was out of the country, and the child molestation charges were entirely unsubstantiated.

The damage to children from splitting or alienating behavior is enormous. They are being denied a relationship with their parent. Studies have shown that children without one parent are at much greater risk of behavioral problems, poor school performance and incarceration.

Connecticut judges, DCF, family relations officials need to do a better job of recognizing signs of splitting and alienation. These include:

  • The aggressive parent fails to encourage the child to have a
    relationship with the other parent. Failure to actively promote this important relationship in the child’s life is often the first indication of destructive splitting  behavior to follow.

  • A parent penalizes the child for spending time with the other parent.

  • A parent refuses to allow the child to spend time with the other parent.

  • A child who previously had a positive relationship with a parent refuses further contact.

  • One parent cuts off direct contact between a child and the other parent. Phone calls, letters and emails are unanswered.

  • Protective orders are being used as a tool to prevent visitation.

Judges and other professionals need to make it clear not only at the outset but repeatedly throughout the proceedings that such behavior will not be tolerated. More so, they should question each party as to how they intend to assure the other parent has an equal role in their children’s lives.

Post your experiences with splitting or alienating behavior here. We are particularly interested in hearing from adults who experienced this as children.

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