A Periodic Newsletter of the Young Lawyers Section of the
Vol. 12 #3 Summer/Fall 2008
How To Make a “Deadbeat” Dad by Bonnie Robertson
In 2003, the Arkansas General Assembly added a provision to the custody statute that allows a court to award joint custody in a divorce proceeding. This change permitted a father to ask the court for equal consideration and even equal custody of his children, without having to prove the mother is a less qualified parent. In spite of this legislation, Arkansas Appellate Courts still warn trial courts that awarding joint custody when the parents cannot get along is reversible error. The rulings of our appellate courts leave the “trump card” in place for a mother to refuse to enter a joint custody arrangement, even when it is logistically feasible and a great idea for the children, and even when the mother is the cause of the discord See e.g., Byrd vs. Byrd, 2008 WL 376334 (February 13, 2008). Thus, if there is no settlement between the parents, there will be no joint custody, meaning that the father gets demoted from parent to visitor with alternating weekends and one night per week. A father who suffers this kind of demotion feels powerless, unimportant, and dispensable to his children. Why should child support be his top priority if he has no control over what happens to his children, if he has no right to information from his children’s doctors or teachers (this still occurs at times because some providers and schools do not know state law gives fathers automatic access), and if he cannot even prevent the mother from moving across the country (this deals with relocation controversy, which is another article in itself). You might say that child support should be a father’s top priority simply because it’s for his children. That is absolutely correct. However, right or wrong, the statistics on child support compliance show that it is directly related to the amount of involvement a father has with his children: When we say to non-custodial parents that we care nothing about their relationships with their children, that we will offer no protection against the custodial parent’s interference with that relationship, and that we will devote government resources only to extracting financial payments, we should not be surprised by the result. Parents support children when they are permitted to be parents; slaves run away. The link between emotional relationship and financial relationship could not be more plain. The Census Bureau has reported that:
- child support compliance was 90.2% in cases of joint custody; - child support compliance was 79.1% where access to the child was protected by a visitation order; and - child support compliance was only 44.5% where neither joint custody nor access were protected by an order. Ronald K. Henry, “When the Real World Intrudes Upon Academics and Advocates.” Perhaps the premise presented here begs the question: “if the parties do not get along, how can they possibly be joint custodians?” The answer is simply that lawyers must think outside the box so that the court order is “outside the box.” For example, a father’s period of parenting time could begin on Thursday after school and end the following Monday morning, during alternating weeks. f the exchanges between parents are conflict-ridden, they could occur at the school, daycare, or a neutral family member’s home. The father should be informed about each doctor’s visit, school meeting, and extra-curricular activity. These are only a few examples indicating that the possible custodial arrangements are limited only by the creativity and foresight of the lawyers, parents, and judges. Of course, no custody arrangement will be perfect or totally without conflict. However, lawyers have a duty to diligently represent their clients’ interests. This does not mean we must pursue any course of action desired by our client—especially if his or her desires are based in vengeance, hurt, or insecurity. As lawyers, we have a unique opportunity to inform our clients and to help them make good decisions for their children—decisions that are more likely to prevent the stress of single parenthood, to promote proper adjustment of their children, and to prevent frequent litigation. The following are some facts you and your client should consider before insisting that the mother should have sole custody: • • • •
63% percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. 90% percent of all homeless and runaway youths are from fatherless homes. 85% percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes. 71% percent of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes.
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70% percent of youths in State institutions are from fatherless homes. 75% percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers are from fatherless homes. 85% percent of rapists motivated by displaced anger are from fatherless homes. 71% of teenage pregnancies are to children of single parents. Daughters of single parents are 2.1 times more likely to have children during their teenage years than are daughters from intact families. Daughters of single parents are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages. All these intergenerational consequences of single motherhood increase the likelihood of chronic welfare dependency.
“What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities?” by U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs National Institute of Justice Executive Office for Weed and Seed January 5-7, 1998. Most parents, especially dads, fear losing access to their children when their marriage dissolves. Although the bleak reality for fathers seems to be slowly improving in our courtrooms, Arkansas’s dads should continue to fight for equal consideration. Together with their attorneys, fathers can challenge the Legislature and the Courts to develop laws that provide trial courts with adequate discretion to decide whether joint custody and equal consideration of both parents is best for the children in each case, even when the parties do not agree. Bonnie Robertson owns the Robertson Law Firm, PLLC, focusing primarily in family and criminal law, and which has two office locations, one in North Little Rock and one in Benton.
Hats Off Staci Dumas Carson, of Watts, Donovan & Tilley, P.A., and her husband D. Kris Carson just welcomed into their family their first baby, a son—Eli Cooper Carson—on June 24, 2008, who weighed 7 lbs. and 2 ozs. Jay Taylor of the Friday Firm in Little Rock has been selected to participate in Leadership Arkansas, Class III. Cory Allen Cox, the Director of the Arkansas Insurance Department Criminal Investigation Division, was named to Arkansas Business’s “Forty Under Forty.” Tim Cullen of Cullen & Co., PLLC in Little Rock, was named to Arkansas Business’s “Forty Under Forty.” Dan Marvin of the Barber Firm in Little Rock and his wife Miranda had a baby girl—Avery Danielle—on July 19, 2008. Bert King, who is General Counsel at Home Bank of Arkansas, is happy to announce the birth of his second daughter Marleigh Elizabeth King on July 24, 2008. Nathan Chaney of the Henry Law Firm in Fayetteville and Hilary Chaney of the Hall Estill Law Firm in Fayetteville, recently welcomed their first child, a son—Jay River Chaney—who was born on June 20, 2008. Kristin Pawlik had a baby boy—Michael Spencer—on May 24, 2008. Kristin recently became a partner with Ketih, Miller, Butler, Schneider & Pawlik, PLLC.
Amy Freedman, Tasha Sossamon Taylor, and Andy Taylor at the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Conference in New York City in August.
MOCK TRIAL VOLUNTEERS NEEDED As many of you know, one big project for YLS is the annual Mock Trial Competition. Last year’s competition was a success and the Mock Trial Committee hopes that this year will be even better. And of course, now is the time to start working on this year’s competition. The regional competition will be held on February 28, 2009, with the sate competition to be held on March 7, 2009. Please consider becoming a volunteer for this year’s Mock Trial Competition. It’s a rewarding way to introduce young people to the legal system. To volunteer or for further details, please contact Rando Hicks (800) 6095668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On September 20, 2008, Leah Phelps Carpenter, an Associate at Gable Gotwlas in Tulsa, OK, was married to the Honorable Judge Ronald A. White of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Kristen Collier Wright, an Associate at Bass, Berry & Sims in Memphis, will be featured in an upcoming article in the Commercial Appeal about her experiences as an attorney and working mother. Kristen also recently represented her firm at a national ceremony in New York City to accept the firm’s award for being named one of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC. Kristen and her husband Marshall Wright are the parents of 3-year-old twins, Collier Benton and Syble Elizabeth. Brian Smith (and his wife Ellie) of the Friday Firm are the parents of Walker Smith. Carter Stein (and his wife Emily) of the Law Offices of Gary Green are the parents of Bauman Stein, not sure of spelling of name or date of birth. Zane Chrisman gave birth to daughter Alexandra on September 24, 2008.
IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ON YLS MEMBERS WHO DESERVE A “HATS OFF” OR WOULD LIKE TO SUBMIT IDEAS FOR ARTICLE PUBLICATION PLEASE CONTACT THE EDITOR OF “IN BRIEF”, TASHA SOSSAMON TAYLOR, email@example.com
A Periodic Newsletter of the Young Lawyers Section of the Arkansas Bar Association.