Working Dad’s Journal – Thoughts on Father’s Day

May 31, 1985

To My Little Girl (6 months old):

Since you were born, I have undergone a gradual transformation. What has changed is my entire definition of self – the way I view myself.  The change is imperceptible to others.  I look, dress, and act the same as I always have, but I feel different.

I had a beautiful childhood.  I felt safe in the knowledge that my parents loved me.  This was, for me, a protective shield.  My memories of those days are vivid and happy.  I can still remember jumping in bed with my dad on Sunday mornings and the way he would turn and smile and wrap me up in his massive arms.  I remember him lifting me gently and carrying me off to bed at night, and clinging to him, my head on his shoulder, pretending to be asleep.  I remember our baseball games in the backyard and how proud I was that my dad was the one teaching us how to hit, field, and throw.  I remember our man-to-man talks and how important I felt as my dad listened intently to my thoughts.  In my eyes, my dad was of heroic proportions, fearless and strong, yet kind and wise.  Today I not only remember those times with my dad, I feel them.

 Now I walk into your room.  It is dark and you are crying.  You reach for me and I lift you out of your crib and hold you in my arms.  You cling to me.  Although you are still whimpering, you smile.  I talk to you softly and turn to gaze into the mirror on your closet door.  Through the dim light, I look at myself and see my dad.

ARIZONA CUSTODY LAW UPDATE – IS ASSUMPTION OF EQUAL PARENTING TIME AND DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY UNFAIR TO CHILDREN?

  In 2012 I wrote an article on our law firm’s blog entitled “Say Goodbye to Custody,”, in which I discussed the brand new, and highly debated, revisions to the Arizona Family Law statutes. These laws, which guide the Court in making custody decisions involving children, have given rise to an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority that has become the starting point for the Court’s analysis in every contested custody case. In my opinion, this approach hurts children more than helps them, and is unfair to both mothers and fathers. In this article, I’ll explain why.

Among the changes to the law were the following:

  • The word “custody” was replaced with the terms “Legal Decision-Making” and “Parenting Time.” (A.R.S. §25-403)
  • A provision was added providing that the court shall adopt a parenting plan “that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time.” (A.R.S. §25-403.02)
  • And in determining custody, whereas the Court was previously required to consider which parent had historically been the primary caregiver for the children, that was removed from the list of factors in the statute and replaced with a requirement for judges to consider: “The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.” (A.R.S. §25-403 [1], Emphasis added.)

At the time, there was much discussion as to what these changes would mean. Some experts believed that the revisions were mostly “semantics” and that not much would change. Others argued that the revisions would lead to a “sea-change” in how the courts determine custody (now called Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time) in the future.

Now, more than five years later, the answer is in. Has there been a big change? Yes. The change has been enormous. It is a seismic shift in the way judges determine parenting time and legal decision-making authority. And, in my opinion, the change is not necessarily a healthy one.

The law still provides that the “best interests of the child” standard should be applied when making “custody” and parenting time decisions, but today, many judges interpret the statutory changes as requiring them to start with the assumption that both parents should be given equal decision-making authority, and equal parenting time. And, in many cases, that trumps the best interests of the child. It wasn’t that way before the law was changed. But, increasingly, it is the reality today.

Why do I think this is not a healthy approach? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute; but before I do, I need to explain a few things: The latest studies show that children do better, and are happier, when both of their parents are loving, active and involved. When a divorce or breakup occurs, the courts should work to make sure that loving, active and involved parents share in decision-making, and that the children get to spend plenty of time with both of them. In fact, Arizona law provides that:

It … is the declared public policy of this state and the general purpose of this title that absent evidence to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interest: (1) To have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents; (and) (2) To have both parents participate in decision-making about the child.” (A.R.S. §25-103) 

So that’s the policy. And it’s true that equal decision-making and equal parenting time are good for children when both parents are loving and capable caregivers. But here’s the catch: Not all parents are equal. Some parents have never been meaningfully involved in their children’s lives, and never will be. And I’m not necessarily talking about “bad” parents. There are parents who love their children but are just too busy, or maybe not interested enough, to be involved. If a parent isn’t available to spend time with the children; and rarely or never attends doctors’ appointments, or school functions, or extracurricular activities; and if that parent doesn’t know the children’s friends; and isn’t tapped into their children’s likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses; their abilities, or disabilities; their medical conditions; etc., then how can that parent be trusted with making critically important decisions for those children? – But all too often today, these types of parents are awarded 50/50 parenting time and equal decision-making authority. And why? – Because of an unwritten assumption that a parent is entitled to it under Arizona law.

This is where I think the new law, as currently interpreted, goes off the rails and can hurt children. It places “Parents’ Rights” ahead of “Children’s Rights.” It assumes that in every case the Court should start its analysis with the proposition that both parents will receive equal parenting time and decision-making authority. And, by doing this, the best interest of the child has been made secondary to the best interest of the adults. Proponents of the law will not agree with my opinion. They will point out that there is no legal presumption mandating equal decision-making and parenting time — but that argument rings hollow. Because while it is true that overcoming a legal presumption requires a higher level of proof than a mere assumption, there is often little difference between the two in actual practice.  Try explaining the difference to a mother or father who has always been the sole caregiver, but whose children will now spend half their lives with a parent who never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby at night, never took care of a sick toddler, or attended a parent-teacher conference, or a school play, or a Little League game.

Those favoring an assumption of equal parenting-time and decision-making will argue that the Court is still required to consider all relevant factors, and that while “equal” may be the starting point in the analysis, a judge can give a parent less time, or no decision-making authority at all, where it is deemed to be in the best interest of the child. And that is true. But I would remind them that Arizona law was also changed in a way that makes such an outcome less likely.

Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 403 contains a list of factors that the Court shall consider in determining Legal Decision-Making and Parenting-Time. Before the law was changed, that statute contained a factor which required a judge to consider whether a parent had historically provided primary care for the child. But that factor was removed from the statute and replaced with this: “The court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including . . . (1) The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”

So now, in making the all-important decision on where the child lives and who will make major decisions, the judge is required to consider a parent’s unproven “potential.” Instead of giving primary consideration to which parent actually took care of the child throughout his or her life, the Court must give equal weight to the other parent’s “potential.”

But here’s the problem — How many people do you know who never lived up to their potential? How many athletes were top draft picks but never became stars? How many employees were promoted but never became effective managers or supervisors? — How many moms or dads were excited when their baby was born but never became active and involved parents? In my opinion, it is a huge mistake to emphasize “potential” over actual experience, or even to give it equal weight. Because past history is the best predictor of future behavior. Thus, by putting too much stock in “potential,” the danger of a bad outcome is evident. And in the end, when a father or mother is awarded equal parenting-time and decision-making authority and never lives up to his or her potential, it is the children who suffer.

Of course, there will be parents who were stay-at-home moms or dads during the marriage, but will have to work full time after the divorce – and the fact that both parents will now be working should be taken into consideration by the Court in formulating a parenting plan. In that sense, the other parent’s potential to become a competent caregiver would come into play. However, it should be just one of many factors the judge considers in determining what is in the best interest of the child.

Fathers’ rights advocates maintain that an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making is necessary because mothers were previously favored in custody disputes. Hey, I’m a father, and nothing is more important to me than my children. And, yes, it is true that there was a time when mothers typically received custody of children. But that was during an era when women were faced with societal and social barriers that made it difficult for them to obtain a college education or executive-level employment, or even a decent-paying job, and which practically forced them to be “housewives” and stay-at-home caregivers of children. Today, many of those barriers have been knocked-down, and glass-ceilings are being shattered. Recent studies show that over sixty-percent of all college students today are women. This means that in the future more mothers will be the family breadwinners; and more fathers will become stay-at-home parents. Therefore, for a judge to make a blanket assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority is unfair to both Mothers and Fathers.

In Arizona and other states across the country, the growing trend in custody cases is to award the parents equal decision-making authority and parenting time. That’s not a bad thing, so long as the parents are equally involved in raising their children. The experts agree that it is best for children to have both parents actively involved in their lives, and that effective co-parenting helps to ensure that children will grow up to be healthy and productive adults. But to make custody decisions based on a simple assumption that both parents are equally capable – when they may not be – is a colossal mistake. One that can harm the children in the long-run.

The care of children is too important to make broad assumptions, let alone instituting legal presumptions, regarding decision-making and parenting time. In the real world, parents are not always equal caregivers. Sometimes the mother is the more responsible parent; sometimes it is the father who is the nurturer and is in a better position to provide for the children’s needs; and in many cases both parents are loving, capable caregivers who are willing to co-parent their children (that is, obviously, the best scenario).

Rather than making assumptions, the Court should start with a blank slate when crafting a parenting plan. The judge should carefully examine the capabilities of each parent, the factors contained in Arizona’s custody statute (A.R.S. §25-403), and all other relevant factors. The judge should take a close look at who has been the child’s primary caregiver, and also consider the potential future relationship between the parents and the child. But the needs of the child should always come first. By taking this approach the Court can ensure that the best interest of the child is protected.

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. In addition, Hanna is an active member of her County Bar Association. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal maintenance and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. To learn more about our firm, check us out on Facebook, Linkedin-Gary Frank, and Linkedin-Hanna Juncaj. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

DON’T LET FEAR AND ANGER DERAIL YOU

My job as a family law attorney is to try to help people get through the worst time in their lives.  Their most personal relationship is crumbling – the one they thought would last forever.  They are afraid  for their children.  They are forced to divide assets that they may have slaved their lives away to accumulate. They fear what the future might look like and wonder how they will survive.  Their whole world is being torn apart.  They feel powerless. 


In difficult times it is easy for us to get caught up in fear, anger, and all the negatives, and lose sight of the fact that family, friends, good health, and a connection to our community are our truest source of riches.

We need to remember that while we cannot control outside circumstances, or how other people may act, we do have the power to control our own attitude.  This power is something that can never be taken from us.  Despite our current difficulties, we can focus on the positive aspects of our lives.  We can try to be more forgiving of ourselves and others.  We can take small steps to live a healthier lifestyle.  We can be grateful for what we do have.  This certainly isn’t an easy task, but it’s the key to being able to weather the storms of life.


Finally, “being of service” is the ultimate cure for fear, anger, resentment and self-pity.  Helping others enables us put our own life in perspective.  It reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering.  There are many others whose lives are even tougher than ours.  By stepping up and showing kindness and compassion, we can ease the pain of others  — and heal ourselves in the process.  Being of service empowers us and allows us to move forward.

If you are caught in the downward spiral of a crumbling relationship and negative thinking, I’m here to tell you that there is a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel.  Your problems are only temporary, and there are things you can do to get you through this difficult time.  Focusing on what is good in your life; maintaining a positive attitude; exercising; getting enough sleep; eating well; turning to family, friends, and faith; becoming active in your community; getting counseling; trying to be more forgiving of yourself and others; being of service; and being grateful for what you have, instead of being resentful for what you lack — these are the things that will get you through.  And one day, you may just wake up and discover that you have become a stronger and happier person than ever before. 

The Law Office of Gary J. Frank has been a fixture in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Gary Frank is a Family Law litigator, a mediator, and a former Judge Pro Tem.  Our firm handles a wide array of cases, such as divorce, custody, relocation, paternity, child and spousal support, division of property and businesses, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all matters relating to families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate.  Contact us today.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be honored to help you.


TODAY’S PARENTS CAN DO IT ALL

It should come as no surprise that fathers can be loving, caring, and nurturing parents – just as mothers were always expected to be.

It should come as no surprise that mothers can excel in the business world and be family breadwinners – just as fathers were always expected to be.

In today’s society, women can be not only nurturers, but also breadwinners.  Men can be not only breadwinners, but also nurturers.  And our children are all the better for it.

The Law Office of Gary J. Frank has been a fixture in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Gary Frank is a Family Law litigator, a mediator, and a former Judge Pro Tem.  Our firm handles a wide array of cases, such as divorce, custody, relocation, paternity, child and spousal support, division of property and businesses, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all matters relating to families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate.  Contact us today.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be honored to help you.

FIVE TIPS ON BECOMING THE BEST DAD YOU CAN BE

Being a divorced dad isn’t easy.  You are now a single parent.  You no longer have another parent to lean on.  When the kids are with you, they are really with you.  That’s the tough part.  But it’s also the great part.  You have not only the responsibility, but the opportunity, to develop a loving and lasting relationship with the most important people in your life – your children.
Here are five tips to help you become the best dad you can be:  
1.            Listen attentively. 
When your children are talking to you, put down what you are doing, look them in the eye, and actively listen.  Show your kids that you care about what they have to say.  Let them know that they are important.
2.           Attend school conferences, open-houses, and functions. 
School is a big part of your children’s lives.  Going to school conferences, open-houses, and other functions shows your kids that their education is important to you.
3.            Learn what interests your child, and become interested in it, too.
Sharing a common interest is a great way to build a strong bond.  It gives you something fun to talk about, and to do together.  But many dads insist that their sons and daughters participate in activities that the dad likes, even after it is clear that the child is not particularly interested.  This can lead to stress and conflict.  Try doing things differently.  Find out what your child is interested in, and become interested in it, too.
4.            Create memories.
You don’t have to take your kids on an African Safari.  Creating memories can be simple and easy.  The most precious gift you can give your children is your time.  So, set aside some time to be with them on a regular basis.  Look for fun activities . . .  A hike in the woods.  A bike ride.  Playing catch.  A game of bowling.  An evening playing Monopoly. These are the types of things that create memories your sons and daughters will remember for a lifetime.
5.            Tell your children you love them. 
Don’t leave it unsaid.  Don’t make your children wonder.  Don’t assume they know.  Tell them you love them – and do it often.
Gary Frank has represented dads in divorce, custody, and parenting-time cases for over 30 years, and is a strong advocate for fathers’ rights.  Mr. Frank is an expert courtroom litigator, as well as a mediator, and a former Superior Court Judge Pro Tem.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, parenting-time, or any other area of Family Law, call us today at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’re always happy to talk to you.

THE ROLE OF FATHERS IS CHANGING

I have good news, and bad news.

Here’s the bad news, and it is truly troubling:  According  to a new Pew Research Center analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), children in the U.S. living apart from their fathers has grown from 11% in 1960 to 27% as of 2010. Among fathers who do not have a high school degree, 40% live apart from their children.  This compares with only 7% of fathers who have a college diploma.

Twenty-two percent of fathers who live apart from their children say they see them more than once a week.  29% say they visit with their children at least once a month; 21% say they visit several times a year; and 27% do not see see their children at all.  For all groups, communicating by phone or email is more prevalent than face-to-face contact.

The study points out that living with his children makes a huge difference in the amount of time a father spends with them.  More than 90% of fathers who live, at least part of the time, with their children say that they shared a meal with their children, or talked to them about their day, over the past several weeks; 63% say they helped a child with homework or checked homework at least several times a week; and 54% report taking a child to or from activities several times a week or more.  Among fathers who do not live with their children, only 16% say they shared a meal with their child with their child several times a week over the past month; 31% report talking to them about her day several times a week or more; and less than 11% helped out with homework or took a child to or from activities.

The trend toward more fathers living apart from their children is caused not only by divorce,but also by declining marriage rates and an increase in out-of-wedlock births.  According to the NSFG study, 46% of all fathers report that at least one of their children was born out-of-wedlock, and 31% report that all of their children were born outside of marriage. Further, 17% of men with biological children have fathered those children with more than one woman.

But here’s the good news:  The evidence shows that the role of fathers is changing, and that many of today’s fathers – both married and divorced – are far more involved with their children than fathers of previous generations.  The NSFG study shows that in 1965, married fathers with children living in their household spent an average of 2.6 hours per week caring for them.  By 2000, the time spent caring for children by that same group of fathers more than doubled to 6.5 hours per week. The Pew Research Center analysis of the study concludes that “fathers who live with their children (at least part of the time) have become more intensely involved in their lives, spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities.”

Being a single father may be difficult, but it provides opportunities:  For instance, a father who is willing to “step-up” will have the opportunity to truly care for his children when they are with him, rather than being left on the periphery.  He will have the opportunity to read to the children, help them with their homework, attend school conferences and other functions, watch their little league ballgames, take them on excursions to the park, or to the zoo.  He will have the opportunity to talk to them and really get to know them; and to develop a loving and lifelong bond.  He will be able to give them love, support, and stability, and enrich his own life in the process.

Being a single father is not a sentence, it is an opportunity.  Even if he is not living in the same household as the children, each and every father has the power to reverse the trend.  He has the power to become the dad that his children need; the dad he always wanted to be.

Gary Frank has been an Arizona attorney and Mediator for over thirty years.  His practice is limited to Family Law.  If you are in need of a strong advocate and a compassionate counselor to help you with your Family Law problem, please give us a call today at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary@franklaw.com.  You can also reach us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.