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.

 

SINGLE MOTHERS ARE HEROES

Over the past few years a number of studies have come out which purport to show that children raised in single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty, lag behind in academics, and have more emotional problems than children raised in two-parent households.  And who is to blame for all of this?  Well, according to the interpretation of many so-called “experts” . . . it is Single Mothers.
A Google search turns up headlines such as:  “Why Do Single Parent Families Put Children At Risk?”; “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?”; “Single Parent Families Threaten America’s Fiscal Future”; . . . and “Single Motherhood: Worse for Children.” 
Blaming single mothers is wrong.  In fact, it’s stupid.  Historically, it has been single moms who have stepped up to the plate and supported the children when fathers abandoned the family or were only peripherally involved.  Single mothers are the ones who have shouldered the responsibility of raising the children — disciplining them, getting them off to school, helping with homework, soothing them when they are sick, and taking care of all their needs.  Single mothers are the ones who have gone to work to put clothes on their children’s backs, and food on the table, when fathers are not providing support.  In many cases, mothers are the only person in their children’s lives whom they can rely on.  Why blame single mothers?
It is too easy to glance at a set of statistics and immediately look for someone to blame.  But that is exactly what the “experts” are doing.   Assessing blame in this manner requires ignoring a wide array of societal factors that contribute to childhood outcomes.  For instance, one could argue that it is poverty, and not single parenthood, that places a child “at risk.”  Single parents are more likely to be below the poverty level, for obvious reasons.  If a mother is not receiving child support from the father – or not enough child support – then it is no surprise that she and her children will struggle financially.  She will have to find a job, or maybe two, to make ends meet.  If the children are being raised in an area of town where crime is rampant, and attending a faltering school, then the odds are higher that those children will be considered “at risk.”  Is that the mother’s “fault”?  Why isn’t it the fault of the parent who has chosen to take no responsibility at all for the children?  

The fact is that in some instances the children are better off being raised by a single parent rather than living in a home with parents who are angry and hostile toward each other; or being negatively influenced by a parent who is disconnected and irresponsible, or who suffers from substance abuse or untreated mental illness — or, worse yet, who is abusive.  Those who claim that children are better off living with both a father and mother conveniently ignore the fact that many of those two-parent households are a toxic environment.  

And what about mothers who are single by choice?  If an unmarried person wants a child and is loving, capable, and able to provide a safe, nurturing home, then why should she not have a child, or adopt one?  I know an unmarried doctor who adopted and raised three happy children.  She is a knowledgeable, attentive, and devoted parent; and her children are certain to have a bright future.  I can’t imagine a married couple providing a better environment for a child.    

In truth, the vast majority of single mothers do an outstanding job of providing for their children, while balancing work and parenting.  They often shoulder the responsibility alone and still manage to provide a loving and nurturing home.  Some of the most successful people in the world today have been raised by single mothers – including the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

To blame single-motherhood for the ills of society is an injustice.  Single moms should receive a medal.  They are heroes.



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 (Legal Decision-Making and Parenting-Time), 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 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.

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.

IMPORTANT ADVICE FROM A MINNESOTA JUDGE

Nothing is more important to us than our children — we always try to do what is best for them. 

Of course, we all know this. None of us would disagree.  But when two parents are embroiled in a contentious divorce or parenting dispute, it can be easy to forget.  So just remember this:  What we say about the other parent, in the heat of anger, can cut our children like a knife, and leave lasting wounds.

Here are some words of wisdom, from a Minnesota judge.  Although the words were spoken many years ago, they are timeless.

This is what he said:

“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you.  Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent.  If so, that is your problem and your fault.

No matter what you think of the other party – or what your family thinks of the other party — these children are one-half of each of you.  Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an ‘idiot’ his father is, or what a ‘fool’ his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.

That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child.  That is not love.  That is possession.  If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them to pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.

I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children.  Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer.”

Judge Michael Hass*



Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney and a children’s advocate.  For many years, he represented children in child abuse and neglect cases in Superior Court.  He has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  He won a Maricopa County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer of the Month Award for representing a child in a Family Court Custody Action and successfully petitioning to have the case transferred to Juvenile Court, where the child could be protected from her abusive parents.  Our law firm focuses on Family Law Matters, including Divorce, contested Custody matters, Parenting Time disputes, Relocation/move-away cases, Enforcement and Modification actions, Child and Spousal Support, Paternity/Maternity, Grandparent and Non-Parent rights, Mediation, and all other matters involving families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation to learn about your rights, please call us today at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, check out our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help you.

*(Source: Huffington Post)



NEW STATISTICS ON MOTHERHOOD

The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau statistics on motherhood in America paint a complex picture.  The number of single mothers living with children under 18 has almost tripled in the past 30-40 years.  Over five million mothers had child support orders that were unpaid as of 2009.  More than 55% of mothers who recently gave birth were working to support themselves and their children, as of 2010.  More children are in day care than ever before, and that number is growing.  There were more than 800,000 day care centers in the United States by 2009.

Our children are our future.  But we must keep in mind that the health and welfare of children and mothers are inextricably linked.  That is why mothers deserve our support.

Here are some interesting statistics on motherhood in America . . .


According to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Statistics
Single Moms
10.0 million
The number of single mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2011, up from 3.4 million in 1970.
Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements <http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.html> FM-2
5.2 million
Number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2009.
Source: Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-240.pdf html>
38%
In 2010, of the 3.7 million women 15 to 44 years old who had a birth in the last year, 1.4 million (39 percent) were to women who were not married, who were separated, or married but with an absent spouse.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2010html> Table 4
In 2008, this number was 1.5 million. Of those mothers, 425,000 (28 percent) were living with a cohabiting partner.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2008 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-563.pdf>
Recent Births
4.13 million
Number of births registered in the United States in 2009. Of this number, 409,840 were to teens 15 to 19 and 7,934 to women age 45 to 54.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/births.htm>
<http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db58.htm#U.S.>
25.1
Average age of women in 2008 when they gave birth for the first time, up from 25.0 years in 2006 and 2007. The mean age from 2007 to 2008 reflects, in part, the relatively large decline in births to women under age 25 compared with the small decline for women in the 25-39 age bracket.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_01.pdf>
55%
Percentage of mothers with a birth in 2010 who were in the labor force. This decreased from from 57 percent in 2008.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010, table 6 <http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/fertility.html>
27.3%
The percentage of mothers who had given birth in the past 12 months who had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among states, New Hampshire had the highest percentage of recent mothers in this category with 48 percent. Mothers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland also had percentages higher than the national average.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2008 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-563.pdf>
83%
Percentage of women age 15 to 44 with at least a high school diploma who gave birth in the last year. For women age 30 to 44, the figure was 90 percent.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010, Table 8 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-563.pdf>
How Many Mothers
85.4 million
Estimated number of mothers in the United States in 2009.
Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation, unpublished tabulations
4.0 million
Number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 who gave birth in the past 12 months.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2008 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2008.html> Table 2
53%
Percentage of 15- to 50-year-old women who were mothers in 2010.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2010.html> Table 1
81%
Percentage of women who had become mothers by age 40 to 44 as of 2010. In 1976, 90 percent of women in that age group had given birth.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2010.html> Table 1
Employed Moms (and Moms-to-Be)
55%
The proportion of mothers in 2010 with a recent birth who were in the labor force decreased slightly from 57 percent in 2008.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2010.html> Table 6
In 2008, among states with higher than average levels of new mothers who were unemployed, the highest proportions were in Alabama and Delaware (10 percent) followed by Michigan, Alaska, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Carolina (9 percent), along with several other states in the southeast United States.
Source: Fertility of American Women: 2008 <http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2008.html> Table 11
805,137
Number of child care centers across the country in 2009. These included 75,396 centers employing 869,468 workers and another 729,741 self-employed people or other businesses without paid employees. Many mothers turn to these centers to help juggle motherhood and careers.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2009 <http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/> and
Nonemployer Statistics: 2009 <http://www.census.gov/econ/nonemployer/>
Stay-at-Home Moms
5 million
Number of stay-at-home moms in 2011 — same as in 2010 and down from 5.1 million in 2009 and 5.3 million in 2008 (the estimates for 2010 and 2009 are not statistically different). In 2011, 23 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother, up from 21 percent in 2000. In 2007, before the recession, stay-at-home mothers were found in 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15.
Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements Table SHP-1 <http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.html>
Compared with other moms, stay-at-home moms in 2007 were more likely:
·         Younger (44 percent were under age 35 compared with 38 percent of mothers in the labor force).
·         Hispanic (27 percent compared with 16 percent of mothers in the labor force).
·         Foreign-born (34 percent compared with 19 percent of mothers in the labor force).
·         Living with a child under age 5 (57 percent compared with 43 percent of mothers in the labor force).
Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007 <http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/p20-561.pdf>
 

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona Family Law attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience.  He is a strong and compassionate advocate for his clients.  Our law firm handles all matters involving Family Law, including divorce, custody, parenting issues, child support, enforcement actions, modification actions, paternity, and grandparent and non-parent rights, as well as division of property and businesses.  If you are in need of a consultation to learn about your legal rights, please do not hesitate.  Contact us today. You can reach us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email (gary.frank@azbar.org), or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to hearing from 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.

SINGLE MOTHERS DESERVE PRAISE

Today, traditional families constitute barely one in five households in the United States, according to census statistics.  And nearly 40% of all births are to unmarried women.  Yet a recent study by the Pew Research Center for Social and Demographic Trends shows most Americans still view single mothers as detrimental to society.

The poll asked 2,700 people about their attitudes regarding modern trends that affect the traditional family:  This included people’s attitudes about unmarried parents raising children; gay couples raising children; single mothers; partners living together outside of marriage; working mothers; interracial marriage; and women who never bear children. 

The responses fell into three nearly equal groups.  Approximately one-third said that the new trends had no impact on society or are positive.  A second group (one-third) considered most of the changes harmful to society.  The third group (one-third) tended to accept the changes, except for single motherhood.   More than 98% of those whose responses fell within the second and third groups said that single motherhood is bad for society.

This view is surprising and illogical.  It lays the blame at the feet of the wrong person.  It isn’t single mothers who are bad for society – if anything, it is absentee fathers; it is parents who abuse or neglect their children; it is teens who weren’t taught how to avoid pregnancy; it is mothers and fathers who don’t set reasonable limits for their children or who are too busy to properly supervise them; or parents with drug or alcohol addictions.  It is parents to fail to provide the love, care, attention, and support that every child needs

There many reasons for the modern shift away from the traditional family, and not all of them are bad.  There was a time (in the not-to-distant past) when divorce was considered shameful; when interracial marriage was illegal; when gay marriage was unthinkable; when a man and woman living together was considered immoral; when “blended” families were considered abnormal and unhealthy; when children born out of wedlock – through no fault of their own – were referred to as “bastards” and forced to live lives filled with derision and prejudice.  Society’s views have changed over the years, and we have become more tolerant.  Yet, according to the Pew Research Center study, Americans continue to see single mothers as being bad for society.  Why?     

Many single mothers are not single by choice.  Some are widowed.  Some are divorced.  Some are raising children alone because the father has shirked his responsibility and abandoned the family.  Shouldn’t the blame in many of these cases be placed where it belongs – on absentee fathers

Single mothers are doing what every parent should do – they are standing up and accepting responsibility.  They are caring for, and providing for, their children – even if they have to do it alone.  This is a courageous and selfless act.  Single mothers deserve our praise, not our condemnation.

Then there is another category of single mothers:  mothers who elect to become single parents by choice.  Not everyone finds, or even wants, a life-partner.  But being an excellent parent does not depend on having a partner.  It depends on love, commitment, a willingness to spend time with the children, to put their needs ahead of your own, and to work hard to assure that those needs are met. 

Some people haven’t found a soul-mate and elect not to settle for marrying just for the sake of being married.  Yet they have so much to offer a child – love and devotion, a stable home, an extended family, a bright, happy future.  These single parents are not the cause of society’s problems.  Not by a long-shot.  Rather, in some small way, they might be part of the solution. 

In Arizona, for the third year in a row, certain legislators are trying to pass a bill which would make it more difficult for single parents to adopt children.  Under this law, a married couple would be given priority to adopt just by virtue of the fact that they are married.  Thus, a single woman who is, for instance, a successful pediatrician and wishes to adopt a child will be declined in favor of any married couple, even if that couple is less responsible, less stable, and not very compatible.  This makes no sense.  There are thousands of children in foster care waiting for adoption.  Many of those children have special needs.  In the past, adoptive placement of children with single parents has resulted in positive outcomes.  But if this law passes, single people will be shoved to the back of the line; many will remove their names from the list of prospective adoptive placements, or they will simply not sign up to adopt.  This will lead to children being forced to wallow in the foster care system – children who would otherwise have been placed in stable, loving homes.   

Some might argue that a child is best served in a home with a father and mother.  But how many people do you know who are married to a partner that is too busy to help with the children; who ignores them, or – worse yet – mistreats them?  How many parents are forced to shield the children from another parent’s drug problem, or alcoholism, or anger.  How many parents are unable to make responsible decisions without interference from a spouse who is less knowledgeable or doesn’t place the children’s needs as a top priority?  (This is the cause of countless divorces and, in the end, a child in this situation is better off with one parent having the power to make responsible decisions.)  


Single parents deserve our respect and admiration.  They are not the cause of the breakdown of the traditional American family.  Instead, they are the ones who stood up and shouldered the difficult responsibility of caring for the children.  One cannot legislate the perfect family.  Maybe there are many types of “perfect” families.  And what is a perfect family, anyway?  It is any family where a child receives stability, support, encouragement, and unconditional love.

Gary Frank has thirty years of experience as a Family Law Attorney and mediator, dealing with divorce, custody, and all matters pertaining to families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation, you can contact Gary by telephone at 602-383-3610, through our website, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.