What the Law Should Look Like

The current laws are set up to disincentivise shared parenting and create a situation where there is a custodial parent and a visitor. The reason for this is that SSA Title IV Part D specifically rewards the states based on how much support they collect, matching up to dollar for dollar. This means that the money we all contribute towards OUR social security, is being funneled to the states. While there needs to be some incentive towards enforcing support in cases where a parent chooses to entirely leave the family, the following elements would make the law more just while making the sure that it really is set up with the interests of the children in mind.


  • Shared parenting is the default regardless of prior arrangements, unless a parent does not want their share, or has a proven inability to do so (severe mental illness, substance abuse, violence etc…)
  • Anything less must meet the same burden of proof as criminal trials, as constitutional rights should only be able to be taken away in criminal cases. Contempt proceedings can trump those rights currently, thus anything leading to contempt must meet that standard.
  • Right of first refusal should be by default and irrevocable. Barring anything in paragraph 2, there should not be resources utilized to care for the kids if the other parent is available and willing.


  • Caps. No more than fixed percentage of income, and no more than a specified amount per child (whichever is less) as appropriate for the geographic region. A spouse is not a retirement plan nor an insurance policy.
  • Accountability. Child support should be audited to ensure that the parent is spending the money on the children.
  • Penalties must be addressed. License suspensions must be removed as the possibility of incarceration. Adding another mouth to feed in the prison system while removing an individual from the workforce does nothing to help the children nor the state. Those pathological enough to choose this alternative over receiving what support they do get, should not be the ones allowed to dictate their children’s future.
  • No payment in alienation cases. Should a parent be found to be alienating the other parent, support should be removed.
  • Income calculations must be capped at a 40 hour work week, exclude overtime, and based on actual income and not hypothetical income. Currently the law allows for courts to make up their own numbers without the need for any evidence.

Other Factors:

  • Penalties for false domestic violence/abuse accusations. This does not mean that every case where abuse is unproven has the tables turned on the other party, but should there be evidence (i.e. a recording of threats of false accusations) then the other party should serve and equal or harsher penalty for making such accusation.
  • Remove Title IV-D funding from sates not compliant with the basic outlines.
  • Substantially limit child support amounts in shared custody cases. Several states that do have shared parenting, have created child support guidelines that still maximize transfer of funds from one party to the other with the goal of collecting Title IV-D funding. Being divorced should not be a taxable source of revenue!
  • Reform family court procedure. An individual should be able to navigate this arena without the need for a costly attorney, therapists, expert witnesses, GALs, and many others. This alone will reduce a massive financial burden in our society, and pass that on to our children. A social worker should be appointed instead of a GAL. We do not need lawyers deciding what is best for children, but those who actually know mental health and families.
  • Jury trials. Currently the same judges who benefit from the Title IV-D revenue are the ones deciding the cases. This is a clear conflict of interest. An impartial jury would be removed from these incentives and best able to rule on the matter.

The Silver Bullet

If you search hard enough (actually, one of the first groups of links when you search) you’ll find several blogs and instruction sites on how to kick your spouse out and gain leverage in a divorce case. One common thread is if all else fails, is file a PFA (Protection From Abuse) or child abuse claim. While domestic violence cases can be legitimate, the standard of evidence is entirely too low. The elected officials and attorneys who created this low standard then abuse it to the point of teaching other attorneys how to profit from this low bar. It has gotten so out of control that in Williamson County, Texas, the Assistant District Attorney Leslie Levy, held a seminar to teach other family law attorneys on how to employ PFAs to gain an advantage for their clients in a divorce case. We won’t quote the whole video, but here are some memorable quotes:

Asst. DA: We got this guy kicked out from his house because it was too close to her house. The constable called and said: “You realize the result of this is that he has to leave his house?”

Asst. DA: Yes we do. It’s up to him if he wants to violate that protective order or not.

The purpose of this seminar was to shift the case load from her office directly to the attorneys, since doing the PFA as a part of their case does not put the burden on the DA’s office, which then does not have to be the ones to prosecute. As so many of these attorneys utilize it as a negotiating tool and not as actual protection from abuse, the office is overloaded with prosecuting the cases, which are often rubber stamped by judges. She spends 38 minutes selling the group of attorneys on why doing the PFA is advantageous in divorce and how to file them in a way that requires the least evidence, as well as the technicalities in some of the more easier to stick charges. As in one of our other articles, we acknowledge that domestic violence is real, and something does need to exist for it. But putting in place laws that can be applied with no evidence, destroys families and children. That is not how to do it.

Asst. DA: Who here has filed a divorce and filed a protective order as a part of it? [mostly all hands go up] I love that! …so I would encourage you very strongly if you have one of those cases to do the protective order as part of your case. It gives you more leverage in negotiating a settlement.

Asst DA: My point is that it often will help your case to do it. You’ll get evidence that will be just as applicable in the divorce, it’ll leverage onto your divorce, you can file it into the divorce.

At minute 32 Attorney Levy comments how judges hate to rule on cases involving children when there is no evidence of harm to the child or against the parent. Her solution? File it with the divorce. And why is that? Minute 38, because they feel they are using criminal courts to get a divorce. And in divorce cases, you do not need evidence–just a reasonable fear.

Asst. DA: If you file it into your divorce and do it as a part of a temporary order, that concern goes away…and its not in the code but a preference…so if you file it into yours you can get a better outcome, a better settlement…it will help your case in the long run…I am happy to send you all the forms we use.

For Our Children

Studies show that the best environment for children of divorce is one in which conflict is at a minimum. Unfortunately our family courts are designed to do the very opposite–foster conflict. In an ideal situation 50/50 custody would be the default with very few exceptions. Those situations being when a parent does not want their portion of the parenting time, and those with proven substance abuse/domestic violence histories. The key word being proven; too often unsubstantiated claims are enough to render someone guilty in the eyes of the law. Does that mean that there will possibly be an occasional child abuse/DV case that slips through the cracks? Possibly there might. But this country was not founded on the principle that we should strip away rights from the many because of the actions of the few. While the last several decades have seen a decrease in the burden of proof required for domestic abuse cases to move forward, the unfortunate consequence is that it likely destroys far more lives indirectly, compared to the relatively small number of victims it helps. Domestic abuse is a terrible thing that should be treated with the greatest seriousness, but it cannot be at the expense of innocent victims having their lives ruined when an abuser uses the same legislation against their intended victim.

The Science

While in today’s society even basic science is a source of debate, the science of shared parenting is fairly straightforward. In the majority of states where shared parenting is not the de facto standard, the accepted norm is to award custody time in a similar fashion as to what was happening prior to the divorce. While seemingly fair, it ignores the fact that families are a unit where a division of labor takes place that allows the family to operate as efficiently as possible (i.e. the high earner spends more time working) for the given situation. When that situation changes to assume that these roles should continue and remain static ignores the very fact that the situation has indeed changed.

“The approximation rule represents a return to a 19th-century mechanistic view of the universe. It assumes that a complex system—a family—can be understood by breaking it down into discrete measurable units without regard for the transactions and balance among the units.406 It reduces the intricate rhythms of a family’s life together to only those interactions that can be measured with a stopwatch. In so doing, it no more captures the essence of the family than the number of words and lines convey the meaning, value, and essence of a poem.”


The converse to this faulted view of parenting time is shared parenting. Not just joint legal custody, but equal physical custody. On this the science is abundantly clear. Children not exposed to conflict in divorce have lower rates of their own problems in nearly every way–better grades, less disciplinary issues, less drug use etc…. Dr. Linda Nielsen’s work in cataloging some of this research makes it abundantly clear. So how do we lower the level of conflict? While you cannot take the conflict out of divorce entirely, the law should be about reducing it, not fostering it. Our current system rewards the parent who can make the loudest accusation, rewrite the parenting history most efficiently, and lie most effectively. When the goal becomes to convince all those in authority to shape the next twenty years of your financial well being by increasing child support, the tool you have to use is to create as much conflict as possible to make shared parenting seem impossible. It is hard to fault the other parent entirely. They may be looking at a significant drop in lifestyle as a result of the divorce. Nobody wants that. But it should not be about what that parent wants but what is best for our children. Greed should not outweigh our children’s future.

But yet, fully knowing all of the science behind this, it seems our family courts and the professionals involved have sold out our children’s future.

Commentary on the PA HB1397 Hearing

While having directly experienced the injustice of family court, it was no surprise to see the litany of supposed professionals testifying against HB1397 this past Sunday. What was disappointing to see is the too few parents that were allowed to testify while those who stand to benefit from the current system were given a larger percentage of speaking time. Here is a summary:

Opening – Sue Helm, PA – Ends at 4:40. Introduction to the legislation.

Steven Meehan & Matt Hale – National Parents Organization, 5:46-18:40.

Overview and cite the Kentucky shared parenting law and it’s success, bipartisan support, overwhelming passage.

Gail Calderwood and Michael Burton – PA Bar Association 19:10-52:00.

The testimony from these individuals centered to describe the current law as just, fair, flexible, and non-prejudicial. Claim that the law has evolved and not presently biased against any gender. This testimony is entirely false when you factor in the facts of custody in Pennsylvania, where fathers receive approximately 30% of parenting time. Claim that the custody is determined by the factors, yet ignore the fact that the judge has discretion as to how to apply them without consideration of evidence. Gail Calderwood claims the law is fair, attempts to claim that both parents are in court on “equal footing” based on her twenty years of practice. Only example of fathers getting custody is when the mother has “serious issues.” “Clear and convincing evidence…high evidentiary bar”–they oppose having clear, direct, weighty evidence be a factor in custody case.

Justin Poe and Mark Ludwig – Americans for Equal Shared Parenting – 52:30-61:20.

Mr. Poe’s testimony regarding parental alienation. Went from full time supervised visits to full time father when ex spouse died. Divorced from next spouse and only received 40% custody, worked out on their own 50/50 agreement, daughter then performed better in school and more engaged. Once the attorney fees were removed from the equation he was better able to provide for her and allow her to engage in activities and pay for braces. Mark Ludgwig – points out that parents who are relegated to partial custody automatically get full custody when the other parent dies. What keeps them from being deemed a good parent prior to this by the courts? Highlights that starting at presumed 50/50 creates a level playing field and creates a need for a burden of proof to demonstrate that the other parent is unfit.

Suzanne Estrella (PA Coalition Against Rape / Domestic Violence – PCAR/PCADV) Denny Petio (PCAR/PCADV) 1:01:45-1:23:00.

Ms. Estrella testifies that 50/50 custody will create a “…barrier to justice these survivors are forced to overcome.” Cites statistics about child abuse despite the fact that a substantial portion is by women as well. Describes graphic child sexual abuse case. Cites misleading quotes about voluntary versus court imposed 50/50 custody, in that voluntary is better, which ignores the additional harm that comes form conflict created when parents are fighting for custody. Claims 50/50 custody will “tie judges hands” and not allow them to prevent an abusive parent from continuing. Ms. Petio touts the benefits of the current law and states HB1397 “is fatally flawed.” Claims it is not in the best interests of the child “to spend an equal time with each parents.” Cites the following:

  • Distance (uses example of 45 minutes).
  • Parents work schedule – cites a parent that leaves for work before school, arrives after school ends.
  • Parent is abusive.

Claims statue will “enable abusers…to enact further abuse.” Disapproves with the fact that the statue needs clear evidence to override 50/50 custody. States that it takes ability away from the families to come up with “creative” solutions to their custody plan.

Judge Kim Eaton (Allegheny County) and Judge Daniel Clifford (Mongomery County) 1:23:00-1:39:20.

Judge Clifford was a family law attorney for over 30 years, where he served for the PA Bar Association. Judge Eaton has been a judge since 1999 after 18 years as a family law attorney. Claim to have 75 years of combined family court experience. Feel the current statue is “exactly right.” “Everybody who has custody has shared custody…”–this claim is touted and is a legal term. Pennsylvania gives supposed shared legal custody to both parents in almost all cases, but denies physical custody in these same cases. Claims no litigant should not know why they did not get custody. Judge Eaton uses an example of mom being away all the time and using nannies as reasons not to give custody. States that “the factors” have to be reviewed and discussed or the superior court will reject the opinion, however, there is no mention of the fact that the judges can use unsupported testimony to override physical evidence. State the benefits of the current law that allows judges to make their own decisions without needing to weigh evidence.

Maria P. Cognetti Joint State Government Commission of Domestic Relations Adviser Committee, Mary Cushing’s-Schwartz – American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Both are family lawyers. 1:39:30 – 2:01:00

Cognetti claims that her “male clients would not like this bill.” Claims that she has dads who get primary custody that would now lose that ability based on “how hard the presumption is.” Claims that there is no presumption in the current law. Claims it puts parents’ rights ahead of the rights of the child. Opposes Kentucky law. Attorney Cushing’s-Schwartz: “This is the wrong solution.” She goes on for a large portion of her testimony citing extreme examples, particularly emphasizing the father who abandons his family. Claims children want “their lives intact.”


Total speaking time pro bill by those affected by the current law: 22 minutes.

Total speaking time against the bill, mostly by attorneys and those directly financially benefiting from the current law: 92 minutes.

Total speaking time from child psychologists about what is best for the children: Zero minutes.

Total speaking time from parents who are currently alienated from their children by the courts: Zero minutes.

You can watch the entirety here: http://www.pahousegop.com/Video/Judiciary? and our mirror here: https://youtu.be/IILYgOywrLA.

The law itself can be seen here: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2019&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=1397&pn=1719

The major theme that we see here is that you have mostly attorneys and judges advocating for the bill to be scrapped. These people are those who directly benefit from the current law, which allows judges full liberty to do as they like without having to take evidence into account. They have to give an opinion, but their opinion does not have to be supported by evidence. Without evidence there is no fair or just verdict. We strongly recommend you read the rebuttal by Dr. Craig Childress, a renowned expert in the field of parental alienation, who has seen a multitude of these cases directly and the terrible impact the current law has on the children. While we can say many things based on our own experience and that of many other parents that we know, his opinion is well written and addresses many of the points brought up by those testifying during the hearing.

Before You Do ANYTHING

…read this first.

[Publisher’s Note: We are not attorneys nor should you consider this legal advice, just things that we’ve heard other parents say they wished they had done.]

It might have been years of torture, years of abuse, and despite everything you have tried it is still ongoing. No amount of marital therapy has fixed it, and it is getting worse by the day, more and more so in front of the children, who are now getting closer and closer to the day they will remember everything. You don’t want to leave them in that way. You beg and plead, try to reason, and are willing to give up and admit to anything just to get some peace in the house. Make any concession. But it doesn’t work. Nearly every night things are still back at square one, the only question is about what and where, not so much when. You start to understand it is over and you see an attorney. If you’re fortunate they will lay it out to you as it is, and you do some planning, but if you’re not, you’ll be given the false hope of fairness and justice. Do not fall for this trap. While occasionally some are fortunate and do make it out relatively unscathed, a larger percentage will end up far worse. Here are some terms and common traps. Consult a competent attorney for actual legal advice, but these are some things to consider when facing an abusive spouse likely to manipulate the process.

Do not disclose your intention to file for divorce.

Do not disclose when you are moving out.

Do not move out without the following:

  • Ample evidence of their behavior that is legally admissible.
  • Secure all financial documents and proof of assets.
  • Check for any siphoning of marital funds into other accounts.
  • Secure receipts for big ticket items.
  • Make some sort of a custody plan if you can. While a toxic ex will unlikely allow this to happen, make attempts via email so they can be clearly documented. In some states this will matter, in others it will not.
  • Do not allow the other parent to tell the children that you are moving out.
  • Do not move out if you can. Many states will treat this as abandonment, and it gives them the ability to say that you “ran out on the kids.”
  • If the other party is willing to leave (without the children) then let them.
  • If you move out, take the kids for overnights immediately. Until there is a custody order, the other party CANNOT keep you from your children.
  • Carry a recording device in case they want to try and falsify domestic violence reports. Disclose you have it going in a two party sate, make it plainly visible.
  • Tell your family and friends what is going on while it is happening. Do not allow the other person to get an edge up by painting you black before you have a chance to defend yourself.

The biggest takeaway here is that you will want to take the high road and not cause any more drama then warranted which is what is in fact–what is best for the kids. But if you are reading this then your cohort will likely not and you should be prepared for the worst. I would like to stress that not every divorce is like this but if you are here, the odds are that is where it is headed.

These are just some of the basics of how to stay away from the worst. Unfortunately many states allow for false domestic violence claims to be taken at face value (courtesy of VAWA) and once that happens you are facing a much bigger battle. The key is to be prepared ahead of time, that way should they choose to go that route you have their motive established in a legally admissible manner. It does not mean that a corrupt court will factor any of it in their decision, but it is the only thing that will stack the odds in your favor.