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NFJA in the Media

pressconferenceNFJA made its public debut on October 10, 2003, and has appeared on national television, in local and national print media, and radio to bring awareness of the urgent need for family justice to the general public.

We need to reach the masses and raise public awareness of our plight in order for there to be positive reform for our families and children. Increased public awareness is a first step that can lead to positive change for all of us and our families. Therefore, this is an area in which we are working diligently, and with success.

Please keep checking back to see updates of NFJA in the news.

A 'shift in society' or a shift in the system?

By Jane Spies, M.S. Ed.
Free Lance Star - June 18, 2006

As Father's Day approaches, it is particularly fitting that a major national study emerges in the mainstream media
confirming what we always knew: Fathers care about their families. 

According to a May 31 USA Today article, "Men are more likely than women to prefer marriage over lifelong singlehood and in many ways are as interested in serious family relationships as women, according to a study that provides the government's first comprehensive glimpse into the male psyche."

I wonder how so many people in society today seem to have forgotten that most fathers love their families and children.

To society's detriment, it appears that some in the family court/child support system have forgotten.

And families suffer as a result.

The family court/child support system that was intended to make things better for families has, in reality, made things worse for countless families and children over the years.

According to a Lansing State Journal article ["Domestic issues fill up court docket: Judges see shift in society, want to see solutions"], family law accounted for two-thirds of all new case filings in Michigan's circuit courts last year.

I believe the "shift in society" described in the article was spurred by a shift in the system that is set up to deal with family breakup. Quite simply, over the years, the system has become unfairly punitive and frequently overzealous.

Correct the dysfunctional system and many families will return to proper functioning. The good news is that since human beings created the system, we can fix it--if we diagnose the problems correctly.

Yet instead of looking at the real causes of family dysfunction, some in society wonder what's wrong with parents (often assuming the worst of the father)--instead of examining the system itself to see whether, in its current state, it too frequently helps to create an adverse situation that benefits no one.

The blame for the so-called "dysfunctional family" does not lie with the majority of parents who are trying to cope the best they can in a poor economy where the costs of food, heat, gasoline, prescription medications, and just about everything else continues to soar while wages stagnate or decrease.

A system that routinely and unfairly stigmatizes loving, fit parents--who are merely trying to deal with life events the best they can--as "absent," "runaway," "abandoning," or "deadbeat," does not help anyone--especially the children.

A broken system 

As long as we keep pointing fingers at fathers, mothers, and families, we cannot fix the broader problem--a broken system. Most parents and their families will thrive if left to cope without unnecessary and intrusive interference into the private realm of family.

Most parents who fall behind in paying full child support do not willfully "refuse" to pay. On the contrary, most can't pay. Nevertheless, they do the best they can. Their children still thrive, sometimes with the help of family and friends. 

As my colleagues at the National Family Justice Association, Dianna Thompson and Murray Davis, so aptly put it, and I paraphrase: When it comes to financial child support, society holds noncustodial parents, most of whom are fathers, to an unattainable standard--to never become ill, disabled, unemployed, downsized, outsourced, or laid off in a poor economy. These are all events that can and do befall anyone, and over which individual human beings have no control.

When good people inevitably fail to meet the unattainable standard, harsh punitive measures can be implemented against them--including jail, public shaming via publishing of lists, seizure of bank accounts, and loss of drivers, hunting, and professional licenses.

Essentially, this is stigmatizing or criminalizing poverty and unemployment--and that is wrong.

It also unnecessarily costs the taxpayers tremendous amounts of hard-earned money to fund the misguided pursuit of innocent people.

Perhaps most tragic, misguided punitive measures meant to punish parents allegedly behind on child support payments also can have unintended adverse effects on children. For example, one woman developed serious "reservations" after she saw a well-publicized Virginia advertisement apparently meant to "shame" parents allegedly behind in their child support payments.

That ad ran in the Sept. 29 Roanoke Times newspaper. Describing the fallout in a letter to the editor, the reader wrote: "My adopted daughter saw her father's face in the ad. She was devastated by conflicting feelings of shame for her father not taking care of his responsibilities and guilt because she knew the child support was owed because of her and her siblings. ... we need to make sure that we don't make victims of the ones we are trying to help."

When a questionable practice of our current family court system hurts an innocent parent, it also hurts the child--even if the result was unintentional.

Furthermore, when one loving parent is unjustly locked out of the lives of his or her children--as so often happens and is accepted in the current system--the entire family and children suffer profoundly. In some cases, due to the lack of enforcement of "visitation" orders, years can pass without a good parent being able to see his or her own children.

Grandparents who can't see their beloved grandchildren suffer, too. They also become "deadbolted."

The solution? Common sense 

But there is hope. We, as a society, can change this for the better.

The first step is awareness of the true nature of the problem, and a little common sense.

Equal parenting by two fit parents must be the norm--especially for the children's sake. Compassion and understanding must take the place of the current overzealous punitive attitude toward too many good parents who are just trying to do their best.

A 2003 study published in "Family Relations" conducted by William Fabricius, Ph.D., of the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, found that young adults commonly said they had wanted more "paternal involvement" after divorce.

Fabricius concluded: "If the living arrangements for children after divorce are to reflect the desires of young adults who have lived through their parents' divorces, there is need for a change of norms as well as laws. Young college adults, men and women alike, believe that equal time spent living with each parent after divorce is best for children, and they believe this with remarkable uniformity. We need to begin listening to them."

Agreed. It's time to listen to the adult children of divorce. It's way past time.

The simple truth is: Children need and love their fathers equally as much as they need and love their mothers. Fathers love and need their children equally as much as mothers do. 

Children need both parents. Simply returning to this basic fundamental truth will greatly improve the situation for families and children.

This article first appeared in the Free Lance-Star (June 15, 2006).