In an apparent attempt to thwart the growing movement in the US
for equal rights for fathers and for shared parenting, the
California National Organization for Women recently released its
Family Court Report 2002. The report turns reality on its
head by claiming that California family courts are biased
The study upon which NOW's claims are based is not a randomized,
scientifically credible poll, but instead a Self-selected
Listener Opinion Poll, known among authentic researchers as a
SLOP. The poll was conducted exclusively from a pool of less
than 300 of NOW's own sympathizers, all of whom were willing to
spend hours filling out NOW's 20 page, 331 question Internet
questionnaire. NOW's poll was conducted in a manner which
guaranteed a biased response. In fact, its solicitation for
survey respondents even says "Did you find justice in the Family
Law Courts? If not, fill out our questionnaire to help more
women and children get justice." NOW's survey is junk social
What was NOW's basis for its conclusion that California family
courts discriminate against women? NOW asked its all-female
survey pool "do you feel that you were discriminated against
because you are a woman?" Respondents were given the choice to
answer "yes" or "no." Since there was no question asked about
bias against men, and no male respondents to the survey, the
survey was structured so that it could only demonstrate
bias against women.
On nine occasions the report mentions fathers' desire for more
parenting time or joint custody, and on all nine occasions the
report promptly explains that these fathers' motivation is to
have their child support payments reduced. How did NOW come to
this conclusion? By posing only one question about fathers'
motivations for more parenting time: "Do you believe the father
is trying to gain greater amounts of custody to avoid paying
child support?" No other possibilities are allowed for by the
survey. Not once in the entire report does NOW consider that
fathers might want more time with their children because they
love them and want to play a meaningful role in their lives.
NOW uses its SLOP to make a number of startling assertions about
anti-woman gender bias which are contradicted by established,
scientifically credible research. NOW asserts that "the present
system takes children from fit mothers who have been sole or
primary care givers because of false ‘parity' with the father as
soon as separation occurs" and claims that women's "loss of
custody through gender bias" is widespread. Yet every
scientifically credible study ever conducted, including the
well-known work of Stanford University psychologist Eleanor
Maccoby and Stanford law professor Robert Mnookin, has found
that women win custody in 80% to 90% of contested cases.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study
of divorce ever conducted is Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen's
"These Boots Are Made For Walking": Why Most Divorce Filers Are
Women" from the American Law and Economics Review.
Studying 46,000 divorces, they found that the vast majority of
divorces involving children are initiated by women, in part
because women expect to and usually do receive both temporary
and permanent custody of the children in the overwhelming
majority of cases.
NOW's report and public statements assert that judges commonly
grant custody to abusers with criminal records. According to
Dianna Thompson, Executive Director of the American Coalition
for Fathers and Children, NOW's assertions are exactly the
opposite of what typically happens in family courts in
California or elsewhere, where charges of abuse are taken very
seriously. She adds:
"In the context of an impending divorce is not unusual for a
woman to make a false accusation of domestic violence against a
man in order to obtain a restraining order or eviction order and
to seize control of both the children and marital property. NOW
terms a man who is a victim of this tactic an ‘abuser with a
criminal record'--because of the unproven allegations in the
ex parte restraining order."
NOW also claims that family court mediators and evaluators "side
with the father, especially when abuse is an issue," but
Thompson says, "I doubt that NOW would get many judges, lawyers,
or anybody else involved in the family court system to go on
record as endorsing this ridiculous assertion."
NOW also claims that the quality of legal representation is
better for fathers than for mothers. However, in divorce it is
husbands, not wives, who are more likely to be left without
legal representation. In fact, the Violence Against Women Act's
reauthorization in 2000 provided for $200 million of federal
money in legal assistance to mothers. Similarly, most of the
child support apparatus provides representation to mothers. In
low-income cases where neither party can afford a lawyer, public
funds usually provide only mothers with legal representation.
In middle and upper-income cases, the father may be able to
afford quality representation, but generally he will be required
to pay for his wife's lawyer too.
A section of Family Court Report
2002 attacks the fathers' movement which, we are told, is a
cabal of misogynists and wife-beaters who seek to restore
patriarchy. The core of the NOW report's evidence is the
"Fathers' Manifesto," an Internet document signed by many
fathers' rights activists, which calls for stripping women of
the right to vote.
In reality, the "Fathers' Manifesto" was a hoax employed by an
anti-Semitic, racist, woman-hater on the fringe of the men's
movement. NOW's report identifies this individual as "John
Knight." An Internet petition called the "Fathers' Manifesto"
was circulated which proclaimed equal rights for fathers and the
importance of fathers in the life of a child. Over one hundred
fathers' rights activists signed this Internet petition,
including many Jewish and African-American activists.
Signatories were horrified when the petition reappeared on a
white supremacist website in a radically altered form--a form
which included a call to repeal the 19th amendment. Dozens of
signatories demanded that their names be removed, and many
activists made clear statements disassociating themselves from
However, Trish Wilson and Liz Kates,
two web-based opponents of the fathers' rights movement, posted
brief biographies of many of the Father's Manifesto signatories,
and mischaracterized them as misogynists based largely on the
altered, illegitimate document. NOW cites Wilson and Kates as
its sources for much of its most serious charges against the
fathers' movement. As one fathers' rights activist remarked, "If
the Fathers' Manifesto's author had been an active opponent of
equal rights for fathers, he could not have done anything more
effective and more devastating than what he did."
NOW's strategy in Family Court Report 2002 is
transparent. They began by conducting a rigged and
scientifically indefensible report. They then publicized a few
aberrant examples to bolster the report's alarming conclusions,
such as the Idelle Clarke child custody case in Los Angeles, and
they portrayed these rarities as the norm. Finally, they
declared a "crisis" for women, and urged the media to publicize
results which completely contradict serious research, as well as
And what will NOW say as critics take a closer look at the
"research" and discredit it? The report itself already provides
the answer--NOW will explain that the opposition is a "backlash"
by men who "wish to turn back all progress made by the women's
This column first appeared in the
Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Daily Journal (7/11/02).
Glenn encourages readers to read the National Organization for Women's
Family Court Report 2002 for themselves. To read
Sacks' columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of America's
largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at
via email at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.