California NOW’s Family Court Report 2002: Faulty Research, False Conclusions

By Glenn Sacks

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 against women.

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 science.

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 theex 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 it.

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 common sense.

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 movement."

  • Los Angeles Daily Journal
  • San Francisco Daily Journal