California Family Law Attorney
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December 12, 2010
  ELLEN KELLNER'S CO-PARENTING BOOK Inspired Me: How Can I Get My Ex Into Counseling?
Posted By Thurman Arnold

Q. I found Ellen Kellner's book "The Pro Child Way, Parenting With An Ex" on your website some weeks ago, and ordered it from Amazon.com. I have been eagerly reading it, especially because of the up-coming holidays. I am wondering if you can tell me, is there any way in California to force my ex-husband to do some child-centered counseling with me? I think we could start talking better if we were in a safe environment.

Rebecca in San Dimas


A. Rebecca, I am so pleased that you are taking the time to read Ellen's book! She is a dear friend of mind, and a tireless proponent of co-parenting techniques for the sake of children. I have copies of her book which I give away to my clients, since finding resources for dealing with divorce and parenting issues is crucial to moving on. (I recently had a concerned grandmother waiting for me to finish my work with her son, and I noticed the book seemed stuck to her hand!)

California Family Code section 3190 authorizes Family Courts to require parents (or any other party) who are involved in a custody or visitation dispute to participant in outpatient counseling for up to a year.

Unfortunately, the court needs to first make findings that the dispute "poses a substantial danger to the best interests of the child" and that counseling is in the best interests of the child. It is quite ironic that in order to get counseling the dispute must reach such a magnitude of dysfunction. Custody proceedings must be pending, but even if they aren't it should be sufficient to just file a motion or OSC, allege facts that meet section 3190's requirements, and request the orders. In cases involving a history of domestic violence or abuse, this counseling can be ordered separately per FC section 3192.

I am so pleased for you and your children that you are motivated enough to investigate these options. They are well-served.

BTW, Ellen is available for phone and possibly Skype based consults if you think it might be helpful to meet with her for further ideas and direction.

Happy holidays to you and your family!



~ T.W. Arnold, CFLS ~

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December 01, 2010
  New Family Code Section 3042 - Will It Serve to Accelerate the GENDER CUSTODY WARS?
Posted By Thurman W. Arnold, III, CFLS

Child Testimony Concerning Parental Preference

AB 1090, sponsored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, becomes law on January 1, 2011 as revised Family Code section 3042. It directs courts to allow children age 14 or over to testify about their custody preferences except where judges make findings on the record why they will not permit it beginning January 1, 2012. The legislation also directs the California Judicial Council to develop policies and procedures for examining child witnesses in the meantime.

Is section 3042 a good idea? On balance I strongly doubt it. The likelihood of misusing this new license, given how we humans tend to behave when we are steeped in relationship conflict, will for many parents be just too powerful a force to avoid. Parents will feel invited to have discussions that were previously considered inappropriate under the guise of fulfilling a perceived legislative mandate to inquire into childhood preferences. And it won't stop with "Johnny, who would you rather live with, your mom or me" but will inevitably expand into questions about what underlies Johnny's preferences. California is theoretically a no-fault state at least in terms of grounds for dissovling marriage, but fault has always lurked beneath the surface in custody contests. Newly enacted section 3042 takes this to a new, much messier level that potentially assaults children directly as potential co-conspirators with parents who have no concept of age appropriate boundaries. The legislation is silent on creating resources to help parents understand that children are not supposed to be one parent's best friend after the other parent leaves the family.

Which is not to imply that no children will benefit from it. Still,....

While it is true that children are routinely blocked from meaningfully expressing important preferences in custody cases under current law before this change, I have to observe that in my years of family law practice I have had many clients (both mothers and fathers) who I have either witnessed or suspected of pressuring children in alienating ways to express a preference in that parent's favor (and I also attempted to put a stop to it by explaining the emotional damage this may cause). I have seen many more parents on the opposing side who do so, and their lawyers whom I believed encouraged such activity.

What happened at father's house, at mother's house, with their new spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend, and so much more is just too enticing a subject for some parents and now that information will be considered relevant by parents who may feel they are being invited to obtain children's statements of parental preference. These parents will attempt to introduce such information to the court, whether in their own declarations and testimony or through the voice of the kids. Children will be questioned and interviewed by parents, and enlisted as co-participants in particularly the high conflict parenting struggles. If the parents are unable to maintain a sensible decorum in managing discussions with their children, how can we expect children not to be cast adrift on the seas of emotion that accompany divorce and custody contests?

Under the new statute either minor's counsel, an evaluator, investigators, or mediators who provide custody recommendations to the court, must indicate to the Judge whether the child wishes to address the court - and the judge is also required to ask this question. Either parent's attorney may also make that representation to the Court, which then triggers the issue. It is hard to imagine that any attorney or self-represented party who finds themselves on the otherwise loosing end of a custody evaluation or recommendation will not make this request. Indeed, it will be attorney malpractice not to do so!

An unfortunate consequence of this new statute will be to aggravate what I see as the gender wars between mothers and fathers in custody disputes. Some mothers believe that they are by nature better suited to child rearing, and the reality is that many do serve their children very well as the primary psychological parent particularly in early life. Some fathers believe that they are disenfranchised by such views, and make a conscious decision to step out of children's lives "until they get older". Any battle is unfortunate, and also creates victims. We all decry in theory the lack of fathering in our society.

Since mothers are statistically in greater control of children than fathers (again, perhaps for good and valuable reasons), the effects of this statute will fall more heavily in favor of mothers and so against fathers - which is possibly, but not of a certainty, one reason why Assemblywoman Ma may have introduced it. More likely, the idea sounded better than the reality may become.

I suspect I will be accused of gender bias in saying this. But because mothers more commonly find themselves as children's primary parents for much of children's adolescence (sometimes by default since some fathers don't seem willing to assume the role or take on a greater parenting responsibility) this statute will have an effect of encouraging behaviors that promote manipulating discussions with children about which parent they should prefer. Few parents of either sex will likely resist the challenge of not overstating their child's supposed desires in their own favor.

Courts and the Judicial Council will need to develop policies and procedures that minimize the negative impacts of this new battlefield on our children. There are certain to be child casualties, however, and I am left wondering which outweighs the other: the costs to children of conflicted parents, or the benefits?



T.W. Arnold


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