The following report is a study of the recommendations of Family Court Services (FCS) of Flathead County for the year 1992. The need for this study was brought about by a question from fathers asking Dads Against Discrimination if there is any bias in the recommendations given by FCS of Flathead County. After writing to Family Court Services, we found that no record was kept on the classification of recommendations. After looking at the recommendations, five categories were created to best classify each recommendation. They are;
A) Sole custody to the father.
B) Joint custody, residential parent father.
C) Children were split between the parents or 50/50 was recommended.
D) Joint custody, residential parent mother.
C) Sole custody to the mother.
Family Court Services is funded through taxpayers' money out of the main fund of Flathead County. In a custody dispute, FCS has been given jurisdiction by District Court to look into the backgrounds of the children's parents and/or guardians along with any relevant factors in deciding what is in the best interest of the child. After FCS conducts an investigation, a recommendation is given to the court in the form of a Report To The Court.
This report is used by the District Court Judge in a custody dispute as an independent third party. The recommendation in the report can be used in various ways by the Judge, all the way from a rubber stamp approval of the recommendation to the recommendation being totally ignored by the Judge in determining custody. At this point, there is no appeal process for disputing a recommendation or facts contained in a FCS report.
The recommendations in this study were obtained through the REGISTER OF DOMESTIC RELATIONS #13 FLATHEAD COUNTY. This register contains 723 domestic relations cases started in the calendar year 1992 in Flathead County. All of the information was obtained at the Flathead County Clerk of Court's office on the third floor of the Flathead County Justice Center between April 28, 1993, and May 5, 1993. Some of the recommendations were given in 1993 and are included in this study up until the date of this report. Some of the cases with recommendations were checked out or could not be obtained because the case was confidential. A total of 27 recommendations are used for this study. 30 recommendations comprised the original base of study, with three recommendations not qualifying on the grounds that they did not fit into the classifications of the five categories.
|Number of Recommendations||Percentage|
|Sole custody to the father||0||0.0%|
|Joint custody, residential parent father||5||18.5%|
|Children were split between the parents or 50/50 was recommended||2||7.5%|
|Joint custody, residential parent mother||15||55.5%|
|Sole custody to the mother||5||18.5%|
A. In no instance in the study did FCS have a recommendation for sole custody to the father (0.0%), while the mother was recommended five times or 18.5% of the time for sole custody.
B. You will find that FCS recommended sole custody to the mother and joint custody, residential parent mother, 74% of the time. Averages show that when a custody battle goes to trial the father would win custody about 50% of the time.(1)
C. Looking more closely at the recommendations, when FCS recommended joint custody, residential parent father, four out of five times, or in 80% of the recommendations, the words "liberal", "frequent", and "reasonable" were used for visitation for the mother. On the opposite end, when FCS recommended joint custody, residential parent mother, 4 out of 15 times or 26.5% of the recommendations, the same words "liberal", "frequent", and "reasonable" were used for visitation for the father. 80% of the time in favor of the mother, 26.5% of the time in favor if the father.
Fathers are being discriminated against by FCS. As is typical in today's society, Family Court Services of Flathead County holds an obvious anti-male gender bias. The recommendations by FCS do not come close to the averages of current custody findings. The above statistics prove that two sets of standards are being used in the recommendations of FCS, one for mothers and one for fathers. The father-child relationship, which is in the best interest of the child, is being down played and not given ample weight in the recommendations of FCS. Therefore, any undue restriction between the father and child by discrimination is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Article II, section 4, of the Montana State Constitution prohibits any person, firm, corporation, or institution, from discriminating based on sex.
Only in a perfect world would there be no bias. We do not live in a perfect world, but here are some suggestions that could reduce the possibility and impact of bias.
1) Since Family Court Services' recommendations are discriminatory, eliminate the recommendations. FCS should be limited to mediation, referrals to counselors, cross-examination in court, documenting the proven actions of the parents and/or guardians and enforcement of visitation. Montana has an agency that deals with child support enforcement; we need an agency that is able to enforce visitation.
2) If recommendations are still to be given, create a quota system for Family Court Services. The federal government has instituted quotas and Affirmative Action to counter discrimination. These policies do not have individuals' best interest in mind, but look out for society's best interest.
3) If the need for recommendations still exist, standardize criteria for sole custody, residential parent of joint custody, and split recommendations. These standards should be gender nonspecific so mothers and fathers are placed on an equal playing field. These standards should be open to the public and both parents should be made aware of them.
4) Create an appeal process for recommendations by FCS. Judges can be brought under a judicial review committee. FCS needs some accountability to the people who fund them, the taxpayer.
5) If none of the above recommendations are satisfactory, eliminate Family Court Services in Flathead County. Many counties in Montana do not have a Family Court Services agency like Flathead County.
Many of today's problems have been blamed on the single parent family. Until agencies like FCS realize that children need contact with both parents, not just to Exhibit A, and by using the same set of standards for mother and father, can we start decreasing the amount of dysfunctional children.(2)
Looking at the figures, individuals might state different custody theories to justify these lopsided figures. An argument might be brought up stating the primary caretaker approach or the "maternal preference" theory is at play. This theory makes it almost impossible for a father to get custody and is sexist because it discounts the bonding that takes place between father and child. Other theories that might be ignored are which parent can provide the more comfortable standard of living for the child and the "friendly parent" theory of which parent is more willing to allow the child contact with the other parent. One last theory is to ask welfare applicants if the other parent is working, and considering custody placed with the working parent before placing the child on welfare.
1. Geoff Davidian, "Mothers falter more on child support/Non-custodial moms 10% less likely to pay", HOUSTON CHRONICLE, July 5, 1992, Section C.
2. Michael E. Lamb, THE EMERGENT AMERICAN FATHER, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, Maryland.Case Numbers