Here’s what’s up with those crazy posts on the Clinton Herald’s Facebook page…

So last session, I was assigned to a House Judiciary subcommittee on House File 345,  which seeks to create a “legal presumption” in favor of joint physical care (i.e., 50-50) in custody disputes. And since I handled the bill for the Dems in subcommittee, I was expected to stand up and state my position on the House floor when the bill came up for a full vote — which I did, and for the reasons set out below, I recommended that my colleagues vote no.

But as I knew at the time, and as everyone voting on the bill knew, the outcome of the vote was a foregone conclusion, since the House leadership doesn’t run a bill unless they know they have the votes to pass it. And as expected, all of the Republicans voted yes on the bill, and quite a few of the Democrats voted yes as well — final vote was 68-26.

Which was OK — I didn’t agree that the change in the law proposed by the bill was necessary/appropriate, so I voted no; a lot of people liked the bill, and voted yes, the bill passed — that’s how democracy works. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought; since I’m in the minority party, if I took it personally every time the House passed a bill I don’t support, I’d be spending a lot more time crying in the bathroom.

But unfortunately, despite the fact that the bill passed, some of its supporters took the fact that I had dared to  recommend a no vote VERY personally, and they started a bizarrely vicious campaign to brand me as the number 1 enemy of Iowa fathers everywhere, accusing me of bias against fathers, and of not caring about Iowa’s children, and of voting as I did for financial gain (huh?). They put nasty photo-shopped pictures of me on their Facebook pages, and threatened me repeatedly with annihilation in the next election.

And you know, last year was my first session, and I had never dealt with this level of irrational vitriol, so I was kind of freaked out. “But wait!” I told them (I’m paraphrasing here) “you must not realize: I’m an attorney, and I’ve represented many many fathers in contested custody trials over the years, and in most of those trials, my client was awarded either joint or primary physical care of his children over the objection of the mother. And hey, some of those rulings were appealed by the mother, and were affirmed on appeal,and those appellate rulings are public record, so you can check them out.”

“In fact,” I pointed out, “I’m sure that I’ve represented more fathers in contested custody cases, and helped more fathers win joint or primary physical care of their children, than any other legislator in the entire Iowa General Assembly — maybe in the history of the Iowa General Assembly. And while we’ll have to agree to disagree on the need for HF 345, perhaps there are things we can agree on — there are several  glitches in Iowa’s family law statues that I’d like to correct, and perhaps we can work together on some of those.”

But while I assumed that my record of helping lots of parents of both genders get through nasty divorces with good results would speak for itself, apparently, as far as these folks are concerned, my no vote on one bill trumps twenty years of  representing fathers in custody disputes. Which is patently ridiculous, and I wouldn’t have wasted your time with any of this had this group not posted a bunch of nasty comments on the Clinton Herald’s Facebook page last week. Since they did, and since I’m sure some of you were wondering what the heck was going on, I appreciate this opportunity to set the record straight, on the record, once and for all.

Why I voted No on  House File 345

The short answer (well, shorter than the long answer, believe it or not) is that Iowa’s current custody law, which requires a judge to place the child in the custodial arrangement that the judge finds is in the child’s best short and long terms interests based on all of the evidence presented at trial, is gender neutral, and that any disparity in custody awards is due to factors that cannot be legislated away. Judges make mistakes, and there may even be judges out there that secretly believe that little kids belong w/their moms, but neither of those problems can be fixed with legislation –education and attrition are better suited to target these problems.

Under current law, a judge basically has three choices when determining physical care — primarily w/dad, primarily w/mom, or 50-50. HF 345 assumes that joint physical care is the best custodial arrangement, and requires that the Court do the same, but there’s no empirical evidence to back up the bill’s premise. That’s because custody cases are by their nature fact specific, and thus the “best” custodial arrangement for any given child depends on all the circumstances of that child’s particular situation.

Sometimes those circumstances come together in a way that supports a joint physical care arrangement, and that’s great; unfortunately, the problems that blow marriages apart and trigger a custody dispute in the first place are often the same problems that can render joint physical care unfeasible. If parents hate each other, or have totally different views on parenting, or are unwilling/unable to communicate and cooperate with each other, or don’t respect each other, or don’t trust each other, or have a history of violence towards each other, then realistically, joint physical care probably won’t work. It can be a great option, but it is one of at least three options available to judges, and they need the legal flexibility that current law provides in order to ensure that the best interests of the child remains the overriding priority.

And here’s one of the first IA Supreme Court cases to discuss joint physical care at length here’s a few more recent cases demonstrating the wider acceptance  of joint physical care awards. 



About Representative Mary Wolfe

Part time attorney; full time State Representative for Iowa House District 98 (East Clinton County)
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7 Responses to Here’s what’s up with those crazy posts on the Clinton Herald’s Facebook page…

  1. Jean says:

    Mary, we are so lucky to have you as our Represenative. You put a lot if thought into every action you take and you also take the time to explain it to us in a very thorough and thoughtful way. I can’t think of any way you could improve your process. Sign me up for your re-election campaign! And remember, haters are just gonna hate!

  2. Nate McClintock says:

    The first thing is … Stop crying in the bathroom … :})

    Understand that you are trying to have a Rational discussion with Irrational people …

    Every Career Politician Knows this one thing … ” The American public would rather Hear a Good Lie verses a Bad Truth “.

    Mary… Hold Steady … Stay your Course …

    You Do Not Stand Alone …

    Your Crying in the Bathroom is, ” Endearing to Me ” It Shows Me That You Care …


    • wolfelaw says:

      Thanks Nate. And I don’t really cry in the House Chamber’s bathroom….well, just once. But not about this goofiness — this just really annoyed me, mainly because I wasted a huge amount of time on it, but I think I am ready to let it go. And get some work done.

  3. Christy, Mary's sister says:

    I think you have consistently been transparent and honest about your support for bills that add to and simplify our judicial system, and equally transparent and honest about not supporting bills that are redundant or create laws when education is the better tool with which to address perceived disparities in treatment for all. It is the privileged few who can decide there is a simple answer to complicated issues; simplifying things often requires throwing a lot of money at them.

    On behalf of my many friends and acquaintances who have been to court to determine the best custody situation for their children, I appreciate that some of Iowa’s lawmakers do not have a myopic view on what is “best” for a child. In education, we strive to recognize that each child in a classroom learns differently; responds to praise or criticism differently; and progresses in their own understanding of ideas and issues differently. When we do that, we are considered to be doing our jobs well; when judges (and lawyers) use that same philosophy, they are considered suspect.

  4. I am on the county Democratic Platform Committee, and you might be interested to see that the platform, as we have written it for the March 10 county convention, contains the language,

    “In child custody cases, the courts should consider the welfare of the children and the merit of the individual parent without regard to gender. Children should be ensured of homes that are safe and free of crime regardless of mandates to keep families intact. The welfare of all children should be foremost in decisions regarding placement.”

    I think that language is generally in agreement with the current law.

  5. sally ann says:

    The Supreme Court case was interesting to me in the outline of its story. The court starts out saying that there’s all kinds of bad behavior during the marriage. But essentially Dolores was shown as a caring, submissive, uneducated woman who loves children, essentially helpless economically and within her marriage. She’s the good parent. Lyle, on the other hand, is controlling, pushy, rigid, and angry, breaks windows, and bosses her around. They fight a lot, but the picture here is that Lyle is the aggressor and Dolores is meek and caring, and thus when shared care doesn’t work, Dolores should have custody.

    I cannot help wondering how this case would’ve gone had Dolores been a cardiologist who’d gone part-time to raise her children, had her own premarital assets (and refused to sell them in order to pay off joint credit-card debt, instead saying they would pay them out of marital income, with the result that Lyle was away from home more because he wanted to clear the debt fast), and — crucially — taken a strong stand against Lyle’s controlling tendencies, ignoring his demands and calling the police to document abuse.

    Would the court still have been sympathetic to placing the children with Dolores? Or would they have seen her as equally responsible for the fighting and acrimony? How much rides on the image of the woman as being meek, submissive, helpless, abused, and caring?

    I note too that the court is careful to describe Lyle as a good, loving father from whom the children have much to learn. And yet this is a man who’s violent around them, and has abused and dominated their mother. Furthermore he’s a police detective, a position which hands him both authority and perhaps protection, enough so that his wife was afraid of angering him during custody proceedings. What’s so loving and educational about him, again?

  6. MLW says:

    So fyi, everyone, I am not deleting posts, but now posts need to be approved. By me. But I’ll tell you what — if you are my constituent, and if you can be reasonably civil, (or even just the latter), then I will approve your post. If not, then no. Because you folks are saying the same thing over and over again, and I got it, you would like your bill passed, and woe onto anyone who disagrees with you. Message received. Thank you. My blog and Facebook page will be moving on.

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