One Woman’s Advocacy For Father’s Rights
Molly Olson watched as three fathers she knew well had their relationships with their children destroyed by the family courts.
That’s why the married mother with no children decided to become one of the leading advocates for father’s rights and family law reform. Olson is the founder of the Center for Parental Responsibility and is currently working toward the passage of a Joint Physical Custody bill in Minnesota.
“This isn’t just about one bad judge, one bad lawyer, or one bad custody evaluator,” Olson said. “It’s a systemic problem.”
She talked with MensRights.com editor Matt Allen about the equal parenting bill and the impact its passage would have on families.
Men’s Rights: The divorce lawyers for men at Cordell & Cordell have long advocated for father’s rights and increased parenting time with children. So what are the main criticisms of a joint physical custody bill?
Molly Olson: The main criticisms are not so realistic. What our opponents try to do is create all of these “what if?” scenarios and try to paint a picture that this is going to hurt people.
The Bar Association tends to say about the idea of presumed joint physical custody that it’s a “one size fits all” solution even though for 40 years when they’ve been giving dads every other weekend (visitation) they never said that was one size fits all, which it certainly is.
They are just blowing smoke trying to create uncertainty and doubt in the legislators. The Bar Association loves to get up there and give quotes from custody evaluators, who are against us as well, saying that this would increase conflict and parents who are in conflict can’t co-parent, which is completely contradictory to the research.
Men’s Rights: I assume domestic violence would be an exception to the bill that would automatically grant joint physical custody. What are some other exceptions to the bill that prove it’s not a “one size fits all” solution?
Molly Olson: We’ve always had domestic violence as an exception. The other exceptions we have outlined very carefully. We have spent many, many, many hours figuring out what the exceptions should be and poring through our Minnesota statutes.
The thing is we didn’t have to create any new exceptions; we just had to educate the legislature, the public and our opponents and clarify in the law that a lot of these situations already exist in the law to protect children.
These exceptions are:
• Physical and sexual abuse
• Dangerous living conditions
• Egregious harm
• Emotional maltreatment
• Child maltreatment
• Convictions of a long-list of serious crimes
Men’s Rights: I’ve read the press coverage of this bill and it seems like you’ve been working for this for a while, but you seem to have more optimism this time around. Why is that?
Molly Olson: The history and how it has evolved. The joint physical custody bill has previously passed in the Minnesota House of Representatives so it has that history. The good news is it is also a bi-partisan issue.
We have very strong supporters right now in the House. The Minnesota Senate is where in the past this bill has been blocked due to certain committee chairs who have been against this bill and prevented us from even getting hearings on this bill in the Minnesota Senate.
But now we’ve had a change. We know the new chairs of these committees that we need to go through have been and are very supportive of this bill and have agreed to give us hearings.
Men’s Rights: Now obviously the majority of non-custodial parents are fathers, so if this bill were passed, what would the potential impact be for divorced dads?
Molly Olson: I like to first focus on the kids. The impact on the kids is that they will maintain their right and secure their right to equal access to each parent after divorce or in unmarried situations, too. Their rights to both parents will be protected.
It will create an equal playing field and it will replace the current “winner take all” model. With an even playing field it will remove incentives to battle over who will be the winner and which parent will be the loser.
Therefore, it will increase the incentive to mediate and negotiate win-win settlements.
Men’s Rights: I’d like to know how you got involved in this. You’re married and you don’t have children so how did you get involved in advocating for divorced parents and family law reform?
Molly Olson: I started seeing what was happening to three men who I knew well that were going through family courts. I knew they were fit, loving, responsible dads who wanted to be equally involved in the lives of their children who were fully capable and loved by their kids.
Then I watched as the family courts destroyed those relationships. I became impassioned to do something to help. I realized how many dads out there were facing the same thing. This isn’t just about one bad judge, one bad lawyer, or one bad custody evaluator, it’s a systemic problem.
Men’s Rights: Finally, what’s the current status of the bill?
Molly Olson: In 2011, we’ve had two hearings already in the Civil Law Committee in the House. The first hearing in January was an informational meeting where I was there to share information in favor of joint physical custody and equally shared parenting.
We had this information hearing to get the legislators ready to hear this issue because we have a lot of new legislators with varying degrees of knowledge on this issue so it created a baseline of information for what was about to come throughout the session.
In early February in the House Civil Law Committee again, we had a three-hour public meeting. The most unusual and biggest surprises there was that the domestic violence people, who were one of our biggest opponents in the past, did not testify and the Bar Association also did not testify, which is unusual because they are one of our biggest opponents.
The Matrimonial Law Attorneys organization did testify against us, though. So far we have not had another hearing with the long list of traditional opponents. But the opponents have been telling us behind the scenes that our governor will veto the bill.
Now we don’t know if they are saying that because they have inside information or if they are trying to knock the wind out of our sails.
Get more information on how to deal with family law when you are a man. Visit DadsDivorce.com for answers to all your men’s divorce questions or schedule an appointment with a Cordell and Cordell Family Law attorney.