Promise of divorce ruined by children (Australia parental relocation study)


Patrick Parkinson was one of the best-spoken presenters at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017. He’s a law professor in Australia who has studied what happens when the winner parent wants to relocate and take the child(ren) away from the loser parent. (“Relocation” or “Removal” in U.S. family law parlance.)

His introduction was on the subject of the “Promise of Divorce.” In the bad old days, married citizens who wanted to separate or divorce would have to negotiate with their partners and come to an agreement. Legislators gave voters no-fault (“unilateral”) divorce in which at any time a plaintiff could make a fresh start. The plaintiff could get the kids, child support cashflow to go with the kids, a share of any accumulated property, and be able “to form new relationships free from the former partner or court.” The courthouse became a welcoming environment for the plaintiff seeking freedom and a better life with one or more new sex partners.

Parkinson noted that “the Catholic idea of the indissolubility of marriage turned into the unilateral dissolubility of marriage” and everything seemed great and was working according to plan… until lawmakers began to consider the rights of children to maintain some kind of contact with the discarded defendant parent. The felicity of the adult plaintiff crashes into the rock of indissolubility of parenthood.

But what if the winner parent can move to the other side of a continent, thus rendering the child’s “indissoluble” relationship with the loser parent moot? That restore the “promise of divorce” for plaintiffs.

Parkinson noted that it is “almost always mums who want to move and almost always dads who oppose it.” He noted that it is in this relocation case where the rights of the adult mother and the rights of the children come into starkest conflict.

Parkinson explained the context of Australian divorce with “we have gotten away from the winner-take-all system with ‘reasonable access/visitation’ as the wooden spoon for the loser” system, though he noted that only 15 percent of children of divorce/separation in Australia are in shared parenting (i.e., in 85 percent of cases the outcome is just like in the old winner/loser days). The practical decision as to whether a child will spend the rest of his or her life with one parent is made in an “interim parenting” hearing that will last for less than one hour “with no evidence presented.” (As in the U.S., where temporary orders are the de facto resolution of a custody lawsuit, there may be a trial a year or two later where witnesses testify and can be cross-examined.)

Parkinson then proceeded to relate his research on 80 adults, 39 women who had wanted to move with their children and 40 men who had opposed the move. Most of the children were under 10 years of old at the time of the move. Women prevailed in their desire to move 2/3rds of the time (“the mantra in law is ‘happy mum, happy child'” (similar to the Massachusetts standard)). For cases that went all the way to trial, the judgments were roughly 50/50 in allowing or forbidding a move with the children. However, a lot of men gave up after adverse interim rulings or reports. One strategy that successful plaintiffs employed, on the advice of their attorneys, was agreeing to an onerous travel schedule for the kids, e.g., they’ll fly back (5 hours) every month. The defendant would cave in. Mom would then go back to family court a year later and say “this travel schedule really isn’t working for the child” and the judge would modify it down to something minimal.

Parkinson explained that women’s reasons for wanting to move including “going home,” “new partner,” and “getting away from that bastard” and that “only a very small number cited domestic violence.” He noted that while the woman might be moving to go back “home” to her parents, the children were being moved away from their home and one parent. Thus there was almost a perfect balance between the mother’s gain and the children’s loss. A majority of mothers, five years after the move, recognized this. Out of 15 mothers who did move (an average of 1500 km), 8 said that their kids would have been better off if they had stayed and 3 were uncertain.

“Loss of contact was an almost universal experience,” said Parkinson. “Some fathers made heroic efforts, but there was a diminution over time. Conflict before relocation also demotivated fathers. The father would travel 5 hours to see the kids and they wouldn’t be home. The cost of contact was also a big obstacle for ordinary Australians. Expenses were A$15,000 per year at a time when average gross [pre-tax] income was A$45,000 per year.”

As measured by change in happiness over the years of the study, the Australian system works well for plaintiffs. The mothers who moved were the happiest, followed by the mothers who did not move. Fathers were made unhappy by the Australian divorce system, apparently, with the fathers who prevented the mothers from moving still not being too happy and the fathers who’d lost their children entirely being very unhappy. Parkinson said that suicide for divorced fathers was reasonably common in Australia. (See the Children, Mothers, and Fathers chapter for some U.S. statistics.)

Like a lot of Americans who work in the divorce industry, Parkinson was excited by the idea of using the courts to identify and then replicate whatever pattern of child care prevailed while the parents were together. A mother told him “I was a single mother before we separated” and therefore for Parkinson it made sense that the mother should be allowed to move with her children. (See Michigan for an example of a U.S. state where courts may not be interested in the pre-litigation pattern of child care, e.g., “If the wife says ‘the husband didn’t have anything to do with the kids’ the court can respond ‘that’s not necessarily what he will do once he has the kids. Maybe he didn’t come home because he didn’t want to be around you.'”)

Parkinson also thought it was sensible to have courts extend a voluntary breadwinner-dependent partnership into a long-term involuntary one, which is what courts in about half of U.S. states do (see our Summary chapter). The parent who voluntarily works hard during a marital partnership and sees the kids for a few hours every evening is forced by court order to continue working hard and paying a plaintiff while seeing the children a few days per month. Regarding the fact that 85 percent of Australian divorce outcomes are still primary/secondary (winner/loser) parent, Parkinson noted that “men can’t manage shared care because they work too many hours and might also commute an hour or more to work each day. Whereas women work part-time or don’t work.”

For Parkinson, the gold standard seemed to be the child’s pre-lawsuit relationship with the father. Children who had been close with their fathers never recovered from the mother’s move. As in the U.S., he didn’t consider that it might be expensive or difficult to look into the hearts of child and father and ascertain true feelings. The intensity or cost of litigation that such a standard entailed were of no concern. This standard got a reasonably good reception at the conference. I tried it out on a few laypeople later in that week. All immediately dismissed the standard as ridiculous. “How does the court know that the relationship between the child and father won’t change over time? If human relationships didn’t change and evolve, how is that divorce court exists in the first place?” An entrepreneur said “What if the father has been in the middle of a startup working 90 hours/week while the wife is having an affair to keep herself busy? The kids aren’t especially close to the father at that moment, but he won’t be in that phase of the startup for 18 years.” A military officer said “What if the father was deployed for the year prior to the court psychologist interview the children? Isn’t he going to lose automatically?” (see the Practical Tips chapter for how military parents fare in U.S. custody lawsuits) A parent of adult children: “This is a fool’s errand. Who cares about the answer when it is the wrong question. Dad doesn’t like to play dollhouse with a 4-year-old? How does the judge know that the girl won’t grow up to be a soccer player and enjoy spending hours on the field with her dad?”

[Separately, during a coffee break I asked for Parkinson’s perspective on economic incentives in Australian family law. He volunteered that child support was so minimal that it wouldn’t motivate anyone to have a child or opposed shared parenting. What was available to the Australian who had sex with a high-income partner? A$22,000 per year per child. I asked “Well, doesn’t that mean a person who is collecting child support on two kids can have about the same after-tax spending power as the average full-time worker?” The answer was, of course, “yes,” but though Parkinson and I were surrounded by Westin employees presumably motivated to come into work by their (modest) paychecks, he categorically denied that any Australian comes into family court with an eye for child support cash.”]


  • William Fabricius, of Arizona State University, presented results of a study of the effects of relocation on 83 adolescents with divorced/separated parents. Relocation was associated with lower quality relationships with all three parental figures (biological mother, biological father, mom’s new boyfriend or husband; stepmoms were not mentioned for some reason) and this was true regardless of which parent had relocated.

A touching Father’s Day on Facebook


A born-in-Germany pilot friend posted the following on her Facebook page:

In honor of my Dad’s birthday and Father’s Day …. to the man who taught me so much. He may not be here anymore but he’ll be forever in my heart  I miss him every day !!!!

This sentiment yielded 20 “Likes” and three comments of the form “Awesome Photos, I know your Dad is proud that his daughter followed in his footsteps.”

What were the “awesome photos” that were so widely liked? Photo 1: Dad pictured in his military officer’s uniform; Photo 2: Dad at the controls of what would today be an antique airplane.

What kind of footsteps might the daughter be following in? A mutual friend, who happens to be Ukrainian, private-messaged me:

  • wait a second
  • is this a luftwaffe uniform????

Zooming in a bit it turned out that Dad, who was born in 1915 (I asked via PM), had a swastika under the eagle over his right jacket pocket.

Happy Father’s Day to all of my readers!

Swedish gender equality scolds


Nordic countries are unusually prominent in research on the health and welfare of children, including in the context of divorce and “parental separation” (how researchers describe two biological parents that might have spent 15 minutes having sex and then never talked to each other again). Partly this is because they gather a lot of data on subjects, such as the health and happiness of children, that other societies apparently don’t care about. “Parental Responses to Child Support Obligations: Causal Evidence from Administrative Data” (Rossin-Slater and Wust 2014) is one example of what can be done with a big data set. The work of Malin Bergstrom and colleagues referenced from the Children, Mothers, and Fathers chapter is an even better one.

Swedes showed up in moderate force at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017 to present their latest research. Their data continue to show that children in 50/50 shared parenting do much better than children who live primarily with one parent. Unprompted, however, they would try to explain why shared parenting is more common in Sweden than in other countries. It would have been a major breach of conference protocol to say that “one possible explanation is that children are not profitable in Sweden and therefore people don’t fight over them.” (see the International chapter for how a plaintiff could have sex with the richest person in Sweden and get only about $2,500 per year). Certainly nobody had the temerity to raise a hand and suggest “Maybe Swedish women work because they can’t get paid for having kids or having once been married.” (See the aggregate economic effects chapter for a reference to a paper out of University of Chicago finding that married women cut back their labor force participation when no-fault-with-50-50-property-division divorce was made available.)

The go-to explanation for the Swedes was that Sweden has more gender equality than other countries. In other words, setting up court systems to give women primary custody of children (and a paycheck to go with the kids) is a remedy for gender inequality. Because Sweden doesn’t have as much gender inequality therefore fewer women put in the effort to supplement their wage income with child support checks.

What are the key elements of Swedish gender equality, as explained at the conference? One is that Swedish men can take paternity leave. Economist says that Swedish couples can divide 180 days of paternity leave between the mother and father (but what if the biological parents are no longer acquainted? How is the decision made then?). Nearly 90 percent of Sweden fathers take at least some leave and that the average amount taken is 7 weeks. But can that initial 7-week leave actually affect the parenting time schedule if the parents are together at the birth but split up when children are 8 and 10 years old?

How about gender pay gap for full-time workers, without adjusting for field, years of experience, etc.? Sweden’s is 13.2 percent. That’s a larger gap than in New York (source: National Women’s Law Center), a winner-take-all jurisdiction for custody and child support. The gap is roughly the same as in Florida, home to “permanent alimony” for the litigant identified by the court as a “dependent spouse.”

Does this focus on the family law/gender equality relationship make sense? Based on our research for Real World Divorce, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect correlation between a state’s gender equality level and friendliness toward shared parenting. If we look at state-by-state gender wage gaps (source: National Women’s Law Center) we find that Maryland has more gender equality than Pennsylvania, yet Pennsylvania is the state that supports shared parenting. California has a lower gender wage gap than neighboring Nevada and Arizona, yet it is California that stages the winner-take-all primary/secondary parent court battles (guess who wins, statistically!) and Nevada and Arizona that have 50/50 shared parenting statutes. Maine has a larger gender wage gap than Massachusetts  (the two were once a single state), yet it is Maine where courts are more likely to award 50/50 shared parenting.

Anecdotally, a Swedish family stayed in our Harvard Square apartment last year. I had spent years listening to tales of Swedish superiority in gender equality, environmentalism, welfare systems, etc. Both parents were well-educated and had full-time jobs. I took the family out for a day of suburban sightseeing, helicopter flying, etc. in our minivan. Mom sat in the back in between the two toddlers. Dad sat in the front and talked to me about computer nerdism, aviation, etc. Dad would lend a hand when necessary with the kids, but Mom did most of the child-related tasks. The condo neighbors complained that the family did not properly sort items into trash versus recycling.

Readers: Are Swedes in your direct personal experience more gender-equal than Americans? If so, does it make sense that their radically different family law system is somehow related to this increased gender equality?

[Note that Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at Cambridge University (“the real Cambridge”), was at the conference and offered his own non-economic perspective: “The Swedes believe that children have two parents and that parents matter. You will not see fundamental changes in laws and outcomes without changes to underlying attitudes. The focus on law alone is misplaced.” (but how to explain a sudden shift from winner-take-all primary/secondary to 50/50 shared parenting as a result of a court ruling (Alaska) or a piece of legislation (Arizona and Nevada)?]


A male celebrates an all-female employment policy


A male photographer friend on Facebook linked approvingly to “When the Grip Is a Woman (and the Gaffer and the Camera Operator, Too)” (nytimes):

Ms. Lister-Jones knew she wanted to work with a woman behind the camera. Only women behind the camera, actually: For her indie comedy “Band Aid,” released Friday, June 2, Ms. Lister-Jones hired an all-female crew, from the grips to the drivers to the production assistants.

“I wanted to see what it would feel like,” she said, “if a community of women exclusively created a piece of art together.”

The article raises a few questions:

  • is it legal for an employer to establish a policy forbidding the hiring of workers based on sex, even when the job could be done by a person of any sex or gender ID?
  • what happens to an employee who changes gender ID after being hired?
  • could it be that the employer here established this policy merely to maximize profits (Hillary and the NYT assure Americans that women will do the same jobs with the same quality for only about 77 percent of the cost)?
  • why did the filmmakers hire a male actor for a leading role? (based on the linked-to trailer) Are they making a heteronormative assumption that there is something better about a male-female romance than a female-female romance? If not, why not hire an all-female cast?

But I’m a little more interested in the question of why a male photographer, who has struggled financially for most of his multi-decade career, would celebrate an employer saying “We would never hire anyone like you” and “We got a lot of work done because we didn’t hire anyone like you.” As a 53-year-old with kids, I can understand that an employer would wish to say “We don’t hire anyone over 30 because it is a drag having old people around and we don’t hire anyone with children because they don’t like to work late”, but I wouldn’t cheer about that for my friends on Facebook.

Given that the entire worldwide demand for photographers could easily be met by an all-female workforce, why would this guy celebrate a system that, if adopted by all employers, would result in him never working again?

Readers: Is this an example of ”The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them”? Why is this guy happy to hear about a policy that might make it yet harder for him to get a job?

One place where Facebookers dare not go: Bill Cosby Trial Outcome


Even with a search for “Cosby” and clicking on “Posts from Friends” I can’t find a single one of my 913 Facebook friends offering an opinion on the outcome of the Bill Cosby criminal trial. To me this is in some ways more interesting than what they might have said. Plainly this topic has been front-page news and is currently the top left story on (but maybe that is part of the problem with the U.S.?). My Facebook friends are not afraid to Speak Truth to Power, e.g., denouncing the dictatorship of the Trumpenfuhrer and describing their plans to #resist. I don’t think that any of them would face social consequences for condemning Cosby so at least the ones who consider him guilty should be posting, no?

[What’s my personal opinion, you might ask? I think this shows that the legal system is not well-suited to the challenge presented. If it is legal for two adults to go into a private (with no witnesses) room and have sex without any kind of written contract in advance or video camera recording the entire interaction, how are judges and jury members who weren’t in that room supposed to figure out what happened? Testimony? Especially if there is cash on the line, that makes veteran litigators laugh. From the Divorce Litigation chapter: “People who are crazy and sociopathic are great witnesses,” said one attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the courtroom. “They can lie without batting an eye and sound completely credible. That’s why con artists thrive. If we were good at assessing credibility none of us would ever get ripped off.”; from the International chapter: “Good liars can do very well in this system,” [German litigator Carola] Offenhausen responded. “And though domestic violence is not a factor in the divorce it is very helpful for getting custody.”

The result of the above is that a deadlocked jury would be a likely outcome. Because there wasn’t any real evidence of what happened during the Cosby-Constand encounters, a juror’s vote would necessarily be more about his or her personal experience than about the “evidence” presented. As there is no limit to how many times a criminal defendant can be tried, prosecutors can potentially keep Cosby on trial at 120-day intervals until he dies.]

Here’s an interesting reaction from the lawyer handling some of the cash-seeking civil lawsuits against Cosby:

‘We can never overestimate the blinding power of celebrity. But justice will come,’ [Gloria] Allred said [Daily Mail]

In other words, the jury was too stupid/emotional to weigh the facts dispassionately. (I would hesitate to call people I hadn’t met stupid, but in any case, isn’t Cosby’s “celebrity” working against him at this point? At the moment he is primarily famous for being accused of sexual assault, no?)

Readers: Is your Facebook feed quiet on this subject? If not, what are people saying?


The Spectacular Stupidity of David Brooks


In Stupid white man criticizes smart Chinese woman, I looked at David Brooks v. Tiger Mom. In a recent NYT piece, “Why Fathers Leave Their Children,” I think that he has outdone himself. He looks at a phenomenon that is roughly 3 percent of GDP and never considers that cash incentives might influence behavior.

My comment on the piece:

Touching sentiments, but hard to see how they can be squared with statistics. Compared to other developed countries with no-fault divorce, the United States has roughly twice the percentage of children living without both parents. In winner-take-all jurisdictions within the U.S., such as New York, Massachusetts, California, roughly 75 percent of divorce/custody lawsuits are filed by women (and, in more than 90 percent of the cases, the court declares that the mother will be the primary or “winner” parent). “fathers abandon their own children”? That’s a touching story, but if you look at what actually happens a better summary is “fathers discarded by courts as secondary parents”.

A shorter summary would be “If you set up a family law system in which the only thing that you want from fathers is cash, probably cash is the main thing that you’re going to get from fathers.”

(See for an analysis of a month of cases in a typical U.S. jurisdiction.)

(I should point out that it is also much more lucrative in the U.S. to get rid of a “secondary parent” than it is in other countries. In Sweden, for example, if it were possible to get rid of a biological co-parent the resulting cashflow would be $2,000/year. The same child might yield $40,000 or $100,000/year (tax-free) in the U.S., depending on the co-parent’s income and the state. Americans’ behavior in mating and family court is exactly what you’d expect from the economic incentives presented by states. A resident of the U.S. will enjoy a higher spending power by having a brief encounter with a high-income co-parent than by being in a long-term marriage with a middle-income co-parent. Why be surprised that people avail themselves of the higher-spending-power option?)

Of course at the lower end of the income scale the behaviors are also economically rational. If neither biological parent has any income, the adult who can get custody of the child becomes entitled to a range of valuable welfare programs, including free housing.

How is it that there is a market for people to read this Brooks guy?

How CEO pay is set… from someone who set CEO pay


“How Companies Actually Decide What to Pay CEOs” (Atlantic) is interesting partly because the writer has personal experience in the area, i.e., he was on public company Boards as they were looting from shareholders to feed top executives. It is also interesting for showing a consequence of basic human psychology:

Once a peer group is established, the next step is to figure out how the CEO’s compensation will compare with those of the leaders at the other companies. If the median pay of a CEO’s peer group is $10 million, should he get $10 million? (I use the male pronoun here because so many of them are men.) It depends on where the company is benchmarked within this group. And every board I have ever sat on or researched benchmarked itself at the 50th, 75th, or 90th percentile, therefore targeting CEO pay at similarly exalted levels. Benchmarking below the 50th percentile says, We are a lousy company and don’t even aspire to be better. So in this sense all CEOs are above average: To be benchmarked at or above the 50th percentile, they need not do anything other than report to a board that considers its own company exceptional.

Executive stock options can be pretty straightforward, e.g., the 10-year right to buy stock at $X per share. Inflation obviously can be a big help to a CEO in this situation. But so can doing a share buyback instead of a dividend:

Paying CEOs in stock further props up their pay: When the economy is thriving, stock prices can rise across the board, and thus most CEOs’ pay rises too. But even if the market cools off, expectations for what CEOs should be paid—as reinforced by benchmarking and other mechanisms described above—tend not to come down when that happens. Moreover, in order to make more money from selling the stock they were given, CEOs can induce a higher share price by having the company buy back its own shares; a share buyback, though, can come at the expense of initiatives that might serve the company better in the long run, including funding research and development or employee training.

I’m not sure what the answer is here other than, perhaps, don’t buy U.S. public equities. In Europe, for example, it would be tough for a mediocre CEO to get paid $20-100 million per year. (I sat next to portfolio manager on a plane recently and she said that she prefers European stocks, which are her specialty, because Europe is just coming out of a recession whereas the U.S. is now in the 8th year of a bull market and the good times have never historically lasted forever.)

Divorce litigation, child support, and Costco in Iceland


Conferences are fun because you get to talk to people from all over the world. Of course, at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, the subject of the conversation tends to be divorce, custody, or child support litigation. Over coffee with Ragnheidur Gudrunardottir, the District Commissioner of Greater Reykjavik, I learned as much as I could about all things Icelandic.

I told her how shocked I had been at the prices when changing planes last summer on my way to the Royal Caribbean Baltic cruise. How could Icelanders afford it? Ms. Gudrunardottir agreed that the country might be due for another economic, um, adjustment. “Costco is coming to Iceland and 40,000 people signed up for memberships before they even opened,” said said. “That’s in a country with a total population not much over 300,000.” (story)

As in Denmark or Sweden, divorce can be obtained via an administrative process. It takes 2-3 months, but there may be an additional delay for the finalization due to a requirement that people spend “6 months separated from bed and table.” (Note that North Carolina uses similar terminology within their litigated process.) If parties can’t agree they may spend up to one year mediating. As a last resort, litigation is available and she estimated a maximum of $10,000 in legal fees might be spent, similar to what we heard about in Denmark.

Also as in Denmark, which formerly ruled Iceland as a dependency, child support seems to be calculated as a multiple of a basic amount. If an Icelander has custody of a child with a non-working co-parent, the government pays about $300 per month in “child support”. If the co-parent earns a good wage, the cashflow comes from the co-parent and is referred to as “alimony” even if the parents were never married. “What if you defrosted those rich bankers from 2007 and one of them was being tapped as a co-parent?” I asked. Ms. Gudrunardottir estimated that the alimony payment would be 3X the basic amount, or about $900/month ($10,800). This is a little more than the Danish maximum, much more than the Swedish maximum, and only a fraction of the potential revenue available in the U.S. (see California, for example). The after-tax (net) average monthly wage in Iceland is about ISK 370,000 (Wikipedia), $3740. Thus an Icelandic child support plaintiff would need to be collecting on a minimum of four children before being able to out-spend a median wage earner.

As was typical of conference attendees from Civil law and administrative divorce-oriented countries, Ms. Gudrunardottir didn’t say “Now that I have learned about the marvels of litigation and how Americans with lawyers and witnesses really get at the truth, I wish we had more litigation and Common law procedures in Iceland.” (And, correspondingly, people from the litigation-oriented societies (U.S., U.K., Australia) would talk about how litigation might be improved, almost never about how it could be replaced with an administrative procedure.)

Those who can’t do, teach (rotary-wing edition)


The YouTube result of one of our “Helicopter Demonstration for Schools”:


Cosby jurors have an incentive to drag out deliberations to boost their personal income?


The Cosby jury continues to deliberate (in the criminal case; not to be confused with the 10 civil cases pending against him). At neighborhood coffee this morning, which is where we develop solutions to most of the world’s problems and also come up with brilliant investment strategies and business plans, a former hedge fund manager noted that the opportunity for jurors to make money post-trial could influence their behavior.

Jurors can’t legally be paid prior to delivering a verdict. However, jurors can make money by giving interviews or writing books after a trial (see “CASEY ANTHONY JUROR: Ask Me Anything … For a Price” (TMZ), for example, and Texaco and the $10 Billion Jury, an actually great book written by a juror in what was, at least at the time, the largest verdict in American legal history (the juror was upset at the incompetent reporting by journalists and wrote the book to set the record straight on why the jurors voted as they did; essentially the judge’s instructions and Texaco’s decision not to present an alternative damages theory boxed them in).

If the jury had come back with a verdict after 30 minutes, the Cosby case would have received less total media attention. The jury’s deliberations wouldn’t have been as interesting to the public (if they all agreed immediately, who would care to hear about the discussion?).

Readers: What do you think? Could these folks be taking their sweet time partly because there is some potential for post-case cashflow?

[Morning coffee shop conversation question: Andrea Constand testified that she was so tranquilized that she couldn’t move any of her limbs, but also that she was mentally alert enough to remember what was happening. Why didn’t Cosby’s legal team present expert testimony that there are no drugs whose effects are consistent with this testimony? (except perhaps ?)]

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