Contributed by David Vesper
My name is David Vesper. I am the State Director for the Alaska Fathers’ Rights Movement. When I divorced, I had expected a fair Family Law system. However, I fell victim to ignorance in the Family Law process and motivations. I also fell victim in the archaic belief that mothers are more important than fathers and that I need to have a stable career in the military in order to provide timely and in-full Child Support. After all, this has been the social construct for the past 30 years. Believing my lawyer, the judge, and social influencers around me, I believed that my child’s best interest as a father has always been financial responsibility.
Now, seventeen years later, I firmly believe I am wrong. After my ex-wife and I finalized our divorce in North Carolina, she took my daughter out-of-state to Texas. I went to court to bring her back to North Carolina and enforce our Joint Custody. I wanted to be involved in my daughter’s life despite a career in the Army. After my ex-wife’s pro bono lawyers stated their case, the judge refused to hear my argument from my lawyer. She had decided that Texas should be allowed to make the case for jurisdiction. My lawyer informed me that Texas would pursue jurisdiction and that I should take my case there. It became a fruitless effort and I lost the ability to be an equal loving parent in my child’s life because I chose a career in the Army (which took me to several duty stations to include Alaska). I continued to make direct, on-time and full Child Support payments since they had moved to Texas. Once I retired from the Army to Alaska, my ex-wife filed for Public Assistance and opened up a Child Support case through the state of Texas. The Texas Attorney General’s Office then informed me that they will work with Alaska (my residency) and North Carolina (where I divorced) in recovering $65,000 of back support because they had no record of me in their system. Remember, I had paid Child Support directly to my ex-wife… paying just over $96,000! I had managed to win that back child support battle by producing documents to support my argument but it showed me further evidence that money is more important than time with my child... for which was being denied throughout the years since my ex-wife left the state.
Once I returned to Alaska to retire, I became an advocate for equal shared parenting. I realized that I am an absent father and the North Carolina judicial system was just as complicit as I. After meeting several other noncustodial parents in Alaska, I realized that I am not an isolated case. In fact, the imbalance in parental rights is quite disturbing. After retirement, I finished my undergrad degree at UAA. What I discovered in my research was startling. Roughly 80-85% of Noncustodial parents are fathers, according to many research documents to include the US Census Bureau, US Child Support Enforcement Division, and Alaska TFRM surveys of Alaskan noncustodial parents. According to the Pew Research Center, fathers in intact relationships with the mother are more involved in parenting than in generations past. This is due to the majority of families are dual-income families. The dichotic family gender roles are nearly nonexistent. However, the Pew Research Center discovered that fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives significantly declined after separation from the mother. Other Government sources support that data. Did these fathers willingly abandon their children despite spending nearly the same time with their children as mothers? No.
This is where the State of Alaska fails us. Though 50/50 shared physical custody is allowed under Alaska Statutes, it is not the norm. Several issues lead to the disparity between parents in Child Custody battles. First, it is a battle. These battles contribute to an already toxic high-conflict relationship between the parents. Many judges and lawyers support Single Parent Custody, and this creates biased judges with a reputation for being either mother-friendly or father-friendly. Many of these same lawyers and judges suggest that many of the Child Custody cases result in Joint Custody. But this is a ruse. Mothers usually retain Primary Custody. Even then, we are discovering that whichever parent has Physical Custody, they are alienating their child from the other parent. This further increases high conflict and increases the propensity for violence.
Roughly 85% of Alaskan Noncustodial Parents surveyed by AK TFRM in 2017 and 2018 consider their relationship with the other parent as high-conflict. These high-conflict relationships consistently have one or more allegations against them. Domestic Violence is the most predominant allegation for gaining leverage in a child custody case. We call this the Silver Bullet technique. Given the Alaska Statutes have the worst Domestic Violence laws in the nation according to the Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), lawyers often recommend that mothers take advantage of Alaska Violence against Women (VAWA) laws for the purpose of gaining leverage in a Child Custody case. Since we are one of the few states that have an extremely archaic Percentage-of-Obligor model for Child Support, Alaskan children become financial assets by transferring family wealth from one parent to another. Alaska encourages this system because they receive millions from the Federal Government (known as Title IV-D) in incentives in the form of Block Grants. By securing Child Support, any chance at co-parenting becomes nearly impossible. I believe that the $3.2M from the Federal Government for the past two years is not worth destroying families for.
Research has shown that children need both parents in their lives. I can provide research information for you to peruse. But, consider these stats from various sources:
· 43% of US children live without their father (Census Bureau)
· 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report)
· 85% of all children showing behavior disorders come from fatherless homes (CDC)
· 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (US DHHS)
· 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions have no father involved in their lives (US Department of Justice)
I am looking for a response on your stance to HB 85 Shared Parenting Bill so as to inform our supporters of our rapidly growing movement to your intentions with that bill. It is my hope that you can be a leader on this Human Rights issue for the sake of our children.
State Director, Alaska Fathers’ Rights Movement
Regional Director, West Region Fathers’ Rights Movement
Anchorage, AK 99503