Populism has gained significant traction in the US and all over the world, really, primarily because it seeks to remedy complaints that the will of the People is being ignored by a condescending and self-serving political establishment.
It's also an entirely rational response, because it's clear that politicians have become far too accustomed to using people to accomplish their personal political ambitions instead of actually serving the people who voted for them.
And I gotta tell ya' folks, and regardless of whether you're a liberal or a conservative, it's long past time to purge government of legislators who've seemed to lose sight of the simple truth that we don't serve them; they serve us, and they do so at our pleasure.
For well over thirty years family law reform advocates have actively lobbied elected officials to abandon the existing adversarial structure of family law and replace it with a healthier one organized around equal shared parenting. We've asked for law that rewards cooperation instead of incentivizing conflict, treats non-custodial parents with respect, and prioritizes the health and well-being of families over and above the harvesting of money for custodial parents, the family court industry, and in the U.S., individual state governments that profit off the administration of child support pools.
Are The Populists Listening?
Indeed, we've had some recent successes in the U.S., with Kentucky passing law that requires a presumption of equal shared parenting in family court, and with Iowa needing only the governor's signature to follow suit. So, are the populists on board with our reform goals?
Well, it seems Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) isn't.
To wit, I offer you the Child Support Works Act, Federal legislation he drafted and submitted in December of 2020 that amends Title IV, Part D, Section 458 of the Social Security Act (you can learn more about Title IV-D incentives by clicking here) to reward states for implementing mandatory work programs that, in his words "have proven effective at helping non-custodial parents develop positive work ethics and fulfill the requirements of their child-support orders."
Quoting directly from his press release:
“Fathers have an obligation to care for their children. Child-support orders can help parents fulfill this obligation by requiring them to work. This bill would provide additional resources to state child-support agencies so they can help parents get back on their feet and provide for their family.”
Three Important Observations About This Absolutely Terrible Legislation:
First, did you notice first word in the above quote? Yep - he's specifically targeting (and smearing) fathers with this legislation.
Secondly, the very notion of tying mandatory work programs to federal incentives that already encourage states to minimize non-custodial parenting time and assign un-affordable child support orders is beyond ludicrous. This amendment, is in short, just more government abuse waiting to happen.
Thirdly, this legislation and the way he's characterized it is just patently offensive and insulting; not just to fathers, but to all the non-custodial parents who are literally bankrupting themselves trying to remain in a meaningful presence in the lives of their children.
He is essentially saying: "The only value non-custodial parents hold for their children is to supply the custodial parent with money. Other than that, they're just not relevant."
A Familiar Pattern...
It turns out, Tom Cotton, the populist, is nothing new.
Aside from the historically predictable go-to political move of throwing non-custodial parents (and fathers in particular) under the bus, and aside from completely ignoring every positive and healthy reform to family law that is not only needed, but is also polling heavily in our favor (an average of state and national polls indicates a greater than 80% favorabililty for shared parenting), he's decided to pile additional incentives into the snake's den that's the Federal Title IV-D bonus and incentives program.
It's hard to imagine this legislation just came to Cotton from on high, and I seriously doubt that it has. The truth is, equal shared parenting law encourages parental cooperation and largely removes conflicts over child custody, and this will cost the family court industry a fortune.
So, I offer for your consideration, Cotton's donor information (2015-2020) as reported by Opensecrets.org:
Yep, you're reading that correctly. Senator Cotton has taken in nearly $800k from law firms over the last five years, ranking them fifth on his donor list. Knowing this, and also knowing that his bill was also supported by the National Child Support Enforcement Association, are you truly surprised that he would seek to paint himself as a populist while preserving and enhancing the status quo?
Non-custodial parents should expect fair, respectful, and decent treatment from government, and our children need and deserve both parents to have an active and meaningful role in their lives. Politicians like Tom Cotton are still not giving us that.
To be frank, I seriously wrestled with writing this article at all, because talking about anything to do with politics is tricky. Folks can have a tendency to erroneously conclude that criticism of their party or candidate is both a criticism of them personally and an implicit endorsement of the other side.
That's not what this post is trying to accomplish, and I'm not asking you or anyone else to change your political beliefs or vote for a candidate, party, or policy that you don't agree with.
Populism undoubtedly has tremendous potential to affect great changes with respect how government treats people. The lesson here, though, is that neither side's hands are clean when it comes to callus and oppressive family law that uses and exploits parents for political and financial gain.
It's perfectly okay to aggressively to stand up for party and oppose the arguments and views of political opponents, but we also have to ensure that the people we voted for respect our vote, and that means holding them accountable when they fail to listen to us or abuse our trust.
If populism is going to work to achieve our goals, we need to take our power back and we need to use it, even if that means calling out the people and the party we voted for, because otherwise, we'll find ourselves being governed by a bunch of Tom Cottons who'll tell us anything we want to hear without any concern for being held accountable to the people who voted for him; which obviously, flies directly in the face of what populism is supposed to accomplish.
Sending a clear message to your elected officials that says, "Just a reminder that you that work for me, and not your lobbyists. I like most of what you're doing, but your stance on family law is unacceptable. This issue is important to me, so if you don't work for better policy, policy that I want, I'm okay with finding someone else who will." ....not only forces politicians to respect you, but shows that YOU respect the power of your vote and the trust it entails.
Suffice to say, I hope that at the very least, the good people of Arkansas will have a frank discussion with Senator Cotton (Contact Tom Cotton).
Note: In the U.S., you may find the contact info for your state and federal legislators at openstates.org.