On Wednesday January 23, 2019, my husband Jack and I went to Jefferson City, Missouri to testify in favor of SB 14 which would make 50/50 custody -also known as “shared parenting”-the standard. We had no idea what to expect. We had never been to a committee hearing like this before nor had we ever considered testifying until this opportunity presented itself.
The room was packed with professionals and representatives from all over the state ready to be heard when we arrived. Mark Ludwig, who is spearheading Americans for Equal Shared Parenting, had coordinated most of today’s testimonies which we later learned. There were lobbyists from the domestic violence perspective as well as lawyers who had spent years trying to obtain 50/50 custody for clients fighting parental alienation also present.
We were asked to fill out a Witness Appearance Form and attach Jack’s testimony for the committee as soon as we arrived. Fortunately, we’d found the same form on the capitol’s website the day before and prepared it ahead of time.
Senator Wallingford, who is sponsoring this bill, read opening statements at the start of the hearing. He shared many statistics about fatherless homes and the impact that it’s had on crime rates and teen pregnancies. He then shared statistics about parental alienation and the long-term effects that it has on children and families. He quoted Dr. Warshak and reiterated that limiting time for a parent intent on indoctrinating the hate into a child as well as giving the targeted parent equal time is of utmost importance.
Senator Sater, the committee chairman, then wanted to see a show of hands from the audience as to who was there to testify. At that time, he decided in what order the testimonies would be heard. From what we were told, most testimonies usually go for no longer than 3-5 minutes each. Today was an exception because of the outpouring of response. Testimonies went for almost 2 hours in totality.
We sat back and watched as the first testimony was heard in favor of the bill. We decided it was best to gain a perspective of what Jack would be up against before he had his turn. We quickly learned that not every senator is understanding of our position and Jack needed to be ready to defend his testimony in a professional manner if need be.
We also realized that the committee assumes the court system and the judges are already doing a great job and are taking the time to carefully consider each detail of every single case before making decisions about custody. One of the senator’s also shared her belief that if domestic violence is part of the equation then the abuser’s custody time is automatically shortened substantially.
Ironically, Jack’s testimony included both domestic violence and a judge that didn’t care. He was able to dispel the myth that the court system cares about keeping a child from an abusive mother as well as takes the history of abuse into consideration prior to making decisions.
The end of his testimony included parental alienation and how his ex-wife used the extra time the court awarded her to indoctrinate his children into hating everything about him. He said had 50/50 custody been awarded right out of the gate, the playing field would have been leveled and the alienator may not have been as successful at parentally alienating his kids from him.
Senator May was the only senator to ask him a question at the end of his testimony. She asked if the court knew of his ex-wife’s history and what the reason was given by the judge that it didn’t matter. Jack was able to articulate that the court did know and that the judge told him her abuse was “in the past” so it wouldn’t be a factor.
Here are a few tips to pass along should you have the opportunity to testify.
#1. Arrive early. We arrived in town at 7am. The hearing started at 8am. This gave us time to find parking, get lost and eat breakfast.
#2. Dress professionally. The only thing the committee has to go on is your appearance. You may be the most spectacular person but if you show up looking unkempt, your testimony won’t matter.
#3. Do your homework. Find out who’s on the committee and what part of the state he/she represents. The chairman of this committee represents our county. He was very pleased supporters from his neck of the woods went to all the trouble to be present.
#4. Keep your testimony short and to the point. Also, if you’re using statistics make sure you can provide the source.
#5. Take multiple copies of your typed testimony. There are multiple committee members. Have a copy ready for each one. I don’t know how long it takes each member to get a copy of what was just said- days, weeks? They will most likely forget your testimony by then. Take a copy to each office after you testify. The capitol website will tell you each senator/representative’s office number.
#6. Use this time to network and shake hands. You went to all the trouble to take the day off and go to the capitol, so utilize every second. Have business cards ready and anything else you may want to do while you’re there. I had written a letter to Senator Sater a few weeks ago about parental alienation. After the hearing, I chased him up the stairs and introduced myself. If nothing else, it’s a beginning.
#7. Make contact with Mark Ludwig or the organization that’s present and let them know you intend on testifying. The organization representing this bill has most likely spent hundreds of hours getting it this far. If your testimony sucks, you could derail their bill and keep it from passing. I didn’t realize until after the fact the incredible effort Mark and his team have put into getting the bill to this stage. A bad testimony can destroy hundreds of hours of work. Please, don’t be like us. Have the courtesy to reach out before you testify.
#8. Send thank you notes. As soon as we arrived home after our 3.5 hour drive, I immediately went to my office and wrote a thank you to every member of the committee. I mailed them on my way to work the next morning. This will remind them one more time of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. I believe hand-written notes go a long way. Again, the capitol website will tell you the address where mail should be sent.
#9. On the Facebook page Parental Alienation Speaks, I’ve shared 2 videos that need to be watched before testifying. The first video is by Mark Ludwig and goes over vital information prior to testifying. The second video is the day of the hearing. I highly recommend watching them both. You can also follow Parental Alienation Speaks on our website parentalalienationspeaks.com
#10. Join Mark Ludwig and Americans for Equal Shared Parenting on the website at aefsp.com and/or through Facebook. He’s already doing the work and plowing the way. Jump on board with him and use your voice.
Shared parenting may not be directly fighting parental alienation, but it’s a beginning to combatting this evil.
So, join the team and start speaking out!