Personal pain has inspired Houck to fight for laws that would favor shared parenting

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Jason Houck of East Berne chairs the New York Affiliate of the National Parents Organization.


At the close of this week’s Enterprise podcast, through tears, Jason Houck gave a shout-out to his two daughters.

“I love you both and hope to see you again someday,” he said.

Houck of East Berne chairs the New York Affiliate of the National Parents Organization.

His organization is pushing for changes in state law that would make it more likely, after parents divorce or separate, to have their children spend half their time with each of their parents as long as those parents are fit and loving.

Currently, he reports, the norm is that children spend 65 percent of their time with their mother and 35 percent with their father.

Houck cites a 2021 survey that shows 92 percent of New Yorkers believe “it is in a child’s best interest to have as much time as possible with each parent” and they “would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports children spending significant, up to equal, amounts of time with each parent following separation or divorce.”

Houck’s organization has produced a report card, evaluating each state on the issue. New York was given an F as one of the two worst states along with Rhode Island.

“There is no current legislation in the books regarding shared parenting for our children,” Houck said of New York State. Although 11 bills have been proposed in the last seven years, not one has made it out of committee, Houck said.

He thinks there are two reasons New York’s laws are so outdated. “It actually goes back to the 1950s, 1960s for custody, where mom was a stay-at-home mom — mom cooked the dinner, mom did the laundry; dad went out, dad’s the provider,” he said.

Houck went on, “Well, in today’s society, mom in many cases, is the breadwinner. You know, moms have careers. Dads have careers. So, the equality between men and women over the years has just gotten tremendously better. However, our laws still are not getting better.”

Houck notes, too, that many divorced gay couples face the same issues and are welcome in the National Parents Organization.

The second reason the laws in New York haven’t changed, Houck says, stressing that this is his opinion, is because New York has created an adversarial approach to divorce. “So, if the parents separate  right now, New York creates an adversarial approach where the first person to run to the courthouse and file for divorce may receive child support …. Instead of unifying a family and creating specific laws to be in place to keep the family unit together automatically from the get-go, they want those families to split.”

Houck concluded, “That creates and generates revenue and income for the New York State Unified Court System as well as the attorneys in the bar association.” He said the state’s bar association is one of the biggest foes of shared parenting.

Houck, who joined the National Parents Organization in 2014 and has been the New York chairman since 2019, has gotten several groups to work together in pushing for legislation. These include New York Families for Tomorrow, New York Americans for Equal Shared Parenting, the father’s rights movement, and Amazing Mothers Without Custody.

“Moms have a little bit more stigma to overcome,” he said, than fathers do. “And there’s lots of moms out there that should have custody that don’t.”

Houck is particularly appreciative of the work done by Emma Johnson, a divorced mother who believes it is healthier for women to have shared custody, allowing them to pursue independent careers rather than being dependent on their ex-husbands for financial support.

This year, the coalition’s goal is to push for a bill that would start on a temporary basis. “If it doesn’t work, we can scrap it, right?” said Houck.

Houck believes shared parenting is a bipartisan issue and he notes that, in the recent poll, which showed overwhelming support for shared custody, 54 percent of those polled were Democrats.

Houck is driven in his volunteer work by his own experiences in Family Court and  with the litigation process.

He was divorced in 2011 and said he shared equal time with his daughters until 2013.

“Their mother had moved to a different town and the normal things started to happen where they wanted to see me every other weekend and one night during the week, and I had become a little bit hardened to that,” he said.

Houck went on, “I love my daughters. I was an involved father. I went to all their school functions, all their field trips.” His daughters had been were Berne-Knox-Westerlo students from kindergarten through elementary school.

After the estrangement started, Houck said he tried father-daughter and family counseling and reunification counseling to no avail.

“We began litigation in June of ’16,” he said. “We didn’t finish up litigation until January of 2021 — five years, seven adjournments in Family Court to try to get an ending verdict.” By the time the verdict came, his daughters had aged out of the system.

For five years, Houck said, he had “no contact at full child support” and no finding on fitness.

He also said, “When the estrangement happens with children, many times it cuts off an entire side of a family …. My mother lost the relationship with her grandchildren.” She had been “a primary caregiver” for his daughters, he said, “going through school, getting [them] on and off the bus before and after school.”

Estrangement has a ripple effect for families, Houck said.

“My family would welcome my daughters back with open arms — always …. It’s been eight years since I’ve spoken to either one of my daughters so it’s not something I hoped for. I do hope for a relationship some time in the future. But, statistically saying, it’s going to become when they’re more in their mid-thirties, mid-forties if it does happen.”

Houck’s loss has inspired him to push for changes in the law to spare others the pain he has endured.

“I’ve been there, I’ve been through it,” he said. “I’m here, I’m on the rebound side and I’m fighting for the cause for the children in New York.”


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