Is Emery’s ‘Joe Hill’ really dead ?

A new book by Dr. Robert Emery was released in August entitled “Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime.” It is ironic that having spent a decade blocking whenever possible all sensible discussion about two home solutions for children after families divorce he should now be promoting it. One suspects whether he has been truly converted or is merely feigning it.

Like a good many academics who have a highly inflated sense of themselves, he is keen to make a name for himself and advance his career. The major difference with Emery is that he does so at the expense of the integrity of other equally good, or even better, academics in his field. Balance and truth are the first victims of his naked ambition.

Two Homes, One Childhood” is the sort of enticing title many worried parents would find irresistible as they battle to sort out their inner demons and conflicts over child custody. [1]

One would not imagine that Emery had long been out of step with the more ‘progressive’ minds who have studied child custody – be they academic experts or professionals. He has long argued against ‘joint physical custody’ (aka Shared Parenting) by claiming that it is too “unstable.” In part this was because (or so he claimed), the child might become ‘confused’ by the regular routine of living alternatively with one parent and then the other. However, more importantly his opposition stemmed from the fact that most of the children go back to live with their Mums (or so he claimed). If that were true one wonders how a two home solution would work even if it were devised by Emery ?

Many of us at the coal face know this to be only partly true. Yes, most children are awarded to the mother upon divorce by the courts but there is no proven reason why this should be so. In fact from what little statistical data available for England & Wales (stretching back to the 1990s), shows that fathers are more likely to look after older children than toddlers.

Many of us with hands on experience know all too well, of children wanting to stay with their father but being prevented from doing so by the mother or the courts view of what is in the ‘best interests of the child’. Even when the child is living happily with the father, mothers appear to be able to manipulate the police to return “her” child to her (even when the child tells the police that the father house is where they prefer to stay).


So it is against this background that we now learn from his book that he now proposes the very plan that he has always criticised, namely in his case, to have ever-changing Parenting Plans. But while Parenting Plans are the very mainstay of the Shared Parenting concept the idea of thousands of perpetually evolving ones are not.

Emery modestly calls his new plan a proposal that will be “revolutionary”; a new “wave of the future” for custody planning. It would certainly be revolutionary for the courts – the workload they would have to face would be enormous.

Any idea of welcoming Dr Emery aboard the ‘shared parenting’ boat has to be tempered with the knowledge that he is 20 years too late and the damage he has inflicted in that time has been unforgivable – but we are nothing if not generous enough to embrace all repentant sinners – even Emery.

Emery’s idea is not, however, all that new or even novel. A quarter of a century ago (Kelly, 1994; Warshak, 1992) are on record as proposing such a concept. However, even then it was acknowledged to have certain drawbacks, most notably that parents would have to remain cooperative enough over the years to redesign the custody arrangements, agree the re-calculation of any Child Support payments structure. All that renegotiating of written plans which this would entail would probably involve yet more legal expenses leading to more legal wrangling which, in turn, could likely lead to an increase in conflict between the parents. Even if it was workable it would be restricted to the rich and the poor would once again get cut out of any benefits.

Of course, there is more than one way of avoiding such legal entanglements for parents but Emery has ignored these and blithely ploughed on. One way is to set up the initial parenting plan to specify that the child will live equal time with each parents conditional upon both parents completing an educational programme to that end.


In truth it is an impractical idea to have “temporary” plans that are ever-changing. Only the theoretical premise is reasonable enough, namely that Parenting Plans should be renegotiated and re-designed over time to meet the changing developmental needs of children as they age and to meet the evolving needs of other family members (Emery, 2016). The impractically is that family courts are already overburdened and creaking under the strain of ever more work being dumped on them by politicians guided and advised by so-called experts, e.g. Emery.

Justice in the family courts already falls far short of the ideal and is perfunctory at best because of the pressure of work. Do we really want this level of justice to now include a peremptorily dimension ?

Only a few years ago Emery and a cohort of hand-picked, like-minded accomplices began criticising other scholars for being biased “scholar advocates” – something that only the Emery clique was guilty of being on a continuous basis, i.e. biased and being advocates for their own dogma.  One only has to turn to recent articles on this blog for the full extent to be revealed:

 ‘What amounts to an internecine war has all but been declared by them Emery & Kline) against their fellow academics. Their latest contribution to the advancement of mankind – if that is what you can call it  – is entitled; “Bending” Evidence for a Cause:  Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law.” — ‘Caught red handed‘,

To suggestions of reform – such as Senator Lee’s shared parenting initiative – Emery’s riposte has always been that such studies relied on fragmentary academic research and were supported only by “small samples.” He failed to disclose that his work – and that of his cronies – were also based on few surveys and that those surveys were in fact smaller in many cases than the ones he was criticising. Emery’s position was always that even if there were benefits to be derived from joint custody, i.e. shared parenting, they were outweighed by the problems they caused.

In one of Emery’s recent papers he discusses the difference between truth in * Social Science and truth in Law and tries to identify a range of scholar-advocacy strategies that bias research evidence. The only problem with this line of attack is that he reveals his own tactics and the ammunition he has used against his opponents is that. He has perpetrated strategies and tactics where scholar-advocacy has made the headlines rather than the objective truth. These included adopting biased research evidence; creating a controversy that diminished the credibility of findings; and generally increasing confusion among the public by clever use of the media. [2]

A classic example of this were the claims made by UK advocacy group Women’s Aid in 2002, which were dismissed by a Gov’t investigation in 2002, yet were still being published and perpetrated as ‘the truth’ many years later when they were again investigated by Lord Justice Wall who found their claims had no foundation.

Fair weather friend ?

As recently as April 13th 2016 Emery’s views on joint custody were quoted (Sun Sentinel, Florida) as including:

  1. “Children’s lives in joint physical custody resemble that of “travelling salesmen,”
  2. “Children torn between two homes never seem to feel they have a home; they talk about going to “Dad’s house” or “Mom’s house.”
  3. The children often live under two sets of rules, sometimes with dire consequences.

One suspects Emery’s conversion is no ‘Saul on the Road to Damascus’ vision inspired by God. He may yet prove to be a slippery repentee and still hanker after his past ideological commitments. Is his vision-thing as radical as he maintains ? Or is he  visualising “future” custody plans as being an initial plan – and by its nature very “temporary” – changing as the child ages, which is not a far cry from where we are now and mother custody still dominates. Are we being sucked into his alleged new world order when in fact it is one and the same time the old one –  being so close to his old views as makes no difference ?

On the one hand his espousal looks like a progressive breakthrough but given his history it could still leave men trussed up with no real avenue to equality between the genders.

Emery’s argument has always been that Shared Parenting is only possible when there “is no parental conflict or abuse” and ipso facto the unspoken concomitant is that as 90% of all children of divorced parents are not living in joint physical custody then it follows that parental conflict or abuse must exist in 90% of separated households. Therefore, while Shared Parenting may be on the statute book it will be impossible to achieve.

Another of Emery’s rather disreputable quotes runs like this:

  • Expert witnesses sometimes seem willing to testify in favour of the parent paying their fee, and many women cannot afford to hire a witness to counter. This can result in “store-bought justice” that is not always in the best interest of children.

Yes, it can happen but in reality how frequently one has to ask ? There appears to be a shuttered mind-set in much of the USA and it’s not limited to court corruption and/or child care. Emery could be said to giving in to such tactics in the past.

Black lives matter

Yes, they do, and – dare one say it – father’s lives matter too. Given the recent publicity attending black men and boys who have been shot dead by the police are we to conjecture that all policemen in the US are dangerous to approach and only interested in gunning someone down ? The truth is more shaded than that.

All right thinking people accept that ‘Black lives matter’ and that we should never condemn anyone simply because they are black (blue or green). Equally, we should never condemn all fathers as incapable of child care duties but give fathers effective parenting opportunities that mothers automatically enjoy. Nor should we ever envisage fathers as the primary threat to children for the truth of the matter is that fathers are the best guarantees of a child surviving to adulthood.

Fathers, and blacks in America, have been treated by society in the same dismissive way. Theirs has been a bruising tale of setbacks along a rock strewn path. As a child it was circa October 1958 that my mother took me to listen to the great Negro singer and civil rights advocate Paul Robeson (below). [3]  He was very warmly received by what must have been a nearly all-white audience (there being only robesonnegligible immigration numbers at that time). He had just had his confiscated passport returned to him by the FBI and we were all anxious to see and hear him sing. It was viewed as shocking for local inhabitants during the 1939 -45 war that whenever American troops would parade through towns to celebtrate dates or events Negros troops would always be consigned to the tail end of the parade (Empire and Commonwealth soldeirs were never treated to this indignity).

Fathers, both black and white, have since that date been threatened with having their passports confiscated (for not paying enough Child Support) and yet no one queries the eerie echoes of 1950s McCarthyism that Robeson endured. The connection, let alone the facts, are lost on the younger generation. Only the aficionado will recognise it and grasp the resonance of the song ‘Joe Hill’ – a Number 1 hit in many countries, featured at the foot of this article.

Emery’s downfall

Many, perhaps including Emery, would love to live in a world of clear-cut boundaries and of black and white options. But life is not that simple; it is a tapestry of ever-changing variances with individualistic human beings living within a unique and infinite set of circumstances.

While we should never compare or conflate (not even for an instant) Emery with the heroic attainments of Aristotle they do share a common Achilles heel. Ancient Greece had an inherent anathema to the concept of ‘infinity’ in the mathematical sense. They feared it would undermine all they had achieved in the world and it would take the German mathematician Cantor, more than a thousand years later, to finally put this superstition to bed.

In his small way Emery is showing the same phobia based on a similar superstition. One suspects that he wants a one-size-fits-all option – a straitjacket – when all the evidence points towards individual solutions to individual child care situations. This myriad of possible choices is the dreaded ‘infinity’ of the closed mind. Maybe in his new book we will be able to see if there is a chink of light entering his cerebral regions ?


References :

Paul Robeson – b.1898 –  d. 1976.  Trade Unionist, Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer, Athelete, Singer, Actor, Patriot.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill, a well known trade union activist, was executed by firing squad on November 19th 1915. He had been arrested and framed for the alleged murder of a local grocery store owner (a former policeman) and his son.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you or me
Says I, But Joe, you’re ten years dead
I never died, says he
I never died, says he


[1] Robert Emery, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

[2] ‘Emery calls a Crisis Committee’,

[3]  The only known source found for his English tour is in 1958 (when I was aged 11). I suspect I must have met him twice as the first time (at the Wulfrun Civil Hall) I was so small, aged perhaps 7 or 8,  that he appeared like Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant. At the end of his performance I remember him inviting anyone who wanted to meet or speak with him to come onto the stage. As we shock hands my hand was swallowed up by his, and his beaming face came down to my level. He was even taller than my mother.


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