The Importance Of Writing Legislators and Getting Involved
Imagine if you will, being a fit and loving parent for many years in a relationship that was like so many others. There were ups and downs. Still, both parents fulfilled their part to provide for their family with no history of abuse, neglect, no criminal record, or even lack of love. However, for some reason, it (the marriage or relationship) just did not sustain over time.
You start the day off just like any other and go to work with plans to take the family out to eat that evening for the upcoming Mother's Day. Upon returning home, you find that the house is nearly empty. There's no clutter, no furniture, and no pictures. Most disturbing of all, no pitter-patter of little feet or the screams and giggles that filled your house and brought joy to your life and daily routine for years. The robbery of what defined you as a parent (your presence - being there) is the thing that gave you more purpose than anything else in the world…all GONE in a moment with no immediate or direct warning.
You do what you can to continue. You try to stay calm. You try and tell yourself that this will blow over and your partner just needed some space. After the second day, the worry and panic begin to grow. You might start reaching out to family and friends hoping they have heard from her and to see what you can do to reconcile and improve your family. No response.
After a few days, it begins to set in that the life and family you once knew are more than likely over, but you still do not know where your children are. You have provided for your kids, changed their diapers, read stories to, and experienced countless hours of laughter with are now missing from your life.
You know you need to do something. At the very least, you crave a relationship with your kids. The children you helped create. You want them to understand they are never without you and your support.
After many phone calls, you find yourself at the county jail talking to the county prosecutor to learn that there is a "parental kidnapping law." For a brief moment, your heart begins to soar with the excitement of the inevitable reunification.
Then, in the next moment, you're heartbroken. The county prosecutor looks you in the eyes and says, "If you were of the opposite gender, we would have already issued an Amber Alert for these children. But we'll just let the courts handle this considering your gender."
This drama is just the very beginning of a saga for many. It's very similar to the adventure of my divorce. We could continue to focus on the pain, fear, lack of direction, the battles, and animosity created in situations like this, but why?
We at FUAN are asked questions about, "WHO CAN I CONTACT FOR HELP?" "WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP STOP THIS BIASED STAGE THAT IS THE FAMILY COURTS." The purpose of this article is to tackle those topics head-on. Regardless of your story or the why you have, these questions are the place where we begin our quest for meaningful Family Law Reform.
Truth be told, if you've already started your battle and are reaching out to us, the gears of your case may already be turning. However, there is still time to correct injustices. There are ways to help put a stop to it. It doesn't have to happen to any other child, let alone the millions of children that experience feelings of abandonment every year because of current practices in Family Law.
Of course, we recommend you reach out to your local legislators and influential community members to enlist their help to make a change in the current Family Law system.
The issue of "parental kidnapping" might not be your issue, but it is for many. However, it is essential to identify your "why" before reaching out to legislators. You already know what your areas of concern are. They are usually concerns based on personal experiences.
With the 2020 General Assembly in Iowa nearly upon us and 2020 elections well on the way, we encourage each of you to email ALL of the Iowa legislators and candidates. Encourage others to follow your lead.
This article will discuss ten steps about how you can help with Family Law Reform issues in your local area. I'll also discuss some tips and tricks to help turn you into a "professional advocate." I'll explain why FUAN needs each one of you to step up to do your part. Accomplishing our goals will not happen any other way.
We have made a few sample email templates to make writing legislators and candidates easy for you.
Before starting to write or meeting with your legislators, it is vital for you to not only know your "why" but have thought about creative solutions too. Let's be real. Legislators get bombarded with request after request. Attending meeting after meeting dulls their senses and can make their eyes glaze over.
If your story isn't compelling for them, it could be challenging for a legislator to remember what you're asking them to do. They are off to the next get-together to listen to more requests from people who want them to act on their behalf.
If you are emailing or taking their time just to complain or vent, you will not capture a legislator's attention. You won't get assistance. You will not be able to influence them at all. You need to be able to identify the problem clearly and present meaningful, valid solutions.
FUAN has prepared recommendations for the upcoming 2020 General Assembly. Please review our recommendations. FUAN hopes you'll share them with your legislators. Lawmakers' belief in our proposals is reinforced when they get the same information from multiple sources.
Most importantly, DO NOT WAIT. Take action now. Learn as you go.
The advocacy may seem complicated at first glance. Following the tips we've learned along the way as laid out here will simplify the process. They will help you to be successful. If you read no further and do nothing more, TAKE THE TIME TO EMAIL YOUR LEGISLATORS TODAY.
Now, How Do We Go About Enacting Family Law Reform?
Identify your local legislators and other local leaders:
Every state maintains a legislative website. You'll find a lot of valuable information there. You can find a list of all legislators and how to identify legislators from your area.
A Google search, "site: your state legislators," can help you find this information if you haven't already discovered your state's legislators on the state's website.
Iowans can find a list of all legislators at the following link by either clicking on Senators or Representatives. This link also gives you the option to "find your legislator" by entering your address.
Let's face it. If you have never emailed a legislator before and especially if you are not in their district, they are unlikely to contact you back. THAT'S OK!
We recommend that you start with your legislators and your local community. However, when you email other legislators, you still provide more exposure, awareness, and understanding of an issue. Even if they don't respond, sending an email is still a very positive strategy to follow.
Taking the time to contact other influential local community members will help to increase the exposure, awareness, and understanding of the issues.
Contact public officials like mayors, city council members, county supervisors, school board members, religious leaders, and of course, your friends and neighbors. Introduce each of these people to the issues. Do this, and you increase the chances of tapping into their network of friends and influential community members.
Identify Issues of Personal Concern/Passion:
There are many Family Law issues throughout each state and the entire country. Finding the issues most relevant to you within the Family Law Reform movement can often be daunting. It will include many other issues like Shared Parenting, Child Protective Services reforms, Parental Alienation awareness/recognition, Grandparents' rights, and more.
In Iowa, you can view the following "FUAN 2020 legislative recommendations" to see if any of these areas and our proposals agree with your viewpoint. We recommend sending the following link when emailing your legislators.
I am sure by now, you have already decided on the issues that are most important to you. Now how do you go about conveying topics to others?
Identify The Action Request:
It is essential to contact your state's Family Law Reform organizations to find out where you can most be supportive. At this point, FUAN (as well as groups from other states), is looking to identify supportive legislators to sponsor or co-sponsor Family Law Reform legislation.
FUAN recommends the following action steps for the "ASK":
- Ask the individual for a meeting with yourself, a FUAN representative, or a Family Law Reform leader in your state.
- Tell the person you are a "FUAN Family Participant" and disclose other organizations you belong to. Doing so will hopefully bolster your/your organization's standing.
- Ask them to review the FUAN 2020 Legislative Recommendations. Then discuss their questions, concerns and ask for their support. https://www.familiesunite.org/iowa-legislative-recommendations-2020/
- Identify the issue that you are most concerned with and include the link that supports and educates people about the problem. For example, "A Child's Rights Are Fundamental" is about Shared Parenting. https://www.familiesunite.org/shared-parenting-2020/
- Reiterate your request for a meeting to alleviate concerns and earn their support.
Legislators are people too. In general, people appreciate it when you are direct and to the point. A best practice is to cite the issue as well as to respond with solutions.
Simply venting or complaining without any solution may get you sympathy/empathy. But it will seldom get the action you seek. By including the information about what you see as the "problem" and what solutions you support, you will exponentially increase the odds of success.
Include the URL links we suggest. They all include the topic, solution, and specific bill language. There are research studies, related articles, and more too. Most importantly, when legislators are exposed to the same information many times from many people, they sense the people want the change.
The repetition helps to build their belief in common-sense solutions for family law we all want to see.
Do Your Research:
It is imperative to do your research on individuals before scheduling a meeting. Knowing their background, political affiliation, and other basic details can help you identify which topics to lean towards or steer away from. You can learn enough to get started in five minutes or less.
Google your state's legislative website. In an election year, learn who the candidates are. Engaging your personal friends, family, and community members will be your best resource and one of the best things you can do.
Most Family Law Reform issues are usually bipartisan issues.
But what do you think will happen when you go to a meeting or send a highly partisan email to a member of the opposite party? You may have closed their mind to you and the issues you are presenting.
Do your best to be comfortable. Stay politically neutral, unless you have done enough research to know the key areas of interest the person you are speaking to is concerned with.
Also, before sending emails or having meetings, it is best to do your research on the topic that you are going to be discussing.
It is OK to say that you do not know the answer to a question. But after that, do your best to follow up by finding a reasonable solution. Then send it to the legislator later.
FUAN, and other organizations, have done a tremendous job preparing informational resource sites. They have participants available to assist, guide, and help to prepare you to advocate for any of these issues. Be sure to reach out to your local FLR leaders!
Writing Letters and Emails:
When contacting your legislators about any issue, it is best to follow specific rules of structure, flow, and etiquette. Below are a few things that we ask that you remember.
- Be courteous, professional, and respectful. Nothing can ruin your chances of success faster than being rude, disrespectful, or appearing to waste someone's time. Use common sense. Feel free to reach out to your friends, family, state leaders, or others to help review what you intend to say. Make sure your grammar and tone are all suitable.
- Please keep the email short. Always advise anyone you're communicating with to visit the following link. https://www.familiesunite.org/iowa-legislative-recommendations-2020/ It is vital to include this link. We want l to be getting our information from many people.
- It's helpful to keep things simple for them. This way, they see FUAN continuing to gain exposure. They understand that many others support the same recommendations. These actions help us gain credibility as an organization with valid issues in the public's best interest. Always share the link.
- Be yourself. There is power in individuality! Each of us has our own unique story or "WHY." It is OK to share your experience, but again, be respectful/professional when sharing FUANs link. Follow the other rules of courtesy, respect, and individuality, and keeping the message short. There is an old saying, "Facts tell. Stories sell." We will need to employ both to communicate our issues and gain the full support of others.
- Share the issue that concerns you most. If you have a recommendation you particularly like and plan to speak about, go to FUANs website. Then click on that recommendation. You'll see a new URL that you can copy and paste into your email to legislators. Example: "Abolishing CPS & Re-Creating as a Standalone Agency" is found at https://www.familiesunite.org/abolish-and-replace-cps-2020/
- Always ask legislators to meet either with you, a FUAN representative, or another local Family Law Reform leader in your area to answer their questions and confirm their support.
- Legislators get hundreds of emails every day. It's impossible to respond to every email. So, when you are sending useful information, saying thank you, or sending a message that doesn't require a response, add "No response needed" to your message. This small thing is a relationship-building strategy. They feel relieved there is no pressure to respond.
- Never underestimate the power of sending a brief email that simply says, "Thank you for your support. No response needed."
You can email all the legislators at once, but what we would recommend emailing yourself and blind carbon copying (BCC) them. When you send many legislators the same message using CC, all of them will see everyone you sent the message to. It is very impersonal. Most of them will not read the message.
Please follow this important information about how to email legislators in a mass email: CC = Group chat... DON'T DO THIS!
Send the email to yourself and then BCC the Legislators!
Learn more here:
Encourage Your Legislators To Support the "FUAN 2020 Legislative Recommendations:
As mentioned above, it is imperative to include FUANs link. We want them to get repetitious information from multiple sources to help keep things simple for them, continue to gain exposure, show support of the same recommendations. It will help FUAN gain credibility as an organization with valid public issues.
Sharing information is not enough. We must be bold enough to ask for a legislator's support to sponsor or co-sponsor a bill. If they are not comfortable doing that, at least confirm that they will support the recommendation you are promoting.
If they are not a supporter, try to draw out the questions or concerns that they might have. That way, you can provide targeted information to alleviate their concerns.
Other ways you can help promote Family Law Reform legislation.
There is no better way to do your research than by attending events or scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your legislator, candidate, or other community members of influence. The ability to look somebody in the eye, ask them direct questions, and determine if they are confident in their plan of action will establish your confidence in a candidate or legislator... or not.
One of the best ways to vet a candidate or discover your legislator's feelings is to attend events. Being there allows you to ask your questions. Being seen at an event is good for you too. Being seen is the most important thing you can do to help establish a relationship with legislators. Your presence will help open the door for more discussions later.
Equally important is to attend Family Law Reform or FUAN organization's events held in your area. Often appearances are everything. The legislator may get the impression your organization or the issues you were discussing are not that popular if they're at an event where they are the only "crowd" members.
By taking the time to attend every event possible and help to fill the room demonstrates a sense of urgency and importance to the issues you are discussing. A full house helps bolster the strength and credibility of you and the FUAN organization's topics.
Most organizations, whether nonprofit or otherwise, rely heavily on volunteers. They are the lifeblood of the organization demonstrating to the community, our elected officials, and the public the importance of our mission of Family Law Reform.
Too often, we don't appreciate all that volunteers do for us. Their presence goes a long way towards gaining legislative and community support. So, whether you are volunteering for a one-time event, or continuously involved as an "Active Committee Participant," you are vital to accomplishing of FUANs goals. Let's create a better world for children and families yet to come.
At FUAN, we say, 1% of the efforts of 100 people will produce 100% success. Do what you can to volunteer your time, talent, finances, and ideas for the future success of children and families.
There are several ways to donate that are effective in supporting the issues of concern to you. Canvassing time, offering services, and of course, monetary donations all go a long way.
Donating to support legislators/candidates that support your ideas will help them have the resources to go the distance and achieve victory.
Another way of contributing would be giving of your time, talent, services, and monetary donations to your local organizations such as Families United Action Network – FUAN.
We always recommend that you donate to your local organizations and the organizations that you believe in the most. When you Donate to Families United Action Network, you are helping to make a brighter future for children and families across Iowa and the nation.
Become a FUAN Family Participant
"The mission of FUAN Family Participants is to build up a network. We want to assist in unifying as many Family Law Reform groups, pages, organizations, and support groups as possible. Aiding to uplift and empower individuals to help them to win their case is a goal too. Repairing the current family law system, and directing our energy toward FUAN "Active Committees" means to be active and involved in the Iowa Family Law Reform movement.
The informational sharing and advocacy page for FUAN Family Participants is Families United Action Network's General Member page. Ultimately the FUAN Family Participants' group is a chance for individuals to connect and become empowered.
Please stay in touch as we develop online access to our "Active Committees." In the meantime, we invite you to join the FUAN Family Participants. Message FUAN if you are interested in becoming active on any of our six committees.
- Custodial Reform Committee - (CRC)
- Communication & Networking Committee - (CNC)
- Treasury Fundraising & Compliance Committee - (TFCC)
- Legislative Lobbying & Strategy Committee
- FUAN Family Stabilization & Preservation Department
- Events & Outreach Committee - (EOC)
To recap the ten steps about how YOU can help with Family Law Reform in your local area…
3. Identify the Action Request:
5. Attend Meetings/Events:
6. Encourage your legislators to respond to the "FUAN 2020 Legislative Recommendations."
8. Write Letters/Emails and Making Phone Calls
10. Become a FUAN Family Participant:
Following through with the steps and taking action to find honest leaders is all of our responsibility. If no one does their part, then the people will continue to elect wolves who will lead us astray.
The time to act is now!
Failure to act will result in another legislative session opportunity lost. There will be a new election, with little to no ground gained. The regret of failing to act could not only haunt our families and us personally but could continue to plague our communities by robbing many other children of a fit, willing, able, and loving parent.
The current system has destroyed too many families. It's led to a cyclical decay of the family unit. We have a chance to draw a line in the sand and begin to start correcting, in earnest, all of the issues that plague Iowa's families. FUANs Mission is to help repair, protect, and preserve families.
IT ALL STARTS WITH ALL OF US DOING OUR PART FOR CHANGE!
FUAN has made up a few templates you can use when writing your legislators. Feel free to use or adapt them as you see fit. Copy and Paste the ones you want to use.
Writing Legislators Template 1
Dear Senator or Representative)
I recently moved to your district and was wondering if you would be willing to meet sometime to discuss some legislation ideas I have for this coming session.
Please see the link below for a further explanation of the issue I’d like to address. It’s something that has affected me personally, and I felt the need to become involved in changing how Iowa deals with child custody. I hope you have a little time to meet or call so we could discuss it further.
(Your Phone Number)
Writing Legislators Template 2
Dear (Senator or Representative)
I recently moved to your district and am a FUAN Family Participant. I am hoping to set up a meeting with myself or a FUAN representative if you would be willing to meet sometime to discuss some legislation ideas FUAN is recommending for this coming session.
Please see the link below for further explanation on the issue I’d like to address. It’s something that has affected me personally and I felt the need to become involved in changing how Iowa deals with improving our current child protective system.
I hope to help answer any of your questions, hear your concerns and hopefully gain help answer any of your questions, hear your concerns and hopefully gain our support on the below changes to Iowa CPS. I have gone through this personally and hope that you have a little time to meet or call so we could discuss it further.
(Your Phone Number)
Writing Legislators Template 3
Dear (Senator or Representative)
I am a FUAN Family Participant, and hoping to set up a meeting with myself or a FUAN representative if you would be willing to meet sometime to discuss some legislation ideas FUAN is recommending for this coming session.
I personally would like to really confirm your support on their recommendations regarding the stopping of taking peoples drivers license. This has affected me personally as I’ve always made my child support payments but was in a work accident and got behind. Despite constant payments I was unable to get out of debt and eventually lost my license and later my job due to not being able to get to work. I do not see how this practice helps children, parents, or the community.
Please see the link below for further explanation on the issue I’d like to address. It’s something that has affected me personally and I felt the need to become involved in changing how Iowa deals with this currently. I hope you have a little time to meet or call so we could discuss it further.
(Your Phone Number)
Writing Legislators Template 4
Dear (Senator or Representative)
My name is (Insert your name) and I'm writing you on behalf of FUAN in order to share with you our 2020 legislative recommendations for family law reform. I don’t know if you remember me, but we spoke last year during your campaign at my residence. I live a couple blocks down from Evan's Middle School on Chester Avenue. We talked about my situation with my son and how I barely get to see him. We talked about all the things that I have missed in his life, because his mother dislikes me more than she loves our son.
FUAN, with the help of other family law reform organizations around the country, has put together some recommendations that I think we can both agree to make Iowa a better place for children and set them up for a better chance at life. We hope that you will take a look and reach out to us with any questions you may have regarding our proposed recommendations.
With the link above, you will find our proposed recommendations. I hope that you find the time to take a look and give some thought into Iowa's future. It is our hope that we could set up a meeting with you in person or on the phone to discuss these issues. We are interested in hearing your concerns with the recommendations as well as why you support or oppose. Having these conversations can save us a lot of time during session.
Thank you for taking the time to review these recommendations and we look forward to hear from you to set up an appointment.
(Your Phone Number)
Writing Legislators Template 5
Dear (Senator or Representative)
My name is (Insert your name). I was emailing you in regards to the bill for Shared Parenting that FUAN will be introducing this year. Iowa needs this bill. It is scientifically proven with studies and has had many medical journal articles published in regards to what happens with children when they have equal access to both parents. They are better academically, less chance of being incarcerated, lower suicide rate, lower chance of doing drugs and alcohol, lower probability of teen pregnancy, better sense of well being, and overall better psychological health. This will help a lot of societal issues that our state struggles with. It appears an overwhelming majority of Iowans also support shared parenting.
The bill is not an across the board guarantee of equal Shared Parenting and will still ultimately be decided by the judge. Both parents must be fit, willing, and able. If there is a history of domestic violence then this would obviously not be a viable for those parents. If one parent was on drugs or a danger to the children this would also not be viable. This bill is for parents that are good people that want to be good parents and are able to do so. The vast majority of parents fit in this category. Right now the way the law is set up one parent "wins" and the other parent becomes a visitor, and the children ultimately suffer.
Kentucky passed a rebuttable presumption of Shared Parenting 2 years ago and it has already proven to be beneficial to families. Even with parents that do not get along, it is showing better communication and are less argumentative and domestic violence has also dipped within the state. This in turn helps coparenting. There is no longer a "winner or loser" and takes a lot of fight out of litigation. That will help free up the courts and the judges can focus on matters that actually put children in harm's way. I think it's time we make the kids the priority. I hope that you find time to review this bill and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this on it.
(Your Phone Number)