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Mark Sargent (Photo: the CT Mirror)

Mark Sargent (Photo: the CT Mirror)

The US family justice system is supposed to act in the best interest of the child. We all know that, we divorced fathers especially, whose rights to see our children are often sacrificed in its name. Fortunately, family justice is here to remind us that our miserable interests are to be trumped for this greater cause.

Reading about the State of Connecticut’s family court reforms in the baking, one is not certain any more that family courts are that sure about whether they are acting in the best interest of the child; or rather, there is some awareness that this might not necessarily happen. As divorces are becoming more litigious, custody dockets a judge has to handle pile up, and children suffer from prolonged custody battles.

The physical-abuse trial I had to go through after my divorce was a continuation of a custody battle by other means. I had a law guardian who did do zip to protect the interests of my children or mine. She was here only to serve as the good conscience of family justice system: when your case moves at a agonizingly slow pace like my trial (which lasted six years and half), the presence of a law guardian means that the interests of children are nominally protected, even though de facto they are not.

In Connecticut, they happen to have guardians ad litem. I went to the website of one, and frankly, I have trouble understanding the difference with law guardians. Guardians ad litem are “self-described” mediators in chief,  lawyers with shrinks’ talents that pretend to have a special gift in understanding the human soul and for parenting.  In Connecticut, the services of these folks might be quite pricey. Guardians ad litem bill by the hours, and face no cap. Mark Sargent, an attorney involved in pushing reforms to the Connecticut family court system, spent $130,000 in GAL(Guardian At Litem) fees.  Some parents empty their retirement account to pay their bill. In Connecticut, family justice provides another opportunity, besides serious health problems, to be faced with financial ruin.

My homeland does not have it all. Yet it has something I came to value as I reflected on the problems I had with Manhattan family court: a conception of justice that transcends a contract between parties. In the French criminal justice system, justice is supposed to be represented, and its interests are to be defended, by an investigating judge, who investigates a case before a judge rules about it. There are the parties, and there is justice which is supposed to be served by the state.

Connecticut’s family justice does not need one more substratum of mediators, the guardians ad litem, supposedly acting on behalf of the best interest of the child stuff and taking their cut until a judge hears the final mediators of a custody case. What is needed are impartial law guardians, with real investigative power, payed by the State, speeding up the process and acting in the best interest of justice. More surely than not, they may act in the best interest of the child.

I came across TyQan Brow’s story, which was on the news some ten days ago.  A new pearl in the nauseating list of encroachments of

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

fathers’ rights by family courts.

TyQan is the father of an eponym son he conceived with Jonetta Woods.  In February 2013, Jonetta tragically lost three of her four children in a fire.  The story gets suddenly very complicated, thanks to erratic Kalamazoo (Michigan)  family court decisions. For a while, TyQan is granted custody of Drayanna, the daughter Jonetta had with another man and escaped the fire, and his soon-to-be-born son.  But not so fast: TyQan Junior is born in March 14, but his father TyQan does not even have a chance to bring his baby home, as  he has to face an accusation of child abuse and neglect:   A social worker, who had visited TyQan before the baby’s birth and had found no crib at home, jumped to the conclusion that he was not prepared for parenthood. Eventually TyQan is granted temporary custody of his son by Kalamazoo family court, after he showed he had all that was needed to take care of his son, and all the desire to do so. Yet,TyQan is a father on “probation.”  I could not  keep myself from thinking: what will he need to prove to the court to be granted permanent custody of his child?  How filled, and with what food, his fridge will have to be? How much money will need to be on his savings account?

My first reading of TyQuan’s  tangle with family court was that if the family court’s  crowd  despises the Patriarch figure, the man that provides, takes charge, and imposes his will on women and children, there is one type of men it hates even more: the poor. In the times we live in, low-income men don’t make it to the middle class, and their status as breadwinners is always fragile. If they get divorced, they don’t not remain breadwinners very long, as family courts turn them into deadbeat dads with inflexible child support payments. Eduardo Porter is right when he suggests to policymakers, in a New Times article from March 5 2014,  to try support instead of punishment for low- income fathers (and families).

However, a look  at family laws outside the US shows that  punishment by family courts also applies to low-income non custodial fathers in countries where the social safety net is better than in the US, in Ireland for instance. Dan Buckley from the Irish Examiner writes that judges are breaching human rights of fathers, keeping them from seeing their children and forcing them into poverty. The targets of family courts there are fathers who can just make it with state benefits. Too often, judges tend to order an excessive amount of child support (maintenance in Ireland) relative to income; the same judges will curtail visitations or send fathers to jail if child support is unpaid.

There is something in out- of- wedlock fathers with kids which deeply bothers our societies; perhaps, the fact that they could be totally autonomous with kids,  that they could not need the help from women to educate their children.

I will celebrate when the first custodial or  non- custodial father will be elected in office – any office-  anywhere.

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz and Ruby (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz and Ruby (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

Over the last years, I have been blogging about Cirilia Balthazar Cruz’s case, perhaps one of the most outrageous examples of violation of parental rights by the US family justice in recent times. When we, non-custodial fathers, deal with family courts, we are often the defendants, there is a usually a trial and a vague appearance of due process; in Cirilia Balthazar Cruz’ case, hardly.

With Cirilia, there is no husband, no boyfriend, and no custody battle. Problems start with social services’ predators of the State of Mississippi. Her baby is taken from her almost upon delivery in Singing River Hospital in November 2008. Why? Mrs Cruz does not speak English or Spanish, but an indigenous language, Chatino, spoken in the region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The hospital employees and the social worker assigned to the case understand zip.  That must have made them angry. They tell the Mississippi Department of Human Services, that Cirilia is a prostitute and about to give up her child for adoption. Such deeds go a long way when supported by a high officer of justice-  in the present case, Judge Sharon Sigalas.  According to her, Cirilia’s child will suffer developmental problems for lack of English (I guess there are a bunch of folks in this country that may have had developmental problems throughout US history, and historians better investigate the problem quickly). As a result, the child is put to adoption.

Fortunately, thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center that filed a federal law suit (in passing, why isn’t there any Wealth Law Center anywhere in the US?), Cirilia regained Ruby’s custody in 2009 and her maternal rights in 2010.  And last friday, a federal justice court decided that Mississippi state officials may have to answer of their actions violating Cirilia’s constitutional rights to raise her child. Cirilia might get justice for the miscarriage of justice by the justice system, a precedent that hopefully will inspire others beyond the great State of Mississippi.

A while ago, I read somewhere that emails had the virtue of taking the edge of familial conflicts. It has to do with writing and distance, if I remember well. When you write, you think, as the other guy would say, and that helps you overcome your emotions. Also, a written commitment is a commitment you are more likely to stick to. Something like that…

Mrs Justice Pauffley

Mrs Justice Pauffler

In the technological age we are living in, Mrs Justice Pauffley (from the High Court of London) found much better: prescribe taking tea to parents who were had been tearing them apart over custody issues for ten years. And it worked

Thinking about it, it makes total sense to me.  Tea soothes tensions.  Anybody who went to arid countries in West Africa such as Mauritania or Mali, where people spend hours talking over the”three teas,” a very bitter one, a less bitter one, and a sweet one, knows what I am talking about. Long before you are drinking the sweet one, the world looks harmonious to you.

The three tea tradition does not exist in England and the story does not tell us how many tea meetings it took the parents to come down and start settling contentious issues. Anyway, hats off before Mrs Justice Pauffley!

Rep. Joe Kleefisch (photo Wisconsin State Journal)

Rep. Joe Kleefisch (photo Wisconsin State Journal)

A month ago, I read about Assembly Bill 540, which Joel Kleefisch, Republican Representative of Oconomowoc, was planning on introducing to the Wisconsin State Assembly. I thought it was incomplete, but some ideas were not to be dismissed entirely: capping child support payments to $150,000 in yearly income, which the bill proposed, was not unreasonable to me.  As much as I am for the top 10% to pay their fair share of taxes, I don’t see why child support payments ought to guarantee a 10% life style to an ex-spouse who happened to have married into the 10%. The bill was also aiming at guaranteeing “an equalized placement of children into both families.” That resonated nicely to me; we non-custodial fathers too often are granted pitiful visitations of our children.

However the fathers’ rights rhetoric of bill 540 proved pure smoke screen. In fact, Kleefisch had one father in mind when he was writing the bill, his multimillionaire friend, Michael Eisenga, who is also a contributor to his campaign and to that of his wife, who is Lieutenant Governor of the State of Wisconsin. Even better, Eisenga, unhappy with his child support obligations, was holding Kleefisch’s pen. On January 15, the bill was withdrawn from committee hearing.

The saddest thing in this story is that there is a bunch of fathers besides Eisenga who really needed a break. Let’s be fair with Wisconsin Child Support guidelines: They are immensely more sophisticated than New York State’s.  Income subject to child support is determined as an arbitrary percentage of each parent’s gross income (wrong), yet a component of child support obligations (day care for instance) is adjusted for the time the child spends with each parent (right), and income disparity is stated to factor in the computation of child support obligations. Wisconsin Child Support guidelines also describe sources of income subject to child support payments, which include social security disability benefits and unemployment benefits. The folks that live off such income often need to have their child support obligations revised downwards or be exempted from child support obligations altogether. Obviously Kleefisch and his pal Eisenga were not thinking about them.

Pre KFor some time now, I have noticed a growing number of comments on this blog expressing frustration and anger at  the lack of change in child support laws.

It ‘s important,  I think, to see that in the sad political times we live in, where “welfare as we knew it” has been under attack since 1996,  and these attacks have been adding to the justifications for tax cuts, current child support laws, as New York State’s, have sizable advantages. Welfare of the child? Not the problem of society anymore. That’s the problem of the noncustodial parent, for the most part the noncustodial dad.

Last but not least, the design of the law – the regressive  one-size- fits- all percentages of noncustodial parent gross income in child support payment (in New York, 17% for one child, 25% for two children. etc.)-  has the advantage of convenience:  enforcing the law is a no brainer. These child support percentages are part of this category of numbers you don’t know where they come from (who is the brilliant mind that came up with it) and that spoil the lives of millions of people (like for instance, the convergence criteria to belong to the European Union, but I won’t get started).

There is thus a lot of inertia at play against changing the laws, and politicians are usually no prophets of change. I don’t know if our new mayor, Bill de Blazio, is, but I like his proposal to add pre-K to the school years of the New Yorkers.

I am not going to talk about the benefits of PreK for child development, which are well documented. I am talking here of the possible impact of the implementation of pre K on child support laws we fathers have to deal with.

If pre K becomes part of the life of a child, single custodial mum’s  child care expenses go significantly down. That may bring our wise lawmakers to think, for once, of what “the cost to raise a child” is. And perhaps to think that it could be born by the two parents based on their income, not just one.

And allow me to step on the financing side of the issue. Governor Cuomo would like us to believe that New York State can afford tax cuts and pre K. This presupposes that public  services in New York State  are just good as they are. But  New York State is not Sweden:  people are dying in 2014 in the emergency room in the Bronx. Pre-K ought not to happen at the expense of already substandard enough public services.  The 1% has to chip in.

A long, long blessed time ago, I was spending weekends playing dolls with my girls. And I liked combing the thick, curly hair of my little one. There is nothing especially unusual with that. Much less, I think, that a mum – late Adam Lanza’s- bringing his son to gun shows and planning to offer him one for Christmas.

Well, maybe I have it wrong,

Doyin Richards

Doyin Richards

Here is a nice guy, Doyin Richards. He has a blog, Daddy Doin’ Work, which is about him raising his girls. He is also on paternity leave, (paid paternity leave?), which, in this- not- so -socially- advanced country, is something that should make people rejoice. He posts a picture of him combing his girl, among others to show his wife he could handle the job.

His blog is flooded messages – from fathers-  calling him a sissy, a deadbeat dad, a kind of uncle Tom, a man who cannot handle a black woman. Some asked him if he rented the girls (?).  Enjoy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doyin-richards/i-have-a-dream-picture-like-this_b_4562414.html

Perhaps we deserve the condescending family justice system we have that only sees fathers as just good enough to pay child support.

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