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Archive for the ‘Child Support and Child Support Laws’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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Family justice in the US is a race to the bottom, with,  I long thought, New York State family justice as unbeatable at crushing fathers’ lives.

Wrong. Texas is surging as a serious contender to New York. Check out Clifford Hall ‘s story on Fox News (click on the photo below to watch video):

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.49.54 PM

One question that Fox News does not ask is why did Judge Millard sentenced Clifford Hall to pay his ex’s lawyer fees. It sounds like it’s a just the stuff that fathers have to do when they end up in family courts.

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Stop and FriskI don’t vote in this country , although it will be twenty-two years on November 2 of this year I have been living in the US. I probably never will. I also still do not understand why, in the so-called global world we live in, voting is still tied to citizenship. That’s so passé.  If you are resident in a country, pay taxes there, you should be able to vote.  Perhaps not in presidential elections, but in local and regional ones.

I any case, I do not have the first clue whom I would be voting for if I could. Ok, I would rule out casting my vote for Carlos Danger and his unconditional support of Israel’s settlements in occupied territories, and for Christine Quinn for supporting Michael Bloomberg’s third term.   As to the other fellows, their websites tell us they all have the family and professional background to bring the middle class New Yorker a better life. More boring, you die.

The hottest “issue” on the agenda of the candidates is “the stop-and-frisk” policy by Michael Bloomberg, motivated by an excessive attention on safety that originated in Giuliani’s administration. I will not cry if it goes. Yet I would like the candidates to be more ambitious and to root out the stop-and-frisk policies implemented in family courts that affect black, latinos and also white fathers. What fathers experience in family courts is the stop- and-frisk “pay child support and maybe, you’ll see your kids.”  But about family court justice in New York, the silence of the candidates in the democratic primary is deafening.

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It took me a week to swallow Ethan Bronner’s piece in the New York Times, “Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty

Russel Davis (Raymond McCrea Jones for the New York Times)

Russel Davis (Raymond McCrea Jones for the New York Times)

Promise for Poor,” on March 16. The punchline: everybody has a constitutional right to a lawyer in the US since 1963 (bless the sixties) in criminal courts, but Gideon v. Wainwright does not guarantee this right in civil matters. Hence, there are a bunch of folks in Georgia (the State that Bronner gathers his evidence from) who end up in jail for cases as varied as foreclosure, job loss, spousal abuse and custody, for lack of proper representation; like Bill Jerome Presley, no criminal record, who spent 17 months in jail for failing to pay… $2,700 in child support.  Mr Presley lost his job in the recession, could not pay child support, was sent to jail and brought back to court shackled to be sent back to jail again, cause, I guess, the judge could not understand why Presley had not saved enough in jail to come up with the child support money; or Russel Davis, Navy veteran with post traumatic stress disorder, also jailed for failing to pay child support.

Like the other guy, I can’t but lament the dire political times we are in, when debt is made a national priority by the republican aisle in Congress. Were this not the case, perhaps more public money would flow into family justice – among others- and lawyers would be provided to poor folks who cannot afford their services. But it’s only part of the problem. Poor folks – mostly poor non- custodial fathers – would not be facing jail in the first place if not for those imbecile family laws – obviously  in Georgia, but in New York State too, as readers of this blog know- that bloomed in the wake of the dismantlement of “the welfare system as we knew it.” The free-market feminist underpinnings of these laws was that idleness is an incentive to more idleness. Stop subsidizing idleness and everybody will lift oneself up out of poverty. And if that does not happen, at least  family courts will make sure the bastards pay child support. As for the right to see their kids, they have the market.

Poverty breeds crime, as the proverb says. Nowadays, it sure breeds jail time irrespective of crime. That’s the upshot of these brillant legislative changes.

The funny thing, at least for New Yorkers, is that city’s ads against teen pregnancy are covering these days the subway trains and bus stops. This campaign has been highly criticized, and rightfully so. The gist of it: poor, black, latina, female teen, don’t get pregnant. The campaign did not forget any cliché: on one of these ads, one can read “chances are he won’t stay with you.”  You know, men. Irresponsible deadbeats.

Every time I am in the train and I see the whipping children of Bloomberg’s ads, I have popping up in my mind a poster with a man, race indifferent, casually dressed, and the slogan: “Dude, if you cannot foresee 21 years of uninterrupted employment, beat it. Don’t have kids. You may end up in jail if you don’t pay child support.”

And below the picture of this fellow: “And if you are not happy with it, take it to Congress, or wherever you have to, to the street or on cranes.”

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Since 1994 when Congress passed it, the “Violence Against Women Act” has been the weapon against domestic violence.  The act was to be reauthorized in 2012 to include gays, undocumented immigrants, American Indians and students.  Republicans in the Senate joined Democrats to approve the reauthorization, Republicans in the House did not.  Then the Republicans took a beating in the 2012 Presidential elections, and the reauthorization of the bill is back on the floor of the senate in February, with Republicans now more accommodating to compromises, as they hope to lure women and latinos back  (or finally) into their ranks.

One may think that at least, this  hard-learned lesson in political realism is for the greater good – the end of domestic violence. Wrong: the tackling of this problem has been nothing but petty, parochial politics (PPP) and PPP it remains.

Why? We now know  that domestic violence is not only the deed of men against women, but also that of women Universalitéagainst men and children: physical violence along with a less apparent but as pernicious a form of violence, parental alienation, which is given a free ride in family courts, which are women-biased courts. The very fact that domestic violence is defined as domestic violence against women gives women leeway to overuse of the accusation of domestic violence, to get the divorce they want and expel their ex from the life of their children.

Want to solve domestic violence? Change course and instead of adding categories of victims, throw universality into the law already. Just pass a Domestic Violence Act, that will aim at protecting women, gays, immigrants, American Indians and… men, too.

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Since Friday February 15, Serge Charnay, has been on top of an abandoned crane, in  a Nantes (France) old shipyard. Charnay spread a banner with these words: “Benoit, two years without his dad.”  Benoit is Charnay’s son. He has not seen his father for two years. Serge lost his visitation rights when he sequestered his son for ten days in 2010 and two months in 2011.

Serge Charnay (Photo Frank Perry AFP)

Serge Charnay (Photo Frank Perry, AFP)

Also Charnay wrote on top of the crane: “Let’s save our children from the justice system.”

What is it with some fathers and cranes ? Five years ago, in September 2008, Paul Fisher (Ohio) and Donald Tenn (California, President of Fathers for Justice USA) climbed on a crane near Ohio State University. They were requesting a non-partisan investigation into the family court system by the governors of their respective states – then Ted Strickland in Ohio, Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

I love it. Men perched on a phallic piece of machinery screaming their lungs and their powerlessness at the unfairness of the justice system and claiming their rights to see their kids, like their exes do.

In any case, Serge Charnay may have made significant breakthroughs for the fathers rights movement in France, perhaps because awareness on the topic has previously been raised by Moreno’s protests against the family justice system (Moreno went to Nantes to support Charnay). On Friday night, Serge Charnay was told – by  the Prefet (a high government official) that he could benefit from a request before family court to review his case. As Charnay refused to get off his crane, Jean Marc Ayrault – Mayor of Nantes and Prime Minister, mind you- asked the Minister of Justice (the French Attorney General) and the Minister of the Families to meet next week with father rights organizations.

When has any high- ranked government official ever met with fathers rights organizations in the US? Did governors Strickland and Schwarzenegger ever ask their Attorney Generals to investigate the family court systems in their respective state? I guess not. And  I think it may have to do with the fact that father rights movement are no lobbyists with big pockets.

Serge Charnay, you are most welcome to talk about your experience on this blog when you will get off your crane.

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I love what readers of this blog are doing with it: it becomes a place where experiences, and sometimes solutions, are exchanged.

Yesterday, comments of a reader immersed me back deep into the Dickensian world of New York State family laws, in 2012.

Let’s summarize: She’s a non-custodial parent living on Social Security disability benefits; her ex-husband too. As a veteran, he gets disability benefits for their dependent son. It does not matter. She has to pay child support no matter what. Any earnings in addition to disability benefits -strictly limited by law- are garnished: that’s part of the bureaucratic recklessness rooted in the sheer imbecility of the State’s child support laws. When she asks for a refund, the State takes its time and its cut: child support overpayments are never entirely refunded. Only in New York State!

At this point, another reader mentioned bill S4547 introduced by New York State Senator Ken LaValle. I did not know about it. Thanks. I immediately googled it.

Kenneth LaValle

A smart fellow once said politics is the art of the possible. As New York State family laws goes, the possible is not much. The bill basically amounts to putting a band aid on a gaping wound. It requires a reduction of a child support’s obligation by the amount of social security benefits received by the child (conditional upon a case by case examination by family courts: good luck!).

Sure, the bill will help my reader, who should not be in this situation in the first place. Has it occurred to lawmakers that recipients of social security disability benefits do not exactly belong to the 1%? And that our reader would not be that distressed, if her child support payments were not a flat share of her gross income, regardless how low her income is?

Kenneth LaValle and colleagues on the other side of the aisle need to get some ambition. The State family laws can be reformed, deeply. It has happened in Britain and Australia, who had as crummy family laws as in the State. The guiding plot: joint-custody and child support payments based on both parents’ income.

Meanwhile, readers, stay safe: don’t marry, and most of all, don’t divorce in New York State!

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Every four years, at the time of the presidential elections, I get more annoyed by the irrelevance of the debate on family values.  This week, the Arizona episode of the republican debate sank to a record low on this issue. We heard the chorus of the four  knights of the traditional heterosexual family whining about its disappearance: Apprentice Patriarch Santorum quoted the New York Times on 40% of children born out of wedlock,  Mr. Virtue -Romney- added that 40% of these children born in sin were from certain groups (guess whose) and lamented the lack of abstinence teaching in school, Marriage Boulimic Gingrich kicked at Obama rewarding infanticide doctors. The pearl was Paul’s synthesis of this fruitful exchange: “don’t blame the pill, blame immorality.” Yes folks, the poor are immoral (and by the way, they don’t have the money to buy the pill), and the rich virtuous. And eventually the poor can be rich, with less government, more free markets and a return to the gold standard. I guess there is an antique quality to it that may make it sound novel.

Let’s leave eighteenth century Europe, fast forward and listen to the democratic side of the debate. We are not yet in the twenty-first century. What do we hear there? On the one hand, some very timid openings to other types of families, that led by same-sex parents; on the other hand, the defense of the “traditional” family. Who is to blame for its troubles? One culprit: Immoral men deserting their families, leaving misery and single motherhood behind them. Actually the law has the bastards pay for it.  Thats’ actually the only right they have: pay child support and better stay employed if they don’t want to end up in jail.

When will these sinister charlatans stop preaching and get real? The traditional American family has lost its preeminence? De profundis. Let us work with the families we have and give divorced fathers what they don’t have: the right to raise their children – and the obligations that come with it-  on an equal footing with their ex-wife or girlfriend. We will find out that single moms may be single moms but no single parent.  And everybody, children mostly perhaps, will be better off.

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