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Archive for the ‘Culture and Families’ Category

JusticeWonder why there is a strong father rights’ movement in the UK and not in the US ? Perhaps because the press gives heed to the fate of the regular guy in family court, not just Alec Baldwin’s. But that may well be the chicken and the egg thing: the press cares about what goes on in family court because fathers have claimed their rights loud and clear. Both factors may help the justice system to take its job seriously.

Check out this (old) October 2013 Belfast Telegraph article, about a ruling in the Family Division of High Court in Leicester (Ulster, UK) on a case regarding a father asking for an increase in the number of yearly visits with his daughter. What strikes from this article is the granularity of the judge (judge Bellamy)’s decisions: the father asked for one overnight visitation a month instead of three -without overnight- he currently has; He got eight visits a year, without overnight, two more than his daughter had asked for. Emails? Three or three texts a day, no more, and no contacts through social networks.

This judge Bellamy fellow does not seem to be kidding. If he says X, it looks like it is going to be X, no more, no less. One is led to infer that there is not just a ruling; there is a ruling that will actually be enforced.

What’s is so great about enforcing decisions that, in this case at least, are harsh for a father ? When you have experienced Manhattan family court dilettantes, you see why. No follow-up on decisions there. First of, in the unfolding of a trial there, your time with your children does not weigh much against procedure, that is the contribution of a bunch of folks, from ACS (Administration for Child Services), to the so-called forensic psychologist and social workers who report to the judge and bloat up your file. Their input – sometimes valuable – does not matter in any event.  Indeed I cannot recall one decision, about visitations or email contacts, that was enforced.  And I’d trade absentee judges and law guardians for Bellamy anytime.

But talking about details, let’s be fair with Manhattan family court. When it comes to child support, Manhattan Family Court is not serious, it is anal. To the penny.

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I am often behind on popular culture. Perhaps watching Seinfeld reruns for too long has not

Breaking Bad IFT

Breaking Bad IFT

helped. I recently finished swallowing “Orange Is The New Black.” Right now, I am just catching up with “Breaking Bad.” I am hooked.

A few days ago, I was watching IFT (I know, Season3, Episode 3, shown in April 2010! ) and a scene got me thinking.  Skyler knows everything about her husband underground activities and does not want to have anything to do with him anymore. He however cannot fathom living separated from his family and he is back home, talking to his son, Walt Junior, who could not be happier. She urges him to leave the premises. He refuses. She calls the cops.

The cops step in and ask what happened. Has her husband been violent? Nope. Skyler will not lie. She will also not reveal to Walt Junior that his dad is a drug “producer.”  She will tell her shrink later that since Walt has lung cancer, she hoped “things could resolve from their own momentum” (as George Constanza said to Jerry once),  that is she could separate and not tell Junior the truth about his dad. The cops are almost sorry, but there is nothing they can do for her. Walt stays home.

What struck me is that although Skyler is a decent person, she calls the cops. That’s now part of female DNA. That’s just what you do when you want your spouse, violent or not, removed. That’s one of the services cops provide: to remove undesired partners from home.

I have no data to back me up but I bet that other things being equal (holding personal decency and domestic violence constant), men don’t call cops that much to solve domestic problems. And I don’t see much progress if they were to catch up with women.

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KramerThat’s already old news: Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp, has served his third wife, Wendi Murdoch, with divorce papers; one cannot but wonder if the mogul’s amazing appetite for matrimonies will sustain itself. What’s news is that Wendy has hired a new lawyer, which is a sign of großgroß gunfight coming, according to Peter Lattman and Amy Chozick from the New York Times.

Why a mess when harmony could prevail? The answer is lack of foresight, tells divorce lawyer Paul Talbert from Donohoe Talbert, in the Times article. Even the most ‘sophisticated’ couple like the Murdochs cannot foresee all problems along the way. The Murdochs have signed tons of prenuptial and postnuptial (I confess I did not even know the word before reading the article) agreements, yet they left the Fifth Avenue Penthouse and a yacht in the dark; sophistication is in the details.

Talbert’s revelation turns the world of common folks like me upside down. I have been nurtured with Seinfeld reruns for years and in one of them, Kramer advices George, who wants – wealthy- Susan to break up with him, to ask her for a “prenup.” Kramer’s point: George’s display of foresight, while unbridled enthusiasm and confidence are expected, will seem like misplaced caution to Susan and be a turn-off.

Who is right, Talbert or Kramer? Here is a clue drawn from a totally unscientific poll of my own. On the one hand, my divorced friends from France had relatively easy divorces. On the other side of the Atlantic however, my divorced friends from New York City  (me included) had bloody ones.  In both cases wealth is not part of the picture, all right.  But why the difference?  Are the frogs more foresighted? No way. My answer: litigious divorce laws in New York State. For instance, the no-fault divorce was only introduced in New York State laws in 2010. Litigious divorce laws beg for the need of lawyers to walk you through them, and lawyers are not in the business of making a divorce less litigious.

That’s why I side with Kramer, with relief. And I venture something that will sound outrageously unsophisticated to Paul Talbert, from Donohoe Talbert: sound foresight in matrimonial affairs in New York State should minimize lawyer costs. That might mean refraining from marriage.

After all, lawyers fees must make a big deal of New York State GDP and as most people know – and more and more economists do too- GDP is a poor indicator of happiness.

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Jason Hatch (NYT magazine, May 8 2005)

Jason Hatch (cover of NYT magazine, May 8 2005)

I started struggling with New York City family court justice in June 2002, as I was put on trial for physical abuse. In these early and sombre years when the fathers’ rights movement was in its infancy in the US, there was not much a sole custodial father on trial could hang on to, except for what was going on in the UK. Which I found out in the May 8 2005 issue of the New York Times Magazine, featuring Jason Hatch in its cover page. Headline:  ” Sure, Happy Mother’s Day. But…I Want to See My Kids. The rise of the fathers custody movement.  I kept it until this day.

That’s why I got nervous reading Ally Fog’s piece in the Guardian, “Fathers4 Justice: The Solution lies in our family, not in family courts.” Thesis: the F4J folks are entrenched in a pointless “all or nothing position.” The children and family bill is entering a second reading (thanks, by the way, to F4J for it) and it includes the statutory assumption of shared but not necessarily equal parenting. But according to Fog, F4J wants nothing to do with it. Then we are told that “family courts can solve all of our problems,”  shared parenting has to start from the moment of birth. Sweden’s example is pointed at, where fathers benefit from paid paternity leaves, and actually take them. These blessed Swedish fathers have harmonious relationship with their partners early on, and less litigious separations later.

Sure. That’s real sensitive strategy for divorced fathers. Let’s just wait for à- la Swede institutional changes to come and exert their pacifying influence on family relations, and problems will be solved. The political momentum in the UK is just ripe for that. Who is going to be take the lead in implement these changes? David Cameron?

I like the Scandinavian social model as much as the other guy, but it won’t spare us from asking the family court system for equal rights with women.

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A few months ago, I blogged about Karen Atala -a Chilean judge- being restored in her

King Solomon’s justice

parental rights by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Atala had been  deprived of her rights to see her three daughters because she was involved in a lesbian relationship. Fortunately so for justice, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights overruled the decisions of several Chilean Court as discriminatory.

Now check out what is on the plate of the European Court of human Rights in the case of X and others vs Austria. Once upon a time in Austria, there was an unmarried heterosexual couple who had a child, a boy. The couple separated, the mother got custody of the kid and the father would have visitation and pay child support. One day however, the mother started a new relationship with a woman.

That’s when problems started. The new couple gets greedy. The “new mother in law” wants to adopt the boy. Obviously, the child is not adoptable, since he has a father.  For this to happen, the father has to renounce his parental rights and accept to never see him again.  He does not want to.  The couple asks the Austrian courts to strip the father from his parental rights, which would clear the way for the adoption of the boy. Austrian courts reject this claim. The couple then brings the case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Austrian Courts had denied their rights to private life and have discriminated against them as a lesbian couple. Hearings are to start on October 3rd 2012.

It is not the right of a lesbian couple to adopt a child which is at stake here, it is its right to adopt this child.  This couple seems to suffer from a very common disease nowadays: considering a child as a property, or a good rival in consumption, as economists would say: if I enjoy it, I prevent you from doing the same. Folks like these forget something crucial: what is inalienable is the link with each parent and the child and that of the child with each parent, not the property of the child, which does not exist.

May the spirit of Solomon be with the European Court of Human Rights!

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Every four years, I forget; in the US, people do not only elect a candidate for President, but also a family.  And every four year,  we  have to watch the self-righteous -yet apparently modest and restrained- display of familial intimacy of the candidates at both parties conventions.

In her speech last week, Ann Romney set new heights in this indecent exercise. She claimed “it was about love;” yet there was nothing cuddling in this display of love. She loves the guy who took her to the high school prom, alright.  The rest of us? She doesn’t know who we are.

First, the lady claimed she had a “real marriage.” Are there people who don’t? Would she mean, perhaps, that some – gays (?)- are not having ones? Second, she talks to and about people who have a role in a family, even a broken one – single dads, for instance (she mentioned them and these were perhaps the best two words of her speech). Singles, just singles, as Condoleezza Rice? It ‘s about families, stupid. Even the guy who brought her back from the dance said it. Raising kids was the most important thing. Ann did it. Why wasn’t he more involved with his five kids? We kind of understood that was a story of comparative advantage: she had the women thing with kids, he was more gifted making money for Bain, before putting himself to saving this country.

Back to Ann. “We don’t want easy,” she says.  She does not know anything but easy, and in any case, we, divorced fathers, want it right and legit. From 1993 to 2009, the share of women getting sole custody of the kids has increased: to 84% from 83%. In addition to their parenting rights going down the drain, divorced fathers had to cope with family courts busy to enforce laws designed to satisfy the desires of all the Ann Romneys that were not brought back from the dance: pay – no matter what, even if you loose your job. And if you can’t, just go to jail.

This brings us to the only guy one wanted to meet in this Republican convention, and perhaps the democratic one. The fellow Ted Cruz said the immigrants did not come to meet in America: “the well-meaning bureaucrat.  The guy who puts his arms around your shoulders and says: let me take care of you?” The fellow delivers goodies that are part of a just society in some other parts of the world: a justice that guarantees equal parenting rights; paid pregnancy leaves; public and free nursery schools and even, minimum income for single parents up to the kids reach a certain age.

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Sweet (Idaho)

Things are so bad with family justice that one has to underscore when the worst is avoided. In Jesus Ramirez’case and his three-year old daughter, Maria, one was heading towards a fiasco à la Bail Romero in Missouri: an immigrant parent being deprived for ever of his parental rights.

Close call. Without the Idaho Supreme Court overturning the ruling of the Idaho Department of Human and Health Services, Jesus Ramirez would never have seen his daughter. Ramirez is a Mexican undocumented worker, who married an American citizen in Idaho in 2007.  A year after, he is expelled and returned to Mexico, soon joined by his wife.  Maria is conceived in Mexico but born in Idaho, where Ramirez’ wife returns in 2008. As she is accused of child’s neglect, Maria is put in a foster home. Ramirez, who has tried to come back to the country to reunite with Maria, is accused of having abandoned her, not to have the financial needs to support her, and is given the thorny “best interest of the child stuff”: Maria will live in the beautiful country of ours.

In Ramirez’ case, the Idaho Supreme Court has asserted that undocumented parents also have parental rights. That may help parental rights in general.

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Encarnación Bail Romero

Presumably most of the readers of this blog have had a taste of family court justice ‘s solidarity towards their own, and they know it is rarely about justice.  Say, you file a downward petition of child support which is denied; then you appeal and your appeal is also denied, because the appellate judge won’t overturn a decision of a fellow colleague. You may not be able to pay your rent but you are an unknown entity for these folks, while they cross pass every day and want to be able to take the elevator together if they have to without being uncomfortable.

Sometimes that’s sadly all there is to it in a ruling, or perhaps I am just rambling trying to find out a rationale to the termination of Encarnación Bail Romero’s parental rights. Bail Romero, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, lost custody of her son Carlos after the INS raided the poultry plant where she was working.  While she was incarcerated, Bail Romero thought her son Carlos was taken care off by family members, who in fact had their hands full with their own children and asked for the help of the Moser family. The Mosers came to like the kid and file for adoption, knowing Bail Romero’s predicament.

Don’t bother asking why in Missouri one can adopt a child whose parents 1/are known and in jail 2/ have not stated their willingness to give up her children for adoption. Judge Dally – Jasper county, Missouri circuit court- doesn’t mind and delivers the kid to the Mosers. Encarnacíon Bail Romero then regained her parental rights once in Missouri Supreme Court and lost them again, along with Carlos, a week ago. Green county Judge David Jones ruled that Bail Romero abandoned Carlos while in jail, clearing the way for the Mosers to file for Carlos’ adoption a second time. Evidently, judges in Missouri have a peculiar conception of parental rights, and one wonders how the Mosers can even think of adopting a child that they have to tear off from his mother. That’s the sad outcome of à la Dally and Jones justice: illegal immigrants’ children are up for grab in Missouri.

A justice system that allows Encarnación Bail Romero to be deprived of her parental rights does not need rogue judges like Dally and Jones in business. All that is needed is for the INS, after a raid into a plant operating with undocumented immigrants, to inform prospective candidates for adoption about the list of available children.

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Montes Famliy (LA Times)

Mexico has a kidnapping problem. I am not talking about the “internal” Mexican kidnapping problem, which the Calderón administration has failed to keep at bay on all account. Making a scapegoat of Florence Cassez has just been a way to hide its failure from the Mexican public.  I am talking here of Mexico’s “external” kidnapping problem, the kidnapping of Mexican children by the US family court system: children whose parents are undocumented workers sent back to their country, and are given for adoption to US families on the grounds it is in their best interest.

First Alfonso Mejia and Margarita Almaraz, Encarnacíon Bail Romero and  Cirila Balthazar Cruz. Enters Felipe Montes.  Felipe Montes comes to the US illegally in 2003, starts working in North Carolina and gets married to Marie with whom he has three children. Unfortunately he gets deported and his wife is declared unfit to raise the children. They are placed with foster parents, who wish to adopt the children.  From that point on, Felipe Montes has to play Sparta family court (Allegheny County, North Carolina)’s lose-lose game, that is demonstrating he is worth the children. Although he has no criminal record and has taken care of the children, social workers did wonder if sending the children to Mexico was in their best interest. Felipe is living in a rural area around Tamaulipas in a house with no running water. These brillant social engineers are asking themselves if poverty should prevent parenting.

Sparta family court is supposed to render a sentence tomorrow.  Too late to suggest to social workers there how they would feel if, after venturing in a foreign country, marrying somebody there, being kicked out of there without their children, they would be denied parenting on the ground that, let say, children are better off  there because, you know, the North Carolina hamburger-based diet is not the healthiest for children, and children are better off be shielded from North Carolina gun violence.

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I have been holding my breath for more than a  week, since the President of the Mexican Supreme Court Arturo Zaldívar put on the Court agenda Florence Cassez’s unconditional and immediate liberation. I thought this time, Florence would be whiffing Spring time outside of jail for the first time in six years. The Court decision came yesterday, March 21 and it is disappointing, for Florence Cassez and for the Mexican justice system: although four judges acknowledged serious violations of Florence’ human rights had flawed due process, only two voted for her immediate liberation. A majority of three was needed.

I am no Mexican constitutional lawyer, but I have to confess that the positions of those judges who did not see yesterday the legal imperative to let Florence go are quite puzzling: Pardo Rebollado for instance, stated that it was not “the appropriate legal moment” for the Supreme Court to take on the task to liberate Florence (when will it be if not now, let alone yesterday?); For Ramón Cossío, violations to due process in Cassez’s case were not serious enough to warrant her liberation; he wants another trial.  As if the Mexican justice system had not shown enough it was prone to commit type I errors – put innocents in jail and for that matter, Florence- not to give it another chance to do so…

It is clear one would not be that tempted to second guess the Mexican Supreme Court decision had President Calderón refrained from telling it how he wanted it to rule. Before the Supreme Court rendered its decision, Felipe Calderón urged it to take into account the victims of kidnappings. In so doing, Calderón encroached on the prerogatives of the judiciary. This is actually quite consistent with his administration practices, which blur the borders between justice and police actions:  Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety since 2006, cooks proofs, produces victims and culprits and stages them for TV.

President Calderón posturing as the knight of victims of kidnapping has something tragically ironical to it.  According to Damien Cave in a March 17 New York Times article, reported abductions in Mexico are up 300% since 2005.  There is even a new trend going on: the kidnapping of entire families.   Keeping Florence Cassez in jail at any price is about all that Calderón has yet left to mislead the Mexican people on the calamitous outcome of his administration in the area of crime prevention, kidnappings included.

One day will come, soon I hope, when Mexicans will not buy anymore the Calderón-Wallace propaganda that sells Florence’s liberation as a favor to a foreigner,  but will realize that liberating an innocent – who happened to be a foreigner- is a favor to the Mexican justice system and to Mexicans. Meanwhile, hold on Florence.  Abrazos.

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