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Archive for the ‘Family Laws’ Category

I was listening yesterday to Senator Marco Rubio on “Face the Nation” pondering if the 21 th century would be another American century. Let’s take a shot at the answer. Whether it is or not, it will not look good for the poor. As everybody knows, we all live in a classless society. That’s tough luck for those who do not make it to the middle class, because that’s all there is. It has to be because they don’t belong there, and they just have themselves to blame to it. It has not always been the dominant way of thinking; in the 1960’s, President Johnson launched a war on poverty, the underpinnings of which was that being poor was just not a question of failing to seize opportunities that were out there. Those days, one is under the impression that a new war has been waged: the war against the poor.

Let’s be fair though. There are still good folks who want to help the poor; the banks, at least. The poor have a lot of bad habits and misgivings, we all know that: they have children out of wedlock, they don’t read the fine print of a mortgage (banks did not mind much until 2008), and on top of everything, they dare to gamble, which baffles economists. With the opportunities they have, how can they? Poor chaps can’t figure out that the way out of poverty is to save. According to Patricia Cohen from the New York Times, banks have found the way to get the poor to save, willy-nilly: banks- credit unions to be exact- have created prize-linked savings accounts. You save and can earn the jackpot, from time to time.

That’s more or less all poor- lovers there is. In the last decades, the tolerance for the poor has been running thin, thanks to do-gooders from the left and the right who blabber about personal responsibility to scrub social programs from public expenditures. Take the issue of universal Pre-K in New York, which is critical for the poor, as it helps level the playing field between their kids and the rest of the kids in terms of access to education. That universal pre-K be founded without tax increases, but by the growth of the New York State casino economy, as Governor Cuomo wants it to be, means that the gambling suckers – the poor- will pay for the education of their kids. God forbid, the middle class – and forget the rich- won’t have to chip in.

Moving South, one reaches a new frontier in the detestation of the poor. The great State of Alabama for instance has implemented experiments  aiming at being ‘more efficient’ at collecting what the poor owe, like tickets for driving without insurance. The problem, as Sarah Stillman in the June 23 New Yorker article tells, is that these collection agencies are private for-profit firms, whose charge the hell they want in supervision fees without oversight from the courts. The outcome is folks ending up in jail with more debt, which defeats both justice and the goal of trimming public expenses.

There is something I have been chewing since I started coping with US family justice. 1. Justice is perhaps the most important of the functions of a state. 2. You need to respect the folks you are providing justice to, or forget about it.

 

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Four days ago I was on the bus to Laredo (a charming resort on the Spanish Atlantic coast) to see friends, having departed from Bilbao, in the

Cantabria shore

Cantabria shore

Spanish Basque country. I was enjoying the landscape, with mountains overlooking the ocean, when I saw, painted on a bridge in white letters, the words: CUSTODIA COMPARTIDA (Spanish for shared custody). They were impossible to miss, but the bus was too fast for me to grab my camera and take a picture.

Two thoughts, a good and a bad one. The good one first: Fathers’ movements have come a long way all over the world. When I was in the midst of my child abuse trial, there was zip going on in the US in terms of fathers’ rights. In 2005, the only glimmer of hope was what was going on in the UK (I learnt about it thanks to a Susan Dominus’ article in the New York Times Magazine, which had Jason Hatch from Fathers 4 Justice on the cover). Now among others, there are fathers climbing cranes in France (and getting their voices heard) and even in USA Today, Sharon Jayson talks about dads demanding equal custody rights all over the US. Now for the bad one; this current rise of the fathers’ right movement is like the D-Day: a blessing if you are not dead by June 6 1944, or to be at little less tragical, if New York State Laws and Manhattan Family Court have not destroyed your relationship with your children.

By the way, things have been going on for a while in Cantabria, where joint custody was added to the divorce laws in 2005. A year ago, the Santander Supreme Court granted joint-custody to a father of two, breaking the decision of the family court which had given sole custody to mum. These fathers from Cantabria have a facebook page titled Custodia Compartida.

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Photo ABC News

Halle Berry (Photo ABC News)

Fact: Family courts bleed fathers to death as they force them to pay absurd percentages of their gross income for child support; if you have any doubt about it, just read the recent comments on this blog.

Fact: On May 30 of this year, the settlement between actress Halle Berry and her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry was approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gordon. Berry will pay $16,000 a month in child support, or $192,000 a year to Aubry for their six-year old daughter. Let see: that’s almost enough to pay – each year !- the tuition for a  four-year degree in the most expensive U.S. universities.

Some will see in this agreement a great victory for justice on the grounds that a woman – and a famous one- has to pay child support like the rest of us.  I  for one would not agree. I see a saddening consistency between the Berry-Aubry’s settlement and traditional child support policy for the commoners. The commoners, in their vast majority, are poor, and the poor being poor,are not supposed, according to family courts, to figure out how to make their kids happy.  That’s why family courts are there for: Tell  the poor chap what to do and squeeze the last dime out of him. On the other hand, family courts have no problem with rich folks, provided a privileged kid remains a privileged kid. Thank  God, Halle Berry’s daughter will.  These two parallel facets of paternalistic child support’s policy are always carried out in the name of the best interest of the child.

Fact: There is a Piketty mania going on in this country, but obviously family courts have not heard about it. This Piketty mania spreads Capitalfrom Thomas Piketty’s last book , Capital in the Twenty- First Century, which talks about a wealth inequality fever particularly acute in America. Nobody is saying that family courts are in the business of correcting for wealth inequalities. At  least, they ought not help reproduce them, while stamping the seal of justice on absurd child support payments that secure a kid the standards of living he’s born with.

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Readers of this blog are right. There is some good stuff in bill A 6457, sponsored by Assemblyman Brian M Kolb. The bill was introduced on

Louise

Louise

April 1 to the New York State Assembly. I am not exactly done reading the some thirty pages of the bill, but there are things I can live with, especially as far as parenting is concerned.

The bill is an amendment to the infamous-to-fathers New York State domestic relation laws. It aims at establishing the presumption of shared parenting.  I could not help but smile at the carefully crafted reasons for such a presumption one reads in the legislative findings and intents (Section 1 of the bill) : “Shared parenting, where both parents share as equally as possible in the legal responsibility, living experience, and physical care of the child has been found to be in the child’s best interest in [...] certain circumstances.” It seems the sponsors have some (not bullet proof tough) evidence of the obvious. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the sponsors of the bill: they are asking their colleagues to reform female-biased New York State family laws without stating these laws are a dismal failure, for they would vex the susceptibilities of those who supported and keep support them. Tough job.

How is shared parenting to be established upon divorce in the bill? Parents are to agree on a “parenting plan” during mediation (p.3) which would resolve contentious issues such as transportation from one parent to the other. Both parents are to have “parenting time,” and not only mommy (who usually gets sole custody), with dad (the non-custodial parent) doomed to get “visitations.”

For these changes not to be only semantic, and fathers’ right to be a parent of their children  to be guaranteed by law, shared parenting has to be the rule, not an option hanging on the good will of the other party. That’s where there is a puzzling glitch: the amendment 240e to the domestic relation act states that if one party is seeking shared parenting and the other sole custody, “both parties shall bear the burden of the proof that their requested arrangement is in the best interest of the child.” That’s a weak side in the bill: for shared parenting to ever happen, it should be the only responsibility of the party who does not want it to contest it, and with serious reasons for doing so.  The bill might well talk about “immediate sanctions” for interfering and withholding “parenting time” (p.24), it should better prevent one parent from tampering with the other’s party’s “parenting time” right from the start.

I know what I am talking about: “my parenting time” is long gone, and ex is now tampering with any communication from me and my family with my girls. The law is always going to be several steps behind the malicious creativity of alienating parents.

If I may dare the comparison, bill  A 6457 sounds like Obamacare, (which fortunately so is now the law of the land ): it ain’t no public option, but is much better than what was before. Bill A 6457 is worth supporting and be made better.

To be continued…

 

 

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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.

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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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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.

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