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Archive for the ‘Family Laws’ Category

Earlier today,reading about the O’Connors (Fathers 4 Justice)’s appearance last Friday in a civil case brought against them, I was getting

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

into a very gloomy mood. I like this organization; The fathers’ right movement owes much to it, and it’s sad to see it sliding into irrelevance.

Fortunately, some very good news made my day: the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) had his first conference in Bonn (Germany) in July of this year. The conference provided evidence that shared parenting was in the best interest of the child of divorced parents, and, that “national family laws should include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it.” The theme of the first conference was “Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice.”

This “bridging the gap”part shows real, commendable ambition.That’s also where the credibility of the International Council of Shared Parenting is to be tested. When you have the tragically decrepit New York State justice system (have you read Kalief Browder’s story in Jennifer Gonderman’s piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker?), and when the beacon of New York State’s political projects in the coming years is the new Tappan Zee bridge, you do not have exactly the most conducive environment to implement ambitious reforms of the judiciary. By the way, I have to make sure that French father’s right activists know about this famous crane which is used in the building of the new Tappan Zee bridge…

But I should not be that pessimistic after all. Shared parenting is debated in Maryland, by people who know about the work of the InternationaL Council of Shared Parenting.

 

 

 

 

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Two days ago, as I was waiting for the train on 96 street going back home, there was a young black lady on the platform, carrying a baby

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

in a snuggly and pulling a toddler, who was at most 2 years old. The little boy was crying. He was carrying an enormous backpack with Mickey Mouse on it, which he kept dropping on the floor. Each time this was happening, his mother was telling him to pick it up. Her tone of voice was crisp and authoritative. There was clearly no room for bargaining, yet the toddler kept crying, hoping perhaps her mum would comfort him. But his mum had her hands full and she did not have time to compromise. She was in the business of bringing everybody home. Maybe because I was coming back from Aznavour’s concert, and had Aznavour’s voice in my head, I felt vaguely uncomfortable by the way she asserted her authority. I noticed my discomfort was shared by people in the train.

Now that I think about it, I feel discomfort about my discomfort.  I guess this mum is the type of folks that work several jobs, cannot make it with what she earns,  and cannot afford a babysitter. She is therefore not the target of the nauseating commercial of Care.com, but she is the likely victim of the “budget cuts” of public housing in New York City that Mireya Navarro reported about in a New York Times article. Thanks to these cuts, family of two that were living in two bedrooms have to move to a one bedroom or pay more, and family of three in two bedrooms etc…  Consider now the predicament of single parents ( single fathers for instance) with a teenage kid in a one bedroom apartment, the likelihood of a surge in accusations of child abuse/domestic violence, and all these cases handled by those sensitive watchdogs of the families of the poor that populate family courts: law guardians, and private “Comprehensive Family Services” of all sort. That’s going to be interesting quality time for those families in public housing.

Meanwhile last week, the news was all about Ray Rice’s assault of his wife Janay.  It takes a “hero” to fall for exquisite sensitivity (belated on the NFL’s part) and awareness about domestic violence to be displayed.  The incident prompted a flow of reforms all over the nation.  The great State of New Jersey (Rice played at Rutgers) passed a package of six laws, the gist of which being enhancing control of the bad guys with a registry of restraining orders. Such conspicuous waste of efforts and taxpayers money, which would better spent on public housing …

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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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