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Archive for the ‘Father Rights Movement’ Category

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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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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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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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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Dusten BrownThere are two things I do not understand in Baby Veronica’s case, as the case is called : 1. Why isn’t Dusten Brown – Veronica’s biological father- supported by the father right movement, or fathers’ organizations in the US?  The man is wearing no Superman suit, and to my knowledge, he has climbed no crane; Yet Dusten Brown’s fight to keep custody of Veronica against the justice system,  is both legitimate and admirable. 2/ The recent pathetic CNN reporting of the case should make Dusten Brown’s plea on the agenda of the fathers right movement, even if, as everybody knows, nobody is watching CNN. Fortunately so.

CNN anchor Randy Kaye’s reporting of this case could not have been less informative and more biased. After a purely formal “balanced” exposition of the two sides of the case –  an interview with Dusten Brown followed by an interview with the Capobiancos, the couple who recklessly persist in adopting Veronica at any price, be it depriving her of her father- Randy Kaye steps in the debate out of the blue, asking the question: how come Brown is not in jail, after four courts ruled in favor of the adoptive parents, including the US Supreme Court?

Let’s underscore a couple of facts Kaye overlooked, or certainly not even looked at. Brown’s gave her parental rights to Maldonado, his girlfriend whom he broke up with. Shocking ? Nope. I don’t want to second guess Brown, but that’s a man stuff. Before my first one was born, being a father was raising one dominant feeling in me:  fear. When I saw her, fear was gone and she was the most wonderful thing that had happened in my life. Now, let’s move to shocking stuff. Maldonado gives Veronica for adoption and let Brown know when Veronica is four months old. One would think that giving parental rights to somebody does not imply giving her right to to give up one’s child for adoption.

Wrong. In the US, it is, except for Native Americans.  Without the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, Brown, who is Cherokee,  was fried. His consent would not have been needed for Veronica’s adoption for the Capobiancos. Actually, a voracious adoption industry prospers on the loopholes of the adoption laws. The consent of an undocumented immigrants who get caught by the INS, go to jail and have their children placed in the home of adoptive parents is not required either. But the Indian Welfare Act is this odd thing that against the wind, does not entertain the view that the best interest of the child of the poor is to be raised by rich white folks.  The South Carolina Supreme Court voided Veronica’s adoption, which the US Supreme Court upheld. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, argued that since Brown had not supported Maldonado during her pregnancy, his consent to Veronica’s adoption was not required. Interestingly enough, Sotomayor and Gingsberg, the two female justices dissenting to the majority, held a contrary view on Brown’s right.

Let’s remain polite and say that in this case, the ruling of the US Supreme Court, displays a less than Solomonic quality.  Dusten Brown  - Veronica’s biological father- is now wanted by South Carolina to face the charge of “custodial interference.” Dusten, is up to you if you keep “interfering”, but whatever you do, I support you.

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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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Picture: Illinois Fathers

Picture: Illinois Fathers

All of us have been there: you learn from your kids that ex was in a business trip somewhere. You would gladly have taken care of them but the baby sitter or someone else did, because ex is by law in charge and in the business of making sure that you will not your kids more than your divorce agreement says you will, that is every other weekend and perhaps an afternoon the week without the weekend with them.

On May 22 of this year, both Illinois houses attempted to stop this sad state of affairs by passing HB 2992. Hopefully Illinois’s example will be followed by other States, if Pat Quinn, the Governor of Illinois, signs the bill to be included as section 602.3 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

What is the right of first refusal? If ex needs to go, you are by law the first to be on with the kids. She has 24 hours to let you know that you can watch the kids when she is absent, and you have 24 hours to let her know whether you can do it or not. Common sense in “the best interest of the child,” for once.  The fathers’ right movement has to reinvent the wheel to amend decades of biased legislation.

However we all know that there is the law and there is the enforcement of the law, and these are two different things as far as family laws are concerned. But let us not spoil our pleasure at this stage…

Hat Tip: American Coalition for Fathers and Children, May 29 2013 Newsletter

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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 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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That’s the bottom line: for fathers claiming their rights, it all starts with the desperation from not seeing their kids: Jason Hatch (England) could not see his, Charlie and Olivia. He joined Fathers 4 Justice (UK) and stunted Buckingham Palace in September 2004 (The New York Times Magazine, May 8 2004). At the end of 2007, I had not seen my girls for almost three years and was harassed by ex via Manhattan Family Court. I was seeing myself going straight to jail and at least, I wanted my girls to know why; I started this blog.  Nicolas Moreno, from Romans (France), has adopted a bolder way: hunger strike.

Dauphiné Libéré, 01/21/2013

Dauphiné Libéré, 01/21/2013

Let me say first that if I could trade the New York State family justice for the French one, I’ll do it in a second. There, I bet justice may be slow but there ain’t no trial for child abuse that lasts more than 6 years; no judge arrogant enough to tell you, after having found you innocent of child abuse, that your relationship with your kids is “damaged” hence your kids and yourself are doomed to therapeutic visitations for an indefinite period of time; finally,  joint-custody is the default option in divorce.

Is the French justice system faultless? On paper, it acknowledges the right to fathers to be part of their kids’ life; Yet it did not protects Nicolas Moreno’s when ex moved with Luca and Evan, their sons, some 400 miles away from him, for no justifiable reason.

Nicolas is part of SVP Papa, a father rights organization which is asking for the inclusion of alternate staying of the kids with each parent into family laws. There is a fathers meeting in Nantes, the city whose mayor is Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Prime minister, on February 20; to help him hear the Nicolas of France.

Hat Tip: Scott Gabriel Alexander Reiss

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