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Over, let say, the last decade, fathers rights organizations all over the world agreed on this point: joint- custody – equal parenting rights for the father and the mother- had to be the default option after a divorce, that is, the law had to acknowledge fathers’ role as equal to mothers’ in raising and educating their children. Several countries inserted joint-custody into their family laws, but the outcome, from a  fathers rights perspective, remained below expectations,  partly because of the justice systems’ prejudice against men  (in the U.S. for instance), and the inertia of legal practices; You may very well grant (legal) joint-custody of the children to both parents, but if mom has the de-facto custody of the children, dad’s relationship with his children is toasted in the long-run. The poor fellow has very little chance to have any relationship with his children when they reach adult age.

That is the background for a bill about shared residence which is to be discussed today, Thursday November 30 2017. This bill is about making shared residence of children of divorced parents the default option. That is, children of divorced parents are to share residence with mom or dad equally over the years, depending on the constraints of each parents. This is no miracle solution by any means. France is not as large a country as the U.S., but if Dad and Mom lives far apart (Dad in Paris and Mom in Marseille for instance), shared residence is not going to work, because the child is to attend the same school over the year. Also, family counselors stressed the need for less than three-year old children’ s psychological stability not to be moved around from one place to the other. Hence, the parent who is granted custody (residency) of a child below three has to find ways to make exist his (her) ex in the daily life of the child, warned family counselors.

Would this bill help divorced fathers to be real and effective parents? Let see. What I like in this bill is that it gives, for once, incentives for all players – the justice system, moms and dads- to be smart. What does smart mean exactly for these folks ? The justice system would not be held accountable for (implicit) cultural norms dictating which parent a child ought to be with; hence the ground would be clearer for mom and dad to pursue, conjointly, the best interest for their child, given their own diverging interests as separated individuals.

I think that if some twenty years ago, a bill like this had been discussed- and passed- in New York State, I would have been given a chance to keep my relationship with my children, which I lost long ago. Perhaps I am just not the pessimist I think I am.

 

 

Illustration Anna Parini (The New Yorker)

I am traveling, and I brought with me an old issue of the New Yorker, the August 7 and 14 one, for I wanted to read Larissa MacFarquhar’s article, “The Separation. Why should a child be removed from his home?” It is a superb piece about the destruction of a family, and a must-read for any parent (father) confronted for whatever reason to the monstrous US family justice system.

MacFarquhar’s article narrates Mercedes’ quest to be reunited with her three children taken away from her by the Bronx family court. Mercedes is not a bad mother. She made mistakes, like all of us, but she was not abusive and deeply cared for her kids. Once they are taken away from her, it seems to her like her life stops.

Everything starts with a phone call of Mercedes’ mother to A.C.S. (the Administration for Children’s Services), out of spite. Mercedes visited her mom, with her two kids (Mercedes would give birth to two other children later on). Leslie, her daughter, had accidentally burnt herself with a hair dryer. Mercedes‘ mother was not especially alarmed for the child, but called ACS nonetheless. Fatal mistake. A.C.S. agents are like the Inquisition. They are the ones who know about good and bad parents; You cannot question their intrusion into your life and your relationship with your children, because they hold the fate of a relation in their hands. From this point onward, Mercedes is snatched into a process that is going to crush her and her relationship with her kids.

A.C.S. is yet just one of the culprits of Mercedes’ ordeal, which has no end in sight still. They are all these actors of the system acting at cross-purposes: A liberal-minded judge, who is used to put impossible demands on the way the single parent is to raise their child, which the mom cannot meet because she is poor; Racist and classist social workers, who presume blacks to have a normal life, let alone to raise kids; A stingy social system, which does not provide for the poor, notably as far as housing is concerned. The justice system had no problem however to provide foster parents caring for Mercedes’ children with generous foster care benefits.

I wish such a detailed analysis of the working of the family court system had been available 17 years ago, when I was deep into my post-divorce saga.

 

Fathers interested in the progress of fathers’ rights may have heard that Michigan Representative Jim Runestad introduced House Bill 4691, which

Rep. Jim Runestad, Michigan House of Representatives.

aims at providing equal parental time to parents (the bill specifies that a child shall not spend more than 200 nights per year at one’s parent home, unless there is an agreement by both parties). Given that family courts tend to grant custody to the mother in divorce proceedings, Bill 4691 sounds like a step in the right direction.

So, out of curiosity, I decided to check where Representative Runestad stood on other issues. I was not pleased.

Runestad and I do not have the same view on parenting, starting with what he considers a safety issue for his 14-year old daughter, now in middle school. Interviewed by John Perry (Legal Analyst), Runestad blasted the Michigan Board of Education guidelines protecting transgender students. One of Runestad’s subject of wariness about the Board guidelines is the fact that a transgender (male) student can have access to female bathrooms. Runestad conjectures that these transgender students may not know who they are: one day they think they are male, the other day female. While Runestad totally ignores the much documented need to protect these students, he seems to fear a male predator taking the pretext of a fake identity to assail female students in the bathroom. No kidding.

If my daughters were of Runestad daughter’s age, rather than malevolent LGBT students, I would fear the occurrence of another Columbine or Sandy Hook, and the perils of more weapons to more armed nut cases. However Runestad proudly voted in favor of “the right to carry” legislation, meaning right to “conceal carry” on the laudable motive that law-abiding citizens, who can “already carry a firearm without permit or training requirement in the State of Michigan,” should not be unfairly penalized. Tears come to my eyes at this noticeable legislative achievement.

Last but not least, Runestad strives to improve “a perfect voting record” while working on a piece of legislation that would ban policies that protect illegal immigrants. In this project, the two sanctuary cities of Michigan, Detroit and Ann Arbour, are targeted on the usual obnoxious grounds that illegal immigrants imply increased insecurity, low wages and a drain on public resources. Trumpian fallacies.

So what? Shouldn’t fathers from all sides of the aisle, in a spirit of bipartisanship, support House Bill 4691?

I am no Michigan voter, but my answer is no, in a million years. Representative Runestad does not think straight about human rights and he urgently needs to correct that. The big picture of his voting records and legislative projects show that he does not care about the right of the most vulnerable people (refugees, immigrants, LGBT, etc). As a result, it is clear that he cares even less about the parenting rights of these folks.

Runestad has to be the sweetheart scarecrow of those who trash the father rights movement as a reactionary project of white men eager to restore the old patriarchic order.

I have no interest whatsoever in a fathers’ right movement that denies equal parenting rights to LGBT, refugees, or immigrants, legal or not. And the US fathers’ rights movement in the US has to make clear that it has nothing to do with fellows such as Representative Jim Runestad.

Circe Hamilton (Photo Angel Franco, the New York Times)

Non-custodial fathers know too well how inflexible the justice system is regarding their  rights and their duties. Seeing your children more? Having more input into the life or your children? Yes, if it suits the custodial parent, i.e. Mom. Loosen child support payments so that you can make a living? No way man. For support magistrates, child support payments’ rules – the percentage of your income you pay in child support- are like the second amendment for the N.R.A. Ain’t no exception, no extenuating circumstances. A good father is a father who pays.

But justice is no different than education or health care in the US. There is the bare minimum that commoners get and there is what rich folks have access to. That’s actually quite amazing how the justice system can become imaginative and creative with the law when you fuel lawyers with cash.

Take Circe Hamilton and Kelly Gunn’ story from Ian Parker in the May 22 issue of the New Yorker. In 2016, before Labor Day, Hamilton was about to move back to the UK with her adopted son, Abush. But her project did not happen as expected. She was contacted by the lawyer of her ex-partner, Kelly Gunn, who had asked a New York court to recognize her as one of Ambush’ parents, grant her joint legal and physical custody. In the interim, Gunn was seeking a restraining order and Hamilton could forget about going back to England.

In their wildest dreams, New York State divorcing fathers would think of getting joint custody, let alone preventing their ex to travel so that they could see their kids. But Gunn had deep pockets, and that certainly helped to unleash the creativity of Chemtob, her lawyer, who saw the case of Hamilton versus Gunn as “Kramer vs Kramer 2016.” Yet Gunn’s claims to be recognized as a parent are not far from frivolous. She lost interest in adoption after Hamilton and her separated. However Hamilton and Gunn remain friends and keep in touch and  when the boy appears, Gunn starts growing feelings for him and as Hamilton puts it, “she wants ownership.” She also has the means to assert her influence in her ex-partner life. She provided an apartment and a car, which Hamilton perhaps made the mistake of accepting.

In any case, Gunn’s petition was denied at the beginning of this year. The judge argued that “the preconception plan (of adoption) could create a path to parenthood but that plan had not continued unabated.” Gunn is appealing this decision because she says this is a case of discrimination against gays. I think she would not be receptive to the fact that there has been an ongoing discrimination in family courts against fathers whose parenting plans were “abated against their will.”

Hamilton and Abush still cannot travel to England.

Parents celebrate important events of the life in their children life, like Bar Mitzvahs or commencement ceremonies. Not me. First, I have been “parented away” for a long time now. I cannot communicate directly with my daughters. Communication through the channel of their mother does not go through, and is unreliable. Ex has no problem impersonating her daughters when she wants to. In these days and age tough, there is Google to bring you news about your offspring, even those you wish were not true, like: My daughters have changed their name or are in the process of doing so. In so doing, they bluntly manifest they have severe ties with their father. Ex’ plans are fully accomplished: my status as a father is reduced to that of a unfortunate “blurb” (Seinfeld is to me a profuse source of references) in their life story. I have been erased.

That may well be, but I am a very resilient fellow. I will be there in case my daughters want to break through Goebbels (ex)’s fences. Meanwhile, I thought of standing outside of the area of the commencement ceremony with the hope of seeing my daughters when people would exit, but I was sick. I had to make do with the video of the ceremony, hoping again that by chance, I could see my daughters there. Instead I saw the speech of the commencement speaker, Mark Zuckerberg.

Mr Zuckerberg is a nice man. Yet a few remarks about a couple of points he raised in his speech to the class of 2017 are in order:

Firstly, Mr. Zuckerberg aspires to create a world where everyone has “a new sense of purpose.” Mr. Zuckerberg  has found his (he created Facebook) and he assumes that “all people want to connect.” That resonates deeply with me because it could not be more wrong in my family. An alienating parent wants her children for herself, she wants them “to disconnect” and she succeeds. She may want them to find “a sense of purpose” only if it is predicated upon the exclusion of anybody who may contradict her influence.

Secondly, according to M. Zuckerberg, “every generation expands its definition of equality” and “the millennials are the most charitable generation in history.” That’s possible, but it is not going to help this country very much. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have been widening since the 1980’s, and even if the number of well-minded philanthropists like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg expands, the wealth they give away will not correct for increasing lack of access to health, education and, for the subjects that matter in this blog, to decent family justice. Charity is not a substitute for a proactive fiscal policy, even less this undergirding grandiose social projects like “redefining equality.” Charitable rich folks care about pet projects, they don’t declare “war on poverty.”

I would have liked to discuss this point with my recent graduate.

“Lancelot” by Camille Lacour, 2000.

Today Thursday May 25, 2017, you graduate with a B.A. in History and a minor in Classics. I presume you will attend the 366th commencement undergraduate exercises of your university in the morning. Félicitations!

I don’t have a clue of what you will do next. Somehow I surmise you are as passionate as you were when you were little, and that you will do something related to politics, like shaking this dusty Democratic party. You may take a breath of fresh air before going to graduate school.

Whatever you do, I wish you the best. I will spend some time in Paris in the fall.

Photo Lionel Bonaventure AFP

As we approach the runoff of the French Presidential elections, I have had interesting discussions with friends in France about the contenders, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron and their respective electoral base. Pundits agree that French folks who voted for far-right Le Pen on April 22  are not necessarily racist and anti-semitic. They happen to belong to a shrinking middle class threatened by globalization, and voting for Le Pen is a means to expressing both their fear and their unease with a political elite that does not understand them.

Even if I can conceive that F.N. (Front National) voters are not all racist bigots, I have trouble with the F.N. voters’ adherence to one of the creeds of the party: what is foreign is the ultimate cause of problems.

Actually,  F.N. xenophobia is not phrased in such crude terms.  F. N. xenophobic policy does not convey anymore detestation of foreigners but does express a preference for French citizens. Take the F.N. family policy for instance: Le Pen wants to get rid of “allocations familiales” (family allowances that vary with the number of children in a family) for foreigners. If you are a legal resident in France, you are eligible to receive those. Why would you not?

But being foreign is not only the fact of coming from abroad, but of being different. For instance, Le Pen wants to get rid of the “mariage pour tous” (marriage for all) law that was voted by the Parliament in 2013 and that granted homosexuals the right to marry. Macron who wants to preserve it, is singled out as pushing an “anti-family policy,” because there is only one family model, an heterosexual family. In other words, other types of families than the traditional one are not the real “stuff.”

In France and in the US, politicians have failed to address the real concerns of folks who did not make it. Yet those who do not make it would be well advised not to cast stones at foreigners. They have nothing to do with their problems, and it does not help their case.

 

Let's Get Honest! Blog: Absolutely Uncommon Analysis of Family & Conciliation Courts' Operations, Practices, & History

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?...' (posted 3/23 & 3/5/2014). Over 680 posts, Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.