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Have you ever seen fathers and fathers’ rights making top stories on TV? In the UK, sure; in France, from time to time. In the US, never. And I have been following the topic for a while.

Well, it happened in North Carolina on January 19 2016.  It looks like it all has to do with a blog called NC-Fathers, which is followed in the state. In this WLOS ABC 13 segment, Shayne Thompson, a father from North Carolina, talks about reforms that a growing group of fathers from there want to see happening in  North Carolina family laws and family courts. He hits the right cords: shared parenting, because divorced fathers want to be a part of the lives of their children beyond the weekend; make parental alienation, that is nothing but domestic violence, a crime.

http://www.wlos.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/NC-Fathers-Press-for-Equal-Custody-of-Children-251304.shtml#.VqBdVVMrKu4

These North Carolina fathers are good news for father rights at the onset of this new year.

Happy New Year 2016!

I am no fan of the end of the year holidays. All this family rejoicing used to give me the blues. Fortunately I am in Mexico (Jalpan, State of Queretaro) at the time when Mexican families travel together. There is nothing contrived in family festivities out here, and reasons to think of fathers rights seem almost out of place.

At least, being in Mexico makes me focus on positive family events. My girls are now the aunts of a new niece, Théa-  Louise’s sister- born on December 23, 2015.  They needed to know it!

 

 

CAFE parental alienation and fatherlessness billboard adds.

CAFE parental alienation and fatherlessness billboard adds.

Perhaps that’s because they don’t have Black Friday in Toronto (Canada), and no Donald Trump. Or just because they pay attention to issues that matter. In any case, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has started since November 17 of this year the second of a three-stage campaign to challenge social attitudes towards male issues, betting that it would strike some chords with the public.

The campaign takes the form of public events and billboards showing a kid in the arms of his father, with the message: “I am no parental prey.” The goal is to raise awareness on the fact that parental alienation severs the ties of divorced fathers with their kids, thanks to complacent family courts. The pinnacle of the campaign is a public event in the University of Toronto, on November the 26th.

From the US, it is so comforting to watch a father right movement with inhibited ambitions. I would have no objection if these Canadian folks were to extend the reach of the Association for Equality beyond the border.

 

Photo AFP

Memorial to the Paris victims in New York (Photo AFP)

I am shocked by the November 13 Paris attacks, but I am mostly angry and disgusted. I cannot understand the scything of these civilian lives, which according to the nuts who conducted the attacks, was the price to be paid for France strikes in Syria. I cannot fathom the absolute arrogance of these so-called soldiers of God who decide who lives and who doesn’t, and the kind of paradise they pretend to earn with their crimes.

There never were just wars, and the war on terror which is unfolding in Syria is certainly not proof to the contrary, even if Daesh commits daily crimes against humanity. This is a war without soldiers and a lot of civilian casualties. Daesh hectors civilian populations, our strikes add to their misery, strenghten and legitimize Daesh yoke on them. I am tired of the rhetoric of the war on terrorism. One ought not conduct wars against terrorism, but intelligence operations at an international level, and police operations at a domestic level.

As I read the flow of articles about the Paris attacks, I was struck by Omar Ismael Mostefai’s story, one of the killers of so many people in the Bataclan theater, in the 11th arrondissement. Mostefai was twenty nine years old, born in a suburban town I know- Courcouronnes- because close to my hometown. The man happened to have a little daughter. Did he kiss her before going to the Bataclan? I don’t care if he is where he thinks he would be, but I am afraid she will live in hell, and for a long time.

Kelly Rutherford and Children (Photo New York Post)

Kelly Rutherford and Children (Photo New York Post)

In the Fish Market store I usually go on Sunday, on 144 street and Broadway, I overheard an interesting conversation in Spanish. A customer – a Dominican man I would say- was ranting about child support with the two Mexican employees of the store. He owed back child support payments and was at risk of having his driver license removed. I did not catch the whole thread but at some point, I heard him say : “pago poco porque gano poco” (I pay little because I earn little). This man did not seem exactly pleased with New York State family court justice.

How strange, truly! This man obviously did not read Sheila Weller’s article in the November 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, titled “Irreconcilable Distances;” Otherwise he would know that family justice has changed a great deal. Let me say a few words about Weller’s story, whose estranged protagonists are Kelly Rutherford, star of the TV series Gossip Girl, and her ex-husband Daniel Giersch, a wealthy German business man. I skip the details of the custody battle and go directly to the outcome: Giersch was given residential custody, and as a result, Rutherford has to visit her children- her son Hermes and her daughter Helena- in Monaco. A lot of tears, and famous ones, have flown for Rutherford: ABC News Legal Analyst Dan Abrams tried to raise awareness of Rutherford’s lot and her children’s, in a September 1 2012 broadcast, “Two American Kids shipped to France in One of the Worst Custody Decision, Ever” (Abrams does not seem to bother that Monaco, whose Princess was Grace Kelly at some point, is not part of France). Also, with the initial help of Alan Dershowitz, “Boston-based Murphy- , a women’s -, children’s-, and victims’ rights lawyer filed a civil rights lawsuit in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of Hermes and Helena, claiming their life abroad is a form of ‘involuntary expatriation, which is unconstitutional,” tells Weller.

My heart bleeds at my ignorance of such a case. Yet, did I miss something, or these noble knights of the rights

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz and Child (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

of mothers and children – Abrams, Dershowitz, Murphy- were nowhere to be found in support of Encarnacìon Bail Romero or Cirilia Balthazar Cruz, two undocumented (Guatemalan and Mexican) mothers who were deprived of their respective son and daughter by family courts in Missouri and Mississippi?

But let us not be sidetracked here and let us return to American motherhood in Monaco. The cause of Rutherford’s predicament, according to Weller, is “the friendly parent criterion,” which allegedly now guides the decisions of judges in the courts of this land. What is it? You need to appear supportive of your ex’s rights and ability to see the children. Don’t mess up with them, or at least, don’t behave in a way the judge could interpret you intend to. That was indeed the source of Rutherford’s troubles: she left Giersch’s name off the birth certificate of Helena’s. Critical mistake, which basically cost her custody of her children. Folks, that’s now the law of the land, we are told: Rich, poor, white, black, straights, gays, don’t even think of interfering with your ex’s rights. From New York to LA,  family court judges, these new heroes, will not allow it. You end Weller’s article, and you wonder how come the US family court system, after Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi in 2014, is not even considered for the 2015 Nobel Peace Price.

Now, let’s get real. Weller’s article is telling us that Giersch’s super lawyer Fahi Takesh Hallin (a partner in the prestigious L.A. firm Harris Ginsberg, mind you) were successful at pointing at Rutherford’s “excessive gatekeeping” during the trial; in other words, Hallin was good at blaming Rutherford’s sick tendency to overprotect her children and overstate the risks of spending time with Giersch. I am no Fahi Takesh Hallin, but let me tell you something: in the family court trial of physical abuse I was dragged to a few years before the Rutherford-Giersch case, there was plenty of evidence of “excessive gatekeeping” on the part of ex. The judge sat on it, and the law guardian did not lose one minute of sleep over it. Both cared about mum, and not at all about mom’s “excessive gatekeeping.” I believe that readers of this blog share this assessment about family courts.

Sometimes, when you come too close to the rich and famous, you lose sight of what goes on in the world of common folks. That’s actually a serious mistake for a journalist.

 

baby

I am sure many of the readers of this blog have seen this video, featuring a Brazilian father and his baby daughter; one of those moments that ex or family courts cannot steal from us. Enjoy.

Louise et son père

Louise et son père

September 10th is a sad anniversary for me: On September 10 2005, I had my last supervised visitation with  my girls. Truly, I did not want any more to see my girls in supervised visitations. I had swallowed all possible regimes of monitored visitations that family courts inflict on non-custodial dads and their relation with their children. Yet I was still playing the game of family court,  as we all do, because too much is at stake and because we keep hope that the process is not totally rigged, and that perhaps, some humanity and justice will come out of all these paper pushers of family court, judges, law guardians, lawyers and social workers. It ain’t. These folks don’t care much, they don’t have second thoughts about biased family laws and how to interpret them. Moreover, they have not much incentive to challenge the status quo: since this is New York, they think they are cool, progressive, and at the avant-garde of social change.

You don’t survive ten years without seeing your children, and you don’t survive the idea that these years are wasted forever, with more to come. Ex has indeed scorched the earth of my relation to my daughters pretty well.

True, I’d like to see more changes simmering on the front of fathers’ rights. Let me end on a less gloomy note. The state of Massachusetts is considering changes to its family laws. These changes are inspired by stories like Shawn Gillespie’s, a father from Lowell, Massachusetts, who experienced hell in family court. In the legislative changes that are contemplated, there is the ban of the horrible word “visitation” that depicts what the extent of fatherhood is on the eye of the law, and its substitution for “shared parenting.”

Gosh, if things don’t happen in Massachusetts, where then?

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