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I never understood why New York State has this usurped reputation of being a “liberal” state. It has one of the most biased family laws in the country, which mandate fathers to pay child support until their children are 21. I am just realizing it is a real ordeal to put an end to it.

My youngest daughter will turn 21 in June. My oldest daughter is 23 and half. I have not seen them since September 10, 2005, yet I have been paying child support so far since I separated from my ex-wife. New York State could care less about that, but one would assume notwithstanding that if the non-custodial parent has kept up with child support payments until kids are 21, he/she should be automatically be declared “child support free” with a simple check on the children’s dates of birth. It should not be rocket science for Support Collection Unit (the folks located in Albany that garnished your wage with the monthly child support you owe, employed or not, dead or alive) which has all the data it needs to do so: social security numbers of your kids, yours, court orders, employers, etc.  A basic data management issue. But that would be too simple.

We are all been fed with the platitude that technology will make us free.  It is wishful thinking in a coercive and reactionary state like New York State.

A few weeks ago, I went to Manhattan Family Court to file a petition to end child support. I had not been there for eight years.

The visitor can almost be duped by a seeming glow of progress, as  you are now invited to file your petition on a computer provided by the court. When you are in my “lucky shoes” of filing a petition to terminate child support, it should be that if the system had your data, knew how to use it for the purpose it has to be used, you would not even have to file this petition. The system would simply tell you that you are done paying child support. No arrears. Thank you. You are done.

Instead, at the end of the day I learnt that the first hearing appearance in court is scheduled for June 19. More court time. In  Manhattan Family Court, progress is like in the NYC MTA train system. Trains are as scarce and late as ever, but you now have boards on the platform to monitor your time waiting.

 

 

Protesting

We live in difficult and uncertain times. It is good to find out that the youth will not remain idle…

Hat Tip: Laura Martinez

Somewhere in West Harlem (Photo Laura Martinez)

Non-custodial fathers like me pay attention to these kind of things: A father paying exclusive attention to his daughter in a restaurant; besides her dad, the little girl has all the teddy bears that matter for her.

I don’t know anything about these two but my guess is that this moment is intense. It looks it goes well. It better does, because such moments could be scarce if not. Fatherhood does not have many second chances in New York State.

Good luck to you folks!

 

Lady Justice in Johannesburg (Photo Rowan Pybus, Faith47’s website)

More than ten years ago, as a father immersed in a fight with ex and the Manhattan Family Court to regain my meager weekends with my girls, I excoriated the languid pace of US family justice and its biases against fathers. I have never gotten my weekends back, and I still have child support garnished by New York State Child Support Collection Unit which does not care one way or the other if I see my children, and gee, was I right: Family justice is slow, painfully so. Yet if there is very little progress going on in the US, things are happening elsewhere.

Consider this: By the end of 2017,  UK Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory Service) is touting a “groundbreaking initiative” to tackle parental alienation, arguing that “parental alienation is a feature of many of our cases” (no kidding!). In the Spring of 2018, “guidelines will be issued to help social workers to deal with suspected cases of parental alienation.” An alienating parent could loose custody if convicted of demonizing the other parent with one’s children.

My children have been the victims of parental alienation, which the Manhattan Family Court judge dealing with my case acknowledged, but whose ruling aggravated its effect instead of correcting it. Hence I cannot but salute the Cafsass “initiative,” hoping that one day sleepy New York State justice system might want to emulate it. I want here to point at idiosyncratic US factors that may render this initiative ineffective if it were put in place..

Take the US idiosyncratic dysfunctions between the public players (judges, lawyers etc..) and private ones (supervisory businesses that deal with the visits of sole custodial parents and their children).  In my case, It only took a couple of supervised visits for the social worker to figure out that mom was demonizing me and sabotaging my supervised visitations. The social worker wrote a letter to the judge, which went nowhere, for the next trial date was month apart, and the law guardian in charge of my case was as awake as Ben Carlson in the 2016 Republican debates. My point: Guidelines are not going to help much if roles in the chain of decisions are not clear, and again, if nothing is done to remedy the excruciating slow pace of rendering justice (in the US).

23 !!!  I think of you.  And I am introducing myself to you at this age.

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.

 

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

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?' (See March 23 & 5, 2014). More Than 745 posts and 45 pages of Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.