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Archive for February, 2009

No Trespassing (Andrea Koch)

No Trespassing (Andrea Koch)

Alienating parents want  their kids to be happy, as long as they are the sole author of their kid’s happiness.  Their kids ought not to be happy if they are not part of it. If the relationship of the alienating parent with the former spouse has stopped, that of their children with their father has to stop too. Alienating parents are not emotionally sophisticated: their motto is “me or nothing” and their behavior is barbaric burning of land: any link of the children with the bastard has to be eradicated; any involvement of the bastard into the life of their children just cannot continue.

Alienating parents are bad news enough; alienation doesn’t need to be encouraged by institutions such as schools, which are expected to be more sophisticated. It is not the case of the Brearley School, where my girls happen to be students.

After a rather bumpy start of my relationship with the school, I succeeded to have school reports of my girls sent to me. I guess that I should have considered myself a lucky non-custodial fathers, as  many do not even have access to school records. However, I wanted to talk to my girls’ teachers, attend parent-teacher conferences and extra-curricular event school performances, where my girls would be involved.

By the end of 2008, I phoned Tasha Elsbach, the Director of the Brearley Middle School. I am no Ruppert Murdoch,who also send his girls to the Brearley School (Vanity Fair, December 2008):  I get a phone appointment for January 7 2009. The conversation is cordial. I learned that Camille and Chloé are doing well. Talking over the phone with some teachers? Sure, they will call me. Attending the February parent-teacher conference? Tasha Elsbach tells me that there is an order of protection against me. I told her that the order of protection has been lifted by the judge. My generous ex-wife had largely publicized the phony child abuse trial, not its end, which refutes her accusation. I told Tasha Elsbach that I will send her the final ruling and a Judge Sturm’s court order that I can attend parent-teacher conference, my ex-wife’s agreement not requested. I further insisted on my desire to talk to the teachers, not my ex-wife, in a parent-teacher conference.

Since then, nothing. I guess Brearley’s direction must have heard my ex-wife’s arguing about her being the sole custodial parent and against my right to be informed about my girls’ education. Confronting alienation takes courage, which I guess is not common currency in Brearley school.

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Support magistrates are lawyers appointed by the Chief Magistrate of the court for a period of three years, with a possible extension of fivevautours years. During their tenure, they are mighty tyrants, who interpret and apply the law of the State as they please. Retarded New York State law says that the non-custodial parents shall pay no more than 25% of your gross income for two children?  Support Magistrate Solange Grey had  31% of my gross income deducted from my paycheck trough money judgement, leaving me with $1,600 net in “good” months in 2008. No jury, no witnesses. Of course, you can object. Good luck. Judge Soso-Lintner , whom your objection is sent to, will pull out of her hat an obscure precedent that nobody has heard of; probably a poor fellow like you that was abused by Manhattan Family Court. Objection denied. You want to have another tyrant assigned to your case? You have to ask Passidomo, the chief support magistrate. His Excellency does not answer letter, at least letters from the commoners.

By the end of last year, I had a very short-lived financial break, or I should say, breath. Sicko’s claimed unreimbursed medical expenses for 2006-07 were paid off, 9% subprime interest rate too, and rapacious Child Support Collection Unit was -just !- withdrawing $1,000 in child support. But sicko ex-wife had in her pipeline new orthodontic expenses which could be covered by my health insurance. But why use my insurance when she can harm me in Family court and count on Grey for that purpose? In December 2008, I got a new money judgment for  $2,100 of unreimbursed medical expenses and a willful violation for not having paid them earlier. Really, what was I thinking of with the bonanza that Child Support Collection Unit was leaving me every month? To make things even better, Grey ordered me to pay half of Cheryl  Solomon (my ex-wife’s lawyer) fees: $1,125 to be sent by February 15 2009. Completely nonsensical, given that I cannot afford a lawyer and do not have one.  Support Magistrate Grey was surely paving the way for another “willful” violation. She has undeniably signed the textbook case of biased “justice”.

I have not heard of justice renovation in the President’s stimulus plan. Please, Mr President. Replace “the Greys” who staff family courts with unbiased magistrates. That would be better justice and good economic stimulus.

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Khrouchtchev at the UN

Khrouchtchev at the UN

For family courts, men have a distinctive feature: anger, which makes them suspect.  Most of the problem is that claims for orders of protection are unscreened, and women get them like over-the-counter medication. Dudes who are unfairly cut out from their children are not in the mood to express their feelings in a  poised manner.  They scream, and rightly so. That’s when women’s finger pointing at men’s menace becomes self-fullfiled prophecy. When the sucker vociferously expresses his desperation, woman can say:”you see, the guy is out of control; take him away from me and my children.”

I must say that almost every time I have been in court, I have fallen in the trap. I cannot get the”poised” demeanor. When I am stuck in this tiny, dark room on the fourth floor of the Manhattan Family Court (the “support” floor), having to hear the same inept charges of Solomon (my ex-wife’s lawyer), I can barely put myself to take it. And I am either expelled or threatened to be expelled.

Ultimately, it is not the form of the protest that matters, but its content. What Baldwin rightly shows in his book A Promise to Ourselves, the only thing you cannot do is questioning why you are here and the way the folks handling your case do their job. Dump as much money to lawyers, fine. But do not question the system itself, even with your lawyer. During the time I was representing myself in my child abuse trial, while waiting for the judge to let us back in courtroom, I noticed that Solomon and the law guardian Octobre were laughing at my laud complaints about the abnormal duration of the trial. I came to realize that  these folks – judges, lawyers, law guardians, support magistrates, clerks- bond together, even if they might be in opposite sides in the courtroom. They work in the same bleak place everyday -courts- take the elevator, the subway, eat together. Questioning why on earth the best interest of your children end up being in their hands? You are  messing up with their daily pittance.

That’s why, I guess, courts ask well-off fathers like Baldwin to take anger- management sessions. With these, Baldwin both confessed his “guilt” and acknowledged the raison d’être of the system. He did so to be able to see Ireland, his daughter. Funny enough, the shrink in charge of helping him to manage his anger asked him for a hug at the end (A Promise to Ourselves, p.104). The inquisitor was not fully satisfied with a confession. He wanted to be greeted. For those who cannot afford  anger management therapy, courts order supervised visitations. The agency delivering visitations is incompetent? Pick another one. The alienating parent spoil supervised visitations? Shut up, and stick to another round of supervised visitations.

If the system were smarter, it would try to canalize fathers’ anger by allowing them  to expel it. Imagine: one day a month, fathers would be authorized to throw shoes at family courts. I ‘ll take it.

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After  the fiasco of therapeutic visitations  in 2004, I was out of option to see my daughters. I reluctantly accepted to have a few

Chloé, Camille Lacour and Laura (Brooklyn Botanical Garden, 2001)

Chloé, Camille Lacour and Laura (Brooklyn Botanical Garden, 2001)

“regular” supervised visitations with the girls at the end of 2004, pressed by the court attorney giving me  the same crappy argument: I have to show my goodwill while my ex-wife, after two years of a child abuse trial, has not begun proving her accusations. Visitations were frustrating, for the girls and for myself. We were playing in public parks, because the girls would not go at my place, where they used to come before this farcical trial. They had told  Traci Shinabarger, the social worker handling therapeutic visitations that they agreed to go back to my home for visitations. They  were now telling the new social worker, Joel Roberts, that they were “uncomfortable” with this idea. Translation: Mummy was.

Some day in 2005, in family court, judge Sturm came up with the following proposition: Laura, my girlfriend, would chaperon the visitations. The social worker would be there half an hour at the beginning and at the end of the four- hours visitations, to assess it. The idea was not totally stupid. My ex-wife had indeed testified that the girls told her that weekends with me were boring except when my girlfriend was with me. Laura had rarely been with the girls and myself and never for an entire weekend, but enlightening the court with the truth was not my ex-wife’s  point. The purpose of the statement was for my ex-wife to send the  message: “I am cool, I am not mad at the guy, I am just objectively assessing his parenting abilities.”

 After three years of a family court trial and your relation with your children degenerating with the goofy visitations regimes that the court have  you go through, you start getting that you are playing Russian roulette with a fully -loaded gun. Yet you play it  because something as precious as your relationship with your girls is at stake. Laura accepted her role of chaperon for five visits, no more. 

The visitations were a disaster. The girls were properly framed to blow up the all thing. They had the mission to show their mum that like her, they did not agree with the process.  As the first visitation started, my big one, Camille (then 9 years old), complained that “Laura was not a trained therapist” and that I had put the judge on my side for these visitations to happens.  This first visitation lasted forty-five minutes instead of four.  We tried to celebrate Chloé’s seventh birthday during another visitation in Battery Park City with a cake, candles, and games. The girls ostensively refused to be engaged in conversation or games, and stuck to reading the books they had brought. Only when they went to the bathroom was it possible to engage them separately and distract them from their state of mind. Another visitation was canceled at the last minute by the director of Comprehensive Family Services, the agency running the visitation, on a call by my ex-wife’s lawyer. Chloé did not want to come. My ex-wife was playing with the court order. The law guardian monitoring the best interest of the children in the story? hoops, gone fishing. The law guardian’s silence was deafening.

Judge Sturm’s final ruling did acknowledge the poisoning damage of my ex-wife’s  alienation of  the children. As something the court had no control on.  Thats’s really too bad. As family courts stripsearch fathers, alienating custodial parents -mothers- rob the house.

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staten-island1Staten Island’s family court might very well suck as much as Manhattan family court (it is hard to believe), but recently, several fathers have successfully gotten custody of their children, according to Virginia Sherry, from the Staten Island Advance. For one of them, David, after having experienced separation and the intrusion into his relation with his children of forensic evaluators and social workers.

As good as these news are, they have me point at the crucial mistake I made while I was divorcing: grant sole custody to my ex-wife. Yes, I did not know better and was advised by my lawyer that it was the only option. This does not make the sad truth disappear: like George Costanza in Seinfeld, “I am the king of the idiots.” My ex-wife has never informed or consulted me – as she was explicitly mandated to do so by our divorce agreement- about any decision, important or not, regarding the girls. With sole custody, she could alienate the girls without limits and get rid of me with an unfounded accusation of child abuse. As  recently as January 23 2009, Cheryl Solomon, my ex-wife’s lawyer,  used the “C word – choice-” in her final statement against my motion to change child support and medical expenses: my ex-wife can choose not to use my health insurance and have me pay, cash, for the girls dental expenses because she has been confered the dignity of sole custodial parent. I granted her this status!

Salud, Staten Island fathers! Let us have sole custody, for any parent, the exception!

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