Archive for the ‘Culture and Families’ Category

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.


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Hillary Clinton stepped in the Presidential race yesterday, Sunday April 12 2015, stating that “when family is strong, America is strong.”

Exactly the kind of line that gives me the creeps. The topic of family in politics is indeed always and everywhere sulfurous; It is the favorite topic of the far-right, who sees family as the repository of traditional values; it is for sure the topic of those who do not have much to say about policy in general, except that the essence of government is not to interfere with individual liberty.

The problem with family champions of all kinds is that they have to come from “above-reproach families” or be hypocrite. That makes life difficult for a lot of good folks who have interesting ideas beyond “making family stronger,” like Chuy García for instance, who is running for mayor in Chicago. Two weeks before Hillary’s official launch of her presidential campaign, Phil Ponce, a WTTW’s anchor, was rubbing into Chuy García’s face, the strong- family argument:  “Your son has been a gang member. Is he still one? If you could not control him, how dare do you pretend to lead us?”

I also wonder in what way policies aiming at “making family stronger” would help the cases of Michael T. Slager and Walter L.Scott. The former, a cop coming from a divorced family according to an April 13  New York Times article, shot the latter eight times in the back as he was escaping arrest. No reason whatsoever to shoot the man, Walter L. Scott, who happened to have the bad luck to owe $18,104 in child support, was facing an arrest warrant for it since 2013, and was scared to be arrested.

Why doesn’t Hillary Clinton leave the “strong-family thing” to the guys running against her?

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Hitchhiking scene  (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Hitchhiking scene (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Praising a Capra movie is like touting the Taj Mahal as one of the greatest monuments in the world: it is neither original nor insightful. Anyhow, I will. I just saw “It Happened One Night,” a movie Capra directed in 1934. In a nutshell, the movie tells the story of a romantic encounter between a runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), and a journalist, Peter Warren (Clark Gable).

This movie is a jewel, but I want here to chat about the father-daughter relationship, which is bumpy, physical and loving. Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) is a rather invasive father: he has kidnapped his adult daughter on his yacht to have her break up with a fortune hunter she is supposed to marry. Ellie, the daughter, is not that fond of him but cannot stand her father telling her what to do all the time. She starts a hunger strike. Her father brings a tray of food in her room which she throws on the floor. He slaps her, and she escapes by jumping off the boat. On the bus to New York, she meets Peter Warren, a journalist she falls in love with. And she tells him. While Warren rushes to New York to get money and propose, Ellie is woken up by the owners of the motel, with no money to pay for the room. She naturally asks daddy for help. As she brings herself to marry the rich playboy, Andrews gauges her daughter’s true feeling in a beautiful scene, where Andrews comforts his daughter Ellie, as he did when she was a little girl.

Let’s face it. The story of “It Happened One Night” would not even be considered by Hollywood studios nowadays, if not for MAJOR changes. Let ‘s see… Upon her escape, Ellen rushes to court and gets a restraining order against dad…Better: she brings in Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler (Law and Order, Sexual Victims Unit), and they get her to sue the paternalistic pig. In the end, Ellie has Warren sign a prenup in Cancun. Lastly, Warren gets to work for Joe Biden’s campaign against domestic violence with Marishka Hargitay…

These timely adaptations of the script of “It Happened One Night” are of groundbreaking relevance. Oh, I forgot: In the movie, before going to the bottom of his daughter’s feelings, Andrews meets Warren to pay him back for his expenses, and finds out about Warren’s feelings for his daughter (see, that was a time when men dared to mingle into things that were none of their business). Warren, who is never at a loss for words, tells Andrews what he thinks of rich folks and the way they raise their kids. So thirties…

Is it Capra’s genius that makes Depression times almost charming?

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Two days ago, as I was waiting for the train on 96 street going back home, there was a young black lady on the platform, carrying a baby

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

D. Robinson and M. Gibbs (Photo Yana Paskova, NYT)

in a snuggly and pulling a toddler, who was at most 2 years old. The little boy was crying. He was carrying an enormous backpack with Mickey Mouse on it, which he kept dropping on the floor. Each time this was happening, his mother was telling him to pick it up. Her tone of voice was crisp and authoritative. There was clearly no room for bargaining, yet the toddler kept crying, hoping perhaps her mum would comfort him. But his mum had her hands full and she did not have time to compromise. She was in the business of bringing everybody home. Maybe because I was coming back from Aznavour’s concert, and had Aznavour’s voice in my head, I felt vaguely uncomfortable by the way she asserted her authority. I noticed my discomfort was shared by people in the train.

Now that I think about it, I feel discomfort about my discomfort.  I guess this mum is the type of folks that work several jobs, cannot make it with what she earns,  and cannot afford a babysitter. She is therefore not the target of the nauseating commercial of Care.com, but she is the likely victim of the “budget cuts” of public housing in New York City that Mireya Navarro reported about in a New York Times article. Thanks to these cuts, family of two that were living in two bedrooms have to move to a one bedroom or pay more, and family of three in two bedrooms etc…  Consider now the predicament of single parents ( single fathers for instance) with a teenage kid in a one bedroom apartment, the likelihood of a surge in accusations of child abuse/domestic violence, and all these cases handled by those sensitive watchdogs of the families of the poor that populate family courts: law guardians, and private “Comprehensive Family Services” of all sort. That’s going to be interesting quality time for those families in public housing.

Meanwhile last week, the news was all about Ray Rice’s assault of his wife Janay.  It takes a “hero” to fall for exquisite sensitivity (belated on the NFL’s part) and awareness about domestic violence to be displayed.  The incident prompted a flow of reforms all over the nation.  The great State of New Jersey (Rice played at Rutgers) passed a package of six laws, the gist of which being enhancing control of the bad guys with a registry of restraining orders. Such conspicuous waste of efforts and taxpayers money, which would better spent on public housing …

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Photo ABC News

Halle Berry (Photo ABC News)

Fact: Family courts bleed fathers to death as they force them to pay absurd percentages of their gross income for child support; if you have any doubt about it, just read the recent comments on this blog.

Fact: On May 30 of this year, the settlement between actress Halle Berry and her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry was approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gordon. Berry will pay $16,000 a month in child support, or $192,000 a year to Aubry for their six-year old daughter. Let see: that’s almost enough to pay – each year !- the tuition for a  four-year degree in the most expensive U.S. universities.

Some will see in this agreement a great victory for justice on the grounds that a woman – and a famous one- has to pay child support like the rest of us.  I  for one would not agree. I see a saddening consistency between the Berry-Aubry’s settlement and traditional child support policy for the commoners. The commoners, in their vast majority, are poor, and the poor being poor,are not supposed, according to family courts, to figure out how to make their kids happy.  That’s why family courts are there for: Tell  the poor chap what to do and squeeze the last dime out of him. On the other hand, family courts have no problem with rich folks, provided a privileged kid remains a privileged kid. Thank  God, Halle Berry’s daughter will.  These two parallel facets of paternalistic child support’s policy are always carried out in the name of the best interest of the child.

Fact: There is a Piketty mania going on in this country, but obviously family courts have not heard about it. This Piketty mania spreads Capitalfrom Thomas Piketty’s last book , Capital in the Twenty- First Century, which talks about a wealth inequality fever particularly acute in America. Nobody is saying that family courts are in the business of correcting for wealth inequalities. At  least, they ought not help reproduce them, while stamping the seal of justice on absurd child support payments that secure a kid the standards of living he’s born with.

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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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I am often behind on popular culture. Perhaps watching Seinfeld reruns for too long has not

Breaking Bad IFT

Breaking Bad IFT

helped. I recently finished swallowing “Orange Is The New Black.” Right now, I am just catching up with “Breaking Bad.” I am hooked.

A few days ago, I was watching IFT (I know, Season3, Episode 3, shown in April 2010! ) and a scene got me thinking.  Skyler knows everything about her husband underground activities and does not want to have anything to do with him anymore. He however cannot fathom living separated from his family and he is back home, talking to his son, Walt Junior, who could not be happier. She urges him to leave the premises. He refuses. She calls the cops.

The cops step in and ask what happened. Has her husband been violent? Nope. Skyler will not lie. She will also not reveal to Walt Junior that his dad is a drug “producer.”  She will tell her shrink later that since Walt has lung cancer, she hoped “things could resolve from their own momentum” (as George Constanza said to Jerry once),  that is she could separate and not tell Junior the truth about his dad. The cops are almost sorry, but there is nothing they can do for her. Walt stays home.

What struck me is that although Skyler is a decent person, she calls the cops. That’s now part of female DNA. That’s just what you do when you want your spouse, violent or not, removed. That’s one of the services cops provide: to remove undesired partners from home.

I have no data to back me up but I bet that other things being equal (holding personal decency and domestic violence constant), men don’t call cops that much to solve domestic problems. And I don’t see much progress if they were to catch up with women.

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