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Archive for the ‘Family Laws’ Category

There is apparently in this country a building consensus on reforming the criminal justice system.

Photograph Gilles Clarke, Getty Images

Photograph Gilles Clarke, Getty Images

Perhaps it started with the Milwaukee Experiment, which Jeffrey Toobin related in a May 11 article in the New Yorker.  John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, singlehandedly decided to correct the imbalance of the American justice system which sends a disproportionate amount of young Afro-American people for minor drug offenses in prisons.  Chisholm started to ask that prosecutors’ success be measured by their performance in reducing prison’s population, and not the opposite.

In New York State, the “Raise the Age” movement has focused on changing the law that sends juvenile offenders in jail at 16. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, has been advocating for five years to raise the criminal age in New York to 18.  Lippman was heard by Governor Cuomo, who is now trying to gather support for his bill to raise the criminal age.

Interestingly enough, as the readers of this blog well know, a 16 year old is a criminal in New York State but not exactly an adult before 21, since non-custodial parents have to pay child support until their offspring reaches this age. Consistency would require raising the criminal age to 21, or freeing non-custodial parents from child support obligations when their children are 18.

This brings me to my next point. A very interesting article in the April 20 New York Times describes how divorced fathers -mostly in North Carolina and Georgia- go in and out of jail for child support debt, are denied jobs for that reason, and are drawn to poverty for life. The title tells it all: “Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Jobs. Repeat.”

It is definitely a good thing to empty jails of young people, provided one does not keep filling them with their fathers, thanks to unfair child support laws. I can’t wait to hear Governor Cuomo’s thoughts or Hillary Clinton’s on that one.

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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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There is one principle I have been sticking to since this blog started: I do not publish ads disguised as

Sheri Atwood (Photo Vicki Thompson)

Sheri Atwood (Photo Vicki Thompson)

“I love your blog” comment for anybody, even from self-declared lawyers specialized in fathers’ rights. About a week ago, I received a comment from (perhaps) a parent praising SupportPay.com. I am going to publish this comment, for once. I might do even worse, but I’ll take the risk: discuss SupportPay here, because it is a topic that, I believe, deserves comments.

SupportPay is an online platform developed by Ittavi.Inc, which is incorporated in the great State of Delaware, although its headquarters are in Santa Clara, CA. According to founders Sheri Atwood and Lorena Chiu, SupportPay aims at softening tensions between divorced parents. Between the latter, communication sucks. It does, because it revolves around money. If communication about money is made easier -here comes SupportPay, with which you upload any receipt as proof of your expenses toward what you paid for your child- tension will ease, and children will be spared the shouting match that accompanies the bringing of them from one parent to the other.

I like technology like the next guy, but I do not think it will save the world. And I am also not totally sure that SupportPay founders have a clear idea of what their customer’s base is. Who pays child support? Mostly fathers. How do they pay it? Often, the State takes care of payments for them, through garnishment of their wages, like in my case. What are the predicament of fathers? They don’t see their kids, and making communication about money smoother won’t help see them more. Child support payments, which in most states are based on the sole non-custodial father’s income, amount to absurd percentage of their income. The problem of most fathers is not to keep track of their expenses for their kids; It is to keep up with them.

All of this to give a clearer idea of who SupportPay might be for: some of the 1%, Silicon Valley fathers who are not affected by the daunting demand of US family laws on the rest of us, and may find comfort in seeing through their expenses thanks to SupportPay. God bless them. Markets will always find answers, adequate or not, to their needs. I for one, will post another blog about SupportPay if it keeps one father from going to jail for missing chid support payments.

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Fathers in Jail (Photo Carmine Galasso)

Fathers in Jail in NJ (Photo Carmine Galasso)

On paper, New Jersey is far from having the worst child support laws in the US. Both parents’ income are used to determine the financial obligations of each, unlike in New York State, where child support is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income, irrespective of the custodial’s one. Yet stories of  New Jersey fathers in jail for default of child support payments pulls your hair up out of horror: fathers are rotting in jail with no end of their ordeal in sight. There is obviously something wrong with the way the law is enforced, and Governor Chris Christie seems quite oblivious of it when he travels to England in search of international exposure.

What goes wrong for fathers in the Garden State?  Colleen Diskin, in a July 26 2014 posting in New Jersey.com, locates the origin of this mess in New Gingrich’s cracking on “welfare queens” and “deadbeat dads.” He forgets to mention that Bill Clinton, with the dismantling of welfare as we knew it, is the one who cast the first stones of Gingrich’s reactionary project of returning to a pre-New Deal conception of the role of the state. What is this vision about? The poor are poor because they did not seize the plentiful opportunities available to him; if they are poor, it is because they are either trying to cheat the system, like deadbeat dads (then we can spare the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars), and they are therefore losers. In the later case, the state might condescend to help him, for a -short- while.  Rogue judges, such as judge Bonnie Mizdol in Bergen County family court, whose understanding of the obligations and responsibilities of parents squares with nineteenth century England at the time the Poor Laws, grants a once-a-week drug addiction counseling session to parents who cannot meet their financial obligations.

The problem with most states  implementing this grand vision is that they don’t have a shinning justice system, because they are, like the great state of New Jersey, cheap and/or lazy.  Here, access to food stamps or housing is conditioned upon granting the right to the county to sue for child support money, which goes to repay for these services; Technically, this is a transfer of income to poor custodial parents (mostly women) from non-custodial parents, who cannot afford it and end up in jail;  That’s a great victory for the state, which is in the clear, and can point to easy scape goats: deadbeat dads trying to escape their parental responsibilities.

As Krugman puts it today, “nobody understands debt,” or nobody understands that debt entails two parties, the debtor and the creditor, whose claim may be totally unreasonable; when you have a debtor who owes more than six figures in back child support, it may mean that 1/(dad’s) income) may have changed over the years (after all, the Great Recession reminded as that capitalism is a very unstable system, and that people lose jobs) and 2/ mum’s expectations as to what child support is to pay for has nothing to do with a child’s real needs, but what mum thinks they are.

The State of New Jersey has to face it: such debt is never going to be repaid, and owed not to. Putting dads in jail won’t change it.

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Earlier today,reading about the O’Connors (Fathers 4 Justice)’s appearance last Friday in a civil case brought against them, I was getting

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

into a very gloomy mood. I like this organization; The fathers’ right movement owes much to it, and it’s sad to see it sliding into irrelevance.

Fortunately, some very good news made my day: the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) had his first conference in Bonn (Germany) in July of this year. The conference provided evidence that shared parenting was in the best interest of the child of divorced parents, and, that “national family laws should include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it.” The theme of the first conference was “Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice.”

This “bridging the gap”part shows real, commendable ambition.That’s also where the credibility of the International Council of Shared Parenting is to be tested. When you have the tragically decrepit New York State justice system (have you read Kalief Browder’s story in Jennifer Gonderman’s piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker?), and when the beacon of New York State’s political projects in the coming years is the new Tappan Zee bridge, you do not have exactly the most conducive environment to implement ambitious reforms of the judiciary. By the way, I have to make sure that French father’s right activists know about this famous crane which is used in the building of the new Tappan Zee bridge…

But I should not be that pessimistic after all. Shared parenting is debated in Maryland, by people who know about the work of the InternationaL Council of Shared Parenting.

 

 

 

 

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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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I was listening yesterday to Senator Marco Rubio on “Face the Nation” pondering if the 21 th century would be another American century. Let’s take a shot at the answer. Whether it is or not, it will not look good for the poor. As everybody knows, we all live in a classless society. That’s tough luck for those who do not make it to the middle class, because that’s all there is. It has to be because they don’t belong there, and they just have themselves to blame to it. It has not always been the dominant way of thinking; in the 1960’s, President Johnson launched a war on poverty, the underpinnings of which was that being poor was just not a question of failing to seize opportunities that were out there. Those days, one is under the impression that a new war has been waged: the war against the poor.

Let’s be fair though. There are still good folks who want to help the poor; the banks, at least. The poor have a lot of bad habits and misgivings, we all know that: they have children out of wedlock, they don’t read the fine print of a mortgage (banks did not mind much until 2008), and on top of everything, they dare to gamble, which baffles economists. With the opportunities they have, how can they? Poor chaps can’t figure out that the way out of poverty is to save. According to Patricia Cohen from the New York Times, banks have found the way to get the poor to save, willy-nilly: banks- credit unions to be exact- have created prize-linked savings accounts. You save and can earn the jackpot, from time to time.

That’s more or less all poor- lovers there is. In the last decades, the tolerance for the poor has been running thin, thanks to do-gooders from the left and the right who blabber about personal responsibility to scrub social programs from public expenditures. Take the issue of universal Pre-K in New York, which is critical for the poor, as it helps level the playing field between their kids and the rest of the kids in terms of access to education. That universal pre-K be founded without tax increases, but by the growth of the New York State casino economy, as Governor Cuomo wants it to be, means that the gambling suckers – the poor- will pay for the education of their kids. God forbid, the middle class – and forget the rich- won’t have to chip in.

Moving South, one reaches a new frontier in the detestation of the poor. The great State of Alabama for instance has implemented experiments  aiming at being ‘more efficient’ at collecting what the poor owe, like tickets for driving without insurance. The problem, as Sarah Stillman in the June 23 New Yorker article tells, is that these collection agencies are private for-profit firms, whose charge the hell they want in supervision fees without oversight from the courts. The outcome is folks ending up in jail with more debt, which defeats both justice and the goal of trimming public expenses.

There is something I have been chewing since I started coping with US family justice. 1. Justice is perhaps the most important of the functions of a state. 2. You need to respect the folks you are providing justice to, or forget about it.

 

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