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Archive for the ‘Father Unfriendly Institutions’ Category

Photo cbc.ca

Photo cbc.ca

I love this Pope. Actually, I don’t ever remember to have been fond of a Pope in my lifetime. He talks about issues of poverty and wealth the way some Latin American theologians ( e.g. Leonardo Boff) I liked to read, did. Recently, he delved into a more domestic issue: spanking one’s children.

That brought me back to a conversation I had in 1996 in the smoking room of the World Bank, in Washington DC. Yes, in these dark times, there were smoking rooms in DC buildings. Then a fellow smoker of mine, a man of Erythrean origin, fumed about his neighbors, who had reported him to the cops, because they had heard noise in his house as he was disciplining his kid. I could not fathom it. The kid had misbehaved, he had to discipline him. I told him, jokingly: “Use other means. Tell your kid: No TV for you! Or no gun for you!”

I hope my friend did not have to cope with a trial in family court. I did. There, in this little world, men are suspects, especially foreign men. All have anger control issues. That’s why family courts ask them to take parenting classes and have them waste their time and their children’s with supervised therapeutic visitations.

In a country where mums are given a free pass to alienate at will, or buy their children a gun for Christmas, one can only hope that the Pope’s message that “spanking is ok if it’s not demeaning” is going to become a water-cooler discussion in family court.

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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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Amine Baba-Ali (Photo B. Norman for the New YorkTimes)

Amine Baba-Ali (Photo B. Norman for the New York Times)

As a foreigner, there is something I always find troubling in this country, where I have lived for 23 years: Its prodigious ability to ignore horrors committed here, and move on.  It’ s not like there is a deficit of compassion; it’s just that compassion does not seem to translate into acting on the very reasons that caused the horrors in the first place. It may be the omnipresence of the flag, the daily shots of sport news of any kind, and the annoying belief that the future will be better (I have nothing  per se against optimism, except that I want it to be awake, that is to be grounded into a reasonable assessment of things as they are).

Speaking of nightmares, check this one: Amine Baba- Ali was wrongfully convicted of raping his four-year old daughter in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Where did the accusation come from? His ex-wife.  Then the diligence of New York State Justice system did the rest: a phony physician found evidence of rape that was contested by several experts, to no avail. Amine Baba-Ali’s conviction was overturned after three years spent in jail. Since public officials were unapologetic about the ordeal he had endured, Baba-Ali sued, and the State attorney general agreed to pay $1.25 million.

Yet Amine Baba-Ali has not seen his daughter for 20 years.  I challenge any accountant to put a price tag on that. Amine Baba-Ali hopes his daughter will see Michael Powell’s NYT article and contact him.

One of the many problems with current New York State Family laws is that lethal ex-wife accusations do not bear any consequences…for ex-wife. Ex-wife can send a man to death and kill his relations to his children in all impunity. The promoters of bill A6457 are kidding themselves and their constituents if they think that the fear of punishment for “malicious” accusations would deter ex-wife from making those.

But hey! I don’t need much to be convinced: I sign on the bill if just one “maliciously” intended ex-wife spends three years of her life, like Amine Ali-Baba, in Eastern New York maximum correction facility, in Napanoch, New York. It’s not the worst, according to a well-informed source.

Hat Tip: Mariana Carreño King

 

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Mark Sargent (Photo: the CT Mirror)

Mark Sargent (Photo: the CT Mirror)

The US family justice system is supposed to act in the best interest of the child. We all know that, we divorced fathers especially, whose rights to see our children are often sacrificed in its name. Fortunately, family justice is here to remind us that our miserable interests are to be trumped for this greater cause.

Reading about the State of Connecticut’s family court reforms in the baking, one is not certain any more that family courts are that sure about whether they are acting in the best interest of the child; or rather, there is some awareness that this might not necessarily happen. As divorces are becoming more litigious, custody dockets a judge has to handle pile up, and children suffer from prolonged custody battles.

The physical-abuse trial I had to go through after my divorce was a continuation of a custody battle by other means. I had a law guardian who did do zip to protect the interests of my children or mine. She was here only to serve as the good conscience of family justice system: when your case moves at a agonizingly slow pace like my trial (which lasted six years and half), the presence of a law guardian means that the interests of children are nominally protected, even though de facto they are not.

In Connecticut, they happen to have guardians ad litem. I went to the website of one, and frankly, I have trouble understanding the difference with law guardians. Guardians ad litem are “self-described” mediators in chief,  lawyers with shrinks’ talents that pretend to have a special gift in understanding the human soul and for parenting.  In Connecticut, the services of these folks might be quite pricey. Guardians ad litem bill by the hours, and face no cap. Mark Sargent, an attorney involved in pushing reforms to the Connecticut family court system, spent $130,000 in GAL(Guardian At Litem) fees.  Some parents empty their retirement account to pay their bill. In Connecticut, family justice provides another opportunity, besides serious health problems, to be faced with financial ruin.

My homeland does not have it all. Yet it has something I came to value as I reflected on the problems I had with Manhattan family court: a conception of justice that transcends a contract between parties. In the French criminal justice system, justice is supposed to be represented, and its interests are to be defended, by an investigating judge, who investigates a case before a judge rules about it. There are the parties, and there is justice which is supposed to be served by the state.

Connecticut’s family justice does not need one more substratum of mediators, the guardians ad litem, supposedly acting on behalf of the best interest of the child stuff and taking their cut until a judge hears the final mediators of a custody case. What is needed are impartial law guardians, with real investigative power, payed by the State, speeding up the process and acting in the best interest of justice. More surely than not, they may act in the best interest of the child.

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I came across TyQan Brow’s story, which was on the news some ten days ago.  A new pearl in the nauseating list of encroachments of

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

fathers’ rights by family courts.

TyQan is the father of an eponym son he conceived with Jonetta Woods.  In February 2013, Jonetta tragically lost three of her four children in a fire.  The story gets suddenly very complicated, thanks to erratic Kalamazoo (Michigan)  family court decisions. For a while, TyQan is granted custody of Drayanna, the daughter Jonetta had with another man and escaped the fire, and his soon-to-be-born son.  But not so fast: TyQan Junior is born in March 14, but his father TyQan does not even have a chance to bring his baby home, as  he has to face an accusation of child abuse and neglect:   A social worker, who had visited TyQan before the baby’s birth and had found no crib at home, jumped to the conclusion that he was not prepared for parenthood. Eventually TyQan is granted temporary custody of his son by Kalamazoo family court, after he showed he had all that was needed to take care of his son, and all the desire to do so. Yet,TyQan is a father on “probation.”  I could not  keep myself from thinking: what will he need to prove to the court to be granted permanent custody of his child?  How filled, and with what food, his fridge will have to be? How much money will need to be on his savings account?

My first reading of TyQuan’s  tangle with family court was that if the family court’s  crowd  despises the Patriarch figure, the man that provides, takes charge, and imposes his will on women and children, there is one type of men it hates even more: the poor. In the times we live in, low-income men don’t make it to the middle class, and their status as breadwinners is always fragile. If they get divorced, they don’t not remain breadwinners very long, as family courts turn them into deadbeat dads with inflexible child support payments. Eduardo Porter is right when he suggests to policymakers, in a New Times article from March 5 2014,  to try support instead of punishment for low- income fathers (and families).

However, a look  at family laws outside the US shows that  punishment by family courts also applies to low-income non custodial fathers in countries where the social safety net is better than in the US, in Ireland for instance. Dan Buckley from the Irish Examiner writes that judges are breaching human rights of fathers, keeping them from seeing their children and forcing them into poverty. The targets of family courts there are fathers who can just make it with state benefits. Too often, judges tend to order an excessive amount of child support (maintenance in Ireland) relative to income; the same judges will curtail visitations or send fathers to jail if child support is unpaid.

There is something in out- of- wedlock fathers with kids which deeply bothers our societies; perhaps, the fact that they could be totally autonomous with kids,  that they could not need the help from women to educate their children.

I will celebrate when the first custodial or  non- custodial father will be elected in office – any office-  anywhere.

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Family justice in the US is a race to the bottom, with,  I long thought, New York State family justice as unbeatable at crushing fathers’ lives.

Wrong. Texas is surging as a serious contender to New York. Check out Clifford Hall ‘s story on Fox News (click on the photo below to watch video):

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.49.54 PM

One question that Fox News does not ask is why did Judge Millard sentenced Clifford Hall to pay his ex’s lawyer fees. It sounds like it’s a just the stuff that fathers have to do when they end up in family courts.

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Dusten BrownThere are two things I do not understand in Baby Veronica’s case, as the case is called : 1. Why isn’t Dusten Brown – Veronica’s biological father- supported by the father right movement, or fathers’ organizations in the US?  The man is wearing no Superman suit, and to my knowledge, he has climbed no crane; Yet Dusten Brown’s fight to keep custody of Veronica against the justice system,  is both legitimate and admirable. 2/ The recent pathetic CNN reporting of the case should make Dusten Brown’s plea on the agenda of the fathers right movement, even if, as everybody knows, nobody is watching CNN. Fortunately so.

CNN anchor Randy Kaye’s reporting of this case could not have been less informative and more biased. After a purely formal “balanced” exposition of the two sides of the case –  an interview with Dusten Brown followed by an interview with the Capobiancos, the couple who recklessly persist in adopting Veronica at any price, be it depriving her of her father- Randy Kaye steps in the debate out of the blue, asking the question: how come Brown is not in jail, after four courts ruled in favor of the adoptive parents, including the US Supreme Court?

Let’s underscore a couple of facts Kaye overlooked, or certainly not even looked at. Brown’s gave her parental rights to Maldonado, his girlfriend whom he broke up with. Shocking ? Nope. I don’t want to second guess Brown, but that’s a man stuff. Before my first one was born, being a father was raising one dominant feeling in me:  fear. When I saw her, fear was gone and she was the most wonderful thing that had happened in my life. Now, let’s move to shocking stuff. Maldonado gives Veronica for adoption and let Brown know when Veronica is four months old. One would think that giving parental rights to somebody does not imply giving her right to to give up one’s child for adoption.

Wrong. In the US, it is, except for Native Americans.  Without the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, Brown, who is Cherokee,  was fried. His consent would not have been needed for Veronica’s adoption for the Capobiancos. Actually, a voracious adoption industry prospers on the loopholes of the adoption laws. The consent of an undocumented immigrants who get caught by the INS, go to jail and have their children placed in the home of adoptive parents is not required either. But the Indian Welfare Act is this odd thing that against the wind, does not entertain the view that the best interest of the child of the poor is to be raised by rich white folks.  The South Carolina Supreme Court voided Veronica’s adoption, which the US Supreme Court upheld. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, argued that since Brown had not supported Maldonado during her pregnancy, his consent to Veronica’s adoption was not required. Interestingly enough, Sotomayor and Gingsberg, the two female justices dissenting to the majority, held a contrary view on Brown’s right.

Let’s remain polite and say that in this case, the ruling of the US Supreme Court, displays a less than Solomonic quality.  Dusten Brown  – Veronica’s biological father- is now wanted by South Carolina to face the charge of “custodial interference.” Dusten, is up to you if you keep “interfering”, but whatever you do, I support you.

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