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Archive for the ‘Father Unfriendly Institutions’ Category

Father'DayIt has been a long time that Father’s Day has not had any meaning to me. My girls don’t phone me, and I guess the very thought of it would make them feel disloyal to their mom. I rejoice with some of my relatives or friends who post pictures of them with their dads on Facebook, but for me, Father’s Day is like National Doughnut Day.

I happened to have caught Jasmine Hernandez’s opinion piece in the New York Post, on June 18, titled “Stop Stacking the Legal Deck Against Dads.” A timely, well-intended call inviting moms to be nice with their ex, because, you know, there are men who really want to play a role in the life of their children, let us not lose sight of that on Father’s Day.  Since Jasmine Hernandez is a family court lawyer, the reader is given a short digest of New York State family laws.

That’s where her piece gets questionable, as it ultimately justifies one of the most unfair family laws in the country. Take her distinction between “physical custody” and “legal custody” for instance. Hernandez want us to believe that when “a dad has relinquished physical custody,” he nonetheless has plenty of room to exert a meaningful role in the life of his children, because he is not deprived of legal custody. Truly, legal custody is a legal fiction if mom wants ex out the life of the children; Of course, dad can resort to the services of good lawyers like Hernandez to prevent it…

Obviously, non-custodial dads would be much better off without the flimsy legal custody they have now, and if joint custody were to be the default option in divorce in New York State.

Have you ever heard about a lawyer who wants to change the law, not just walk you through it?

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There is one principle I have been sticking to since this blog started: I do not publish ads disguised as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

Michael Trotta and Elinor Trotta

A week ago, on February 24, I was woken up at approximately 2:00 am. My cellular phone was ringing. I saw it was an amber alert and turned off my phone. In the morning, I learnt that all this fuss was about Michael Trotta, who was wanted for having kidnapped his 3-year old daughter, Elinor.

I could not figure out what was the need to wake up the whole North-East of the US. What were folks with no cars and no chance to be driving like myself supposed to do? Scan the streets with binoculars from their window to try to see the man?

A few days after this vociferous amber alert, I tried to know more about the why and the how of the case. All I have been able to get so far is that Trotta was arrested without incident. Elinor was back with mum, who was flown from Delaware to Spencer Massachusetts, where Trotta was caught. The job of the media was done, meaning that it has told the story it is paid to tell or thinks it has to tell: the police had caught the bad guy, little girl was safe, and the good citizens’ tax money was well spent.

On this slow Sunday night, I fortuitously happen to catch the first episode of the return of Madam Secretary on CBS, whose premises – a beautiful white female making it in the male-dominated world of K street- are not striking by their originality to me. The reason I kept watching was that Madam Secretary- Elisabeth McCord- at the beginning of the episode, visits a female friend, who opens her heart to her: she is devastated to have lost the custody of her child to her husband, a banker, who has regular work hours.

Damn! Perhaps the fathers’ rights movement and myself missed something. The family court system favors men, at least those with money- like bankers- and steady work hours. That leads me to jump to the conclusion that Michael Trotta is not a banker. But if anybody has reliable information about Michael Trotta, please share it.

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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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