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Archive for the ‘Fatherhood in the Media’ Category

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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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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Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Today I found the December 16 issue of the New York Times, which at first, I did not remember why I kept. Now it is clear. There was an Eleanor Stanford’s piece that would perfectly fit in the depressing New York State of the Division of Child Support Enforcement website, to cheer up non-custodial fathers searching what is going to be their ordeal in New York State.

Eleanor Stanford is telling us that yes, there are ultimately good things coming out of a long period of unaffordable child support payments. It’s about a man, Michael Stratton, from Queens. One understands the man may have had glamorous times in the movie as an extra and as a stunt driver. Comes a divorce and everything is turned upside down. Piling child support arrears keep him at a disadvantage to get good jobs, and suspension of his driver license did not help either. I will spare you the financial ordeal of the poor fellow and get to Stanford’s conclusion: Michael Stratton still has a relationship with his daughter in college (how beautiful) and the whole thing has taught him a lesson in personal finance. The benevolent New York State lawmakers must have done something right after all.

Needless to say, there is no question asked on why the non-custodial father pays what he has to, irrespective of the income of his ex-spouse and his professional situation, and for so long (New York State is one of the few states, along with Indiana and the District of Columbia, where fathers have to pay child support until their kids are 21).

One cannot emphasize enough the importance of the role of journalists. When they fail to question the status quo, they help perpetrate 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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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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An eighth September 10 has passed this year since I saw my  girls for the last time. I have already told the story of my last

Le grand phare, Ile de Sein.

Le grand phare, Ile de Sein.

supervised visitation on this blog. I have just this piece of news after eight years without seeing my girls: You don’t get used to it, ever. The pain grows with the moments that you don’t share with them.

At the time of this sad anniversary this year,  I was lucky to get distracted  by a story about what ex-partners or spouses can do to interfere with the custody of their ex. The story takes place in France, and it has a funny twist. No WMD (None of the tricks of parental alienation involved);  just creative “custodial interference.”

In this story told by Justine Salvestroni for Le Monde, the father threw a curveball. His ex wanted to relocate, with the three children, to Sein Island, off the coast of Brittany, far from Montpellier where the father lived. In family court, the father’s lawyer made a description of the Island as a secluded and backward place, inhospitable to kids. That worked: the family court judge denied the request of the mother to relocate to Sein Island.

The mayor of Sein ( also the  name of the only town of the Island) , Jean-Pierre Kerloc’h, happened to learn about the story, and he was pissed. He wrote a letter to  Montpellier family court’s president, asking if all the children had to be removed from all the islands of Brittany…

I have been to other islands in Brittany and never to Sein Island,  but I am sure the mayor of Sein is right. This Island must be on of these breathtaking places that evoke the Opposing Shore (Julien Gracq). And let’s bet that crime must be consistently zero. One could find worst for children.

Hat Tip: Véronique Rouquier

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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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