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Archive for the ‘Fatherhood in the Media’ 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 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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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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