Archive for the ‘Politicians on Fatherhood?’ Category

Kelly Rutherford and Children (Photo New York Post)

Kelly Rutherford and Children (Photo New York Post)

In the Fish Market store I usually go on Sunday, on 144 street and Broadway, I overheard an interesting conversation in Spanish. A customer – a Dominican man I would say- was ranting about child support with the two Mexican employees of the store. He owed back child support payments and was at risk of having his driver license removed. I did not catch the whole thread but at some point, I heard him say : “pago poco porque gano poco” (I pay little because I earn little). This man did not seem exactly pleased with New York State family court justice.

How strange, truly! This man obviously did not read Sheila Weller’s article in the November 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, titled “Irreconcilable Distances;” Otherwise he would know that family justice has changed a great deal. Let me say a few words about Weller’s story, whose estranged protagonists are Kelly Rutherford, star of the TV series Gossip Girl, and her ex-husband Daniel Giersch, a wealthy German business man. I skip the details of the custody battle and go directly to the outcome: Giersch was given residential custody, and as a result, Rutherford has to visit her children- her son Hermes and her daughter Helena- in Monaco. A lot of tears, and famous ones, have flown for Rutherford: ABC News Legal Analyst Dan Abrams tried to raise awareness of Rutherford’s lot and her children’s, in a September 1 2012 broadcast, “Two American Kids shipped to France in One of the Worst Custody Decision, Ever” (Abrams does not seem to bother that Monaco, whose Princess was Grace Kelly at some point, is not part of France). Also, with the initial help of Alan Dershowitz, “Boston-based Murphy- , a women’s -, children’s-, and victims’ rights lawyer filed a civil rights lawsuit in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of Hermes and Helena, claiming their life abroad is a form of ‘involuntary expatriation, which is unconstitutional,” tells Weller.

My heart bleeds at my ignorance of such a case. Yet, did I miss something, or these noble knights of the rights

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

Cirilia Balthazar Cruz and Child (Photo Sharon Steinmann)

of mothers and children – Abrams, Dershowitz, Murphy- were nowhere to be found in support of Encarnacìon Bail Romero or Cirilia Balthazar Cruz, two undocumented (Guatemalan and Mexican) mothers who were deprived of their respective son and daughter by family courts in Missouri and Mississippi?

But let us not be sidetracked here and let us return to American motherhood in Monaco. The cause of Rutherford’s predicament, according to Weller, is “the friendly parent criterion,” which allegedly now guides the decisions of judges in the courts of this land. What is it? You need to appear supportive of your ex’s rights and ability to see the children. Don’t mess up with them, or at least, don’t behave in a way the judge could interpret you intend to. That was indeed the source of Rutherford’s troubles: she left Giersch’s name off the birth certificate of Helena’s. Critical mistake, which basically cost her custody of her children. Folks, that’s now the law of the land, we are told: Rich, poor, white, black, straights, gays, don’t even think of interfering with your ex’s rights. From New York to LA,  family court judges, these new heroes, will not allow it. You end Weller’s article, and you wonder how come the US family court system, after Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi in 2014, is not even considered for the 2015 Nobel Peace Price.

Now, let’s get real. Weller’s article is telling us that Giersch’s super lawyer Fahi Takesh Hallin (a partner in the prestigious L.A. firm Harris Ginsberg, mind you) were successful at pointing at Rutherford’s “excessive gatekeeping” during the trial; in other words, Hallin was good at blaming Rutherford’s sick tendency to overprotect her children and overstate the risks of spending time with Giersch. I am no Fahi Takesh Hallin, but let me tell you something: in the family court trial of physical abuse I was dragged to a few years before the Rutherford-Giersch case, there was plenty of evidence of “excessive gatekeeping” on the part of ex. The judge sat on it, and the law guardian did not lose one minute of sleep over it. Both cared about mum, and not at all about mom’s “excessive gatekeeping.” I believe that readers of this blog share this assessment about family courts.

Sometimes, when you come too close to the rich and famous, you lose sight of what goes on in the world of common folks. That’s actually a serious mistake for a journalist.


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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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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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Picture: Illinois Fathers

Picture: Illinois Fathers

All of us have been there: you learn from your kids that ex was in a business trip somewhere. You would gladly have taken care of them but the baby sitter or someone else did, because ex is by law in charge and in the business of making sure that you will not your kids more than your divorce agreement says you will, that is every other weekend and perhaps an afternoon the week without the weekend with them.

On May 22 of this year, both Illinois houses attempted to stop this sad state of affairs by passing HB 2992. Hopefully Illinois’s example will be followed by other States, if Pat Quinn, the Governor of Illinois, signs the bill to be included as section 602.3 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

What is the right of first refusal? If ex needs to go, you are by law the first to be on with the kids. She has 24 hours to let you know that you can watch the kids when she is absent, and you have 24 hours to let her know whether you can do it or not. Common sense in “the best interest of the child,” for once.  The fathers’ right movement has to reinvent the wheel to amend decades of biased legislation.

However we all know that there is the law and there is the enforcement of the law, and these are two different things as far as family laws are concerned. But let us not spoil our pleasure at this stage…

Hat Tip: American Coalition for Fathers and Children, May 29 2013 Newsletter

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Since 1994 when Congress passed it, the “Violence Against Women Act” has been the weapon against domestic violence.  The act was to be reauthorized in 2012 to include gays, undocumented immigrants, American Indians and students.  Republicans in the Senate joined Democrats to approve the reauthorization, Republicans in the House did not.  Then the Republicans took a beating in the 2012 Presidential elections, and the reauthorization of the bill is back on the floor of the senate in February, with Republicans now more accommodating to compromises, as they hope to lure women and latinos back  (or finally) into their ranks.

One may think that at least, this  hard-learned lesson in political realism is for the greater good – the end of domestic violence. Wrong: the tackling of this problem has been nothing but petty, parochial politics (PPP) and PPP it remains.

Why? We now know  that domestic violence is not only the deed of men against women, but also that of women Universalitéagainst men and children: physical violence along with a less apparent but as pernicious a form of violence, parental alienation, which is given a free ride in family courts, which are women-biased courts. The very fact that domestic violence is defined as domestic violence against women gives women leeway to overuse of the accusation of domestic violence, to get the divorce they want and expel their ex from the life of their children.

Want to solve domestic violence? Change course and instead of adding categories of victims, throw universality into the law already. Just pass a Domestic Violence Act, that will aim at protecting women, gays, immigrants, American Indians and… men, too.

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Since Friday February 15, Serge Charnay, has been on top of an abandoned crane, in  a Nantes (France) old shipyard. Charnay spread a banner with these words: “Benoit, two years without his dad.”  Benoit is Charnay’s son. He has not seen his father for two years. Serge lost his visitation rights when he sequestered his son for ten days in 2010 and two months in 2011.

Serge Charnay (Photo Frank Perry AFP)

Serge Charnay (Photo Frank Perry, AFP)

Also Charnay wrote on top of the crane: “Let’s save our children from the justice system.”

What is it with some fathers and cranes ? Five years ago, in September 2008, Paul Fisher (Ohio) and Donald Tenn (California, President of Fathers for Justice USA) climbed on a crane near Ohio State University. They were requesting a non-partisan investigation into the family court system by the governors of their respective states – then Ted Strickland in Ohio, Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

I love it. Men perched on a phallic piece of machinery screaming their lungs and their powerlessness at the unfairness of the justice system and claiming their rights to see their kids, like their exes do.

In any case, Serge Charnay may have made significant breakthroughs for the fathers rights movement in France, perhaps because awareness on the topic has previously been raised by Moreno’s protests against the family justice system (Moreno went to Nantes to support Charnay). On Friday night, Serge Charnay was told – by  the Prefet (a high government official) that he could benefit from a request before family court to review his case. As Charnay refused to get off his crane, Jean Marc Ayrault – Mayor of Nantes and Prime Minister, mind you- asked the Minister of Justice (the French Attorney General) and the Minister of the Families to meet next week with father rights organizations.

When has any high- ranked government official ever met with fathers rights organizations in the US? Did governors Strickland and Schwarzenegger ever ask their Attorney Generals to investigate the family court systems in their respective state? I guess not. And  I think it may have to do with the fact that father rights movement are no lobbyists with big pockets.

Serge Charnay, you are most welcome to talk about your experience on this blog when you will get off your crane.

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