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Archive for the ‘Shared parenting’ Category

Parents celebrate important events of the life in their children life, like Bar Mitzvahs or commencement ceremonies. Not me. First, I have been “parented away” for a long time now. I cannot communicate directly with my daughters. Communication through the channel of their mother does not go through, and is unreliable. Ex has no problem impersonating her daughters when she wants to. In these days and age tough, there is Google to bring you news about your offspring, even those you wish were not true, like: My daughters have changed their name or are in the process of doing so. In so doing, they bluntly manifest they have severe ties with their father. Ex’ plans are fully accomplished: my status as a father is reduced to that of a unfortunate “blurb” (Seinfeld is to me a profuse source of references) in their life story. I have been erased.

That may well be, but I am a very resilient fellow. I will be there in case my daughters want to break through Goebbels (ex)’s fences. Meanwhile, I thought of standing outside of the area of the commencement ceremony with the hope of seeing my daughters when people would exit, but I was sick. I had to make do with the video of the ceremony, hoping again that by chance, I could see my daughters there. Instead I saw the speech of the commencement speaker, Mark Zuckerberg.

Mr Zuckerberg is a nice man. Yet a few remarks about a couple of points he raised in his speech to the class of 2017 are in order:

Firstly, Mr. Zuckerberg aspires to create a world where everyone has “a new sense of purpose.” Mr. Zuckerberg  has found his (he created Facebook) and he assumes that “all people want to connect.” That resonates deeply with me because it could not be more wrong in my family. An alienating parent wants her children for herself, she wants them “to disconnect” and she succeeds. She may want them to find “a sense of purpose” only if it is predicated upon the exclusion of anybody who may contradict her influence.

Secondly, according to M. Zuckerberg, “every generation expands its definition of equality” and “the millennials are the most charitable generation in history.” That’s possible, but it is not going to help this country very much. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have been widening since the 1980’s, and even if the number of well-minded philanthropists like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg expands, the wealth they give away will not correct for increasing lack of access to health, education and, for the subjects that matter in this blog, to decent family justice. Charity is not a substitute for a proactive fiscal policy, even less this undergirding grandiose social projects like “redefining equality.” Charitable rich folks care about pet projects, they don’t declare “war on poverty.”

I would have liked to discuss this point with my recent graduate.

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Four days ago I was on the bus to Laredo (a charming resort on the Spanish Atlantic coast) to see friends, having departed from Bilbao, in the

Cantabria shore

Cantabria shore

Spanish Basque country. I was enjoying the landscape, with mountains overlooking the ocean, when I saw, painted on a bridge in white letters, the words: CUSTODIA COMPARTIDA (Spanish for shared custody). They were impossible to miss, but the bus was too fast for me to grab my camera and take a picture.

Two thoughts, a good and a bad one. The good one first: Fathers’ movements have come a long way all over the world. When I was in the midst of my child abuse trial, there was zip going on in the US in terms of fathers’ rights. In 2005, the only glimmer of hope was what was going on in the UK (I learnt about it thanks to a Susan Dominus’ article in the New York Times Magazine, which had Jason Hatch from Fathers 4 Justice on the cover). Now among others, there are fathers climbing cranes in France (and getting their voices heard) and even in USA Today, Sharon Jayson talks about dads demanding equal custody rights all over the US. Now for the bad one; this current rise of the fathers’ right movement is like the D-Day: a blessing if you are not dead by June 6 1944, or to be at little less tragical, if New York State Laws and Manhattan Family Court have not destroyed your relationship with your children.

By the way, things have been going on for a while in Cantabria, where joint custody was added to the divorce laws in 2005. A year ago, the Santander Supreme Court granted joint-custody to a father of two, breaking the decision of the family court which had given sole custody to mum. These fathers from Cantabria have a facebook page titled Custodia Compartida.

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Reverend Mary Hovland

The State of Minnesota is about to have fathers rights make a major step forward with the passing of  HF 322, Children’s Equal and Shared Parenting Act.  The bill will adopt the presumption of  shared and equal parenting time, unless agreed otherwise by parents. Provisions of the law will be extended to unmarried parents. Oh My!

Where did the impetus that shook the status quo come from? Interestingly enough, from three women – Phyllis Stageberg, retired teacher, Reverend Mary Hovland and the founder of the Center for parental Responsibility Molly Olson, who campaigned to give equal parenting rights to fathers. Olson documented that children without absent fathers do not fare well, undermining the “best interest of the child monstrosity” predicament which still founds most state family laws.

If the law passes in the house, it will obviously entail a revision of child support laws. If parents share custody, there is indeed no reason for divorced mothers to automatically receive a certain percentage of their ex’s income as child support, irrespective of theirs.  That’s where further resistance to the new law will come: from noble politicians championing mothers’ loss of the divorced rent.

In its 2011 version, the law was even dealing with false accusations of child abuse as a ground for the accuser’s parental fitness dismissal. I wonder if this cherry on the cake is still on the 2012 version…

Unlike in Canada, Australia, England, GermanyIsrael or Spain, the debate on fathers rights in the US is in a state of complete torpor. Let’ s hope that the Minnesotan Children’s Equal and Shared Parenting Act change that.

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Maltraitance infantile

There is currently a most welcome legislative push for shared parenting in the U.S. Yet, the way these reforms are presented by some media is disconcerting: two camps entrenched in apparently irreconcilable positions.  That’s not helping clarify the issue, nor very conducive to pulling gutless politicians to take a stand.

Pick Jacobs’ article in DesMoines Register for instance, about shared parenting bill in Iowa. Her point: the proposed bill is too controversial for the Senate to vote for it.  Women Rights groups opposed shared parenting, because if the bill is enacted,  it will be more difficult for abused women to get sole custody.  In Iowa as in New York State I believe, women so far just need to throw an accusation of child abuse and the rights of the father to see his children are fried. A child abuse accusation is proof free and if  unproven, unpunished. And once an alienating mother has gotten all that she wanted, which family court judge will restore the rights of the non- custodial father? It actually would be a good thing if the bill were to entail that accusations of child abuse be substantiated.

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Photo Almida

Spanish fathers are about to be allowed to take one breastfeeding hour a day (paid) for nine months after the birth of their child, even if their spouse is fully employed. Thanks to Pedro Manuel Roca Alvarez, who could not enjoy a breastfeeding leave because his wife was self-employed and brought his case to the European Court of Justice. The latter ruled that the Spanish law was causing unjust discrimination.

The  father rights chasm across the Atlantic seems to be widening. I can’t even start thinking of how to obtain ever father breastfeeding right in the U.S.. First, asking for a breastfeeding day for fathers would trigger the opposition of the Tea-party nuts, on the irrefutable grounds that “God did not give breasts to men, so why should lawmakers give men breastfeeding days?” Beside, breastfeeding days for men entail that women have them to. Instead, women in the U.S. have a pale three month – unpaid- parental leave, thanks to the 1993 Family Leave law.

Yet, the new Spanish law makes complete sense. Shared parenting after divorce has much better chances if there is  shared parenting before divorce. I bet that in Spain, they don’t have the best interest of the child “stuff”.

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Double Tent (Paul Klee)

In several US States, New York State included, divorced fathers have only obligations: to provide their children with child support fixed at a certain level of their income, regardless of the economic conditions and mum’s income. Seeing their children: optional; if mum wants.  In any case, there is nothing the State will do to protect the basic right of a parent – the father- to see his children.

US fathers rights vacuum looks yawing, even more so when one considers that father rights are making dramatic progress elsewhere. In Germany for instance, joint custody is the rule. New legislation is currently being drafted to extend joint-custody to unmarried fathers, who until now could only enjoy custodial rights if the mother agreed.

Progress in fathers rights are unfortunately still opposed with the sadly enduring argument of the “best interest” of the child stuff. In a recent article in the UK Telegraph, Tim Lott expresses his compassion for Louis de Bernières, a non-custodial dad who sees his kids on the weekend. Yet Lott dismisses joint-custody, on the ground that it is not practical: too messy for the kids, who might have to change home every week.

Truly, Lott’s argument does not fly very far. Chaos is not the necessary outcome of joint custody.  Quite the contrary, granting automatic joint-custody to fathers might make mothers more receptive to dad’s desire to see his kids and help parents find arrangements, while sole custody surely fosters mothers’ intransigence. The fact that in England roughly one-third of fathers don’t see their kids after divorce proves it. And finally, since when civil rights progress should be impeded for lack of practicality? On this count, women’s access to the labor market should have been denied for its possible consequences on the mother’s relationship with her children.

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A  healthy premise to avoid cascading violations of father rights is to protect these rights from the start, that is to  recognize fathers the right to equal parenting during divorce proceedings. It looks that it might happen in the state of Tennessee, where a law establishing joint custody is currently being examined. Right now, either you work an agreement with your ex wife or you get the typical pittance of 20 % (one every other weekend and half vacation time) of parenting time with your children.

On the side of the foes of the law, one finds some women’s groups firmly hanging on a few decades of discriminatory family laws  hinging on the proprietary concept of the mother-child bond. These groups have a curious understanding of human rights: these are not to be expanded to the human kind, but ought to be restricted to women’s  exclusive benefit.

Will a law of this kind ever be examined in sleepy New York State?

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