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Posts Tagged ‘Shared parenting’

I saw Gad Elmaleh’s show, “Oh My Gad” last night at Joe’s Pub. Elmaleh is  a very

gad-elmaleh-jpg_203462

Gad Elmaleh (www.madamesioux.fr)

successful stand-up Moroccan French comedian who decided to make it in New York. Why New York? Gad knows. As I was thinking of the show, one of its main themes came to me.  America has mostly good people but bad institutions, like health care policy,  justice and gun laws. In France, or in Morocco, where Elmaleh spent part of his childhood, people are perhaps not so good, but institutions are much better.

Let’s leave Gad Elmaleh and let me take it from there. In New York for instance, we have the ethicist and his column in the Sunday Times. Each week, a bunch of good people are asking Kwame Anthony Appiah what is the right thing to do, because they care about it. Like this woman for instance, who asks the ethicist if she should tell her boy about his biological father (her ex). She cannot stand having his son learn about his biological father by anybody but her. That’s a woman thing: she wants to control the narrative, totally. The ethicist goes right to the point: tell your son. Now.

The surprising thing is that somehow, all these good intentions have come to be lost in the process of designing institutions, justice for instance. As this group of fathers demonstrating in front of Toledo family court on May 28 to ask for the basic right of having a role in the life of their children shows, there is little ethics in the working of family courts. It is a custodial- mother- take- all game.

Also let say it again. We need to seriously improve our narrative. No, “we are not -all- deadbeats- dads.” The deadbeats dads are those who have been bled by unreasonable child support payments. We want family courts not to mess up with us being dads.

 

 

 

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Earlier today,reading about the O’Connors (Fathers 4 Justice)’s appearance last Friday in a civil case brought against them, I was getting

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

into a very gloomy mood. I like this organization; The fathers’ right movement owes much to it, and it’s sad to see it sliding into irrelevance.

Fortunately, some very good news made my day: the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) had his first conference in Bonn (Germany) in July of this year. The conference provided evidence that shared parenting was in the best interest of the child of divorced parents, and, that “national family laws should include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it.” The theme of the first conference was “Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice.”

This “bridging the gap”part shows real, commendable ambition.That’s also where the credibility of the International Council of Shared Parenting is to be tested. When you have the tragically decrepit New York State justice system (have you read Kalief Browder’s story in Jennifer Gonderman’s piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker?), and when the beacon of New York State’s political projects in the coming years is the new Tappan Zee bridge, you do not have exactly the most conducive environment to implement ambitious reforms of the judiciary. By the way, I have to make sure that French father’s right activists know about this famous crane which is used in the building of the new Tappan Zee bridge…

But I should not be that pessimistic after all. Shared parenting is debated in Maryland, by people who know about the work of the InternationaL Council of Shared Parenting.

 

 

 

 

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Readers of this blog are right. There is some good stuff in bill A 6457, sponsored by Assemblyman Brian M Kolb. The bill was introduced on

Louise

Louise

April 1 to the New York State Assembly. I am not exactly done reading the some thirty pages of the bill, but there are things I can live with, especially as far as parenting is concerned.

The bill is an amendment to the infamous-to-fathers New York State domestic relation laws. It aims at establishing the presumption of shared parenting.  I could not help but smile at the carefully crafted reasons for such a presumption one reads in the legislative findings and intents (Section 1 of the bill) : “Shared parenting, where both parents share as equally as possible in the legal responsibility, living experience, and physical care of the child has been found to be in the child’s best interest in […] certain circumstances.” It seems the sponsors have some (not bullet proof tough) evidence of the obvious. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the sponsors of the bill: they are asking their colleagues to reform female-biased New York State family laws without stating these laws are a dismal failure, for they would vex the susceptibilities of those who supported and keep support them. Tough job.

How is shared parenting to be established upon divorce in the bill? Parents are to agree on a “parenting plan” during mediation (p.3) which would resolve contentious issues such as transportation from one parent to the other. Both parents are to have “parenting time,” and not only mommy (who usually gets sole custody), with dad (the non-custodial parent) doomed to get “visitations.”

For these changes not to be only semantic, and fathers’ right to be a parent of their children  to be guaranteed by law, shared parenting has to be the rule, not an option hanging on the good will of the other party. That’s where there is a puzzling glitch: the amendment 240e to the domestic relation act states that if one party is seeking shared parenting and the other sole custody, “both parties shall bear the burden of the proof that their requested arrangement is in the best interest of the child.” That’s a weak side in the bill: for shared parenting to ever happen, it should be the only responsibility of the party who does not want it to contest it, and with serious reasons for doing so.  The bill might well talk about “immediate sanctions” for interfering and withholding “parenting time” (p.24), it should better prevent one parent from tampering with the other’s party’s “parenting time” right from the start.

I know what I am talking about: “my parenting time” is long gone, and ex is now tampering with any communication from me and my family with my girls. The law is always going to be several steps behind the malicious creativity of alienating parents.

If I may dare the comparison, bill  A 6457 sounds like Obamacare, (which fortunately so is now the law of the land ): it ain’t no public option, but is much better than what was before. Bill A 6457 is worth supporting and be made better.

To be continued…

 

 

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Every four years, I forget; in the US, people do not only elect a candidate for President, but also a family.  And every four year,  we  have to watch the self-righteous -yet apparently modest and restrained- display of familial intimacy of the candidates at both parties conventions.

In her speech last week, Ann Romney set new heights in this indecent exercise. She claimed “it was about love;” yet there was nothing cuddling in this display of love. She loves the guy who took her to the high school prom, alright.  The rest of us? She doesn’t know who we are.

First, the lady claimed she had a “real marriage.” Are there people who don’t? Would she mean, perhaps, that some – gays (?)- are not having ones? Second, she talks to and about people who have a role in a family, even a broken one – single dads, for instance (she mentioned them and these were perhaps the best two words of her speech). Singles, just singles, as Condoleezza Rice? It ‘s about families, stupid. Even the guy who brought her back from the dance said it. Raising kids was the most important thing. Ann did it. Why wasn’t he more involved with his five kids? We kind of understood that was a story of comparative advantage: she had the women thing with kids, he was more gifted making money for Bain, before putting himself to saving this country.

Back to Ann. “We don’t want easy,” she says.  She does not know anything but easy, and in any case, we, divorced fathers, want it right and legit. From 1993 to 2009, the share of women getting sole custody of the kids has increased: to 84% from 83%. In addition to their parenting rights going down the drain, divorced fathers had to cope with family courts busy to enforce laws designed to satisfy the desires of all the Ann Romneys that were not brought back from the dance: pay – no matter what, even if you loose your job. And if you can’t, just go to jail.

This brings us to the only guy one wanted to meet in this Republican convention, and perhaps the democratic one. The fellow Ted Cruz said the immigrants did not come to meet in America: “the well-meaning bureaucrat.  The guy who puts his arms around your shoulders and says: let me take care of you?” The fellow delivers goodies that are part of a just society in some other parts of the world: a justice that guarantees equal parenting rights; paid pregnancy leaves; public and free nursery schools and even, minimum income for single parents up to the kids reach a certain age.

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Photo: Fathers- 4- Justice

That’s happening in the UK;  The government is to attempt to change the law so that both parents – mothers and fathers- will have the right to see their children. Family Courts will have the responsibility to give to fathers time with their children. This is not joint custody, but a step in the right direction.

Matt O’ Connor, the President of Fathers 4 Justice (UK) , is not happy about it. From what I understand of the debate in the UK, the law is not going to prevent women to invoke child abuse to deny fathers access to their children.  Point taken.  Yet, from New York State  (and most of the States), where family courts have one motto – bleed the turnip  (the non-custodial father who does not see his children)-, a law like this would be significant progress.

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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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For several years, I have been considered by the Brearley School (New York City), where my girls are students, as a plagued-cla256cstricken fellow: My ex-wife had told the school that I was a child abuser, and when the trial that she initiated was over, she forgot to tell them that the court had refuted her accusation. The School did not try to know more and I was not allowed on its premisses. At the beginning of last year, I informed by phone the Head of the Middle School, Ms Elsbach, that the trial was over -and bogus- and that the order of protection against me had been lifted. From then on, things seemed to be moving finally in the right direction. First, a February 18 letter to me and my ex-wife acknowledges I am the father of my girls. Second, in the same letter Ms Elsbach and Ms Hull, Head of the School, express their understanding that both my ex-wife and I have the right to information concerning our daughters’ progress and that we will both be invited to events at the school. Folks, at this stage, I felt like Mandela at the first signs of collapse of the apartheid. What ex-wife and I needed to do is to provide the legal documents that clarify our situation. I then sent March 27 2008 Judge Sturm’s order, stating that “both parents are entitled to the children school… but not limited to report cards, parent-teacher conferences, information regarding extra-curricular activities” and Judge Sturm’s ruling ending the trial. In a subsequent phone conversation, Ms Elsbach confirmed that I will be invited to parent-teacher conferences – next year, the 2009’s has taken place already. Extra-curricular activities like a dance performance where my little one would be? My girl has to invite me. It’s not perfect, I am not exactly persona grata, but I have finally  a chance to have some involvement in the academic life of my girls. As many non-custodial fathers cut off from the lives of their children, I get satisfied with just a breach in the wall that separates me from them.

The breach would not stay open very long. Alienation is indeed a totalitarian project: for  the alienating parent, there is no possible presence of the targeted parent in the life of her children. On April 22, I receive a new letter from Ms Hull and Elsbach, reverting their previous decision : I will not be invited to the school.  Why?  Cheryl Solomon, my ex-wife’s lawyer, had sold them the grossest  illegal interpretation of Judge Sturm’s ruling. What is amazing is that the Brearley School swallowed them without blinking. Admire Solomon’s glorious shortcuts quoted in Brearley’s letter to me: …all contact between Mr. Lacour and the children must be supervised and in a therapeutic setting…Under no circumstances is he be alone with the children (I am supposed to be during parent-teacher conferences?). This would necessitate the following procedure: Mr Lacour should have no access to the school when the children may be present.  

Family court law is no constitutional law. Is there a Brearley alumnus – preferably but not necessarily a pre-law student- that would be kind enough to help  the Brearley School interpret Judge Sturm’s ruling for them?   

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Photo "Save the Children" Australia

Photo "Save the Children" Australia

Just read Caroline Overington’s article in the Australian and I can hardly believe it. Family Court Judge Benjamin (Melbourne,  Australia) granted custody of two children to their father. The mother originally had custody of the children after the couple divorced in 2005. The children were clearly harmed by the separation of their parents and were reported saying that they did not want to visit their father. Hold on folks: Judge Benjamin found that the mother did not discourage the children from expressing these statements and did not encourage them to see their father. Judge Benjamin’s ruling was based on the assessment that the girl was “estranged from her father” and was “at risk of psychological damage, if not psychiatric damage” if she was not allowed to have a relationship with her father. Judge Benjamin’s decision was made under new laws introduced by the Howard government that require the family court to adopt the presumption of “shared parenting” when dealing with children of divorce.

Roughly at the same time, in Manhattan, New York City: as evidence of alienation of my girls by my ex-wife was mounting, documented by both social workers and even by forensic evaluator, law-guardian Octobre and  judge Sturm did not even think of taking measures to keep the girls’ mother from discouraging them to see me. Psychological damage to my girls from continuous exposure to father’s demonizing? It has not even crossed Garline Octobre’s mind. Two weeks ago, as I was trying to find out what was happening with my motion to decrease child support, I met Garline Octobre in Manhattan family court. After civil greetings, I expressed to her my deep disappointment to Judge Sturm’s ruling about the child abuse trial: six more months of supervised visitation, which translate into six more month of a hopeless translation toward the resumption of a normal relationship between my girls and myself. Octobre’s answer: she agrees with me. My ex-wife is not helping. But what can she do ? My girls say they don’t want to see me. I have  a “practical” problem. Sorry, my problem is not practical. It lays with her total inability to understand parental alienation and do something about it.

I am an optimist. Nobody is hopeless, if  training is there. What law-guardians and family court judges in this country -or at least in Manhattan-  need, is a solid study trip to Australia to figure out what shared parenting laws are and how they work.

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