A tragic accident has taken the life of Danny Dimm. He's the father whose son Timber was abducted twice by his mother, Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm. When she and Danny split up, Bartell-Dimm was given primary custody, but Dimm became uneasy with her lack of care for the boy. Timber has been diagnosed with mild autism and, among other things, she was neglecting his dental health to the extent that, at age five, he had serious tooth and gum disease.
So Dimm tried to increase his parenting time, only to have Bartell-Dimm abduct the boy to Minnesota. She was apprehended within days, but the Canadian judge did nothing to punish her flagrantly illegal behavior.
Still, Dimm eventually managed to get greater parenting time with Timber and, just before he was to have the boy for three uninterrupted months, Bartell-Dimm kidnapped the child again. This time though, she was more effective at her crime. She disappeared completely for about two months earlier this summer. Eventually the two were found hiding in a South Dakota shelter for victims of domestic violence. She was arrested and this article
says she's still in jail (Winnipeg Free Press
, 10/4/11). Timber was returned to his father.
Over the years, Dimm was able to increase his parenting time from four weeks per year to sole custody and guardianship of his son.
Now, not two months after he was reunited with Timber, Danny Dimm is dead, killed on the job in a logging accident this past Monday.
Dimm's sister Jewel-Ann Juriansz said it's too soon to tell what will happen to Timber.
"I wasn't privy to all of Danny's workings, you see, in this matter. I have to sit down with people and figure out where things are," she said.
She said her brother not only went through a custody battle -- fighting for the rights of single dads -- but also sought funding to help care for his son's autism, and that issue still needs to be sorted out.
"We obviously need funding and funding for care," she said, adding that she lives in Toronto.
Lawyer Theresa Gerlach, who helped Dimm regain custody of his son, said Dimm wanted to do the right thing for Timber.
"He was always focused on what was best for his son. He wanted his child safe, he wanted to give his child a normal upbringing," she said.
I received an email from Dimm's Canadian lawyer expressing concern for Timber's future welfare. He called the custody battle for Timber "parental alienation at its worst and the increased recognition of fathers' rights at its best." He currently represents Dimm's sister, Jewel-Ann Juriansz.
As things stand now, a custody battle looms between Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm and whoever else can assert a claim to custody of the boy. Juriansz appears likely to try.
As I said, Bartell-Dimm is in jail. How long she'll remain there isn't yet known. Likewise, no one yet knows whether she'll be sentenced to prison time for her abduction of her son. My guess is she won't be. I think I can hear her attorney's argument now: "Judge, you can't put this nice mother in prison; she's the only parent this little boy has."
Prior to her second abduction of Timber, a judge voiced concern about her emotional/psychological stability, so that should militate against her getting the boy back.
We'll see what develops.
Second, there's this video
of an oral argument to the Ohio Supreme Court. It's far from current, having taken place in June of 2005. But it's altogether current in the way it depicts the mindset of those charged with collecting child support.
The case pits the Cuyahoga County Support Enforcement Agency against Gregory Lovelady, and it's a classic of "I don't care what the facts are, just show me the money" justice.
It seems that, at the time, the State of Ohio had a statute allowing a man who was paying child support to present evidence to a court at any time showing that he's not the father of the child. As a practical matter, that meant that he could bring results of DNA testing to a court and get an order absolving him of having to pay further amounts for a child proven to have been fathered by another man.
Now most of us would say that's only fair. After all, people should support the children they actually bring into the world. That's just taking responsibility for one's own actions. But requiring a man to support a child who's not his is doubly wrong; it forces him to take responsibility for something he didn't do while absolving another man of responsibility for what he did do.
But the attorney for the C.S.E.A. wasn't having it. He was desperately trying to convince a skeptical court that the statute allowing men to prove the truth about paternity violated the Ohio Constitution.
In the case before the court, Gregory Lovelady had been tagged with support of a child by Willa Lloyd. Interestingly, he'd never showed up in court to contest the matter originally, so apparently a default judgment had been taken against him. (Had he gotten notice of the matter? Often, child enforcement agencies play fast and loose with notice requirements, take default judgments and then enforce them against men who aren't the dad.)
Seven years later, Lovelady had a $46,000 judgment taken against him for back support of a "child" who was then 20 years old. He eventually appeared in court with results of genetic testing proving conclusively that he wasn't the father.
So what did the C.S.E.A. do? Did it go to the mother and demand that she tell the truth about the child's paternity? No, that would have been reasonable and fair to all concerned, and that, as we know, isn't their style. Instead, C.S.E.A. litigated the constitutionality of the statute allowing Lovelady to prove his non-paternity. To them, it's all about the money, and once they've got one man in their sights, it's easier to bring him down than to re-aim at someone else.
During the oral argument, one justice asked the lawyer for C.S.E.A. whether he thought Lovelady should pay the $46,000 regardless of the fact that he's not the father to which the answer was "Yes." And that about sums up the attitude of child support enforcement authorities. We don't care who you are, just pay.
I've often thought that a far more effective, easier and less time-consuming way of establishing paternity would be to just do it at random. Maybe an official of the agency could go out on the street corner at noon and arbitrarily choose men to pay child support. After all, since who's actually the dad doesn't make any difference, why not cut to the chase? Why not save everyone time and money and abandon the pretense that we care who actually fathered a child?
The judges weren't buying what the C.S.E.A. lawyer was peddling. They overruled his argument, but it's interesting to notice what never came up. Neither the lawyer nor any of the justices ever recalled that, where there's a child, there's a father. In this case, it didn't happen to be Lovelady, but biology tells us that it was someone. And none of the judges ever asked why C.S.E.A. didn't just leave Lovelady alone and go find the actual dad. I found that a strange oversight.
Thanks to Tony for the heads-up on the Lovelady case.