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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

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A Virginia grandmother was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday for the murder of her granddaughter.  Read about it here (Delmar Now, 10/9/11).  The circumstances and press coverage surrounding the toddler's tragic death speak volumes about assumptions that are common regarding men, women and their children. It all happened last November 29th.  Carmela dela Rosa is the mother of Kat Ogdoc.  Kat and James Ogdoc were girlfriend and boyfriend when she became pregnant four years ago.  They married shortly before their daughter, Angelyn was born, and remain so today. Dela Rosa, who's now 51, suffered from bouts of depression, and her relationship with her granddaughter is disputed, with some people calling her loving, but her own daughter Kat saying she had little to do with the baby and was cool and stand-offish. On November 29th of last year, Kat, dela Rosa and members of dela Rosa's extended family went to Tyson's Corner Center, Virginia's largest mall.  There, security cameras recorded the family having dinner and two of the children riding a recreational train.  As the family was leaving, dela Rosa, holding Angelyn, was seen to lag behind and, in an instant, throw the child off a 45-foot high pedestrian walkway.  Angelyn died at the hospital 12 hours later. At the trial for first-degree murder, dela Rosa claimed insanity, but her defense was rejected by the jury.  The prosecution's testifying psychiatrist said she had borderline personality disorder that was treatable but that dela Rosa refused treatment. Whatever her state of mind, though, dela Rosa's own reason for murdering her granddaughter was that she was angry at James Ogdoc.
Dela Rosa was upset that her son-in-law had gotten her daughter pregnant out of wedlock, prosecutors said.
He apparently added to dela Rosa's ire by calling his wife on her cell phone while he was at work and they were at the mall. And it's here that the first of our cultural assumptions comes into play.  Note the article's phrasing - "had gotten her daughter pregnant."  Here's how McLeanPatch says it:
Dela Rosa told police she had resented her son-in-law for years because he impregnated her teenage daughter, preventing her from meeting new people and exploring the world.
"He impregnated her." Note that in both cases, the woman is passive.  She has nothing to do with getting pregnant; the man did it to her.  She's the passive victim and he's the active perpetrator.  There's no concept that when two people have sex, well, two people have sex. Never mind reality.  Never mind the fact that women in this society have an astonishing array of contraceptive options available to them.  Never mind that Kat Ogdoc could have utilized any of them she chose.  And never mind that, in all likelihood, both James and Kat knew they were risking pregnancy by having sex without contraception. No, according to the popular narrative, relied on not only by dela Rosa, but apparently accepted by both publications referred to, pregnancy is something men do to women without their agreement or apparently their participation.  It's a concept straight out of the 1950s. And it turns out that way of seeing sex between men and women can have real consequences - like a dead two-year-old.  After all, dela Rosa was angry with James - not Kat, not Kat and James.  She was reading from a very familiar cultural script that holds the man solely responsible when an teenage girl becomes pregnant.  So to punish him for what that script calls his wrongful act, dela Rosa killed his child.  Surely, if she's seen both James and Kat as responsible for her pregnancy, dela Rosa wouldn't have been moved to see them punished. Second, once again we're confronted with the voiceless man.  James Ogdoc is alive and as well as a father can be whose two-year-old daughter was murdered 10 months ago.  He and Kat are still married, but you'd barely know he exists from the linked-to article.  We hear of Kat's understandable anguish and despair at the death of her child.  We hear nothing from or about James. That too helps us to do what dela Rosa did - view him as the wrongdoer, the one who got her daughter pregnant.  The less human he is, the easier it is to condemn him.  The more human she is, the easier it is to sympathize with her and the harder it is to hold her equally responsible.  The absence of any word from James allows readers to make assumptions about him and for our cultural mythology about men, women and sex to control how we interpret events. Then there's the seemingly universal proscription on calling such acts by their proper names - child abuse and domestic violence.  Dela Rosa's murder of Angelyn is both, by any definition of the terms, but no article I've read says so.  In so doing, they once again abet a cultural narrative that doggedly strives to convince us that it's men and only men who harm children.  Again, never mind the fact that women, particularly mothers, do far more child abuse than do men and that they commit the same amount of domestic violence. The unsurprising result is that fathers have real difficulty getting custody in family courts and are easily tagged as abusers irrespective of the evidence. Dela Rosa was sentenced to 35 years in prison for first-degree murder.  But she's 51 and Virginia law says that when a prisoner turns 60 and has completed 10 years of his/her sentence, he/she can apply for conditional parole.  So in 10 years, dela Rosa will be 61.  That means she'll be trying to get out in 2021.  My guess is she'll succeed. Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.

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The number of parental abductions of children to Mexico continues to increase.  Here's a good article on the subject (KPBS, 10/5/11). It follows two American fathers whose former partners abducted their children to Mexico and the high expectations and crushing disappointments they continue to face.
At 9 a.m. on a recent Friday, Brian Duzet crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana by foot. Blonde, with blue eyes, Duzet wears baggy jeans and flip-flops, even on a chilly Fall day. But he wasn't in Tijuana for fun, like many other Americans who come on foot. He had come to see his daughter, Sam.
Three years ago, Duzet and his Mexican girlfriend split up, with shared custody of Sam. But one morning, she picked the little girl up and disappeared. Hours passed. Duzet began to worry. He left multiple messages on his ex-girlfriend"s cell phone. By the next morning, he suspected the worst: Sam had been taken to Mexico, without her father's permission. She was abducted.
Duzet may count himself luckier than most.  That's because he actually got assistance from the U.S. State Department, the FBI and Mexican police.  But all they did was find his ex and his daughter.  They're right there in Tijuana, a stone's throw from the U.S. border, and there's not a thing anyone can do to regain custody for Duzet.  He sees his daughter once a week as per court order, for a "meeting." He's spent $100,000 in legal and travel expenses, and appears no closer to getting his daughter back than he ever was.  Every word about him suggests that the status quo won't be changed any time soon, if ever.  Duzet sounds resigned.
"Someday I"m going to have to explain this all to her," said Duzet, standing outside his ex-girlfriend's Tijuana home, preparing himself to go in for his weekly court-mandated meeting with Sam.
"I don"t think now is appropriate. My daughter is smart enough to know there is something wrong," the father said. "Sometimes kids act more adult than adults do.'
His resignation is probably appropriate.  Mexico has the worst record of compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of any signatory nation.  That's mostly because Mexican law places mothers above fathers in custody matters.  For example in Mexico, mothers automatically get sole custody of any child under the age of seven.  That extreme anti-father bias extends to non-Mexican fathers in abduction cases, as dads like Brian Duzet can tell us. Now, the article says that the U.S. is getting more cooperation out of Mexican authorities of late, which may be true.  But it's not Mexican diplomats that matter in cases of abduction, it's the courts.  They're the ones that either enforce the terms of the Hague Convention or don't and, the rule seems to be that they don't.  After all, the Convention calls for return of abducted children within 60 days.  I've never heard of a single case in which Mexican courts did that.  In fact, I've never heard of a case in which they got close. Indeed, the only prompt return of an abducted child from Mexico occurred in a case in which the Hague Convention was completely ignored.  That happened just a matter of months ago and it involved the abduction of a grandchild of a U.S. Congressman.  And that's no accident.  In that case, the child was abducted, found and returned to its father (the Congressman's son) in a matter of days.  The abducting mother was arrested and extradited to the U.S. just as quickly.  Funny how that works when a Congressman's involved.  No Convention procedures were followed. But most people are like Brian Duzet and Trevor Richardson.  The authorities don't jump when they say "jump."  They have to go through legal channels which more and more means they likely won't see their children until they're grown up.  Many people have complained about the dysfunction of the U.S. State Department that's charged with standing up for the rights of American parents who have been "left behind."
Trevor Richardson, another San Diego "left-behind parent," said he has reached out to the Mexican Consulate, the state department, and the FBI to no avail. His son was abducted four years ago, and he remembered thinking he would be able to get him back in a matter of months.
"I also remember thinking to myself that somehow I would be protected," Richardson said. "Protected by our laws, and our courts, and our law enforcement, our government, the FBI.'
..."We have the laws right now, they are there, they just need to be enforced," said Richardson, holding on to a photo of Andrew, his son. "Maybe when it comes to dealing with immigration policy with Mexico, child abductions kind of fall through the cracks a little bit, because there is bigger fish to fry."
Richardson said he holds on to hope. But he cannot help but feel that in relation to other bi-national issues, his son"s abduction is at the bottom of a very long list.
That's been the common complaint among all left behind parents - the U.S. State Department is far more interested in commercial relations with Mexico than anything else.  And it's not about to let a few annoying fathers disturb a good thing.  With a Hague Convention that's all but useless in Mexican courts, it's no surprise that abductions to that country are on the rise, from 300 a year just three years ago, to 500 last year.  Increasingly, Mexico seems to be seen by abducting parents to be a safe haven for themselves and their wrongdoing.  Who would argue? What's also not surprising is that a small cottage industry in "reverse abductions" has grown up, albeit beneath the radar of law enforcement.  The simple fact is that there are people who are ready, willing and able to travel to Mexico and snatch an abducted child and bring him/her back to the United States and the left behind parent. It's not legal, but what's anyone going to do, force the return of an abducted child to its abducting parent?  Not likely. Actually, theres' another culprit in all this - the Hague Convention itself.  I'll blog about that in my next piece. Thanks to Marcy for the heads-up.

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The problem of parental child abductions is exacerbated by a number of factors.  Ironically, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seems to be one of them, as this article shows (Sydney Morning Herald, 10/11/11). I've detailed some of the other factors that militate against "left-behind" parents.  Chiefly, the Convention's signatory nations often seem to ignore its terms.  One of those is that children are to be returned within 60 days of being found in the country to which they've been taken.  But time and again, we see countries like Mexico and Brazil behave as if (a) there were no such provision in the treaty or (b) the treaty doesn't exist. So people like Sean Goldman spend years of their lives fighting long distance with a foreign government trying to get it to abide by the clear terms of a convention it signed. Then there's the generally useless nature of the U.S. State Department to which Americans are supposed to turn for assistance in that fight.  But those who try to get some of that assistance are in for a shock.  As many people have told journalists and some have testified under oath to Congress, the U.S. State Department acts like it has bigger fish to fry.  As one father wistfully said about his child's abduction to Mexico,
"I also remember thinking to myself that somehow I would be protected," Richardson said. "Protected by our laws, and our courts, and our law enforcement, our government, the FBI.'
Now he knows better. But the linked to article lets us know that the Hague Convention, in addition to everything else, is itself part of the reason for the failure of courts to return children to their left-behind parents.  And of course, what that means is that the Convention, at least as some courts interpret it, is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  In some cases, it makes abduction easier and more likely than it otherwise would be.  In the case described in the article, an Australian man and a British woman were married and had two children, now aged eight and two.  They lived in Sydney, but the mother pronounced herself "homesick" and wanted to move back to England for a year.  Her grandmother had willed her a small house in the north of England, and so the four packed up for the U.K. for a year. At the end of the year, the father kept to their plan and returned to Australia, but the mother and kids stayed behind.  She convinced him that she would be coming along shortly, but courts later ruled that to be a lie.
[T]he mother had "lulled the father into a false belief" that she and the children, who cannot be identified, would return.
Her "continuing deceit" included sending her partner, whom she met in Sydney but never married, "a Valentine card in loving terms and equally affectionate birthday card", said Lord Justice Ward.
When the dad figured out what was going on, he filed suit in England to get his children back and the trial judge so ordered.
The father launched a legal action under the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which provides a procedure for the return of children involved in custody disputes across international boundaries.
Last July, Family Division judge Mrs Justice Hogg ruled in favour of the father and ordered the children's return.
Not so fast said the appellate court last Monday.  Mom gets to keep the children despite the clear meaning of the Hague Convention.  Despite, or because of ? The Convention has a concept of the child's "habitual place of residence."  That means that wherever the child has usually lived is the place he/she must stay.  It's a vital concept for figuring out if a child has actually been abducted or not.  After all, if two parents live in the United States, move for a year to, say, England, and then return to the U.S., one parent shouldn't be able to go to England and claim the other parent has abducted the child.  The child's habitual place of residence is the U.S. It's a simple, reasonable concept that the British appellate court managed to stand on its head.
But on Monday Lord Justice Ward said the judge had gone wrong on the key issue in the case: whether the children were "habitually resident" in Australia at the time the homesick mother decided to keep them in England.
He ruled their stay in the UK had become permanent enough to establish they were habitually resident here, even though they would have been bound to say "our real home is in Australia".
So never mind that the stay was always supposed to have been temporary.  Never mind that the kids see that their "real home is in Australia."  Never mind that one child is eight years old and had spent at most one year in England when Mom decided to stay there.  And never mind that the whole thing was brought about by fraud on the part of the mother that the court readily acknowledged. No, Mom gets to keep the kids because the judges allowed a part of the Convention meant to establish the children's home country to be used to thwart the purpose of the Convention.  Put another way, the decision is an open invitation to abducting parents.  It says loudly and clearly, "Go ahead, abduct your kids and if you can just do it for a long enough time, you're home free."  And indeed, the time needn't be long at all.
The judge said case law stated that residence could be "of long or short duration", provided it was adopted "for settled purposes as part of the regular order of life for the time being".
That's not exactly a high hurdle to clear.  An abducting parent could live in one place "for settled purposes as part of the regular order of life for the time being" for almost any period of time and, according to this court's ruling entirely defeat the very purposes of the Convention.  Those are the prevention of child abduction and the return of those children who have been abducted. It's hard to see how, given that standard, an abducting parent could fail to establish habitual residence wherever he/she might come to rest for however short a time. It's also hard to see the court ruling the same way if the abducting parent were the children's father.  I can't imagine that such a campaign of lies and deceit by a father, waged for the sole purpose of wresting custody of the children from their mother, would be met with such judicial equanimity.
Sitting with Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Sullivan, the appeal judge described the case as "sad but not untypical".
That's a pretty accurate description and condemnation of Hague Convention proceedings generally.

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The battle for fathers' and mothers' equality in family courts is partly about changing laws.  Many laws overtly discriminate against fathers.  Those include adoption laws and paternity fraud laws.  Other laws are overtly gender neutral, but their application is misandric.  There's no custody law in the country that apparently treats mothers and fathers differently, but it's no secret that fathers get the short end of the custody stick. That strongly suggests that there's something more than law that needs to be changed before fathers and mothers will truly be equal in child custody matters.  That 'something more' is our cultural view of men and women, boys and girls.  I've commented many times that our cultural tendency to see women as innocent and passive, and men as corrupt and active is not only sexist, but factually wrong. But, as in so many areas, cultural mythology of long standing is slow to fall in the face of contradictory facts.  We humans have a way of accepting a narrative as true and then turning a blind eye to facts that contradict the narrative.  Hence the battle between science and mythology that's been a fixture of human history since the beginning of the written word.  That battle is alive and well in the family courts of this and many other countries.  One of the reasons fathers lose so often in family courts is the mythology that dominates our understanding of men and women, boys and girls.  Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice; so, it seems are mothers in custody battles.  But, like waves against a rocky shoreline, the blows of science gradually erode the edifice of the misandric cultural narrative that pretends that women, particularly mothers, don't harm children and that only men, particularly fathers, do.  Until that science achieves some sort of critical mass, the behavior of our all-too-human family court judges is unlikely to change. So we welcome every bit of science that gives us the truth about male and female behavior.  We welcome as well, those journalists and commentators who are brave enough to speak that truth to the entrenched interests who would continue the radically sexist status quo. Barbara Kay is one such journalist and here's her latest (National Post, 10/12/11).  Kay's specific topic is the science on the sexual abuse of children.  Many of her revelations are eye-popping.
Most rapists were subjected to some form of sexual abuse in childhood. A startling amount is perpetrated by females. Peer-reviewed studies conclude that between 60% to 80% of "rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men" were sexually abused by a female.
And yet it is commonly understood that, except in rare cases, women don't harbour such impulses. As McGill professor of social work Myriam Denov, who did her PhD thesis on female sex offenders, notes, as recently as 1984, a study proclaimed that "pedophilia does not exist at all in women."
It exists in spades. According to a 2004 U.S. Department of Education mass study of university students, 57% of students reporting child sexual abuse cited a male offender, and 42% reported a female offender. Interestingly, 65% of the survivors of female abuse who opened up to a therapist, doctor or other professional were not believed on their first disclosure. Overall, 86% of those who tried to tell anyone at all about their experiences were not believed.
According to a 1996 report from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), about 25% of child sexual abuse is committed by women, but that figure may be low, because survivors are far more conflicted and shamed in admitting abuse by their mothers than by fathers. In one study of 17,337 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, 23% reported a female-only perpetrator and 22% reported both male and female. A U.S. Department of Justice report finds that, in 2008, 95% of all youths reporting sexual misconduct by staff member in state juvenile facilities said their victimization experiences included victimization by female personnel, who made up 42% of the staff.
Public acknowledgement of female sex abuse remains a social taboo. BBC Radio 4 broadcast a film called When Girls Do It, following which a TV show, This Morning, opened its lines to survivors of female sex abuse. The studio was overwhelmed by over 1,000 calls, 90% women, none of whom had ever before disclosed their secrets.
Dr. Paul Fedoroff, a forensic psychiatrist and co-director of the Sexual Behaviors Clinic at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, says that "there are a lot of women who do sexually abuse children, but they get away with it."
I would add that the same DOJ study of juvenile correctional facilities in the U.S. found that female inmates (11.2%) were four times as likely to report sexual abuse by another inmate as were male inmates (2.7%). Her points are several, but most importantly Kay highlights not only the facts of female sexual aggression against children, but our resistance to acknowledging it.  Like men and boys, the vast majority of women and girls don't sexually abuse children.  But, women and girls make up an astonishingly high percentage of people who do. And as Kay points out, because we consign children to the care of women and girls far more than we do to men or boys, we're essentially giving those who do abuse, easy access to their victims.  We also give them a curtain to hide their abuse.  That curtain is our own mythology, carefully perpetuated by pop culture and the news media, that "pedophilia does not exist at all in women." Clearly, that's an anti-male bias that rears its ugly head in family courts as well as elsewhere.  Mere allegations of child sexual abuse made against a father are sufficient to sideline him as a parent for months at the very least, while investigations are done.  Not surprisingly, when sexually abused children grow up, they tend towards sexual aggression themselves.  And while sexually abused boys may grow into men who sexually abuse women, sexually abused girls seem to continue abusing children. Obviously, there's no reason for that to stop as long as we refuse to acknowledge the problem.
Even mental-health professionals and social service agencies avoid facing up to the phenomenon. I spoke at length with an adult survivor of a mother's sadistic sex abuse. "Nina," not her real name, told me that although she has attempted many times to deal with her past therapeutically, "I have never found any social service agency willing to acknowledge this or speak about it."
Victorian chivalry and 21st-century feminism would seem to make strange bedfellows, but in their equally unrealistic characterization of women as the always "gentler sex," they condemn both male and female victims of female-perpetrated abuse to silence and second-class social status.
To err is human. Are women fully human? Then stop treating them like saints or permanent moral infants.
Until we do, children will continue to lose their fathers to divorce in a process ballyhooed far and wide as being in "the best interests of the child." Thanks to Paulette for the heads-up.

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Fathers and Families advocates for reform of our family courts.  Among other things, that means increasing fathers' parental time after divorce or separation.  Ideally, it means equal parenting, where that can work. As with anything that seeks to increase the power of fathers in family courts, any effort toward equalizing parenting time is routinely met with kneejerk resistance.  The usual claim is that fathers are abusive and therefore any effort to increase fathers' parenting time inevitably results in greater child abuse.  The anti-father crowd relies on that claim despite the fact that mothers commit twice the child abuse and neglect that fathers do, according to the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But those opposed to children spending time with their dads make other claims too.  Their big gun is the claim of child abuse, but they've got other weapons, one of which is that equal parenting isn't workable and leads to instability for the children who inevitably suffer. Now, there is a great deal of social science that contradicts all of those claims.  In fact, joint parenting tends to ameliorate conflict in the parental relationship and produces better outcomes for children.  It's also overwhelmingly preferred by the children themselves who don't want to lose their relationship with their father, the anti-dad crowd's anguish notwithstanding. Still, studies are only studies; they lack the "real world" immediacy of the personal stories of those who've experienced whatever is being studied, in this case, joint parenting.  So it's nice to read a personal story like this one (The Good Men Project, 10/12/11). Entitled "Why I'm Grateful for Joint Custody," it tells the story of its author, Emily Heist Moss.  She and her brother were children of parents who split up when they were young.  They lived in Massachusetts, so her mother could easily have gotten the usual parenting order of 12 days with Mom and two with Dad.  But Mom and Dad agreed on their own schedule, splitting each week equally - 3 1/2 days with one parent, 3 1/2 days with the other. Now to me, that sounds far too hectic.  Why not a week with one and a week with the other?  I can't guess, and Moss makes it clear that it wasn't easy.
[M]y younger brother and I migrated like clockwork between their homes every three and a half days. It was logistically exhausting--which house are my cleats at?  Where"s my science textbook?
...The arrangement my parents made was not perfect. It was hard on everyone. My brother and I carried the burden of frequent travel, constantly carting duffle bags of crap back and forth, but my parents didn"t have it easy either. I don"t know what professional sacrifices they made to stay close to each other for our benefit, or the gerrymandering they did to make the most of their schedules.
But the technical difficulties of equal parenting were more than made up for by its benefits.
I wouldn"t have had it any other way. This essay is a thank you note to my parents, an attempt to express my gratitude that they made that unusual decision fifteen years ago. The arrangement they created established stability, maintained our routine, and most importantly, preserved our relationships with both parents.
Moss makes the point so many people seem to ignore - kids are adaptable.  Give them a schedule and they'll adapt to it.  Moss and her brother had a taxing schedule from the time she was nine and he was five.  But because it was regular, they adapted and it worked out just fine.  That's mainly because it preserved their relationships with both parents.  Neither child lost dad. With the benefit of her experience, Moss says a lot that I've tried to say countless times.  Most importantly, about half her friends were kids of divorced parents, and essentially all of them had the typical parenting arrangement - 12 days with Mom, two weekend days with Dad.  Moss saw the results.
Although we were one of the first families I knew to go through a divorce, we weren"t the last. By middle school, about a third of my friends" families had followed suit. By the time I left for college, any group of peers was inevitably half and half. Most of those kids ended up following the every-other-weekend model, living with mom and visiting dad twice a month. The kids stayed with their moms twelve days out of every fourteen, and on the last two they disappeared for 48 hours into the twilight zone of "dad time'. Mom"s house was "real life,' and dad"s house was that condo where they went to hang out every once in a while.
I can"t speak to the reasoning behind those specific custody arrangements. I can only say how grateful I am that my parents took a different approach.  The every-other-weekend model means that dads miss out on the bread and butter of parenting. They miss the opportunity to quiz their kids on the periodic table, to pack lunches, to argue about wardrobe choices. By the time the kids show up for their weekend, so much time has elapsed that when dad says, "What"s new?' kids say "Nothing,' when the real answer is, "Everything'. They feel light years past the tough midterm they took the week before, and the fresh pain of a missed field goal is old news.
The every-other-weekend model makes dad"s house a vacation destination. Since time is so limited, dad wants to make it special with trips to the zoo, extra desserts, and extended curfews. It"s understandable, but treating that weekend as separate and different from daily life only serves to push "dad"s weekend' further away from the ins and outs of everyday parenting. There"s so much pressure on that weekend that kids have to curb their social lives to accommodate time with dad. Nothing fuels adolescent resentment faster than telling them they can"t do that thing that everybody else is doing. They"re not going to invite friends over either, since that would infringe on sacred together time, so dad never gets to meet the friends.
It's all there, plus some.  Under the typical court-ordered arrangement, Mom becomes the "real" parent while Dad becomes a placeholder, time with him becomes the "twilight zone."  Because he doesn't see his kids for two weeks, and then only for a short time, he wants to make the time special, so he becomes what sociologist Susan Stewart calls a "Disneyland Dad," more of an entertainer than a parent.  The important parenting decisions are for Mom.  She gets the important confidences. Then Moss adds something I'd never thought of; the obligation to be with Dad interferes with the child's social life, breeding "adolescent resentment."  If the kids were with Mom, they could go to the movie, the party or just hang out with their friends.  But no, it's Dad's weekend, and he understandably wants the kids to himself.  After all, he only sees them 14% of the time.  So being with Dad gets equated in the kids' minds with missing out.  That's hardly a ringing endorsement of the usual custody order. Moss understands that her situation isn't always feasible.  Her parents made special efforts to make it happen.  They lived close to each other and perhaps made professional sacrifices so neither of them was lost to their kids.  Plus, inevitably, they worked as a team to make sure their kids were put first.  Needless to say, not all parents do that. But Moss' essay puts the exclamation point on all the social science on shared parenting.  Where it can work, it's best for kids, and the kids - if not the courts - know it.

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There's so much wrong with family courts, that it's easy to dwell on the problems parents and children face when they deal with divorce, custody and the aftermath.  Face it, there's a horror show every day, usually more. So it's good to read a piece like this (Marin Independent Journal, 10/11/11).  It's a deeply moving portrait of a family that blew itself to pieces early, but, for the sake of the child, ultimately made it work.  It is, in other words, a description of how divorce and custody can - should - work.  Like so many such stories, it's based on a single simple concept - that a family is not destroyed by divorce.  The relationships remain regardless of the legal definitions, regardless of the living arrangements.  Dad and Mom may no longer be husband and wife, but they're still the parents and the child is still theirs to protect, care for, nurture and shepherd to adulthood. And that's what author Katie Wigington means when she titles her piece  "The Day She Became a Single Parent."  My guess is that most people who read that title immediately conclude that Wigington either had a child out of wedlock, or got divorced and therefore became a single parent.  In the usual sense of the term, they'd be right; Wigington split up with her son's dad when she was only three months pregnant.  But she didn't become a single mother then, even though she thought of herself that way.
My son's dad and I split up when I was three months pregnant, so I always called myself a single mom or single parent. After a contentious custody battle; ending with shared custody, our relationship mellowed and our goal was to be Team Nick; to make sure our son was happy, healthy and above all else, safe.
And throughout Nick's growing up, they shared custody of him and worked together - literally - to give him the best and the most of each of them.
We worked the Little League candy shack together, and attended all football games, school events and numerous holidays as a family. He fixed my car and my plumbing, and took my dogs for walks; once we took a class on genetics and studied together nightly for weeks.
Once Nick was out of the nest, he joined the Marine Corps and did a tour of duty in Iraq.  During all that time the two joined in concern for their son's welfare.  When he returned stateside, they both went to see him.  They continued to communicate with and about him.  They travelled across the country together twice, ferrying each other's belongings, pets, etc.
My son's dad died unexpectedly this January. He was 53 years old. I realize now I was never a single parent. He and I had a strange but enduring relationship. I miss him more than I ever imagined, but more than anything, I miss having a partner in worry. The key element of our relationship was probably having someone to share the fear and constant concern, without having to explain why.
I was not a single parent all those years while Nick was growing up. Now, there isn't much parenting to do for a 26-year-old. I worry by myself, or call my sisters, or even Nick's uncle. It's just not the same though. Now, I'm a single parent.
I love her perspective on her life as a mother without her son's father beside her, but with her all the same.  It's undeniable that Wigington and her ex weren't like many divorced couples.  Few former spouses stay as close as they did or share as intimately their children's growing up.  But her understanding of her situation has deep and powerful resonance for all divorced or separated couples.  Its wisdom is that the family remains.  It remains because the father will always be the father of the child just as the mother will always be its mother.  And the child will always be the son or daughter of the parents.  Those things don't change just because Mom and Dad no longer share a residence.  They don't change, that is, until one of the three passes from this life as Wigington's partner did.  As she says, then and only then did she become a single parent. Family dissolution.  That's what family courts say they're doing.  They're not.  What they're doing is family rearrangement.  Maybe if more judges understood that simple concept - the one Katie Wigington so clearly gets - they'd see their job differently and all of us, fathers, mothers and children would be the better for it.

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Things have gotten so bad at Arizona Child Protective Services that the governor has vowed change.  But if this article (Arizona Republic, 10/14/11) or this article (Arizona Central, 10/15/11) is any indication, the results won't be good.  The complaints about Arizona CPS have been coming fast and furiously for some time, and every time someone from inside the child welfare bureaucracy responds, they come off like, well,  classic bureaucrats.  "It's not my fault; I'm the victim here," is the refrain in two articles I've reported on that quoted senior CPS bureaucrats at length. In the meantime, children are being abused and some are dying because of the dysfunction in the state's CPS system.  So it must be good that Governor Jan Brewer has announced her intention to appoint a task force to do a top-to-bottom review of CPS and

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Those who argue for greater powers for child protection agencies to take children from parents should watch this video. The last piece I posted quoted Arizona columnist Laurie Roberts urging CPS there to remove more children from parents in the misguided belief that doing so would help children.  It's true that, in the instances she cited from the past 19 years, it probably would have helped, but she's not pretending that CPS can always know which child will be injured or killed and which one won't be.  So of necessity, Roberts' argument is for more children to be taken from their parents. We don't need to imagine what this enormous expansion of CPS's power to break up families might look like.  We need only watch the linked-to video and see what's happening in the Province of Ontario and its Children's Aid Society. The video is an hour and fifteen minutes long.  It consists almost entirely of bits of interviews with various people.  It's an impressionistic approach and includes no pro-CAS voices.  So the video isn't a scientific inquiry into the behavior of Ontario CAS.  It's a litany of the experiences of the people interviewed. But the variety of interviewees gives the piece definite heft.  It's not just a series of horror stories by parents who claim CAS violated their rights, although there are some of those.  The people interviewed are also lawyers who've opposed CAS and those who've represented CAS in court.  There are doctors and mental health professionals, many of whom used to work for CAS.  There are social workers formerly with CAS and, most tellingly, there are adults who, as children, were taken from their parents and placed in foster care. Like any good work of Impressionism, each individual part of the whole is insignificant, almost meaningless, but step back and the whole picture comes into focus.  Unlike many works of Impressionism however, there's nothing beautiful about the picture of CAS drawn by this video. It's a picture we've seen before.  It's a picture of an agency with very nearly unbridled power.  Indeed, the title of the piece is "Powerful As God," which you might think is a little over the top until, late in the film, you realize that it's a direct quotation from a CAS case worker informing a desperate parent just what she was up against. It's all there and then some.  There are the parents blinded by rage at their children being taken from them for no legitimate reason.  There's the IT Engineer who's son was taken from him and his wife because  their housecleaner reported an unclean house to CAS.  And there's the grandmother who tapped a teacher on the shoulder at school, was charged with assault and had her grandkids, of whom she had custody, taken from her.  There's the mom who says "I did nothing wrong."  There's the mother who admits to cocaine use, but, after being clean for five years still couldn't convince CAS to give her child back. It's no accident that CAS overreaches so dramatically.  Money fuels the process.  CAS is paid according to how many children it takes "into care," i.e. from parents.  Clearly enough, that establishes an incentive to do just that.  After all, faced with leaving a child with its parents and losing money, or taking a child and making it, the choice isn't difficult.  And caseworkers are acutely aware that jobs depend on budgets, so when budgets depend on taking children from parents, well, you can guess what happens. The subject of case workers is fraught with conflicting aims and motivations.  To me, one of the most chilling moments comes early in the film when one mother describes CAS coming for her children and they were smiling.  As she points out, what kind of person smiles when they do what should be one of the most heart-rending tasks imaginable? On the other hand, a nurse who worked with CAS described seeing a social worker with the agency sitting at a table weeping because she didn't see how she could continue doing a job that was so divorced from actual child well-being.  The combination of the two - the smiling and the weeping case workers - says to me that, at CAS, the humane ones don't last.  The ones who do, smile when they come for your children. Any parent who challenges CAS in court confronts a radical imbalance of power.  Attorney Michael Clarke emphasizes that, alone among all agencies of government, CAS has the power of search and seizure, the ability to question children without their parents being present and, above all the power to take a parent's child.  Just how large a stick that is, he makes clear.  Parents will do virtually anything CAS wants to avoid that outcome. CAS often targets the poorest parents which means that when they get into court, the parent is usually unrepresented or has a public defender.  Meanwhile, CAS has essentially unlimited resources of attorneys, mental health professionals and the money to pay them.  It also has time on its side since, in most cases, children have been taken into care and it's the parents who are trying to regain them. Callie Langfeld is now an adult, but when she was a child, she was taken from her mother by CAS.  She couldn't tell her story then, but now she can.  She says when CAS first talked to her, caseworkers "railroaded" her into care telling her how dangerous her family was.  Once in foster care, though, Langfeld learned just how dangerous a family could be.  She says she was sexually and physically abused, but when her real mother contacted CAS, she was told "there's nothing we can do." Langfeld reports that her foster mother apparently wanted her for the work she could do around the house.  At age 13, she did essentially all the housework including cooking and caring for the mother's two younger children.  Another young man, George Gilbeau, reports physical and sexual abuse in the foster home in which CAS placed him. Lawyers, children and parents alike report a particularly wicked strategy used by CAS to separate parents from children.  Parents are told that their child doesn't want to be with them; children are told that their parents don't want them.  Those messages, combined with the prohibition by CAS against any communication between parents and children can be highly effective at separating children from their parents. I highly recommend this video.  I'll post more about it later. Thanks to Attila for the heads-up.

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There's more to say about the video entitled "Powerful as God" on the Ontario Children's Aid Society.  That's primarily because there's a movement afoot, in Arizona at least, to vest still more power in child welfare agencies for the specific purpose of taking more children from families. As I said in my previous piece, sometimes there's a good reason to take children from parents.  Some parents, sadly, are dangerous to their children, through either their abuse or neglect of them.  But there's also a reason why CPS agencies have, as part of their mandate, family reunification.  That's mainly because biological parents tend to be better parents than any other person or collection of people.  A wealth of social science has shown that for decades. So it's worth seeing the reality of what people who urge greater family destruction by CPS are really arguing for.  I don't doubt that people like Laurie Roberts want children protected from harm.  But their naive belief that ever more children consigned to foster care by overworked, underpaid and undertrained CPS workers will solve the problem is misguided at best. And that's just what the video documentary "Powerful as God" shows - the direction in which Roberts and others would have us go. Like most bureaucratic institutions, Ontario's CAS prefers to act in secrecy.  It calls it "confidentiality," and it justifies the curtain behind which it acts as necessary for the well-being of the children it takes into care.  But, as one interviewee points out, the secrecy is far more for the protection of CAS and its case workers than for the children.  After all, when a child is taken from a parent who's done little or nothing wrong, and is turned over to a foster mother who tries to drown him, or one who sexually abuses her, CAS could look bad.  So secrecy serves to keep those cases from scrutiny by a public that might not understand the need to take the child in the first place.  Of course, the better to recruit public sentiment to its side, CAS often ignores its rules about "confidentiality."  It does so when there's a case that makes it look good and in those, it not only publicizes the case, it names names. According to the video, a salient feature of CAS's worldview is that of adversary, i.e. the bunker mentality of "us against the world."  Like the matter of secrecy, that mostly serves to protect the agency against questioning by irate parents, lawyers, judges and the like.  Protection for children is secondary. So, much of what CAS case workers do is with an eye toward possible litigation.  And when that inevitably happens, CAS circles the wagons and defends its actions, whatever they may have been.  A case in which a child's welfare is involved then, becomes a case not of what's best for the child, but one of how best to justify what CAS did or failed to do. As Alfred Mamo, an attorney who has represented CAS in court, said, that process "has nothing to do with parenting."  What's best for the children gets lost in the antagonism of legal charge and countercharge. That concept of their jobs as part of permanent litigation against them and CAS leads, unsurprisingly, to illegal and unethical behavior on the part of case workers.  One attorney said he's "seen it too many times" that case workers have suppressed evidence and perjured themselves to defend their actions toward a child.  "Cross examination to a case worker is like garlic to a vampire," he said. Inevitably, the implicit threat of lawsuits skews not only what case workers testify to, but how they conduct individual cases.  Thus, a case worker may choose not to interview a particular person if she suspects that person won't support what the case worker did or wants to do with a child.  In that way, contradictory evidence never makes it into the child's file.  But of course that evidence also doesn't make it into the case worker's assessment of whether or not to take a child into care. That absence of a concept of the child's welfare carries over into all aspects of CAS's day-to-day behavior.  As one parent who was having trouble dealing with her ADHD child said, "No one ever asked 'how can we help you?"  The "solution" to all parenting problems is foster care. And as lawyers, parents and former CAS case workers point out, that's a curious approach to child welfare.  One of the lawyers interviewed said that a foster parent in Ontario gets $30 a day for a child; that's $900 a month.  As several of the interviewees point out, maybe that money would be better spent helping parents deal with specific issues of childcare. So maybe Parent A is struggling with an ADHD child.  Why not connect that parent with a professional who can help?  Could that be done for $900 a month?  You bet it could, but CAS has one solution for every problem - foster care. Of course there are cases of child injury and abuse that won't be helped by that sort of intervention.  There will always be a need for foster care.  But Ontario CAS, like many similar institutions in the U.S., often errs on the side of family break-up rather than family unity.  The point is that money spent on foster care could often be better spent to assist parents become better at the important job they're trying to do. After all, as former CAS social worker Tammis Smith said, the research showing that kids do better in foster care than in parental care is "missing." Misconceptions about what foster care really consists of abound.  Many people believe that children taken into foster care go to healthy families with a mother and a father.  Sometimes they do, but often they go to group homes in which many children are thrown together under the care, not of one set of parents, but of employees of the home. One such former employee, Nick, said that group homes are strictly money-making operations.  If one child goes back to its parents, that means a loss of income that must be made up by the addition of another child.  Empty beds mean lost jobs and empty wallets. Putting many unrelated children together can always lead to difficulties, but when many of those children have behavioral problems, a bad situation gets much worse.  For that, the group homes have a handy solution - medication.  One psychologist who used to work with CAS said that, in her experience, "almost every child in group homes" is on some sort of psychotropic medication. "It's all about control," echoed Nick, the former group home worker.   What pretty much everyone in the video agrees on is that CAS should dispense with its self-protective secrecy and open its decision making to public scrutiny.  That's certainly a good idea.  Public institutions that operate out of sight of the public that pays every cent of their operating budgets, invariably abuse the privilege, so greater openness is indeed required. On that note, it's interesting that one of Laurie Roberts' pet peeves is that Arizona CPS refuses to turn over records in various cases to her or the Arizona Republic newspaper.  In other words, it's behaving the way any governmental institution cloaked in secrecy behaves.  And rightly, Roberts is unhappy about it.  Like any journalist, she thinks the public has the right to know what its servants are up to. So it's odd to say the least that she calls for more of the same - greater power for CPS to break up families would mean all the things the people in "Powerful as God" complain of, including greater secrecy.  After all, CPS in Arizona wouldn't want enraged parents going to a newspapers with their stories, now would it.

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kramer-vs-kramer Perhaps the most famous and enduring movie about divorce and child custody is Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Fathers and Families' New York City members have a great chance to see this stunning divorce-related drama and discuss it with the film's director, three time Academy Award Winning Director, Screenwriter and Producer Robert Benton, and novelist Avery Corman, author of the book Kramer vs. Kramer, this Wednesday (October 19) at 7:00 PM. This event, hosted by Fordham Law School's Forum on Law, Culture & Society, will be held at the James B.M. McNally Amphitheater at 140 West 62nd Street, New York, NY, 10023 (near Lincoln Center). Come see this movie and add your perspective of how family court really operates during the discussion period with these distinguished guests, and be sure to mention the work of Fathers and Families. To learn more and to purchase tickets, click here. In Kramer vs. Kramer--the most influential, if not the first, film to spotlight child custody battles and the law"s settled presumptions about parental roles--Dustin Hoffman stars as a workaholic father left to care for his son when his wife, played by Meryl Streep, leaves them. He is ultimately drawn into a bitter legal fight when she returns seeking custody of their child. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Kramer vs. Kramer director Robert Benton will be discussing the film this Wednesday at the Fordham Law School's Forum on Law, Culture & Society"][/caption] The film stars Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer, a workaholic advertising executive who has just been assigned a new and very large account. After being given the news, he returns home to find his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) in the process of leaving him. Saying that she needs to find herself, she leaves Ted to raise their son Billy (Justin Henry) by himself. Fifteen months after she walked out, Joanna returns to New York in order to claim Billy, and a custody battle ensues. What would happen in this scenario in present day family court? And how did the 1979 plot end? To learn more about Kramer vs. Kramer, see Wikipedia's entry here.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Paternity fraud victim Pedro Soto and his wife Gabriela."][/caption] "Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse."--County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, (2004) In a stunning victory, duped dad Pedro Soto and his attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq. have prevailed against the Orange County Department of Child Support Services in a paternity fraud case emblematic of the numerous outrageous injustices faced by men and fathers in family court. In this case, Soto has paid over $75,000 in child support for a child DNA tests have established is not his, and who has been living with both of his biological parents for many years. Action Alert--Your Participation Needed! Fathers and Families condemns the conduct of OCDCSS in fighting to preserve a paternity judgment it knows to be false. We want to add your name to our letter to OCDCSS, which will also be copied to the California DCSS--to read the letter and add your name, please click here. Also, victories cost money. As you'll read below, F & F's efforts to preserve the crucial Navarro decision led directly to the Soto victory, and opened the door to many others. Please give to support our vital work by going to www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. The Soto Case: Background [caption id="attachment_20045" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., who represented Soto."]richard-a-lowe-2[/caption] In 1998, Soto, deceived by his then-girlfriend Maricela Guerrero into believing that her newborn son Aaron was Soto's, stepped up and did what he thought was right by signing a paternity declaration. Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., with the valuable assistance of Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, represented Soto. He explains:

Petitioner made his child support payments and had regular visitations with Aaron without the slightest suspicion that he may not be Aaron"s biological father...Petitioner"s visitations with Aaron continued on a regular basis with Aaron spending alternate weekends with Petitioner and his family in their home...[in] 2008 Aaron [said]....he had a "real' dad, Francisco Serrano, and knew that Petitioner was only his "step' dad...Identigene labs concluded that Pedro Soto is not the biological father of Aaron Soto...Chromosomal Laboratories, Inc. concluded that...Francisco Serrano was Aaron"s father.

Since Aaron is living with and being supported by his biological father, Francisco Serrano, it is clear that Petitioner"s child support payments are really pocket money for Maricela Guerrero and not the "child support' that the courts have ordered...by lying about the real father of Aaron, Ms. Guerrero has set up a scheme whereby she can fleece her innocent former boyfriend and have the County aid her in enforcing this unfair scheme...

As Petitioner states in his Declaration, Aaron will always be welcomed in his home, however, he does not wish to continue the falsehood that he is Aaron"s biological father.  Clearly it is in the best interest of the child that his biological...father be established.

Support Fathers and Families' Paternity Fraud Bills: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of others--to learn more, click here. Soto's Attempt to Get Equitable Relief In Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment, Lowe wrote:

[T]he Department concedes that Francisco Serrano, not Petitioner [Pedro Soto], is the real father of Aaron Soto, but insists that due to the passage of time the injustice of Petitioner paying child support for a child that is living with, and being supported by his real father, should be extended at least another five years until Aaron reaches eighteen and finishes high school.  The sheer injustice of the situation does not seem to bother the Department one bit.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Lowe and Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, who helped Lowe with the Soto case."][/caption] Lowe conceded that the law is against Soto but argued that under subsection (c) of Family Code Section §7575 "[T]his court still possesses the authority to right this wrong under its equitable powers." The 2004 Navarro Case Lowe cited County of Los Angeles v. Navarro (2004) as case law in urging the Court to exercise its equitable powers to right a clear injustice in a paternity case.  In Navarro, the trial court denied a motion to vacate a judgment entered against Manuel Navarro establishing him as the father of two boys and ordering him to pay child support for them. Navarro had been erroneously "defaulted into fatherhood" of children he did not know. The motion was filed over five years after Judgment had been entered against him and was definitely time-barred.  The County of Los Angeles opposed the motion, arguing that relief should not be granted Mr. Navarro because the statute of limitation had run against him.

Soto's Attorney Richard A. Lowe Thanks Fathers and Families: "You helped preserve the Navarro decision, and that was all we had to hang our hats on in this case." The trial court sided with the County and denied the motion. Navarro's resolute and gifted attorney, Linda Ferrer, Esq., appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed the denial and granted Navarro"s request that the judgment against him be set aside. The Navarro Court explained:

A profound mistake occurred here when appellant was charged with being the boys" father…Instead of remedying its mistake, the County retreats behind the procedural redoubt offered by the passage of time since it took appellant"s default.

It is this State"s policy that when a mistake occurs in a child support action the County must correct it, not exploit it…Thousands of individuals each year are mistakenly identified as being liable for child support actions.  As a result of that action, the ability to earn a living is severely impaired, assets are seized, and family relationships are often destroyed.  It is the moral, legal, and ethical obligation of all enforcement agencies to take prompt action to recognize those cases…and correct any injustice to that person.

Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse.

The Soto Decision Judge Paula J. Coleman agreed with Lowe and the Navarro court, and granted Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment. She also ordered that a new birth certificate for Aaron be issued, and that Pedro Soto's name not be on it. To read Coleman's order, click here. The Long, Hard Struggle to Defend Victims of Paternity Fraud Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), a longtime family court reform advocate, was the sponsor of the Child Support Enforcement Fairness Act of 2000, and the Navarro court cited this law as the basis for its decision. Fathers and Families' legislative representative Michael Robinson has successfully worked for many years to bring equity and fairness to child support and paternity fraud cases, and many of Robinson's actions directly impacted the Soto case. After Navarro, the Los Angeles County Department of Child Support Services asked the California Supreme Court to depublish the case, which would prevent other paternity fraud victims from using Navarro to liberate themselves. Robinson sought and submitted amicus letters against depublication from numerous California legislators and prominent attorneys, including: former Assemblywoman Nicole M. Parra; former Assemblyman Raymond Haynes; former Senator Dick Ackerman; former Senator Roy Ashburn; Senator Rod Wright; prominent family law appellate specialist Jeff Doeringer; Roger Dale Juntunen, J.D., M.B.A.; and others, as well as the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. To read their amicus letters, click here [37MB]. Navarro's attorney, Linda Ferrer, praised Robinson's "extraordinary" work in this letter. When attorneys for the Fresno Department of Child Support Services tried in the Sanchez paternity fraud case to assert that Navarro had been abrogated by AB 252 (an earlier paternity fraud bill that Robinson helped pass), Robinson got one of the bill's principal co-authors, then-Senator Roy Ashburn, to issue a declaration stating that the legislature's intent in passing the bill was not to abrogate Navarro. To read Ashburn's declaration, click here. Continuing the Fight: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 Fathers and Families' SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of men who have been unable to get out of fraudulent paternity judgments. These bills will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee early next year. To learn more, click here. Also, see our column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11). If you are a victim of paternity fraud, whether in California or in another state, we want to know your story--please click here. Pedro Soto Thanks Lowe, Fathers and Families Pedro Soto writes:

Mr. Lowe and Ms. McKendricks did an excellent job with my case, and I am forever grateful with them.  Mr. Lowe took my case when other attorneys refused, citing the statute of limitations. I had given up hope, but Mr. Lowe gave me the desire to continue the fight and move forward.

Fathers and Families is a great organization that fights for what is right and just. Thank you all for keeping cases such as Navarro available for all of us, and I hope that my case also helps right the many similar injustices still out there.

Soto Case Documents Below are the documents in the Soto case:

Soto's Memorandum of Points and Authorities: The Facts in This Case Cry Out for Equitable Relief

Pedro Soto's Declaration

OCDCSS' Response to Defendant's Motion to Set Aside Judgment

Petitioner's Reply to Defendant's Response

Amendment to Motion to Set Aside Judgment of Paternity

Judge Paula J. Coleman's Order

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Let's say you're a fit father.  You serve in the United States Army and your 13-year-old daughter spends a happy two months with you every summer and the rest of the time with her mom from whom you're divorced.  Then, your ex's alcohol addiction gets the better of her.  She's on probation for DUI and violates it by getting another DUI.  Eventually, due to her dangerous and illegal driving and her alcohol addiction, Child Protective Services determines she's a danger to your daughter and takes the girl from her.  You, being the fit, caring dad you are, move immediately for custody.  But what do you do then? This article answers that question (Lincoln Journal Star, 10/13/11).  And the answer is... you get in the custody line behind one of your daughter's aunts and a local foster home.
A Douglas County Juvenile Court judge on Thursday allowed a dad stationed with the Army in Colorado to become a participant in his daughter's foster care case.
But while acknowledging the father appeared to be a fit parent and that no home study would be required, Judge Christopher Kelly delayed any chance of Sgt. David Sanders getting temporary custody of his 13-year-old daughter for 30 to 45 days.
At that time, the judge said, he will hear evidence about the Omaha mother's situation. He said he had been told she was cooperating and getting counseling, but he had no evidence of that.
Leslie Christensen, Sanders' attorney, said the father should not have to wait 30 to 45 days -- if that's what the judge's order indicates -- for his constitutional rights to take effect.
Sanders' attempts to get temporary custody of his daughter have been stymied since she was taken from her mother's home in August, despite federal and state policies that give placement preference in such cases to fit, noncustodial parents.
The girl first was placed with an aunt, but soon after she became a state ward and was placed with a friend's family.
So Sanders has been trying to get custody of his daughter whom he loves dearly and for whom he cares at least two months out of the year.  No one questions his fitness as a parent or his desire to be his daughter's custodial parent.  But he's already waited over six weeks and now he has to wait another 4 - 6 weeks. Why?  To see if the mother's alcohol addiction problem improves, so that the girl can be returned to her.  Meanwhile she remains not in Dad's care, but in foster care.  That's right, the court decided that a fit father's right to custody of his daughter should simply be put on hold to see if there's any way he can be denied it for the long term.  And of course the person to whom the court is so avid to give custody is the alcohol-addicted mother.  On the topic of Mom's alcohol addiction, here's what academic and former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has to say about drug and alcohol addiction, as quoted by The New Yorkermagazine.  After pointing out that  the substances produce permanent changes in the brain's neuronal circuitry, Thomas McLellan said, "Addiction is a disease you have for which there is no cure, and which fits the model of chronic illness.  It will be a problem for the rest of your life.  So you don't want a thirty-day program.  It won't help." Judge Kelly hopes it will.  In the meantime, foster care, to the court, is preferable to father care. This is a case in which the Interstate Compact on Child Placement comes into play.  That's because Sanders is stationed in Colorado and his ex, Shannon Peebles, lives in Nebraska.  So the Interstate Compact requires that an investigation be done of the out-of-state person with whom the child is proposed to be placed.  Except (a) several states have ruled that, when the placement is to be with a child's parent, no investigation needs to be done and more importantly, (b) Judge Kelly has already ruled that Sanders is fit to care for his daughter and so there's no need for an investigation. And still Sanders takes a back seat to strangers, i.e. a foster home. I wrote recently about two Maryland fathers, Sam Wilson and Andre Adgerson, who've sued the District of Columbia's child welfare agency for its flagrantly anti-father and apparently illegal reading of the Interstate Compact.  They were denied custody of their children when they were taken from their mothers for six and one month respectively.  That was because the District believes that the standard out-of-state evaluation needed to be performed.  The District may well be wrong on that count, but at least it has a fig leaf to cover its disregard of fathers' and children's rights. The court in Sanders' case has no such fig leaf.  Its naked violation of Sanders' parental rights is clear for all to see.  The matter should be simple; the mother's fitness is in serious enough doubt that CPS removed the girl from her care.  Sanders is her father and his fitness is in no doubt, as the court found.  Therefore he should have custody of the girl and the mother should pay him child support.  If she wants primary custody, or some form of joint custody, she should go to court and make her case and see what the judge decides.  But no.  This decent father must go to juvenile court, hat in hand, and plead his case on an equal footing with foster parents his daughter had never set eyes on six weeks ago. My guess is that he'll never get the opportunity.  After all, why would a judge make all the findings Judge Kelly made and then delay everything for 30 - 45 days?  I'd say the answer is that Kelly desperately wants to return the girl to her alcoholic mother and hopes someone at the rehab facility will give him testimony that Peebles has dried out and all is well.  I can't think of any other explanation. Whatever happens, the case is pretty stark proof of the second - no third, no fourth - class status fathers are accorded by family courts.  Sanders stands behind his alcoholic ex-wife, her sister and some strangers who run a foster home.  The case is disgraceful.  It's also enlightening.  It's about as clear proof as you can get of what family courts think of fathers.

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Complete details of the Soto case Text of Fathers and Families' Letter Steve Eldred Director, Orange County Department of Child Support Services 1055 North Main Street Santa Ana, CA 92702-2099 Telephone: (866) 901-3212 Dear Mr. Eldred: We write to protest the Orange County Department of Child Support Services' conduct in the Pedro Soto paternity fraud case. In that case, "duped dad" Pedro Soto has already paid over $75,000 after-tax dollars in child support for a child DNA tests have established is not his, and who has been living with both of his biological parents for many years.

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Here and here are two videos that are well worth watching (Sun News Network, 10/7/11), (Sun News Network, 9/29/11).  They're interviews, one with Canadian family court reform activist Kris Titus and the other with Ross Virgin, who also battles for fathers in family courts. Both are longtime activists, Titus for 12 years, Virgin for 39 years.  And both bring an uplifting passion to their calling.  Into the bargain, the interviewer, Michael Coren, is not only sympathetic, but fairly knowledgeable about the subject of divorce, custody and domestic violence laws. Indeed, Coren describes what is very familiar to many advocates for fathers' rights, i.e. his own experience of revelation about fathers and what faces them when they try to get or enforce even minimal rights to their children.  It seems Coren was asked years ago to write a "men's column" for the Globe and Mail.  He says he didn't have much to say on the subject and pretty much bought the standard cultural mythology - men aren't interested in their children, they're dangerous to them and they're deadbeats.  Coren's astonishment at finding out how utterly wrong that mythology is, comes through clearly.  He's still shocked at how little he knew. With Titus, Coren plays the devil's advocate to good effect.  Titus explains that her own attraction to the fathers' rights movement occurred for three reasons - she was raised without a father, she saw how courts dealt with her own divorce and she's now married to a divorced father without custody. To that Coren takes the expected line "don't those first two make you angry at men?"  Titus' response is telling.  "Not at all."  She's seen the radical injustice and unfairness meted out by family courts and she's seen how it affects fathers, including her own husband. Perhaps more importantly, her experience of growing up without a father is one of the main factors making her fight for fathers' rights.  That stands in sharp contrast to the usual media-nourished narrative of uncaring fathers who want nothing more than to avoid their children at all costs.  Why?  Because in fact Titus describes herself as being born into the first radical feminist generation that told all who would listen that everyone was better off without men - and particularly fathers - in their lives.  Clearly, that was a searing experience for Titus growing up.  It was so important that she's devoted much of her adult life to fighting for fathers in family courts. Coren's interview with Titus covers much of what fathers' rights advocates deal with every day.  Principally, Coren recounts the experience of a father he knows whose ex-wife routinely refused to comply with his visitation order - the standard every-other-weekend-plus-one-night one. And the mother was blatant about it.  The dad would come to her door at the appointed date and time and she'd say "(the child) doesn't want to go with you."  In the background, he'd hear the girl crying to go with Daddy.  So one time, when the mother refused to even answer the door, he banged on it with his fists and then kicked it. We all know what happened then; she called the police and he spent the night in jail. To which Titus aptly replies "He got off easy."  She points out that domestic violence laws and the use by family courts of even the thinnest allegations of abuse create clear incentives for mothers to charge fathers with abuse irrespective of the facts.  Sole custody, years of child support and spousal support, all paid by the dad but without his annoying demands to actually see his child for two days out of fourteen, make false allegations all but inevitable. And as Ross Virgin points out, the frank misandry of police and family court practices is something that often blindsides fathers.  Virgin recounts the utter disbelief on the faces of fathers he's known when they finally understand that the court order they have in their hand allowing them to see their children for a short period of time every two weeks won't be enforced by the police or by the court. She shuts the door in his face, he calls the cops who come out and look at his court order and say "there's nothing we can do."  But let him violate her order to pay support, and it's off to jail for him.  The police and courts and prosecutors have no problem at all enforcing her order. Even if the dad eventually wins he loses.  He loses time with his child and he loses money that went to pay a lawyer solely because courts regularly refuse to enforce orders for access, 84% (90% in Canada) of them in the hands of fathers. Tellingly, Coren asks Titus an interesting question.  She's a woman after all, so Coren wants to know if she doesn't get a lot of grief from other women basically calling her a turncoat, a traitor to the cause of women. Titus, who's been a prominent advocate for fathers for 12 years says "no."  In fact, although some women challenge her on her facts and figures, "far, far more women have come forward to say 'thank God someone's speaking common sense.'" And it's information like that that makes me think our direction is the direction of history.  Karl Marx believed that human history moved according to a dialectical dynamic in which conditions at any given time tend to produce their opposites.  That is, whatever is the status quo tends to produce its own enemies who eventually bring it down. I'd say that's happening.  The radical abuses of fathers by family courts is producing not only activist fathers, but women like Titus who see with their own eyes how courts abuse the most decent and loving of dads.  "Second wives" have always been one of the greatest resources of our movement. Likewise, the radical feminist claim that the home was the seat of oppression of women, that husbands and fathers were its instrument and that the only thing to do was dispense with fathers altogether in favor of state-subsidized daycare has created a generation of young adults who loathe the very idea of fatherlessness. Thanks to Paulette for the heads-up.

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Thank you for filling out our form–your name will be added to Fathers and Families' letter to OCDCSS and CADCSS. You will also receive all relevant updates related to the Soto case and our paternity fraud bills SB 375 and SB 377. Victories cost money. F & F's efforts to preserve the crucial Navarro decision led directly to the Soto victory, and opened the door to many others. Please give to support our vital work by going to www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. Also, learning more about you helps us build our organization and promote the cause of family court reform--please fill out our form here. Together with you in the love of our children, Glenn Sacks, MA Executive Director, Fathers and Families Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers and Families

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I've rained pretty hard on Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic for her enthusiastic embrace of breaking up families and placing children in foster care.  As a counterpoint to her article, I ran two pieces on a Canadian video about Ontario's Children's Aid Society that described in excruciating detail just what people - parents and children alike - experience in the clutches of CAS. As I pointed out, although Roberts may not realize it, that's what she's arguing for.  Greater intervention by CPS into family life inevitably leads to the type of abuses the video - tellingly entitled "Powerful as God" - describes.  So, having criticized Roberts, I'm now glad to see her presenting at least some of the flip side of the foster care vs. parental care debate.  Here it is (Arizona Central, 10/19/11).  I commend her for doing an article extensively quoting Richard Wexler, Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.  I've quoted Wexler myself in the past and consider him perhaps the go-to guy for information on the child welfare system in the United States.
Wexler has long decried Arizona's approach to child welfare – what he terms the "foster care panic'...  "With Arizona, it's always take the child and run, year after year after year.'
That's interesting.  What he's saying is that in fact Arizona has been administering exactly the medication Roberts prescribed in her previous article.  With Arizona CPS it's take the child and ask questions later.  It's the instances in which CPS didn't do that and children were severely hurt or killed by their parents that Roberts cites as reasons to ramp up foster care placements still more.  What foster care actually consists of and what results it has for children are topics Roberts scrupulously overlooks. But, like the video "Powerful as God" suggests, there's a mid-ground between the extremes of leaving children with their parents even though they may be at risk of harm, and taking children into care on the slimmest of pretexts, just so the CPS caseworker can say she was "proactive."  As one mother in the video exclaimed incredulously, "No one ever asked me if I needed help." As long as CPS caseworkers are faced with a simple choice of taking children from- or leaving with- parents, they will take them when they shouldn't and leave them when they shouldn't.  But what if CPS had a third option - helping parents deal with the situation that's got them stymied and the child at risk? As one of the attorneys for Ontario's CAS pointed out in the video, a parent may be perfectly good and capable 360 days out of the year, but those other five days are problematical.  Does it make sense to take that parent's child because abuse or neglect occurred on those days?  Not necessarily.  Maybe what the parent needs is help.
Wexler's life's work is now devoted to making the case that children, even the ones who've been mistreated, are best left with their families. Breathe people. Hear the man out. If we help stabilize families – providing intensive help, real drug treatment, subsidies for things like daycare and rent – he says we could actually do what we claim we want to do, which is to help children.
What a concept.  But, as Wexler told Roberts, "Arizona has never seriously tried any of this stuff." What it did, during the term of Governor Janet Napolitano, was panic at a spate of deaths to children (very much like what Roberts urged in her last column).
"Err on the side of protecting the child,' she said at the time, "and we'll sort it out later.'
The problem, says Wexler, is that we never sorted it out. Two years after Napolitano's proclamation, the number of children in foster care jumped 40 percent, with more to come. As caseloads bulged and budgets shrank, it was simply safer to take away children.
Safer, that is, for the caseworkers who live in fear of making a mistake that results in the death of a child. Studies suggest that kids are actually better off when left with their families, even with minimal support, rather than bouncing around in foster care.
Good for Roberts that she tells her readers what she didn't in her previous piece - that children in foster care actually do worse than children in parental care.  I'll get more into that in a future post. Meanwhile, Wexler has some very specific ideas about what Arizona should do to help fix things.
… Shut down places like the Crisis Nursery – what he calls "parking place shelters' – and use the money to instead provide services to families. If a mother is reported for leaving her kids alone while she works, help her with daycare. If a parent can't provide a decent place to live, offer a rent subsidy. If drug addiction is the problem, offer treatment.
... Offer a program of more intense services when warranted, allowing a social worker to spend several hours a day to helping a parent when a child is deemed unsafe. If after six weeks nothing changes, move to terminate that parent's rights.
…Seek a waiver from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, so that $83 million in federal funds now designated for foster care can instead be spent on keeping families together.
…Provide quality defense lawyers and parent advocates, to help families get out of the CPS system when they don't need to be there. To free up caseworkers to focus where they're most needed – on the children who will die if no one comes to their rescue.
…Open all CPS records, so we get a truer picture of what's really going on in the agency.
As Roberts points out, those may be good ideas, but they won't meet with a very favorable reception in a legislature bent on cutting budgets.  But is that really an issue?  The Canadian video raised the issue that Ontario spends about $30 per day per child on foster care.  How much drug counselling and parenting classes can that buy?  My guess is that, if Arizona and every other state redirected its resources away from foster care and toward helping parents, the balance sheet would remain the same, but the results for children would be immeasurably better. As Roberts says, "eleven thousand kids in foster care means that something's not working."  True, and that "something" is a child welfare system that, for all its failure the other way, still errs on the side of taking children from their parents.  The results are predictable, costly and entirely unnecessary.

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I've been nattering on about the foster care vs. parental care debate, and it's time to say few words about the research comparing the two.  I'm the furthest thing from an authority on the subject, but what follows is part of my understanding of the matter. In a nutshell, foster care is a traumatic experience for most kids.  Whatever their family background, being taken from what's familiar and placed, usually incommunicado, in a strange environment with unfamiliar people, is a psychological blow. Yes, some adults who were raised in foster care praise their foster parents to the skies.  And certainly, most foster parents do their best to give their kids a good upbringing.  But public policy can't be made on what happens sometimes.  Public policy doesn't deal with a few cases; it deals with all cases.  As such it needs to pay attention to what sociology, psychology, law enforcement, etc. say about children's results in and after foster care. That picture isn't pretty.  For example, this study interviewed children in foster care and found some shocking things.  A hefty 70% of the kids said their foster caregiver had one or more of the personal problems inquired about.  So 40% of the foster caregivers abused drugs or alcohol, 14% were mentally ill, 18% had committed domestic violence and 10% had spent time in jail or prison.  Beyond that, 34% of the children interviewed believed their foster caregivers demonstrated inadequate parenting skills. Unsurprisingly, all those problems by foster parents visited their effects on the kids.  Thirty-two percent of the children interviewed reported having been neglected, 13% reported child abuse and 2% reported sexual abuse by foster parents.  Seventeen percent said they'd been sexually abused by a relative, sibling or other youth while in foster care. If stability of family life is generally good for kids, foster care doesn't fill the bill.  Of the children interviewed, their average stay in foster care was 5.5 years during which they stayed with, on average, 4.6 different families.  That's about 14 months per foster home.  Some 37% reported having run away from their foster home and two-thirds of those said they'd done so more than once. Another study published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal inquired into children's educational outcomes.  It compared children in foster care with those living with at least one parent.
The results were unequivocal: the foster youth dropped out of high school at a much higher rate and were significantly less likely to have completed a GED. The foster care high school graduates received significantly less financial assistance for education from their parents or guardians. Foster youth reported more discipline problems in school and experienced more educational disruption due to changing schools. They were significantly less likely to be in a college preparatory high school track. The adults in the lives of the foster care youth were less likely to monitor homework.
Yet another study in the Oxford Review of Education summarized its findings this way:
Among the many disadvantages suffered by children looked after by local authorities, low educational achievement probably has the most serious consequences for their future life chances. This article reviews research over nearly twenty years which consistently shows that children in residential and foster care fall progressively behind those living with their own families and leave school with few qualifications, if any...  [T]his and other consumer studies indicate that at present the care system is more likely to put additional obstacles in their way than to make any particular effort to compensate for their earlier disadvantages.
Now, it might be argued that these kids aren't likely to have as good outcomes as children of families not found by a child welfare agency to have neglected or abused their children.  That is, maybe the deficits the foster care kids have aren't due to foster care but to their traumatic previous lives. But it turns out it's specifically foster care that's the culprit, at least in the psychological deficits foster kids demonstrate.  A 2006 study reported in Development and Psychopathology compared kids in three separate groups:
children who experienced foster care, those who were maltreated but remained in the home, and children who had not experienced foster care or maltreatment despite their similarly at-risk demographic characteristics.
Once again, psychological functioning was negatively affected specifically by foster care.  The results suggest that foster care, more than other demographic factors associated with negative outcomes for kids, produced bad results.
In the current sample, children placed in out of home care exhibited significant behavior problems in comparison to children who received adequate care, and using the same pre- and postplacement measure of adaptation, foster care children showed elevated levels of behavior problems following release from care. Similarly, children placed into unfamiliar foster care showed higher levels of internalizing problems compared with children reared by maltreating caregivers, children in familiar care, and children who received adequate caregiving.
As I've reported before, unlike biological families, foster families aren't forever.  Indeed, most foster care ends abruptly when the child turns 18.  Ready or not (and how many are?), at that age, a child in foster care is on his/her own.  Of course, some foster parents continue to allow the child to live at home for a time.  And even after the child moves out, the foster parents may continue to provide advice, guidance and even money. But there's no requirement that they do any of that.  "Aging out" of care is a problem for almost all foster kids.  Longitudinal studies of foster kids after age 18 show lower involvement with education, far lower likelihood of employment, higher incarceration rates and greater likelihood of having experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of that is to say that those who plump for more and more kids to be taken from their parents and placed in foster care need to explain why those outcomes for children are preferable to what they might get at home. So far, they haven't.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Paternity fraud victim Pedro Soto and his wife Gabriela."][/caption] "Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse."--County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, (2004) In a stunning victory, duped dad Pedro Soto and his attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq. have prevailed against the Orange County Department of Child Support Services in a paternity fraud case emblematic of the numerous outrageous injustices faced by men and fathers in family court. In this case, Soto has paid over $75,000 in child support for a child DNA tests have established is not his, and who has been living with both of his biological parents for many years. Action Alert--Your Participation Needed Fathers and Families condemns the conduct of OCDCSS in fighting to preserve a paternity judgment it knows to be false. We want to add your name to our letter to OCDCSS, which will also be copied to the California DCSS--to read the letter and add your name, please click here. Also, victories cost money. As you'll read below, F & F's efforts to preserve the crucial Navarro decision led directly to the Soto victory, and opened the door to many others. Please give to support our vital work by going to www.FathersandFamilies.org/give. The Soto Case: Background [caption id="attachment_20045" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., who represented Soto."]richard-a-lowe-2[/caption] In 1998, Soto, deceived by his then-girlfriend Maricela Guerrero into believing that her newborn son Aaron was Soto's, stepped up and did what he thought was right by signing a paternity declaration. Talented Los Angeles family law attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq., with the valuable assistance of Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, represented Soto. He explains:

Petitioner made his child support payments and had regular visitations with Aaron without the slightest suspicion that he may not be Aaron"s biological father...Petitioner"s visitations with Aaron continued on a regular basis with Aaron spending alternate weekends with Petitioner and his family in their home...[in] 2008 Aaron [said]....he had a "real' dad, Francisco Serrano, and knew that Petitioner was only his "step' dad...Identigene labs concluded that Pedro Soto is not the biological father of Aaron Soto...Chromosomal Laboratories, Inc. concluded that...Francisco Serrano was Aaron"s father.

Since Aaron is living with and being supported by his biological father, Francisco Serrano, it is clear that Petitioner"s child support payments are really pocket money for Maricela Guerrero and not the "child support' that the courts have ordered...by lying about the real father of Aaron, Ms. Guerrero has set up a scheme whereby she can fleece her innocent former boyfriend and have the County aid her in enforcing this unfair scheme...

As Petitioner states in his Declaration, Aaron will always be welcomed in his home, however, he does not wish to continue the falsehood that he is Aaron"s biological father.  Clearly it is in the best interest of the child that his biological...father be established.

Support Fathers and Families' Paternity Fraud Bills: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of others--to learn more, click here. Soto's Attempt to Get Equitable Relief In Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment, Lowe wrote:

[T]he Department concedes that Francisco Serrano, not Petitioner [Pedro Soto], is the real father of Aaron Soto, but insists that due to the passage of time the injustice of Petitioner paying child support for a child that is living with, and being supported by his real father, should be extended at least another five years until Aaron reaches eighteen and finishes high school.  The sheer injustice of the situation does not seem to bother the Department one bit.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Lowe and Pepperdine law student Sarah dela Cruz McKendricks, who helped Lowe with the Soto case."][/caption] Lowe conceded that the law is against Soto but argued that under subsection (c) of Family Code Section §7575 "[T]his court still possesses the authority to right this wrong under its equitable powers." The 2004 Navarro Case Lowe cited County of Los Angeles v. Navarro (2004) as case law in urging the Court to exercise its equitable powers to right a clear injustice in a paternity case.  In Navarro, the trial court denied a motion to vacate a judgment entered against Manuel Navarro establishing him as the father of two boys and ordering him to pay child support for them. Navarro had been erroneously "defaulted into fatherhood" of children he did not know. The motion was filed over five years after Judgment had been entered against him and was definitely time-barred.  The County of Los Angeles opposed the motion, arguing that relief should not be granted Mr. Navarro because the statute of limitation had run against him.

Soto's Attorney Richard A. Lowe Thanks Fathers and Families: "You helped preserve the Navarro decision, and that was all we had to hang our hats on in this case." The trial court sided with the County and denied the motion. Navarro's resolute and gifted attorney, Linda Ferrer, Esq., appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed the denial and granted Navarro"s request that the judgment against him be set aside. The Navarro Court explained:

A profound mistake occurred here when appellant was charged with being the boys" father…Instead of remedying its mistake, the County retreats behind the procedural redoubt offered by the passage of time since it took appellant"s default.

It is this State"s policy that when a mistake occurs in a child support action the County must correct it, not exploit it…Thousands of individuals each year are mistakenly identified as being liable for child support actions.  As a result of that action, the ability to earn a living is severely impaired, assets are seized, and family relationships are often destroyed.  It is the moral, legal, and ethical obligation of all enforcement agencies to take prompt action to recognize those cases…and correct any injustice to that person.

Despite the Legislature"s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County is asking that we do so.  We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.  We say no to the County, and we reverse.

The Soto Decision Judge Paula J. Coleman agreed with Lowe and the Navarro court, and granted Soto's motion to set aside his paternity judgment. She also ordered that a new birth certificate for Aaron be issued, and that Pedro Soto's name not be on it. To read Coleman's order, click here. The Long, Hard Struggle to Defend Victims of Paternity Fraud Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), a longtime family court reform advocate, was the sponsor of the Child Support Enforcement Fairness Act of 2000, and the Navarro court cited this law as the basis for its decision. Fathers and Families' legislative representative Michael Robinson has successfully worked for many years to bring equity and fairness to child support and paternity fraud cases, and many of Robinson's actions directly impacted the Soto case. After Navarro, the Los Angeles County Department of Child Support Services asked the California Supreme Court to depublish the case, which would prevent other paternity fraud victims from using Navarro to liberate themselves. Robinson sought and submitted amicus letters against depublication from numerous California legislators and prominent attorneys, including: former Assemblywoman Nicole M. Parra; former Assemblyman Raymond Haynes; former Senator Dick Ackerman; former Senator Roy Ashburn; Senator Rod Wright; prominent family law appellate specialist Jeff Doeringer; Roger Dale Juntunen, J.D., M.B.A.; and others, as well as the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. To read their amicus letters, click here [37MB]. Navarro's attorney, Linda Ferrer, praised Robinson's "extraordinary" work in this letter. When attorneys for the Fresno Department of Child Support Services tried in the Sanchez paternity fraud case to assert that Navarro had been abrogated by AB 252 (an earlier paternity fraud bill that Robinson helped pass), Robinson got one of the bill's principal co-authors, then-Senator Roy Ashburn, to issue a declaration stating that the legislature's intent in passing the bill was not to abrogate Navarro. To read Ashburn's declaration, click here. Continuing the Fight: F & F's SB 375 & SB 377 Fathers and Families' SB 375 & SB 377 will end outrageous injustices such as those experienced by Soto and tens of thousands of men who have been unable to get out of fraudulent paternity judgments. These bills will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee early next year. To learn more, click here. Also, see our column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11). If you are a victim of paternity fraud, whether in California or in another state, we want to know your story--please click here. Pedro Soto Thanks Lowe, Fathers and Families Pedro Soto writes:

Mr. Lowe and Ms. McKendricks did an excellent job with my case, and I am forever grateful with them.  Mr. Lowe took my case when other attorneys refused, citing the statute of limitations. I had given up hope, but Mr. Lowe gave me the desire to continue the fight and move forward.

Fathers and Families is a great organization that fights for what is right and just. Thank you all for keeping cases such as Navarro available for all of us, and I hope that my case also helps right the many similar injustices still out there.

Soto Case Documents Below are the documents in the Soto case:

Soto's Memorandum of Points and Authorities: The Facts in This Case Cry Out for Equitable Relief

Pedro Soto's Declaration

OCDCSS' Response to Defendant's Motion to Set Aside Judgment

Petitioner's Reply to Defendant's Response

Amendment to Motion to Set Aside Judgment of Paternity

Judge Paula J. Coleman's Order

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Hurricane, West Virginia's Tracy Wright has been found guilty in the murder of her three-year-old daughter.  Her case highlights the very issues of foster care vs. parental care I've been blogging about recently.  Here's one article about the case (Charleston Daily Mail, 10/19/11). Tracy Wright is now 28.  Her husband had a chronic illness and died in 2009, so she was left with two children to raise.  One of them, Emma, was healthy, but the younger girl, Ashley, had cystic fibrosis, an inherited lung condition that renders its victims incapable of clearing mucous from their lungs.  In bygone days, cystic fibrosis was usually fatal early in life.  But over the past 20 years or so, medications and therapy have prolonged the lives of CF sufferers well into adulthood. By all accounts, Tracy Wright was a lousy mother, at least toward Ashley.  Emma seems to have gotten appropriate care from her, but she thought of little Ashley as a burden.  Ashley's CF plus her husband's fatal illness were too much for Wright to handle, so she started ignoring doctor visits for Ashley and failed to give the girl her medication most of the time. Eventually Ashley's pediatrician became alarmed and contacted the local child welfare agency.  Caseworkers looked into the matter, but took no action against Wright.  That's partly because they relied on her to tell them what she was doing to care for her daughter's chronic and life-threatening condition.  Not surprisingly, Wright told them she was doing everything by the book.  At one point CPS considered closing its file on Wright. Ultimately, Ashley's condition worsened, she contracted pneumonia and died. The State of West Virginia brought murder charges against Tracy Wright for refusing to provide her daughter the type of medical care she knew she needed.  It took a jury just an hour and a half to find Wright guilty, but also to recommend mercy to the judge.  That means she'll be eligible for parole in 15 years. The trial of the case closely mirrors the debate about the actions and inactions of child welfare agencies.  The case is clearly one that, had it occurred in Arizona, Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic would be shouting to the skies that Ashley's death should have been prevented by Child Protective Services. And who would argue?  Clearly, CPS caseworkers knew the situation.  They knew about Ashley's CF; they knew from the pediatrician that Wright hadn't kept appointments and hadn't filled enough prescriptions for the girl to have given her the medication she needed.  They knew that CF is a life-threatening condition.  So why didn't they take the girl into care? That's a good question and one that Wright's attorney, David Moye, put to the jury time and again.  But it's a criminal case and the jury wasn't asked to decide whether CPS was to blame; they were asked to decide whether Tracy Wright was.  It didn't take them long to make up their minds. But in this case, there's no doubt about it; Laurie Roberts has a point.  CPS failed to protect a child it knew or should have known needed protecting.  That child died because of it. So Tracy Wright and CPS share the burden of blame in Ashley's death.  End of story. But is it?  After all, Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform argues persuasively that federal and state governments need to redirect resources away from foster care and toward helping families with whatever problems they're having in dealing with a child.  And this case looks like a good example of what he's talking about.  What if CPS had had more money and personnel because it wasn't spending so much on foster care?  A CPS caseworker could have taken the situation in hand.  That might have meant sitting down with Wright and Ashley's pediatrician and working out what it took to get Wright to comply with Ashley's medical needs.  Then that person could have kept his/her finger on the pulse of the situation.  Did Wright fill prescriptions?  Keep doctor's appointments?  How many pills had been used since the caseworker's last visit? If Wright showed that she understood the situation and had changed her ways over time, then Ashley would be alive today.  She'd be living with her mother and sister and still would have her relationships with her extended family.  Of course if that type of intervention failed to correct Wright's treatment of her daughter, then foster care would still have been an alternative. But that type of intervention by a caseworker from CPS wasn't an alternative.  For CPS it was, as usual, take the child into care or leave the child with the mother.  CPS decided on the latter with disastrous results.  It did so in part because so much of its resources are put into foster care.  There's simply no time or money for it to work constructively with parents. Of course, there's no guarantee of success in any case.  CPS could have done its utmost for Tracy Wright and she still might have returned to her old ways that resulted in Ashley's death.  But what we know is that, with some exceptions, parental care is better for children than is foster care.  We also know it's cheaper for taxpayers.  That last is true even with the type of intervention Richard Wexler describes and that might have saved a little girl's life.

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The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been drafted by Senator Pat Leahy's, (D-Vt.) Senate Judiciary Committee.  The organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments was kind enough to send me a copy and it looks much the same as what we've had since VAWA's inception.  What changes the bill does make are for the worse. Now, as many readers are aware, that's not because people haven't tried to educate the senators on the committee about the many flaws in VAWA.  Indeed, less than two months ago, the committee held hearings at which many people testified about things like the entire lack of accountability for funds, the fact that its mandatory arrest provisions likely make domestic violence more dangerous not less and the fact that restraining orders don't protect people who are actually in danger but serve as a weapon in the hands of those who aren't.  For that matter, S.A.V.E. has lobbied members of Congress about all those things.  It's also tried to get the language of VAWA to be made gender-neutral and to include sanctions for false allegations that clog up courts and DV shelters. So what did Leahy come up with?  A proposed bill that would retain all the bad policies of the existing bill and actually make them worse, that's what.  For example, right there on page 69 of the 125-page bill, is the requirement that colleges and universities adopt the standard of proof in sexual assault cases foisted on them by the Department of Education - preponderance of evidence, the lowest standard in American jurisprudence.  Up to now, that requirement has been nothing more than a rule put in place by a single attorney in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.  As such, it could be overturned by order of her immediate superior.  Under Leahy's bill, it would become the law of the land. It's not as if S.A.V.E. hasn't gotten a lot of good feedback on its campaign to make federal law regarding domestic violence sane, effective and fair.  Indeed, the congressional staff members they talk to welcome their input and honestly consider what they're saying. It's also true that Republican members of the Judiciary Committee like Charles Grassley, (R- Ia.) are rightly concerned about spending half a billion dollars on a program for which there are no safeguards on how the money's spent.  Given that the most recent audit of 22 recipients of the federal largesse coming to them via VAWA found serious deficiencies in 21, Grassley's got a point.  But it's a point lost on Leahy who, in this era of never-before-seen federal deficits, can't think of a reason to make recipients of VAWA money explain what they're doing with the money and why.  Amazing. But for now, there's a slight hitch in Leahy's git-along.  He clearly drafted the proposed reauthorization of VAWA without the assistance of common sense, the concept of fairness or much concern about the taxpayer's money.  That's clear enough from the bill he's proposing.  But he also drafted the a bill without any input from his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.  And that is where S.A.V.E. wants to attack this wasteful, ineffective and misandric bill.  So S.A.V.E. wants you to contact your senator and urge him/her to reject this bill in favor of a more sensible bill that corrects the current law's many shortcomings.  To do that, just dial 1-202-224-3121. More importantly, contact the Senate Judiciary Committee members directly and demand that they stop this dreadful bill and replace it with one that will deal effectively with DV as it's understood by the science on the problem. Here's the contact information for the Senate Judiciary Committee.  From there you can easily contact individual members. The game is afoot!

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In Pennsylvania, money from inheritance raises the recipient's child support obligations.  That's true even if the person receiving the money has already spent it in ways that benefit the child.  Read about it here (FindLaw, 4/1/2000).  It's an old case, but it's worth knowing about. It seems that the father of a 16-year-old girl received an inheritance from his mother of $83,000.  He had a family who lived with him, so he bought a house with the money he received from his mother's estate.  The new house presumably was a good thing for his daughter whom the article describes as living with "an adult relative." But when the "adult relative" found out about the dad's inheritance, she went to court to get a piece of the pie.  And the court said 'yes.'  It increased the father's child support obligation "substantially."
 The law defines "income" for support purposes as including all ordinary income as well as "other entitlements to money or lump sum awards, without regard to source, including lottery winnings, income tax refunds, insurance compensation or settlements, awards and verdicts and any form of payment due to and collectible by an individual regardless of source." Also included is "income from an estate or trust." Pennsylvania courts have long based support obligations not just on a parent's actual earnings but also on his or her earning ability and financial resources.
Now, the dad argued that what he received wasn't "income from an estate or trust."  That is, what he received was the principal from the estate, not income.  If he'd invested it in, say, municipal bonds and received periodic payments of interest, that interest would be "income from an estate."  But that's not what happened.  In fact, he reinvested the money in a non-income producing asset, i.e. a residence. And the court agreed that the money he received was not in fact income from his mother's estate.  But no dad gets off that easy.  The court ruled that what the father had received from his mother qualified as "other entitlements to money... without regard to source."  So it raised his monthly obligation to reflect his receipt of the $83,000. Never mind that he no longer had the money.  Never mind that he spent it responsibly by buying a better house for his family and his daughter when she visits him.  And above all, never mind that the payment was a one-time thing, but child support payments go on every month, every year.  And finally, never mind that his actual income from which he pays his child support didn't go up a penny. No, all of that must take a backseat to his obligation to support his child with whatever comes to hand. But wait.  He was already supporting his child and no one argues that he wasn't or that he was doing so insufficiently.  The girl's "adult relative" received what the court ordered and there's no indication that it wasn't sufficient to meet her needs.  So if child support is really about, well, supporting the child, the dad was doing that. And yet, when he receives a windfall, suddenly his child's needs miraculously increase in lockstep.  Again, the money is gone, invested in his residence, so where he's going to get the wherewithal to pay the increased amount is anyone's guess.  But irrespective of that, it seems painfully obvious that Pennsylvania law and the court's action have far more to do with Mom support than they do child support.  As I said, the girl was supported well enough before he received his inheritance, so why not afterward. Worse, like most inheritances, his was a one-time-only event.  To the extent the state can pretend it's income, it only happened in one year.  But his child support obligation doesn't end in that year; it goes on and on until the child becomes 18 or 21.  So, if he can pay the increased amount, and my guess is he can't (again, the money he receives to pay his bills hasn't increased a bit), he'll be doing so month after month, year after year because the court decided his income had all of a sudden increased by $83,000. That will happen, that is, unless he spends still more money next year to hire a lawyer, go to court and explain to the judge that he hasn't received another inheritance and his "income" has once again declined to what he receives from his employer. In other words, a colossal waste of time and money to do what should have been done in the first place - recognize that the money had already been spent, that the child benefits from the expenditure and that the father's actual ability to pay hasn't increased at all. This silliness would all be solved if state legislatures would take a less punitive, less misandric and more commonsense approach to child support.  That would mean setting amounts for child support that reflected what's actually needed to support a child - I'm not talking some bare-bones, spartan existence, but something reasonable - and letting it go at that. The idea that Pennsylvania's approach has something to do with a child's needs is plainly at odds with the truth.  The increase in this case was about supporting Mom, not the child who was already sufficiently supported in the first place. My guess is that there's something else at work as well.  The notion that any Mom gets a big chunk of anything extra that Dad takes in impacts family dynamics in another way; it tends to keep the child in Mom's custody.  In the case in question, the child in question was 16 years old.  In most states, that's well old enough for her to have gone to court and told the judge with which parent she wanted to live.  And by that age, the judge will pretty much go with the child's wishes absent some indication that she's motivated improperly. An improved living standard on Dad's part, brought about by a better job, an inheritance, a new wife with strong earnings, might just be enough to convince a teenager to move in with him.  And we can't have that, now can we.  So legislatures and courts are at pains to take any little extra Dad may receive, give Mom a share and pretend it has something to do with supporting an already-supported child. That's life in family court. Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

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In New Zealand, fully 79% of all parents with child support orders are behind on their payments.  Read about it here (TVNZ, 10/23/11). I recently wrote about the State of Ohio in which about 70% of parent with child support orders were delinquent.  Well, it turns out that New Zealand is actually worse off.  But as the article makes clear, the reasons are essentially the same; support levels are set unrealistically high in the first place, they're almost impossible to modify downward in case of a lost job or other change in circumstances, and penalties for non-payment that are supposed to encourage timely payment actually do the opposite.
Figures released to the Sunday Star-Times show that of the 179,500 people liable for child support, 141,464 (79%) are behind...
"It's just the amount that causes resentment," [Hamilton Budgeting Adviser Claire Mataira] said...
Parents who did not pay their child support on time were charged the greater of $5 or 10% of the unpaid amount. On top of that, they faced a $1 or 2% penalty on the total overdue amount - including incurred penalties - every month.
Just to make sure you got that last, New Zealand charges 7% on all overdue amounts.  Then it compounds that interest by charging 7% on penalty amounts.  My guess is that it's at least fairly common for a father to pay what the order says he owes and still fall further behind during the month he made the payment.  Resentment?  You bet. Into the bargain, New Zealand child support authorities have powers those in the U.S. don't, at least not yet.  Those include the power to obtain warrants for the sale of personal or real property to satisfy the indebtedness.  The latter apparently have never been used, but the former are not uncommon.  So if Americans think having your license to drive taken away is both bad and nonsensical, understand that in New Zealand authorities can take your car. Not surprisingly,  when parents get behind on their payments and penalties kick in, they tend to discourage paying.  The reaction in many cases is to try to avoid the obligation altogether or in part by hiding income or emigrating to Australia.  A surprising number of New Zealand child support cases are administered by Australian authorities.
"Although penalties play an important role in encouraging parents to meet their obligations, if they are excessive they can discourage payment," [Revenue Minister Peter] Dunne said. "Reducing penalty rates in certain circumstances, combined with other effective enforcement measures, will help parents resume payments."
All of that is pretty familiar to Americans.  What's decidedly less so is that the New Zealand government has decided to do something constructive about its child support debt crisis.  Read about it here (New Zealand Herald, 10/23/11).  For months, the government has been taking comments on the existing system and seems about ready to make new laws and regulations governing divorced parents with children.  Those will take effect in April of 2013, which seems like a long time just to refigure how child support and penalties for non-payment will be administered. And I suppose it goes without saying that the reported fix won't do nearly enough to treat non-custodial parents in ways that ensure payment of reasonable support amounts with reasonable ways of modifying support orders.  Only in a fantasy world would that happen and New Zealand doesn't qualify no matter how many Tolkien dramas were filmed there. Still, I'd argue that the fact that New Zealand is backtracking on the most draconian of its child support regulations is a step in the right direction and one I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of the world emulating in the near future.  Face it, child support laws in the English-speaking world are unjust and unreasonable in many different ways.  Plus, they affect an enormous number of people.  That's a situation that's ripe for change.  So we may well attend to what New Zealand does and what effects it has.
An overhaul of child-support payments will reduce the cost for part-time parents who spend just 28 per cent of the time with their children - two nights a week.
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne, who announced the changes, said they would recognise parents as "shared carers" of children if they had the child for 28 per cent of the nights down from 40 and would give greater consideration of both parents' incomes when determining payments.
So parents who have their children two nights out of the week will see their support levels drop.  So will non-custodial parents whose exes work and earn.
Dunne said the proposed changes to the child-support formula would apply from April 2013, and changes to payment, penalty and debt rules would be introduced the next year. It would mean that some parents would receive lower payments but it would be a "fairer" system.
Now, that 28% care threshold contains a catch; most non-custodial parents have the usual every other weekend order meaning they have only half the parenting time required to qualify for the reduction.  So that particular change may sound good, but the truth is that it just won't affect that many parents.  Somehow I'm not surprised. 
Union of Fathers president Allan Harvey welcomed the overhaul but said changes could go further. Fourteen per cent of nights in one parent's care should qualify as "shared care" status - the equivalent of every second weekend.
"It's not usual for children to be in one parent's care every weekend." Harvey also said family household income, when one of the former partners took a new partner, should be taken into consideration, rather than an individual parent's.
So the new rules in New Zealand are far from the type of sensible, fair approach to child support that we might wish.  But it's a step toward rationality.  More important, it's not more of the same - the ever harsher, ever more punitive approach we've come to expect.  And in that way, it may be a harbinger of things to come.  Some day we may look back on these relatively modest changes and see that this was the time the tide turned.

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Actor Ben Davies (right), one of the fathers in 'Courageous'"][/caption] Longtime Fathers and Families member Steve S. Sommer, MD, PhD, says the new movie Courageous underscores the importance and wisdom of fathers. Steve writes:

Courageous is a movie about five men, four who have integrity and display courage.  These men range from reasonable to non-involved fathers. The dynamics of their interaction help them focus on their roles as fathers.

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A new survey shows that one in seven families in the U.K. has a stay-at-home dad. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 10/25/11).

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