Archive for June, 2015

The Supreme Court and Family Court

On Friday, June 26th, SCOTUS made its long-awaited decision on gay marriage.
Justice Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, summed up their opinion: “There are no rights more fundamental than due process and equal treatment under the law.”
The media and the administration were agog in jubilation (the latter going so far as to bask the White House in rainbow colors). While I believe that history will judge this as a correct decision and the U.S. is joining 20 other nations in coming to this conclusion (Mexico most recently), I believe that “marriage equality” will have far less impact on society than a SCOTUS decision on “parenting equality” would have.
I believe this to be the case based on The Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s first truly scientific sampling of 35,000 American adults last year and their finding that only 1.6% of the population consider themselves to be gay, or a little over 3 million people. I have heard informal surveys among gays and it seems only a small fraction of them desire to be married, or perhaps less than a million nationwide. Thus, although there could be a positive impact, particularly on children of gay couples, it will be a relatively small one.
On the other hand, I would ask the African American Constitutional scholar who occupies the White House to reflect on the fact that 72% of black children grow up in homes with only one parent. What portion of those black dads have talked to other dads and know that there is little chance that they’ll receive either due process or equal treatment under the law and “abandon ship” rather than face two decades of being, at best, a mere “visitor” in their children’s lives?
To paraphrase the great Woody Allen in “Bananas”: Family Court is a travesty of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.
Check Woody in the short court scene and note the gay reference from 45 years ago:

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First……………………………and Last Fathers

Since we refer to the spouse of the president as “First Lady (presumably “First Man” if Mrs. Clinton is elected)”, one can certainly refer to the president as “First Father”.
Of our 44 presidents, only one, James Buchanan (coincidentally, often chosen by historians as the worst president), never married in his entire life. Given that 98% rate, being a father would seem to be a qualification for the job.

On June 1st, Senator Lindsey Graham stepped into the 2016 presidential race and several pundits quickly claimed that he didn’t have a chance for the nomination, partly due to his bachelor status. Soon after that, there was the Washington funeral of Vice President Joe Biden’s son. Mr. Biden has had far more than his share of family tragedies and through them we can see that he has been an exemplary father.

Mr. Obama too, by all accounts, seems to be an excellent parent. He joins the list of presidents with younger children who have been a great example to fathers around the nation, if not the world: Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Nixon, Carter and Clinton.

While we celebrate these men, we would be remiss if we ignored the fact that our current top executives are members of a party that receives a great deal of its financial support from the trial lawyers, now formally known as the American Association for Justice. They in turn are the most important force behind our adversarial family court system, which produces thousands of “Last Fathers” every year: those who are victims of parental alienation syndrome and are thus kept away from their children for months or years at a time.

National Public Radio (NPR) , to its great credit, featured one of these dads today. His name is Jon Kalish and his story can be found via the link below. He was 3,000 miles from his daughter and yet sacrificed great amounts of time and money to see her regularly until she became alienated from him in her teens. Be sure to catch the audio which recounts in poignant detail her younger years and tragic death at age 19, following several years of non-contact with her father.

http://www.npr.org/2015/06/21/416106957/a-father-a-daughter-and-a-continent-between-them

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Follow-Up to the May 25 blog post

Two weeks ago we cited the new 40% standard parenting time-share that was mandated by a new law in Utah.  It seems appropriate to show the progress for more equal parenting time in other states.  In 2013 Arizona passed a “best interest of the child” law which was intended to move toward more balanced parenting time:

25-403. Legal decision-making; best interests of child

A. The court shall determine legal decision-making and parenting time, either originally or on petition for modification, in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including:

1. The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.

2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.

3. The child’s adjustment to home, school and community.

4. If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.

5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.

6. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. This paragraph does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.

7. Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.

8. Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to section 25-403.03.

9. The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.

10. Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.

11. Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.

B. In a contested legal decision-making or parenting time case, the court shall make specific findings on the record about all relevant factors and the reasons for which the decision is in the best interests of the child.

The Arizona Republic, the state’s newspaper of record, noted that Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota have been in the vanguard of the movement for equalizing parenting time.  Each of them has endorsed a 40% minimum parenting time for non-custodial parents.  It also noted that Minnesota and Florida passed similar statutes but they were vetoed by the governors of those two states.

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Family Court and Stanley Milgram

Anyone who has read this or similar blogs would be very justified in asking, “If family court has such bad consequences for both individuals and society, why do so many highly educated people work in the system and support its decisions?

In reply, let me give a personal perspective. I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in the 1970’s, considered the top public university in the world during that era. I majored in psychology and had many excellent professors (most notably Dr. Stephan Chorover, a visiting M.I.T. prof in physiological psychology, who recently passed away). In all my psychology classes, however, the name Stanley Milgram was never mentioned. Although Milgram’s experiments began in 1961, he was considered controversial until well into the 1970’s.
Milgram was Jewish and his 1961 experiment came on the heels of the trial of Adolph Eichman, the soon to be convicted Nazi war criminal. Much of the world became obsessed with the question, “How could the most advanced and educated nation (Germany in the 1930’s) produce people who would willingly go along with such horror?”
I have included a link to Wikipedia’s excellent summary of his experiments and various replications around the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

What Milgram and his successors found was that the vast majority of subjects, generally 60-70%, would administer what they believed to be lethal levels of electric shocks to people merely for giving wrong answers.
The first experiments were done at Yale University, which presumably had more highly-educated and conscientious subjects than the population at large.
I’ll let you draw your own parallels to family court by citing Milgram’s own 1974 conclusions on his various experiments:

“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs and without any hostility on their part, can become agents in a terribly destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources to resist authority.”

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The Great Charter, June, 1215

Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament and one of the most astute commentators on historical aspects of the global political scene, has written “Eight Centuries of Liberty” in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/magna-carta-eight-centuries-of-liberty-1432912022?KEYWORDS=magna+carta

He refers of course to the Magna Carta and quotes today’s leading British jurist in referring to it as “the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”
It of course was the inspiration for this blog as I try to show that family court is one of the leading threats to freedom and probably the most obvious example of despotic arbitrary power in the United States today.
Mr. Hannan very eloquently shows that not only did this document from June, 1215 lay the basis for liberty it also did so for prosperity in that it protected property rights for the first time in history.
Family Court, on the other hand, has not only been a great force against a child’s liberty, it has been the modern era’s greatest cause of poverty. More about that issue later in one of our June, 2015 blog entries.

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