Archive for August, 2015

International Child Custody

People Magazine has recently featured a story about an American mother who is contesting custody of her two children with her French ex-husband:

http://www.people.com/article/kelly-rutherford-custody-battle-new-york-no-jurisdiction

While it seems like the basis for a Lifetime TV “female as victim” drama is does point out an important issue that affects thousands of children around the world.
Back in the 90’s I taught International Business classes at Temple University, Tokyo and I used to tell my students “demography is destiny”, playing on Freud’s quip, “Anatomy is destiny”. A few years later I was able to apply that principle to trans-national custody cases.
Two nations where I lived for almost a decade: Germany and Japan, have a well-known “baby deficit” and are both predicted to have shrinking populations in the future. It is perhaps not a surprise then to find that if one marries a person from either of those nations it can be difficult to see one’s child after a divorce or separation.
Back in 2008 I discovered the nonprofit Findthekids.org. It offers resources for parents in international custody disputes.
At that time I was researching American-Israeli custody disputes. It is indeed ironic that these three nations are all strong US allies and were signatories to the Hague Convention on Child Custody and yet a custody dispute involving an American parent and a child in any of these three nations can be an expensive, arduous and protracted struggle. I believe that all three nations fit the demography-is-destiny paradigm, with Israel having a growing population but being outnumbered more than 20-1 by its Arab and Muslim neighbors.
One particularly interesting case involved a Jewish-American couple from Los Angeles. The wife had an extended Israeli family but the husband did not. They ran a business together and both decided that they could leave their business to the staff for a year so that the mother could explore her Israeli roots and their young son could learn Hebrew. The husband came along for the ride in a spirit of adventure.
After a year the business needed their attention and it was time to return home. The wife was ready to return but the husband, despite having no family in the country, had fallen in love with it and wanted to stay and keep their son in Israel!
The case dragged on for several months and I never heard the outcome but I did learn that there were more US-Israel custody cases than US-Mexico, US-Italy and US-UK combined! Quite a feat for a nation the size of New Jersey with only eight million people!

One lesson for those in a contentious custody dispute: Cheer up things could be far worse-your child could be 10,000 miles away in a nation that dearly holds on to its few remaining children!

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Review of “Why Gender Matters” by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD

The Zeitgeist of 2015 includes the high-water mark for “social constructionism”, the belief that male-female differences derive exclusively from social expectations with little or no input from biology- witness the SCOTUS legalization of gay marriage, the media obsession with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Target’s recent decision to remove all references to gender in their toy departments.
As one who has had three decades of experience as a single parent, roughly the same time with a son as with a daughter, I believe I’m in good position to evaluate Dr. Sax’s contentions.

Ch. 1 Sax maintains the now-controversial view that boys have a hearing deficit and that many referrals for boys as having ADHD are based on the widespread ignorance of this deficit among classroom teachers.
Ch. 2 He did an extensive review of relevant research to conclude that male-female brain differences are more fundamental than gay-straight ones, even in the areas of sexual attraction and behavior.  A decade ago Larry Summers resigned from the Harvard University presidency due to the outrage over his referring to these well-established brain differences.
Ch. 3 He shows that boys have a far greater risk tolerance than girls, which is also clearly evident in primate species such as monkeys, baboons and chimpanzees.
Ch. 4 He cites the CDC to show that boys today are four times more likely to be overweight than they were 40 years ago and recommends steering boys toward active and aggressive sports such as soccer, football and hockey.
Ch. 5 He finds that sex differences are acute when it comes to handling stress: girls prefer to be with others while boys prefer to be alone.
Ch. 6 He notes that girls often drop out of sports because they feel that they are being stared at by boys (and even men), so this may be a good reason to establish girls-only sports and PE classes.
Ch. 7 He makes the strong case that eating supper with one’s kids promotes stronger bonds and helps both boys and girls avoid the peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol.
Ch. 8 He contends that it is important for parents to be authority figures and not merely friends with their kids: this is particularly true for girls 12 and under and boys 14 and under.
Ch. 9 He refers to the “anomalous male syndrome” and states that much of their behavior can be traced to having an over-protective parent. This becomes even more important because 40% of American kids (50% of Hispanic and 72% of black ones) are born into single-parent homes.
Ch. 10 He quotes psychologist Jean Twengy: ” Kids today are significantly more depressed than kids were in the 50’s and 60’s: in fact, the average child today is more anxious than the typical child referred to a psychiatrist in the 1950’s.” Sax feels that this is partly due to today’s gender-confusion as evidenced by Facebook’s choice of over 50 “genders” one can choose to identify with.

In conclusion, Sax states that “trying to understand a child without understanding the role of gender is like trying to understand a child’s behavior without knowing their age.”

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From the Tennis Court to the Divorce Court

Four decades ago I visited Europe for the first time. One of the highlights of the trip was a tour of the House of Parliament in London. Our guide was very excited to relate to us that, during recent renovations of the vast kitchen-dining hall, a very old tennis ball was found lodged in one of the chimneys. Given the ball’s markings it was believed by the in-house historians to be one of the balls used by Henry VIII to play tennis with one of his wives. Perhaps this particular wife was an early version of Serena Williams and was able to vanquish Henry in the hall, thus setting herself up for divorce and/or decapitation.
The US legal system, like tennis, was based on a British model. On that first trip to London I was able to watch a fascinating murder case in the Old Bailey. In it the “bigwig” judge had to decide if a cherubic-looking teen defendant was guilty of murder (he did decide so, eventually).
Tennis emerged from its own “bigwig” era circa 50 years ago by loosening the old white-only clothing rules and dropping the outdated pro-amateur dichotomy. The biggest change of all was dictated by television: the tie-breaker. This is a change that virtually all fans and players heartily approve, indeed it’s impossible to imagine going back to the old scoring system in which tennis matches could be as agonizingly long as cricket matches still are today. Indeed Wimbledon alone has kept a ban on 5th set tie-breakers which resulted in American John Isner, back in 2010, winning 70-68 in the 5th set in a match that lasted 11 hours and extended over three days!
The agony of Isner’s titanic struggle is what many parents feel in today’s family court. This old bigwig institution needs to finally enter the 21st century and institute the judicial equivalent of tennis’ tie-breaker. States like Arizona and Utah have moved in that direction by setting 30-40% time share guidelines for child custody. What would be even better is a 50% time share default, unless one parent prefers less time-many dads and some executive moms, for example, would probably do so to further their careers.
The greatest impediment to this long-needed reform is, as the old bigwigs might say, “Cui bono”, Latin for “who benefits?” The current system, an almost apartheid-adversarial one, is strongly favored by the “iron triangle” of attorneys, court workers and so-called expert witnesses/consultants. The fact that many of them would have to find more socially-useful employment (much as ex-Stasi members had to do in 90’s Germany) should no longer be a barrier to children spending equal time with both of their parents.

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The Media and Family Court

During the past week the biggest media story, by far, has been the first debate of the 2016 Republican Party primaries. Most of the world already sees the 18 month presidential election campaigns as absurdly long but this week, mostly due to the presence of the flamboyant billionaire Donald Trump, the media has become a large part of the story.
In the UK, they are known as “news readers” and typically have modest salaries but in the US they are known as “anchors” or TV personalities and are accorded superstar status. Last Thursday there were three anchors acting as moderators and one of them, Megyn Kelly, gained even greater prominence by questioning Mr. Trump’s past statements, many of which would be considered blatantly sexist.
The presence of Mr. Trump, as well as probably the strongest Republican field in history, made it a contender for one of the biggest audiences for a cable TV political show ever. However, the actual audience wildly exceeded those expectations: 24 million saw the entire event and 36 million viewed an average of 87 minutes of it. This made it the largest one for any non-sporting event in the history of cable television.
It was shown on Fox News, which is owned by the famous (and some would say infamous) Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch is an Australian who achieved great success both there and in the UK before turning to the US. He was so determined to achieve greatness in the world’s largest media market that he was willing to become American and give up his Australian citizenship in order to meet the Federal Communications Commission rules for US media ownership.
His two most important US acquisitions were the Wall Street Journal and the Fox broadcasting network, with its cable TV counterpart, Fox News.  I returned to the US in 2000 after a decade living abroad and decided that I needed to reacquaint myself with my native land by watching two hours per day of news programs daily.  In those 11,000 hours, half of which were on Fox News, I only saw 15 minutes that related to US family court issues (there was also extensive coverage of the Cuban Elian Gonzales case and a US-Brazilian child custody dispute).  This was on the old Hannity-Colmes Show on Fox News in 2008 and was probably only selected due to its blatant nepotism:  Alan Colmes’ wife was touting her book on “the fathers’ rights movement”. The author was Jocelyn Crowley (actually a case of double-nepotism, since her sister, Monica Crowley, is a perennial Fox News pundit).  The book was called “Defiant Dads” and Ms. Crowley contended that the main, if not exclusive, reason that men joined these groups was to decrease their child support payments.

To add to the insult, today Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal contains an article on the lack of active black fathers entitled “The Flawed Missing Men Theory” ( http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-flawed-missing-men-theory-1439159236).  Its author, Kay Hymowitz, completely ignores the link with family court (see last week’s blog on the best book exposing that link, “Taken Into Custody” by Dr. Stephen Baskerville) and merely shows that stricter drug laws are not the main reason that 72% of black children are born into homes without a father.  To be fair to the WSJ, in 2012 they did print one of my short articles on the relationship between family court and military suicides.  However, I can’t let Murdoch off the hook since TV is the major information source for most Americans.  One extremely biased 15 minute report out of 15 years of viewing would be as if NBC, ABC or CBS from 1955 to 1970 only devoted 15 minutes to the civil rights struggle and that was a favorable book review with a KKK author!

Perhaps our social scene today would look quite different if Rupert Murdoch had been part of a long, contentious child custody case a decade or two ago.

 

 

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Book Review: “Taken Into Custody” by Dr. Stephen Baskerville

One can go to the following link to see a two minute YouTube promo of the 2007 now-classic study of the family court system:

The following are excerpts and my comments from each section of the book:

I. Introduction
It’s stated that 34% of all kids and 68% of black kids grow up in fatherless homes. That was from a 2002 study and the current figures are 41% and 72% respectively.
II. Chapter One
A great comparison between today’s family court and the plight of the protagonist Joseph K. in Kafka’s “The Trial”.
III. Chapter Two
A parallel between family court and the East German Stasi, their infamous secret police (dramatically portrayed in the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others”). Having lived in Berlin in 1990 and met many “Ossis” I can confirm the parallel.
IV. Chapter Three
Contains the stunner, “Current child support guidelines are largely the creation of one man, who is also the founder and primary owner of the nation’s largest private collection company.”
V. Chapter Four
A survey of Australian judges found that “almost 90% believe domestic violence orders were used by applicants … as a tactic in family court proceedings to deprive their partners of access to their children.”
VI. Chapter Five
The Soviet Union implemented the world’s first no-fault divorce system using identical terminology regarding the family as feminist writers today.
VII. Chapter Six
Words from ML King to inspire men and less well-connected women in family court: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

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