Archive for March, 2016

The Election and Family Court

Having followed presidential elections since 1960 (my dad drove us to a Nixon rally that year and to Love Field in Dallas to see JFK just a few minutes before his 1963 assassination) and read a bit of history for the elections before then, I’d offer my opinion that this is the wildest presidential election campaign since 1860, in which Lincoln won in a four man race with only 39.8 % of the vote.

The two biggest differences between 1860 and today of course are the more than ten times increase in population (from 31 million to 323 million) and the explosion of mass media. I first encountered the importance of media during the Nixon-Kennedy debates of the 1960 campaign in which television viewers swore that JFK won whereas the radio audience said the opposite.  After eight years of the grandfatherly-like Eisenhower in office, the new TV generation was now much more oriented toward a telegenic personality like Kennedy.

Fast forward to 2016 where the media has gone from radio and three TV networks (with only 15 minutes per day, minus commercial time, of national news) to the 24 hours cable news cycle, talk radio and the Wild West of the Internet). This new media environment has been feasting on what many consider the two most flawed major party favorites in US history, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  The latter in particular has been able to dominate the media, as has no candidate in history: a company called Mediaquant estimates that he received over $400 million in free TV time last month and others have estimated that it’s been over $2 billion for the campaign to date.

Readers of this blog know that equal parenting after divorce is a state, rather than a federal issue, so why the headline to this blog entry?   I might point readers to the 1964 campaign in which Lyndon Johnson switched from his long history as a states-rights segregationist to being a forceful (much more so than JFK had been) advocate of federal laws to supersede segregationist state laws.  He was doing so under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, just as was done in Brown vs. the Board of Education case in the 1950’s. I of course content that this too applies to a child’s right to equal access to both parents after a divorce.

As stated in my last blog entry, I have been following this issue for almost 15 years.  In that time there have been four presidential campaigns and I can only recall the 2008 campaign where it came up as a topic.  In that year both John McCain and Ron Paul responded to an audience question (it was at separate venues, but who knows, it could have been from the same questioner!) and both, as I recall, seemed to give lip service to approving the idea of equal parenting after divorce.

In this year’s campaign I regret that no one seems to have given that question to Mr. Trump, because, with his four children and two divorces,  he could be the poster boy for my contention that family courts around the nation tend to discriminate against fathers and less-well connected mothers.  With his vast financial resources (although Forbes magazine says his net worth is only a fraction of what Trump claims), does anyone doubt that Trump had no problem whatsoever having access to his children after either of his divorces?   A celebrity counter-example would be Alec Baldwin, who had roughly equal financial resources as his ex-spouse Kim Basinger and thus had a very difficult time gaining access to his daughter, as documented in his book, “A Promise To Ourselves”.

At this point I’d like to raise  another topic raised by Trump in a completely different context: waterboarding.  My more psychologically-oriented readers might call this a “loose association”, but bear with me.  Trump, although he disparages George Bush for starting the Iraq war, seems to come to his defense by calling for bringing back waterboarding when ISIS prisoners are interrogated.  This was a very big issue in the 2004-2008 period  and the American public seemed roughly divided on the issue, although world opinion seemed to definitely be against it.

I recall vividly in 2004, when I was only allowed to see my son two to four hours a week that I would gladly undergo waterboarding in lieu of that deprivation.  In fact, my local Johnson Correctional Facility that year stated on its website that 12 hours per week was the optimal child visitation time for prisoners there.  Thus I, like thousands of other parents around the nation, was treated far worse than a violent felon even though I, and thousands of other parents, had completely clean criminal records.  The other point to be made in this regard is that for prisoners in both maximum security US prisons and for those accused war criminals in Guantanamo, solitary confinement is considered the maximum punishment: isn’t that a rough equivalent of only being allowed to see ones child a couple of hours a week?  How about the 14th Amendment on that one?

The California  Supreme Court has at least shown some awareness on how move aways can impact this parental-child access issue.  In the 1990’s custodial parents were given almost carte blanche to move away with their children after a divorce, but shortly after the new millennium, the La Musga ruling set out six criteria for allowing  move aways.  It was cited when the Appeals Court granted me a “trial de novo” after my ex-spouse was allowed by the local court to move to a very remote location.  However, I experienced what many California parents do when the case was retried: La Musga is only window dressing to allow the courts to give themselves an image of fair-mindedness: in a 1,000 page trial transcript reference to the La Musga criteria covered less than a page and I, and my son, lost.

In conclusion, it’s only fair to say a bit about the other party, the Democrats.   On the Sunday talk shows Bernie Sanders was, as my mom used to say, breaking his arm patting himself on the back for winning six of the last seven primaries.  He wasted no time in condemning Mrs. Clinton for her huge financial windfall from Wall Street. What he neglected to mention, as stated in last week’s entry, was that she receives three times as much from attorneys as she does from Wall Street. What percentage of that amount goes to family court attorneys (many of whom are working hard to keep parents from their kids), would be a great subject for investigative journalism, if that still existed in the 21st century.  That little factoid no doubt slipped Mr. Sanders mind because he himself gets a substantial amount of his campaign funds from these same trial attorneys.

 

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Anglo-Saxon vs. Scandinavian Justice

http://www.torontosun.com/2016/03/09/judge-blasts-warring-parents-who-squandered-500000-on-custody-battle?token=db3361ee5840f67968b2701686f39a47

I began weekly entries for this blog on Martin Luther King Day, 2015.  I chose that day because I’d been part of the 60’s civil rights struggle and I saw numerous parallels between that era and the 21st century fight that thousands of parents have had for equitable access to their children.  I chose “Magna Carta” as its title because it was the 800th anniversary of that document and because child custody and the Magna Carta both involved fundamental human rights.

The above link is to an article from the Toronto Sun regarding an extraordinary child custody case: a 36 day trial, $500,000 spent on attorneys and stretched over more than three years. To lend a personal perspective, my own case just concluded successfully after passing the midway of its 15th year, after three trials, a successful appeal to the California Supreme Court (which changed absolutely nothing) and a personal loss of over $1.3 million in attorney fees, travel expenses and lost wages.

Canada, the US, Australia and the UK can all be considered to be part of the Anglo Saxon legal tradition, probably the world’s oldest.  What an irony that the world’s oldest system of justice denies equal rights to fathers and less-well connected mothers for probably the world’s most fundamental human right, access to one’s children.  Scandinavia, on the other hand, was featured in what I consider to be 2014’s most important documentary film, Divorcecorp.  It shows family courts in, as I recall, Sweden and Iceland, who make it a priority to give children access to BOTH parents after a divorce, sparing both parents and kids the trauma of separation and the financial ruin that child custody cases in Anglo Saxon nations entails.

Another irony is that in Scandinavia the population tends to be very concentrated, making physical access easier and therefore shared custody practices less important than in the A-S nations (this of course is only one factor because in the most concentrated of the four A-S nations, Britain, perhaps the strongest parental justice group has formed, Fathers4 Jusice: famous for scaling monuments to publicize their cause). When population density is lower, move-aways by one parent should be severely restricted, unless the second party has no interest in parenting.

Of the other three nations, this would be least important in Australia, where the vast majority of the nation lives in the southeast corner and second would be Canada, with only three large population centers, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  My own move-away case was within the state of California, but it was 720 miles.  As I pointed out to the court, this is the same distance as Chicago to Arkansas, New York City to South Carolina or London to Milan, Italy!

In summary, despite finally winning my 15 year struggle for equal access to my son, I will continue to try to help the thousands of parents trying to do the same.  I consider it an international disgrace that this Canadian judge could render such a long, detailed verdict without apparently making reference to the common sense solution to these type of cases: a legal presumption of 50/50 custody after divorce.

 

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The Duke Lacrosse Case: Ten Years On

The Media Learned Nothing From The Duke Lacrosse Hoax

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry regarding whether or not one should allow their son (or daughter, when it comes to concussions for soccer players) to play football.   Today, I want to talk about how this case could impact the decision on when, where, and even if, one should send their son to college.

I. The Media

Perhaps my favorite all-time phrase I’ve heard on this matter was from a famous radio wag, “the state controlled media”, in reference to the current US media scene.  Speaking of radio, I must give credit to the great Dennis Prager for his perspective on today’s colleges : “left wing seminaries”. Having spent four years under the Jesuits in high school I can verify the similarity in regard to the Duke Lacrosse case in particular.    At Duke in 2006 (see the above link) it seemed that many in both the college and the community seemed to be worshiping the Holy Trinity of identity politics: race, gender and class. The fact that both the local North Carolina and the national media seemed to be “singing from the same hymnbook” harked back to my 1980-2000 extended visits to the Communist nations of Bulgaria, Cuba, China and the Soviet Union and to my exposure the military-controlled media of Guatemala during their long, bloody civil war.

II. Colleges

One of the memes one hears on campuses today is the mantra “white privilege”.  Duke fit perfectly into this one since the school liked to call itself “The Harvard of the South (I began my undergraduate years at SMU in Dallas, which gave itself the same moniker, so one has to wonder how many schools tried that one!) . At roughly the same time as the Duke case, UVA (The University of Virginia) had a similarly hysterical atmosphere for a supposed rape case but UVA went a step beyond Duke in setting up “safe spaces”.  These have become a fixture on many campuses and allows students who feel damaged by what they feel are any violations to the aforementioned PC Trinity.  Here they can soothe themselves with soft, cuddly dolls and Play-Doh as they contemplate their miserable existence, which would be envied by 99% of the planet.  One other recent feature on campuses is anti-Semitism, which is usually hidden under the guise of “Anti-Zionism”.  This was seen recently at my alma mater, UC Berkeley.  A man decided to have a one hour test on this by waving the Israeli flag for 30 minutes, followed by the ISIS flag for the same period of time.  He was shocked to find about a 30-1 negative response to the Israeli flag and about the same ratio POSITIVE for the ISIS flag!  Here too, Dennis Prager has been prominent in speaking out and he says that if he had an 18 year old he would recommend that he/she spend a year abroad or work as a waiter for a year to be able to cut through the PC-BS they’ll encounter on campus.  Since my teenager is half-Jewish I’ve already passed on Prager’s advice and told my son that I won’t pay for college until he’s at least 19.

III. Family Court

Ten years ago a friend and I seriously contemplated having a class discussion on equal parenting vis-a-vis family court.  We thought it could be a good media event to hold it at San Diego State University, which claims to have started the first women’s studies program in the nation.  Needless to say, the atmosphere there, as well as on most campuses, makes it such that one would have to have severe masochistic tendencies to plan, much less carry out such at event in 2016.  In conclusion, I want to mention one other meme that’s become prominent on campus, putting science on a pedestal, especially regarding “global warming (now, in an Orwellian twist, it’s been switched to “climate change”, since the globe didn’t warm nearly as much as the computer models predicted)”.  The hysteria on this topic reached an absurd level this week when a well-funded foundation guru (and no doubt ex-academician) said it is now appropriate to invoke RICO statutes on all climate-change deniers. As they used to say in the 1950’s he’s got the right string but the wrong yo-yo.  The majority of social scientists agree that children need both parents (there’s a bevy of studies showing the correlation between single parent households  and a child having a proclivity for higher crime, drug/alcohol abuse, etc.) but I doubt seriously that this is extensively taught on college campuses and I’m certain that the link between family court and parental non-involvement is not taught.  Maybe it’s time to take those same RICO statutes and apply them to the attorneys who grow rich keeping parents from their kids.  And of course the media could have a field day looking into the fact that, according to a recent Wall Street Journal headline, Hillary Clinton receives three times as much money from attorneys as she gets from Wall Street!

 

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Equal Parenting Bill in Florida

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/senate-passes-divorce-law-change-advocating-that-kids-split-time-evenly/2266468

The above article shows that equal parenting as the default presumption in child custody cases is halfway to being a law.  The author feels that a similar bill will be passed in the Florida House, where it will await Governor Scott’s signature.  This of course is extremely important because Florida is now the third most populous state.

I am a registered independent because I believe that equal child custody should never be a partisan (or a gender issue, for that matter) However, one can’t help but see that the two advocates for the bill are Republicans (and both men), while the one opponent cited is a female Democrat.

As noted in my previous blogs, two of the biggest impediments to a legal presumption of equal parenting are trial lawyers (who profit handsomely in the current adversarial system, and the media, who normally ignore international events, but when it comes to child custody it’s the ONLY cases they cover (see Elian Gonzales/Cuba and the Goldman/Brazil case).

Speaking of the Democrats, a recent Wall Street Journal cover story showed that Hillary Clinton received three times as much money from attorneys as she did from financial firms/investment banks, her second most lucrative source of funds.  Interesting that the media repeats ad nauseum the link between Wall Street and politicians while totally ignoring what politicians are doing for trial attorneys.  Even more interesting when many of the latter are working hard, and being extremely well paid, for keeping parents from their children around the nation.

 

 

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Black History Month and Equal Parenting Part III

Since the Oscars were on this week it seemed appropriate to talk about films for this topic.  Race was certainly the overhanging theme of this year’s event and kudos must be given to Chris Rock for making it  a relatively light-hearted four hours after the media had brought a couple of months of “Sturm und Drang” by constantly linking race and the film industry.

I plan to bring these two disparate topics together by comparing and contrasting two films from 1967.  The first of these is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.  I read that it was the biggest box office comedy in history until surpassed by “The Graduate”, which was released just a few months later.  “Dinner” had a trio of dramatic actors, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Tracy and Poitier were multiple Oscar winners and Ms. Hepburn still holds the honor of the greatest number of “Best Actress” Oscars.

The film harks back to last week’s observation that in the 50’s and 60’s a black man had to be twice as talented/successful to be considered half as good.  Poitier’s character is off the scale completely: an Ivy-League educated physician who does Dr. Schweitzer-like work for children in Africa.  To add to his saint-like demeanor, his wife and young son had died in a car crash a few years earlier.  Thus, he was even able to surpass Tom Hank’s character, in “Sleepless in Seattle” who merely had to cope with a wife’s cancer death (having been in a couple of relationships with women who were turned off by my custody battles, I can tell you that there’s an incredible difference between having to cope with a widower and dealing with a shrieking ex-wife).

Overall, one must say that “Dinner” was a superb combination of great acting, a lively script (winner of a Best Screenplay Oscar) and a delicate interweaving of comedy and drama.  There was great chemistry between all three sets of couples, the dazzling young pair, Poitier’s working class mom and dad and of course Kate and Spencer, probably the best on-screen (and some say off-screen as well) couple of all time.  The film certainly captures the race relations of its era  perhaps better than any in history.

Also in 1967 was “Divorce American Style”, or in this context it could be called “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner”.  It was directed by Norman Lear, who was considered a comedy genius in the 70’s for “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons”, both of which tackled race relations with full gusto but that topic is completely missing in “Style”.  Virtually the entire cast was lily-white but the dads in the film certainly had as much second-class status as most minority groups.  Two of the great comic actors of the 60’s, Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds, play the main divorcing couple and Van Dyke is shocked to find that he now has to live on $87/ week ($31,000 per year in 2016 dollars) and of course has only a token amount of time with his children.  Two other Oscar-winning dramatic actors, Jason Robards and Jean Simmons round out the cast. Pardon the pun but one would have to classify this one as a “black comedy”.

Alimony is a real obsession for the men, and to be fair, this was reformed a bit in the 70’s under “no fault” divorce laws.  What has not changed is attorney’s getting rich over the dad’s misery.  Near the end of the film Jason Robards’ character sadly laments: “The trouble is the legislature.”  Truer words were never spoken, especially in California.  Over the intervening four decades, many equal parenting bills have been introduced but they don’t make it out of commitee thanks to trial lawyers and taxpayer-subsidized feminist groups. Indeed a father in California in the 21st century has about as much chance of achieving equal time with his children as a black man found getting equal justice in Mississippi in the 1960’s: as seen by that other great 1967 Sidney Poitier film, “In The Heat of the Night”.

 

 

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