Archive for Civil Rights

Anglo-Saxon vs. Scandinavian Justice

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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Equal Parenting Bill in Florida

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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Black History Month and Equal Parenting Part II

This blog began a little over 13 months ago, on MLK Day in 2015.  I decided to have my first blog entry relate to Dr. King because back in 2009 I had addressed the State of California Elkins Family Law Task Force in Los Angeles and used that nexus to family court and received a hearty response.  I had been very nervous before the speech because my family court judge was on the panel but, as it turned out, she was absent that particular day.

For the first time on this blog, I’ve decided to devote a blog entry to autobiographical information.  One reason I am doing so is that I believe that I’m one of a minuscule minority of family court litigants who was also active in the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s.  I beg your indulgence for also making this my first stream of consciousness entry.

The first element of this civil rights-family court connection is being raised Irish Catholic by parents who were older than the average.  Today it is very common for a woman in her late 30’s to be a mother but in mid-century America it was very uncommon.  It was also very rare that the wife was several years older than the husband, a factor which could have led to me finding it easy to oppose a majority opinion.

One of my earliest memories was my mom telling me that the Ku Klux Klan had placed a burning cross in her family’s yard in upstate New York when she was a young girl, in the 1920’s. Thus I learned early that religion, as well as race, could spark the flames of bigotry (the consensus is that the Klan targeted blacks first, followed by Jews and then Catholics).

The other part of being Irish Catholic was being sent to 12 years of parochial schools.  During my eight years of grade school, the most significant event was the election of John Kennedy as president.  The nuns in my school may as well have had pom-poms they were so enthusiastic in their devotion to JFK. This became even more poignant in 9th grade when I saw him at the Dallas Airport just a few minutes before his assassination.

In high school I was taught by the Jesuits, traditionally known as “God’s marines”.  This was the mid to late 60’s when many of my teachers were caught up in the civil rights struggle that was on everyone’s mind, particularly in the South.  A few of the priests and seminarians who taught us even left teaching to demonstrate in deep-Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama.

The second element of my civil rights-family court connection has been my background in athletics.  Like most Texas boys I loved football and that was my first choice in sports but I was rail-thin and the coaches just laughed when I tried out.  The next sport was basketball and I was undergoing a 9th grade growth spurt which made coordinating my newly-found long arms and legs very difficult.

The next sport was track and I was so humiliated by losing in a middle distance race to a chain-smoking classmate that I vowed to train hard (inspired by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics) and became a two-time State of Texas two-mile champion.  I was lucky that it was still the pre-Title IX era (hey, we need something like that for dads in family court!) and I received a full scholarship to SMU in Dallas.  The other great thing about track was that, unlike with other sports, I compared my performance to runners all over the world, which stimulated my lifelong interest in world affairs (I even recall writing an essay on South African apartheid in high school).

Southern Methodist University had its own connection with civil rights when it gave the first athletic scholarship to a black athlete in the entire Southwest Conference, football player Jerry Levias.  In my sophomore year there, I became good friends with one of the very first black students at LSU, Louisiana State University.  He made me aware of local civil rights issues and I can still vividly recall the trepidation entering the athletic dining hall in 1968 and being the only one (even including the few black athletes) who wore a “Save Matt and Ernie” t-shirt. These were two Dallas activists, Matt Johnson and Ernie McMillan who received a 30 year prison sentence for staging a protest against high food prices in local black neighborhoods.The other important point about track and field is that “the stopwatch doesn’t lie”: the sport is a pure meritocracy.  In the 1950’s athletes like Willie Mays and Jesse Owens had to be “twice as talented to be considered half as good (something that surely applies to dads seeking equal custody in most family courts today)”. It is no coincidence that the Congressman that I consider to have done the most to expand economic opportunities for minorities was also an athlete, the late great Jack Kemp.


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