Archive for international child custody

Antipodean Child Custody

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/parenting/78241201/mum-taking-child-custody-battle-to-the-united-na

I probably need to explain the first word of the title to my American audience. I first came across this word two decades ago when I was supervising the foreign staff for a large Japanese training company.  Very soon after being recruited from California, I was told that I should quickly fire two staff members: A “Kiwi” who came to work with a “gloomy face” (ignoring the fact that he came from a close-knit rural family and two of his family members had recently died) and an “Ozzie” who was considered too uppity because he had near fluency in Japanese and therefore was the only “gaijin” in the office who could decode the local staff’s conversations.

Needless to say I fought my bosses on their “Antipodean antipathies” and we all left the company within 18 months.  The experience did help me get reacquainted with a unique culture that I had first encountered with an Aussie college roommate in the 70’s.  The second definition of “antipodes” is “the exact opposite” and that certainly fits in child custody, as it does in many other areas.  Stated simply, the typical Antipodean child custody case should have less conflict than a US one, simply due to demographics: New Zealand is 86% urban and Australia is 89%, making them two of the most urban nations in the world, especially if one excludes Europe and the many small island nations.  What’s more, 32% of Kiwis live in one city, Auckland, and Aussies are concentrated in the southeast corner of the country.  This is crucial because studies have found that four years after separation or divorce, up to 75% of custodial parents move away.  In a very mobile and widely separated nation like the US, this invites deep conflict, assuming both parents desire regular access to their children.

The Antipodes, however are the opposite when it comes to the probability of being involved in an international child custody case.  The above kink is to a Kiwi court case but it’s actually an Irish mother!  Within the article is a link to another Kiwi family court case but this one involves an American dad and his fight to bring his kids to the US to visit their grandparents (maybe the Kiwis haven’t yet discovered this, but in the US this is typically done by posting a substantial bond with the court). These cases will no doubt become more and more common since New Zealand has a very open economy and thousands of foreigners have been lured there by the weak Kiwi currency and the breathtaking scenery featured in the Lord of the Rings films.

As for Australia, I would invite the reader to google “Australia 60 Minutes Lebanese child custody case”.  Apparently this spin-off of the famous US show doesn’t have quite the same high journalistic standards.   The story involves the show paying for kidnappers to abduct her children from their father in Lebanon!  I suppose it was intended to be a mini-version of the compelling Sally Field drama, “Not Without My Daughter(in which an American mother tries to smuggle her child out of Iran in the 1980’s)”.  The show was unsuccessful in pulling off the caper but I would guess that it garnered high ratings down under.

In summary, these cases seem appropriate for a high UN Commission but that organizations track record of spending most of its time, money and energy on issues of political correctness would offer little hope for the unfortunate parent involved in an international child custody case.

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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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Climate Change, Media and Child Custody

 

No, that’s not a misprint-I would guess that those three topics have seldom, if ever, been combined in a title.
I was inspired this morning by watching CNN’s gushing coverage of the climate change talks in Paris this week, which featured President Obama claiming that climate change was both “intertwined with terrorism” and an immediate threat to national security.
This represents a dazzling example of how the media influences current events.
First, simply by what it calls the event. For a couple decades it was “global warming” but in the last few years, when the data didn’t seem to support much, if any warming, it was climate change. This was very handy since the climate has been constantly changing for the last four billion years!
Besides CNN, the Weather Channel (in early 2015 the most widely distributed cable channel, with over 97 million subscribers) has been prominent in hyping natural disasters and giving the impression that they are increasing at an alarming rate. They are owned by NBC and thus are the tag-team weather-disaster champs. Among many “inconvenient truths” they both ignore are the fact that we haven’t had a category three hurricane hit the continental US in ten years (a category four in more than 20 years!) and that Americans consistently rate global warming/climate change either at or very near the bottom of a list of national problems.
If one wants a balanced approach to climate, one should google Bjorn Lonborg, the Danish scientist who believes that man-made climate change is real but that the trillions of dollars being proposed in Paris to transfer from the US and EU to kleptocratic third world dictators could be much better spent on clean water and natural gas projects for those same nations.
So where’s the media on child custody? Despite deifying science when it comes to the above topic, they ignore the majority of social scientists who have found that fathers are crucial for a child’s development. The Lifetime Channel (I used to tease my mother when she watched it and called it the Life-Crime channel) is the dramatic equivalent of the Weather Channel and its villains are evil husbands/boyfriends who want to either take or kill their children, rather than hurricanes, fires, droughts and floods.
As for news channels, they completely ignore any American father fighting for the right to have equal parenting time while concentrating on two high-profile international cases, both of which were only covered after the mother died. They thus played it safe by glamorizing widowers as did 1960’s sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “My Three Sons”.
The most recent of these was the David Goldman case. It began in 2004 when the Brazilian mother took her son back home and refused to return. Despite signing the Hague agreement on child custody, Brazil refused to cooperate, as is very common in international cases. In 2009, after the mother died, NBC finally became interested when the mother was out of the picture and it had become a battle between Goldman and the Brazilian grandparents. NBC Dateline’s coverage of the case inspired Congress to become involved and the boy was fairly quickly returned to his dad after that but only after losing more than five years of parental contact!
The other international case was that of Elian Gonzalez in 1999-2000. In this one the mother died in a raft trying to reach Florida from Cuba and the boy was taken in by his relatives in Miami. The Cuban government put strong international pressure on the Bill Clinton administration to return the boy. I happened to be visiting Cuba to practice my Spanish in early 2000 and saw what was reported to be a million people, all wearing red and white Elian T-shirts, marching through the streets of Havana. After a few months, Attorney General Janet Reno became involved, sent in a SWAT squad and the world witnessed perhaps the most famous child custody case ever as aunts, uncles and grandparents tried to tug the boy away from the heavily-armed SWAT soldiers.
60 Minutes did a follow-up several years later and of course made Cuba look like a tropical paradise. The inconvenient truth they downplayed there is that Mr. Gonzalez works in hospitality and garners higher earnings through tips than a Cuban physician does and thus Elian’s house was far nicer than the typical Cuban abode and, in fact, the house has now been turned into a national museum.
To close I’ll briefly cover child custody in films. Somewhat parallel to the 60’s TV single dads who were all widowers, these first three films show kids abandonded by their moms. Last week I talked about Pierce Brosnan’s starring role in “Evelyn”. Two other ones with “runaway moms” were Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer versus Kramer” and Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness (sic)”.
All three had tremendous performances by the fathers but only Kramer was an actual custody struggle, when the mother returns halfway through the film. It was also the only one of the three that received Oscars.

Two film deserve special attention.  The first is the “tour-de-farce” Mrs. Doubtfire.  My 13 year old son enjoyed this one, probably the only one here he would like.  There are rumors that it approximated Robin Williams’ own divorce and the humiliating visitation scenes so many of us have been part of.  It’s also rumored that his suicide was partly due to the financial pressure of alimony/child support payments which would have forced him to re-enact more painful visitation scenes in a sequel.

The only international child custody film is the remarkable “Not Without My Daughter”.  Sally Fields shines as the heroine after being a “nice villainess” in Doubtfire.  It certainly spotlights Iranian-American cultural differences and fits easily in our current zeitgeist of Middle East conflict.
Finally, I must mention “Sleepless in Seattle” since it fits the 60’s single dad-widower stereotype. One poll named it runner-up in “The most romantic film of all time”. For one who has spent many years as a single dad, I can candidly reveal that real life is almost never like that!

In conclusion, just as “climate change” will go down as one of history’s greatest political slogans, so too will “best interest of the child” as the basis of child custody decisions.  Unfortunately, in the latter case, the media has mostly been conspicuous in its absence.

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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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