Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...about custody, continued...

Custody: part two   “You have blood on your hands!”

With that, I began my commentary on judicial (ir)repsonsibility regarding custody determination in the courtroom. Each speaker had signed a list; we were assured five minutes of floor time. In an auditorium of a community college in northwest Virginia, a panel of judges had provided a forum to discuss custody issues.

Important as the topic was (and is!), I had driven three hours to be able to speak. So rare was the opportunity that I knew I had to do it. My perspective had been shaped by a team of knowledgable advisors, volunteers who had guided my research on custody law, child support guidelines, pending custody legislation, pertinent code sections in other states, and authors with Ph.d’s who’s books offered corroborated documentation, relevant studies, and clarity.

With the help of my cohorts, I had gained an education I had never wished for nor wanted. Prior to the forum, I had been an invited guest on Roanoke’s Public Radio station’s (WVTF) for a show that featured me in a debate with a female judge who presided over cases involving custody determination.  Representing non custodial parents like me (then), I battled my well informed adversary; calls kept coming long after the program’s allotted hour.

Finally, the judge, who I had gotten to know and respect during our debate, thanked me for coming. Just before she left, she made a brutally candid remark. “I’ll never get a divorce,” she told me, “ I know about the misery that awaits parents in the courtroom.” She shook her head. “Too devastating,” I thought I heard her mumble.

That’s why, at the community college forum, I began my presentation with such a chilling accusation. Sitting close enough to the judge who had called on me, I could see that his expression had changed. He was rankled, looked to be so pissed off that I thought he might have me removed.

But he didn’t. Instead, he allowed me to site study after study about the harm children suffer when fathers are removed from the lives of their children, especially their daughters. Interesting it was that daughters without Dads in their lives following divorce are five times more likely to have severe emotional, educational, and behavioral problems. Likewise, biological fathers who lose their children to divorce are five times more likely than average Dads to commit suicide.

That’s why I used the “blood on your hands” opening. Judges had access to that information, to sufficient data to support a conclusion that most divorces that involved children should have been (and should be) dealt with by means of mandatory mediation. Doing that would encourage any caring parent to get involved, to find a way to remain a part of their children’s lives.

In such scenarios, each parent would  be required to submit a parenting plan. Living up to that would be mandatory. Such plans would also remedy the greatest problem faced by Child Support Enforcement Agencies, the non payment of child support. Although that subject is all too complex, even the head of Virginia’s CSE admitted to me that he knew that, when fathers (in Virginia who are almost 90% of our state’s non custodial parents) are given adequate parenting time with their children, they pay their child support at a rate of almost 90%.

He (the CSE chief) and I might not have discussed that connection had he not asked me to help his agency find ways to persuade non custodials to do a better job of making child support payments. He chose to ignore studies regarding adequate parenting time; I took that as an invitation to do battle.

Although the story of our confrontation finally had an incredible twist in the favor of non custodials despite odds of 12 to 1 or 13 to 1 against us (due to the composition of the hand-picked panel), the problem persists.

Unlike every other panel member, I was not asked to be a part of the next panel. But that has never stopped me from speaking out against the inequities inherent in judicial and lawyer manipulated custody determination.

That’s why I wrote yesterday’s piece. Many of you responded with  remarks that touched me deeply, pro and con. Although I will not mention your names, I will post many of your messages.

In advance, please know that I thank you for the thoughts and feelings you shared. Such dialog is essential to reaching a meaningful resolution to this (sometimes tragic) conundrum.

I send this with love and wishes for peace to all of you.

Some of your remarks:

I was sorry to read about this situation.  I'm definitely on your side but my experience was different.  I wish my ex-husband had been really interesting in parenting his children of divorce.  It took a very long incarceration (he’s still imprisoned) for him to realize what he lost.  I'm sorry, however, that you who always knew what you would lose were stopped in your tracks from parenting your children.  I hope they have emotionally survived the break.  As per who are we voting for, it's still the lesser of two evils I think.  I look forward to the "change."

I remember having talks with my parents when I was young and first became aware of political differences. My dad was your average working man, got his degree going to college at night, and my mom was a high school teacher who was valedictorian of her high school and college classes. Both tended to vote Democratic, but as the years went by, they became much more conservative in their thinking and now they are both dead-set conservatives. Interesting how things change. I think the entire spectrum has changed. Liberal/Democratic has gone way to the left, and the old time, fairly middle of the road Democrat feels like they lost their place, and they now vote conservative/Republican. I try to keep an open mind and vote in a common sense way. The extremes of the political spectrum are probably not a good idea for anyone.
...I am not a divorce attorney so I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that in FL every parent is entitled to some visitation with their kids absent them being shown to have been abusive or the like.  I will note that I have on number of occasions, including as recently as today ..., stated that my biggest blessing in life is that I have never been divorced.

I don't think government should be responsible for  a "parents" share of what they produced.  First of all there would be lots of people out there having children in order to collect a government subsidy.  I have no faith that government could do it correctly and this would only create another bureaucracy...

I admire your restraint. I'm afraid "Dickie" and I would have had a three legged race to the hospital to get my foot out of his ass.


                         B. Koplen 1/18/12

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