Vol. 9, No. 7
The Fourteen Percenter October 2006
The September 17, 2006, issue of the Houston Chronicle ran an article about problems in Family Courts, http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/4191317.html. The September 20 issue ran this letter, from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/4199721.html.
Consider idea of split custody
The Chronicle's Sept. 17 article "Families pay for court delays / Proposal made to spread family law cases among other civil judges" shed a dark light on the nightmare that is our state's family court system.
OK, so the woman who was profiled, Teresa Lauderdale, won custody of her children. But at what cost? Close to $300,000, and she had to file for bankruptcy after the divorce.
One may surmise that Lauderdale's former husband paid a significant amount to his lawyer, as well.
The way our courts handle custody issues means that the "winner" — usually the mom — gets the child, regardless if both parents are fit. It also means that the "loser" — usually the dad — is ordered to pay child support, regardless whether both parents are earning equitable salaries. Who loses in this custody court? The child routinely loses frequent contact with the father.
This civil court action also guarantees work for future criminal courts, as children raised without a dad are much more likely to drop out of school or get into trouble. Our prisons are full of men who did not have an involved father.
Why not consider the concept of 50/50 shared parenting and no one pays child support? When there is a conviction of violence or a parent does not want custody, child support can be ordered. But the cost to divorcing parents and for taxpayers to build more family courts could be avoided.
Another advantage to shared custody: Children would have equal access to both parents.
Don Mathis, Editor of a newsletter for noncustodial parents, Sherman
Teresa Lauderdale, who was interview in the article, responded thus:
Thank you for sending me a copy of your letter to the editor. I want to be aware of various views about the debate on transferring some family law cases to civil judges.
Please keep in mind United We Stand, Divided We Fall. This is not a debate about whether the family courts should be giving more custody to dads versus moms. We will never be able to eradicate custody disputes, and that issue is divisive.
This debate is an opportunity to expose corruption in the family courts which are ruining the lives of everyone - dads, moms, and children. Harris County desperately needs a new family law center building, with new policies and procedures that will eradicate corruption… the powers that be are resisting that. We need to keep the heat on with a united front; that’s the only way to finally fix this system, which has been broken for years. Those feeling the heat would love to see media and community attention diverted away from them.
Attorneys ad litem have been given carte blanche to exploit children for profit. They are not qualified to determine who is a better parent. I just heard about a dad who was told by an ad litem, “If you continue to fight for custody of your son, you will have to pay me $10,000 up front.”
The courts should be required to stop appointing attorneys ad litem in private custody cases. Numerous legal experts have written on this, including The Guardian Ad Litem in Child Custody Cases: The Contours of Our Judicial System Stretched Beyond Recognition; Court-Appointed Parenting Evaluators and Guardians ad Litem: Practical Realities and an Argument for Abolition; and Children’s Rights and the Need for Protection.
The idea of transferring cases to civil judges won’t solve the problem, it will make it worse. Texas Supreme Court’s investigation found excessive billing and abuse by court-appointed attorneys for children in civil cases, as described in New Rules for Guardians Ad Litem, published in Houston Lawyer, January/February 2006. The Houston Chronicle has reported numerous civil cases with excessive ad litem fees, including cases involving contributions to judges’ campaigns.
Are you aware that
attorney ad litems in Texas are claiming
their legal fees as non-dischargeable
“child support” in bankruptcy? Once again, this is hurting dads,
moms and children. My ad litem did
this. She is using case law In the
Matter of Hudson, 107 F.3d at 357 (5th
Circuit, 1997), where the court determined that attorney fees were
“child support” non-dischargeable in a
father’s bankruptcy. The US Attorney General’s Office
shouldn’t allow the US Trustees to turn a
blind eye to attorneys doing this. These are the issues the media
should be exposing to the public.
Ms Lauderdale’s letter
deserves a response:
You comment, "We will never be able to eradicate custody disputes, and that issue is divisive."
A custody dispute is divisive, true, but...
Many men and women identify their self with their profession. Now, if a woman views herself as primarily a parent (and there is nothing wrong with that), she will view 50/50 shared custody an usurpation of her identity.
So, 50/50 shared custody would be bad for her. But would it be bad for the child? That is the important question - as courts currently pretend to follow the mantra, "best interests of the child."
Except for the most alienated, children know they are part-Mom and part-Dad. Practically every study shows that children with an involved father stay in school longer, have better grades, are less likely to do drugs, experience less teen-age pregnancy, have more self-confidence, are less likely to commit suicide, are less likely to go to prison, etc, etc, etc.
The current modus operandi of custody courts is 'winner-take-all.' If the presumption of '50/50 shared custody' were the norm (except in proven cases of abuse), custody disputes would be greatly reduced, if not eradicated.
I must emphasize, 'proven cases of abuse,' because false allegations of abuse are rampant in custody courts. Restraining orders are routine.
We may never eradicate all custody disputes because a parent's identification of their role as parent will be perceived as threatened, but the 'winner-take-all' concept must be demolished.
There is much corruption in custody courts; I agree with you on this. And it permeates the entire system, from lawyers, ad litems, judges, and especially our legislature and Attorney General.
Are you aware that the AG receives money from Washington for every name he can list as a Child Support Obligor? Did you know that the larger the amount of Child Support ordered, the AG receives even more money?
The 'winner-take-all' system ensure two winners; the person who 'wins' custody (and child support) and both lawyers. But it also ensures two losers; the person who loses his role as parent and the child who loses meaningful contact with that parent. It could also be argued that the child suffers the loss of both parents' finances. The amount of money you and your former spouse spent in litigation could finance a good college education for your child.
Modern society often views the only solution to increasing crime rates is to build more jails. In the same manner, you suggest, " Harris County desperately needs a new family law center building" to combat corruption.
I beg to differ on both 'solutions.'
You said, "We need to keep the heat on with a united front; that’s the only way to finally fix this system, which has been broken for years."
I see the 'system' as defined by Ambrose Bierce, "A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage." And if you build more custody courts, you will get more sausage.
I do not advocate transferring cases to civil courts - that is the machine I went through in San Antonio . It is as corrupt as those of Houston .
I appreciate your concern and fight against the corruption in Family Courts. I agree with you that something must be done.
I believe that the presumption of 50/50 shared custody would do more to resolve custody disputes than a thousand new Family Courts.
Don Mathis, Editor, The Fourteen Percenter
Reverend Haney Writes
The weekly Pottsboro Press ( Texas ) publishes an advice column, "I'm Glad You Asked" with Dr. Chet Haney, a minister at a local church. Here is the question/answer in the August 31, 2006, issue:
Dear Dr. Haney,
My son lives with his mom and her boyfriend, and has since before our divorce. I have two brothers who have children that live with their mom and their mom's new husband. All these divorces were filed by the woman for "irreconcilable differences." As you know, in today's custody courts the mom gets the child more than 85 percent of the time.
Why does God allow the children of all these fathers to live with other men? Most men are decent loving fathers. Most men are not abusive towards their wives, nor are they philanderers. Nevertheless, most divorces are filed by women.
Is this any way to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers? Is this father/child separation the curse referred to in Malachi 4:6?
DM, Sherman , TX
Thanks for your letter. We are living in a day when so many people are in your circumstances, broken homes almost seem now like the rule rather than the exception.
Reflecting on Father’s Day, Bill Cosby once said, “Fatherhood is pretending your favorite present is ‘soap-on-a-rope.’” I think I’m pretty sure that I gave my dad soap-on-a-rope once or twice, and he always allowed me to think he loved it. Sadly, too many children don’t know the joy of giving presents to their fathers.
“Why does God allow it?” you ask. Why does God allow us to wreck our lives, wreck our homes, and wreck our hearts with sin? Why didn’t God create us puppets on a string? Why did He have to make us to be free individuals with soul competency, with the ability to choose our own course of living, with the consequences that accompany our choices?
At times it must be so hard for you to deal with a legal system that may seem to be stacked against you because just because you are a man.
But be encouraged. When it comes to issues affecting your relationship with your children and their mother – your ex-wife, though you are living in the consequences of a failed marriage, you can still find God’s touch of strength and peace on your life.
He can make blessings flow through the pain of the hard times. That is one of the reasons that the Word of God clearly teaches us that “God hates divorce.” He hates it because of the effect it has on people He loves. Whenever you see something in the Scripture that God hates, you can know that He hates it because He loves you and He wants what is best for you.
You are astutely correct in pointing out that the Bible promises in the last days, God will “turn the hearts of the Fathers to the children,” and I believe that we are seeing that promise fulfilled before our very eyes.
I’m seeing men become tender toward their children, shedding tears, telling them, “I love you,” showing affection, and making their lives and their activities a top priority.
The hearts of fathers turning to the children, just like your heart feeling the burden you express in your letter, reveals the fast-approaching time of the return of our Lord Jesus.
The Bible promises that He will be a “Father to the fatherless,” and that He has come to “give us life, and that more abundantly.” You are already painfully aware of what you can’t do because of your circumstances.
So, why not focus on what you can do? You can give your life wholly to Jesus, and allow Him to work so powerfully in you, changing you day by day from the inside out, that your children will surely stand up and take notice of the spiritual power in the life of their father.
Resolve yourself to be the kind of earthly father who inspires your children to know their Heavenly father.
I know you’re in tough circumstances and many men are. But God can take what is bad and turn it around for good. Let Him do just that in your life.
Dr Chet Haney
Many ministers preach against divorce from the pulpit. And I agree with what Dr, Haney is saying completely. Bless him for those words. What most ministers don't understand is that most churches have very few resources to help single dads and while they speak out publicly against abortion which they should, they do not speak out against the forced destruction of the American family after divorce by our courts forcing good fathers from the lives of their children. The result is children’s lives are devastated with forced fatherlessness. Fathers are devastated and have nowhere to turn for help while mothers have incredible resources and support systems within and outside the church. This must change if churches want to reverse the trend of men not being involved in church affairs and missing out on a great relationship with Christ and other men.
John Fowler, firstname.lastname@example.org , Families-4-Justice-US Coordinator
Since this minister believes that "God hates divorce," ask him what he's doing to solve the problem. Does he preach against it from the pulpit? Has he tried to involve the hierarchy of his church in the fight against the problem? Does he write columns about it?
We need to ally with the Christian right and convince them that consoling and counseling us is one thing, but equal protection under 'God- ordained' government is true religion and heaven-granted liberty. Our fight is the same as theirs: get Uncle Sam and Aunt Margaret Marshall (Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court) out of our relationship with our kids.
George Mason, watch_pray2001@YAHOO.COM
Great idea. The more we can get organized religion to speak and write on behalf of the importance of fathers, the better.
Gordon Finley, email@example.com