Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Tragedy of Legal Bias

A few weeks ago two year old Mason Wyckoff of Iowa was given a fatal overdose of oxycodone by his mother Stephenie Erickson, who then proceeded to do the same to herself. Mason's death was ruled a homicide.

Mason's father Dillon Wycoff had been trying for months to get the authorities (police, child protective services and the court) to intervene but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Why? Quite simply because Iowa laws are biased against fathers. In the state mothers receive sole or primary custody in 73% of cases while fathers receive the same in just 8%. There is little doubt that if it was Mason's father that was endangering him, Mason would would have been immediately taken from his custody. But he was in his mother's custody simply because of her gender.

There is a massive amount of evidence demonstrating that shared parenting is best for the child in almost all cases. And if that is the default, then when it is decided that that non-joint custody is better for the child, custody will go to better parent. When you start with an assumption that it is better for the child to be with the mother then it is very difficult to give custody to the father. Often, as in Mason's case, with truly tragic results.

A quote in the article linked to above from MIT researcher Philip Greenspun states:,
“It is not rational for fathers to fight for custody because their chances of winning primary or shared parenting are insignificant.”
which, in my experience, is absolutely true. Despite a ruling by the custody evaluator that parenting during the marriage was joint as well as the fact that my ex-wife had never used a dime of her income for the children, my lawyer strongly advised, even pushed, me to accept less than joint custody. She stated outright that the court almost always awards custody to the mother, unless she agrees otherwise. I ignored the advice and luckily obtained joint custody. Well, technically it was joint but for all practical purposes I had primary custody. I have no doubt that it would have been highly detrimental for the children if primary custody went to their mother. How much so is speculation.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Permanent vs. Open Durational Alimony

Arvo, a legal information and lawyer directory site, has an interesting question on their legal research section asking if permanent alimony is always awarded in New Jersey for marriages over 20 years. Three lawyers answered pointing out that New Jersey got rid of permanent alimony several years ago and replaced it with open durational alimony, which may, emphasis on may, be awarded in cases where the marriage lasted more than 20 years.

I was married less than 20 years when Spring divorced me yet have to pay permanent, as in until I die, alimony but I was unfortunately married in Minnesota.

Back to New Jersey. Some say that there is little difference between permanent and open durational alimony other than the words as permanent alimony was never meant to really be permanent. I disagree.  The words matter.  "Open durational" strongly implies that it will be changed in the future. "Permanent" implies the opposite.

Only a minority of states still have permanent alimony. Hopefully the rest will change their laws soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Percentage of Men Awarded Spousal Support Increasing - Barely

Although the Supreme Court ruled long ago that spousal support laws must be applied equitably to men and women, the reality is that 97% of the time support is paid for by the man. In fact, the number of men receiving spousal support has only grown by 0.5% since 2000. Given that in 40% of households women earn more than men, this is pretty solid evidence of inequity.
Three percent of men in divorce cases receive spousal support, a figure that is up 0.5 percent since 2000, according to the 2010 census. The census found that about 12,000 men receive spousal support, and 380,000 women receive it.
Hopefully with the rising number of same-sex divorces and the growing realization that it is often female second spouses who carry the burden of alimony as much as their husbands, this situation will change and we will finally achieve what the Supreme Court mandated decades ago.

The reality is that alimony reform is good for everyone, even, I would argue, those who currently benefit financially from the lack of justice in alimony awards. My ex-wife Spring divorced me, never used a dime of her income for the children, was not the primary parent during the marriage according to the custody evaluator, can make just as much money as me according to the vocational evaluation, committed perjury in court and has a lawyer that clearly committed criminal fraud. Yet, she gets well in excess of $30,000 per year from me until the day I die.  On the one hand you could say that she wildly succeeded financially. But I have to believe as some deep level she knows what she did to me and the children. That she knows what she did to her integrity. There are things more important than money.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Program

Minnesota's Guardian ad Litem Program, which to be honest I had never heard of before, was designed to ensure the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. Apparently, there has been concerns for some time regarding how well the program is run and how effective they are in protecting children.
“Many concerns have been raised about the use of guardians ad litem…most complaints are connected with guardian activities in family court cases, primarily in contested divorce actions. Complaints have focused on guardian bias towards either women or men, lack of oversight and accountability, inadequate training, inappropriate communication between guardians and judges, and other inappropriate behavior…”- Evaluation Report, Guardians ad Litem, 1995: MN.
A Call to Action ~ Together We Are Stronger (C2A) is an active organization seeking to correct abuses in the program.

“A Call to Action ~ Together We Are Stronger” (C2A) is a group of parents and professionals who are joining together to offer support to families negatively impacted by Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program, and family court system. A Call to Action advocates for needed change by raising awareness and through advocacy efforts.

I cannot say definitively how well the Guardian ad Litem program is run but the C2A site certainly feels like a familiar story. Those who profess, and often believe, they are doing good while simply indulging their thirst for power are the most dangerous type of victimizer.  A bad cop, lawyer or judge is far more dangerous than an overt criminal.