October 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
If you want to know what the divorce system in the United States is really like, read this well-written and thoughtful article (A Voice for Men, 10/14/17). It’s by a Kansas father, Paul Schwennesen. He’s intelligent and observant and his tale of his ongoing divorce and custody case makes clear that our system for deciding child custody is madness. Worse, as Schwennesen realizes, his case is far from the worst. Poor fathers have it far worse in family court than he does. Those with limited educations do too.
A couple of years ago, my wife of fourteen years went down to the courthouse and filed for divorce—nothing noteworthy in this I’m afraid, except that it initiated a legal process that utterly wrecked me and my family. I was evicted from my home, isolated from my children, and compelled to bankroll an extraordinary legal vendetta against my natural role as a father—all without the slightest legal pretext. After two and a half years, I’ve come to recognize the dismaying truth that the legal deck is overwhelmingly stacked against me, and that only with a full commitment of every ounce of resolve and resourcefulness can I hope to reclaim my role as father. The desperation caused by this stunning iniquity is unhealthy for me and my children, to be sure, but the problem is even broader than that: fatherhood, especially what I call “working fatherhood,” is under assault, and our culture is willfully oblivious to it.
So, to begin with, Schwennesen has drawn the correct conclusion that the divorce system requires him to put his back to the wall and come out fighting like a pit bull to attain one simple end – to see his kids. It takes away vast sums of his money and much of his focus and energy all of which could be put to better use. The money could support him and his kids. The focus and energy could be used in his job or working on the PhD he’s trying to obtain. Remember that when thinking about child custody fights. It’s not just the direct costs they impose, but the indirect ones that take such a toll.
Why does he need to fight like a cornered dog? Because he fears losing his children, a fear that’s entirely realistic. A system that guarantees equal parenting to fit parents would take almost all the anguish and much of the money out of the child custody process. Schwennesen’s piece makes that clear.
And yes, family courts are leading the charge against responsible fatherhood. Read Schwennesen’s piece and learn the many ways in which courts can separate a father from his children.
His soon-to-be-ex-wife file for divorce.
After the fact, I discovered she’d transferred over $40,000 in advance so that she’d have plenty of “padding” when the fireworks began. She’d pulled all the bank statements, started her own accounts, paid off her new car, made sure all the credit debt was in my name, retained an attorney—you know, the basics.
That’s standard operating procedure in family courts and is rarely questioned, much less punished. Why do courts allow litigants to drain bank accounts and incur such debts? In bankruptcy court, the timing of expenditures is monitored to ensure that a person claiming bankruptcy protection hasn’t intentionally squandered assets. Family courts could do the same, but rarely do.
No questions asked, they granted her Ex Parte Temporary Orders that sent a process server to our door who notified me I had fifteen minutes to evacuate the home or the “police would take me away.”
That of course is also business as usual. Now, the courts will tell us that ex parte orders are necessary to prevent domestic violence and, on occasion, they are. But, as in Schwennesen’s case, when they’re later proven to have no substance, why are there no consequences to the party who fraudulently obtained the order? After all, lying to the court in order to remove the other person from the home and deprive the children of a parent ought to be grounds for some form of legal sanction. But again, judges rarely pursue that course, making false allegations a free shot by (usually) a mother against a father. If it works, she wins, if it doesn’t, there’ll be no consequences, so why not give it a try?
In Schwennesen’s case, his ex didn’t stop at false allegations to obtain a restraining order.
[O]ver the last two years I have been the target of two “anonymous” child abuse accusations (both found to be without substance), an attempt to exclude me from the military installation where my kids go to school (also defeated), a ludicrous “Protection From Stalking” order (denied for lack of grounds), accusations of stealing my kids’ lunch money (rebuffed), and an ever-growing litany of Motions to the Court for every bump, blister and bruise my rambunctious children get while under my care. I’ve experienced the distinctly unpleasant mini-trauma of having the police called on me for me seeing my children off at the bus stop, and sitting handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser until the false report was realized. I’m a kind and decent man, and defending myself against these “extra” abuses places an immense emotional strain that is difficult to convey—my body says it best: I’ve gone gray and have become a hollowed shell of my former self.
All of that too is perfectly OK with the family court. No, none of it is true; every claim is false and each motion takes the court’s time. But her lawyers know full well the toll it takes on Schwennesen and, as long as the court winks at the abusive tactics, why not use them? The other side may just decide it’s not worth the pain, fold his tent and go away. Like false allegations of abuse, there’s no downside to trying.
I’ll have more to say about this next time.
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