April 23, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Sometimes it seems family courts are biased against fathers. That’s true anecdotally, but it’s also revealed by half a dozen studies of judges and the lawyers who practice before them.
Well, here’s another of those anecdotal cases (TapHaps, 3/15/20).
Mark Athans and Charity (foreboding name) Parchem married in 2018 in South Dakota. Athans already had a son who was 16 and had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Athans is the boy’s sole caregiver.
Autism or not, to Athans’ son, something about Parchem didn’t feel right. So he started doing some online research on her and found that she was not only already married, but to two men. Athans made three. So, five months into the marriage, Athans filed for an annulment of the marriage.
Now, that’s a legally straightforward case because, according to both federal and state laws, any attempt by an already-married person to marry someone else is void. By law, you can only be married to one person at a time. So Athans’ case before Judge Patrice McDonald’s of Conroe, Texas should have been a slam dunk. After all, a court in South Dakota had already ruled the marriage void and Athans had the testimony of Parchem’s husband that the two had never divorced.
At the hearing however, McDonald ignored all the evidence of Parchem’s previous marriages and the action of the court in South Dakota and proceeded as if Athans and Parchem were married and were getting divorced. That appears to be for the purpose of handing Parchem a lucrative order for spousal support and attorney’s fees. The pair had been married a mere five months before the divorce filing, but McDonald ordered Athans to pay Parchem a whopping $96,000 in support and fees.
Athans tried to get her to dismiss her order. She refused. He refused to pay a cent of it. She found him in contempt. He appealed. And won.
The Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont recently issued an order to McDonald that can charitably be called scathing. The unanimous court told her to dismiss the order against Athans or the appeals court would do it for her.
So Athans is off the hook, but it frankly boggles the mind that a judge could so blatantly violate both the law and the rights of a litigant. The law is abundantly clear on the subject of bigamy and Athans had abundant evidence that Parchem was married to another man. McDonald’s course was clear – dismiss the case and move on with others. Instead she abused a litigant, caused him unnecessary expense and time and earned herself a black mark from the Court of Appeals.
We might view the Athans case as a rarity, except that McDonald has also aimed her guns at another father, Joshua Jaros who’s currently in prison for failing to pay child support, courtesy of McDonald’s once again ignoring plain law. Having no money for a lawyer, he attempted to represent himself before Judge McDonald. His defense to failing to pay was his inability to do so.
McDonald held a “hearing” on the matter that consisted of her looking at a form Jaros had filled out seeking a determination of indigency and a court-appointed lawyer. McDonald read his answers and, without taking any testimony or receiving any evidence, overruled his request for a lawyer.
Of course, as this article makes clear, whatever the merits or demerits of that “hearing,” it was only about whether the state should supply Jaros an attorney (The Child Support Hustle, 2/8/20). It had nothing to do with whether he could pay the arrears on his child support obligation. As readers of this blog well know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago in Turner vs. Rogers that, when a child support obligor faces prison and is opposed in court by the state, he’s entitled to a complete hearing, including the opportunity to adduce evidence of inability to pay. Needless to say, McDonald afforded Jaros no such thing.
The Jaros case is set for appeal. Charity Parchem is in jail on charges of bigamy.
Patrice McDonald needs to find another job.