I recently posted a piece about British author Louis de Bernieres and the “deep, bitter anger” he’s been experiencing at the loss of his two children to that ravenous maw called the family court system. Its appetite for fathers’ children seems to be insatiable. De Bernieres described himself as being on the brink of suicide more than once over being relegated to “visitor” status by a court that was simply behaving in the manner of family courts throughout the English-speaking world. But more than just the loss of his kids was the way in which he was treated by the court which he called ‘outrageous.’
Well, renowned British conductor Paul Hillier can sympathize, I’m sure. As this article says, he landed in New York a couple of days ago to conduct at Lincoln Center, but almost didn’t make it to his performance (Daily Mail, 8/18/10). That’s because he was arrested by the police for non-payment of child support. He immediately coughed up the £58,000 that he owed his first wife and was on his way. So what’s the big deal? The guy owed child support and never claimed he didn’t, so what’s he upset about? The same thing countless fathers are upset about – non-enforcement of visitation. It’s the same old story; there’s a court order in effect that supposedly governs the parties post-divorce. It ordered him to pay child support, her to have primary physical custody and him to have specified periods of visitation. And of course the same court that had him arrested for failure to pay, totally ignored her obligation to allow his girls to visit him. Hillier said,
‘The divorce agreement mandated, first, that I would pay child support, and second, that our two children would reside with their mother but that I would have very specific visitation rights in the form of substantial periods of time during Christmas and summer holidays when they would reside with me. ‘I paid child support regularly for several years, but apart from a single two-week visit by my younger daughter, the visitation was totally and very effectively prevented by the girls’ mother. ‘Eventually I told her I would stop sending child support unless and until she started to keep her side of the agreement. She never did.’
Unquestionably, Hillier owed the money and he was wrong to withhold it because of his ex-wife’s bad behavior. But let’s be clear; parents and courts that keep children from fit, loving parents are child abusers. That’s because children want and need a strong relationship with both parents. An immense amount of social science proves the value of fathers to children and those who prevent or obstruct father-child bonds act against the best interests of those children. And yet one of the most common phenomena in family courts is the non-enforcement of visitation orders. In so doing, those courts diminish their own power and the respect people have for them. The result is the further separation of children from their fathers. As Hillier said in a prepared statement,
‘Of course, there is no way, now, in which the lost years with my children-can be restored. I feel this loss very deeply and I feel that my rights as a father have been comprehensively trampled into the ground. Despite all this, but now with even less grounds for optimism than ever before, my heart will remain open to my children (who are now young adults) in the hope that one day they will begin to understand fully.’
Let a dad fall behind on child support for even a short time and he’ll find himself the subject of multiple penalties up to and including prison. But custodial mothers ignore visitation orders with an impunity that verges on the absolute. This is something that family court judges can begin to correct tomorrow. They need no special legislative enactments; they need only use the powers already at their disposal to enforce the orders they themselves make. But they don’t. Overwhelmingly, throughout the millions of cases of child custody over which family courts have continuing jurisdiction, even the meager rights doled out to fathers go ignored by mothers and unenforced by courts. That’s why famous and well-heeled dads like Louis de Bernieres and Paul Hillier use words like “deep, bitter anger” to describe their treatment by family courts. Wouldn’t you? Thanks to Jerry for the heads-up.