Divorced Fathers with Visitation Orders Still ‘Powerless’ to See Children

One point that Noam Chomsky has often made is that, if you want to get news and commentary that doesn’t tend to “manufacture consent” for existing policies and ways of framing issues, you need to put down the New York Times and pick up small regional or local publications.  They are, he’s said, more likely to provide information free of the filters elite opinion making requires.

Some time ago I reported on an excellent series in the Myrtle Beach Sun News on the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children.  That was a good example of what Chomsky was talking about.  Here’s another (Goderich Signal Star, 12/1/10).

It’s a longish article about fathers and the trials – both actual and metaphoric – they face in the aftermath of divorce.  The piece considers three actual fathers, whom it calls Mike, Tom and Phil; its focus is the financial and emotional impact of losing custody and how the punitive nature of child support separates fathers from children.

All the villains are there; the piece describes a rogue’s gallery of anti-father bias.  For example, there’s domestic violence.

Tom and his then girlfriend had a falling out worse than most. A domestic assault left him with severe injuries to both his back and his jaw and unable to work. After both he and his girlfriend were charged in different assaults, she was granted custody of their son while he was put out in the street.

As with all the men interviewed, Tom’s access to his child is in the hands of the mother.  Yes there are court orders requiring her to allow him to see his child, but she violates them with impunity.

In his case, the mother of his child refused to sign a consent form, and as she had care and control of the child, there was nothing he could do. He’s scared to fight back, because any sort of aggression will only make his case worse.

“The worst part is, I’ve been there as a father,” he said. “But even my lawyer tells me to keep my mouth shut and bite my tongue. I never tried to argue – I just want access. I eventually had to call the police to get it.”

Now, he only wants to see his son regularly again, but it is getting increasingly hard, as the mother moved away from Huron County in direct contravention of their agreement.

On disability from his girlfriend’s attack, Tom can’t remotely afford an attorney to press his parental rights in court, so he is stuck with ever-diminishing contact with his child.

Phil, on the other hand, apparently has enough money to pay thousands of dollars to attorneys to fight for access to his child.  And over the years, he’s done just that and gotten court orders that supposedly allow him to see his son.  The result?  It took him nine months to get an order and another year before he was actually allowed to see the boy.  That’s 21 months in the life of a small child, which is to say, an eternity.

But even with yet another court order in hand, his parental rights still reside with her.

The worst part, Phil said, is that he has a court order to see his son, however, he is powerless even if the mother of the child continues to violate the agreement. Rather than the courts making the mother obey the court order, he said, he has to go through the whole process from the beginning.

The courts answer to the mother’s violation of one of its orders is not to order her to pay costs, not a fine, not a change of custody and not jail for contempt of court; it’s another order.  He must go again to court, get another order which she can then comply with or not as she desires.

As Australian academic John Hirst wrote in his essay, “Kangaroo Court,” alone among courts and only in the case of visitation orders, family courts refuse to enforce their own orders.  In no other situation does a court abandon its power to enforce its own dicates.

The result of course is that custodial parents, in Canada 90% of whom are mothers, are free to ignore visitation orders, and in many cases they do.  They know they won’t be punished or lose custody, so why let the dad see his kids?  Thus are fathers removed from or marginalized in their children’s lives.

The article ends by returning to the tragic 1995 case of Andrew Renouf.  Destitute in part due to paying child support, and unable to see his child, Renouf was driven to suicide.

A single father who was cut off from his daughter for four years, Renouf’s suicide note described a situation where his paycheck garnishing left nothing to live on. By the time his pay reached his bank account, he literally had 43 cents to his name.

This is the system of family law we live with.  It’s a system that all too many find perfectly satisfactory and that they defend tooth and nail.  It’s a system fully capable of destroying non-custodial parents, and depriving children of their fathers.  It’s a system built on myths, principally those of the dangerous dad and the deadbeat dad.  That essentially all reputable social science debunks those myths, and has for decades, is apparently of no importance. 

Recently I read an article by the redoubtable warrior Donald Dutton.  It was a piece about the myths perpetuated about men and domestic violence, and he pointed out something I’d never thought of before. 

Dutton wrote that courts and the legal profession generally make much of what is and isn’t good science.  Courts are ever wary of what they sometimes call “junk” science, i.e. that without sufficient data, methodology or scientific rigor.  And when they find such deficient science, they hasten to exclude it as evidence, rightly refusing to allow it to support or rebut one side’s case.

Dutton’s point was that, given the great value they supposedly place on good science, it’s odd that, in the case of domestic violence, courts routinely rely on the shoddiest work in the field.  And what’s true of DV is equally true of the value of fathers to children.

And yet, with all the science on the side of fathers and the value of them to children, and with all the pontificating about the “best interests of the child,” courts still obstruct fathers’ access to their children.  As countless studies, and by now a wealth of societal experience, have shown that’s the worst of junk science. 

“So we beat on, boats against the current…”

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