Thursday, September 28, 2006

Child support bureaucrats

I just got this in the mail:
P.O. Box 980218
Sacramento, CA 95798

September 21, 2006
Participant Number: 199000001xxxxxx
Case Number: 1990000001xxxxx

Welcome to the California Child Support Automation System. As part of the child support program, we must keep your child support case information in the California State Case Registry and also send it to the Federal government. The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) or the federal government may give the information to courts, California and other child support agencies, and sometimes to the other parent of the child(ren) if there is a current order to do so. If you or your children are victims of family violence, you may not want DCSS or the federal government to share your case information. If you wish to prevent information sharing, let us know and we may be able to place a family violence indicator (FVI) on your case restricting information exchange.

If you believe you or your children are a victim of family violence, contact the Customer Service Center at 1 866 349 7540 and request a family violence questionnaire.

Additionally, if the employer of a parent who is required to pay support is served a California Income Withholding Order, DCSS will process the child support payments through a centralized payment processing unit. In California, the centralized payment processing unit is called the State Disbursement Unit (SDU).

NOTE: Please keep this notice for future reference as it contains your specific case number and participant identification number.
Then there is some telephone info in various other languages.

I really don't know what this is all about. My guess is that there are state bureaucrats who somehow profit from getting more people in their system. Maybe they profit from domestic violence allegations, as they are encouraging that. It appears that there are some privacy rights that only belong to those who make phony domestic violence allegation. Weird.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wife-beaters in Georgia

Amnesty International complains:
Tens of Thousands of Women in Georgia Suffer Domestic Violence While Perpetrators Go Unpunished, Says Amnesty International
Progress Rests on Implementation of New Legislation, Group Says

(New York) -- Tens of thousands of women in Georgia are hit, beaten, raped and in some cases even killed by their husbands or partners, while perpetrators usually go unpunished, Amnesty International said in a new report today. The group says that the recent adoption of legislation on domestic violence is an important step forward, but that authorities must exercise strong political will to bring change.

"Women in Georgia suffer incredible violence in their own homes, violence that persists due to widespread impunity," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "It's the government's responsibility to end this scourge. There are signs of progress, but we'll be watching closely."

The 28-page report, Georgia: Thousands suffering in silence: Violence against women in the family, outlines:

* the widespread impunity of perpetrators of domestic violence in Georgia; ...
I thought that the Amnesty International folks had gone nuts until I figured out that they are talking about some country in Asia, not Atlanta. American women are treated the best in the world. Not even Amnesty International could complain about treatment of American women.

Friday, September 22, 2006

My reply brief

I just filed this appellate brief.
This appeal focuses on some narrow legal issues, mostly concerning what justifies a deviation from child support guidelines. Here, I just address a few points from AngryMom's opposition brief.

Discovery is not an issue on this appeal
I have supplied all tax returns, 1099 forms, bank statements, income and expense statements, etc. promptly when requested. There is no discovery dispute pending, nor is there any finding that I ever withheld any documents. There is no discovery issue in this appeal, so this court must assume that my income was adequately documented for the lower court.

My house does not justify a deviation from guideline
I object to the $3,000 per month of nontaxable income being added to the Dissomaster calculation, based on not having a mortgage and Marriage of Loh. AngryMom cites Judge Kelly explicitly rejecting the figure at a hearing, and anticipating that AngryMom would later make some sort of motion to reconsider. (AngryMom's brief, p.13) There was no later hearing that addressed the merits of the $3,000. Comm. Joseph reinstated the $3,000 on his own, and mailed us the order. I had no notice that he was even considering it.

Even if there had been a hearing on the $3,000 (after the hearing in which Judge Kelly rejected it), there is no way to use Marriage of Loh to justify it. Marriage of Loh stands for using tax return figures. The judge cannot deviate from guideline just because I don't have a mortgage.

The court must use accepted definitions of income
As AngryMom says in her brief, I have argued for using a definition of income that is used by the tax authorities. The tax code has hundreds of pages of regulations defining what is and is not income. It is not so easy to just throw that all away and replace it with a new definition. When Comm. Joseph suddenly declares that $3,000 of nontaxable income must be added to my actual income because I don't have a mortgage, then I have no idea what definition of income he is using. It is reversible error for him to just invent his own definition of income.

AngryMom does not propose any definition of income, and tries to justify what the court did based on some alleged confusion about my income. It is true that I got "hammered" at the Aug. 30, 2004 hearing because AngryMom's lawyer blindsided me with lies about my income and I was not fully prepared to rebut them. (AngryMom's brief, p.15) I naively thought that income and expense statements and three years of tax records would be sufficient for the court. But any confusion about my income should just be a reason to conduct more discovery or to hold a fact-finding hearing. Instead the court just accepted the erroneous and unsourced figures from AngryMom's lawyer, and made all the support orders indefinitely retroactively adjustable. And the only retroactive adjustment it made was to add in the $3,000 that Judge Kelly explicitly rejected.

Dance classes do not justify guideline deviations
AngryMom claims to justify the $500 child support add-on by citing "diminished ability to provide for things" like dance classes. Divorce causes all sorts of hardships to couples as they try to maintain two households on income that previously supported one household. The child support guidelines already have formulas that specifically increase the fraction of income that must be spent on the kids if the kids are divided between two households. Attending dance classes is at the discretion of the parents, as are a hundred other parenting decisions. The law merely uses a percentage of income as a support obligation. It says nothing about whether the kids should attend dance classes, or how such fees might be paid. Child support is based on income, not the cost of food, housing, or clothes, and certainly not the cost of dance classes.

The $6,500 fee appeal is timely
My appeal is on Comm. Joseph's orders dated "Dec. 20, 2005 et seq". I wrote it that way because the Dec. 16, 2005 order was not final, as Comm. Joseph invited me on that date to file additional papers in order to have my arguments heard. He then heard (and rejected) my arguments in Feb. 2006, and I took that as when the order became final. I've tried asking appellate attorneys how to tell when a family court order becomes final, and no one could tell me. The family court seems to like to dribble out orders in bits and pieces, and retain jurisdiction over retroactive modifications for indefinite periods of time. Even though this case started three years ago, it continues today in the lower court with no end in sight. I believe that I have picked a reasonable date for this appeal, and that it should be regarded as being in compliance with the rules.

As argued in my opening brief, the lower court's monetary orders must be reversed. The deviations from child support guidelines have not and cannot be justified. The attorney fee order is contrary to the record.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Received the opposition brief

I just got my ex-wife appeal brief. She apparently did it herself, without a lawyer. She is a lawyer herself, but she got the court to order me to pay some of her legal fees. She only gets the money if she actually hires a lawyer.

She continues to rely on Marriage of Loh for the principle that the family court judge can force me to pay extra child mother support based on me not having a mortgage. But the Loh decision says that the court has to use income tax figures. I don't see how the case helps her at all.

She thinks that my brief didn't follow the rules, but I am betting that the clerk rejects her brief instead. The appellate clerk has some very silly rules.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mediator conflicts

A reader asks:
Why do you say that mediators have conflicts? Aren't they purely and neutrally motivated for the benefit of the kids?
Maybe if they are working for free. If they are getting paid, then you have to look at how they get paid, and what incentives they have. Mediators can make a lot of money from doing court-mandated work. It is lucrative been there is usually some guaranteed minimum number of sessions and the court will make the clients pay.

The mediators make the most money if they convince the court that they know much more about child-rearing than the parents, and if the court imposes one-sided custody orders. Then the disadvantaged parties have to grovel to the court for an opportunity to convince a mediator that a better deal might be appropriate. The mediator can then collect the big bucks while he lectures the father on domestic violence or bedtime stories or whatever.

The mediators on the PBS show were just reciting arguments that would maximize their income. Self-serving comments aren't necessarily wrong, but they are suspect, and a fair show would point that out. In this PBS show, I think that many of the mediators' comments were wrong, and it is unfortunate that the show did not have some fathers' rights advocate who could explain the errors.

PBS TV show

I watched Kids & Divorce: For Better or Worse. It was supposed to balance out a very biased show from last year. I don't think that it did that very well. It did give some arguments for and against shared parenting.

The first half of the show had various divorce and custody anecdotes, with various self-serving comments from mediators. One family court judge (Commissioner Marjorie Slabach) acted like she was a mind-reader, who could tell who was telling the truth and who was causing conflict. She said that it was wrong to ask a child for a preferred parent. A mediator named Sanchez said that he could accomplish the same thing by indirectly asking the same thing and using trickery.

Nobody explained how these mediators act with their own interests in conflict with those of the kids.

It was unclear whether these characters realize how much damage they are doing.

A social worker mentioned a sad story about how one particular pair of parents with restraining orders had to hand off their kid by letting him walk across a parking lot at 11pm to another car. All agreed that the child shouldn't have to do that, but no one made the obvious suggestion that such restraining orders should be eliminated. Instead, they just recommended some other building instead of the parking lot.

The second half of the show was a debate on shared parenting.

An Iowa family court judge named Robert Blink was against shared parenting because he wants to have the "freedom" to award custody however he wants. Making the courts predictable would result in "cookie cutter justice", he says.

He then said, "The ability to coparent effectively after a divorce is the exception, rather than the rule."

Divorce mediator Steve Sovern was against shared parenting, because domestic violence might make it inappropriate. He specificly mentioned domestic violence even when there have never been any such complaints. He did not explain.

There was a creepy-looking Canadian named Peter Jaffe who was against shared parenting. He said that a presumption of shared parenting was good for society, but not good for the courts because it coerces couples into shared parenting settlements.

Hofstra law prof. Andrew Schepard said that a presumption of shared parenting is wrong for moral reasons. He said that previous laws which had a presumption against shared parenting did not work, and therefore presumptions are bad.

He admitted that all the research indicates that two parents are best for kids, but he is troubled by the idea of the public being told that the law has such a presumption.

He complained that some angry dads are "challenging the legitimacy of the court system". Yes, we do challenge the legitimacy of any court that follows his advice.

Jaffe complained that domestic violence has been ignored. I don't know about Canada, but California gives grossly exaggerated importance to domestic violence in family court.

Isolini Ricci said, "people are coming to the courts because they don't know how to have a relationship and to resolve disputes" and suggested education for everyone as the only solution.

This is idiotic. It is like saying that banks repossess cars because bankers and car buyers don't know how to resolve disputes. No, banks take action because borrowers fail to make payments. And when they goto court, the judge just enforces the contract, and doesn't send the case out to mediation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Grandparent visitation

A reader writes that 3 states have apparently defied the Supreme Court's ruling in the Troxel case, and gotten away with it:
WASHINGTON — Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court curbed grandparents' rights in child-visitation disputes, three recent rulings by state supreme courts suggest that those who go to court seeking more time with their grandchildren are gaining ground.

The recent rulings in Pennsylvania, Utah and Colorado in favor of grandparents who sought visitation despite the objections of a child's parent indicate that courts increasingly are sympathizing with grandparents — particularly in cases involving the death of a parent or another family tragedy.

The rulings represent the latest chapter in a contentious area of family law that is reverberating from the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in 2000. The ruling rejected Washington state's grandparent-visitation law, saying it was too broad because it allowed "any person" to petition for visitation at "any time."
That U.S. Supreme Court's ruling was a good one for parental rights.

New PBS show on parenting

Glenn Sacks writes:
Last October PBS aired the film Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories on many of its affiliates. The film portrayed fathers as batterers and child molesters who use family court machinations to wrest children away from their mothers. The film was extremely one-sided, and presented a harmful and inaccurate view of divorce and child custody cases. Moreover, the film portrayed one mother as a heroic, victimized mom, when records which we made public show that she had abused children under her care, and had lost custody for that reason. ...

Kids & Divorce: For Better or Worse, the film they commissioned in response to our campaign, aired in Boston last night, and will be airing in several dozen markets over the coming weeks. To PBS's credit, they followed through on the commitment they made last December to produce a balanced film.
My local PBS affiliate is scheduled to show it at 10pm tomorrow evening. To say that the earlier show was "extremely one-sided" is an understatement. It was the most one-side TV show I have ever seen.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Responding to Mississippi case

An anonymous father comments below to my previous post:
It's interesting that you don't entertain or mention the possibility that the father wanted no part of his son's life, and that it was his absentee fatherhood that led, in part, to his son's later criminal behavior.

Is it really your contention that it's solely mothers who are keeping fathers out of kids' lives after a divorce?
No, it is not just mothers. It is also judges, lawyers, psychologists, court-appointed evaluators, legislators, and others who devalue the father's role.
Second, we don't learn anything about the background of the father from this article. He may be an upstanding guy who is being mistreated by the courts and his ex-wife. He might also be a deadbeat who just wants to get out of paying child support. He might be somewhere in between. We just don't know from the article.
You're right, I am making some inferences. It is possible that the mother did a fine job of raising the boy. It is possible that the boy is innocent, but has been falsely accused and convicted of murder. It is possible that the mother tried to persuade the father to have a real father's role in the boy's upbringing, but the father refused. I just don't think that those possibilities are very likely. If I get more info, I'll post it.
Until the case is decided, the mother is entitled under the current interpretation of the law to continue to collect child support.
No, the case has been decided. The parents took the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the father lost. That is the end of the line. The father has to pay.

Even if the father is a deadbeat dad, he still shouldn't have to support the mother while the son is in prison.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mississippi father cannot avoid child support

Mississippi news:
Tyler Edmonds, now 16, was convicted of murder in 2004 in the shooting death of his half-sister's husband. He was 14 at the time of the slaying. He is serving a life sentence. ...

Still, many [fathers] try to get out of paying child support.

Danny Edmonds just tried another track and failed.
Yes, he thought that he could get his child support order lifted because the boy is in prison. Nope. The court says that he has to pay.

It is bad enough that single mothers are raising criminals. Maybe if this mother had let the father in on the boy's life, he wouldn't have turned out to be a murderer. Now the mother has a lot of nerve to continue to collect child support while the boy is in prison. It should be called mother support, not child support.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bureaucrats oppose shared parenting

Wendy McElroy writes:
North Dakota's general election in November will probably include a ballot on a Shared Parenting Initiative, a measure that would make joint child custody the default option in cases of divorce or separation unless one parent was proven to be unfit. A petition for SPI's inclusion has the required signatures and is currently being verified.

But the fact that both state and federal officials have come out against the SPI may cause its defeat.
Unfortunately, welfare agencies and other govt bureaucrats profit the most when mother support and child support laws and orders are the most inequitable. If the parents are actually sharing their responsibility, then there is less need for money transfers, and less chance for agencies to get some of that money. So the welfare agencies are lobbying against the N. Dakota law.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Appeal reinstated

I just got this from the appellate court:
Appellant's motion to vacate dismissal is granted. Appellant shall file the record designation in Santa Cruz County Superior Court within 15 days from the date of this order.
This takes some explanation. I appealed a family court order about 6 weeks ago, and I later got this notice, dated Aug 11:
The appellant having failed to procure the record on appeal within the time limits allowed or within any valid extensions of these time limits, and having further failed to apply to this court for relief from default, the appeal filed on July 13, 2006, is dismissed. (See rule 8(b), California Rules of Court.)
After filing the notice of appeal, I am required to designate the record within 15 days. That means telling the family court clerk what pages to xerox and forward to the appellate court.

I never figured out just what the problem was. Maybe I filed the designation a day late. The clerk only complained about the proof of service because I filed it myself. That is, when I tell the clerk what pages to xerox, I am supposed to send a copy of those instructions to my ex-wife, with someone else dropping it into a mailbox. A lawyer or secretary or even a complete stranger can drop it in the mailbox, but I am not supposed to do it myself. A child cannot do it either. So the clerk asked for proof that I wasn't the one who mailed the copy to my ex-wife.

If this sounds crazy, it is. The court rules call it a "proof of service", but it is not a proof of service at all. It is just a silly rule designed for the convenience of lawyers. When someone like myself doesn't use a lawyer, it doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, I don't know whether the appellate court was quibbling about my record designation or my proof of service. Either way, my 15 days was now past, so I filed for an extension. This turned out to be the wrong move, as I got this in return:
Dear Sir/Madam:
Your Request for extension of time to designate record is returned herewith for the following reason(s):
This case was dismissed on August 11, 2006.
Very truly yours,
Okay, I had failed to recite the right mumbo-jumbo. The main function of the appeals court is find silly technicalities that can be used to dismiss cases. They probably really enjoy jerking lawyers around with their silly rules. They probably also find unrepresented parties like myself annoying, because it doesn't do much good to teach them a lesson.

I checked the rules, and I discovered that I had 30 days to file a motion to vacate the dismissal. So I did that, and sent a copy to my ex-wife. The court didn't quibble about the proof of service on that.

The appellate court granted that, and gave me 15 more days to designate the record. I've already designated the record twice, so I don't know why the court didn't just accept that. If those time limits were really for the purpose of moving the case along quickly, then the court could have done things a lot differently.

The clerk probably thinks that he has taught me a lesson. Yeah, he's taught me a lesson alright.