Wednesday, September 30, 2009

American arrested in Japan for snatching own kids

A reader sends this AP story:
TOKYO - An American father was arrested in Japan after snatching his children from the hands of his ex-wife, who had taken the kids to her native country without telling him.

The back-and-forth exposes a simmering diplomatic dispute over Japan's traditional favoritism toward mothers in custody battles. While the father was apprehended by Japanese authorities, a U.S. court has issued an arrest warrant for the mother. ...

Japan has yet to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the appropriate courts and that the rights of access of both parents are protected.
If you are letting your spouse take your kids to a foreign country, I guess you'd better make sure the country has signed the 1980 Hague Convention.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Forensic standards needed

From an LA Times editorial:
According to a nationally respected fire engineer, the so-called scientific evidence used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham of setting a blaze that killed his three daughters in 1995 was not scientific at all. ...

Willingham's case is heartbreaking: He lost his children to fire and his wife to divorce, spent 12 years in prison and died still protesting his innocence. ...

In 2006, Congress charged the National Academy of Sciences with studying the application of forensic science in the U.S. judicial system. Its findings, released last year, are grim. Almost every branch of forensics but DNA testing -- hair and fiber analysis, arson investigations, comparisons of bite marks -- lacks the extensive scientific research and established standards to be used in court conclusively...

In February, the science academy issued a report calling for Congress to create a national institute of forensic science, and there is more than enough evidence that one is desperately needed.
It is not widely realized, but the psychologists and other shrinks who testify in family court are subject to the same standards for scientific evidence as the fingerprint, fiber, DNA, and arson experts. They are supposed to be, anyway.

Every day in family court, there are heartbreaking cases of parents losing their children to unscientific evidence from court-appointed (so-called) experts. In most cases, these evaluators do not apply any scientific evidence at all, and are just applying their personal prejudices.

The LA Times is right that we need better standards for expert testimony.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Parents lost toddlers for bathtub picture

Some readers have sent this Arizona story:
A Peoria couple accused of sexual abuse after taking photographs of their young children in the bathtub is fighting back.

Kids pulled from home over bath time photos - A Peoria couple is suing after Wal-Mart reported them to authorities over some bath-time photos of their three young daughters.'s Javier Soto explains.

A.J. and Lisa Demaree held a news conference Friday to make a statement about their suit. Lisa tearfully expressed the pain of the ordeal they have gone through.

It all started when A.J. Demaree took a memory stick to Wal-Mart have some photos printed. Among the 144 photos were eight pictures of the couple's three daughters taken during bath time. A Wal-Mart supervisor turned those nude photos over to Peoria police, reporting them as possible child abuse.

Child Protective Services was notified and removed the girls -- who were 5, 4 and 1 1/2 at the time -- from their home on Aug. 30, 2008. Rather than placing them with other family members, CPS sent the girls to two separate foster homes for nearly three days. The girls were also subjected to invasive medical examinations to determine if they had been sexually abused.
You can view the actual photo here. It looks completely innocent to me.

The most amazing part of this story is that it took the parents two months to get a court hearing where the judge ruled completely in favor of the parents, but it took another seven months for them to get their kids back!

I don't describe incidents like this as mistakes. These things only happen because there is an evil system in place. The system needs to be reformed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Court rejects its own order

On July 30, Cmr. Irwin Joseph substituted for the family court judge and reissued an evaluation order. Except that my ex-wife would not agree to name a psychologist, so he gave us a form with the psychologist's name left blank. He said to fill in the name, send it in to the court with a cover letter, and the court would issue a signed order.

The psychologist said that he had done 650 evaluations, but never one like this before. After two months of my ex-wife claiming that she was going to get the court to change the order, he had to make a decision about whether to get the case as is. He said that he was refusing, unless a particular checkbox was checked.

The problem, he said, was that he was being asked to make child custody recommendations but the checkbox for a child custody evaluation was not checked. We do not know for sure whether Cmr. Joseph intended to check the checkbox, or even if he understands what the checkboxes mean. We have transcripts of his monologues on the subject, but they are even more confusing than the form itself.

Finally I decided to ask the court to issue the order with the checkbox checked. My ex-wife opposed it, and I just got notice from the court rejecting my request. I guess that I will have to bring a formal motion. That will take about six weeks, and will be a repeat of paperwork that has been filed several times before. Sigh.

Someday my kids will learn why most people hate lawyers like my ex-wife, and how she has robbed them of a father.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Evaluations must have a purpose and scope

The Santa Cruz family uses a boilerplate form for child custody and psychological evaluations. You can read it in pdf here. This form was written in response to California Rule 5.220(d)(1)(B)(ii) which requires that any such order must specify the “purpose and scope of the evaluation”.

I think that it is plainly obvious that this form, with checked checkboxes, does not specify the purpose and scope. But I have trouble making this point to otherwise intelligent folks. They say that "purpose and scope" is in a header, so it must satisfy the rule.

The problems become more apparent if you try to look at what a psychologist would actually have to do in order to carry out this order. Consider this clause:
The recommendations resulting from the assessment/evaluation shall address ... Legal Custody, may include division of authority for decision making
Now imagine that you are a psychologist with training in diagnosing and treating psychological disorders, but you have no training in the law. You interview the parents and kids, and you find that none of them have any disorders that you can see. Now you need to give a legal conclusion about what the legal rights of the parents ought to be.

How would you do it? What evidence would you consider? What legal principles would you apply? Why would you do it?

Even the world's smartest judge and legal scholar could not cope with such an order. He would have to know the allegations and the legal standards. He would have to have a procedure for resolving factual disputes, such as a jury trial. He would need some direction about what he is supposed to do, and how he is supposed to do it.

But the forensic psychologists have none of that. It is a bit like calling a plumber and asking him if you should drink more water or get more exercise. The plumber can fix your leaky faucet and he may have an opinion about drinking water, but he is not going to tell you how much water to drink. That is not his expertise. And even if it were, he could help you without knowing more about why you are asking.

I am not being allowed to see my kids until I get a psychologist to do an evaluation according to this boilerplate form. But I take the order to experienced psychologists who have done hundreds of evaluations, and none of them has been able to make any sense out of what they are supposed to do. They complain that they do not know why the order was given. So the inadequacy of this form is a direct impediment to me seeing my kids.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you can probably figure out the purpose of the order. If so, then you will understand why the court would never put that purpose in writing, even tho the rules require it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fighting over a checkbox

I have been having difficulties finding a psychologist to do a court-ordered evaluation. One problem is that my ex-wife is uncooperative. Another is that the court order is a boilerplate form with checkboxes, and it is confusing.

We agreed on a psychologist about 40 miles away who claims to be very experienced. But he could not make sense out of the order, and refused to do it unless two extra checkboxes were checked. The biggest problem is that the order has checked checkboxes for child custody recommendations, but does not check the checkbox for a child custody evaluation. He says that he needs to do an evaluation in order to make recommendations.

My ex-wife just sent this letter to the court.
To the Court:

I am writing this letter in response to George AngryDad's letter to the Court dated September 11, 2009. As well concealed as possible in his letter is an inappropriate ex parte attempt by Mr. AngryDad to modify the scope of the January 11, 2008 Court order. The January 11, 2008 order [FOAH filed May 1, 2008], the relevant section of the transcript accompanying the January 11, 2008 order (page 2006, line 10 through page 2011, line 24), and the "child custody/visitation assessment or evaluation" order itself is attached (which explains the "authority/purpose and scope" of the order).

These attached documents clearly delineate only a "psychological evaluation" be performed. Mr. AngryDad submitted a document to the Court, purporting to be what the Court ordered and intended to order; Mr. AngryDad significantly changes the Court order by checking another box, that of "full custody or visitation evaluation". Through a carefully worded smokescreen of a letter, Mr. AngryDad is trying to trick the Court into modifying its order. He is again attempting to "retry" his case. Furthermore, Mr. AngryDad has only emailed to me the first of the two page changed "appointment" order that he submitted to the Court for approval. I do not know if Mr. AngryDad also changed the contents of the second page.

I respectfully assert that an attempt to change the scope of the order requires a motion to the Court, not an ex parte letter to the Court. Mr. AngryDad has already brought his issues concerning the content of the "authority/purpose and scope" of the order to the Appellate Court (Appellate Case Number 032525) and to the California Supreme Court (Supreme Court Case Number S 168440). The Appellate Court upheld this Court's decision and its accompanying orders. The California Supreme Court denied Mr. AngryDad's petition for review.

I respectfully request that Mr. AngryDad's letter to the court referred to herein be discarded as, at best, an inappropriate ex parte attempt to significantly modify a current Court order.
I am not trying to change the scope of the order. The psychologist would be doing the same thing whether the checkbox is checked or not. I am just trying to comply with the demands of the psychologist that my ex-wife likes. I tried to talk the guy into accepting the order as written, but he refused. I previously sent this to the family court:
To the court:

My ex-wife [AngryMom] and I are parties to ... a divorce case. Cmr. Joseph issued an order for an evaluation. On July 30, he explained that the court would issue the order as soon as we filled in the name of the psychologist.

Therefore, this is a request for the court to issue the enclosed order. AngryMom and I have agreed to have [this psychologist] do the evaluation. He is a [location] psychologist who claims to have done about 650 evaluations for the court. The content of the order is from Cmr. Joseph.

I have taken the liberty of making these changes:
1. I have entered “[the psychologist's name]” on the blank line.
2. I have checked the box to the left of his name, to make it clear that he is being appointed, and not Family Court Services.
3. I have checked the box for “a full custody or visitation evaluation”, as the form asks him to make custody and visitation recommendations.

[This psychologist] has insisted on checking these checkboxes, and he has said that he refuses to do the evaluation unless these checkboxes are checked.

[My ex-wife the AngryMom] has not agreed to this letter. She said, “I will only agree to what is ordered by the Court, and certainly not to something that you have Mickey Moused.”

I enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for the signed order.
The main point here is that I am just complying with the wishes of the psychologist who wants to eliminate an obvious inconsistency in the order. My ex-wife does not dispute any of this. She is just being obstructionist. I have no idea what the court will do.

Update: A reader complains that "obstructionist" is a noun and not an adjective, but it turns out that Webster's
says that it can be used as an adjective. It is used as an adjective in this current NY Times story:
Patient advocates have called Dr. Pazdur, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s cancer drug office, a murderer, conservative pundits have vilified him as an obstructionist bureaucrat, and guards are now posted at the agency’s public cancer advisory meetings to protect him and other committee members.
So it is grammatically correct to vilify obstructionist bureaucrats.

California court holiday

For one day, the California family court is not taking anyone's kids away. It is not causing its usual destruction. The judges have been furloughed because the state is short of money, and they each make about $150k per year. They are supposed to give up a day's wages, but some judges are refusing.

I say the state should just shut down the family court permanently, and everyone would be better off.

Another angry dad

A reader writes:
Hi George, my name is [deleted]. I stumbled upon your blog while surfing blogs on Wordpress. As someone who's life was completely destroyed by the powers of the family court bureaucracy, it brought back many emotions.

The mother of my child left me when she was 2 months pregnant and immediately waged a brutal custody war that I will never fully recover from. I devoted 2 years of my life to fighting false allegations of sexual abuse, drug abuse, and mental illness in order to be a father to my beautiful daughter, now almost 4 years old. I now have shared legal custody and 15% physical custody. Because of my perseverance, my daughter and I are very close.

Before I became a father, I lambasted "deadbeat" dads for abandoning their children, but now I understand why so many men choose to forfeit their right to custody of their children. Battling with Child Protective Services, the police, the family court, and mediators can be a terrifying and depressing process. As you know, the family court assumes that a child's mother is fit to parent, and a child's father is assumed to be unfit until he proves otherwise. The bias is sickening.

When my daughter was born, the court slapped me with a child support payment of $645 per month. My income was $1200. My wages were immediately garnished, and I spent the first 2 years of my daughter's life, homeless, hungry, and fighting the courts to see my daughter. Child Support Services now garnishes 50% of whatever I make, there is no way that I can make a living if my income is documented. If it weren't for the ongoing financial help of friends, I wouldn't even know what my daughter looks like. I would love to publish my experiences, but I'm afraid of what could happen, as my writing has already been used against me.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you. Keep up the good work.
I often get letters like this. The system is evil.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Reports on CPS abuses

For news about abuses from Children's Protective Services, there is no better source than the Legally Kidnapped blog. Every day it has new horror stories about terrible things that CPS is doing. Read the blog for a couple of weeks, and you will be convinced that CPS should be shut down.

I got a chuckle out of this video posted there. A girl sings "I Wanna Be a Social Worker, I wanna do what I can". In a couple of years, she will be happily stealing kids from families.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Effort to expose a valid problem

The NY Times reports:
Sean Conway was steamed at a Fort Lauderdale judge, so he did what millions of angry people do these days: he blogged about her, saying she was an “Evil, Unfair Witch.”

But Mr. Conway is a lawyer. And unlike millions of other online hotheads, he found himself hauled up before the Florida bar, which in April issued a reprimand and a fine for his intemperate blog post.
I guess that is how they keep lawyers from badmouthing the courts.

In another case, it said:
For his part, Mr. Conway noted that the judge he criticized was reprimanded last year by the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed a state panel’s criticism of what it called an “arrogant, discourteous and impatient” manner with lawyers in another case. ...

But the State Supreme Court ultimately concluded that his online “personal attack” was “not uttered in an effort to expose a valid problem” with the judicial system. And so, the court concluded, the statements “fail as protected free speech under the First Amendment.”
I am not a lawyer, so I don't have to follow these silly Bar Assn. rules. Nevertheless, I will try to make an effort to expose a valid problem whenever I utter a personal attack.

Friday, September 11, 2009

SCORE meeting

I think that there will be a SCORE at 10am tomorrow (Sat., Sept. 12) in the Scotts Valley Coffee Cat. This is a small group that tries to help people with family court problems. I will be there.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mom hides boy in crawl space

A reader sends this story:
BENTON, Ill. - A 6-year-old boy whose mother is accused of hiding him in a crawl space for nearly two years whenever visitors arrived will remain in state custody while he gets counseling meant to eventually reunite him with his father.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Kyle Vantrease turned away Michael Chekevdia's request to take temporary custody of his son immediately, ruling Tuesday that Richard Chekevdia needs help to gradually process his "traumatic" ordeal.

Ricky and his mother, 30-year-old Shannon Wilfong, vanished in November 2007. They were found Friday hiding in a small crawl space in his grandmother's two-story home in southern Illinois.

Vantrease scheduled a Nov. 23 hearing to resolve the custody issue, suggesting that by then the boy's progress in counseling and efforts backed by state child-welfare workers to reunify him with his dad could be measured. Until then, the boy will remain with a relative of Michael Chekevdia's in Marion.

The judge refused - with the state's blessings - any access to him by his mother, who often sobbed during the 75-minute hearing and insisted she'd done nothing wrong.

"You're making me sound bad. It was not like that at all," she interjected at one point. ...

"He referred to (his dad) as a monster," Anderson said. "I can only speculate he'd heard that from the people he'd been around the past two years."
The mom kidnaps the boy, hides him in a crawl space for two years, falsely alienated him from the dad, and claims that she has "done nothing wrong"! Only a crazy mom could be so deluded.

Note that the dad still does not get the boy. He has to wait 2.5 months before he even gets to beg the court to get his own boy back.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dear Abby ignores father

Here is today's letter to Dear Abby:
DEAR ABBY: My daughter, "Libby," is about to be married. It's her third trip to the altar, and her stepfather and I are not in favor of the marriage. After her first marriage -- to a wonderful man -- she had an affair with a married man who became husband No. 2. Within five years, she began another affair with a married neighbor. They are both now divorced and plan to be married later this year in a big church wedding.

My husband and I do not want to attend, but Libby has threatened to prevent us from seeing the grandkids if we don't accept husband No. 3 into our family.
Note that the good man who is the father of those grandkids seems to have no say about whether those kids see their grandparents. Dear Abby advises caving in to this extortion.

We have unilateral (aka no-fault) divorce in the USA, but that should not mean that the mom gets to cut off the kids from dad and the grandparents. The mom should have no more power to make such a demand than the dad.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Soldiers in family court

A reader informs me that there is some legislation pending to protect soldiers, related to the issue discussed below. Here is what he says.

This incident raises many questions about women in the military and about soldiers (male and female) who are parents of young children.

Apparently, military parents are required to keep a Family Care Plan on file with the military in the event of overseas deployment. However, that document apparently has no validity in any family court.

Just last week, Illinois passed a new law about this. Note how the final law differs from the bill originally introduced. Apparently California passed a law in 2005.

The NY Times says:
Congressional leaders are negotiating over legislation to strengthen custody rights of service men and women who are deployed overseas; similar bills passed the House and Senate and must be reconciled.
The "legislation" is the annual National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Writing this law each year is the main job of the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and House.

The 2 committees have "marked up" (amended) separate versions of the bill and each committee has published a committee report. The House committee has a strong provision that overrides family courts. The Senate committee provision does nothing about courts, but asks the Pentagon to research the effect of deployment on child custody.

Soldiers lose in family court

I have added to my comments below about a female soldier facing an adverse family court situation. Somehow she got a NY Times editorial to favor her.

Meanwhile, many thousands of other soldiers, mainly men, are getting screwed in family court. I just talked to a marine who told me about his situation, and he is outraged about how unfair the system. He has not gotten the visitation that he was supposed to get.

One aspect of his story was one I had not heard before. He said that child support is automatically deducted from his paycheck. He moved to California, and his deduction was doubled just because California has a higher guideline than his previous state. But then the bureaucracy made an error, and decided that he was not paying child support. He discovered this when he was on a military base in Japan, and his passport got canceled as a penalty. Then his child support deductions got doubled again.

He eventually convinced the bureaucrats that it was all their mistake, and he got his passport back. Now here is the unusual part -- they refused to refund his overpayments that they wrongly withheld from his paycheck! He got a letter from the state of California saying that they were going to hold the money until his child support obligations have ended! That is, he won't see the money until the kid turns 18.

The ridiculous part of this is that he is a US marine with his child support being withheld from his paycheck. He could not fail to pay the child support even if he tried.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

New California law tries to conceal evidence

Effective January 1, 2010, California has passed a new law to make family court expert opinion secret. The law provides that a judge may appoint child custody evaluators to write reports for the court. These reports had been ordinary pieces of evidence, like other court evidence. But Family Code sect. 3111 now says:
(b) The report shall not be made available other than as provided in subdivision (a), or ...
Section (a) just allows copies to the parties and the court:
At least 10 days before any hearing regarding custody of the child, the report shall be filed with the clerk of the court in which the custody hearing will be conducted and served on the parties or their attorneys, and any other counsel appointed for the child pursuant to Section 3150. The report may be considered by the court.
The really outrageous part of this law is the new penalty section:
(d) If the court determines that an unwarranted disclosure of a written confidential report has been made, the court may impose a monetary sanction against the disclosing party. The sanction shall be in an amount sufficient to deter repetition of the conduct, and may include reasonable attorney's fees, costs incurred, or both, unless the court finds that the disclosing party acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust.
I don't see how this could possibly be consistent with First Amendment free speech rights. Just what is an "unwarranted disclosure"?

I had an evaluation by a gay shrink who a report criticizing me for feeding my kids broccoli, and recommending that I be ordered to see a dietitian about it. Can I describe that on my blog? Would that be an unwarranted disclosure? How would anyone know?

And look at the penalty! Usually fines are limited by law, but this law lets the judge impose any fine he wants.

This is just the latest in family court restrictions on free speech. Sooner or later, this is going to get the attention of federal judges who will declare it to be unconstitutional.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Soldier’s Service Leads to a Custody Battle at Home

The NY Times reports:
TEANECK, N.J. — During the 10 months she was deployed in Iraq, Leydi Mendoza, a 22-year-old specialist in the New Jersey National Guard, did everything she could think of to ease her longing for the year-old daughter she had left back home. ...

But since her return, Mr. Llares has allowed Ms. Mendoza only a few brief visits with Elizabeth. ...

Legal experts caution that regardless of legislation the task of determining the best interests of the child is likely to fall to a family court judge. ...

Specialist Mendoza argued with Mr. Llares, trying to get more time with their daughter, and when she threatened to have him fired from his job at a Y.M.C.A., he filed a temporary restraining order, which a judge later dropped.
This case is only news because the mom is losing out. Dads lose out in cases like this all the time.

The problem with the legislation is that it requires the family court judge to make a decision based on the Best Interest Of The Child (BIOTCH). But the judge is incapable of doing that, so it becomes a legal battle of who can get whom fired, who can get the better restraining order, and who is better liked by the court shrink.

Legislation could address this problem by abolishing the BIOTCH. A soldier should not have to turn authority over her child to the whim of a family court judge when she gets sent overseas.

Update: The judge was apparently influenced by the fear of an unfavorable NY Times story, and granted the soldier some visitation today. Thanks to a commenter for the link.

Update: A reader writes:
This woman abandoned her newborn infant to go overseas for 10 months? She is unfit to have custody of a child!

She had a choice. The draft was abolished, in case you hadn't heard. Any military obligation was one she freely chose. Next, she chose to have a baby without a husband, which was a bad choice in itself, that should have called her fitness into question.

Even with all that, she had the choice to apply for a hardship excuse not to deploy overseas. Failing that, she had the choice simply not to report for her deployment, i.e., the choice to desert her unit and remain AWOL, if necessary.

Yes, there would be consequences, but so what? Her child needed to be fed and diapered 6 times a day, and the obligations of motherhood surpass any other obligation she may have undertaken.
Now the NY Times has an editorial on the issue:
Determinations about what is best for a child are complicated and dependent on personal circumstances. Children sometimes become pawns when parents split up, and military families are no exception. But it would be a terrible injustice if a soldier were to lose custody simply because he or she served the nation in wartime. ... It would be intolerable if bias in parts of society against working mothers extended to those who leave their children to wear their nation’s uniform.
Of course these family court judges never really make any determinations about what is best for a child. The phrase "complicated and dependent on personal circumstances" is just a euphemism for applying their personal prejudices.

Bogus marriage science from NY Times

A NY Times science article about some anthropological research on an obscure African tribe starts with this:
In the United States and much of the Western world, when a couple divorces, the average income of the woman and her dependent children often plunges by 20 percent or more, while that of her now unfettered ex, who had been the family’s primary breadwinner but who rarely ends up paying in child support what he had contributed to the household till, climbs accordingly. The born-again bachelor is therefore perfectly positioned to attract a new, younger wife and begin building another family.
Huhh? No source is given for these bogus factoids.

It is a simple economic fact that it costs more to maintain two households than one. If a couple gets divorced, the net standard of living declines as they housing expenses increase. Of course, their standard of living can go up if they remarry rich spouses.

In California, a father will often pay 50% of his income in child support. Yes, this will usually be less than what he was putting into the household till before the divorce, because now he has to support himself in a separate house. But it will usually be much more than was actually being spent on the children before the divorce.

The article drew some scathing comments, such as this:
This article is a dreadful, poor excuse for science reporting.

Out of 14 published paragraphs, only two paragraphs discuss the actual research results, three paragraphs give background information about Pimbwe culture -- and all the remaining paragraphs are useless, indulging mostly in scientifically meaningless cultural and gender stereotypes.

If an intelligent lay reader wants to gain a understanding of the actual science involved, please go to the source and download and read the original article published by the quoted anthropologist, Dr. Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, in the journal Human Nature.
The NY Times does have some better science reporters than this woman.