While I myself have been too busy to post this past week, a few of my clients have found themselves quoted in the news. There's only one I can mention here. Cheryl Hayes, my former client, has authorized me to discuss her case after she thanked me for directing Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc to her this past Tuesday, thus resulting in her interview an hour later and a photo session that resulted in the following Associated Press article, AP IMPACT: Stimulus checks boost child support - washingtonpost.com, immediately published and picked up by some 300 news outlets around the world.
I find it a bit ironic that I had a hand in having my client pictured in this article, as she is a woman owed lots of child support by her exhusband and she is arguing that it is absolutely correct that the federal stimulus checks should be intercepted to pay down child support arrears. Well, I agree with her. However, up until just five or six years ago I was predominantly representing men in divorce actions. I have probably had more than my fair share of male clients who were the victims of child support orders that were too high. Indeed, I have long been both personally and professionally aware of the recent history of unfairness toward men in the Massachusetts family courts, both in custody and visitation matters and in child support determinations.
But what I now understand much better - now that I represent a larger, more representative sample of family law clients, including many more women now than before - is that family law victims are not of one gender. Too often irresponsible and even abusive individuals, whether male or female, are able to "win" in court, at least in some respects, even when the facts are against them.
When the reporter contacted me on Tuesday, and was seeking clients or previous clients who could speak to him about the issue of stimulus checks being intercepted to pay child support obligations, I immediately told him to speak with the Fathers and Families organization here in Massachusetts, and was told that he had already done so. The reporter needed, instead, somebody who was in favor of the interception of stimulus checks to pay child support arrears. Well, I certainly had someone for him. After calling Cheryl Hayes to get her approval to give her name and phone number to the reporter, I helped the reporter to make contact.
Cheryl Hayes wants even more publicity for her case, and wants me to tell even more of her story here, because it is so illustrative of the fact that there are indeed deadbeat dads out there. And boy, if there ever was one, her exhusband fits the bill. (Of course, there are deadbeat moms as well, and there are misguided, mistaken, and sometimes even incompetent court officials, and thus there exist numerous types of miscarriages of justice, leading to suffering by men, women, and children.)
The man who owes Cheryl Hayes some $30,000 somehow had the gall and the wherewithal to hire expensive attorneys to fight for the right to see his children, despite the fact that he had abused them and they were terrified of him. But this man failed to show up in court when the children's therapist and another mental health professional testified in court that the children suffered from quite egregious abuse by him while they were with him in North Dakota, and before the children moved with their mother to Massachusetts. This man has since left North Dakota and now lives in Minnesota, where he has managed to pay next to nothing in child support in the past three years, while the children have continued to struggle with therapy, and even institutionalization, as a result of his unspeakable abuse.
This man has failed to show up personally in Massachusetts to court for either of his family law cases - his visitation case (which led to a trial in which we won a ruling, after the above-described testimony, that he would have no contact with the children) and his child support case. This man has been able to avoid, halt, or otherwise dodge investigation by social service agencies and the police by moving from one state to another, and has avoided paying child support by perjuring himself in courts of at least two states, and by hiring attorneys in this state while achieving some degree of success in manipulating the court systems in at least two, and possibly three, states.
It is "men" like this who give all of us fathers a bad name and truly deserve to be called deadbeats. And it is cases like his - no less than the cases of fathers who are paying too much child support - that point up the fact that our courts are falling far short of their responsibility to find facts and dispense true justice.
We should not demonize all men who owe child support, as most of them are good people, even many of those who fall far behind in their support. (See my previous post Deadly Delinquents, Deadbeat Dads, and the Dangers of Demonization.)
Nor should we demonize men simply because they are accused of abuse. Men are more likely to be accused of abuse, but not really that much more likely actually to be guilty of abuse (physical or mental) than women, according to the available evidence. Because men are less likely to have custody of their children, and because men are still more likely to have greater expectations for financial contributions to their families, men are also more likely to be required to pay child support than women, and there is a greater number of men than women who fall behind in their support. However, men with child support obligations are more likely than women with child support obligations to actually pay those awards, according to the evidence.
These real statistics, often covered up by feminist groups and trumpeted by fathers' advocates, point out not only the inequality, unfairness, and gender bias in our expectations of both mothers and fathers that have resulted in numerous injustices in our family courts. These statistics also point to the sad reality that the facts of individual cases often do not matter: that family law conflicts too often lead to the wrong results (too much child support, not enough child support, custody to the wrong parent, etc.) because of the unfair procedures, bias, incompetence, and other failings in the judicial system.
Each case should be judged on its own facts. Far too often, because of the problems with our court system, the facts do not determine the outcome of cases. And irresponsible and abusive individuals too often are permitted to harm others with seeming impunity. And that's just sad. And wrong.
I have faith that our courts will improve. But we need more people who have suffered injustice in the family law arena to take the time to get involved and try to change the system. People like Cheryl Hayes. And people like the good men and women at Fathers & Families.
For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.