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Who's on the team? Maybe more or less than you think.

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From: John Murtari (
Date: Wed Sep 04 2002 - 11:55:10 EDT

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Good People & People of Faith,

Who's on our team? Maybe this is an obvious question in our efforts
for Family Law reform. After all, how do we know who "our" is?  Most
importantly, we are working toward a "solution" to "our" problems, how
do we know we have a good solution when we don't know who we are.

If we think about Civil Right's movements of the past it was fairly
clear.  You could look at any woman and know -- she's not going to
vote in the next election.  You could look at any black and know -
he's riding in the back of the bus in Birmingham. 

One unique problem we as parents face is identifying people who are
"with us."  You just can't walk down the street and "know" who's on
the team.  Maybe someday as the movement grows, it will become popular
to wear a ribbon that lets people know, "I'm a parent unjustly without
my child."

Also, what is our attitude about having other people help us?  Martin
Luther King was happy to have "whites" join in their efforts and march
beside him (and we hope to follow his example as a group), but I think
we all know history is full of groups that wanted to "go it alone."
That doing it themselves was part of the effort.

So, how do you feel? Who do you want on your "team" to reform the
system?  Here are a few thoughts below.

Most of us lost contact with our kids through divorce/separation.  Oh,
we might have been accused by our former spouse of being mean to the
kids, or a bad parent -- but everyone knew that was just "pro forma"
divorce stuff.

But how do you feel about the real "accused child abusers?" You know,
the people who get turned into social services and the kids are taken
from the home?  I saw a commercial on TV that said thanks to new laws
and more money for enforcement they were now able to take kids from
abusive parents in only a day -- when it used to take weeks -- now
there's progress!  Or is it?

I can remember when my divorce first started and I went to a meeting
of a local "Father's Rights" group.  Someone brought up that a group
called VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse Laws) wanted to share mailing
lists. One of the fathers spoke up and said, "Gee, I don't know if I
want the mailman delivering their newsletter to my home -- he might
actually think I was an accused child abuser?"

It bothered me when I heard that. Here we were, a bunch of "lepers,"
but we didn't want to be associated with the other kind of "lepers."
Imagine that, shades of Dante's Inferno.

It hit home when a good friend of mine, who is an attorney, got a
phone call from his wife saying she'd almost been arrested by the
police and was accused of "endangering the welfare of a child."  She
had left one of their children in the car when running into a
Mini-Mart for milk.  All of a few minutes.  It just happened that
someone with a cell phone was parked right next to her and called the
police the moment she left the car.  They responded quickly and the
officer actually threatened to cuff her and take her to jail.  Imagine
that!  That ought to teach her a lesson!

Now, was that most brilliant thing for his wife to do -- probably not.
But sometimes we all do that kind of thing, but are we criminals?  The
very next day I happened to be visiting a local grocery store, and a
lady had her toddler standing up in an empty shopping cart. She was
busy looking at something and he was getting close to leaning over the
edge -- and flipping the cart - ouch!  Should I have called the cops?

But this is not even the point of the story.  There is still more.
When you are an "accused child abuser" (he and his wife both fell
into that category now), a Social Worker can knock on the door of
your home at any time and ask to come in and have a look around.
Oh, you have the "right" to say no, but as any child abuse lawyer
will tell you, that will get you labeled as "noncooperative", after
all, if you've got nothing to hide -- what don't you let them in.

Not to mention, if they really wanted to, they can go to a Judge and
get an order to take your kids away.  It is just that easy!

Now my friend and his wife let the social worker in, but it was an
indignity.  They eventually appeared in front of a Judge and they
received a "6 Months ACD", which is a 6 month adjournment of your case
contemplating dismissal, e.g. keep your nose clean and we forget the
whole thing -- at least on the criminal side.

But it gets even better.  Just because his spouse was an "accused
child abuser" there names both went on New York State's public
"abuser" list. His wife had wanted to get a job as a school teacher,
that will never happen in NY.  He told me he would have a problem
getting that kind of job now -- because some employers check the list.
Imagine that!

Now, here a few other things I was surprised to find out.  Social
services can take your kids, and even if you are cleared of the
criminal charges -- guess what -- that doesn't mean you get your kids
back at all.  That is an entirely different manner for Family Court to
decide.  Imagine that!

Probably the most amazing thing I have heard repeatedly is that if you
are accused of a "bad temper", or "sex abuse", etc....  The Social
Workers and Psychologists are going to recommend you attend classes
and "admit your problem."  If you don't say you did it, you are in
"denial."  Of course, people who are not guilty are also in denial!

They can often pressure parents into pleading "guilty" and not
fighting the charges, because if you do, "we will take your kids."
And they can.  And they do. 

But you know what is really scary.  I asked my friend if he wanted to
attend one of our meetings with Congressional staff to tell his story
- he said no.  I asked him if I could use his name - he said no. If
you make "waves", they come after you.  You see, once you are an
"accused child abuser" you are on very thin ice if anything happens in
the future.  Imagine that!

I think we meant well with the "child abuse" laws.  In the same way I
think people meant well when they let judges decided "the best
interest of the child" in divorce.  But we forgot about protecting our

If you want a couple of web sites on this area try:

I think they are on our team.  You?

A few months ago I talked with a leader in a Father's group. I told
him that about half our membership were moms who had also been beaten
up by the system -- that we needed to talk about parents, not just
mothers or fathers.  He told me, very seriously ... "Men don't get the
kids because of societal prejudices, but when a women doesn't get the
kids, it means something is wrong with her.  How could you lose with
the deck stacked in your favor unless something is wrong with you?"

I really thought he was kidding, but he was dead serious.  I had to
laugh when I asked him didn't almost all the men in his group have
"Court Decisions" that documented something was wrong with them --
weren't they all in denial?

I think mothers and fathers are on the team. You?

I get a lot of list messages, and probably half of them have to do
with child support.  Parents cut off from their kids, mostly men, and
laboring under an unfair support burden (and I know what that is
like!).  The messages are full of legal arguments and financial
formulas, it is rare to see in a message, "I want to get back into my
kid's lives..."  It used to bother me more, until I could appreciate
what they'd been through: children alienated from them, many haven't
seen them in months or years, all the "system" considers them to be is
a "bank" where it can make withdrawals -- and they don't like it.

But, what would you say if they stuck a camera in your face and asked
you what you wanted to see happen as part of Family Law reform?

If you talk about wanting to see the kids again.  I think you are on 
the team.  If you talk about reforming support laws, I think you may
be on another team. You?

Many of us talk about the right to be with our kids.  But I guess what
we are really saying is there ought to be a "significant barrier" the
system has to cross before they can interfere with my family life.

We are not looking for MORE laws, but protection.  That before the
"system" can interfere with you and your children you have:

1) The right to counsel.
2) The right to be presumed innocent and deserving of an equal relationship
with your kids.
3) The right to protection of a jury.  The "state" needs to prove you
were a demonstrated serious and intentional threat to your child.

If this type of barrier was in place, "we" would all be a lot happier!
It is hopefully a goal "we" can all work toward.

John Murtari

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