The URL for this webpage is http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/FRtactic.html
"It was with surprise and appreciation that I recently discovered and read Stalking Through the Courts. Although it has been many years since my divorce from Eric Bleicken, the pain of the intense lies that were told (that I wasn't feeding my children, that I was suicidal, that I was a negligent mother, etc.), and the 200 plus harassment motions that Eric Bleicken filed over a five year period were still under the surface. I found it amazing that Janet Normalvanbreucher, someone I've never met, cared enough to research and reveal the truth about our case and the Fathers Rights political agenda. With sincerity and humility, I give her my thanks."
-- Lorraine Bleicken G.
The "Father's Right's"
Movement: How to Legally Stalk, Harass,
by Janet Normalvanbreucher © 1999
Table of Contents:
-- Ten Tips for Single Dads
-- Father's Manifesto Signatories
-- Victoria D.'s story
-- if Psychologists Discredit this Theory, Why Is it So Widely Accepted by the Courts?
-- Screening of Pro-Se Lawsuits, Criminal Charges, Motions for Reconsideration
-- Criminal Sanctions for Filing Frivolous Charges with State Administrative Agencies
-- Tighter Enforcement of Stalking Laws
-- Rule 11-type Pro-Se Sanctions for Abuse of Process
-- Prosecuting Groups who are Practicing Law Without A License
-- Law School Programs - Helping the Victims Fight Back
-- Lawsuits against FR Groups under the VAWA as Unincorporated Associations.
-- Legislative Action
Many years ago, I encountered what appeared at the time to be a group of reputable men.As a struggling single motherin a fast-paced society, I found their call for a return to simpler times and enduring relationships refreshing. I formed lasting friendships with several of them, and some of those friendships have endured in spite of the topic of which I write in this article.
When my child's father found a new wife and family, he faded from her life and became little more than a weekly paycheck in spite of pleas for him to remain more than a passive observer. Ideas which had initially sounded quaint and old-fashioned began to hold appeal as my child became sullen and withdrawn.
Grandfatherly in nature, one member in particular took my little girl under his wing and helped fill the void left by her father's inattention. She was the same age as his custodial son, and their escapades were always full of fun and laughter. He taught her to fish, build a campfire to roast marshmallows, kayak, canoe, sail, and dig quahogs from the salt marshes of Cape Cod. He would pick up scraps of wood left over from construction sites and help the kids build forts in the bushes or carve model ships. He let her help paint the bottom of his sailboat with barnacle paint, an experience that left her looking more like "Blue the Dog" than a little girl, and cheerfully brushed off her waste of the prohibitively expensive marine paint with the gentle admonition "well, young lady, you'll never grow barnacles." He was the person who encouraged me to leave the economically undervalued human services field and become a lawyer. There was never anything inappropriate about their relationship, nor was his interest in me ever more than that of a kindly neighbor, mentor and friend. He was, in every way that mattered, the definition of the proverbial father.
Non-custodial single fathers would often bring their children to our Mentor's home. The children would play while the men would disappear into the living room to discuss what was happening in their divorce actions. Although not privy to the conversations which occurred within the inner circle until the very end, to a non-lawyer their erudite-sounding conversations about "due process" and "equal protection" bore the imprimatur of legitimacy to a layperson who had little experience with the legal system other than a brief, uncontested divorce.
They were eager to show anyone who would listen reams of documentation to back up their horror stories about injustice they had suffered at the hands of the courts. Even the most callous listener could not help but express moral indignation at ex-wives who used children as pawns to gain an edge in a property settlement, greedy lawyers who milked until they were broke then dropped them like hot potatoes, and mental health professionals who would slant their testimony to trick the courts into depriving fathers of the right to see their children. While telling their tales, many fathers would break down and cry, unable to continue or answer questions about their dilemma through their grief.
I was given ream after ream of depositions; court transcripts; audiocassettes of sessions with therapists which conflicted with the testimony the practitioner had given under oath in court; letters from expert witnesses testifying to the bias in the court; books and treatises written by researchers lambasting the "domestic violence industry;" and psychological tests administered by sympathetic therapists which proved the fathers were good, stable, law-abiding citizens. Because of my mental health background working with emotionally disturbed adolescents, I gradually became a sought-after commodity at meetings where they would discuss the importance of having a father in a child's life.
Fathers often asked innocuous sounding questions about how the MMPI and MCMI were structured. As they realized my clinical training, which included extensive knowledge about these psychological tests which often swayed judges, could help them gain an edge in their litigation, fathers began to flock to me and ask questions about psychology. I would recommend obscure books and scientific journals, which they would immediately read, then enjoy discussing their emerging knowledge of psychology.
In retrospect, the extreme gratitude these men expressed over such trivial recommendations should have been a warning sign that something was amiss. However, at the time, I was flattered.
The second wife, new girlfriend, or female sympathizer of the Father's Rights movement is a queen amongst a retinue of attentive servants. No mountain is too great to move for these men hungry for female approval. If you mention your car needs work, you'll awaken to find a man in your driveway cheerfully changing your oil. If your palace has a chip of paint peeling, you'll come home from work to find a crew of vassals gleefully grinding the paint down to the bare wood while a master of ceremonies presents you with palette of colors to make your shabby adobe befitting for your royal presence. If you mention you need to go home and vacuum, a butler will appear at your door with a steam cleaner to shampoo your carpets while his servants delicately move your furniture out of harms way. If you express admiration of a neighbors flowering shrub, a handful of serfs will appear at your door to landscape your entire yard with flowers, whistling while they work with dwarfish good humor. If you accompany them anywhere public, you will be introduced as aristocracy and hear a symphony of voices lauding your every accomplishment with Herculean praise.
At least initially, the female advocate is rarely sought after for purient reasons. Rather, she is placed upon a pedestal and worshipped by the masses in an overwhelming display of gratitude for her ability to sympathize with what would appear to be common sense to most people. SHE doesn't hate men. SHE values fatherhood. SHE believes in us. Every wish, every whim, every desire of the female advocate is granted almost before it is given voice.
It seems inconceivable that these wonderful men who can anticipate every desire end up divorced, deprived of the right to see their children. It seems beyond belief that these thoughtful creatures had ample evidence of wrongdoing by their ex-spouse, but an evil judiciary refused to consider their evidence. You're not asked to work against women, only those selfish creatures too evil to put their children's best interests ahead of their greed. Under those circumstances, even the most hardened cynic can become seduced by the siren's call of the Father's Rights movement.
It was these early, positive experiences with the Father's Right's movement which colored all of my experiences to come and makes the realization of the dark side behind the Father's Right's movement difficult to reconcile. A mother will always gravitate towards what is best for her child, and what was best for my child was the positive male attention that caused her to gradually come out of her shell and become a happy, well-adjusted young lady.
A former mental health professional, I became firmly convinced of the worth of having a father figure in a child's life. These experiences occurred over a period of many years before I had reason to question the motives of the periphery of men who eternally buzzed in and out of our Mentor's life. The bizarre, Kafkaesque events which occurred and brought their true motives to light offend traditional sensibilities about right, wrong, good, evil, and what is real. Even now, knowing what I know about them and knowing I am inviting criticism by feminists, my belief that children need positive male role models (although not necessarily the biological father) remains unchanged.
During the height of the women's movement, a laudable movement began by men sympathetic to the plight of feminism to educate their peers about how women weren't the only victims of archaic social roles. Men, they argued, were robbed of precious time with their families, their health, and the very ability to feel by social conditioning which told him a man's role in society was that of a breadwinner. Medical practitioners acknowledged the link between stress and heart disease.
The rise of pop "self-help" psychology furthered the men's movement, educating its' constituency through myth and legend in stories such as "Iron John" and "Gods in Every Man." Sweat Lodges (the male version of an encounter group) grew in popularity as men learned to network amongst themselves, bond, and discuss the formerly forbidden realm of the emotions. Men started entering the delivery room with their wives when their children were born and cradled their newborn progeny with pride as the physician severed the umbilical cord from the mother's womb. As women began to work outside of the home, however, some men responded to their newfound role as nurturer with ambiguity.
Not all men were thrilled with the women's movement. Traditional man-as-breadwinner roles afforded less enlightened males a dominant position in their families. Feminism, with all of its trappings, seriously undermined a man's ability to dominate his family and control his spouse as women demanded equal opportunities in education, the workforce, and in the home. Women, no longer trapped in their dependent, subservient roles as housewives and mothers, began to infiltrate the upper echelons of power in politics and corporate America. Many women chose to postpone marriage and child rearing until after completing their education and gaining a certain amount of success in their careers. Successful, educated women avoided men who desired to place them in a subservient role. Others chose slower-paced "mommy-track" jobs until their children were older, but demanded equality in the home.
"Men are very confused, angry, and frustrated as they try to figure out what it means today to be a man," says Dr. William Pollack, director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont (Massachusetts).
"There aren't a lot of structures in society that help men get a hold of it." (Men with Promises to Keep, Mary Leonard, the Boston Globe, September 21, 1997).
Men who failed to respond to a woman's changing role as equals found themselves out in the street as frustrated women gave up on unfulfilling marriages and filed for divorce. Most men learned from their failures and went on to form successful relationships with new partners, but others were too entrenched in their archaic social roles to adapt to the needs of modern society.
The groups which call themselves "Father's Right's" groups are not members of the legitimate men's movement. These groups have nothing to do with associations (ranging from little league to anti-child exploitation) consisting of fathers who have banded together to protect children or encourage others to take an active part in their lives. Rather, "Father's Right's" groups are a dangerous movement which arose as a backlash against women's demands to be free from domestic violence and unreasonable male domination in their daily lives. The key word in discerning which groups are pursuing illegitimate objectives is the use of the word "rights." They are an extremely vocal minority which claims to represent the interests of fathers, but in reality they are attempting to turn back the clock on women's rights and regain their dominant role in society and the family.
Overwhelmingly, men join these groups after a former intimate or spouse leaves them to escape physical abuse or files for divorce. These groups, in reality "batterer's right's groups", very quickly learned that an educated public had no tolerance for their archaic views of a man's right to dominate his spouse through domestic violence. Like a cancerous organism, these groups networked through the internet and adapted by publicly identifying themselves with conservative Republicans and latching onto the coattails of the legitimate men's movement. Already accustomed to networking through the "ol' boy" network in business, they began lobbying the statehouse and pulling elaborate publicity stunts to get media attention.
Concealing the truth about their extensive history of violent behavior towards their intimate partners and children, numerous restraining order violations, and pending criminal charges for beating, stalking, and harassing their victims, these men found the best way to both control their ex-spouses and dupe the public into helping their cause was to use their children as pawns and promote a false image of concerned fatherhood. Using men who had, in reality, experienced unfairness during the judicial process as "poster children" and pawns to arouse sympathy for their own illegitimate cause with the populace and by aligning themselves with conservative political factions, these men have attempted to stamp their extremist activities with the imprimatur of legitimacy, nor are they the average, good fathers which have built society.
men typically have deeply entrenched notions about "traditional"
male roles, with concomitant support for male dominance."
[of domestic violence] are more likely... to have less traditional attitudes
regarding women's roles in the family."
The batterer's quest for control of the woman lies at the heart of an abusive relationship. "The men want to direct and determine how their partner behaves, and the way to do this is through violence... the men use violence to dominate, control, and force the woman to do what they want." (Jan E. Stets, Domestic Violence and Control, p. 110, (1988). Battering is about domination. Violence is a way of "doing power" in a relationship, an effort by the batterer to control the woman who is the recipient of the violence. "At the moment of separation or attempted separation -- for many women the first encounter with the authority of law -- the batterer's quest for control often becomes most acutely violent and potentially lethal." (Desmond Ellis, Post-Separation Woman Abuse: The Contribution of Lawyers as "Barracudas," "Advocates," and "Counsellors," 10 Intl. J.L. & Psychiatry 403, 408 (1987). Lenore Walker, a leading forensic psychologist in the field of battered women, has emphasized the batterer's control of the woman. "A battered woman is a woman who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights." (Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome (1984)). Walker found that as her clients in psychotherapy became more assertive, they encountered more physical and psychological abuse.
The misperception that men cannot control their anger still permeates society. Abusive men will often use the threat of violence, whether actual or implied, to control his victim. "Men are violent and abusive towards women because this behavior allows them to establish and to maintain control within the relationship ... and because no one has ever required them to stop." (Lisa G. Lerman, The Decontextualization of Domestic Violence, 83 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 217, 236 (1992)). Abusive behavior can range from implied threats ("any other man would have beaten you to a pulp") to overt acts against property (breaking apart the furniture, punching a hole in the wall) to direct physical assault (shoving, grabbing, battery). The abuser constantly finds fault with the victim, forcing the victim to remain constantly on the defensive, walking on eggshells lest she "cause" her abuser to lose control and incur another incident of violent behavior.
Studies indicate that, contrary to the assertions of the abuser that he just "lost it," batterers are quite aware of what they are doing. "Loss of control is substantially contradicted by the batterers' own testimony. While the men claim that their violence is beyond rational control, they simultaneously acknowledge that the violence is deliberate and warranted." (James Ptacek, Why do Men Batter Their Wives, p. 153 (1985). Strongly indicative of this pattern of premeditation are the facts that abusers often limit their beatings to places that will not show (like the stomach), violent episodes occur almost exclusively in the home where they can get away with it, and despite the abusers justifications of "I just lost control," most batterers have limits beyond which they will not go (most stop short of killing their partners). (Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, (1984)). Abusers are extremely manipulative and are often described as having a Jekyll and Hyde Personality. Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar's training manual for batterer's, Power and Control: Tactics of Men Who Batter, treat violence as a form of control and explicitly reject theories that focus on some flaw in the abuser, the victim, or the relationship. (Ellen Pence & Michael Paymar, Power and Control: Tactics of Men Who Batter, p. 64, (1986). Abusers view their right to dominate and control every aspect of their partner's and children's lives, their right to resort to physical violence, as a constitutionally protected right sanctioned by the founding fathers and the bible, not aberrant behavior.
When the intimate partner of a domineering male demands an end to controlling or abusive behavior or attempts to sever the relationship, his abnormal behavior will often escalate into violence. Separation assault is the attack on the woman's body and volition in which her partner seeks to prevent her from leaving, retaliate for the separation, or force her to return. It aims at overbearing her will as to where and with whom she will live, and coercing her in order to enforce connection in a relationship. It is an attempt to gain, retain, or regain power in a relationship, or to punish the woman for ending the relationship. It often takes place over time. (Martha R. Mahoney, Legal Images of Battered Women: Redifining the Issue of Separation, 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, p. 65-66, (1991)).
Despite the obvious physical and psychological harm caused by battering, the abuser is able to continue battering his partner because he does not fear legal or social consequences. A batterer often believes he has the right to control his partner through the use of force. Reinforcement of learned behavior may encourage this obsessive, dependent personality. Impulsive and easily frustrated, a batterer resorts to physical violence. The batterer will deny his violence to himself and others. A batterer is not violent in other relationships. In fact, with people outside the family, he can be seen as the pillar of the community. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont's Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, 484-485 (1994)). This hinders the victim's attempts to seek help or emotional support from friends and even her own family because batterers tend to wear a false persona to the outside world. The victim's claims that her partner is out of control tend to be met with disbelief and outright hostility from the outside world.
a sucker born every minute..."
Our society was built upon the foundation of the family. It is the backbone of our culture and the root of our identity. Our founding fathers granted extensive fundamental rights to protect family integrity, and it is a right our courts rigorously protect. It is these noble characteristics which the Father's Rights movement has learned to manipulate in their elaborate scheme to regain control of their victims and turn the clock back on women's rights.
If you look at literature for the Father's Rights movement, you will often see a picture of a father and child doing something together. This image tugs at the heartstrings of all of us.
Emotional agitation is a favorite technique of the propagandist because "any emotion may be 'drained off' into any activity by skillful manipulation." (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). If we were lucky enough to grow up with good fathers in our lives, it brings back fond memories of our own fathers. If we had absent, dysfunctional, or emotionally unavailable fathers, it inspires powerful emotions about what we wish our own fathers had been like. "Transfer is a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept. Thus, we may accept something we otherwise might reject." (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938). The reality of the Father's Rights advocates criminal history of spousal abuse or child abuse is never mentioned, nor is the fact that he may have voluntarily terminated visitation with his own children in a ploy to evade paying child support.
The pairing of the Father's Rights movements distasteful agenda with positive images of fatherhood causes us to transfer paternalistic associations into whatever the Father's Rights group is saying and stamps it with the imprimatur of credibility. As Americans, we believe in fatherhood. Whether it is an image of our own fathers, the founding fathers of our country, or God the Father, the Father's Rights movement seeks to create a false connection between traditional notions of fatherhood and legitimizing spousal abuse or failure to pay child support. Fatherhood is good. Father knows what is best for his children. Father's shouldn't be questioned. Fatherhood is America -- God, Country, and Apple Pie.
"We believe in, fight for, live by virtue words about which we have deep-set ideas. Such words include civilization, Christianity, good, proper, right, democracy, patriotism, motherhood, fatherhood, science, medicine, health and love." (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis (1995)).One of the most deeply ingrained instincts all human beings possess is the instinct to protect the young. Although all species possesses the instinct to ensure the survival of the next generation, humans are one of the few mammals (including wolves and dolphins) which will protect of the young of others, not just their own. This instinct has ensured our survival and enabled us to evolve into the complex social creatures we are today. Few of us would blindly drive past an infant playing precariously close to the street. Our perception of the child's danger will leave us greatly distressed if we do not indulge the urge to stop and find the child's mother.
Only the most callous human being would deny the plea of a frantic parent to help their child. As Americans, we pride ourselves for protecting the weak and taking a stand against oppression, especially when we think the recipient of the unfair treatment is a child. Americans root for the underdog. The Father's Rights movement preys upon the honor and fears of the American public by publishing horror stories about evil government agencies, man-hating battered women's advocacy groups, and vindictive ex-spouses snatching away their children in the middle of the night.
Concealing the truth about physical abuse, child abuse, controlling behavior and stalking they may have committed from the public, Father's Rights advocates convince the public "it could happen to you." Government agencies, domestic violence shelters, and court-ordered visitation centers become part of "the domestic violence industry" (conjuring up images of a callous, profit driven corporation). A woman's documentation of abuse becomes a "cry wolf" restraining order (creating and image of the little boy who cried wolf when there really wasn't any). Enforcement of abuse prevention orders by law enforcement personnel and courts becomes the "domestic violence witchhunt" (conjuring up images of innocent people being burned at the stake due to unfounded paranoia of the supernatural).
"By portraying themselves as god-fearing, hard-working Americans like the rest of us, they convince the public that they, and their ideas, are 'of the people.' " (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). What makes the Father's Rights advocate's plea so compelling is their claim that it is their children who are being hurt by these phantasms. By playing on the audience's deep-seated fears, Father's Rights advocates hope to redirect attention away from the merits of the particular proposal they are advocating for and towards steps that can be taken to reduce the fear. (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). Steps they may ask the audience to take might include asking a member of the voting public to sign a petition seeking concessions from Congress in child support laws, enticing an innocent bystander into delivering a message to a stalking victim which she will find frightening, conning an employee of a state agency into investigating false allegations against the victim for the purposes of harassing her, or luring civic-minded individuals into funding their campaign to harass victims by providing funding or political support for their activities.
The person lured into the Father's Rights advocates machinations has no idea that his true agenda is to punish his victim for leaving him, not to see his child. As far as the citizen knows, he is "helping" a child.
There are over a quarter of a billion people in this country. The overwhelming majority of these men, women and children are honest, law-abiding citizens. Even amongst divorced couples, the likelihood of a man engaging in the type of pathological, prolonged vendetta against an ex-spouse or ex-girlfriend promoted by the Father's Rights movement is quite rare. Although most Americans are aware of abuse prevention laws, the percentage of the population who has needed protection to escape an abuser is relatively small. Even amongst women who have previously gotten a restraining order, many may have only needed the order in the initial stages of a divorce when the jilted spouses' behavior crossed the line into combativeness. Most men are evolved enough to recognize their behavior is becoming unmanageable and seek therapy or the counsel of friends to help them deal with feelings of grief and anger. We are a benevolent society. Few people have personally come into contact with an abuser intent upon harassing his former intimate. Even fewer have experienced the rare pleasure of being the object of obsession. The type of vendetta a typical Father's Rights advocate is engaged in is beyond the comprehension of the average American. For this reason, Father's Rights advocates prove true W.C. Fields famous quotation, "there's a sucker born every minute." With few exceptions, the batterer is capable of locating a steady supply of "suckers" to carry out each element of his vendetta without question.
It is unfortunate that the actions of irresponsible males have damaged the positive image of fatherhood in our society. Negative stereotypes permeate the media and society. The pairing of the term "father" with negative terminology such as "deadbeat dad," "couch potato," or "sports widow" belittles the important role fathers could play in the family and the function they have in contributing to the emotional and moral development of their children. "Bad names... are applied to other people... to link a person to a negative symbol. The propagandist who uses this technique hopes the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence" (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, 1995).
Negative stereotyping of fathers is every bit as degrading to men as the pre-feminist virgin/whore dichotomy which stereotyped women as either sex objects or mothers. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, Father's Rights groups often solicit funds and gain media support by pretending to support the concerns of the majority of nurturing fathers. They harness the righteous indignation of fathers chafing at the same types of demeaning stereotypes which drove feminists to stand their ground in the early 1970s and use it to their own, illegitimate purpose.
Father's rights groups have learned to shift tactics, from incendiary rhetoric to more modest proposals. They have honed a more tender image, supplying bumper stickers that avow, "Kids need Fathers, Not Visitors." They have also forged strategic alliances. Twenty three groups (many of them headed by signatories of the Father's Manifesto) recently came together under the agreeable name of "The Children's Rights Council," recruiting to the board Abigail Van Buren, noted child psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). What has gained them the most mileage, however, has been their use of scientific studies of children from intact, functional families on the role healthy, normal fathers have on their children to tout their own agenda.
How important are fathers to the development of their children? [liznote: But see research at Myths and Facts pages http://www.thelizlibrary.org/] "Children who come from families with psychologically involved fathers are cognitively more competent, have higher degrees of compassion for others, manifest fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs and have a more solid internal locus of control." (S. Robert Moradi, M.D., Psychiatric Times, January 1997, Vol. XIV, Issue 1). Although it was traditionally believed that fathers played a more important role in the development of their sons than their daughters, a positive relationship with a father figure is especially important to the development of females. "Girls with active and hardworking dads are more ambitious, more successful in school, attend college more often, and are more likely to attain careers of their own. They are less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date or marry abusive men." (Joe Kelley, Executive Director of Dads and Daughters, website (http://www.dadsanddaughters.org/tenfacts.htm).
At first glance, illegitimate Father's Rights groups often purport to promote the common sense research of legitimate fatherhood interests to mask their true agenda, regaining control of or punishing their ex-partner for leaving them by controlling the children. "These groups exert an inordinate amount of energy minimizing domestic violence and the very real detrimental effects it has on children and very little energy addressing issues that help children." (Patricia A. Levesh, Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women's Legal Assistance Project, Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999). Inadvertently helping an illegitimate group hurts the interests of children, not helps them. The ability to deconstruct the propaganda and differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate issues is critical when assessing any group purporting to represent the interests of children.
Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate fatherhood groups is to compare their agendas and mission statements. Although both types of groups appeal to the public to help further the cause of children, it doesn't take long for most Father's Rights advocates to get to their true agenda ' abolishing abuse prevention legislation and child support laws. For example, the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights (ANCPR) announces that their mission is to "promote Equal Parenting (shared parenting) for children and believes that child support enforcement and sole custody violate the constitutional rights of children and their non-custodial mothers and fathers" (http://www.pacificnet.net/~ljaks/). Another group, "Roe v. Wade for Men", advocates for an absolute right of a man to force a woman to abort a fetus or forfeit future child support and provides boilerplate pro-se lawsuit forms at http://members.aol.com/dnaand14ca/ for fathers attempting to enforce his Constitutional right to "sow his wild oats."
Although much of this propaganda may initially sound innocuous, the reader must deconstruct the propaganda to get to the core message of "we don't feel we should be punished for failing to support our children." Child support laws were enacted by the legislature after much fact-finding about factors such as cost-of-living, day-care, and the restrictions placed upon the career of the custodial parent when juggling children with work. Any parent who has balked at the day care provider's bill knows how expensive it is to provide quality care for your children while working. To truly comprehend the issue, the reader needs to recognize that failure to pay child support often results in great hardship for the custodial parent and dependent child and can often mean loss of housing, inadequate nourishment, and inability to procure adequate medical care for the child. It is to alleviate the suffering of innocent little human beings these so-called "fathers" have helped create that has prompted most states to utilize the contempt power to disgorge court-ordered child support. Recalcitrant parents are not permitted to "literally sit on their hands and defend any contempt allegation by relying on the prosecution's burden of proof." (Hicks on Behalf of Feiock v. Feiock,479 U.S. 1305 (1986); 180 Cal.App.3d, at 654). However, most judges will grant generous repayment plans for a man who has fallen behind on their child support for legitimate reasons. Draconian penalties for failure to pay child support are only enforced after the non-custodial parent has demonstrated an extreme pattern of refusal to pay (or work) in spite of a current ability to do so. Any group that advocates for non-support of minor children should be immediately suspect.
Another red flag is any site that refers to "throwaway fathers" or "the divorce industry" (i.e., Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood (CPF) http://fatherhoodcoalition.org) or encourages changing divorce laws to penalize a woman for leaving a dissatisfying marriage (i.e., New Jersey Council for Children's Rights http://www.vix.com/crc/CRCnj/home.htm). These groups seek to regain control over spouses who are divorcing them, usually through forced marriage counseling or enacting extreme economic penalties for filing for divorce, including loss of custody, loss of marital assets, and forced joint physical custody arrangements where the child is shuffled between incongruent households so that the father can avoid paying child support. "When domestic violence is or has been present in the relationship, shared parenting arrangements, couples counseling, or mediation arrangements may increase the danger to children and to the nonviolent partner" (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (20)). Once again, by deconstructing the message these groups are sending the public, the agenda becomes clear.
Most child psychologists agree that divorced families are less desirable than intact families from a child-rearing standpoint when the family is not dysfunctional. However, reducing children to chattels owned by the parent who is least dissatisfied with the status quo, shuffling them between two households, or returning to the days when women were the legal property of their husbands, is even more repugnant. Father's Rights advocates "real agenda is to make sure that men maintain control over custodial parents and have access to their children regardless of the father's behavior and regardless of whether it's in the best interest of the children themselves" (Patricia A. Levesh, Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women's Legal Assistance Project, Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999).
Although most people would agree that courts are not well equipped to handle the emotional battlefield of a divorce, effectively returning to an era when women, children, and property were all chattels owned by the husband is not the answer. Judges (who are often male) are generally quite sensitive to the needs of non-custodial fathers and will bend over backwards to award liberal visitation agreements affording ample opportunity to remain an active part of children's lives (sometimes to the detriment of children who have witnessed spousal abuse). It is only when a non-custodial parent has demonstrated an extreme pattern of using the child to control the custodial parent or there are serious questions about the child's wellbeing that visitation will be restricted or supervised.
Despite claims to the contrary by Father's rights advocates, visitation is only cut off in extreme circumstances. To reduce the divorce rate, society must address the issues which cause marriages to break down, not force unhappy couples to remain married.
The most extreme groups are the ones openly advocating for abolishing or seriously restricting the issuance or enforcement of restraining orders (i.e., Victims of False Allegations (VOFA) http://www.hky.com/frn/frlinks.html; Dads Against Divorce Discrimination (DADS) http://www.peak.org/~jedwards/DADS.html).
Once you get past the front-page media propaganda, you will find irrational hatred of restraining order laws typical of the hard-core batterer. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Study did not find that the rights of men had been trampled by the abuse prevention act. To the contrary, the high court found a disparity between the protection promised to women by the law and the actual manner in which it was applied. A similar task force in New York found that, far from exaggerating the extent of the abuse they suffered, women minimized the severity of the violence. Although obtaining a civil restraining order is a simple process in most states with a 51% preponderance of the evidence standard, it is much more difficult to have visitation denied or be successfully prosecuted for violating these orders than the Father's Rights movement would have the public believe.
The issuance alone of a restraining order is rarely justification in divorce court for restricting parental rights, since courts must document with clear and convincing evidence (a much higher standard) that the child witnessed the abuse and was harmed by it. Even if the perpetrator is arrested, the defendant is awarded every possible protection during the prosecution process to protect his constitutional rights. The rules of evidence dictate that very little of the evidence a victim may have to support her claim of abuse actually makes it into the courtroom, and that even less will be believed due to the batterer's absolute Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The victim, under the guise of "cross-examination", must often withstand hours, even days of humiliating cross-examination regarding every questionable incident which may have occurred since kindergarten, while the batterer laughs at her from his position of absolute privilege. It is rare that a victim, on such an uneven playing field, is able to demonstrate that she was battered beyond a reasonable doubt.
Patricia A. Levesh of the Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women's Legal Assistance Project recently wrote, "In our experience as advocates for thousands of victims of domestic violence in custody and visitation disputes, very few abusers are arrested, prosecuted, and/or sentenced" (Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999). The angry men leading the charge against the abuse prevention laws are so blinded by personal grievance that they cannot see the broader picture. A batterer must work very, very hard to be convicted of violating a restraining order, and work even harder to actually serve time for his behavior since most sentencing guidelines allow leniency for the first few offenses.
Perhaps the largest tip off that a group may be illegitimate; however, is a singular focus on father's rights. By deconstructing the propaganda, once again the reader of Father's Rights literature is left wondering how the entire judicial and legal system, which still consists overwhelmingly of men who also happen to be fathers, could be so biased against their own gender. Most of the judges on the bench, the legislatures who are creating the laws, even many of the support personnel (such as police) who oversee the enforcement of the law are also fathers. Although there are situations where men are fighting archaic social roles, the reader should be skeptical of any group which attempts to convince the public that there is an elaborate conspiracy to deprive fathers of their rights.
"The typical abuser's reaction to the legal system is that the system is unfair to be publicly embarrassed and put out of his home. Abusers tend to minimize their abusive behavior' consider their actions as not abusive, and think that private actions are not properly the subject of scrutiny." (Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1989, p. 83).
Abusers view their domination of their female partner and children as a constitutionally protected right. Nowhere in their propaganda is it acknowledged that the female partner has a right to not be physically or emotionally abused, or that a child has a right to be raised in an atmosphere that doesn't include emotional abuse or violence. Once the propaganda is deconstructed you realize that the only rights the Father's Rights movement is fighting for is the right of a man to control a woman, which is not the agenda of the majority of evolved males in our American culture.
So what is a legitimate fatherhood "group?" The answer to that question is really quite simple. Look around you. Every time you see a group of fathers out couching their children's sports, or encounter the father's branch of the local PTA, or a group of father's at a local church or synagogue working together to make life better for their children, you are encountering the legitimate fatherhood movement. Every time you see a man pick up a book, such as Fathering by Will Glennon, which encourages fathers to be more involved with their children, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement. Every time you see a divorced father stifle the urge to fight with his ex-wife when picking up his children, visit consistently, and focus on the best interests of his child, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement. Each time a man decides to spend time throwing a softball around the back yard with his child instead of turning on the television, or you see a man equally sharing child rearing responsibilities (such as bath time) with his spouse, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement in action. It is all around us. It is the backbone of our society. It is the behavior of the overwhelming majority of men in our society. The good fathers of the world don't have much time to devote to promoting elaborate conspiracy theories to the public. They're far too busy being good fathers.
There are many types of legitimate fathers support groups. For example, At Home Dads (Massachusetts) is a support group for fathers who have chosen to work part time or stay home with the children while the wife is the primary breadwinner. Often, couples will choose this option when the wife is presented with a lucrative career opportunity which compromises the well-being of the children and the husband is in a better position to place his career on hold. Fathers who are primary caregivers often feel uneasy with the reversal of traditional roles and may feel isolated from the rest of society.
An "at home dad" is not a husband who happens to be home due to chronic unemployment or underemployment while his wife is forced to work to support the family and then come home at night to be the primary caretaker. Rather, "At Home Dads" helps support families who deliberately choose to have the father assume the role of primary caregivers.
Another example of a legitimate fatherhood group is called Dads and Daughters (DADS) based out of Deluth, Minnesota (not to be confused with Dads Against Divorce Discrimination, an illegitimate group). Nowhere in their web site, literature, or views is the agenda of the illegitimate Father's Rights movement mentioned. Instead, the focus is purely on encouraging fathers to become active participants in their daughters physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. Their list of "Ten Things a Dad of Daughters Can Do" promotes listening, making the world better, encouragement, discouraging eating disorders, respect, play, involvement with school and sports, and teaching young women to manage money responsibly ( http://www.dadsanddaughters.org/tentips.htm). The group's current project, "2000 for 2000," is aimed at rallying fathers to become involved in their children's school to promote education about the unrealistic body images the media is sending to young women and men and discourage eating disorders. Joe Kelley, Executive Director of DADS, is former co-publisher of New Moon magazine, an entirely girl-written magazine for independent young women and girls, and also has former experience working at a battered women's shelter. He poignantly sums up his viewpoint of the dilemma fatherhood creates as follows:
"The... judge made
derogatory remarks about the battered women's assistance group whose representative
was present in court in support of the victim, including the comment that
they were 'a one-sided man-hating bunch of females... and a pack of she-dogs.'
After the trial, the judge approached the victim in the hall and told her
in the presence of the Interact representative that once his wife had slapped
him and that he had "laid her on the floor and did not have any more
problems from her."
"Unless the child has
burn marks on him, we don't care what you can prove your ex-wife does to
the kid. We're not going to go against the express wishes of the child."
Father's Rights advocates frequently garner sympathy from the populace by making outrageous claims about bias in the courts against fathers. Recent Congressional fact finding has proved that not only are these claims false, but also that discrimination tends to be against the mothers, not the fathers as claimed. Although there are isolated cases of fathers who were good candidates for custody who lost a custody dispute, most of the men who are active in the Father's Rights movement have lost custody or visitation due to persistent physical abuse or extremely emotionally abusive behavior, not due to judicial bias.
The mask of slanted facts presented to the public can enrage the populace and stimulate legislation which is harmful to women seeking to escape abuse. Although the majority of the "discrimination" reported by men in custody disputes is the (usually male) judge simply acknowledging that it was the mother who did 70 or 80% of the caretaking in the family while the father was busy with other interests, I will address the human tendency to form preconceived notions (bias) so the reader may more fully detect true bias and differentiate it from the simple, realistic analysis of facts that occurs in most courts today. In a few isolated cases, bias against men in the courts has occurred and should be addressed. Bias is intolerable in any court. If the feminist movement allows one single man to be discriminated against because of gender, we are handing the Father's Rights movement fuel to feed the fire of the demise of our hard-fought rights. For justice to work, it must be fair to all.
A psychologist is trained to recognize that behavior, however irrational, does not operate in a vacuum. Even the most dysfunctional behavior becomes completely rational once the observer understands the underlying "programming" of history, perception and emotion which meld together to create the individual personality. Although it is difficult to precisely pinpoint any single individual act, social psychology teaches us that groups of people with similar "programming" will often be drawn together and engage in orderly, predictable patterns of behavior.
For example, social workers are often drawn to a profession where they are required to step into a situation and protect an abused child because no one stepped in to protect them from abuse as a child. The best rape intervention counselors have often been violated themselves. Battered women's advocates often witnessed abuse as children, or were forced to escape battering as adults. An attorney's childhood experience with law enforcement, whether positive or negative, may lead him to prefer criminal defense advocacy, or prosecution. Through catharsis, the "wounded" individual learns to heal himself by helping others. Even a judge, who is prized for his impartiality, may possess unconscious motivations originating from situations which have little to do with the people before his bench.
When a person has come to grip with his "demons" and comprehends how a past experience shapes his perceptions of an event which is occurring in the present, he gains compassion and insight which can be a powerful tool for creative problem solving. However; a person who has not worked through his or her own "baggage" can be an incredibly destructive force when unleashed, under the guise of justice, into a group of individuals struggling to cope with changes in their lives over which they have little control. Whether male or female, the unenlightened advocate relentlessly pursues his agenda to strike back at the people he perceives as having done him harm by striking back at all who remind him of the person who hurt him, whether the attack is deserved or not.
When you deal with any person, you are dealing with every event that person has ever encountered in their lifetime filtered through the judgement, bias, and coping mechanisms that person was socialized to use in any given situation. Have you ever eaten something that you thought was benign and gotten food poisoning? What was your reaction the next time somebody presented you with food that looked like the food that made you ill? Even though you rationally knew it would not harm you, did the mere sight, thought, or smell of that food make you too nauseous to eat? Have you ever heard a voice similar to the neighborhood bully, cringed, then discovered it was in reality someone else? Have you ever encountered what you thought was a snake, jumped back in fear, then discovered it was only a stick or piece of rope? Although you may have laughed and been embarrassed, in each of these situations your heart raced nonetheless as the hypothalmus (lizard-brain) signaled your body into flight or fight mode before the more evolved cerebral cortex could process the information.
Cranial nerve 5, which runs directly from the medulla to the nerves controlling your stomach, literally gives you a "gut" reaction to any situation which bears even slight resemblance to a traumatic situation we may have experienced in the past. Evolution "fills in the gaps," causing us to react in ways which may have helped us survive in the past but may no longer be optimal behavior. It is only through systematic desensitization that an individual unlearns ineffective instinctual behavior and is able to formulate a new response to a given set of stimuli. Even then, old ineffective coping mechanisms vie for control of the adrenal system should the higher cerebral functions be too stressed to moderate the response. (Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, 1985). Our amazing limbic system does not differentiate between a poisonous snake and a situation which vaguely reminds of someone who hurt us -- it only signals us to attack or flee until we are taught a better way to cope with a situation. Without this instinct, the human race could not have survived.
In an ideal situation, the attorney, social worker, guardian ad litem, judge, woman's or mans advocate will have worked through their own "baggage" and are aware when a person or situation may be tripping off their own past experience. Awareness of how a bias may cause you to treat another unfairly will allow an individual to withhold judgement and consciously use impartial analysis of the facts to formulate a response.
However, many people are completely unaware of how drastically past experience may color their perception of the situation at hand. For example, a friend once asked me what my "gut" reaction was to the young woman she had just hired. I honestly told her that I could not make a fair assessment of the young woman because a negative childhood experience of being mercilessly picked on by a group of the young woman's race clouded my judgement and rendered informal evaluation worthless. Instead, I recommended researching the young woman's past job performance and doing a background check. I shudder to think of how my friend might have lost out on a valuable employee were I to allow one unfortunate childhood experience to color my life with prejudice.
Although the legislature explicitly found that the overwhelming majority of discrimination existing in the judicial system is aimed at women, cases where some discrimination sometimes exists against some fathers should not be ignored. Attorneys, court personnel, and women's advocates must diligently police their own ranks to ensure that advocates with unresolved issues do not, in their desire to protect women, inadvertently trample the rights of men. Although exceedingly rare, cases do exist of legitimate fatherhood discrimination.
In Dedham Probate court I was able to find a case of blatant, well-documented discrimination against a father. Kevin C. is aware of the father's rights movement, but wishes to remain anonymous to avoid having his children used as pawns. The detailed guardian-ad-litem report opens with the sentence "everyone agrees the father is the better parent." The report and depositions in the case detail how the wife had abused the older daughter by threatening to break her arm, repeatedly locked her out of the house (once until 12:30 am when she was 9), engaged in numerous blatant extramarital affairs (some of which the children had witnessed), threw knives, told the 8 year old son that one of her boyfriends (instead of his father) was really his father, and eventually abandoned the husband and two children to pursue a lover who lived over 600 miles away in upstate New York for an entire year.
The ex-wife's deposition also contains the clear admission that the father was the primary caretaker of the children more than 50% of the time. School records, utility records, and the ex-wife's own deposition supports the fathers contentions. Domestic violence was not an issue in the case. One year, a cocaine arrest, and two failed relationships later, the wife kidnapped the two children and brought them out of state after the husband declined reconciling the marriage in an attempt to force the husband into reconciliation. Understandably, the husband had no desire to reconcile with a woman who repeatedly cheated on him and was abusive to the children and filed for divorce and full custody. When asked why he didn't file for divorce as soon as the ex-wife had left him for another man, Kevin states that his only concern was not losing his children.
The guardian-ad-litem's report, after describing the father as being a responsible, loving, and nurturing parent who had been the primary caretaker for many years (not just the year the mother abandoned the children) recommended to the court that custody remain with the kidnapper mother despite ample evidence of parental unfitness, including photographs of the 13-year-old daughter drinking a beer with her mother, kinky photographs of the mother engaging in intercourse with various men while others watched, the report of the daughter that the mother often dressed her up in adult clothing and brought her out to nightclubs, a newspaper article describing the children accompanying their mother to Howard Stern's "Most Outrageous" contest where she undressed in front of the crowd and painted her nude body, and a report from the daughter that the mother had just given her a VCR and new contact lenses to bribe her into saying she wanted to stay with her mother. The justification? The 8 year old son who hadn't seen his mother during the year she had abandoned him for her lover was "clingy" and stated he didn't want to lose his mother again.
After receiving the guardian-ad-litem's report and being advised by his lawyer he was going to lose, Kevin decided it was not in the best interests of his children to subject them to further litigation and ended his request for custody without bringing the matter before the judge. The story does not end in Massachusetts. The daughter graduated high school and moved to a college in Massachusetts near her father. Although the ex-wife was collecting over $15,000 per year in child support for the two children under an agreement that stated that he would support the children until they graduated college, the ex-wife stopped supporting the daughter and Kevin C. has paid her tuition, board, and set up a bank account where he directly deposited $50 per week into her expense account. The now 19-year-old daughter stated to me "I think my mom is bipolar" and submitted a paper to her college psychology class outlining how her mother had physically and emotionally abused her and tricked her into telling the guardian-ad-litem she wanted to stay with her.
To this day, 6 years later, the wife is still sending the husband e-mails querying "I didn't want the divorce. I still love you. Why can't we get back together?" and using the children as pawns, demanding that the father cannot visit with his children unless the new wife stays overnight at her house, refusing to allow the father to visit the children after he makes his monthly 1200 round-trip drive to visit the children, and stalking the father, once dragging the son 700 miles to spend the weekend following the father and new wife around Mount Desert Island during a vacation, another time going 650 miles to "vacation" the same week the father was taking vacation in a campground two miles up the road from the beach cottage the new wife owns on Cape Cod. The ex-wife, who is currently living with a man whose own son mysteriously drowned and has been institutionalized for drug rehabilitation, went so far as to be artificially inseminated (even though she is not married), then repeatedly told the son the father was a baby killer after she miscarried. Although the child is withdrawn, emotionally unstable, and has few friends, attempts by Kevin C. to resolve his concerns in New York Family Court by requesting a family evaluation were no more successful than his initial attempt in the Massachusetts courts.
It is important for the women's movement to pay attention to cases such as Kevin C's, since he is the "poster child" class representative who will bring about the downfall of many hard-earned rights should the father's rights movement convince him (or another like him) to join their ranks. A well documented case of discrimination such as Kevin's would go a long way towards legitimizing the unlawful, harassing actions of batterers.
Kevin C. was the primary breadwinner, but he began to take over the role of primary caretaker early in the marriage when his now ex-wife's mental stability began to deteriorate. In this respect, men such as Kevin C. more closely represent the challenges faced by working mothers who juggle career and child-rearing responsibilities on a daily basis. Men such as Kevin C. are a minority, but it should not be forgotten that as the women's movement educates men and encourages them to share childrearing responsibilities, father's who are equal caretakers will increase.
Despite this one case which spans two states, and contrary to the Father's Rights cries of blatant discrimination, my own research into other cases mirrored the findings of the legislature. In the only other legitimate case I could find of father-discrimination, a besotted father joined one of the "father's rights" groups and began utilizing inappropriate litigation tactics as a pro se litigant based on inadequate legal advice provided by the group. We will explore the story of a former Fathers' Rights advocate, William E., in another subheading.
The most frightening of the Father's Rights groups are not content with returning to an era when it was believed that "father knows best." Rather, they seek to turn the clock back on women's rights, including their reproductive freedom, rescind the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which grants women the right to vote, and force women to return to a subservient role in the family.
Such archaic views appear so absurd to modern society that they are comical. It is highly unlikely that the entire population of women would vote to deprive themselves of their right to vote. However, as absurd as such ideas are in our own culture, we must remember that blatant misogyny is still the norm in much of the non-Western world. In China, families selectively abort female fetuses to ensure that their one allotted child is a son. In many Middle Eastern countries, women can be executed for committing adultery or imprisoned for appearing in public without a male chaperone. Our American servicewomen experienced this phenomenon during the Gulf War when they were issued licenses identifying them as "men with feminine features." Saudi Arabia was unable to overcome its misogynist views that women were incapable of driving a motor vehicle even though American women made up a substantial percentage of the military forces protecting them from Quadafi's aggression. The novel "The Handmaids Tale" hypothesizes a future where women are forced into a subservient role of childbearing and home making; literacy is outlawed, and women are forced to be chaperoned and wear shapeless robes in public. Fundamentalist Muslims have committed this very crime in nations such as Afghanistan, where women (including former doctors and businesswomen) are confined to their homes, denied medical care, forced to wear shapeless garments in public and be chaperoned, and can be executed for teaching their female children to read.
Although absurd, it is necessary to recognize that these viewpoints exist in our society. What is most disturbing is not the fact that a few disturbed individuals have these viewpoints, it is the revelation of who has these views. Far from being the inarticulate, uneducated men one would expect to perpetuate such garbage, these men are the frontrunners of the Father's Rights movement. To truly comprehend the agenda the Father's Rights movement is advocating, one must look to the views of its leaders. An interesting compilation has been published by Feminista writer Trish Wilson and Father's Rights watchdog "liz" at http://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/ .
Part of the original Father's Manifesto, which states that "marriage is a social contract... with a woman to share her reproductive life with a man" (http://ww.emf.net/~estephen/manifesto/aum00066.html) is the more radical "Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment." This petition blames the "panoply of social ills" referred to in the Father's Manifesto upon the women's movement, including "divorce, foreign debt to Japan, drug use by men, increased crime (including murder) and prison populations, devaluation of the dollar, the decline in the Consumer Price index, the increase in foreign autos produced outside of the United States sold to other nations, increased poverty" (including that among black Americans), "implementing affirmative action, failure of the military, decrease in SAT scores, decline in the savings rate, increased public debt, cocaine use, the trade deficit, government spending, drunk driving arrests, motor vehicle fatalities, health services increases, illegitimate births, single-parent households, television viewing, the number of lawyers," and, to top it all off, "the increase in weight" of the American public.
The solution for this problem?
If the Father's Rights movement expressed these opinions publicly, they would be ridiculed and be unable to garner funding and public support for their cause. Publicly, they appear to be quite congenial.
In the privacy of the forums of their Father's Rights web sites; however, it is disturbing to realize how extremely misogynist these men are and how much time and energy these men expend to undermine the rights of women.
Whenever assessing the purpose of a group purporting to represent the rights of men or children, it is necessary to look beneath the surface to the marital history, criminal record, and true agenda of its leaders. Below is a list of signatories who also happen to be leaders of various Father's Rights organizations from the 1997 re-declaration of the Father's Manifesto printed out in January of 1999. Of the 278 signatories, 142 (51%) list themselves as leaders (not merely members) of 55 different father's rights organizations. 93 (33%) list which organization they are leaders of, 49 don't list what organization they are with, but of those 38 indicate they are from southern California, indicating that the movement began there and is working it's way across the nation. Eleven signatories claim to be authors or publishers (4%), 5 are attorneys (2%), one runs a television station, and one is an Indiana State Representative.
Mysteriously, after father's rights watchdog "liz" published the list at http://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/ and forwarded copies to the N.O.W. and members of Congress, the Manifesto disappeared and an innocuous list of computer files appeared in its place. Not, however, before I was able to print out my own copy of the signatories. The list was moved to http://www.emf.net/~estephen/manifesto/aum00066.html, and will doubtless be moved again by the time this article comes to print. [skip down to next section]
Group/Affiliation - Member Name - Profession - Title/Position - Signatory Number
Stuart Miller - Lobbyist
- Director, Lobbyist - 471
The most effective weapon the father's rights movement has to harass estranged ex-wives is the legal system itself. Thanks to legislative action at both the state and federal level, most states have done a commendable job of enacting abuse prevention statutes, training police personnel to recognize abuse and encouraging them to enforce restraining orders against violations, funding child protective services and battered women's shelters to help victims escape abuse, and educating court personnel about the dangers of domestic violence. At least initially, many women are free from the patriarchal attitudes of the past which fluffed off domestic violence as a "family matter."
Due to the civil nature of most restraining order proceedings, a woman may be lulled into a false sense of security by the compassion she may experience upon reporting abuse to the authorities, obtaining a restraining order, and receiving counseling services and a safe place to stay for herself and her children upon leaving an abusive relationship. In many cases, the threat of criminal sanctions for violating the restraining order operates as a reality check on the abusive male and no further intervention is needed. In other situations, the male will initially violate the restraining order, be prosecuted, and sentenced to a batterer's program where he will learn to control the worst of his behavior. However, the situation the legislature has yet to correct is where batterers learn to use the judicial process itself as a weapon to continue the battering relationship once a restraining order has been issued.
In recent years the number of people representing
themselves in court has skyrocketed. Unfamiliar with legal procedures,
they must be guided through the process by court personnel, greatly taxing
limited court resources and causing case logjams. A substantial number
of pro se litigants are highly educated, upper-income individuals. Family
and Probate Court Chief Justice Sean M. Dunphy said pro se litigants are
Divorce court was never meant to be "the people's court." Unlike small claims court, where a magistrate/judge who is accustomed to hearing laypeople attempt to resolve disputes of less than $2000, the value of the marital estate can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Worse, the future of innocent parties is usually at stake. Few laypeople are familiar with the intricacies of the law, and even fewer understand how the law interacts with federal laws, the Constitution, and public policy. An unrepresented parent can irrevocably prejudice their rights if they receive inadequate legal advice. To the layperson, court can be as pleasant and comprehensible as being run over by a train.
Although, at first glance, it may appear that parties are being forced to go pro-se because they are too poor to afford lawyers, a look at the statistics belies this fact. Many of the pro-se litigants clogging the probate and family court system are highly educated, upper income males. One of the reason for this skyrocketing pro-se litigation rate in probate and family court is the encouragement Father's Rights groups give men unhappy with how their divorce is proceeding to fire their attorneys and proceed pro se. When compared to the fact that at least 70% of all divorces are filed by women, or that the majority of divorcing men don't want the divorce but would rather maintain the status quo, the frustration these men must feel upon being told there is nothing they can do to stop the divorce, the distribution of marital assets, or the allocation of custody of the children.
Father's Rights groups give men hope -- hope that even if they can't stop the wife from leaving, then at least they can get the house, the kids, the bank account, and "make her sorry" for leaving. Especially in situations where domestic violence has been an issue, the batterer discovers the subpoena power of the court is the method of control par excellence. When ethical attorneys refuse to carry the game to it's extremes, pro se litigation is a way to continue the vendetta. Most Father's Rights groups publish pro se legal forms on their websites, sell "how to" books and packets of motions a man can file in court, encourage them to engage in extensive, irrelevant discovery aimed at stalling and delaying the divorce, and even teach a man how to put his wife on the stand and badger her under the guise of "cross-examination" in an attempt to get her to lose her composure.
Father's Rights groups also refer members to sympathetic "expert witnesses" who are willing to promote illegitimate or discredited "theories" (such as Gardner's "Parental Alienation Syndrome" which the American Psychological Association publicly discredited) or to testify that, in their "expert" opinion, the mother suffers from XYZ illness and is therefore unfit and should lose everything.
For example, The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) Southwest Chapter board member John Daniels has a Master of Social Work (MSW) and serves the dual function of providing court-ordered "counseling" for members of the group as well making frequent appearances in court to give expert testimony for group members. This wouldn't be disturbing if it weren't for the fact that his parental rights were restricted to supervised visitation by Dedham Probate and Family Court (Mass) Judge Christina Harms three years ago due to allegations of abuse and possible sexual misconduct. Worse, these groups encourage their members to file numerous false allegations against the victims, her support network (such as the children's daycare providers), and even her attorney and the judge with state administrative agencies and in small claims or even criminal court.
In Texas, the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (a committee appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas) was forced to file a complaint against Texas Father's for Equal Rights (a Father's Manifesto signatory) for repeatedly giving legal advice without a license and request an injunction restraining the group from practicing law without a license. (DV98-8495, District Court of Dallas County, Texas, November 3, 1998). The complaint lists the following conduct:
Under Texas Government Code Ann. s. 81.101-81.102 (1987), the legislature deemed that the public interest and protection of the public demanded that legal advice and legal services be rendered to the public only by persons duly qualified, schooled, and educated in the law who are attorneys duly admitted to practice under the laws of the State of Texas. Most states have similar statutes. Public interest demands that persons receiving legal services will receive the same directly from qualified persons who are at all times subject to the ethical considerations and disciplinary rules of the State Bar.
One of the most critical functions the State Bar performs is to aid in maintaining high standards of professional conduct and professional services and to protect the public against unqualified and unlicensed persons rendering legal services. As discussed in the case of William E., the consequence to the person receiving inadequate legal advice from one of these groups, as well as to the other side, can be severe.
How do Father's Rights advocates view the services they provide? The Domestic Rights Coalition advertises that they "specialize in court room advocacy. We offer 10 years of experience helping men and fathers protect their rights in the court system. We can show you how to protect your rights without the use of expensive attorneys." [emphasis theirs]. (http://earthlink.net/~proadvocate). Executive Director George T. Gilliland, Sr. describes his "services" in his solicitation for services at as follows:
The breakup of any relationship, especially marriage, is most painful to the partner who doesn't want the relationship to end. A restraining order ends all chances to coerce the female into staying in the relationship. Desperate for a second chance to make the relationship work, some men will do anything to reduce their anxiety. Father's Rights groups teach men how to immediately delay the impending divorce and drive up the cost of litigation to the "wayward" ex-wife by filing their own motions and engaging in frivolous litigation tactics.
"How to Stop A Divorce" by attorney Norma Beedle is written "for those who DO NOT WANT their spouse divorcing them" and "includes tactics proven in Court which result in saved marriages after a divorce was filed ... contains sample pleadings and case law to defeat or delay a divorce." This book is one of many which can be ordered from the internet at http://www.fathers-rights.com for the cost of $25.
Delay nurses the jilted spouse's wounded ego, giving him a grandiose feeling of power and deluding him into thinking he can prevent his spouse from leaving. Especially where there is a restraining order involved, the man is motivated to file frivolous motions to get a chance to see his estranged partner. If an abuser mails a letter that says "you lying bitch, you can't leave me, I'm going to spend the rest of my life making you miserable," he will be arrested for violating the restraining order. However, Father's Rights groups teach men that if he writes essentially the same message, "she perjured herself, she isn't credible, I'm going to spend the rest of my life ensuring justice is done," on a piece of paper that says "trial court of New Hampshire or Massachusetts" and brings the letter to the courthouse instead of the post office, a clerk will look up the sealed address of the place where the victim is hiding, put the "letter" into an envelope, and mail it along with a summons ordering the victim to come to court to defend her right to keep her restraining order or risk losing her protection.
It is the ultimate irony that the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse in Nashua, NH is next to the post office. If the batterer can gain jurisdiction over the victim in more than one area, he can get several "free" hearings at each courthouse before the judiciary will catch on to the batterers motive and foreclose further review. For $19, the batterer can gain even more hearings in small claims court by filing numerous claims against the victim. If you add the number of state and federal administrative agencies which are empowered to subpoena a victim accused of violating some obscure ordinance in to face their accuser/batterer, the batterer can get 2-3 opportunities per week to maintain contact legally with his victim and harass her without fearing reprisal for violating the restraining order.
Rather than helping men by encouraging them to acknowledge responsibility for undesirable behavior and urging them to seek professional help (which could salvage the relationship), the battering fraternity hurts men by feeding the jilted spouses feelings of hostility towards his former partner, convinces the man there is a feminist conspiracy to eradicate fathers from society, and encourages to him to place blame on others outside of the relationship (the mother-in-law, the best friend, the battered women's advocacy group, the "divorce culture") instead of accepting responsibility for his part of the breakdown of the marriage. The group twists the Constitution beyond recognition, giving the inductee a slanted view of the Bill of Rights divorced from all social policy or case history and teach him that it is "his right" to redress his grievances through the courts in any manner he sees fit.
Like a third grade schoolchild repeating the multiplication tables until they are memorized, each time the batterer argues his case in front of a state board or judge, he reinforces his delusions of entitlement to abuse his wife and convinces himself of the righteousness of his actions. Months or years later, when the courts and administrative agencies finally begin to catch on to the batterers' game and slam the door shut on future abusive litigation, the Father's Rights advocates convince the man that his ex-wife, the courts, police, the guardian-ad-litem, battered women's groups, social services, the media, society, and the legislature are all "in bed" with the feminists in an elaborate conspiracy to deprive men of their civil rights.
Although few sane people would fall prey to the Father's Rights movements paranoid delusions of elaborate conspiracies to deprive men of their property right to control a woman, anyone who has gone through a divorce or witnessed one realizes that it is not a time when even normally rational people are at their best emotionally or seeing reality with 20/20 vision. A bit of insanity manifests itself in all of us under the extreme duress of a divorce. The story of William E.:
The Father's Rights inductee is unable to see how his own abusive litigation tactics lead to his eventual downfall. It is always "the system", not him who is at fault.
Domestic violence has existed throughout recorded history. However, brutality has no place in a civilized culture. The evolution of our laws culminated into legislation clarifying that battery against one's household members would no longer be tolerated. One method of extending protection to women seeking to escape abusive relationships is the restraining order, which grants a civil remedy (no abuse) ordering the batterer to stay away from his victim. The initial "temporary" restraining order is liberally granted for probable cause for a period of up to 10 days until a hearing can be held to determine it's validity. The "permanent" hearing determines, by preponderance of the evidence, if the defendant has committed behavior such as assault, battery, or other disturbing behavior which now goes under the title of "stalking".
Violation of the restraining order is punishable by criminal sanctions if the abuser continues his confrontational behavior. By ordering a batterer to vacate the premises and avoid contact with the victim, an intermediary step is provided for women seeking to escape abusive relationships who don't desire to pursue criminal charges or put their former intimate partner in jail. Mindful of the tragedies which frequently accompanied domestic violence, our civilized culture has decided that preventing potentially deadly confrontations between former intimates outweighs the inconvenience to the batterer seeking to force a former partner to remain in a relationship with him.
As abuse prevention laws were vigorously enforced by law enforcement officials, the traditional avenues open to batterers to maintain control of their victims began to slam shut. Some batterers successfully completed treatment in court-ordered batterer's intervention programs. However, not all treatment was successful. The recidivism rate of batterer's who don't acknowledge their battering behavior is particularly high. As observed by David Adams, Clinical Director of EMERGE (the first counseling program in the nation for battering men):
Traditionally, family violence was not taken seriously by the courts. Prior to the late seventies, most states did not have statutes providing civil relief for women seeking protection from abuse, and domestic violence cases did not receive serious attention from the criminal justice community. Instead, domestic violence was considered a "family" matter to be "worked out" by the parties involved. Women who were victims of family violence were often blamed for their predicament and denied the protection of the courts. (Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court, Mass. 1989, p. 79).
Beginning in the late seventies, advocates for battered women were successful in convincing lawmakers that victims of domestic violence were entitled to government protection. In 1978, Massachusetts passed an abuse prevention act that allowed victims of domestic violence to obtain a civil order protecting them from their abusers. However, society was slow to change it's image of the battered women. Police personnel, judges, and even the victims own support network tended to view domestic violence as a trivial offense. Judges and juries expect more corroboration of physical injuries in domestic violence than in other serious crimes. Sentences in domestic violence cases were generally lower than in cases of other serious crimes. Orders were often not enforced, giving the batterer the impression that the law didn't take his criminal acts seriously.
As public awareness increased, the legislature passed stricter laws enforcing violations of restraining orders which eventually culminated in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) which created extensive anti-abuse legislation, defined stalking laws, encouraged police and court personnel training for those states which did not already have programs in place, and gave women a federal cause of action for crimes motivated by gender. In spite of these improvements, even today "many women who flee violence are forced to return to their abusers because of inadequate shelter or lack of money. Even if they leave their abusers to go to a shelter, they often return home because the isolation from familiar surroundings, friends, and neighborhood resources makes them feel even more vulnerable." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 402 (5)).
Currently, the Violence Against Women Act of 1999 is working its way through Congress. It defines broader classifications of abuse to be applied by the states, increases the penalties for interstate stalking, mandates greater protection for children of battered women who witness abuse, prohibits employers from discriminating against battered women who lose time from work to seek a restraining orders against an abuser, and extend VAWA's protection to traditionally under served communities such as immigrant battered women and elderly battered women. One way which the proposed legislation will increase protection to battered women is it's broad sweeping definition of abuse.
This refinement of the definition of abuse includes behavior such as "following" or "controlling" which courts have traditionally been reluctant to grant protection. These refinements will hopefully allow the courts greater leeway in affording protection to the victims of domestic violence.
What the proposed revisions don't describe is the disturbing trend amongst Father's Rights groups and the battering community at large to teach men how to violate restraining orders legally by skirting existing definitions of assault and battery. Instead of sending the victim a threatening letter, the batterer is taught to disguise his message as a "complaint" to a court or state administrative agency where the victim will be forced to lose a day out of work to confront her batterer. The "message" is not considered a violation of a restraining order, and judges or agency administrators will shrug apathetically when the victim tells them this is the 10th or 12th such hearing she has been forced to defend in 6 months and vacuously tell her "he has a right to redress his grievances."
Nor do police take it seriously when the batterer encourages third parties to telephone the victims friends, or contact them directly, to "discuss" how "unreasonable" the victim is being by attempting to escape the batterer.
Since the batterer relays the message through an intermediary to a friend and carefully avoids asking the friend to pass a message along to the victim, third-party contact provisions are not violated and the victim is without recourse even though the batterer may have coverts repeatedly telephone her family and friends, thereby diminishing her support network. In those "comparatively rare" cases where the violating conduct involves that of a third party, some proof of the defendant's intent is required. In such instances, where the issue is raised whether the defendant directed or acquiesced in the conduct of the third party, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant intended the act that resulted in the violation. In this case, the Court ruled that the evidence was sufficient to warrant such a finding, based on the evidence that the defendant knew of the order, was in a car driven by his son, other routes were available, and that the victim had direct eye contact with the defendant while the car was purposefully driven to within three feet of her in a threatening manner. (Commonwealth v. Delaney, 425 Mass. 587 (1997)).
Stalking is essentially psychological warfare in the battle for control. (Specialists Say Stalkers are Driven by a Need to Control, Terry Wilson, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 23, 1992). It is a pattern of multifaceted conduct intentionally targeted at a specific person that terrorizes the victim. Minimal contact with a former abusive partner may trigger substantial emotional distress. Batterer-stalkers who know their victims often use familiar gestures to provoke a particular response or fear. (Lenore E. Walker, Battered Women Syndrome and Self-Defense, 6 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Public Policy, 324).
This harm was acknowledged in the case of Commonwealth v. Thompson where the defendant attempted to argue to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals that the "no contact" provision in his estranged girlfriends abuse prevention order violated his constitutional right to free speech. "When an expressive activity produces "special harms distinct from their communicative impact, such [activity is] entitled to no constitutional protection." (Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 628, 104 S.Ct. 3244 (1984)). Speech that places the victim in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious physical harm is conduct equivalent to the crime of assault and accordingly is unprotected by the First Amendment. (Commonwealth v. Robicheau, 654 N.E.2d 1196, 421 Mass 176, 182-183 (1995)). The harm created by contact from an abuser -- the inability of the victim to escape the abusive relationship fully and the fear created by the abuser's continuing presence -- is distinct from and unrelated to any message the abuser might be seeking to send. While an abuser has a right to speak his mind freely in any number of forums, he has no right to seek out and contact the victim of his abuse, forcing that victim to endure his unwanted and destructive presence in her life -- no matter how harmless or important the message he seeks to deliver. When offensive, or even harmful speech takes place in a public forum and is directed to no single person, anyone who wishes not to listen may walk away ... [however] when an abuser singles out the victim of his abuse (as judicially determined) and directs unwanted communications to that person, the victim cannot walk away. " (Commonwealth v. Thompson (699 N.E. 2d 847, 1998, 45 Mass.App.Ct. 523, 525 (1998)).
Father's Rights groups have been trying to gut out or eliminate abuse prevention orders since their inception in the early 90's. Members quote "horror stories" to the media, many of whom lack knowledge about the civil nature of the initial restraining order, which are recounted in newspapers about how their ex-wife perjured herself to gain an upper hand in a divorce and have him thrown out of the house. Prior to the current restraining order laws, women had the choice of either leaving the household with her children to escape abuse, or take her chances by filing for divorce then requesting a motion to vacate once the hearing rolled around (often months later). Leaving the household to escape physical abuse, with or without her children, often jeopardized her rights to the marital property or could result in loss of custody. Remaining in the house was even more risky, since the batterer usually escalates his behavior when his victim attempts to sever the relationship.
Father's Rights advocates point to drop in traditional vacate orders as "proof" of abuse in restraining order laws (Kate Zernike, Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). They allude that "most judges" feel restraining orders are being abused; however, very few judges publicly make such a statements and usually make statements to the contrary. Like a child that whines "all my friends have purple velvet knickers" to try to convince a parent to buy a pair for him, the Father's Rights movement is unable to name who "most judges" are.
Despite claims that victims usually perjure themselves to obtain a restraining order, Wendy Murphy, a former Middlesex County prosecutor who still represents domestic violence victims points out that "the punishment for filing a false restraining order is substantial. You'd have to believe that women are not only vindictive, but are willing to lie under oath for some advantage they may never get because they'll be punished for lying." (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). A Massachusetts state court study conducted in 1994 found that 70 percent of men with 209A restraining orders issued against them had been arraigned, though not necessarily convicted, for crimes in the past. About half had been arraigned for violence against another person. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1999).
Amongst those police personnel and judges who are skeptical of a woman's story of being in fear, it must be remembered that most judges come from a sheltered upper middle class upbringing devoid of victimization and most police officers have had combat or martial arts training and carry guns.It is difficult for these normally compassionate people to relate to the fear of a trembling victim while sitting behind a wooden bench surrounded by armed guards or inside a police cruiser armed with a .457 magnum and help only a radio call away. They forget that fear is an essential instinct for self-preservation. It is hard wired into the oldest portion of our brains, the medulla. Once you have been victimized, your marvelously adaptable brain will become acutely sensitive to the pattern of behavior of an irrational person and initiate the flight-or-fight response each time the batterer starts to lose control. (David Goldman, Emotional Intelligence, (1985). The victim becomes acutely sensitive to her batterers moods and is hypervigilant about any action that might set the batterer off into another tirade. Nobody can predict when a batterer is going to strike more accurately than the victim he has repeatedly victimized. (Adult Children of Alcoholics, (19__).
Few people from privileged backgrounds have ever been the victim of a violent crime and have a difficult time grasping the concept of what "in fear" means. To them, their schema of "in fear" may relate to a childhood incident where a bully pushed them up against a locker in school and made them drop their books. This schema does not help the lawyer, politician, or judge empathize with the image a victim may possess of a batterer with veins popping out of his neck picking up a screwdriver and standing inches from her face threatening to kill her.
While researching anger management, former director of Independence House (Massachusetts) Ahenesqa Collins (now deceased) once described to me the process of teaching a batterer how his actions appeared to his smaller, less muscular victim in an anger management class.
We could all use a little reality training to understand the fear a woman or child feels when her larger, more muscular abuser loses control. Unfortunately, research has suggested that a substantial portion of batterers do not respond to treatment. Instead, they found less overt means of maintaining control. (Richard M. Tolman & Gauri Bhosley, The Outcome of Participation in a Shelter-Sponsored Program for Men Who Batter, in Abused and Battered: Social and Legal Responses to Family Violence, p. 121 (1989)).
Battering men routinely make cross-accusations of violence against battered women. While many battered women do fight back against their husbands, their violence is largely defensive and less severe than the men's violence -- yet since it is also described as "violence," these allegations can prove troubling and confusing to judges. (Daniel G. Saunders, Wife Abuse, Husband Abuse, or Mutual Combat, p. 103-108).
For example, in Commonwealth v. Burdick, the defendant was convicted for assault and battery of his former wife with a dangerous weapon, namely a steel-toed boot, causing neurological injury. Due to the severity of the attack, defendant was sentenced to a total of four and one-half years of incarceration, with probation for an additional ten and one-half. Defendant's appeal claiming that the trial judge's consideration of the defendant's past history, including the assessment that the victim's repeated returns to the defendant, despite ongoing physical abuse, was an indication of the extent of the damage inflicted on her by the defendant failed when the appeals court ruled the information was properly utilized by the judge for limited purposes.
Like most batterers, during the trial the defendant claimed he was a victim of harassment and aggression by his former wife. His appeal contained a claim that his harsh sentence was "punishment" for telling his side of the story. The trial judge found his version suspect and ruled, and the appellate court upheld, that this claim confirmed the probation assessment that he was a poor candidate for counseling, treatment and rehabilitation and did not indicate defendant was being punished for giving "his side" of the story. (Commonwealth v. Burdick, 45 Mass.App.Ct 904 (1998)).
Father's Rights advocates encourage members to respond to the issuance of a restraining order by filing their own restraining order or request a motion for reconsideration claiming the victim perjured herself to get the order or was the initial aggressor. This not only forces the victim to be on the defensive, but also causes her to lose numerous days out of work to go through many painful and humiliating re-hearings of the same issue. No longer are the courts the refuge of the abused, rather, the judge and his court become the instrument of abuse itself. The 1999 proposed refinements to VAWA would discourage courts from granting mutual, reciprocal restraining orders in abuse cases without specific, detailed findings of fact that there as mutual fault and no predominant aggressor.
However, the loophole for numerous reconsiderations of an issue which should be res judicata has not been closed.
One of the most effective guerrilla tactics utilized by Father's Right's advocates is the practice of attacking the credibility of their victim. "Hardball," which is already widely utilized by unethical criminal defense attorneys to distract jurors from focusing on the guilt of the accused, achieves new depths in the hands of a pro-se batterer or the unethical attorney's who draw business from the batterer's rights movement.
Already victimized once by the batterer, the woman seeking to escape from an abusive relationship becomes victimized a second time when her abuser places her "on trial" in the eyes of the community and the jury. Whether it is on a public web-site, in the numerous underground publications which are being circulated by unethical attorneys, or seminars taught on guerrilla litigation tactics by other batterer's during weekly meetings, the Father's Rights movement actively encourages it's members to smear the credibility of the victim both on the stand and in the community.
Few victims have the energy or financial resources to fend off the numerous false allegations the batterer files against her. It takes every ounce of energy the victim has to get away. Fewer still have the emotional fortitude to withstand hours, even days of dilatory "cross-examination" on the witness stand during a criminal trial against their batterer.
A prime example of this is the case of Commonwealth v. Delaney, where defense counsel began his opening arguments with the comment: "[The victim] has a motive in this trial, and you will hear it. She has a credibility problem, you will find out." Although the trial judge gave instruction that the credibility and believability of witnesses is the sole province of the jurors, defense counsel kept referring back to his opening statement and attempting to diminish the victim in the eyes of the jury by repeatedly referring to her welfare status. (Commonwealth v. Delaney, 425 Mass. 587 (1997), cert.den. 1118 S.Ct. 714 (1998)).
Aware that most judges are oblivious to badgering of witnesses, many battered women's shelters and law enforcement officials discourage women from inciting the batterer's rage by testifying and instead counsel them to go into hiding to escape a stalker who persists despite obtaining a restraining order. A stalking victim who believes she is in grave danger is often forced to go underground, abandoning her home, her job, and her friends. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont's Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 504, (1994)).
Rarest of all are victims who have the financial resources and emotional fortitude to fight back by filing a civil suit for malicious abuse of legal process, defamation of character, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. It takes every ounce of strength the victim has simply to break away.
Sometimes this inability to accept responsibility for how one's actions have contributed to the demise of the relationship becomes pathological. The victim, who has literally become the batterer's source of self esteem, deprives the batterer of what he perceives to be his only reason for living by the act of leaving the relationship. Exercising power over another gives them some sense of power in a world where they otherwise feel powerless. (National Victim Center, No. 43, 1995).
Unable to control his victim in the context of an intimate relationship, the batterer seeks to maintain contact with her in any manner possible. In less extreme cases, this behavior manifests itself as annoying, adolescent-type behavior such as frequently driving by the victims house, telephoning and hanging up when the victim answers the telephone, and hanging out in places the batterer knows the victim frequents in the hopes he will see her. Such stalking behavior is usually harmless and subsides within several months. However, when the batterer becomes obsessed with punishing the victim for leaving him, he institutes a pattern of behavior designed to place her in fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury.
Society enacted stalking laws designed to discourage batterers from skirting restraining orders by sitting 101 yards from the victim's house sharpening a knife. Law enforcement of stalking laws has been sporadic, depending upon jurisdiction, because much of the behavior is perceived to be a harmless annoyance. In some jurisdictions, untrained law enforcement officials still fail to take the pattern of alarming behavior seriously and may minimize the victim's concerns for her safety.
One of the biggest problems with enforcement of stalking laws is the tendency of perpetrators to engage in their frightening behavior in multiple jurisdictions, ensuring that no one police department becomes familiar with the victim and her situation. However, as public awareness of what stalking entails (typified in movies such as Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, and Sleeping with the Enemy) and the likelihood of violence arising from the perpetrator's acts, more and more jurisdictions began vigorously prosecuting stalkers for their criminal acts.
Traditionally, stalking fell outside of existing legal remedies, leaving victim's unable to defend themselves. Most people would consider typical stalking behavior, such as waiting in a car or following from a distance, innocuous. Even substantial threats are traditionally not considered grounds for criminal sanction. Consequently, stalking victims who look to law enforcement for protection are frustrated and do not receive protection. Since stalking is a specific intent crime, stalking victims must show a nexus between the pattern of offensive behavior and the ability to inflict serious physical harm. Absent either evidence of prior physical abuse or a specific threat to make physical contact, a stalking victim may be unable to persuade a judge to grant her a restraining order. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont's Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, 478-504 (1994)).
The stalker's objective is often to control the victim through cultivating fear rather than making direct or specific threats of physical harm. At least half of women who try to terminate abusive relationships are harassed or stalked. A woman is often at the greatest risk of physical danger when she attempts to leave an abusive relatiohsip because the abuser's quest for control escalates with the victim's efforts to separate. An estimated ninety percent of women killed by their intimate partners have been stalked first. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont's Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 478, (1994)).
Stalkers, like abusers, usually find ways around the orders. Although some defendants are deterred by a court order, others are keenly aware of the legal and practical limits of a restraining order. Many stalkers choose simply to ignore the orders. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont's Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 478, (1994)). For example, there must be evidence of three or more calls to satisfy the "repeatedly" portion of the statute and the complaint must list the repeated calls. (Commonwealth v. Wotan, 422 Mass. 740 (1996).
Other problems arise out of enforcement of the orders. Often, the stalker will trace his victim to her new address and resumed his felonious behavior in the new jurisdiction. Although proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act would enlarge the statute to create a felony offense for stalkers who pursue their victims into hiding over state lines,
One of the most valid criticisms social commentators make about the judiciary is how traditional, paternalistic notions of justice work to discriminate against women seeking to leave an emotionally dissatisfying or physically abusive relationship.
The rules of evidence favor a man's experience by focusing on factual incidents totally divorced from any context of cognition, perception, emotion or humanity, while they tend to discriminate against women by reducing powerful emotional forces such as fear, concern for her children, and feelings of helplessness to mere irrelevancies or mental weaknesses. Courts are quick to recognize pecuniary motivation, such as a desire to reap an easily defined financial objective or acquire a certain chattel; however, they are reluctant to allow parties to give evidence of equally powerful emotional motivations, such as love, hate, fear, envy, anger, or revenge. In the criminal context, the jury acts as a buffer between the individual and the judiciary by interposing their own collective experience of human emotions, feelings, and motivations onto the claims of the opposing parties.
It was to protect the individual against a judiciary hardened by countless legal decisions and divorced from the realities of everyday life which prompted our founding fathers to guarantee the right to trial by a jury of one's peers in both the criminal and later the civil contexts. This common-sense protection does not extend to probate and family court proceedings involving spousal abuse, divorce and the rearing of children.
Perhaps one of the most serious problems victims of domestic violence face is the unavailability of affordable legal services for women living just above poverty level or women who may otherwise be unable to afford adequate representation due to complications surrounding their divorce. Although many jurisdictions fund battered women's advocates to counsel women about the restraining order process, and some jurisdictions (such as Barnstable County, Massachusetts) even fund battered women's advocates to remain in court and stand between the victim and the batterer during the restraining order hearing to minimize intimidation tactics and provide emotional support, once the restraining order has been obtained, the victims legal resources often come to an end. Although the role of the battered women's advocate is invaluable for the victim attempting to escape abuse or experiencing court for the first time, these advocates rarely have legal training and often have only a rudimentary knowledge of the law.
If the batterer violates the restraining order, most states provide victim/witness advocates to act as a buffer between the victim and the district attorney's office, keep the victim informed as to the status of the trial, and counsel the victim about remaining "safe" during the trial process. Victim/witness advocates often have more extensive exposure to the judicial process and may have some legal training; however, they are not lawyers and cannot counsel the victim as to how to coordinate the various legal battles she may be fighting against the batterer, or even counsel her as to trial strategy in the very case which the advocate is providing services for. Although legal services agencies offer free or reduced cost legal advice to low income women, the range of services they offer (such as suits to prevent harassment) is limited and the availability of attorneys willing to assist is limited. The majority of women who require legal services, who often earn just over the guidelines or are experiencing complications such as an ex-spouse refusing to pay child support, are unable to obtain adequate representation.
The dilemma a victim of domestic violence faces when attempting to escape a batterer can become a nightmarish Catch-22. If the woman stays with the batterer, she is putting her children at risk and could lose custody of them to DSS. However, if she leaves her batterer and goes to a shelter, the batterer will often be granted custody because a home is a more stable environment than a shelter.
Since the In Re Matter of Vaughn case was decided and reiterated by the Massachusetts legislature, this is not the problem it used to be in Massachusetts. However, in many other states, it is still a real concern. Even if the victim manages to find a place to stay, custody gets jeapordized if she is forced to go on welfare so she can support the children. However; as the nation saw of Marcia Clark during the O.J.Simpson trial, a mother is just as likely to lose custody for working too hard as for not working at all. If she has a good lawyer, she stands a better chance of winning a custody dispute. However, lawyers cost a lot of money, which must be earned through working, and court dates necessitate days lost from work, which jeapordizes job stability and career advancement.
Add to the mix the legal advice Father's Rights groups give their members on avoiding paying child support, fighting for custody, undermining the victims support network through harassment, and filing numerous bogus charges against a victim, and you have a situation where no matter where a mother turns, she is being judged unfit. Add to that a criminal prosecution against the batterer, where the victim may not be allowed to drop charges even if she wants to, and the situation becomes critical. "Jan" (last names are never used), a battered woman's advocate with Independence House in Hyannis, Massachusetts, described the dilemma as follows:
Although Lady Justice must, to rule equitably, be blind, the trend of the courts to also be deaf to the experience of 51% of the population must change if justice is truly to be served. The study of law is more than a collection of abstract legal principles, it is the story of peoples attempts to navigate changes in their lives which may be beyond their control.
In this paper, I have described many times how Father's Rights groups teach their members to gain control of a victim by abusing the legal system and using it as a tool to maintain contact with the ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. However, it is merely an abstract concept, difficult for the reader to grasp in human terms. Therefore, I will describe the story through the eyes of a stalking victim, Victoria D., who was unfortunate enough to date a Father's Rights advocate. Her story is well-documented (both in court and out), but she requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by the group.
As you can see, the victim is violated twice. Once by her abuser, then a second time by the system which refuses to accept responsibility for the misuse of it's playing field. Ralph learned how to misuse the legal system from the Boston-based Father's Rights group who actually came into court with him on several occasions and acted as his advocate. If a football team allows a non-football player who fights dirty onto it's playing field and someone gets hurt, the team owners are held liable. However, the judges, magistrates, and administrative agencies often don't police the use of their forum.
Who can forget when Marcia Clark, prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was forced to cut her work hours because her opportunistic husband, computer engineer Gorden Clark, tried to use his successful wife's career as evidence as her unfitness as a parent?
Ellen Zucker, a Cambridge (Massachusetts) lawyer
and national board member of the National Organization for Women stated
A custody battle is the quintessential power struggle between men and women. It's about who controls a woman's mind and body. It's also about who gets to control the future. Children are the future. Men think of children as the necessary chains to keep wives from flying away. If they fly away anyway, they transfer their needs to their children. (Phyllis Chesler, Mother's on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, p. 449 (1986).
It's a new way of roping women to the home: threaten to take the children away if the woman works as hard as a man (Clark Case Sparks Debate on Work and Gender Roles, Peter S. Canellos, the Boston Globe, March 4, 1995).
Today's mother's usually take the bigger economic hit in a divorce -- an average 30 percent decline in their standard of living. Yet mothers may lose custody because they have to work to support the kids. (What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, Sally Abrahms and Gayle Rosenwald Smith, Perigree Books, 199__).
Violent men will likely seek new means of control when old ones fail. Batterers use the legal system as a new arena of combat when they seek to keep their lives from leaving. (Lenore E.A. Walker & Glenace E. Edwall, Domestic Violence and Determination of Visitation and Custody in Divorce, p. 130 (1987)).
The custody action is part of an ongoing attempt, through physical violence, intimidation, and legal manipulation, to force the woman to make concessions or return to the abusive partner.
The judges know these men as "court regulars". Perpetually angry, perpetually persecuted, years after the divorce their lives still revolve around the ex-wife's latest transgression. For example, Paul Clements, founder of Dads Against Divorce Discrimination (Massachusetts) estimated that in three years he had been in court 24 times, six of those times on visitation and vacation issues alone. (After Divorce, A Father's Fury, Barbara Canton, the Boston Globe, August 12, 1993).
Another frivolous custody case is that of Beth McDonough of South Boston, whose four-year divorce was an endless litany hundreds of motions, hearings, orders, contempts, and attempted pre-trial hearings. Justice Anthony R. Nesi of Suffolk Probate and Family Court noted in his findings that "the papers, excluding over sixty trial exhibits, fill over one large court filing tin" and that her "husbands huge attorney fees are due, in part, to his inability to accept any thing less than victory." Ms. McDonough stated "the court process... made me emotionally bankrupt." (The Militant Divorcee, Linda Matchan, the Boston Globe, December 15, 1998).
In Lenore Weitzman's study of divorce, one third of women interviewed reported their husbands threatened to seek custody as a ploy in post-separation negotions. "Men see custody as a part of a total package of divorce issues; women are more likely to consider custody on an altogether different level -- it is something they simply cannot negotiate about because it is too important -- it is worth any price." (Lenore Weitzman, The Divorce Revolution, p. 311 (1985).
David Cherney, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, describes litigation as a symbolic gesture to regain control of the ex-wife. "You see custody battles launched not for the child's best interests, but to exploit weakness in the spouse. I've seen fathers who travel three days a week and clearly have no ability to care for their kids on a daily basis, yet they'll file for full custody, either to get leverage or put the fear of God in the mother, or to get her to accede to his demands on the financial end." (The Militant Divorcee, Linda Matchan, the Boston Globe, December 15, 1998).
Cases are often endlessly delayed by a spouses stalling tactics and by pro-se spouse's (or their attorney) riling them in court in an attempt to prove they are hot-tempered and thus unfit as parents. "Despite the perception that mothers always win custody cases, studies show that fathers who contest custody win sole or joint custody in 40 to 70 percent of cases." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (16).
To understand why a woman may remain with an abusive male long after it becomes apparent the relationship is unhealthy, one must first understand the psychological impact being responsible for helpless human beings has upon a woman. The wearing, repetitious labor of motherhood becomes part of the cycle of survival in ways we have trouble recognizing. The constant work and need create a wearing down of the self, an erosion of borders that represents not confusion but exhaustion -- a thirst for solace and protection as well as individuation. The constant demands of children, especially in an unstable situation, may prove exhausting. Women experience this blurring of borders, this need to subject their own needs to others, even when violence is not present. The sense of physical responsibility to the children -- inevitably, economic responsibility -- is a major constraint. Women and children suffer severe economic consequences upon divorce. Mothers must be very desperate to walk out without knowing how they will all survive. (Martha R. Mahoney, Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation, 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, p. 21, 23 (1991)).
Besides the visible, physical impact of wounds created by battering tactics endorsed by the Father's Right's movement, there are serious psychological repercussions as well. Reactions of shock, denial, withdrawel, confusion, psychological numbing, and fear are common. The long term effects of abuse include fear, anxiety, fatigue, sleeping and eating disturbances, intense startle reactions, and physical complaints. (Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association, Violence Against Women: Relevance for Medical Practitioners, 267 JAMA 3184, 3184 (1992)). Perceptions of vulnerability, loss, betrayal and hopelessness are more severe for intimate violence victims than for victims of stranger assaults because of their relationship with the abuser. Victims of intimate violence and stalking can exhibit symptoms consistent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (Kathleen McAnaney et al., From Imprudence to Crime: Anti-Stalking Laws, 68 Notre Dame L. Rev. 819, 832-38 (1993)).
Behavior, such as that described by Victoria D, is extreme, outrageous conduct beyond the bounds a decent society can tolerate specifically intending to cause harm to the target. The intolerable behavior is psychological warfare which is specifically taught to members of Father's Rights group to maintain contact beyond a restraining order and batter the victim legally. It is extremely frustrating for a victim to be told to hire a lawyer and sue the batterer for intentional inflection of emotional distress. She doesn't need protection 7 or 9 years down the line when a civil court gets around to looking at the batterer's behavior, nor does she have the money to hire an attorney, nor will money damages make her whole. She just wants the batterer to go away and leave her alone.
Unfortunately, the courts don't take a victim's pleas to stop the harassment of a continuous barrage of frivolous litigation by a batterer. In the case of Larkin v. Ayer, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declined to decide whether physical manifestations of emotional harm resulting in the aggravation of a preexisting medical condition can constitute "abuse."
The Court found that the complainant's testimony at a 209A hearing that petitioner's conduct in sending the complainant notices of future lawsuits and court proceedings aggravated her ulcers, was insufficient to warrant an extension of a 209A order since the conduct did not rise to the level of "imminent serious physical harm." (Larkin v. Ayer Division of One District Court Department, 425 Mass. 1020 (1997)). What is disturbing about this case is the fact that the batterer engaged in other behavior similar to that described by the victim Victoria D. earlier in this paper. Very few victims sue their batterers. In fact, in most states, they can't since most of the victims are former spouses and spouses are unable to sue a batterer for intentional inflection of emotional distress. Only two states, Florida and another, have recently changed their laws to allow civil recovery of deliberate misconduct during a divorce.
To dispel the notion that the story of Victoria D. is an isolated case, and also to help the reader see the connection between this behavior and the information available through the internet and group meetings of the Father's Rights movement, we will look at the divorce case of former Weymouth School Committee member and Fatherhood Coalition legislative director Paul Corey. (Fantucchio v. Corey, Norfolk Probate & Family Court (Mass), 95D1230-D1). The 54-page finding of fact and memorandum of law written by Judge Koppleman reads like a Steven King novel (Findings of Fact, July 16, 1997). We will discuss the case ad naseum because it typifies the batterers the Father's Rights movement is trying to portray sympathetically in the media.
On July 20, 1995, after 10 years of marriage, 16 years total living together, four children and several failed attempts at marriage, Katherine Fantucchio Corey filed for divorce. On July 25th, the husband attempted to obstruct Catherine from leaving the home first by physical force, then by removing her keys and all identifying registrations from her car, then by taking her wallet and credit cards. Catherine was forced to obtain rides to work from her sister. On July 27th, she emerged from work to find the husband waiting for her with the three younger children. Instead of taking her home, he ignored her pleas and forced her to go to Wareham (about a 40 minute drive away), screaming at her in front of the four children until, in desperation, Catherine tried to make her escape by jumping out of the car (presumably as it slowed). He dragged her back in, and she crawled into the back seat to escape him and comfort the children while he proceeded to scream at her for the entire 40 minute drive that all of their problems were her fault.
On August 2, 1995, Catherine obtained a 209A restraining order, which she voluntarily allowed to expire on August 9th hoping the husband would stop his controlling conduct and because he was caring for the children while she was working during the day. This arrangement, however, became problematic because the husband, on several occasions, failed to arrive to care for the children and failed to notify Catherine he wasn't coming.
Corey fired several lawyers early in the divorce process when they refused to file some of his motions, then chose to proceed as a pro se litigant utilizing advice garnered from the group The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) and various Father's Rights web sites.
On September 13, 1995, the husband once again prevented Catherine for leaving for work and blocked her egress from the house, cornering her in the bathroom in front of the middle son. When she tried to escape to her car, the husband pulled her keys out of the ignition, breaking the key ring, forcing his way into the car, badgering her for 40 minutes and spewing the contents of her purse about the car. The next day the Catherine obtained another restraining order, which was continued. That same day, the husband filed his own restraining order, submitting a three-page affidavit claiming:
-- that he was in fear for his life;
The husband's request for entry of a restraining order against the wife was denied. The Children and the Law program at Mass General Hospital was appointed guardian ad litem to evaluate the current parenting capacity of each parent and make recommendations to the court.
In March of 1996, Dr. Julia Reade concluded, and the trial judge found, that Catherine was an adequate and loving mother, was not suicidal and did not suffer from post-partum depression, and did not suffer from "perimenopause" syndrome. The trial judge also found that "although the husband showed no evidence of major mental illness or cognitive deficit, he did demonstrate substantial difficulty in the following areas of functioning:
-- he demonstrated little capacity
to appreciate the perspective of another person;
In the Findings of Fact, item 28, Judge Koppleman wrote that "after his eviction from the marital home, the husband embarked upon an unremitting campaign to harass and intimidate the wife as set forth below:"
-- The husband refused to turn over household bills to the wife, the result of which she was threatened with loss of services.
-- Every Monday during the fall of 1995 and through most of the winter, the husband sorted through the wife's trash which she had left on the sidewalk in front of the house (presumably looking for documents which would either hurt her case, or bolster his own).
-- The husband repeatedly entered the house unannounced in violation of an existing 209A restraining order.
-- On Thanksgiving Day 1995, the husband again entered the wife's residence unannounced and uninvited, which finally prompted her to telephone the police. When the police arrived, the husband began to cry. The wife declined to press charges against the husband for violating the restraining order because she was reluctant to have the four minor children observe him being arrested in their home.
-- The husband refused to comply with a visitation schedule, and typically appeared at the home unannounced with no advance notice to the wife.
-- In April of 1996, the husband filed a small claim action against the wife in the Quincy District Court seeking treble damages in regard to a dispute regarding their telephone.
-- On June 14, 1996, the husband filed a second small claim action against the wife in the Quincy District Court alleging that she had breached a contract by refusing to appear in a two-person band with him during a wedding scheduled for April, notwithstanding the fact that a 209A restraining order was in effect;
-- At the time of the divorce hearing, the husband announced that he was planning to file three additional small claims actions against the wife, thereby increasing his lawsuits filed against her to five.
-- In December of 1995, the wife left her house to bring the children to the daycare provider's house. On that occasion she observed the husband parked directly across the street taking photographs. This incident took place, notwithstanding that a 209A restraining order had been entered against the husband.
-- During the marriage, the husband took it upon himself to monitor the wife's telephone conversations with her girlfriends, following which he made unsolicited remarks concerning said conversations.
Not only did Paul Corey harass and intimidate his wife, he also harassed and intimidate the children's daycare providers.
Corey's motion of April 3, 1996 where he once again filed for custody alleges that "a steady stream of men arrive' all hours of the day or night, stay for a few minutes, then leave" (she was having her house renovated) and numerous other false allegations.
On February 12, 1996, the wife filed a motion for contempt because the husband had refused to pay his $83 per week (for four children under the age of 10) child support; had liquidated joint certificates of deposits, had made derogatory comments in front of the children, and had failed to exercise visitation on various weekends. She had also filed an earlier motion requesting that the four of the five properties acquired during the marriage be liquidated and divided between the parties because she was unable to meet her mortgage payments and living expenses due to the husband's refusal to pay his child support. Over the next several months, Catherine had to file more motions for contempt as the husband still refused to pay the child support and the mortgage on the marital home kept falling into arrears.
On June 20, 1996, the husband liquidated the joint marital account containing $25,000. The court ordered that all of the husband's tools and equipment remaining in the marital home be sold to pay the arrearage on the mortgage, as well as two of the properties.
In March of 1997 It was discovered that the husband had filed "mechanics liens" against those properties in an attempt to block the sale by the Special Master appointed by the court. Those liens were discharged as nonmeritorious.
On May 12, 1997, the husband filed his own complaint for contempt alleging that the sale of the personal property authorized by the court was improper, that the wife had been irresponsibly handling her day-to-day expenses, and that she has been living a lifestyle "far in excess of the lifestyle the couple maintained while living together. He also alleged that Catherine and her attorney had "conspired to deliberately refuse to pay the mortgage on the marital residence" in order to create the appearance that they had to liquidate more of the husbands personal property. He demanded that the wife be ordered to produce an accounting describing the items sold, that she account for how she determined pricing for the items, and that the court hold her in contempt and sanction her.
Perhaps the crème-de-la-crème of motions, however, was the "Complaint for Affirmation of the Marriage" (a boilerplate form which can be found at several of the Father's Rights websites) Corey filed on June 19, 1996 where he alleged that:
-- the children had suffered numerous physical injuries in the wife's care;
-- the wife had irresponsibly left the children in the care of incompetent care providers, when the husband was available to care for their needs;
-- "there are no irreconcilable differences, nor is there an irretrievable breakdown of any kind."
-- The wife had destroyed the husbands business, forcing him to make a career change in order to be able to support wife and family;
-- "The husband refuses to assent to an action for divorce due to the wording of the religious/civil Contract Covenant, including, but not limited to, the husband's religious beliefs forbidding divorce when children are involved with Covenant-Contract valid until death of the parties." [note: this was Paul Corey's second marriage]
-- The lack of curtains on the windows in the brand new home that the husband designed and had built for her, doing much of the work himself, does not constitute a sufficient reason for abandoning said husband,
-- "The wife's unilateral no-fault divorce action is contested on First Amendment and breach of contract grounds."
-- "The civil court cannot compel the husband to accept the wife's no-fault action, filed without his knowledge and consent, as this would constitute coercion, violation of a First Amendment freedom of exercise of religion clause, violation of benevolent neutrality of the civil court in a religious matter, and a Federal Court issue."
-- "The wife's on-going medical and mental health conditions do not constitute a valid reason for the husband to abandon the marriage commitment which was entered into in sickness or in health."
It is an interesting side note that, while he was drafting his complaint for marriage, the husband (who claimed he was unable to work or pay child support) found time to draft legislation prohibiting no-fault divorces where the husband refused to give the wife permission unless the court made a decision that the marriage could not be saved. He found the time to gather the signatures necessary to force Senator Hedlund (Weymouth) to introduce the bill into the Massachusetts legislature, where it died. In connection with his complaint for affirmation of the marriage, the husband requested that the court:
-- Affirm the marriage "with the husband stating' that there is no irretrievable breakdown, because he says ther is not, and that he is still true to his marital vow and contract."
-- "Recognize the husband's rights duly and solemnly granted to him by the Unites States Constitution, which rights have been removed in the proceedings ' including, but not limited to, rights granted under Amendments Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Fourteen."
-- "Recognize the children's and the husband's rights individually and severally under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
-- "Recognize the rights of the children to live in a peaceful, intact family, and the inalienable rights of those children supercede the whimsical desires, frivolous plans and heinous schemes of their mother."
-- Order the wife to pay the husband sufficient monies for his support, including $4250 immediately to pay his graduate school tuition for the summer session of 1996.
After the court refused to afford him the relief he requested, the husband appealed to a single justice of the Appeals Court, which was denied.
The actual divorce trial, which lasted 13 days, was conducted by Corey pro-se. Most of the trial consisted of Catherine being forced to take the stand for cross-examination while Corey badgered her. Corey produced an "expert" witness, Dr. Charlotte Richards, to testify on his behalf to shore up his claim that Catherine from "perimenopause" (a questionable "syndrome" which supposedly occurs in the decade before the onset of menopause which Corey claims made Catherine mentally unstable) even though Dr. Richards had never met Catherine, never had access to her medical records, and had never obtained the necessary blood work to make the diagnosis of the wife. There are also numerous questionable motions that were filed during the 13 day trial, including one that demands the court refer the parties for forced marital counseling (motion, August 5, 1996) and another ordering a new GAL report alleging Dr. Kenneth Herman had lied about him (also August 5, 1996).
At last, after Paul Corey got caught attempting to steal paperwork from the courthouse docket, the court ordered that he couldn't have access to his file and also sanctioned him for abuse of process, finding that his numerous frivolous motions were aimed solely at forcing the wife to lose numerous days out of work, presumably so she would be economically dependent on him, and to harass her.
This tendency to attack the woman's livelihood has recently been recognized by Congress:
Even after that date, the pleas disguised as motions to the court continued, demanding that he be allowed to confront Catherine in the courtroom. Despite his later arrest for numerous violations of the restraining order, civil commitment, spat being whisked "underground" by the Fatherhood Coalition, extensive media hype painting him as a "victim" of the "domestic violence witch hunt" (including a front-page article in the Boston Globe on December 12, 1997), criminal charges arising for assaulting and harassing a subsequent female intimate, and his eventual plea-bargain of "no contest" in exchange for getting counseling, Paul Corey's pleas to the court to force Catherine to stay with him or punish her for leaving continued 3 years after the divorce. It is sad that Mr. Corey's and the Father's Rights movements true motive, that of utilizing the court to maintain contact with an estranged wife or former girlfriend, is spelled out by his own hand in his motion of August 12, 1996,
"...there is a bit
of pedophilia in every one of us."
Gardner advocates that in many cases, the only treatment is for the court to refuse any attempts at counseling by the mother, remove the child from the mother's care and place permanent custody with the father. He compares a child's cries for help regarding sexual abuse to getting a polio shot ' the therapist must be thick-skinned and ignore the child's pleas to remain with the mother who is protecting him.
The Father's Rights movement actively promotes Gardner's work in their groups and web sites, referring members to "experts" who will help the abuser raise a PAS claim in their custody dispute.
The Father's Rights movement claims that most allegations of child sexual abuse, like claims of physical abuse are false. However, contrary to what Richard Gardner and the Father's Rights movement claims, Congress's recent hearings found that "the documented rate of any child abuse allegations in custody cases is approximately 2 percent, and there is no evidence that false accusations are more common in the context of custody litigation." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (18). In 1988, researcher Jon Conte wrote that Gardner's Sex Abuse Legitimacy scale is "probably the most unscientific piece of garbage I've seen in the field in all my time. To base social policy on something as flimsy as this is exceedingly dangerous." (Moss, 1988, p. 26). [ MORE ON PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME at THE LIZ LIBRARY -- Ed.]
"I have discovered
the home address of the judge. If you would, send a second copy of your
letter to his home. I want this man to know that we are paying attention
to what he is doing, and that we intend to break through the barrier of
anonymity that so many of these bureaucrats operate behind with impunity."
In Worcester, Massachusetts, Terence Meehan took out full-page newspaper ads ranting against Judge Arlene Rotman after she granted custody of his son to the boy's mother. He picketed outside her courtroom for several weeks, demanded to debate her in public, then began picketing outside the furniture store owned by her husband's family. Now Meehan is running for the state legislature in Worcester County, Massachusetts. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998).
"When we first came out with this... we had taken out an ad condemning [Rotman]. Off this ad we had numerous radio shows and TV programs and newspaper write-ups in the papers. Judge Rotman claimed I was a threat to her, so the state police called me up and asked me to back off. It told them I wasn't going to, and I came out twice as strong. The state police ... told me that if I didn't back off I could go to jail. I said no I'm not backing off." (What Makes Terry Run, interview with Terence Meehan, CPF newsletter, June 1997). A federation of nationwide father's rights groups later awarded Judge Rotman a "kangaroo court" award, along with Judge Edward Ginsberg of Middlesex County, Massachusetts and Judge Crowley of Maine (Rotman "Honored" as Worst Judge in Nation, CPF Newsletter, September 1997.)
Another Fatherhood Coalition member, legislative director Paul Corey, sent a threatening "affidavit" to the non-published home address of Judge Christina Harms of Dedham during his divorce trial. In the four-page "affidavit," Corey rants about how the judicial system is biased against men and devotes several paragraphs to lambasting Judge Harms with statements such as "she has an agenda to pursue, she makes herself feel good by ruling against me... she makes gender-biased rulings in order to promote her own career at the expense and misery of children... she has consistently behaved as if she's above the law." (docket 95D1230, June 25th, 1996). In that same affidavit, he describes how he picked through his ex-wife's trash every week for three months and makes a detailed list of the "evidence" that his ex-wife is an unfit parent. The "evidence" includes a pizza box, a membership for AAA, a rental movie slip, empty microwave popcorn packets, and empty ice cream containers. Although the state police were notified and questioned Corey, nothing was done about this "exercise of free speech."
American Coalition for Fathers and Children (a.k.a. the American Fathers Coalition) leader Murray Steinberg of Richmond Virginia filed a 75 million dollar lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, Henrico County, the Honorable Judge L.A. Harris, The Honorable Judge Kulp, and his ex-wives' attorneys for allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Civil RICO) in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division.
In his complaint, he alleged that the judges, the county, and the state all conspired with his ex wife and her attorneys to imprison him three times for supposedly minor infractions such as being 15 minutes late returning his daughter from visitation (10 days in jail, 2 suspended); talking loudly to his ex-wife (10 days in jail, 8 suspended); and letting his daughter sleep one hour late (60 days in jail). To meet the "obtaining illegal income" prong of RICO, Steinberg claimed that the two judges and the state were engaged in an elaborate feminist conspiracy to line the state coffers by discriminating against fathers (no mention is ever made of how these justices profited from this conspiracy). The case was dismissed.
Another way that Father's Rights advocates manipulate the judicial process is by attempting to reach potential jurors at the courthouse doors by holding rallies and picketing courthouses. For example, The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) has repeatedly picketed Quincy District Court in an attempt to influence the outcome of the criminal trial of board member Harry Stewart for numerous, repeated restraining order violations. Reverend Harry Stewart, who lives in a housing project collecting Social Security Disability for an old head injury, obtained a "ministers" license through the mail from a correspondence school for evangelical ministers and uses his "reverend" title to gain credibility in the community even though he is connected with no parish.
One picketing event occurred on May 26th of this year, where 20-25 men bearing signs with messages such as "Equal Rights for Fathers," "End Court Discrimination of Fathers," and "Stop the Witchhunt." Another occurred on behalf of Fatherhood co-director Ray Saulnier's restraining order violation trial in front of Fall River District Court, forcing Chief Justice Aguiar to dismiss the entire jury pool and set a continuance date a month later. Saulnier was later convicted of one of the two violations. At the Quincy protest, a female juror, who was waiting for a sandwich to be prepared by the courthouse delicatessen, asked me "why are they discriminating against fathers in this courthouse?"
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that judges may place time, place, and manner restrictions on the picketing of courthouses, courthouses in Massachusetts and numerous other states do not enforce the rule and tolerate picketing in front of the main entrance of the courts through which jurors must pass.
The last way in which Father's Rights groups pervert the law is by cramming legislative hearings with supporters. Although their is nothing inherently evil about exercising one's First Amendment right to petition the government in an attempt to reddress one's grievances, it is the manner in which it is done which indicates the true agenda of the father's rights movement. For example, I was at the unveiling of the findings of a U-Mass/Better Homes study on women, welfare, and domestic violence. The study cited that often women who have been forced to relocate their families to domestic violence shelters often fall below poverty level and become dependent on welfare.
An advocate from The Fatherhood Coalition, director Earl Henry Sholley, repeatedly interrupted the senators and witnesses testifying about the study to protest "cry wolf restraining orders." The study was not about restraining orders. The topic of restraining orders was only marginally mentioned, and even then only in the context of mentioning that some of the welfare recipients who were facing termination of their benefits under Weld administration cutbacks had been victims of domestic violence. After the presentation was finished, the public was invited to discourse with the speakers. One female senator grabbed my hand, swung me around so I was standing between her and Earl Henry Sholley, and begged me to pretend I was conversing with her so he wouldn't approach her and begin to harass her. "They call them 'the batterer's coalition' " she told me as she thanked me for shielding her and disappeared out into the hall before he could corner. It struck me as odd that a state senator would be so unnerved by someone in the inner chambers of the statehouse.
Another example of session-cramming is described by Fatherhood Coalition Media Director John G. Maguire in his http://www.backlash.com newsletter entitled It's Concord Bridge 1776! He joyously describes a May 18, 1999 hearing in front of the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee where "110 supporters ... crammed a hearing... with two women-are-helpless mouthpieces [who were] truly confused when they found themselves in a room with 110 opponents... we creamed them so well, they were not even aware of what happened until it was over." (It's Concord Bridge 1776!, John G. Maguire, http://www..backlash.com/content/gender/1999/6-jun99/mfn0699.html)
Another disturbing aspect of the Father's Rights movement is their success in luring professionals, expert witnesses, attorneys, and even judicial officers into their elaborate schemes. Lawyers, who normally pride themselves on careful analysis of the facts, often fall victim to the batterer's plea for help. The typical Father's Rights advocate will go through several lawyers before settling on one naive or callous enough to assist him in his vendetta to punish his ex-spouse for leaving him.
By the time the abuser is on his second or third attorney, he will have usually manufactured a substantial pile of "evidence" against his victim in the form of affidavits signed by other Father's Rights advocates, false complaints filed with state administrative agencies, and innocuous photographs or other documentation which the abuser claims has a sinister connotation. Although there are gender-biased attorneys who willingly assist or even actively recruit business from the Father's Rights movement, the majority of attorneys who file an unwarranted custody action or help the batterer file a frivolous civil suit against their victims are duped by the same tactics that entice members of the public to assist.
Attorneys like to work with facts, and the stack of "documentation" which the batterer willingly presents to his lawyer upon initial consultation often lulls the attorney into a false sense of security and discourages him from conducting a thorough investigation of his own before taking the case. Once the attorney finds out the Father's Rights advocate has an unlawful intent, he usually withdraws or is fired once he refuses to cooperate with the more outrageous segments of the abusers plans. However, the damage is done. The victim and child pawns are emotionally traumatized by the frivolous court action and the Father's Rights advocate will simply find another attorney to carry out the next stage of his vendetta.
More disturbing than attorneys who skirt the fence of ethical behavior, however inadvertently, are the lawyers who knowingly take on illegitimate custody disputes or knowingly teach pro-se Father's Rights advocates to assist other pro-se litigants to file their own harassing lawsuits. Once such attorney, Robert Hirschfeld, was disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court in July of 1998 for his numerous acts of unethical conduct, including abandoning clients and his pit-bull approach in fighting illegitimate fathers rights suits. Another outspoken attorney, Jeffrey M. Leving of Chicago, has published the book "Father's Rights: Hard-Hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in a Custody Dispute (Harper/Collins, NYNY) and has operated as a spearpoint for getting anti-female legislation passed in Illinois. Most Father's Rights groups and web sites refer members to attorneys who are willing to "fight dirty" to "win" a divorce action.
Ethical legal professionals and scholars may be reluctant to acknowledge their own experience with Father's Right's advocates because they fear ridicule, intellectual marginalization or familial repercussions. The lawyer, therapist, judge, guardian-ad-litem, expert witness or lay person who has been enticed into the odious machinations of the Father's Right's movement tends to feel shame upon realizing they have been used as a pawn in the abuser's elaborate game to control his victim. The attorney, who is bound by attorney-client privilege, is ethics-bound to remain silent about the batterer's true intent. Worse of all, the attorney, guardian-ad-litem, or expert witness may fear reprisals in the form of a civil suit initiated by the victim he helped the abuser harass, or sanctioning by the ethical oversight committee. The fear of a civil suit is negligible, however. Few victims have the financial or emotional resources to seek civil remedies for their abusers outrageous conduct. They simply want to be left alone.
The Father's Rights movement receives both tax-free federal funding and money from member dues. Women under siege need to do the same. Additionally, feminist women's groups need to start working with state women's commissions and the pro-feminist men's movement in order to counteract propaganda and keep therapists, court personnel, and attorney's accountable for their actions when handing children over to abusive fathers. If elected judges are found awarding children to abusive fathers, they should be voted out of office. Ignorance is deadly; continued monitoring of internet men's/father's websites, newsgroups, chat rooms, mailing lists, and harassment of women-friendly forums is important. Databases of individuals, specific groups, and potentially illegal actions should be maintained. Some of these suggestions are in the works. National NOWs new Clearinghouse Against Father's Rights, for instance, alerts members to protest proposed father's rights legislation, but more organization is needed. Above all, we must not be silenced by hate speech. Women do have the power and resources to stand up and fight back. (Will Paternal Paranoia Triumph? Trish Wilson, Feminista, http://www.echonyc.com/~onissues/w97paranoia.html.)
Some possible solutions are as follows:
Screening of Pro-Se Lawsuits, Self-filed Criminal Charges, or Motions for Reconsideration. The federal courts already do this as a result of the numerous frivolous habeas corpus petitions they were receiving from incarcerated prisoners. State courts should adopt a similar screening process to weed non-meritorious cases from the docket and save judicial resources.
Stricter enforcement of stalking laws. The proposed 1999 revisions to the Violence Against Women Act are a start. However, much of the more persistent, obsessive behavior a stalker engages in is not considered stalking and, hence, not prosecuted no matter how harmful it is to the victim. Legislatures need to research, and law enforcement prosecute, cases with numerous cases of borderline behavior so that courts may have the opportunity to refine the revisions with case law.
Rule 11-type Sanctions for Abuse of Process. The courts already have the power to punish those who misuse legal process. The power lies not in the hands of the frightened victims too emotionally and financially bankrupt to engage in lengthy civil litigation with a batterer which might escalate into more violence, but in the hands of the judges, prosecutors, and court personnel to sanction batterers for abusing legal process. Like good football coaches, judges need to accept the responsibility of refereeing the use of their own playing field. Massachusetts has it's Anti-SLAPP (anti strategic litigation) statute which, upon motion by the defendant or the initiative of the trial judge, will dismiss non-meritorious pleadings and fine the abuser.
Sanctions for Practicing Law Without A License. Texas has initiated suit against one of its Father's Rights groups for crossing the line from advocacy into the unlawful practice of law. State Supreme Courts need to appoint committees to research these groups and empower them to take action against those groups that are encouraging men to misuse the sanctity of the courtroom.
Law School Programs. An intriguing solution Congress is contemplating in its proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act is funding of legal services provided by law schools.
These programs would enable law students, under the tutorage of professors well-versed in various aspects of the law, to gain hands-on experience assisting actual clients while providing a desperately needed service to the community.
Because the revisions include protecting the economic well-being of the victim and also protecting the child victims who may have witnessed abusive behavior, law school programs would be able to receive funding for coordinating proceedings in the family courts, criminal courts, civil courts, and state administrative proceedings frequently abused by the Father's rights movement to harass his victim.
Lawsuits against Father's Rights Groups under the Violence Against Women's Act as Unincorporated Associations. VAWA creates a civil cause of action against gender motivated violence. If the Violence Against Women Act survives supreme court challenge, it may be possible for battered women's advocacy groups to assist women in holding Father's Rights Groups accountable for the litigation tactics they are teaching their members by suing them as unincorporated associations. Under the agency laws of most states, all of the members of a nonprofit or unincorporated association may be held jointly and severally liable for torts committed by it's members.
VAWA gives the victim of gender-motivated crime a federal cause of action to sue the tortfeasor for civil rights violations. By researching the websites, newsletters, and visiting the sessions, rallies, and protests of many of the Father's Rights groups, it should be possible to prove that the tactics of these groups are motivated by hatred of a single gender.
A good example of a hypothetical VAWA test case would be the Weymouth School Committee/Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood legislative director Paul Corey, who was the center of much media hype by the group. If the individual members of illegitimate groups are held personally liable for torts instigated, committed and supported by members of the association who they have given legal advice, much of the problem will disappear as legitimate groups begin to police the actions of their own members and distance themselves from hard-core batterers.
Legislative Action. The proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act contain sweeping protections aimed at clarifying the existing 1994 act and closing some of the loopholes abusers have traditionally used to continue harassing their victims. These range from stricter stalking laws, discredidation of gender biased "syndromes" used by father's rights advocates to gain leverage in a court proceeding, block grants for assistance programs including legal aid programs for victims, and statutory relief in the form of victims employment rights prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims who must lose time from work to participate in the criminal justice process. The act would grant a workplace safety credit of 40 percent of violence against women safety and education costs. However, much more needs to be done. The legislature needs to reach out to victims and discover their needs to put an end to the violence.
"Victims of violent crimes have at minimum the same Constitutional protections as the accused..."
One hopeful example was a bill introduced in Congress by Senator Kyle and 19 other Senators at the same time as the 1999 revisions to the Violence Against Women Act which proposes an Amendment to the Constitution to the United States to protect the rights of crime victims, not just the accused:
The bill is a start and would encourage states that have not already adopted a crime victim's bill of rights to do so.
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