I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Princton Times ~ West Virginia ~ Uncovers some truths about stereotypes, Family Courts and DV

This is an interesting story, appearing to be well researched by the reporter TAMMIE TOLER (ttoler@ptonline.net) from an area in West Virginia that has uncovered some of the real truths about DV, false claims, the source of the DV and the benefits of a presumption of equality for shared and equal parenting upon separation and Divorce. Could Princeton be a Microcosm for what is going on elsewhere in North America. A small slice of North American geography with symptoms of an international crisis in Family Courts and the DV industry. Perhaps not, based on its ethnic mix and also note the discrepancy between the number of females 18 and over to males. (for every 100 females there are 77.7 males). That's a very interesting statistic. Are family courts responsible or is some other variable chasing men from this area such as employment prospects including military service? For those interested in Geography given Princeton is not a large community here are some demographics from Wikepedia:

Demographics

The Mercer County Courthouse in 2007
As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 6,347 people, 2,967 households, and 1,661 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,116.6 people per square mile (816.9/km²). There were 3,371 housing units at an average density of 1,124.2/sq mi (433.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.03% White, 6.21% African American, 0.30% Native American, 0.43% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.19% from other races, and 0.84% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.52% of the population. There were 2,967 households out of which 20.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.8% were married couples living together, 12.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 44.0% were non-families. 39.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 21.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.09 and the average family size was 2.79. In the city the population was spread out with 18.4% under the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 23.8% from 45 to 64, and 25.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females there were 81.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.7 males. The median income for a household in the city was $21,736, and the median income for a family was $32,443. Males had a median income of $25,347 versus $19,750 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,931. About 16.0% of families and 24.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.9% of those under age 18 and 15.9% of those age 65 or over. Here is its location via Google Maps: View Larger Map and a link: ">http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=princeton,+west+virginia&sll=37.377836,-81.097384&sspn=0.188247,0.392761&ie=UTF8&ll=37.369339,-81.096611&spn=0.188268,0.392761&t=h&z=12&iwloc=addr
Fri, Oct 31 2008 Published: October 31, 2008 04:56 pm
MAWAD fighting stereotypes that only women are abused
By TAMMIE TOLER Princeton Times PRINCETON — Women with battered eyes and bruised souls have become the symbols of domestic violence in America, but one organization is working to change the perception that all domestic abuse manifests itself physically on the outside and that women are the only victims. Men and Women Against Discrimination (MAWAD) formed in West Virginia to expose the untruths behind the theory that men are always the aggressors, pursue a family court system that recognizes and honors each parent’s role in a child’s upbringing and to seek “truth, justice and equality in family law.” Along the way, organizers say they discovered there are many men out there who are just as abused as any of their female counterparts, that the court system all too often ignores their wounds and that the very systems put in place to stop domestic violence can be manipulated and twisted into another form of abuse during divorce and custody negotiations. That’s why MAWAD members have long argued that all custody proceedings should begin with a 50-50 shared parenting plan, which may then be crafted around the family’s individual needs and situations; that the domestic violence protective order process needs to be overhauled; and that people of any gender who file false domestic violence allegations should be penalized. MAWAD’s Region IV Director Ron Foster emphasized this week that the organization never condones physical violence or emotional abuse, but only wants every person, every parent, to face equal rights and responsibilities inside a fair family court. “Our goal is to get the garbage out of the court so you can deal with true domestic violence cases,” Foster said Wednesday. ••• In Mercer County, there are several organizations, including the Pam Hawkins Foundation and SAFE, that serve battered women and children by providing emergency housing, clothing, advocates and more. But, the services are far fewer for men in similar situations. Foster said MAWAD is fighting that trend, going so far as legal action involving the state’s Family Protection Services Board, questioning the funding equation that funnels money to women’s services but seems to slight the same programs for men. Much of the discrepancy centers on the idea that men are nearly always the aggressors. Familiar statistics, derived from a decades-old FBI study, indicated an American woman is assaulted every 15 seconds by her husband. But, Foster referred to a National Family Violence Survey that showed, not surprisingly, that 12.1 percent of the women surveyed in a more recent analysis reported some level of physical assault against them by either their husbands or girlfriends, in the case of lesbian couples. What was unexpected was that 11.6 percent of husbands confidentially reported being abused by their wives or partners. Foster said those numbers clearly show that men face abuse nearly as often, if not just as often, as women. Many of them simply don’t report it to the authorities out of shame or embarrassment, or they aren’t taken seriously when they do seek help. In his review of this study, “Violent Touch: Breaking Through the Stereotype,” psychologist Dr. David L. Fontes concluded, “If you count all assaultive behavior, which includes minor assaults, 12.1 percent for women and 11.6 percent for men, a woman is assaulted every 6 seconds in this country, but a man is also assaulted every 6 seconds in this country.” ••• While Foster said the members support the idea that both genders are equal aggressors, the same trends don’t appear in Family Court, where MAWAD finds both parents rarely receive equal treatment. There, the group’s members report the process encourages parents to become combative adversaries in a battle for custody and child support dollars. Steven Burford knows that feeling all too well, and he said the system itself has turned his situation into a form of domestic abuse. His 2 1/2-year-old daughter was sick this week. As he struggled to track down health insurance information on the child, the single father said the family court system had become more of a burden than a help. Burford and his ex-girlfriend separated shortly after their baby was born, and the southern West Virginia family court that crafted their custody agreement set forth a parenting plan that split the parents’ time, made the mother the primary custodian and decreed Burford would pay $300 a month in child support to be withheld from his check and forwarded to the child’s mother. The custody agreement allocated approximately half of the daughter’s time each week with each parent, still giving the mother primary custody, but Burford said the mother never stuck to that agreement. “When it was my day, I’d show up to get [the daughter], but sometimes she’d drop her off two days early and be two days late,” he said. Burford said he welcomed any additional time with his daughter, but he questioned how he had her most of the time and was responsible for supporting her during that time, as well as paying child support to the mother. “I never knew what was going to happen with her,” he said. “But, the whole time, they’re still holding child support out of my check.” Last year, the baby contracted MRSA, a form of staph infection serious in all ages, but potentially fatal in children. The little girl stayed in the hospital seven days, and Burford said her mom showed up to check on her one time. Soon after that, the mother disappeared completely. Burford said she hasn’t turned up for a visitation with her daughter for the last nine months, at least. “I have no idea where she is,” he said, adding that he’s tried to explain his situation to a variety of different authorities, including Child Protective Services, Family Court officials and even the West Virginia State Police. He wants to keep his daughter and fears what will happen if the mother does turn up, but he said it’s simply not fair that she’s still technically the primary custodian of court record. “If she showed up tomorrow, she could take her from me. That’s what the court says,” he said. “I don’t want her mother to get her. She’s not qualified to take care of her.” Still, Burford said the Family Court and custody system is taking money out of his pocket that he could be using to take care of his daughter. According to his calculations, the state has withheld approximately $2,700 of his money that was supposed to be used as child support for a child he’s maintained custody of the entire time. Because he’s not the primary custodian at this point, Burford said he feared he might not even be able to secure the necessary medical attention to take care of the illness that hit his daughter this week. “I’m struggling right now to even get her medical card,” he said. “Because I’m not legally the primary custodian, I’m not technically supposed to have that.” While Burford said his former relationship never involved domestic abuse in the traditional sense, he said the system has given the mother all the benefits and turned him into a victim. After months, he said state authorities put a block on the child support checks to the mother, but the $300 is still being withheld from his check every month. He never expects to see that money again. “The system’s not fair at all. People go into it in difficult situations anyway, and they make it a little bit, or a lot, harder,” he said. Burford, who said he’s fortunate that his fiancĂ© assists with taking care of his daughter while he’s at work, said he’s still having a hard time making ends meet. “I could use some of the assistance the state was ready to give her,” but because the court still doesn’t recognize him as a primary custodian, he’s not eligible. ••• When custody negotiations are more complicated than those Burford experienced, MAWAD directors say the atmosphere is prime for one party to “play the domestic violence card,” alleging some form of assault to gain the edge in the legal battle. “We have a system that really creates adversaries of the parents,” MAWAD Region V Director Kevin Summers said. “Domestic violence orders become one of the tools they use to get the advantage, and the whole family, especially the children, suffer as a result. To me, wrongly denying a child’s right to either parent is a form of child abuse and domestic violence in itself.” Although supporters of the domestic violence petition and protective order process say the orders allow alleged victims to seek the protection of the law without filing legal charges, MAWAD members said the papers are far from harmless. In many instances, even the allegation, the mere mention of domestic abuse, is enough to immediately strip a parent’s visitation rights with little or no investigation, and that information stays in the court record and follows the accused parent through the custody proceedings. What’s more, Foster analyzed a study of Cabell County’s magistrate and family court proceedings last year, and found that the vast majority of DVPs were inappropriate. The study, conducted by University of Louisville’s Dr. Benjamin Foster, found that even with the additional emphasis on preventing and reporting domestic violence, such offenses remained largely level with other crime statistics in the state between 1980 and 2005. Although the studies encompassed the entire time, researchers paid particular attention to the figures from 1994, when the Violence Against Women Act and the West Virginia Pro-Arrest Law were passed. Researchers focused on statewide crime and law enforcement statistics, as well as an in-depth analysis of Cabell County Family Court and Magistrate proceedings, to complete the study. Cabell County was selected, Ron Foster explained, because the population there is well-distributed in urban and rural areas, has an ethnic diversity, cooperative county officials and a Family Court system that included both a male and female judge. According to their findings, West Virginia magistrate courts have handled an average of 15,587 domestic violence proceedings annually in each of the last five years. Meanwhile, Family Courts, only in existence for the last four years, have seen an annual average of 14,624 domestic violence-related cases. Such cases, in addition to an 8 percent increase in divorces since 2002, have left the new court system already overburdened, leading state lawmakers to create 10 new Family Court judgeships, at a cost of $2.7 million annually, during this year’s term of the Legislature. However, the MAWAD studies indicated approximately 76 percent of the domestic violence-related proceedings in Cabell County and as many as 80.6 percent statewide were eventually dismissed. “That leads us to believe that these proceedings were based either on a false claim, or as we like to call them, an unnecessary claim,” Ron Foster said. In situations where a woman filed for a protective order against another woman, the number of orders granted soared to 58 percent. “In a patriarchal society, the teaching is that men are the only violent parties. This proves that is just not the case,” Foster said. In addition, the study showed the number of alleged female domestic violence offenders rose an estimated 244 percent between 1991 and 2005, but Foster said men are still four times less likely to report domestic violence. For more information on MAWAD, visit www.mawadwv.org, or call (304) 295-0053. — Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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