Monday, June 23, 2014

Presentation to the NY Matrimonial Commission

 Presentation to NY Matrimonial Commission, Feb. 17, 2005 by Susan Titus Glascoff (Founder Nat’l Adv Bd to Nat’l Coalition for Family Justice, Dir. Nat’l Outreach, masters-math & advocacy, lifetime advocacy, 3 sons, 2 stepsons, 1st husband atty)
 Core terms:  interrelate, ipso facto loquitur (facts speak for themselves), legalese, fraud, cycles of abuse, comparable lifestyle, safeguards,  power of compounding(collateral damage), child input, abuse of statistics, K-12 ed, emergency review, national

Thank you for this commission and for permitting me to speak.  Documentation for specifics I mention & more are in the folders I left at registration.  I am here because I am scared for all our children.  I do not come to point fingers.  Urgency exists to devise constructive solutions for legal reform.  11 million web sites are calling for it.  Any system is only as strong as its weakest link.  Is our judiciary in danger of becoming that weak link?  Could our collective problem be failure to interrelate each part of the process back to the gold standard- real justice?  Our instinct for self-preservation dictates we ALL require checks and balances which must evolve with society.  Too much immunity invites abuse of power.  Fifty years ago class actions were not really needed and divorce was quite rare.  Capitalism  can be a double-edged sword for human services such as law.  Legalese and nuance have become the rule.  It extends cases, increases costs, & interferes with communication. How else could we have debated meaning of the word “is?”

A key question is, since law usually involves opposing sides, how can lawyers & others within the legal system, fairly represent/ rule re clients in either circumstance- 1) when one client must bear most or all the burden of fault or 2) when a reasonably equitable  solution is warranted?  Should hiding or twisting evidence to win for one’s client take precedence?  These questions become critical for the welfare of families, & hence via inter-relationships for all society.  For instance having ruled that a mother was perfectly fit & ordering the father to attend abuse counseling, the judge changed custody to the father.   A mother who had been a homemaker for over 20 years was awarded so little from her doctor ex, that she was eligible for food stamps by the time the last child left home.  Going to appeals court yet again has not gotten her any pension.  How can $15,000 be paid to a lawyer to claim no money for child support?  I was married for 23 years to a high-powered lawyer.  I went yet again for enforcement to a top White Plains law firm 4 yrs ago.  They said fraud could not be proved even though he had offered as final settlement equity in a bankrupt company over which he was being sued for fraud!

A crescendo of complaints has been building.  Reams of increasing psychological studies prove abuse, emotional/ physical/financial.   It is seldom fabricated ( a fact warranting FAR more careful scrutiny, esp. in contested custody).  Here is a tiny sample of largely unheeded requests for change- 1) 1989-2000 compilation of cases and studies (including presidential task force)- Facts on Domestic Violence Perpetrators Gaining Custody of Children- handed out at the Albany 2004 National Crisis Conference on Battered (emotional/ physical /&,or financial) Mothers and Children, 2) 1996 book on financial devastation, etc. “Divorced From Justice,” by Karen Winner (since her 1992 report for the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs was largely ignored), , 3) 1997 report, “A Rebuke of Modern Judicial Practices,” by dean of MA Law School, Lawrence Velvel, 4) 2000, “Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, A 25 Year Landmark Study,” by Judith Wallerstein, et al where 131 grown children of divorce were interviewed (following 1, 3, 5, 10, 15 year interviews), a MUST READ, pg 208- People divorce for serious reasons to escape a delinquent or demeaning life only to find themselves in a system that reinstates and even strengthens values & lifestyle they fled from- dishonesty, violence, drinking, infidelity, etc…As we saw in Larry’s continued adoration of his violent father, it can & often does lock child into troubled & immoral relationships… This can be an enormous burden for life. Pg115, a  serious unintended result of the ‘don’t criticize’ rule is it is very difficult for a parent with serious grievances to tell a child what really happened or defend interests in court… or teach morals.” Interrelate-all types of abuse cycle, compounding to hurt society. 5)   2/12/04 Business Week, Legal Affairs, “Close the Lawyer Loophole,” notes how some lawyers help business commit fraud  ( same happens in divorce, sending bad message to children). Old saying-“We will conserve only what we love; love only what we understand; & understand only what we have been taught!

Books are published how to hide assets.  If a marriage has lasted over 10 years and children are involved, shouldn’t both parents have a comparable lifestyle relative to each other after divorce? How can any parent who has chosen to spend time rearing children versus anything less than a full-blown career develop comparable earning capacity to someone who has continuously worked full time?  As you surely know, children of divorce need even more parenting time, but get less which compounds their and society’s problems via poor school performance, substance abuse, promiscuity, displaced anger, etc. We know abuse  cycles.  The opening sentence of my youngest son’s college entrance essay was, “My life fell apart on my 8th birthday, the day my father left, saying he was going to a birthday party with his girlfriend.”  He threw up every night he returned from visitation and missed the next day of school.  At almost 28,
he just dropped out of college for the 5th time.  Wallerstein noted boys whose father left when they were 6-8 have the most trouble even 20 years later, though she said some start to pull out by then.  I’m hoping!  She notes many kids expressed bitterness & feelings of a lost childhood.  (My 3 sons did, too.)  She says “loss of a father is profound, but loss of a mother forever changes the way a child experiences the world.”  That loss refers not only to physical presence but parental distractedness, pg172, & feeling of worthlessness about forced visitation, pg182 (she says the legal system is at odds with intact families who often welcome child input), & loss re  non-payment for college from a parent who could afford it, pg249.  She discerned constant anger, pg 167. She heard about daughters internalizing father’s denigration of women, pg 142.  She notes “one size can never fit all children or families,” Pg215, divorced women as group earn lots less than divorced fathers, pg 163.  She astutely states you cannot legislate the heart.  Other sources corroborate findings.

No one disputes that children fare best in good intact homes.  But shouldn’t such findings as just stated at least make us reexamine rulings on custody, visitation, and finance?  Such children are already traumatized, so isn’t it our collective adult responsibility to provide as good an environment going forward as possible?  Wallerstein reports in her earlier book, “Second Chances,” that some elementary school kids like shared custody only IF the parents are capable of cooperating, but that little children need more time with the mother (but reasonable finance still must be provided to her) IF she is fairly nurturing.  Teenagers, ( who even in intact families don’t spend much time with parents), tend to highly resent visitation interfering with their activities.  Custody and visitation must be more about the kids than the parents!  We must be careful not to manipulate statistics.  Groups stating”kids drop out more, do more drugs, etc. when a father absent” must also include that is only in comparison to a non-abusive father. Ditto mothers.  Abuse makes things worse.  Statistics note more women file for divorce.  True, but often only because they have no choice, such as myself vs ex’s alcoholism, continued affairs, etc. The biggest ABUSED statistic that actually scares people from marrying & promotes divorce is its widely published rate.  The DIVORCE RATE IS NOT 50%!  Official US 2002 statistics- % over age 25 who marry& divorce is 24%, but 40% if marry less than age 20.  Those %s include 50% higher rate for adult kids of divorce!  Comparing # of marriages/ divorces in any 1 year is incorrect math!   Average standard of living of females drops 45% /divorce.    (I am a former math teacher & find incorrect statistics constantly.)

 Schools and colleges have reported increased need for counseling.  Divorce is undoubtedly a factor.  Pure mathematics says its affects will increasingly ripple throughout society.  How about we all stop making excuses about what we cannot do and focus on what we can do?  How about requiring K-12 programs that include more conflict resolution and challenges of good parenting and partnering, one being Lynn Gold-Bikin’s “Partners” program where one group acts out a relationship scene and the other group comments?  How about incentives for more premarital classes? How about incentives for those with problems to attend intensive marriage encounter weekends?  How about some ipso facto loquitur review on request say every 3 years after divorce to compare lifestyle & perhaps note hidden assets or temporary job loss? Safeguards will offset costs.  How about enforceable safeguards for anyone from within or without the legal system who abuses it?  How about lay review, guided by strict parameters, whenever someone deems a ruling violated common sense? Note that decreasing the divorce rate and lessening the impact when divorce must happen will save more than enough to offset these programs. How about preparation of a brief cost chart- comparison ideas-1) cost of ed k-12 in regular classes vs being in class for emotionally disturbed, needing tutoring, etc. 2) difference in earning capacity for high school dropout vs not or HS vs college 3)taxpayer vs recipient(prisoner/welfare/rehab),etc? How about those costs 2X or more when abuse cycles to the next generation?How do you measure cost of ruined  lives?

 How about sealed records & in-chambers discussions not being allowed without all primary participants, except for special circumstances, and never to conceal abuse (alcoholism, etc., etc.)?  How about applying the same rules for family members as non-members- if it is illegal to do something to a neighbor, it is also truly illegal to do to your family? Such would lessen hosts of disorders!  How about set fees for certain fairly routine required divorce filings, etc. (My recent lawyer in White Plains charged $5,000 for items some colleagues charged $15,000 for, and noted they got mad when she mentioned the topic.)?   How about emergency review for custody cases where there is any reasonable suspicion of abuse?  How about soliciting even more ideas from other states NOW and promoting congressional hearings to discuss some national guidelines for divorce (as much as feasible only win/win solutions)?  We don’t need any more studies, etc. re effects of divorce or any type of abuse causing harm.   The costs of programs for K-12 & incentives for more pre/post marriage counseling/ encounters would pale compared to their cost savings!  Our children can’t wait which means our society cannot either, for indeed everything is interrelated and the power of compounding(collateral damage) is alive and well!!  Thank you so much for listening/reading volumes of painful data


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