The biggest salvo yet on custody rights was recently fired by the Indiana Civil Rights Council, which is in the process of launching a 50-state federal suit to win increased rights for noncustodial parents, reports The Associated Press.
The lawsuits, which are seeking trillions of dollars in damages, already have been filed in more than 40 states, the Rights Council told The Associated Press. The group’s legal action is intended to force state legislators to change laws that generally award mothers full custody of children while denying access rights to many fathers. The same is true for a smaller number of working mothers.
The seemingly low profile legal action, at least so far, is in stark contrast to the men’s rights movement in Britain. There, Fathers 4 Justice brings attention to their cause by climbing tall buildings dressed in Batman or Superman superhero outfits. Several members of Fathers 4 Justice also have been arrested for stunts such as throwing purple flour on Prime Minister Tony Blair and trespassing on Buckingham Palace grounds.
The Rights Council, which was joined by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, seems to be carefully forming a large grass-roots structure to take on America’s courts and statehouses. One million dollars is being sought by each claimant. The Council even posted a state-by-state breakdown of how much they are seeking and who is coordinating the lawsuits. Here is a short list as of Oct. 4, 2004:
State // Amount Sought
California // $5.7 trillion
Florida // 2.0
Georgia // 1.4
Illinois // 2.6
Michigan // 2.9
New York // 2.7
Pennsylvania // 1.8
Texas // 2.9
Virginia // 1.1
Wisconsin // 1.0
Surprisingly little has been published about the Indiana Civil Rights Council, but Torm Howse, president of the Indiana Civil Rights Council and himself a divorcee, told the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, “The situation is way out of hand everywhere,” he said. “It’s bad for the children, bad for the parents and bad for society.”
“It costs a lot of money to Band-Aid all problems because of children being fatherless or motherless,” he adds. “It’s the right of every fit parent of this country to have an equal opportunity with their children. We want widespread system reform.”
The Council also has tried to enact change through a petition, which is posted on their website. Here’s how the letter, which addresses President Bush, opens:
I am writing to you to demand change on an epidemic that is destroying families, fathers, and children right here in Country (sic). Simply put, the “Family Court” system as it now exits (sic) has stripped fathers of their rights to be a part of their children's lives. Instead, fathers have turned into financial pumps, living in constant fear of being dragged back into court by their ex-wives and victimized yet again.
I could give you countless examples of fathers who have been victimized. I’m not referring to the “deadbeat dad” types who leave their ex-wives and children living in the streets. I am talking about hard working, tax paying, child-loving fathers who live for their children. The ones who had their children stripped from them for the simple reason of their ex-wife deciding that she just no longer wanted to be married. The ones who are allowed to see their children for 4 days a month. The ones who are allowed to see their children for a few weeks over the summer. The ones who are required to pay astronomical amounts of child support, often putting themselves in a situation where they barely can afford to live. These are the fathers that are relying on the judges, lawyers, and Legislators to help reform the system. This system has created a society of fatherless children and childless fathers. This system has created its own life through a judicial system that exists on misery to feed itself.
The lengthy petition, says in conclusion:
We are relying on our Courts to stop this egregious violation of Constitutional Rights and start giving us our rights back. We are relying on the courageous lawmakers to address this epidemic and stop the further deterioration of fathers, families, and children.
That’s pretty strong stuff, despite the poor writing. Only time will tell if this lawsuit will gain any traction in the courts, or whether the state or federal governments will react positively. But I know a number of divorced parents – men and women – who will be watching this case closely.