The Sharks are Circling

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August 24, 1993 Warren P. Harris

 

Has anyone noticed a subtle and insidious gender bias creeping into our society? I am not referring to the unfair wage gap in the workplace or any of the other fairly obvious inequities that we have yet to eliminate. I am, rather, referring to the assumption that, in the context of a divorce (where children are involved), women are exclusively "in the right" and men are unquestionably "in the wrong".

Why is it that whenever new legislation regarding the vast unpaid sums of child support is introduced, the term "Deadbeat Dads" always seems to come up? Are we not all "people"? Are there not irresponsible women as well as men? Don't get me wrong - I'm not implying that the scales are balanced on this issue. I am certain that there are far more fathers not meeting their financial responsibilities than mothers. However, isn't it about time we started treating others as we would like to be treated?

Why does this issue mean so much to me? I have been on the "receiving" end of this form of gender bias for over 4 years. At one point I had custody of both children and a restraining order against my ex wife. Every time I called the Marin County District Attorney's office to have the order enforced I was treated like a convicted felon by the lady who answers the phone. Without even knowing the facts surrounding my call I was told more than once that the investigators "don't talk to fathers".

During the 2 years that I had sole custody of both children I received no financial help from the State, County or the children's mother. I wasn't destitute but I also wasn't wealthy. Like most of us I fell somewhere around "managing to get by" and accepted the fact that I must work for the necessities of life.

I am happily remarried now and my daughter (age 18) continues to live with me. My son (age 15) has lived with his mother for the last 2 years. Since she chooses not to work and receives AFDC, the DA expects me to reimburse them. Apparently she is not expected to go to work and help with either of the children's support.

The DA's office effected judgments against me without my knowledge or presence in the court proceedings. When I sent them a letter pointing out that I had already spent more on my son than they were requesting, and asking for relief from this unreasonable practice they responded by sending my employer a questionnaire about my income along with a 4 page document for me to fill out and a request for my last 2 years' Income Tax returns and the last 3 months' pay stubs. Is this an efficient use of our tax dollars? Is this reasonable?

Since I haven't heard of any amendments being repealed all of this seems fairly unconstitutional. Since when can someone be judged without representation? How is it that in America, when one requests an explanation for unreasonable treatment, the reply is in the form of stepped-up harassment? Are Gestapo tactics to be considered acceptable in our society? We aren't talking about drug dealing, money laundering or other criminal offenses here. We are referring to parents - people who are trying to do the best they can under trying conditions.

The position of the DA's office seems to be: "If you're destitute , fine. We won't make you pay anything. If you're not destitute, you soon will be." Your only hope of reasonable treatment is to have the best legal representation that money can buy. If you're like many of us, this falls just outside your grasp.

Granted, there are many "Deadbeat Dads" out there who need to be "persuaded" live up to their responsibilities. I, however am not one of them. I feel certain there are an abundance of men like myself who are being lumped into a category that they haven't "earned" just because they are male. Isn't it time for this to stop? What ever happened to the concept of "innocent until proven guilty"? At what point did we all take a radical departure from common sense and decide to penalize fathers just for being male?