An open letter from Danny Guspie
Fathers Resources International
Before I begin, I wish to be clear that what is written here is my opinion. It does not at any time constitute legal advice. If you want legal advice, you must speak with a lawyer.
We live in an extremely unfair world - When Family Problems escalate, and a father begins seeking divorced dad services that are truly geared to the needs of men, he will find that close to none exist. When he goes to Family Court seeking help and educational resources geared to his needs, he will find the situation to be no better.
THE REALITY DIVORCED DADS FACE
There is no Family Court help for divorced dads getting government funding. That's simply not the case for women. When you go to Family Court, you will often find literature racks full of government funded services and publications to help women.
For example, if you are a father who has been assaulted by a woman, there is no specific shelter in existence to help you and your children leave the home in a safe manner. There is no safety exit plan that can assure you of success or support services to help you. In fact, it is entirely possible if your wife picks up the phone and calls 911, informing them you have "taken the children" from the home, you may find yourself facing an amber alert.
It is also difficult to even leave the home with your children through securing a Court order to avoid violence. Far too often I've seen fathers assaulted who then forgive the mother, agree that pressing an assault charge is not the right thing, only to be set up by that mother for a false allegation and arrest. Despite what you will be told officially, the police do not always automatically arrest a mother when a father is assaulted by her.
The closest support service that may be able to help you is The Salvation Army - but helping fathers in horrific Family Situations is not it's main focus. But you can begin there to seek some form of assistance. It has been my experience that they have helped men and their children in the past. But it's not a widely publicized fact.
HOW FAMILY COURT EVOLVED INTO THE WAY IT OPERATES TODAY
Make no mistake - you will need some very serious help, if you are a dad considering ending a relationship or marriage that involves children. It's not just a matter of hiring any lawyer. The problem is most lawyers have no idea how to help a father properly, because men have not organized themselves in a comparable way to women. So there is a lot of training geared for lawyers and judges that address women's issues.
That's because 35 years ago, women who faced similar problems in Family Court. When they were assaulted by their husbands, or left with the children and no money to support themselves and the children the system was of little help.
So these women began learning how the system worked, and began organizing themselves to bring about change. Many young boys beginning in the 1960's through 1980's grew up watching the evolution and politicization of the Legal, Social and Family Court services through the hard work and efforts of many dedicated women.
I was one of those young boys in the 1960's-70's, amongst the first generation of what we then called "latchkey kids" - children who came home after school to an empty home, because Mom and Dad had divorced, and now Mom had to work.
Many of these men are now anywhere in their 30's to early 50's. They are what I characterize as "Son's of the Liberation" - Men who were taught a feminist perspective of true equanimity and equality.
Today's generation of fathers grown up expecting fairness, and equality as our birthright because that is what we were spoon fed by our mothers. Arguably you are seeking fairness because of feminist politics, the very root of the problem today, because it has taken matters to an extreme that is no better than the patriarchy it sought to end.
Ironically, fathers now face the very same problems that our mothers fought long and hard to end in Family Law legislation and Family Court - Ignorance, bigotry and injustice. A system that is about 20 years behind the times at best, addressing the problems of yesterday.
Think about this - The Divorce Act changes of 1968 made it easier to separate and divorce. But child support was largely unenforceable until 1998, some 30 years later. Does that make sense? Was it that lawmakers, lawyers and Judges could not figure out what to do?
From my perspective as an adult child of divorce, that is just utter nonsense. It's politics at its worst. And that has not abated, it's just the politics have now targeted men as the scapegoat for all that is wrong, instead of having a mature rational dialogue with all those seeking fairness and justice in Family Law.
WHAT I HAVE PROPOSED TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS
Since the 1990's I have called for their to be round table where anyone can participate and be heard on how to reform family law in a humane child focused way. A child's rights are not bound up in either their mother or fathers rights. Both parents owe a duty of care to make the peace and do everything necessary to learn how if they can't figure out how to do so.
It is the role of the government through our Family Courts to insist that parents not play games, lie or fabricate evidence to gain revenge or advantage. To insist that parents prove parenting patterns before separation and divorce and to insist that a parents presumption of equality is guaranteed in the charter of rights, and is a fundamental right of the child under s.7 the right to security.
A child's identity is their security. And that identity comes from both parents. Subordinate legislation be it Federal or Provincial should not trump that right.
However when you watch how matters play out in Family Court this simple truth is buried in layers of complicated costly arguments and proceedings that do nothing to instruct parents that it is their duty to act like adults. A good Family Court judge is like a good parent - insistent that the truth counts; insistent on good behaviour; encouraging it at every step; and above all - swift to act when a child needs correction.
WHAT I BELIEVE TO BE TRUE
The unfortunate reality today is that those who are most educated and privileged in society, our members of the legislatures and Federal Parliament, law societies, bar associations, many individual lawyers and Judges, will not accept the simple premise that it is in the ultimate best interests of children to have a presumption that parents continue sharing the responsibility for parenting their children.
Some of it is based upon the profit motive; some it is based on politics of those who have unresolved issues; some of it is based upon good motives of women who have been assaulted and abused. The problem is this - men leave the home or are forced from the home by psychological violence by women. They are even taught to get men to leave by community services.
And men for good, bad or indifferent reasons leave or are forced to leave because of psychological violence or through false arrest. I have helped a lot of men over the last 14 years. Most just want to continue having an equal loving relationship with their children, and pay proper child support if required. However they resent when a women use a child for her own income support.
And that does happen - quite a bit. It's the dirty secret of Family Law that no one wants to talk about because it is not politically correct. But we cannot have a thriving democracy when we deny that it happens, and insist that it never happens.
The argument all men face if they seek to be an equal parent is that they seek to do so because they want to get out of child support. That is as silly an argument as saying that all women want their children for the sole purpose of collecting child support so they need not work.
It couldn't possibly be that parents love their children and can't bear the though of being separated from them could it?
The saddest story of unethical conduct is something my partner Heidi Nabert, President of the National Shared Parenting Association shared with the national media in 1998. Heidi went to see a lawyer when she decided to separate from her husband in 1990. She wanted to leave the home. There were no children. She was afraid of losing her property if she left...
The lawyer Heidi met with, counseled her to get her husband to hit her so the lawyer could institute proceedings to have him removed, and Heidi would gain the upper hand. Needless to say, Heidi was appalled by this unethical advice and rejected it...
What's even sadder is the fact that I have had many women confirm exactly the same thing to me. That they were coached to lie to gain the upper hand in divorce proceedings.
That is far beyond reprehensible - it is criminal, and a violation of the sacred trust placed in the legal community to govern itself. As a result, I have lost confidence in the legal community to govern itself well, despite its claims that it does os in the public interest.
It is my position that:
1. The public should govern the legal community through a publicly controlled body that hold them to the highest standards of public service that ensures access to justice is a right of everyone;
2. All Judges should stand for election and be held accountable to the public they serve;
3. All judicial complaints should be heard and adjudicated by a public body;
4. All Court proceedings should be available to be televised, excepting child protection matters;
4. Parties to a proceeding should have the absolute right to independently record their proceedings for the purpose of augmenting their notes or disputing any transcript;
5. Judges should have no power over approving transcripts of proceedings whatsoever - if there is any dispute over a transcript, a public body should adjudicate the dispute;
6. The Court system and access to justice is a fundamental and charter right of every Canadian, equal to universal access to our our health care system, and as vital if we are to have a meaningful democracy.
While there will be some who vehemently disagree with these positions, while I as strongly disagree with their positions, I respect their right to hold these views. It is only by having diverging views that a true democracy can thrive.
WHAT I BELIEVE HAPPENS WHEN MEN LEAVE THE HOME WITHOUT A SEPARATION AGREEMENT OR COURT ORDER
However, the law is seemingly designed that if you leave the home to keep the peace, you will have actually begun the process that invites the Family Law system to determine the fate of your children. You will have quite possibly empowered and enabled a bad mother to now legally justify her position as a bad parent.
And I am not saying that all mothers are bad parents - but I have seen quite a few over my 50 years of living, especially over the last 14 years of involvement in these issues. And they are rarely held accountable by the Family Court - it takes a lot of effort. You need the right insights, discipline, forbearance and mindset to get there.
In my opinion, if you are still in your home - DO NOT LEAVE if at all possible. That is the single biggest mistake men make, buying into the notion that separation and divorce are no fault, when in fact that is a s far from the truth as can possibly be. There are no fault components that mature rational parents can avail themselves of to avoid a messy situation. But fault finding still exists.
But here is what usually happens - the man leaves the home. My insight is that this seems to trigger s. 20(4) of the Children's Law Reform Act which says:
"Where the parents of a child live separate and apart and the child lives with one of them with the consent, implied consent or acquiescence of the other of them, the right of the other to exercise the entitlement of custody and the incidents of custody, but not the entitlement to access, is suspended until a separation agreement or order otherwise provides. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (4)."
Now the following is definitely not legal advice and you will want to confirm it with a lawyer, but here is how it seems to work:
Once you leave the home, you become at law the "access parent" and mom becomes at law "the custodial parent" until you have a separation agreement or court order that says otherwise.
And that means when you enter into any negotiation, mediation and/or Family Court you have no negotiating position of equality. You gave it away when you walked out the door. And Mom, who is now bitter and angry isn't about to agree to give it back.
Your actions have given the Family Court the evidence necessary to justify giving Mom sole custody.
Rarely is this ever explained well to men by their lawyer. And men not understanding they are in a fight they likely cannot win, spend a lot of money fighting unfairness that has the the supposed "color of law" backing it up.
THE SOLUTIONS FATHERS RESOURCES INTERNATIONAL OFFERS DIVORCED DADS
There is a way to deal with these problems, based upon what has worked for other successful divorced dads. When you come to our FREE meetings, teleseminars and podcasts, plus read the educational materials on our web site, you will be in a much more educated position than 99% of divorced dads to make better strategic decisions basd upon siding with child's rights to PEACE.
WINNING = PEACE FOR YOUR CHILD. That's the equation we teach, based upon peacemaking that either deescalates matters, or exposes the ugly truth of what is really going on in a way that the Family Court cannot ignore, if you are vigorous, persistent and insistent in a way that equals effective and persuasive advocacy,based on real evidence and thoughtful analysis, within the law and rules of the Family Court instead of hysteria over your rights as a father.
Someday things will change for the better - that is the only constant in life. It won't always remain so very hard to be a divorced dad caught in the grips of an unfair Family Court system. You must not solely rely rely upon the current Family Law system to be fair, largely because most divorced dads do not appreciate nor understand how things work from a practical perspective.
And that is how these services came about.
I am an adult child of divorce, divorced dad, step father and a dedicated international divorce reform activist / media spokesperson who has been waging peace on behalf of children and fathers for a good portion of my life. Today I am founder and Executive Director of Fathers' Resources International.
THE BEST WAY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR PROBLEMS
I have a lifetime of experience in unraveling these problems. Like an onion, your problems consist of three layers: The seed, The onion itself and its skin.
The first layer, or "The Seed" are your family problems, the dynamics involved and your personal history of how you find yourself in this situation. Everything you learned in your own family as a child, whatever rebellion set in as a teenager, and whatever choices you made as an adult led you to this moment. If you ignore this fact, you will spend a lot of money fighting in Family Court needlessly, and most likely keep on repeating the same pattern of failed relationships with your next partner/wife.
The second layer is the "Knowledge/Experience Gap". You don't have the skills to successfully manage the situation. If you did there would not be a problem in the first place. You'd have made better choices, had a longer courtship, have better language and negotiation skills. Now your problem has escalated to the point where you have no other option but to educate yourself about Family Law, Family Court, How to find a GREAT lawyer with experience and a track record helping fathers succeed during separation and divorce.
The third layer are your legal problems...for this you will need a really GREAT lawyer with experience and a track record helping fathers succeed during separation and divorce. That is if it even occurs to you that you will need such an experienced family law specialist.
Now here's how this model works: Your Family Problems drives your "Knowledge/Experience Gap" to widen. Without the right tools to properly manage your situation, you begin having legal problems. The longer you ignore the Family Problems, the more education you will need, and as a consequence your legal problems begin to mount and escalate in the interim while you get up to speed.
Last but not least - women initiate separation and divorce 75% of the time. men are usually playing catch up, hoping against hope that it will go away and the marriage will survive. This is what I characterize as "The Hope against Hope Syndrome": Where men bury their heads in the sand hoping they can either ride out the storm, or that a miracle will save them.
Secondly, men suffer from "White Knight Syndrome": wanting to rescue their damsel in distress when in fact she has become the devil in disguise, willing to do whatever it takes to win. These men are in denial of reality. And sadly, they often don't wake up until they have lost it all...
It doesn't have to be this way - there is an alternative solution. It has worked for me, and it has worked for the many men I have worked with who had the strength of character to educate themselves and implement the philosophy and separation / divorce management skills I have been teach divorced dads for the last 14 years.
These lessons did not come easily, and the cost in time, effort, research, testing and validating results were enormous. But you can replicate the successful strategies of divorced dads if you put your heart, mind and soul to the task at hand.
THIS IS MY STORY OF HOW I LEARNED THESE THINGS
First, its important to understand that I am an adult child of divorce. I have been grappling with these issues my entire life. My education is comprised of lifetime experiences, self education, formal training and certification as a law clerk, work with one of the most senior family law lawyers in Ontario, developing training with him for parents who can't afford a lawyer, years of legal research, international and national divorce reform activism, acting as a major media spokesperson on these issue for 12 years, and my experiences as divorced dad who has come through the looking glass.
Today my step-son Luc and daughter Elyenne are 30 and 25 respectively. They are my pride and joy. They too have come through the looking glass of my divorce from their mother, my raising them until they were teenagers, the difficulties of their rebellious teenage years, and the fine young adults they have become today, despite the many mistakes both I and their mother made along the way...
20 years ago, with our marriage unraveling, and five years of counseling that did not solve the problems we faced, I sought help to end the marriage and share custody of our children... Only to find none existed that met our needs.
Facing extreme conventional thinking, I became a single father of two, when major problems arose between my then former wife and myself. I will be kind to her and remain silent on what those issues were - but they were very serious. I had to make some very difficult choices as a result. Heartbreaking choices in fact...
I found that the legal and social services systems were in much worse shape than it had been when I was a child facing the same family problems with separation and divorce, beginning at age 9. The breakdown of the Family had become institutionalized, industrialized and extremely politicized by those saw men as being dispensable.
After terminating my third lawyer, I began my education as a Family Law Clerk and began successfully representing myself in Family Court. At that time, I began working with fathers to help them with consumer education focused on Legal Services and Family Court. As many as 85% of those going to Family Court must do so without a lawyer due to the intensive politicization of Family Court since the 1990's and collapse of Legal Aid.
During this time, I became one of the leading and most outspoken national divorce reformers in Canada, along with my common law partner Heidi Nabert. Together we formed the National Shared Parenting Association which during the late 1990's took on the Government in the national media during the last Federal review of the Canadian Divorce Act.
In 1998, every media outlet in Canada (excepting the Winnipeg Free Press) sided with the National Shared Parenting Association in calling for the Government of the day to implement Presumptive Equal Shared Parenting as the law of the land.
Then Justice Minister Anne McLellan a staunch supporter of those opposing Shared Parenting defeated any changes to the status quo with the help of the legal, social services and women's shelter communities, despite the Canadian public supporting these changes in unprecedented numbers as confirmed by a major Compass Reid Poll.
That was in 1998 - Divorce reform has not been on the national agenda in any serious and thoughtful way since. Fortunately, I have not totally relied upon the system to solve the family problems, but instead have educated myself on what works for fathers and their children and what does not. As a result, today I have two very well adjusted adult children aged 26 and 31 who have made a success of their lives. I've become a grandfather in recent years. This is my life's greatest achievement.
My hope is that my grandchildren don't face these same problems or worse. That we truly base Family Law and family Court decisions on the ULTIMATE BEST INTEREST OF CHILDREN. And that we restore accountability and credibility to our legal system.
In my humble opinion both personally and professionally, the administration of justice has put itself into disrepute in the eyes of the public. The Family Court system is not viewed as a credible, caring and competent dispenser of Family Justice, especially when it must exercise the power to substitute fit, loving and sensible parental decision making with court based decision making.
And all children in this country are the worse off for it. That's something I know first hand, as do many of my friends who were part of the first wave of children of divorce of the 1970's.
Had it been left entirely up to the Family Court system, I am confident the outcome would be very different for the children. They'd have become a another sad statistic. I was determined that they'd not face the difficulties I had faced in my parent's divorce in the 1970's which almost ended my life from overdosing on PCP six times.
That's a whole other story - Children of Divorce act out that which they cannot fully express, because their capacity to articulate is still developing in their teenage years. My peer group became my family, and my parents just did not comprehend what was happening to me. It was all about themselves...
I was determined to do things differently.
Though these were different times, I knew what was at stake if I did not make every effort to fill our children with as much love and compassion as is humanly possible, protect them from the ugliness of Family Court as best I could, and sow the seeds that have made them the confident and cap[able people they have become as adults today.
The unfortunate reality is far too much power is given over to the Family Court by fathers who feel powerless to have any influence on how their children grow up. That is simply not the case, if you apply the things I've learned in over 50 years of dealing with Family Problems, and the clarity of thought and purpose these challenges will require of you.
That's your responsibility no matter how bad it gets. Sometimes it requires a very creative approach to get results. I know both as an adult child of divorce and divorced dad that the Family Court system does not have all the answers. It will not micromanage problems. That's your job - to learn the skills required to do so, and how to effectively use Family Court when you must, and when to stay far away from it when you can.
We have begun the process of expanding our reach to the international divorced dad community through our websites, teleseminars, webcasts and podcasts. We now have over 50 hours of audio training that we are about to make available as a MP3 Player and Membership site. All of this audio content has been transcribed. There will be on demand video training and education in this membership site.
There will be no other comparable resource to be found anywhere. It will be the repository of all available knowledge that has helped divorced dads win and/or improve their situation in and out of family Court during negotiation, mediation and court proceedings.
And it will cost far, far less than what it costs you to hire a lawyer. In fact, if you implement these strategies, you will reduce your legal costs, and stand a better chance of resolving your Family Problems without resorting to having to go to Family Court.
And when you absolutely have no other choice but to go to Family Court, you wil be that much more educated about how it really works, because you'll be shown specific steps you can take to become an educated consumer of Legal, Social and Family Court services.
So if you are tired of not finding any answers - you have come to the right place. We can help you, if you are willing to help yourself.
Fathers Resources International strongly contends that what takes place in Family Court today, often has little to do with what is truly compassionate and best for children, who naturally love their parents. Government institutions rarely get it right. That's the nature of politics which shapes the aw and operating policies that administrate justice and social services that affect children of separation and divorce.
What most don't realize is this: The state has custody of our children. When we disagree, the state in the form of Family Court will decide what will happen. I don't know about you, but I don't believe the government is a better parent than you or I.
I'm a great believer of something former United States President Ronald Reagan said: "When the government arrives and says it is here to help...run".
Until fathers, their extended families and new partners begin working together to educate society to hold our leaders accountable at the ballot box over these issues in the same way women held them accountable in the turn of the last century, little will be changing to help these children of separation and divorce in the foreseeable future.
Make no mistake - change can happen in an instant when there is political will. And it will happen when we reach the Tipping Point. And for me, it can't happen soon enough.
Therefore, until that day arrives, it is up to men and fathers of good and loving character to step up to the plate and learn how to navigate through injustice with integrity and honor. To WAGE PEACE on behalf of our children. To be an equal voice in any peaceful manner possible, holding everyone to account to a new standard - The Ultimate Best Interests of The Child: The duty of parents to make the peace, which is the only thing left for children to hope for, when parents separate.
We say this is The Ultimate Best Interests of The Child because a child's number one fantasy when parents separate is for them to get back together and provide a stable, secure loving home. When that's not possible, the next persistent fantasy is PEACE.
In my opinion, the duty of Family Court is to use every tool at it's disposal to meet these best interests as expressed by PEACE, and nothing less. That our most educated and privileged few in society who work within the Family Court system, know this, yet don't act upon this fact with the tools that already exist to make this so is the real hidden shameful story. When you begin to appreciate how the law operates, you begin to understand the influence of politics on its interpretation.
This is where the institutionalized abuse of children for profit begins and ends. It is a failure of character of anyone within the system that says that this is OK; that it is the best we can do; that we are just following the law.
At the end of World War II, this was the defense most often raised for the atrocities committed - we were just following the law, we were just following orders. Far too many people died liberating Europe from this perverted sense of justice.
The sad thing is we have not fully honored the memory of those who died in the cause of freedom and democracy when it comes to family law legislation, the operation of Family Court and the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights in these situations.
But that day is coming - injustice never survives in the same place for long, it just unfortunately moves on to the next opportunity.
Until it moves on from your life, and the lives of your children, I encourage you to do everything in your power to learn what has worked from successful divorced dads. It is the best defense against the harm that is being done to children suffering from the affects of separation and divorce.
It is my hope that the resources we provide here on this web site, and that the services we offer can be of some comfort and assistance to you.
Executive Director - Fathers Resources International