Letters for the week of April 21-27, 2004 

Don't tell us how The Alamo ends! Plus, readers weigh in on the rights of men, women, and children in move-away divorce cases.

"Messin' with Texas," Film, 4/7

Forgot the Alamo
Please fire Mr. Wilonsky. It seems that he almost cannot write a review of a movie without Giving Away the Ending.

Short of firing him, please edit his reviews so that moviegoers will be allowed the pleasure of learning a movie's twists In the Theater. Short of editing his work, please direct Mr. Wilonsky to proof his own work before submitting it. Quote: "Truth really be told, there is nothing new here." Quote: "Every film made about the fall of the Alamo ends with the slaughter. ... Not this time. ... An Alamo with a happy ending -- now, that is revolutionary." I don't know. Is the market for movie critics really that slim? If so, get this guy under a tighter grip, and give us some reviews that follow a few basic guidelines.
John Ferguson, Houston, Texas

"Should She Stay or Should She Go?" Feature, 3/31

Kids' needs are paramount
Writer Will Harper should be commended for addressing the complex issue of "move-aways" -- whether the primary custodial parent should have the right to relocate and take the children to live distant from the other parent following a divorce/separation. He does a good job of illuminating the tensions from the two parents' perspectives. To the extent his article gives short shrift to the children's perspective, he is not alone, for recent changes in the law do the same.

The trend toward allowing moves by custodial parents is not just a pronouncement about "mothers' rights" or "fathers' rights," it is a move AWAY from focusing on what was a longstanding body of law which required examining what outcome serves the children's best interests. That well-settled precedent is eviscerated by the Burgess case and its progeny as well as by new legislation, which makes it easier for custodial parents to relocate.

When relationships between parents fail, children -- unlike parents -- normally have no representation in court where their future family arrangements are formulated. In the past, laws pertaining to moves by custodial parents at least factored in the children's best interests as a matter to be considered by courts. The new laws, with limited exceptions, strip courts of the discretion to place children's needs and best interests at the fore.

As an attorney who has practiced family law for more than eighteen years and represented mothers and fathers on both sides of move-away cases, I find abandoning the focus on children's best interests in favor of a move toward creating a presumptive right for custodial parents to move to be a very troubling trend. Proponents of custodial parents' rights to relocate with children view their work as progressive and as advancing feminist rights, as custodial parents are more likely to be mothers. Yet ignoring children's best interests spells a major setback, relegating them to the status of chattel -- a status which took centuries to overcome. It is difficult to see how treating children's needs as a lesser consideration than their parents' career and lifestyle ambitions is progressive.

Relegating children's best interests to the backseat to advance women's quest for gender equality does a disservice to children and to women. Rather than ignore children's needs, we should be calling upon both parents to equally share the burdens and joys of parenting. That necessitates continuing the struggle for wage parity and calling upon employers -- from trade unions to corporations -- to create working conditions that allow workers to meaningfully participate in their families. The tradesperson whose workday begins at 6:00 a.m. will find meaningful custody options as limited as the corporate executive who is expected to work until 8 p.m. We need to call into question a society that finds a luxury swimming pool, material acquisitions, and financial advancement more important than the needs of children who stand without weapons and voices in this bitter battle.

The LaMusga case, like many family law cases, presents a complex history about which reasonable observers may disagree as to whether the right result was reached. What should not be overlooked, however, is that so long as judges are stripped of discretion to consider children's best interests and children have no voice in this difficult question, we run the risk of implementing social policies that trample their needs. Such an outcome may be expedient in the short run, but it is not progressive, nor does it hold promise for affirming important societal values (such as the continuity of human relationships and the elevation of emotional needs over financial advancement) in the long run.
Mary McNeill, Berkeley

Mothers are moving
What? Did you run out of things to write about? I find it very offensive when a story gets blown up to sensationalize an issue that is common among a majority of people today.

Hello? Gary LaMusga and his ex-wife are not the only couple to go through the horrific experience of divorce. Most single parents (which, by the way, is not by choice) have had conflicts with their children's father and have had to make the decision to move to maintain a healthy emotional environment for their children. We're lucky if we get as much as $4,500 for child support and alimony, let alone money for attorney's fees.

Sounds like babymama drama to me.
Jenny Joseph, Oakland

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