Friday, August 11, 2006

L is for Legal System

It is amazing what a wonderful legal system we have.

The rights afforded citizens in a court of law are amazing and impressive - consider:

The right to be considered innocent until proven guilty - this enables citizens to defend themselves with their full resources at their disposal, until such time as they are actually proven guilty. If they are not a threat to society, or a flight risk, they can construct their defense with a lawyer from the comfort of their own home, and continue earning money at their job while their case proceeds. Compare this to other countries, or the way things were in the west prior to the spread of the concept of individual rights, where a citizen was often incarcerated until such time as his case was heard, and his family and friends had to provide for his upkeep.

The right of legal assistance for the poor - making legal representation available to all citizens, irregardless of financial station. Sure, an expensive lawyer will get you a better hearing in court, but if your case is good, there is little that even a great lawyer will do to undermine it.

The right to a trial before a jury of your peers - citizens don't have to prove that they are perfect to some high-and-mighty judge, but to a bunch of people drawn from local citizenry. If your opponent in the case can't convince these people that what you did was a crime (or more likely, that they wouldn't have done the same thing), you are off scot-free.

The requirement that convictions be made when the jury finds you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It can't just seem reasonable that you did a bad thing; your opponent has to prove it.

The right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure - the court can't take your possessions, income, and hunt through your papers and residence, unless there is a good reason to suspect that you have committed an actual crime.

The right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment - your punishment should be appropriate in severity, relative to punishments for other crimes that are comparable and worse.

The right to 'due process' - that you will be granted a trial before jury, that this trial will occur in as speedy a fashion as possible, and that you will have an opportunity to make your case freely in this trial.

We have watched, recently, as even terrorists and terrorist supporters have enjoyed and used these rights to battle the US Government in cases here in the NorthEast - enjoying legal representation, enjoying trial by jury, enjoying the presumption of innocence until they are proven guilty - often finding themselves free on bail, and financially unencumbered prior to their trial - if their malevolence, danger to the public, and likelihood of flight was not of an extreme and obvious danger.

Of course - this is the REST of the court system I am referring to. Not the family or 'civil' court. Not the court that divorced men find themselves in when they need to dispute a divorce matter.

In this court, the man is assumed guilty until proven innocent - your divorce agreement, should you run afoul of it, is entered immediately as a judgment against you. Your assets are seized. Your income is garnished to 50, 60, 65% of your gross income. If you are on unemployment, and your ex is well employed? They take it anyway. Note that a convicted felon (one found guilty in a trial in front of an impartial jury) with a judgment against him is rarely garnished more than 10% - that would be cruel and unusual. But not for a man. Not for an ex-husband, no - apparently cruel and unusual doesn't apply to men.

Your personal papers and other materials are all subject to subpoena too - there need be no actual showing of likelihood that you committed some crime - no, that is criminal court you are thinking of. In civil court, you are subject to a total probing of your assets and holdings. You are assumed to be guilty, and must prove your innocence. You might think that there would be some balance in this - certainly you would have the right to subpoena your ex and put her through the same pain you have to go through. Think again. You will be lucky to get her tax return or pay stub. And in many cases I have seen, perhaps the majority of cases - the man doesn't even get that. Her relative income and wealth seems to have no bearing on your argument that you need relief in this 'civil' court.

And note, you are being punished - losing your assets, your income, and your privacy, before trial. Oh, and by the way, you don't get a trial in front of an impartial jury - you get a hearing in front of a judge - a hearing in which you must show by the preponderance of evidence that you did the right thing.

And that hearing usually will be well over a year in the future. Because they will want to first find you in violation of litigant's rights, and force you to liquidate any assets you might have, and force you to take out loans you can't afford to pay them - and force you to pay the legal fees of your ex through this process, and force you to go to 'economic mediation'. (A waste of time because your ex will never accept anything other than every penny specified in your divorce agreement.) All serving to extend the period of time which you are being punished before having anyone actually make a determination in your case, based on your circumstances. (Remember, you don't get a trial, just a hearing.)

And once they have pauperized you - while you are living in a broken-down car under a bridge - do you think that the court system grants you a lawyer to help prepare your case? No. That's for actual criminals. You are worse than them, you don't get any such help - you are a divorced man.

So yes, our legal system, and the rights afforded us by our system of government are amazing. Perhaps some day, someone will get around to re-applying those rights to divorced men.

But if the last 60 years of history is any indication, things are likely to go the other way.

My best to you in your struggles,

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Anonymous said...

On the other hand...I am embarking on a divorce. When I got married I:
a.helped my husband pay off multiple bad debts,
b. sold my house for $75,000 profit, which we proceeded to supplement our income with over the next few years, gave up my job, my friends, my family, my vested retirement, so that I could move to his town
c.took care of him through 3 heart attacks and major surgery,
Now that we are divorcing:
a. I havn't got a dime in savings
b. I have no home to live in, no retirement contributions to show for last few years til vesting kicked in, no support structure of friends and family, will have to live off 1/5 the income.
c.And I get no alimony, because Im able to work and we had no children.
Point is..for every story there is a flip side!

MisAnDrope said...

Thanks for your comment. However, you said it yourself - you get no alimony or support because you can work and have no kids. I am suprised you didn't at least get a term or rehabilitative alimony, ...but honestly, when you married this guy, did you want it to be an accounting exercize where he paid you back for every thing that you did for him, and you paid him back for every dime he spent on you? That doesn't sound like the marriage vows I made. And if you can work and support yourself, why should you have gained a permenant slave through marriage?

You say you are 'embarking' on a divorce, but then you say you get no alimony... and are subsisting on 1/5 the income. Maybe you are just getting started, and are writing about your expectations?

Cause this doesn't sound like NJ, where in divorce, both parties are supposed to be able to maintain the same standard of living (crews v. crews) - which mostly means that the wife gets to enjoy the standard of living and the man gets to 'maintain' it.

Admittedly, you don't give me a lot of facts to work with - but your flip side, although painful, sounds appropriate. Why shouldn't you support yourself, if you can? Why are we in this country so intent on always making someone else pay our bills?

I do wish you the best in restoring your life after what was clearly a painful and expensive marriage. Without kids, support or alimony tying you together, you will be able to forget totally
about him, and start your life fresh. Your experience in pain and loss is over.

My experience, and those of literally hundreds of thousands of men like me, continues - because we are trapped in a frightening vortex of slavery that only very rarely lets any one of us escape, and a vortex which abrogates the very civil rights that our country holds dear, and claims as its foundation.

I pray that you will have a wonderful, renewed life, with a new and giving partner, instead of the taking one that it seems you had:


Anonymous said...

You just write a lot of fluffy words; I'm merely pointing out that your scenario is not neccessarily the norm. I think your belief that mens rights are at stake in matters of divorce, is becoming one that is going by the wayside.And I didn't say I expected to be paid for my time, nor am i saying its unfar not to get alimony. I do however, feel like I shouldn't walk out with less then I walked in with as is the case.

MisAnDrope said...

My situation is abnormal. I got my kids half the time. -Mostly because my ex wanted me to have them full time, but then figured out that that might mean no support. So I am doing better than most men.

Take time to follow some of the links on the left side under 'landscape'. There are some very real, very frightening statistics in there - frightening if you are a man: Mostly, a man can't win custody. Mostly a man with custody can't get support. Mostly, a man who earns less than his ex can't get alimony. But mostly, women can, and do get all these things - along with the family home, and half or more of any assets.

And in a civil court, it is without a question true that you don't get a trial by jury, you don't get a presumption of innocence, and you don't get anything resembling due process. Alimony and Support arrears are automatically entered as judgements, and then you wave goodbye to any assets that you might have managed to build up since your divorce. They force you to try to take out loans, even if you don't have a job, and burden you with your ex's legal fees.

These are not fluffy words. They are plain facts and experience. Go talk to some divorce lawyers, and ask. Or go look at the statutes on divorce, support, and alimony. It is all there, quite well documented. The census has a lot of the data too, and health and human services on the web documents some how support is awarded and paid. You can find citations for this stuff if you read my back entries in this blog. You will notice yourself clicking into FBI and other government websites, reading official reports, and discovering that to be a man in the US legal system is to be far less of a person, far less of a citizen, than it is to be a woman.

And in spite of my thinking that you aren't seeing the forest for the tree in front of you, I really AM sorry you got taken for a ride. Life does (and jerks do) that some times. Best of luck in building your new life.


Anonymous said...

When my ex wife was preparing to leave me one reason was £2K worth of C/Card debt(spent on family).
When it was all over she was unhappy to be alone- finally.
The legal costs to me were £5K and the insurance re-write released her £ the CC debt was well covered-that was 20 years ago. Author is right.You don't get criminal law protection- but you get treated as if you are one.Worse in are Maaaan!
Nice system...

lonang_mark said...

The law was designed to provide remedy for harm. Proportionality in the law meant a reasonable remedy for a proven harm.

In family law this meant that the state could only involve itself into divorce or CS was if a crime had been committed, e.g., adultery or abuse.

The proportional response was loss of rights and fines, i.e., alimony or CS.

'Modern' law is not about remedy for a harm but is based on the power of the state. One evil, greedy person decides to get divorced and the other person is harmed. No behavior based punishment, just the state imposing what is "in the best interest".

Family law is not about fairness, or justice, or due process, it is about the power of the state being used to implement an ideology.