Divorced Wilton Father Struggling to Change System
April 28, 2011
Divorce is never an easy process, especially when children are involved, and Wilton resident Francis Knize says being a father makes it exponentially more difficult.
Knize went through a nasty divorce a few years ago, and, based on his own experience, he feels judges in divorce cases “have an inherent bias against men.”
“Basically the judiciary has worked hard to erode (father’s) civil rights on many levels. In my divorce case my person, property and papers were what I wanted protected, and they were all broken in the divorce. There was nothing I could make a free choice of in my life.”
Knize said the immediate reaction of the courts is to place children with the mother in the vast majority of divorce cases.
“Basically the child remains with the mother right away until further notice, and the father may not see the child for the first year after the divorce,” Knize said. “That’s unconscionable.”
One of the basic problems, according to Knize, is that divorce cases are tried in civil court, where the burden of proof is far different than that of a criminal proceeding.
“I know lots of men who have serious problems seeing their children because women take the stand claiming severe abuse,” Knize said. “They make a criminal kind of charge, without having to support it with any kind of evidence. In a civil court the burden is a preponderance of evidence, and conclusions come much more easily. Women are making claims without corroborating evidence or proof.”
Given certain allegations, such as abuse or neglect, divorce cases in Connecticut should require concrete evidence to back up the claim, he said.
“Why can’t Connecticut be more like New Jersey, where you need clear and convincing evidence, if not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, like a criminal case?”
To that end state Rep. John Hetherington, R-125, has introduced House Bill 5247 to try and close some of those civil rights loopholes for parents and guardians.
HB 5247, which Hetherington said has passed the Judiciary Committee and now awaits discussion in the General Assembly, is described as “an act concerning the presumption of innocence and protection of Constitutional rights in proceedings alleging child abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian.”
The body of HB 5247 reads: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:
That the general statutes be amended to: (1) institute a presumption of a parent’s or guardian’s innocence in any proceeding alleging child abuse or neglect by the parent or guardian; (2) require the petitioner to prove a parent’s or guardian’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in any proceeding alleging child abuse or neglect by the parent or guardian; (3) require the protection of a parent’s or guardian’s constitutional rights, as afforded to persons charged with criminal offenses, in any proceeding alleging child abuse or neglect by the parent or guardian; (4) require the dismissal from employment of any municipal or state employee found to have violated the constitutional rights of a parent or guardian in any proceeding alleging child abuse or neglect by the parent or guardian; and (5) ensure that any such municipal or state employee not receive immunity.”
Hetherington said this is a “relatively simple” bill that will not apply directly to court proceedings but could prevent a parent or guardian from self-incrimination, or keep them from allowing a Department of Children and Families (DCF) representative into their home without cause.
“I heard a number of complaints from parents and guardians in cases of child neglect or abuse that DCF representatives are rather heavy handed,” Hetherington said. “Now the DCF has the right to interrogate, to insist on coming into the home to find evidence of abuse, and what they collect is admissible in proceedings or as evidence to take a child away.”
Hetherington admits that the bill does not have much sanction behind it, but it provides some peace of mind to parents and guardians.
“Parents and guardians have rights, and (DCF) can’t intimidate people,” Hetherington said. “There’s no doubt DCF people are good, but they can’t make people suspects without some evidence.”
Hetherington is not sure how far — or how fast — the bill will move.
“It’s received a joint favorable report out of Judiciary, and I hope it goes to House floor,” he said. “There’s such a crowd of bills, you never know.”
Knize never intended his efforts to be a mother-father battle. He just wants to see each case, and each parent, judged on their own merits.
“What’s the percentage of men that have to pay child support over women? Over 90 percent,” Knize said. “My argument is that maybe that should have been the case in the 1950s, when there were different gender roles. In today’s world, after women demanded freedom and are working, the payment structure should be more equalized.”
Knize said his ex-wife had college degrees and plenty of earning potential and he did not, and while he was self-sufficient, he still was taken for $1 million.
“You’re liable for child support and possibly alimony because you have earning capacity, but my wife had enormous earning capacity,” Knize said. “A judge can assign an unreachable child support level, and a father who can’t pay is in contempt. They’re handcuffed, they have their ankles shackled. They throw you in jail until you pay up, like an old English debtor’s prison. We’re supposed to be above that. We want it to be equal parenting.” For more information on some of Knize’ concerns, visit judicialmisconduct.blogspot.com