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home : opinion : letters February 6, 2016

Judicial Gender Bias - Thomas Sitsch

Judicial gender bias: real or perceived? You decide.

To the Editor:

Frustration and exasperation with the 2nd District Family Court - Littleton, with what I perceive to be a strong bias against fathers, has prompted this article. My efforts to work within the system and merely be given the opportunity to see my two children on a regular basis has been ongoing for over seven months. During this time I have amassed legal fees in excess of $30,000.00 and yet, the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" is not visible. Not even a glimmer.

As I conducted research to determine if my situation is an anomaly, I quickly realized that this behavior of the New Hampshire Family Courts is commonplace and has been extensively documented. In fact, it has been previously addressed by the State House of Representatives Redress of Grievances Committee. Findings of the committee determined there was, in fact, outrageous behavior of family court judges, Marital Masters, Guardians ad Litem and the like. My experience with the Family Court is consistent with the prior findings. Statistics certainly support that New Hampshire family courts are biased against fathers. Fathers get custody in only 20% of contested cases and an astonishing 5% of uncontested ones.

My dilemma began shortly after my estranged spouse moved out of the marital home and the children began spending time at both homes. After returning from a two week business trip in August 2012, my children's behavior towards me had significantly and inexplicably changed. Prior to my trip, my children were spending time at my house to include sleeping over, enjoying the family tradition of Friday "movie night", assisting with construction projects, running errands and eating out. Upon my return, even though my children had regularly called me during my trip, they no longer wanted any association with me.

My estranged spouse refused to allow my children to be evaluated by a well respected and credentialed psychologist with expertise in child alienation. Therefore, I filed an Ex Parte (Emergency) motion with the 2nd District Family Court - Littleton to allow the evaluation. The motion was denied and a hearing was scheduled for September 2012. At the hearing, the court once again denied the motion stating that the recently assigned

Guardian ad litem (GAL) should have the opportunity to assess the situation.

What could have been the possible harm of granting my request based on a father's concerns? Why would the mother refuse to accommodate such a request? The independent analysis would have resulted in a timely analysis which may, or may not have, supported my concerns. Additionally, GALs may have the best of intentions but the majority do not possess the same level of expertise as credentialed psychologists. GALs must also contend with the time consuming bureaucracy inherent in any judicial system. Evidently, the court's judgement trumps a fathers rights even on the most benign of requests.

It has now been over seven months since I have had any meaningful contact with my children. On two separate occasions I was "assured" by the GAL that I would see my children. Neither of these visits, one of which was scheduled for Christmas day, ever occurred. All contact with my children inexplicably stopped after a brief and pleasant meeting on 30 December 2012 -- enjoying milkshakes at a local restaurant. This meeting ended as usual with both my boys initiating hugs with me.

I have been told to be patient by legal counsel and informed by the GAL that my children no longer desire contact with me. I accept neither of these propositions. Would any father? The GAL has yet to observe any interaction between myself and my children. What could be the possible rationale for children desiring less contact with their father the longer they are separated? And, the rudimentary question I posed in August 2012 has yet to be answered. Why did my children's behavior dramatically change during my absence?

My most recent encounter with the 2nd District Family Court - Littleton strongly reinforced my belief of gender bias. Despite not having a Child Support order in effect, I was ensuring for the welfare of my children by regularly depositing monthly amounts into a joint account exceeding the anticipated calculated child support. This support exceeded $13,000.00 during the four month period in question, to include in excess of $8,000.00 during the previous three months with no corresponding withdrawals on my behalf. But yet, the court ruled I was delinquent in the payment of child support. The court, at the same time, did not appear to consider any of my estranged spouse's irresponsible financial actions resulting in a negative balance of this same joint account resulting in several returned checks due to Non Sufficient Funds. Despite an appeal presenting clear, indisputable, evidence of my monetary support, the appeal was answered with a simple one word response - "Denied". My legal counsel was not surprised by this action as this is the norm for the Family Courts.

I have always provided for the support of my family, regardless of personal sacrifice, to allow them a very comfortable lifestyle. In fact, my now estranged spouse was allowed the opportunity to be a stay at home mom for the past 14 years, obtain her masters degree, and gain certification as a Nurse Practitioner. Accommodations were also made, including costly renovations, to allow my spouse's mother to live in the marital home for approximately 10 years. Therefore, it is a personal insult to even suggest that I have not supported them.

So how can the New Hampshire Family Courts so readily ignore compelling, documented evidence and do as they wish? There are actually numerous factors, which were identified by the previously mentioned Redress of Grievance Committee. New Hampshire does not have an intermediate appellate court, the norm in 40 states, to provide oversight of the district courts. All appeals must go to the state Supreme Court; a time intensive and costly endeavor which few citizens have the resources to pursue.

Thirty two states chose some, most, or all of their judges using some form of contestable popular election. New Hampshire appoints, vice elects, judges and it is only one three states that appoints judges for life or until 70 years of age. The confluence of all these factors can easily contribute to judges making clearly erroneous decisions with impunity, if so inclined, with minimal risk of discipline by higher judiciary or recourse by the citizens involved.

The Executive Director of Father and Families, Rita Fuerst Adams, recently stated that one of the sweetest phrases she has heard from fathers is "I finally saw my children". My hopes of being able to say that continue to be delayed, without rationale reason, by the 2nd District Family Court-Littleton. My resolve to seek justice and ensure our rights are not trampled on were firmly embedded in my core during a 34 year military career serving our nation's interests throughout the world. Never did I think my path would put me in conflict with our own judicial system. Ironically, my decision to retire in the Granite State was partly based on the ideals of "Live Free or Die".

I would like to thank Councilor Ray Burton of the New Hampshire Executive Committee, who was recently advised of my situation and forwarded my concerns to Judge Ed Kelly, Administrative Judge of the Family court. I can only hope that my ongoing dilemma will, at a minimum, prompt another review of the New Hampshire Family Courts and prevent fathers, or mothers, from experiencing the pain associated with not seeing your children.

Thomas Sitsch

Monroe, N.H.

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