An occasional series of interviews with Americans who question the status quo.
According to a study, more than 44 million parents and children were separated and lost in family courts.
Documentary filmmaker Ginger Gentile refuses to write off his plight as the collateral damage of a divorce. She is also determined to change long-standing custody and child support customs and laws that are designed to protect children, but which she says often destroy families.
That is the goal of Ms. Gentile’s documentary and hashtag campaign “Erasing Family”, which began in Argentina in 2014.
“You can’t just have parents crying and people yelling at lawmakers. That can’t be the face, ”said Ms. Gentile, who funded, wrote and directed the film.
The film features heartbreaking stories of bitter divorces that seduce children and alienating parents – the “wiped out” sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers who feel alienated on one side or ruined by grants that brand them as outlaws.
It also highlights alternative divorce programs that encourage mediation and co-parenting that prevent future childhood trauma and make divorce and separation less costly, both financially and emotionally, Ms. Gentile said.
Your goal is to switch divorce court to make more binding joint custody agreements.
It is not easy.
“This is a movement that has a lot of people behind it but is not well funded or organized,” she said. “When I started looking for funding for the film, people said I should go to non-governmental organizations that are involved in the problem. Which NGO? I had to create the resources to make the film. “
From time to time, mandatory “split parent” bills appear in state law. Despite widespread public support, the bills tend to die under intense lobbying from lawyers and the apparatus surrounding divorces and family courts, which, according to multiple studies, equates to an estimated industry of $ 50 billion a year.
Most states do not require joint presumption of custody. But there are a handful that do, and these states are notable for the bipartisan support the legislation has received.
In Kentucky then Gov. Republican Matt Bevins signed a law presuming joint custody in 2018. The bill passed the legislature with 81-2 and 38-0 votes.
Two years earlier, former Democratic governor of Iowa Jay Dixon signed a bill ordering joint custody review in proceedings after the two legislatures passed it by 149-2 and 28-0 votes.
Oregon passed laws mandating unilateral voting, and when Virginia considered co-parenting in a trial in 2018, not a single legislature voted against the measure.
In 2019, the National Parents Organization gave a third of the US states a D + in a report on the progress of common parenting laws, and the group lamented the slow pace of what they felt was superior to all concerned.
Where the movement fails, Ms. Gentile blames the special interests of divorce lawyers and state officials who benefit from busy family courts.
Ms. Gentile herself is the result of such a bitter divorce that she moved to Argentina to avoid it all.
She was amazed to learn the extent of the grief. Now 40 years old and both parents have passed away, social media has become her source of material and funding.
In 2014 she released a Spanish-language documentary entitled “Erasing Dad,” which was instrumental in getting the Argentine government to pass mandatory co-parenting laws. Two years later, back in the US, Ms. Gentile created a Facebook page asking for stories.
Requests came from the heart, some of which were captured in screenshots in “Erasing Family”.
“I was overwhelmed by the responses from parents who were desperately looking for help, but also received messages from children who were desperate to be reconnected with siblings or parents. For the next year, I spoke to them over the phone and found them Stories for the movie, “she said.
“Now our Facebook group has 30,000 followers and I regularly give live video calls to thousands of viewers sharing advice on how to de-escalate conflict and how to maintain close relationships between children and parents after divorce,” she said.
The documentary features a handful of children and “obliterated” parents, the latter ranging from Dizzy, a biker barber in California who is reconnecting with his daughter Ashlynn, to Caroline, who has become estranged from her son Brian.
These families are not atomized for drugs, arrest, or harassment. They are being torn apart by angry adults.
“I had no other trouble than heartbroken losing my children,” says Caroline, Brian’s mother and Army veteran, in the film.
According to a study by Jennifer Harman, a professor at Colorado State University featured in the documentary, up to 13% of adults in the United States are “alienated” from their children – 22 million adults and more than 22 million children.
The coronavirus epidemic complicated matters by closing many family court cases, and stimulus checks sometimes go away when state officials garnish them for child support.
But the huge machinery has its supporters, and they argue – like a lawyer at an Illinois hearing in “Erasing Family” – that streamlining the process “could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Baltimore isn’t a city that frequently appears in urban success stories, but Ms. Gentile credits the city’s mediators with improving results and reducing costs.
“Most people, when they first hear about more mediation, think that it sounds too far out and expensive,” she said. “You think it’s a kind of utopia. “Why don’t we send someone to the moon?”
Repeated court battles are not an option for many parents at the end of a custody battle. Simply filing court records in New York costs $ 110. Unlike in a criminal case, the family court has no public defender, so fathers and mothers often go alone.
“Most people run out of money,” said Ms. Gentile. “Access to justice depends on your solvency. Just because you can pay doesn’t mean you get justice, of course.”
It often takes tragedy to bring the subject to the fore, she said.
This is what happened on February 5th in North Dakota. A man’s former father-in-law allegedly gunned him down in a parking lot over a custody battle.
On the support side of the equation, Hollywood actress Halle Berry sparked a firestorm on Instagram last week when she called the $ 16,000 a month she pays for child support “extortion.”
Ms. Berry can afford such huge payments, but Erasing Family shows scientists at US and Canadian universities who have found large groups of imprisoned men behind bars for not paying child support.
The film depicts the plight of some men being pursued by alimony, with a section about Walter Scott, a black man who was shot dead by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Scott, who had fought back child alimony charges, raced out of his car during a traffic obstruction and was shot multiple times by a police officer, Michael Slager, who was jailed for 20 years for murder.
According to Ms. Gentile, the state is far more efficient than criminals at finding child support ridicule because most of the parents who fall behind are not criminals.
“My aunt once had a job in the Bronx for the NYPD to fulfill arrest warrants – it’s dangerous work,” she said. “Usually it’s not like finding people for child support. And the picture of a doctor buying a Ferrari and not paying his child any maintenance? That’s not really the norm, but that’s the mentality that is used across the board. “
The pay for Ms. Gentile’s work is not great, despite the fact that she has funding planned for her next project to run an Ivy League school. She insists she isn’t there for the money anyway.
“The best part is the emails I get from the kids – I always call them kids, even though some of them are now in their forties – happy to be reunited with a parent,” she said. “What is really remarkable about so many of them is how often they say, ‘I thought I was the only one.'”