Wednesday, November 23, 2022

FUNCTIONALLY KIDNAPPED - NOTE TO THE 37TH GUAM LEGISLATURE

Posted by Tim Rohr



The following is a Letter to the Editor to the Guam Daily Post which was published on 11/28/22. The following is the text of the article with supporting links. 

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Despite the automatic rallying cry every election season of “Our children are our future!” Guam’s lack of concern for its children continues to worsen.

In 2012, a local news story labeled child abuse on Guam an “epidemic.” Ten years later, and judging by the almost daily news, it does not appear this atrocity has improved.

In the 36th Guam Legislature, two bills were introduced to address Guan’s shameful child abuse problem, Bill 299-36 and Bill 312-36). However - at least according to the published history of both bills - neither bill even made it to a public hearing. Maybe our children are not “our future” after all… at least not until the next election.

Substance abuse usually gets the blame for our battered kids. However, family fragmentation, a significant reality in Guam as well as the rest of the nation, is the more likely culprit. Following are some statistics published by Marripedia:

  • The rate of physical abuse is 3 times higher in the single parent family.
  • The rate of physical abuse is 4 times higher if mother is cohabiting with the child’s biological father (unmarried).
  • The rate of physical abuse is 5 times higher if the child is living in a married step family.
  • The rate of physical abuse is 10 times higher if the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.
  • The rate of sexual abuse is 5 times higher in the single parent family and when both biological parents are cohabiting (i.e. unmarried).
  • The rate of sexual abuse is 8.6 times higher if the child is living in a married step family.
  • The rate of sexual abuse is 20 times higher if the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.

While we probably are not likely to legislate ourselves out of the moral morass that has given root and rise to the collapse of the family in Guam, the next Legislature should at least consider legislation relative to domestic judicial proceedings to better ensure that families are not being inadvertently fragmented by our courts.

Here are three recommendations:

1. After criminal matters, domestic cases involving children should be pushed to the top of the judicial calendar. Children are only children for a very few years and even temporary orders can last years given that the courts often look at domestic cases as simply unsavory spats between parents. Interestingly, Guam law fast tracks child support but not custody. It should do both.

2. Relative to awarding custody, even temporary custody, an evidentiary hearing should be automatically calendared. As court rules stand now, one of the parties must request a hearing, and even then the court has the authority to waive the hearing and grant custody based solely on the filings. This is dangerous. It is not uncommon for parties in domestic disputes to outright lie - even under penalty of perjury. And it is much easier to lie on paper than in the full view of a black-robed judge. Also, attorney neglect, if not outright malpractice, may result in the court awarding custody to the parent who is most dangerous to the child. Our laws make much of “the best interest of the child,” but unless a judge engages both parties, in-person, and in a full evidentiary hearing, the child is at risk - sometimes severe risk.

3. Guam needs a unique version of a “child-kidnapping” law. Given Guam’s remote location it is not uncommon for a disaffected - but still legally married - spouse to relocate to a faraway state or territory with a couple’s minor children without the other parent’s knowledge or consent. To address such a scenario, Guam adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. However, for the abandoned parent to take action under the Act, he or she must usually initiate an action for divorce and then await the peculiarities of the court’s calendar relative to domestic cases. Meanwhile, a child might remain functionally kidnapped and in the custody of an abusive parent…for years.

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