Sunday, October 3, 2010

A novel way to deal with an intransigent Ex wanting to "own" the children

Picketers paid by a dentist mired in a custody battle hold signs protesting the court system at the corner of East New York Avenue and North Amelia Avenue in DeLand on Thursday. N-J | Peter Bauer
DAYTONA BEACH -- Frustrated by what he sees as a court system unfairly slanted against fathers in custody cases, a dentist has hired more than a dozen day laborers to picket courthouses and a law office between here and DeLand.

Dr. James Wardner, 61, of Mims started paying picketers to stand outside the Daytona Beach courthouse annex on Orange Avenue last year.

About a week ago, the men (and a few women) started standing on the sidewalk at the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand. They carry signs that say things like, "Fathers Have No Rights in This Courthouse."
Wardner, who is frustrated by his lengthy -- and expensive -- court battle, said this week he's decided to use his resources to spread the word on how courts allow mothers to make "dads the bad parent." The key issue, he said, is a condition called "parental alienation."

"It's bad enough if you have one (child) that hates you," he said. "I have five. None of them want anything to do with me."

Wardner said parental alienation includes a systematic campaign to make the children hate one of the parents. "Mostly," he said, "it's the men" who are alienated in this way. "I'm finished with it."

Picketers paid by Wardner have also been seen outside the Ballough Road offices of the lawyers who last represented Wardner's ex-wife. Wardner, who is fighting for custody of his five children, said the issue is larger than his own case.

"The guys are making a statement, that you can't go to court and have a fair say," Wardner said in a telephone interview. "If you're a father, you're doomed because that little guy in the robe is going to cast you into visitor status."

Wardner and his ex-wife, Carol Stillwagon, 47, of Edgewater divorced in 2004. At first, Wardner was ordered to pay $1,800 a month for child support but the amount was increased over time to just under $4,000.

A couple of years ago, he started a court fight to pay less child support or get full custody. He claimed in court documents that his ex-wife systematically tried to cut him out of their children's lives.

According to court filings, Wardner hired a psychologist who is of the opinion Stillwagon "engaged in a deliberate campaign to alienate the children from their father."

Stillwagon, who works as a housekeeper at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, denies that claim.

"That's not my goal," she said. "But I can't work with someone who just wants me out of the picture. I'm in a fight to keep them, but to keep them in order to maintain a more normal life."

She pointed out that Wardner pays for the protesters, while remaining behind in his child support. According to court records, Wardner was more than $13,000 behind in child support payments last December. Stillwagon said Tuesday he's paid most of that off.

At Wardner's request, four other judges removed themselves from the case. He says he's spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on legal bills.

Wardner says the picketers he's paying to spread the word of "parental alienation" are being heard as far away as Spain and France on the Internet.

"People are sick and tired of being alienated and separated from their kids," Wardner said.
Some of the protesters, none of whom wanted to be named for this story, were versed on the issue of parental alienation. Most of them weren't.

The condition, which is essentially defined as a child being pitted against one parent by the other to the point of hatred, is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or American Medical Association as a medical syndrome. But the term has become more common in custody battles, divorce lawyers say.

Attorney Richard J. D'Amico had to remove himself from representing Wardner's ex-wife earlier this year because she ran out of money to fight Wardner's request to gain custody of the couples five children.

According to court records, Stillwagon owes $80,000 in legal fees. She's trying to find a new lawyer. But if she can't, Stillwagon said she's preparing to represent herself in court against her ex, who earned between $300,000 and $400,000 in recent years. He's now spending thousands to keep the protesters in front of the courthouse -- and in front of D'Amico's office, which is something D'Amico doesn't quite get.

"I don't want to get into the middle of it," he said. "She can't afford to litigate this and he's pummeled her into the ground."

D'Amico said there's nothing that looks like parental alienation going on in this case. According to court records, Wardner is allowed to see his children three times a month. But, Wardner said, his children do not want to see him.

As an attorney whose handled divorce cases for over 30 years, D'Amico has seen it all. "In every divorce, to a certain degree, there's posturing, and some take it too far," he said. "But not Carol. It's sad, this case is sad for a lot of reasons."

Wardner said he's doing what he can to fight against what he sees as an unjust system. "I can't get it done," he said. "(Lawyers and judges) keep working behind the scenes to make sure the attorneys get paid, and the kids stay where they are. It's nonsense."

Carol Stillwagon said she's preparing for what could be her last month with the children, ages 9 to 15.
"I might lose my kids in a month," she said. "Whether I have an attorney or not, I have to reply with interrogatories. I have to mount a defense."

Her motion to continue the case is scheduled to be heard by Circuit Judge Randall Rowe on Monday.
Like many people, Stillwagon said she drove past the protesters for months before realizing they were paid by her ex-husband.

"I assumed those men with the signs were impacted by the issue in one way or another," she said. "I never thought they were day laborers being paid to be out there."

© 2010 The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The work of Fathers 4 Justice and the Pain of Fathers ~ Activism in the UK

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