I had two compelling reasons not to write this column.
First, the guy leaves a nasty message on my voice mail early one morning because I haven’t responded to an email he sent the previous night at 10 o’clock.
Does he think I work all day then go home and spend the evening perusing work-related email? Great first impression, pal.
And then he wants me to write about a domestic dispute.
I don’t write about domestic disputes.
Why? Because one side says one thing and the other side says another thing, and I have no idea which side is telling the truth because I wasn’t there. So I end up writing a “he said/she said” column that doesn’t get anybody anywhere.
Even worse, if I write about one domestic dispute, I get 75 phone calls the next day from people who want me to write about their domestic disputes.
So here’s the disclaimer: I am not going to write about another family feud for at least a decade. At which point I hope to be retired.
Also, let’s concede right at the top that, based on his initial contact with me, Matt Redovian might not be the most charming person ever to have walked the face of the Earth.
But does that mean he should be prevented from visiting his child if a judge says he can?
If the mother of his son consistently defies a formal visitation order, shouldn’t he get help from the powers-that-be without having to spend a small fortune on legal fees?
As Redovian points out, when a man flatly refuses to pay court-ordered child support, the prosecutor’s office is on him like a bad rash, not only initiating felony charges but, in some cases, sticking his mug on billboards for all the world to see.
But when the shoe is on the other foot — a custodial parent blowing off a court order allowing the other parent to see the child every other weekend — nobody in authority rushes to that parent’s defense.
Here’s why: Our lawmakers have decreed that failure to pay child support is a criminal act, but failure to obey a visitation order is merely a civil matter. Therefore, neither the police nor the prosecutor’s office can do much about it.
As a result, we get stats like this:
• Number of parents charged with felonies by the Summit County prosecutor this year for failing to pay child support: 157.
• Number of parents charged by the prosecutor for failing to heed visitation orders: 0.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh says that’s one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of her job, and the misperception bothers her — although she understands why it exists.
“The two [child support and visitation] can be pretty closely related,” she says. “It’s not uncommon that somebody is not paying child support because they aren’t getting visitation, or somebody isn’t giving visitation because they aren’t receiving child support.”
So shouldn’t the legislature equalize the penalties?
“It’s a tough issue,” Walsh said. Decades ago, the law said that “if the woman was denying visitation, she wasn’t entitled to child support. I suspect that got changed because really the issue is, ‘This is child support for the child.’ So you’re punishing the child for the behavior of the mother.”
But isn’t the child also being unfairly punished if he or she is being deprived of a relationship with the father simply because the father and mother can’t get along?
“I think there’s plenty of data to show that if the father is actively involved in his child’s life, it is a positive thing for the child,” Walsh said.
There sure is. When both parties are fit parents, the obvious goal is to find a way for the child to have meaningful relationships with both of them.
That’s why the Summit County Domestic Relations Court in many disputes tries to guide families into a host of diversion, educational and mediation programs.
But in a case where the custodial parent simply refuses to cooperate on visitation, the noncustodial parent has to file a contempt of court motion, pay a $215 filing fee and usually another $600 to $750 for an attorney.
Walsh says she thinks most folks are too intimidated to take action without an attorney but would do just fine by themselves, because the forms are largely self-explanatory and Domestic Relations personnel will explain how to fill them out.
Next comes a hearing. But that can be a long wait. Such is the current backlog that someone filing tomorrow morning would wait at least a month for a hearing with a magistrate. Although the magistrate could rule immediately, in cases where the facts aren’t immediately evident, the proceedings could last another six to nine months.
The custodial parent could go to jail if found guilty, but almost never does if he or she begins to comply.
Meanwhile, Matt Redovian continues to live in limbo. He says his ex-wife hasn’t allowed him to see his son since mid-August.
Second impressions can be better. When I met him at the custom cabinetmaking shop in Green where he works for his father, he sounded fairly rational.
Speaking about his 10-year-old, he said, “I have no idea what his perception of me will be when I do get to see him again. He might think I just up and walked out of his life.”
Redovian is paying $279 per month in child support, with the payments automatically deducted from his paycheck.
“The system doesn’t do anything to really help,” he says. “They sit back and let it happen, and you’re kind of pushed into being an absentee parent. That’s a choice I would never make.”
He says an uncooperative parent should be prosecuted without the wronged parent having to initiate the action — as is the case when someone violates a restraining order.
“If you don’t have the [financial] resources, it gets to a point that you have to give up,” he said.
I know very little about Matt Redovian. I know even less about his former wife, Claire Miller. So I don’t know who has done what.
She says he’s a drunk and would endanger their child. He says he was interviewed at length by Children Services and that Children Services concluded he was nothing of the sort. She says he’s lying. Children Services says it can’t comment.
See why I never write about domestic disputes?
She says their son is afraid of staying with his father because of the alcohol issue. He says she has brainwashed the son.
She says the father has made no effort to contact her for two months. He says he phones and texts repeatedly and gets no response.
She says a lot of other things, and he says a lot of other things. This much is clear: A judge said he should be able to hang out with his son every other weekend. Until she proves the father is unfit, she is openly defying the court.
The state Legislature should level that playing field. If failing to pay child support is a crime — which it should be — failing to adhere to visitation orders should be, too.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.