Cardinal Oscar Moncur loves, provides for, and cares for his three daughters, while his wife does nothing for them. Why won’t the courts enforce their divorce agreement?
A version of this article was originally posted on Fathers and Families. Written by Robert Franklin, Esq.
This is the story of one man’s tireless efforts to do one humble thing – get his wife to help support their children. It’s a story of the indifference of courts to that very effort.
Cardinal Oscar Moncur is a Bahamian citizen. He’s a decent, caring man who works hard to support his three girls alone. He’s a school teacher and a religious man whose every email closes with the words “in Jesus Christ.”
Moncur married in 1993, in his wife’s hometown of Florence, South Carolina. They lived there for three years before moving to the Bahamas. They had three daughters in 1996, 1999, and 2002. Both parents worked to support the family, but, around 2005, his wife started absenting herself from the house, staying out late and, as Moncur later learned, having an extramarital affair. All that led to arguments and eventually to his moving out of their house and in with his parents.
That lasted for six months during which his wife had custody of the children and he paid child support even though there was no order for him to do so. He also visited the children almost every day, and it was during those visits that they began complaining to him. Mom often didn’t keep food for them in the house. Sometimes the electricity was turned off. The honor-roll girls began to struggle in school. Eventually, in April of 2007, they asked if they could live with him.
So he went to court to request custody which was granted pending divorce. His wife was ordered to pay $200 per month in child support and half of their youngest daughter’s private education fees.
The hearing on that order was held on September 17, 2007. Since then, Moncur’s ex-wife has paid a total of $100 in child support and nothing toward their youngest’s education. Moreover, despite having court-ordered visitation every weekend, she rarely showed up to see the children.
Cardinal Moncur is not a wealthy man. As a school teacher with three children to support, he has little money for anything beyond basic expenses. So it was with considerable reluctance that he reached deep into his pockets to hire an attorney to enforce his children’s support order. The necessary documents were filed in the Bahamian court and a hearing was scheduled, but then Moncur made what turned out to be a big mistake.
ZNS, the national television station, asked Moncur to appear and talk about being a single father raising three children, and he agreed. On the program, he discussed the difficulties and rewards of single parenthood, a non-controversial appearance for everyone but the judge in Moncur’s case.
Moncur had filed a petition to enforce his child support order, but at the hearing, the judge, Sir Burton Hall, focused solely on his television appearance. Hall completely ignored the fact that Moncur’s wife wasn’t paying the support she owed, claiming that his appearance on ZNS constituted contempt of court.
By any stretch of the imagination, Hall’s interpretation of Bahamian law was strange. For a finding of contempt, the law requires that the accused attempted to sway the deliberations of a jury. Given that there was no jury in Moncur’s case and could be none since all divorces are tried to a judge, Hall’s claim of contempt on Moncur’s part begins to look like legal legerdemain to conceal his real purpose – denying his motion.
After all, although the entire hearing was devoted, not to Moncur’s motion, but to Judge Hall’s unique theories about contempt, he never found Moncur in contempt for what should be obvious reasons.
With the Bahamian court apparently unwilling to enforce its order to pay support, Moncur’s wife continued to ignore her obligations to her children, and with each passing month, his financial straits grew more dire. Still Moncur tried again.
Over two years from its issuance, it was Judge Rhonda Bain who heard his next motion to enforce the order of child support. She too found an excuse not to. Her odd notion was that Moncur’s attorney hadn’t specified which part of the September 17th order the children’s mother had violated. That of course was patent nonsense. The motion was for enforcement of child support order and nothing else; only one section of the order referred to child support. But Judge Bain was more interested in that legal technicality than she was in the welfare of the children.
They were the ones who were going without. Moncur had just spent most of his money on an attorney whose efforts had gone for naught, and he still wasn’t receiving a penny from his ex. In case he had any ideas about her ever paying, around that time, she decamped for the United States.
Virtually penniless and struggling to raise three growing girls alone, Moncur was forced to move back in with his parents and cancel the insurance on his life that he’s always maintained for his children’s benefit. Quarters at his parent’s house were cramped and the girls, then aged 13, 11, and 7 suffered from the lack of privacy. They also weren’t getting the medical and dental care they needed due to lack of funds.
In desperation, Moncur turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States whose mission includes the enforcement of human rights in the region. Since the OAS had adopted the American Convention on Human Rights, and since the Convention guarantees the protection of the family by member states, Moncur sought to put pressure through the IACHR on the Bahamian court to enforce the order it issued. He first petitioned the IACHR on August 3, 2010. Nineteen months later, the IACHR has accomplished nothing on behalf of Moncur’s children. The IACHR’s public information officer, Maria Rivero, informed me that it would likely be another two years before Mr. Moncur’s petition will even be considered by the Commission’s lawyers. Meanwhile, Cardinal Moncur still struggles and his children still go without.
Eventually, Moncur asked Fathers and Families to help and, we were able to connect him with an attorney in Georgia, where his ex-wife had taken up residence. Moncur went into debt to pay his U.S. lawyer. On February 7, 2012, a hearing was held in Marietta, Georgia to attempt to finally get some money for Moncur’s children.
By then their mother’s arrearages had hit the $18,000 mark, but, although courts in the United States are perfectly capable of enforcing orders of foreign courts, the Georgia court declined to do so except in the future. So, past arrearages are now officially no one’s problem but Moncur’s. To date, all enforcement authorities have refused to lift a finger to get their mother to pay the sums she’s owed for over four years to support her children.
But there is now a Georgia court order that Cardinal Moncur’s estranged wife pay the sum of $200 per month to support her kids. So far, she hasn’t paid a penny, but at least now U.S. law applies.
In the United States, non-custodial mothers are less likely to pay what they owe in child support than are non-custodial fathers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fathers pay 61.7% of what they owe on average while mothers pay 54.6%. Forty-two percent of fathers pay everything they owe despite being ordered to pay more than mothers. Only 34.1% of non-custodial mothers are paid up to date. All that is true despite the fact that mothers are far less likely to be ordered to pay child support than are fathers. Some 54.9% of non-custodial fathers are ordered to pay child support, while only 30.4% of mothers are.
Will Cardinal Moncur ever get the help he and his girls need from their mother? Who knows? She’s certainly capable of paying; in the past, she’s been a clerical worker for the Bahamian government, worked as a medical assistant and for an insurance company. She’s probably not rolling in dough, but $200 a month doesn’t require that.
But the enforcement provisions for child support in the U.S. are draconian, as many a father can attest, so surely Moncur can expect some help. On the other hand, his estranged wife may just move back to the Bahamas where things seem more congenial to her view of what it means to be a mother.
Deeply enculturated ideas about the roles of men and women, the idea that men are born philanderers and women are born nurturers, simply break down in the face of human experience. These unexamined assumptions lead us into error, and as long as our courts and our laws take that kind of received wisdom for granted, they will remain blind to untold numbers of real cases that fail to fit the social narrative. Until then, injustices like the case of the Moncur family will recur. Often children will be the victims.
Photo by lewisha1990/Flickr