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Lawyer helps divorced dads recover their children

Fri, Jun 22, 2012

Protection Award” from FEI President Claude Ohanesian in recognition of International Missing Children’s Day May 25 at the Union League Club”]

Andrey Filipowicz understands the struggles divorced fathers face as they try to reassert themselves in their children’s lives without the support of a former spouse.

A graduate of Northwestern University, Filipowicz specializes in international child abduction and custody cases at the law offices of Jeffery M. Leving. On May 25, the Fatherhood Educational Institute honored him for his tireless work helping fathers reunite with their children after years of separation. He has previously been honored by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in recognition of his knowledge of the Hague Convention and civil aspects of international child abduction. He has been selected to serve as a member of the United States Central Authority’s Attorneys Network, a group of lawyers who are referred Hague Convention cases by the U.S. State Department.

In an interview, Filipowicz cited multiple reasons why fathers are often dealt a losing hand in a divorce, but he argued that their misfortunes largely stem from society’s “tendency to undervalue [them].” Since fathers are often away from the home when their children are present, they easily become “victims of a system that values them only for a child support check,” he said.

Most divorced dads try to fight these attempts at marginalization. Some storm to court, demanding a rise in the number of visitation hours. Others engage their ex-wives one-on-one, hoping to gain their sympathy through an emotional plea.

However, often fathers ultimately surrender, as they lose the strength to fight, in what many of them come to believe is an exercise in futility.

Filipowicz said the result is devastating for children who still yearn for the staples of the old days – from the occasional family trip to the weekly home-cooked dinner that everyone attended.

Distraught over the absence of their fathers, many children actively rebel. They defy authority, overstep boundaries, and question the very orders they once followed without complaint.

Filipowicz argued that this behavior puts parents in an awkward bind. They want to punish their kids for treating them with disrespect. However, many of them cannot, for then they’d be deserving of their own slap on the wrist, he explained.

While many children had acted out through irreverence and rage, some of their parents had succumbed to petty sparring during their divorce proceedings, making matters like child support, custody, and visitation almost impossible to resolve, Filipowicz said.

The prospect of a messy divorce leads many unhappy couples to stay married. Filipowicz encourages them to reconsider by explaining how divorces can be settled fairly and amicably.

He quipped that “we no longer live in an Ozzie and Harriet world where all families are perfectly intact.” Divorce has become so commonplace in American life because it is often perceived as “the best way to minimize strife,” he said.

Filipowicz works tirelessly to make divorce less painful for all parties involved. Unfortunately, it is usually not such an easy task.

He has worked with hundreds of fathers who have come to him after suffering through tense divorce proceedings marred by bickering and acrimony.

When all was said and done, many of them lost everything. But when they came to Filipowicz, they usually were not looking to retrieve some old memento. No, they wanted something far more personal to them: their child.

Filipowicz has a high success rate. He helped a father from Rockford recover his child after his ex-wife fled to Shanghai, China with him. The ex-wife would have likely stayed overseas indefinitely if it were not for one big deterrent: a $1,000 fine Filipowicz had a judge impose on her for every month she was away.

He also scored major victories reuniting families whose children were taken to Poland, Mexico, and India.
His dogged determination is driven “not by some monetary reward,” he said, but by his own “commitment to his son.”

He sees that same commitment in his clients. They are living proof in his view that underneath a man’s rugged exterior is a father’s heart that guides his every decision as a parent.

When asked about what still needs to be done to improve the handling of divorce in this country, Filipowicz dived right into the substance, examining the nitty-gritty details like a true policy expert.
He said that DNA tests should be conducted immediately after birth to confirm paternity. In addition, diagnoses and treatments of mental illness should be expanded to ensure that parents have the tools needed to raise their children, he said.

He ended his list of recommendations on a far more personal note, saying that “[we must] chip away at the idea that fathers are somehow incompetent at raising children.”

From the perspectives of both a leading fathers’ rights advocate and of a caring and loving dad, no statement could ring any truer.

Sam Rothbloom, StreetWise Editorial Intern

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