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LaMusga move-away case: Fathers' rights showdown in CA Supreme Court

By Glenn Sacks
web posted November 24, 2003

We have a fathers' rights showdown pending in the California Supreme Court. Some of you may have seen my recent newspaper column on the new move-away law which the legislature passed and which Gray Davis signed right before he left office.

Since the 1996 Burgess decision, California custodial parents, usually mothers, have generally been able to move children. In some cases, courts have even allowed children to be moved out of the country, as far away as New Zealand and Zaire. Last year the California Supreme Court voted 6-0 to revisit the move-away issue by hearing the LaMusga move-away case.

Dozens of feminist groups nationwide have joined together to support a move-away momís attempt to separate her children from the father they love and need, and to ensure that California custodial mothers will continue to have the right to move kids hundreds or thousands of miles away from their fathers.

Against all of them stands one loving father and his tenacious attorney.

Gary LaMusga has fought a seven-year battle to prevent his two boys, now aged 11 and 9, from being moved 2,400 miles away from him. Last summer his ex-wife Susan Navarro defied a court order and moved his children 750 miles away to Arizona (after originally seeking to move to Ohio). Gary owns a small business in Northern California and is unable to leave it and follow his children due to large child support obligations. As I wrote in a recent newspaper column, "this is a common problem for noncustodial fathers, whose financial obligations often chain them to their jobs in the original locale while they are powerless to prevent their children from being moved far away from them."

As a menís and fathers issues columnist and talk show host I get thousands of letters from fathers with every horror imaginable in them but I have to say that in this case I heard a new one. The parenting time Gary LaMusga was allowed was limited, as it is with most fathers, so Gary volunteered in his sonís kindergarten classroom and on school field trips so he could have more time to be around his son.

According to the court testimony of his sonís kindergarten teacher, Garyís ex-wife Susan asked the school to keep track of the time Gary spent volunteering in his little sonís kindergarten classroom so she could deduct it from his visitation time! Iíll repeat that -- she asked the school to keep track of the time Gary spent volunteering in his little sonís kindergarten classroom so she could deduct it from his visitation time! Unbelievable.

As weíve discussed before on this program, the modern feminist mentality -- and I distinguish that from the feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, which was equity based -- the modern feminist mentality as it is played out in family law is too often a mentality of selfishness and anti-male bigotry. The LaMusga case is a perfect example. I want to read to you part of a press release which a feminist group released in support of the move-away mom over the summer. It tells you all you need to know about the anti-father mentality of these groups.

The group is the called the National Coalition for Family Justice of California and the release is called "LaMusga v. LaMusga -- Justice Delayed is Justice Denied."

It reads:

The 1996 landmark California Supreme Court case In Re Marriage of Burgess was supposed to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

Suzy Navarro, her husband Todd, and her children moved this week from their little rented house in Pleasanton, California, to a spacious new home purchased in Mesa, Arizona.

They just could not wait any longer.

The latest in a rancorous seven-year battle with the boys' father, Navarro's first husband, Gary LaMusga, has been languishing in the California Supreme Court since September 2002...the issue to be decided...is whether the family may move -- not to Arizona -- but to Ohio....It was Suzy Navarro's second request to move to Ohio...the state in which she grew up and has family, in order to go to law school, a life-long dream. That dream was thwarted when her first request to move was denied.

What? Children should be moved 2,400 miles away from their father so mom can go to law school? Usually divorcing mothers lay on some con job about being abused or mistreated -- the best justification these feminists can come up with is this nonsense about going to law school? Thatís more important than children having a father?

One more point -- California probably has more law schools that any state in the US. When my wife decided to go to law school a few years ago I looked them up for her to get the details and there were law schools all over the place. Yes, I know some of my opponents think that I must keep my wife barefoot and in the kitchen but actually my wife is a highly educated woman, with a masterís degree, and soon a law degree.

I made my wife a long list of the different California law schools with their various accreditations, etc. In fact, to show you the kind of guy I am, Iím going to send Suzy Navarro my list of law schools. I have her attorneyís mailing address right here and Iím going to send Suzy the list of California law schools so she can realize her dream. She could go to law school and, just as a little added bonus, her kids could have a father!

Back to the press release:

...the seven-year-long forced march through an expensive legal nightmare...has... disrupted the family's schedule...Meals, bedtimes, education and study habits, after-school play...all have been sacrificed to accommodate court orders made to appease LaMusga, whose claims have succeeded in holding the lives and futures of five other people twisting at the mercy of the system.

A father fighting to be a father means mom is "twisting at the mercy of the system?" It's wrong for Gary LaMusga to want to be with his children? This is typical of the way divorced dads are treated -- it's like you're imposing on everybody when you want to spend time with your own children. I want to read my kids a bedtime story, I want to take my girl to her ballet lesson -- I'm sorry, I'm bad, I'm bothering you, I'm a jerk, I'm sorry I'm inconveniencing you.

Here the group gives the motherís version of the background:

Suzy and Gary LaMusga, a well-to-do businessman, divorced in 1996.

I love that -- a "well-to-do" businessman. Translation -- he worked his butt off to give his children and his ungrateful wife a good standard of living.

At that time, the California family court awarded sole physical custody of the boys to their mother, who had been their primary caregiver since their births.

The primary caregiver -- weíre going to hear that one over and over again. Thatís always the pretext for anti-father family court discrimination -- the primary caregiver. Well, just because one parent is the primary caregiver doesnít mean the children donít love and need the other parent just as much. I was a stay-at-home dad for several years, and even now Iím still the primary caregiver for my two children, and you know what? It doesnít make me a goddamned saint. It doesnít mean that on divorce I should have all the moral authority and I should control the kids and my wife should be pushed out. Feminists portray care giving as a big sacrifice and act like women deserve a big reward for it -- I consider myself to have been tremendously lucky to have the opportunity to be my kidsí primary caregiver, and the years when I was a stay at home dad with little daughter were by far the greatest years of my life.

You hear some women complain "oh, I was the one who had to get up in the middle of the night when the children had a bad dream" like itís such a burden. Well, whenever my girl has a bad dream she always calls for me and I can say honestly that there has never been one time in all these years when I have gotten up to comfort my daughter that I have ever resented it or seen it as being some kind of a burden. Having that beautiful little angel cling to me and put her head on my shoulder is a burden? Thatís something to complain about?

Back to the press release:

Suzy Poston, the youngest of eight children, had grown up in Ohio, and had moved to California to join her husband when they married in 1988. The marriage lasted seven years. A finance major in college, Suzy had dropped out of graduate school in 1982 for lack of funds. She got a job as a flight attendant, then rapidly was promoted into management...Suzy saved her money and held onto her goal of becoming a lawyer (Sigh)... But marriage to LaMusga meant a move to a new state, the cessation of her blossoming career with the airlines, and a lifestyle as homemaker...In a few years there was a baby... (sigh)... and then another one.

Boy what a jerk Gary LaMusga is -- forcing poor Suzy to give up her great career as a flight attendant -- as a flight attendant! -- to be a homemaker to the children she wanted and to live in the nice house she wanted. It reminds me of a Herman comic strip I saw a long time ago where a man looks at his wife and says "You wanted the house, you wanted the kids, you wanted the furniture and now you want to be liberated!" This whole thing about the miserable life of a stay at home mom is one big con game designed to make men feel guilty and give women whatever it is they want. Did Gary LaMusga force this woman to do any of this? Would she have been willing to let Gary stay home with the kids and go out and support the family all by herself? Of course not. After all of his hard work Gary LaMusga must be wondering why he bothered.

Back to the press release:

After her divorce, Suzy was ready to try again. She asked the court to permit her to move with her children to Cleveland, Ohio, where she had been accepted at Case Western Reserve Law School.

Accepted at Case Western Reserve Law School? Who the hell ever heard of that? She lives within commuting distance of Boalt Hall, Golden Gate Law school, Hastings and several others and she needs to move 2,400 miles away to go to Case Western Reserve Law School?

Back to the Press Release:

But the California court said "no"... So Suzy stayed. And cooperated. And did everything the courts and therapists told her to do...but LaMusga relationship with the boys did not improve...despite efforts by all parties.

You can see poor Suzyís frustration here -- sheís doing everything she can to promote the relationship between her boys and their father but she just canít get it to improve. Sheís trying but she just canít do it. I want to read to you a section of the court transcript which will give you a good idea of just how hard poor Suzy has worked to foster the relationship between her boys and their father.

According to the court testimony of her sonís kindergarten teacher, the boy told the teacher that "my dad lies in court...if you tell the judge...he could talk to you." Thatís funny because my daughter is in kindergarten right now and sheís the smartest little girl in the world but I canít quite imagine her coming up with ideas like that on her own. Who could have put these ideas into Gary LaMusgaís five year old sonís head?

According to the testimony of the kindergarten teacher, she asked the boy this and the boy said that his mom told him these things. The same mother who has worked so hard to foster the relationship between her sons and their father.

The teacher also testified:

" He spoke to me with a similar conversation...I finally sat down with him and told him that it was OK for him to love his daddy. I basically gave him permission to love his father. And he seemed brightened by that."

Gee, like itís a revelation -- he can love his dad, too! Mom never allowed him to do that!

The teacher continued:

" The next day that Gary had seen the kids he came to me the following morning and said ,íwhat did you say to him?...He was so happy. He just greeted me with open arms...we had one of the best evenings that we have had in a long time.í "

The teacher's testimony continued:

" And I just shared with Gary at that point that I had given his son permission to love his father....Iím not sure that he was aware that he could do that."

Sigh... thanks mom. This is a kid in kindergarten and this is what his so-called cooperative mother is putting him through. The custody evaluator testified that he was unable to cite a single instance in five years where Suzy Navarro had done anything to foster the relationship between the boys and their father. Obviously she had done many things to interfere with it.

Back to the press release:

The parents had difficulty getting along, and disagreed about LaMusga's sometimes harsh parenting practices.

Ahhhhh -- "harsh parenting practices!" This is another con game. Let me explain to you what a woman means when she says her husband uses "harsh parenting practices." It means that when dad tells his kid to do something he expects him to do it.

Men's issues author Warren Farrell talks about this -- how when a child does not follow a mother's request, she tends to repeat the request, raise her voice, or feel guilty and back down. But fathers tend to make the consequences of disobedience clear from the beginning, and then follow through on them, at which point mom often canít stand it and thinks youíre being "harsh." Fathers keep kids in line and too many mothers undermine this.

Back to the press release:

In 1998, Suzy met Todd Navarro and remarried. The next year they had a baby daughter. A year after that, in December 2000, Suzy Navarro again asked the California courts if she could move. The growing family needed money. Todd Navarro had been offered a position in Ohio that nearly doubled his salary.

We would never accept this argument if it were made on behalf of a man. Can you imagine if I, as the primary care giver for my kids, announced on this show that Iíve divorced my wife, got custody, and have decided to move with the kids 2,400 miles away from their mother so I can be with my new honey? Can you imagine? Everybody listening to this show would be outraged -- the boards would be lit up with women wanting to tear me limb from limb -- and theyíd be right! Yet thatís exactly what has been done to Gary LaMusga.

Back to the press release:

Suzy Navarro had started thinking about the possibilities back home, the lower cost of living...

Thatís a nice plan -- get Gary LaMusgaís child support from California, where wages and child support guidelines are high, and then move to a state where the cost of living is lower.

...the help of extended family that Suzy did not have in California...

Of course -- obviously uncle Bob is a lot more important to a boy than his OWN FATHER.

...of ending the ongoing conflicts with Gary LaMusga...

Meaning hammering the final nail in Garyís coffin.

...and of maybe finally going back to law school.

Yes, the law school 2,400 miles away as opposed to the one 25 miles away.

In order to not lose the position, Todd Navarro moved to Ohio ahead of his family and they waited for California courts.

But in August 2001 Superior Court Judge Terence Bruiniers again said "no"....The court reasoned that a move of more than 2,000 miles would interfere with the relationship between LaMusga and his sons.

Gee, you think?

The judge told the boys' mother that if she moved to Ohio, the children would be removed from her custody and sent to live with their father.

Now thereís a judge -- Terence Bruiniers -- if mom tries to destroy the relationship between the boys and their father, then have the kids live with their father -- I love it.

Despite this, in the end mom defies a court order and moves to Arizona with the kids -- 750 miles away from their father.


This radio commentary was delivered by Glenn Sacks during his 11/16/03 broadcast. His Side with Glenn Sacks, can be heard every Sunday evening in Los Angeles and Seattle. Glenn can be reached via his website,
at www.GlennSacks.com or by e-mail at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.

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