- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

One divorced father committed suicide on the steps of San Diego's courthouse, another set his car afire outside Alaska's child-support office. Others, in an all-too-common scenario, killed their ex-wives, their children, then themselves.
Men who snap in such violent ways have few defenders. Yet fathers' rights groups, joined by a few academic experts, see a common denominator in these recent bursts of rage, and ask whether America's family court system could be partly at fault by deepening the despair of many divorced men.
"None of these guys are poster children," said Lowell Jaks, president of the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights. "But when you cause this much pain to so many men, there are going to be repercussions. A certain percentage are going to crack."
Mr. Jaks has even distributed newspaper articles to his organization's members noting the problems with child custody and child support that angered John Allen Muhammad, accused of being the Washington-area sniper, and Robert S. Flores Jr., who killed three University of Arizona nursing professors before killing himself.
"Some guys kill themselves, some snap and go out and kill others," Mr. Jaks said. "You can dismiss them as crackpots, you can say we need more protection for women, but it's not going to take away the problem."
Frustrations over child support and visitation figured in several recent violent incidents across the country. Among them:
In San Diego, a man upset by a court ruling on overdue child support fatally shot himself in January on the courthouse steps. Witnesses said Derrick K. Miller Sr., 43, who was carrying court documents, told a guard, "You did this to me," before killing himself.
In Anchorage, Alaska Jed Magby, 43, set his Mercedes afire in October outside the offices of the state's Child Support Enforcement Division, apparently because of claims that he owed $55,000 for out-of-state child support orders. He faces charges of arson and criminal mischief.
In Erie, Pa., Stephen Trieber, 33, was sentenced to death in October for killing his 2-year-old daughter by setting his house on fire in order to get out of paying $250 a month in child support.
In February, James D. Smallwood Jr. killed his three children, who lived with his estranged wife in Throckmorton, Texas, but were visiting him for one night. Smallwood drove back to Throckmorton with the dead children in his car, then killed himself when he heard sirens approaching. A judge ruled earlier that Smallwood, who had been accused of making threats, could have the children on "quasi-supervised" visitations.
Augustine Kposowa, a sociologist at the University of California-Riverside, has conducted studies concluding suicide rates among divorced men are much higher than for divorced women or married men. He attributes the difference to what happens in family courts.
"The man loses his marriage, then he loses a second time when child custody is granted to the woman," he said. "Unless something is done, by examining family laws and having new policies to aid men, the situation is bound to get worse."
Extrapolating from Mr. Kposowa's research, fathers' rights activist David Roberts contends that child-support orders part of what he calls "the war on fathers" contribute to the suicides of more than 5,000 divorced fathers each year.
Outside the fathers' rights ranks, others acknowledge that divorce and custody procedures are often imperfect.

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