Rude shock for Kenyan men facing strong US family law
Posted by Administrator on February 10, 2012
By ANTONY KARANJA in Dallas, Texas
This is the story of Kibet, a Kenyan living in Massachusetts in the United States, but also the story of many a male compatriot.
Married for 11 years, he accuses wife, Judy, of throwing him out of their matrimonial home after she started dating someone else.
Kibet says it all began as a row over the remittance of money to his family back home, which his wife was opposed to.
She accused him of being more supportive of his family back home than his wife and their two children, an accusation which Kibet denies.
One day during an argument, she hit him and Kibet grabbed her hands to protect himself. His wife started screaming and when he released her, she called the police. When the police arrived at their home, his wife insisted that she feared for her life as he had tried to kill her, though Kibet maintained he was merely trying to protect himself.
The police advised Kibet to move from the home for a while until they sorted themselves out. He then moved in with his brother.
Judy then filed for divorce in April last year, claiming that she could not continue living in an “abusive marriage.” Kibet denied the abuse accusation and maintained that at no time had he assaulted her and that the incident in question was a case of self-defence.
Kibet was then slapped with child support for his two children as well as alimony, which is supposed to restore his former wife to the financial position she enjoyed during their marriage.
That was not all: His wife was also awarded their matrimonial home.
Kenyan families that immigrate to the United States are usually quickly confronted with the task of reconciling their Kenyan traditions and the US culture.
Kenyan women quickly discover that the US takes violation of women’s rights very seriously, a situation that they quickly embrace. The woman also realises that she has an upper hand in matters involving custody of children after divorce, and rarely is a child taken away from its mother.
According to lawfirms.com, 70 per cent of custody cases in US are awarded to women, 10 per cent are awarded to men and 20 per cent are shared custodies.
Immigrant children also become increasingly aware of their freedoms as they integrate into the American school system.
As they interact with other children and teachers, they learn that they are protected from their parents against what is considered child abuse.
Although article 53 of the Kenyan Constitution provides for protection against child abuse, enforcement of the same is inadequate, especially in rural areas.
Cultural norms may be seen as culprits as it may be difficult for a child to report abuse cases by their parents.
Immigrant parents in the US find out that they can no longer punish their children by slapping or even whipping as they used to do in Kenya.
These forms of punishment can easily be lumped into a form of child abuse. Children are known to report the cases to their school teachers as well as to the local police.
School teachers are trained to look out for signs of child abuse and once a case is detected, they are required to report to school authorities, who may in turn contact the local authorities.
This could lead to serving jail time as well as losing custody of your children to the state authorities.
Out of the 24 Kenyan women interviewed for this story, 21 of them felt that there was some bias in the American law towards women, but that it is necessary to protect them from men, while four felt that there was unnecessary bias.
All 26 Kenyan men across the US interviewed felt that the law is biased towards women and that men often get a raw deal.
Most men pointed to state laws that require a man to continue paying child support for a child even if he discovers later that he is not the biological father.
According to a 2006 study published by Current Anthropology, two per cent of married men who had every confidence that the child they were bringing up was theirs ended up not being biological parents after paternity tests were conducted.
Statistics published in 2007 by Rense.com showed that 1.6 million men pay child support for children that are not theirs.
In many states, courts have ruled that no matter what the DNA results show, the man cannot abandon the child unless he can prove that he was tricked into the role by proving fraud and that he must have stopped acting as the child’s father as soon as he learnt the truth.
Kenyan men, however, feel that some women often misuse the protections offered to them by these laws. Some feel that women use these laws to harass them as well as settle old or new scores.
Back to Kibet. At the time of their divorce, alimony had no expiry date in the state of Massachusetts and Kibet would have to continue paying even if Judy moved in with her new partner.
However, he may soon have some relief.
A Bill signed into law in September last year by Governor Deval Patrick set new limits on alimony, curbing Massachusetts’ lifetime alimony payments. This allows those making alimony payments to stop once they retire or once a former spouse moves in with a new partner.
Since the court deemed Kibet and Judy to have a “toxic” relationship, Kibet can only see his children under supervised visitation where Judy’s brother watches close by.
Supervised visitation ensures that the physical and emotional well being of children is guaranteed when the parents are in bitter divorces.
Kibet is seriously considering moving back to Kenya, severing the alimony payments that his former wife enjoys. He, however, worries about permanent separation from his 10-year-old twins.
According to Judy, however, their marriage started getting abusive in 2005. She says she suffered emotionally as Kibet often disregarded her in matters concerning family finances. “He wanted everything his way,” Judy says. “It was either his way or the highway.”
Judy insisted that she did not have a problem with him sending money back home, but she resented the fact that she would always have to beg for certain basic needs to be met at home.
Send money home
“I have never seen a man slash his wife’s grocery list, marking some items as unnecessary while he affords to send money home,” she lamented. “I just felt neglected and not important enough.”
Judy, however, stands by her claim that Kibet abused her and used words that intimidated her.
“Trust me when I tell you he humiliated me in front of the children as if I was a nanny,” she continued. “I had been in that marriage for 10 years too long.”
Nyaga came to the Texas in 2004 leaving Maureen, his long-time girlfriend back in Kenya. He was, however, determined to bring her over so that they could start a life together.
He worked hard and sent her money for a passport, visa processing fees and an air ticket to join him.
Nyaga was ecstatic when Maureen joined him in 2006. He immediately enrolled her in a college where she pursued a nursing course. Maureen graduated in 2010 and invited a large contingent of friends, but she did not invite Nyaga.
Nyaga did not even know she was graduating and only found out from a friend who was at the ceremony.
His friend sent him three photos of his girlfriend in her graduation attire posing with those who had accompanied her to the ceremony.
He was speechless. He had worked so hard to see her through, and he still hoped it was just a prank.
Nyaga waited for her to come back home and furiously demanded to know what was going on and why she would mark such a milestone without even letting him know.
Her answer marked a stark contrast to the woman he knew and loved.
“I do not go out with uneducated people,” she said. “You came here before me and you have never graduated and that shows that your priorities are messed up.”
With that, she packed a small bag and stormed out of the apartment.
She did not return home that night.
Unknown to Nyaga, she was already seeing someone else and had already got her own apartment.
She came back the following day and carried away most of her belongings while Nyaga was at work.
Nyaga eventually traced her to her new apartment but she never answered her door for almost a week.
She then went a step farther by taking him to court, claiming that since they had lived together for more than six months, they were statutorily married and she was entitled to half his property.
Since they had lived together for close to four years and they had always presented themselves as a married couple, the judge ordered that the property Nyaga acquired during that period be divided equally among them.
Nyaga was upset by the ruling and decided confront her at her apartment.
When the police arrived, she said she felt threatened by his frequent appearances at her door and that she did not feel safe outside of her apartment. The police arrested him and charged him with stalking.
After two nights in jail, the police handed him over to immigration officials who deported him three months later.
Maureen, on learning his fate, was sympathetic to his plight but she maintains that Nyaga made her feel threatened by stalking her.
She said that though she is grateful to Nyaga for helping her out with her school fees, she felt that he was very possessive and always had lofty expectation for her that put so much pressure on her.
“I was going to take a loan and pay him back all of his money,” Maureen said lowering her voice. “I did not think that it was worth staying with him just because he paid for my studies and honestly it did not have to end like it did.”
Asked why she went for half his property, she said it was done in a moment of high emotions and she did not intend to follow through with the court’s decision.
In a tragic incident in October 2010, Justus Kebabe, a Kenyan immigrant, snapped and took the lives of his wife, Bilha Omare and their two children: son Kinley Ogendi and daughter Ivyn Ogendi, in Minnesota.
During subsequent investigations, it was revealed that Kebabe was abusing Ms Omare while the couple lived in Kenya.
When they got to the US, the abuse continued and at one time the police were called in.
Kebabe was convicted of the crime and sentenced to supervised probation.
After the incident, Kebabe was bitter with Omare, who he blamed for his unemployment woes saying that if she had not reported him, he would have been holding a job.
In the US, if a pre-employment background check on an applicant reveals prior convictions of any nature, it is difficult to find employment even after rehabilitation.
An already violent relationship boiled over with Kebabe’s fears his wife would abandon the marriage once she graduated, as well as his suspicions she was cheating on him.
A family friend claims he was jealous of his wife who was working and was planning to graduate in two months’ from a nursing programme.
At the time of the fateful incident, a supervisor working with a domestic and sexual abuse shelter in Minnesota said that domestic violence can become heightened among immigrant families who are dealing with power struggles between male and female roles.
Betty Balan had noted that many women tend to gain more independence after moving to the US. They discover they can work outside the home and may pursue an education.
The men “feel like they’re losing control of who they are, and their families,” she said. “It’s threatening when someone has more control and more power.”
As some Kenyan men continue to frown at the “biased” laws, women in the interview pool counter by saying that only men who are abusive find these laws biased.
“Kenyan men should understand that the days of oppressing women are over and they should shape up.”
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