Sky Metalwala's Dad Is Victim of Family Court Bias, Activists Say

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In this week's cover story, we write about the way flimsy domestic violence allegations can be used in family court to separate dads from their kids. Some dads' rights activists say that's just what happened in the case of Sky Metalwala's father.

Sky, you'll remember, is the two-year-old who in November mysteriously disappeared while in the care of her mother, Julia Birkyukova. She claimed that the child went missing after she left him in a car that had run out of gas, but police have said the story doesn't add up, not least because the car started right up when officers examined it.

Birkyukova had gained custody not only of Sky but four-year-old daughter Maile after saying she had been abused by her husband, Solomon Metalwala. A protection order signed by Commissioner Jacqueline Jeske in March of last year restricted Metalwala's access to his children to "supervised" visits, meaning he could only see them in the presence of a professional paid to monitor the interaction at all times.

Jeske also made the visits conditional upon Metalwala participating in domestic violence treatment, naming Wellspring Family Services and Doug Bartholomew as two potential providers of this treatment. (Both play a role in this week's cover story, as does Jeske.)

After Sky went missing, and Maile was placed in foster care, a national group called Fathers and Families started a campaign to reunite the girl with her father. The group claimed that "spurious abuse allegations" had been given credence by Jeske, "a former domestic violence prosecutor with a reputation for rubber-stamping domestic violence protection orders."

To be fair, Birkyukova's allegations were more serious than those sometimes seen in family court. She was not talking about a shove or yelling or criticism - some of the things that can pass for domestic violence. In a declaration to the court, she claimed Metalwala regularly beat her, and was starting to do the same to the children.

A CPS investigator who looked into alleged abuse of Maile had declared Birkyukova's allegation to be founded before Jeske signed her order. The commissioner could not have known that Metalwala's appeal of that determination would get it reversed.

Yet, given the way family court operates, it's questionable whether Metalwala got a fair hearing. For one thing, the rushed proceedings, typically lasting about 20 minutes, don't allow for a real investigation into the truth.

"The wrong parent might have won," assistant attorney general Tom Masco said at a later court hearing after Sky had disappeared. Metalwala did win custody of Maile on that December day.

Even so, nobody can say with any certainty what went on in that family.

Yet the question that remains is how many wrong parents keep winning in a system that is stacked against dads.

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