Mark Kahle, 52, says he’s holding on to several gifts for the daughter he hasn’t seen in more than a year: a telescope because she loves the sky, a children’s Scrabble game, clothes the 7-year-old has now outgrown.
Chuck Shannon, 65, calls his daughter “the love of his life,” but he hasn’t seen her in more than two years and, because of a judicial order preventing him from leaving the country, was unable to travel home to say goodbye to his mother when she died last year.
Both men, who contacted The Tico Times separately in recent months, claim the Costa Rican justice system has allowed accusations of abuse against them – allegations they say are unfounded and have never been proven – to separate them from their children with no legal recourse. While some women’s rights activists maintain that the country’s laws are weighted against women, particularly when it comes to family issues and domestic violence (TT, June 1), these men say that at least in their cases, the weight has swung against fathers.
“Women here have super rights,” said Kahle, a citizen of Costa Rica, Germany and the United States who lives in Ciudad Cortés in the Southern Zone. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but for women who have been proven to abuse the system, the penalty is nowhere near the harm (they cause).”
Kahle, who’s lived in the Southern Zone for more than a decade, says his booming voice and love of gestures turned judges against him.
“I’m a big guy,” the former judge told The Tico Times. “I talk loud, I wave my hands, I use body language when I speak.”
He says that was one factor that led authorities to side with his Costa Rican wife when she filed a domestic violence complaint against him three years ago. According to Kahle, he’d discovered that his wife –whose daughter Kahle adopted when the couple married in 2002 – was buying and using drugs, so he “physically threw her out the front door.”
Kahle filed for visitation rights, but his wife then “alleged I’d beaten her, abused her and the child,” he says.
Despite positive results from subsequent psychological exams of both Kahle and his daughter, then 6, a judge ruled that Kahle could visit his daughter only once a week at the mother’s home, under direct supervision of a Child Welfare Office (PANI) employee.
Area PANI representatives said the judge had no authority to impose this duty upon them, and the visits never happened, Kahle says.
The Tico Times called the PANI office, but psychologist Erica Vargas said she’s not allowed to provide any information on the case to the press.
Approximately one month ago, Kahle’s wife took their daughter to stay with a relative in San José, Kahle said.
The Tico Times attempted to contact his wife at her godmother’s home in San José, where she is staying, but she did not return phone calls.
Meanwhile, Kahle says he is worried about his daughter.
“They’ve taken away her rights to play, her rights to friends, rights to the town in which she grew up,” he said, adding that all he wants is visitation rights – he’s not attempting to gain custody at this point.
A Drawn-Out Case
Chuck Shannon’s problems began in October 2004, when three construction workers building a house next door to his in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas told police they’d seen Shannon sexually abusing his daughter. Shannon denies this accusation and says he thinks the workers made up the story as part of a plot to rob his house.
The Canadian citizen had been granted permanent custody of the girl, then 4, just six months before; her mother, Shannon’s then wife, left for Nicaragua when the child was nine months old, Shannon says.
Shannon, who’s lived in Costa Rica for 12 years, was arrested and held in “a little dungeon” at the local police headquarters. After making a declaration at the Puntarenas Prosecutor’s Office, Shannon was ordered to serve six months’ preventive detention at the nearby El Roble prison.
His daughter was placed temporarily at a shelter but picked up by her mother within a day, according to the retired accountant, who says he understands the girl is still with his ex-wife. He said his permanent custody was suspended upon his arrest and that he has not attempted to see his daughter for fear of “trump(ing) up some other charges.”
Meanwhile, a friend of Shannon’s who volunteered to check on the house found that it had been robbed shortly after Shannon was arrested. Items including cameras, televisions, a microwave and a DVD player had been taken.
“I doubt they would’ve been able to get $200 on the street for everything they stole,” Shannon said, but “there’s no question as to the motive of it.” He argues that the construction workers made up the sexual abuse accusations to get Shannon out of the picture so they could rob his home.
After six months at El Roble, Shannon was told he was going to be released but would have to sign in at the Prosecutor’s Office every 15 days and could not leave the country.
“Magically, after being unfit for society, I am rehabilitated after six months in jail,” Shannon said, describing a 15-by-15-foot cell holding 20 inmates with no working toilet and only 14 beds, leaving six to sleep on the floor. He says he was robbed twice at knifepoint, once for only ¢800 (about $1.50).
“Now I’m fit to be on the streets after six months in that hellhole.”
Since his conditional release in April 2005, Shannon has heard nothing from the court, he said in a recent e-mail. In December of last year, his mother died after a three-week hospital stay, but Shannon was unable to see her before her death because of the prohibition against his leaving the country.
Puntarenas prosecutor Gustavo Santamaría told The Tico Times recently that the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) investigated the robbery of Shannon’s home, but found insufficient evidence. After receiving a letter from Shannon last September arguing that the sex abuse charges and robbery were linked, prosecutors asked the Puntarenas OIJ to reopen the investigation, but have not received a response to that request.
The trial for sex abuse allegations is in the hands of the Puntarenas Criminal Court, Santamaría said.
The trial is now awaiting a date, Franklin Cortés at the Criminal Court told The Tico Times.
Shannon hopes the proceedings will wrap up soon so he can get his daughter back. “I’m a good father. I was,” Shannon said. “They took that away from me for now.”
Emmanuel Abarca, president of the Association of Separated Fathers, says the law’s tendency to favor mother’s rights damages not just men, but the entire family.
“It seems to favor women, but really it damages them, because the family relationship involves mothers and fathers,” he told The Tico Times.“Maintaining (him) just as a provider hurts the whole family.”
Abarca, who himself is separated from his partner and has three children, added foreigners “should be very careful” when forming relationships here.