This article is so absurd it doesn't even deserve to be commented on.
Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers
Source: Women's E News
Published: 9/5/01 Author: Garland Waller
Behind closed doors of the family court system, thousands of women
each year lose child custody to violent men who beat and abuse
mothers and children. The writer says family courts are not family-
friendly and betray the best interests of the child.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed
are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's
Enews or NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Studies show that in approximately 70 percent of
challenged cases, battering parents have been able to convince
authorities during custody battles that their victim is unfit or
undeserving of sole custody, according to a recent report published
by the American Judges Foundation.
That statement would have once shocked me, but no more. Nor am I
surprised when I read that a family court judge has awarded custody
of a 3-year-old girl to the father who has violently beaten her
mother. I do not even lift an eyebrow when a 2-year-old boy, who
comes home from unsupervised visitation with his dad, has a diaper
filled with his own rectal blood and that same child is later turned
over to his father on a full-time basis. And when a mother is thrown
into jail, denied the right to ever see her children again, because
she brought up the issue of child abuse in a family court, I'm
sickened, but not shocked.
These injustices are commonplace today in the closed-door family
court system. These courts often claim to operate in a manner
consistent with the "best interests of the child." In practice this
often means that a judge, often a male judge, biased and imperious,
defines that phrase. These judges decide, time and time again, when a
woman raises the allegation of sexual abuse in a custody dispute,
that it is she who will lose her children forever.
I used to think that the family court system was basically fair. That
was before my childhood friend, Diane Hofheimer, asked me to consider
doing a documentary on the family courts. She had taught herself the
law so that she could work with her attorney husband, Charlie
Hofheimer, in their Virginia law practice.
Thousands of Mothers Lose Their Children to Abusive Fathers
Representing only women in divorce and custody cases, Diane and
Charlie began my education with one grisly case. I thought it was a
fluke, but I agreed to look at some of the legal documents. And so
began my journey into the dark world of family courts.
What I learned was that thousands of women are losing custody of
their children to men with histories of violence and sexual abuse.
Sure, these cases are complicated, but it doesn't take a legal genius
to figure out that it's not good for kids to watch daddy break
mommy's jaw. Research shows a high correlation between domestic
violence and child sexual abuse.
---Garland Waller Says: We need a real overhaul, but let's start with
Open the courtrooms to the public and make judges accountable for
Get rid of the "best interests of the child" as the standard for
custody and replace it with a new concept called the "approximation
standard." That means that the judge should try to approximate the
same setup for the children that existed before the divorce. If mom
was with the kids 70 percent of the time before the divorce, she
would be with them 70 percent of the time after the divorce. In non-
contested custody cases, the mother and father generally agree to
this on their own.
Most significantly, the allegation of child abuse in a custody battle
must be considered a rebuttable presumption, that is, that the sworn
testimony of a parent or child claiming abuse is presumed to be true
unless and until the accused sufficiently challenges its veracity.
---------- "We have created a system that purports to be a gatekeeper-
-keeping victims from victimizers--but the system is really the
welcome mat for victimizers to have access to the victims," says
Richard Ducote, a nationally recognized child advocate and attorney.
He adds that there has been virtually no change in the process during
the past two decades.
In fact, a pilot study in the early 1990s by the California
Protective Parent Association and Mothers of Lost Children found that
91 percent of fathers who were identified by their children as
perpetrators of sexual abuse received full or partial unsupervised
custody of the children and that in 54 percent of cases the non-
abusing mother was placed on supervised visitation.
One primary reason for what many consider a disastrous outcome,
Ducote and other experts say, is the popularity of the theories of
Dr. Richard Gardner, whose ideas are apparently more persuasive to
judges than the testimony of battered women and victimized children.
Gardner's brainchild is Parental Alienation Syndrome. This is the
name given for the practice of one parent saying disparaging things
about the other parent in an attempt to alienate the child from the
ex-spouse. This so-called syndrome is based on anecdotal evidence.
Gardner's books on the subject are self-published, something that
should give judges and experts pause, even though he does look good
He's a professor at Columbia Medical School and has been publishing
papers for two decades. Fathers' rights groups love him.
Not addressed by Dr. Gardner and his adherents are what a mother
should say to a child raped by her father. They merely discount all
such allegations as examples of parental alienation syndrome, or some
variation of it under a different name such as SAID (Sexual
Allegations in Divorce) Syndrome, Malicious Mother Syndrome or some
other fabricated condition.
These experts are certainly free to believe whatever they wish to,
but much to the harm of thousands of children and their caring,
protective parents, these ideas have been accepted by personnel in
most of the family courts in the country: the judges, court-appointed
lawyers charged with protecting the child's interests, and custody
evaluators such as psychologists and social workers.
In essentially every case in which courts place children with
abusers, despite substantial evidence of sexual abuse or domestic
violence and no evidence of fabrication on the protecting parent's
part, it is the parental alienation syndrome that is used by the
judge, the evaluator or the child's lawyer to ignore and discount the
abuse evidence and to wrongfully construe all of the child's symptoms
as evidence of alienation.
Parental Alienation Syndrome Used to Wrongly Blame Mothers My
colleague Hofheimer is convinced that the so-called syndrome is to
psychology what voodoo is to surgery.
"What would a good mother do," I asked Dr. Gardner two years ago when
interviewing him for the documentary, "if her child told her of
sexual abuse by his or her father."
His answer: "What would she say? Don't you say that about your
father. If you do, I'll beat you."
That's on tape and I have a signed release.
In researching my documentary, I have met many honest, caring and
courageous mothers who, for speaking the truth, have been publicly
called crazy, hysterical and delusional, and labeled with all kinds
of pseudo-disorders for being strong and for fighting for the safety
of their children.
Yet some of them have been nearly broken by the family court system,
and the damage to their children is immeasurable. We must act now to
begin reforming our family courts.
Garland Waller is an assistant professor in the Television Department
at Boston University's College of Communication. She has produced
more than 10 award-winning documentaries.