Wed May 07 20:11:04 1997
Attached is an abbreviated summary of the task force report. The entire report is 170 pages with input from: Dennis Wong,PHD, Griffin & Wong Institute, Adriam Robinson, PHD, Private Psychologist, Carol Lamb Hopkins, Executive Director, The Justice Commitee, Coalition of Parent Support (COPS), David Green, PHD & Louise Green, PHD Private Psychologist, Noll Evans, PHD Private Psychologist, Father's Rights Center, Consumer Recommendations, Court Cases, News Articles.
I am taking a full copy of the report to another "father" volunteer in San Diego tonight to start the process of scanning the entire report into a formate that can be sent out over the internet. Please add all of the addresses from each of my transmissions to your mass mail list. I am adding each one to mine as they come in. We need broadest transmission of every transmission.
We need the following volunteers to step forward to help:
2. Court Reporters for taking depositions.
3. In San Diego I need a CFO for a major company to assume the financial part of our efforts as we will eventually need funds to proceed in the areas of class action and recalls of judges and complaints to the California Bar.
4. We need a proffessional in the field of "Mind Control" or "Deprogramming". possibly someone who has done "profiles for the FBI Behavioral Science" to meet with our children to confirm the mental abuse that has been caused to them by the court system. We need the best we can get.
5. We need someone in San Diego or close by to assist in the procedure of "recalling judges". That person needs to take over the committee to look into what has to be done.
6. I need to start receiving a copy of your divorce case (the entire file) so that the cases can be reviewed in the near future. We are going to be looking for simularities, common denominators such as the same judge, the same attorney, the same mediators, and specifically for "standard language" used in TRO's, FCS Reports that would indicate "rubber stamping" or discrimination.
Eventhough these are public records. I will keep them confidential. If we need to release all or parts of your file, we will contact you to get your formal release. If you do not mind that any part of it is used please include a letter with your file. I realize that for some of us the file is 12 inches thick, but we need to start assembling as many cases as we can. My address is:
I can still use more assistance to hand out handouts at all three of the San Diego Courts and would ask our Orange County Fathers to let me know if you can do the same. I will send you my cover sheet asking fathers to join us and you attach to it a copy of the recommendations and cover letter of the FLTF Report. Most of all i need to know exactly what it is that each of you do best so we can call on you to help in the area that you know the most about.
CONSIDER FILING AN EVIDENTUARY DECLARATION TO YOUR CASE FILE ACCUSSING THE COURT OF WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO YOU AND ATTACHING A FULL COPY OF THE REPORT. AS SOON AS I HAVE THE FULL REPORT ON DISK I WILL SEND IT ---BOB
Here is as much of the Task Force Report to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors as is available as computer files. The whole report was about an inch thick, and included a lot of personal stories which are not available as files.
Please take a moment to call or e-mail to these supervisors and ask them to DO SOMETHING with this report.
DO NOT LET THEM PUT YOU OFF! If they want to tell you how to get a copy tell them YOU DON'T NEED A COPY, YOU NEED THE REFORMS IN THE RECOMMENDATIONS TO BE IMPLEMENTED!
County Administration Center, 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego `101,
Ph. 531-5700, Fax 557-4025
1 Gregory Cox, Ph. 531-5511; E-mail: email@example.com
2 Dianne Jacob, Ph. 531-5522, Chairwoman;
3 Pam Slater Ph. 531-5533; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
4 Ron Roberts, Ph. 531-5544; E-mail: email@example.com
5 Bill Horn, Ph. 531-5555; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
To: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Supervisor Bill Horn, Chairman Supervisor Dianne Jacob,
Supervisor Ron Roberts, Supervisor Pam Slater, Supervisor Greg Cox
From: Joyce E. Swineheart, Ph.D., Former Chairperson
The Family Law Task Force 5/96 - 11/96
Re: San Diego County Family Law System
Date: January 7, 1997
In the spring of 1996, I became concerned for the numbers of persons separated from former spouses, girlfriends and/or boyfriends, who appeared to be having difficulty maintaining relationships with their child or children. Having spent over twenty two years working with adults and older teenagers who experience the most serious emotional and/or mental problems, I am fully aware of the importance for children to have a mother and father involved in their daily life. It is my opinion that in spite of the fact that many parents do not choose to live with each other, it remains the responsibility of both parents to nurture their children. When a child loses a parent as a result of a tragic accident or illness, the child normally can appropriately grieve for the deceased parent and continue to grow in an emotionally healthy manner. On the other hand, I strongly believe that children who are abandoned and/or are separated from a living parent suffer serious emotional harm in most cases. Common sense tells us that two loving parents are better than one.
I am sure you are aware of some of the difficulty experienced by persons who separate or divorce, especially when the couple have children. Perhaps you are aware of how children suffer when parents can not live together. We are quickly approaching a situation where the majority of our kids may be reared in single parent homes. Psychological studies are confirming that the breakdown in the family structure is contributing to higher rates of teen pregnancies and juvenile crime. According to an article in the San Diego Union in 1996, forty three percent of households in California are fatherless and sixty nine percent of juvenile delinquents have no father living at home. We tend to believe that fatherless and/or motherless homes are caused by men and women who abandoned their children. You have heard the stories about "dead beat dads." It saddens me to have to inform you there exists in our county a system, that by design and implementation, contributes to the problem of children growing up without one of their parents actively involved in their daily lives. After spending numerous hours during the past several months informally reviewing the family law system and talking with people who work within and/or use the services of our family law system, I strongly believe, in some cases, the very system that is intended to protect "the best interest of the child" actually causes a severe injustice to children, robbing them of someone they love the most, one of their parents.
As you prepare to serve the citizens of San Diego County another year, I can not imagine any request that will be of more importance than the one I am submitting to your attention. You have the power to make decisions that not only will impact in a positive way the lives of children today, but what you do now also will benefit our society for years to come. It is your responsibility to take steps that will insure children have the opportunity to grow up with the love and support of both parents, in spite of divorce. The cost effectiveness of an innovative family law system that actually helps families heal and work together for the benefit of the children will be phenomenal. Just take a moment and think about the impact it would have on crime prevention and mental health prevention goals. Your task is a simple one, but the far reaching results are awesome.
Copies of this report are being sent to Governor Pete Wilson and members of the California legislature, who represent our county. This report is being sent to our municipal and superior court judges. Due to the fact that the operation of the family law system crosses over private sector, as well as county, state and federal lines, a cooperative effort is important. The Board of Supervisors of San Diego County does have the necessary authority and influence to implement the recommendations, which will be included in the body of my report.
It is important for you to note that not all task force members agree with my opinions. It is equally important for you to be informed that this committee did not do an in depth study of the family law system. Instead, we invited persons who work within the system and consumers who use the family law system to address the committee. Therefore, most of the information came from persons who either directly or indirectly receive benefits from the family law system. Likewise, consumers are presenting their information from their point of view, and it may not necessarily be the opinion of the other party involved in the same case. In some instances, we were provided with statistics and percentages that appeared to be contradictory, such as the numbers of cases referred for supervised visitation. Some members expressed a belief that the system works well for the majority. The majority of the committee members are to be commended for continuing to participate on a task force, in spite of their disapproval of the process. Major contributions were made by all members. We have identified some common objectives and goals. In the interest of clarity, the person(s) making specific recommendations will be provided to you, just as I received them. If not specifically noted as coming from an individual or a group of task force members, information should be considered to be an opinion of mine, not necessarily supported by other members.
In many years of working in a field where paperwork abounds, I have never seen as much information cross my desk, as I have in the past several months due to my interest in the family law system. I can not read all of it. Knowing that you will not read all of it either, I have attempted to take a very complex matter and organize it into a comprise report. Please review it, and contact me if you need additional information for any reason. Some people would have me believe, only the minority of the cases in family law are difficult and therefore, there is no need for change. I believe that our great nation was founded on the principle that all citizens must be protected under our Constitutional law, especially those in the minority position. If only one child does not have a parent, but is entitled to one, is that not one too many?
HOW DOES THE FAMILY LAW SYSTEM WORK? - by Joyce Swineheart, Ph.D.
As I understand it, when parents of children can not agree on the "best interests of the child," whether in the process of divorce or never having been married, it is mandatory for the couple to seek mediation. The court orders mediation and/or the attorney(s) involved in the case point out the availability of mediation. Mediation can be provided by a private mediator, if mutually agreed upon, or mediation is offered by the Family Court Services, a department of the County of San Diego.
The task force members were informed by a private attorney that 95% of the recommendations made by mediators are made a part of the court orders when heard by a judge. If recommended or requested, children and/or their parents may be referred to a licensed mental health professional, who will make recommendations to the court. Considering the numbers of licensed mental health professionals in San Diego County, the list provided to parents by attorneys and/or other representatives of the family law system is quite small. It appears that the family court service professionals are well known by the licensed mental health professionals who are recommended to families. Attorneys may recommend certain mental health professionals to their clients, as well. Regardless, the same professionals appear to be involved in most of the family law cases.
It is my understanding that the mediators employed within the Family Court Services are licensed clinical social workers. San Diego County is a "recommending" county. In other words, the mediators are not assigned the task of bringing people to agreement or simply informing the court that the couple can not agree. The mediators in San Diego County make recommendations to the court. The mediators do not conduct a thorough investigation of either parent. In most cases, the mediator makes their decisions and prepares their recommendations based upon their impressions obtained from an interview of less than two hours.
It has become a common practice in San Diego County for one of the parents to allege abuse of the child by the other parent. If abuse is alleged, the mediators recommend supervised visitation and refer the case to Child Protective Services, another county operated department. Regardless of the findings of the Child Protective Services division, the parent who is accused normally loses "visitation" privileges. In other words, that parent is placed under supervised visitation. The County of San Diego does not provide supervised visitation. The accused parent must pay for supervised visitation. The parties must agree on who will supervise the child or children. Usually, the party making the accusation has no incentive to agree to a family member or other entity or person who may be willing to provide supervision, so the case ends up with a firm that specializes in providing supervised visitation on a sliding scale fee. Unfortunately, even a $7.50 per hour fee (some cases run much higher than $7.50 per hour,) may be too costly for the average worker, resulting in a parent spending only a few hours per week with a child.
Please note that a child involved in supervised visitation is also being punished, if the parent is indeed innocent of the accusations. Without having charges filed against him/her and in spite of the sheriff or police departments belief that it is a false accusation, the case is still under a requirement for supervised visitation. Basically, the parent who is making a false accusation is reaping rewards as she/he inappropriately uses her/his child to express anger towards the other parent.
Psychology is an empirical science. Yet, the courts in San Diego and perhaps across the nation, tend to view it as a factual science. In other words, mental health professionals, many who receive considerable income from being experts for the court, make recommendations to the courts which impact the lives of children, without conducting thorough investigations. Most of the information is received in their office and often from the "custodial" parent who is attempting to prevent the other parent from spending reasonable time with a child. Even a child can be significantly influenced by the parent who is in control of their daily life. Whereas in the past, the departments of social services case workers actually conducted site visits in order to view the child's environment and interviewed significant others in the child's life, today recommendations are being made based on perceptions and judgement calls of professionals who really do not have sufficient information to make those decisions. Many of the professionals have their own opinions and biases concerning whether children should be reared by a mother or father. As a matter of fact, during the past several months, I have heard the terminology, "my professional bias." What are "professional biases?" When a "natural" parent who placed a child for adoption comes forth several years later and stakes a claim on a child, the courts offer the greatest of consideration for the rights of the natural parent and the child. Yet, when a parent who has loved a child for many months and/or years finds themselves involved in a divorce, all too often, they must prove their rights to professionals within the family law system that exceeds the "proof" required of persons adopting a child. Sadly, many can not meet the test. They give up. How many of the cases that are listed as having "successful" outcomes are simply the result of one parent accepting the injustice of the court's decision? Are those cases listed as "difficult" actually the ones where parents are fighting for their constitutional rights and for those same rights of their children? Are deadbeat dads created by a system that tends to see the father's role of importance being the financier? Are we creating another welfare system at the same time we recognize the failure of the present one, by financially rewarding spouses who seek divorce?
One professional suggested to me that if a child spends less time with one parent, that parent has less expenses for the child accordingly, and therefore, the fact that California child support laws provide child support based on the time spent with the child, should not encourage the denial of the other parent's right to have equal time with a child. I f the child support was awarded based on the COST of caring for the child, that would make sense. Instead, the child support is based on the parents income, so therefore, it DOES contribute another reason for one parent to interfere with the rights of the other parent.
Generally, in a court of law, there is a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, in family court, if such an attitude prevails, it guarantees a loss to the entire family. It is apparent that decisions are made for the purpose of punishing parents for certain conduct. Little or no consideration seems to be given to what is happening to the child when Mom or Dad are being punished by the courts. It is ludicrous to believe that a child wants to give up one of his/her parents when they divorce. There is absolutely no valid data to support that anything less than a presumption of equal time share is not in the "best interests of the child," unless one parent chooses less time or has been convicted of a crime against the child.
I received information that indicates a service exists within the Family Court Services building, which offers free legal advice for one of the parties seeking a divorce. It is my understanding that the first person who asks for assistance receives it. Offering free legal services to one party based solely on the first one to arrive seeking advice appears to be unconstitutional. Citizens are entitled to equal protection. If the County of San Diego supports legal aid in family law, it should be provided without prejudice to both parties who demonstrate the financial need for aid.
Due process is a right given to all citizens by the United States Constitution. It is a privilege afforded to all of our citizens. A well respected San Diego attorney addressed our family law task force, who has expertise in practicing law within the civil courts, as well as some experience in handling criminal matters. He shared with us his impressions of the family law system. He expressed grave concern as to whether the family law system is following guidelines which insure the due process rights of citizens. He indicated that in the case of family law, we especially need to protect due process rights, but it is his experience, that due process rights are better protected when property matters such as real estate are being considered. He also was disappointed to report that when he questioned some of our legal professionals regarding his concerns, he was told "that is just the way it is, and I have to make a living in this county."
The system appears to be designed to designate a winner and a loser, a right person and a wrong person. Although we have no fault divorce in California, and assets are divided accordingly, the professionals do either consciously or subconsciously identify an "at fault" party, which influences their recommendations. Gender issues may come into play, when matters related to attorney fees are discussed. I also believe if each party is held accountable for their own attorney fees, it will go along way in discouraging courtroom battles. Certainly, attorneys should be held to the same billing standards when charging an opposing party, as they follow when invoicing their own clients. Instead, they are not required to detail invoices. They can simply submit an invoice for a total amount, without detailing the reasons for the billing.
Finally, a significant number of divorce cases are being handled pro per. Clients are representing themselves. Attorneys reported that 50% of the present family law cases are pro per cases. It seems reasonable to believe that generally, a party representing him/herself will have a very difficult time when opposing some of our prominent attorneys. Therefore, do the children lose? Perhaps family law should be taken out of the courtrooms. Presently, professionals working in the family law system are rewarded for failure. Should we develop a system that rewards success? If a family can agree to equally share the love and nurturing of a child, that is success! Why not pay professionals who are capable of meeting that goal, instead of simply paying for advice and in many cases, pre-conceived ideas and/or theories?
Parents should not visit children. They should parent children. The use of the word "visitation" tends to support a concept of visitation. I am appealing to the leadership of the State of California and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to take the necessary steps to insure that our kids are loved and nurtured by BOTH parents, not "visited" by Mom or Dad.
PROBLEM: I observed one case during the time period of the family law task force meetings. I was disappointed to find that a father was placed under supervised visitation due to a mother's request. It was apparent that the decision was based on the mother's request, and the Family Court Services worker's recommendation for supervised visitation was supported by the judge. After the father completed several hours of parenting classes, he ask the court for normal visitations with his child. The judge denied his request and ten days later at a Family Court Services meeting, the mother said she did not want him to be under supervision anymore, and the Family Court Services worker agreed. Later, within three weeks of removing him from supervised visitation, the mother left the three year old child with the father for several days, while she took an extended vacation. The trauma that the father suffered and the risk of damage to a child who was not being allowed to see the father who had been the primary care giver prior to the separation could have been avoided if we designed a better system. These types of incidents are shrugged off as being the "exception." "Why bother to change things for these few cases, where parents just can't be responsible?" Please note that I had never met this family until this matter was called to my attention because I was chairing a task force.
In the case outlined above, the mother hired a very prominent attorney, and the father had no money. He borrowed money to pay two or three attorneys an approximate $1,000.00 each, only to have them tell him they could not help him. "It is just the way the system works." There appear to be many time restrictions when the cases are heard by the court, which interfere with a judge hearing the facts.
In another case that came before my attention, a young couple was divorcing, and one of the attorneys told the mother to go to a therapist. After taking that step, the attorney told the mother to hire a therapist for the child, and the child was taken to a therapist recommended by the mother's therapist. The next step was a request for the father to go to see the child's therapist with the child. It should be noted that the child and mother had Kaiser Insurance, but were being directed to seek therapy from private therapists familiar to the attorney. When the matter was brought to my attention, I held a meeting with the parties involved suggesting that the child seemed healthy, but if the parents thought she needed assistance with the transition in her life, she should be taken to Kaiser Permanente, who is known to employ some excellent child therapists. It should be noted that Kaiser Permanente does not cooperate with being "expert" witnesses in court. Of course, the couple had already been referred to a mediator in Family Court Services. Fortunately, the couple clearly heard my recommendation that the parents make the decisions for their child, as neither parent would be happy with the risk to the child, if the court system starts making those decisions. They took their divorce forward without the use of "therapists," and it is interesting to note that the mother's attorney was angry at the outcome, claiming she could not work with a client who does not follow her recommendations. This particular couple also agreed to share their child with an equal time share plan. The system is self-perpetuating, and when families get caught up into his therapist, her therapist, the child therapist, the family court services mediator, and the attorneys, sometimes the wheel just keeps turning year after year after year. The cost to the State of California and the County of San Diego must be enormous, but it can not compare to the damage that is being done to human lives.
1. The County of San Diego should hire an objective team to conduct a prior three year review of the divorce cases involving children who require family court services intervention. The objectivity of the reviewers is critical. It was clear to me that the task force members who derive income from the present system and those who do not have differing viewpoints, almost without exception. The purpose of the review would be to find out how many cases are not resolved in a reasonable time period, how many cases are being referred for supervised visitation based on false accusations, how much time is given to present their viewpoint to the courts and to the family court services mediators, how thorough are the reviews BEFORE recommendations are made to the court concerning children. How objective is the selection of child psychologists? Are persons influenced towards a select few professionals? Are both parents able to receive appropriate legal representation? Is there any potential for conflict of interest due to relationships between family law judges and/or family law attorneys? Are persons who are going in pro per being offered the protection of the court and opportunity to present their facts?
2. Persons seeking divorce who have children should be referred to expert mediators. Family court services mediators are being asked to perform an assignment where they have little expertise. Some workers, as I understand it, are licensed clinical social workers, but many may simply have a master's degree is a social service field. The courts should use the services of firms or individuals who are skilled at mediation and reward them with more referrals when they succeed in their assignment. There are no incentives provided for mediators to resolve the problems between the couples. The paycheck is the same, whether they succeed in their position or fail. Although couples can select private mediators, they have to agree on it, and usually one of the parties has no incentive to agree on a private mediator, but knows they have a better chance of "winning" with the FCS mediator.
3. The court system should stop recommending supervised visitation unless one of the parties has been investigated thoroughly by law enforcement, and the law enforcement division has confirmed they support the belief there is abuse AND the case has been referred to the district attorney. I am suspicious of the numbers of parents alleging abuse. It would indicate it is being used as strategy, and although attorneys will deny recommending a false allegation, they can certainly ask the questions that influences a parent to make accusations. Attorneys are trained to "win," for their client. They are not necessarily trained in recognizing the potential damage to a child when parents do not agree.
4. The County of San Diego AND the Superior Court should develop a policy that requires a couple seeking a divorce or two parents who are not married but are pursuing court action over a child, to attend seminars that are offering intensive training on how to parent a child in two separate homes without causing psychological damage to the child. They should be required to attend the seminars/training programs PRIOR to being able to proceed with ANY of the normal steps taken in court proceedings. The legal profession should be strongly encouraged to allow the couple every opportunity to come to agreement.
5. The County of San Diego and the Superior Court should take steps to insure that the system itself does not contribute to the anger and disagreement between parents. Filing restraining orders, for example, on persons who have never displayed any conduct that would warrant such an action causes the other party to feel angry. I question whether one's constitutional rights are protected when many of the restraining orders are approved by the court without the party being accused being present.
6. The County of San Diego and the professionals working within the family court system should work together to develop procedures that will help families to resolve their problems. Even the risk to the employees of the county and the chance of domestic violence incidents can be increased due to a system that is offensive to the consumers trying to use the services. It is my belief that talking in an encouraging manner to a parent who is being awarded less time with his/her child would go along way in reducing anger and thereby bringing the case to closure. It is my understanding that the losing party is often scolded and/or treated in an offensive manner. I believe that a person is more willing to accept even an offensive order, if the people who are giving it, treat the person in a respectful manner and point out that in the future, the order could change, etc. etc.
7. The County of San Diego and the Superior Court should take steps to require that PRIOR to entering the building for mediation all parties are informed that they are really appearing before a person who is going
to made a decision concerning their case AND make a recommendation to a
judge. Some people believe they are really going to mediation, where they come to agreement or do not come to agreement and if they do not, at a later time, they are given the opportunity to appear before a judge and state their case. They should also be properly informed that in 95% of the cases, the judge follows the mediators' recommendations. If a person knew they were actually presenting before a person who has the authority of the mediators in our county, I am sure they would prepare as if they were presenting to the judge. Although attorneys will inform their clients in many cases of what to expect, others can be "blind sided" by the system. I believe that mediators should help the couples resolve their differences or inform the court ONLY that the couple can not agree. I further believe they do not have sufficient information to make recommendations. If the courts do not have the time to hear the cases, they need to address that issue, but not continue with a system that may be violating constitutional rights of citizens.
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