May 29, 2011

Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 8:40 am

Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers

By Garland Waller

WEnews contributor

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

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.

Commentator Garland Waller

(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.

For more information:

Diane Hofheimer and Charlie Hofheimer:

Divorced From Justice:

California Protective Parents Association:

Family Law

Stop Family Violence:

“Domestic Violence and the Courtroom: Understanding the Problem … Knowing the Victim,” American Judges Association and American Judges Foundation:

“Small Justice: Little Justice in America’s Family Courts,” award-winning documentary by Garland Waller:

Garland Waller Says: We need a real overhaul, but let’s start with some basics:

    • Open the courtrooms to the public and make judges accountable for their rulings.
    • 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 on paper.

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.


1 Comment »

  1. I am a mother living in the UK and I desperately need some support from anyone who can help or advise me. I have just received the attached email off an old school friend and I am hoping to be able to get her some helo. She is too frightened to say anthing to anyone, but I feel that this situation is serious enough to invite the professional opinion of experts in this field who can offer some practical steps she can take to get her children back. ” I relay this, not to accuse anyone of anything, but to outline my predicament, for which previous events and the understanding of them, will I hope assist you in helping me. My children made heinous allegations against their father. My seven year old daughter was suicidal and traumitised beyond anyhting I have ever seen or witnessed. I feared she was having a breadown. The NSPCC advised me to report her sexualised behaviour, regression, suicidal thoughts and terror to the Police. I took their advice as what they were saying to me was horrific. I took out an immediate injunction to keep him away. It went to Court… My husband said I was malicious and mad,. The judge agreed. My own near breakdown was due to madness, not grief and shock. My small children were taken to be interviewed by two middle aged police men they had never met before. My son refused to even go into the room. The investigation was closed, because no disclosures were made by my already severely traumitised child. It was judged that I was maliciious, when the could not find evidence of mental illness, and that I wasn’t, after all, capable of killing my children. But my maliciousness at making up delusional depraved , stories about my children, was therefore emotionally damaging the children and not fit to ever live with their mother again.. My husband beat me, had a porn addiction and all his relationships are emotionless . Its documented in my records, as is a lost statement from the teacher who’s child was sexually assaulted by my son, when I wasn’t in the building. Never the less, I was judged to be mad, bad and malicious. Even my objection to my children being interviewed by two men they had never met before, wa criticised for being sexist. I have jumped through hoops for a year, at great financial cost, and my contact is still at 3 hours a week. My children have lost thir loving mother and they ask me why I’m sick in the head. It is sick to think that any mother could make up and care enough about hurting an abusive ex, by fabricating disgusting stories about her small chiidren. I am shellshocked and my health deteriates as I live in hell, seeing my children for three hours a week together, supervised closely and depriving me of being a mother to my precious babies. My social network is intact, because I have good friends, but without the children and the contact with school, and this is isolating me. The CAFCS officer saw them for ten minutes 8 months ago, my daughter has asked to speak to a social worker three times. The local authoirty have not seen them at home this year at all. Theirr school work has deteriated. She has written to me begging to come home. My son tells me that bad chuildren aren’t allowed to live with their mums. But I’m the abuser here apparently. If I don’t accept this heinous damnation, then I will never parent my babies again. If I report anything to the local authority, I’m putting words into the childrens mouths and lying. As if this would be the logical actions of a Mother fighting to keep a bond with the children she endured hormone therapy to have, and devoted her life to their emotional and physical wellbeing, after being party to an abusive marriage. I can’t speak to anyone and fear that everything I say will be used to further prove that removing my children from my loving care is better for my children. I can’t speak to my MP, I can’t affort a top lawyer and my husband is insisting that I give up my considerable shareholding in our business. This is apparently irrelevant, but his lie about me being abused as a child is believed. Are human rights being abused? Am I mad to keep fighting to see my children unhappily exist? Would I be deemed to be mentally stable if I admitted I made it all up. I’m stuck in a rock and a hard place..The opinion of my family and close friednships is not demonstrative of my good parenting, sanity or emotional stability. My husbands illegal activities are ignored and any mention is deemed to be my attempting to discredit him, despite me totally unerstanding that I’m the baddy here and I’m just trying to protect the emotional and physical well being of my children and offer evidence and facts, rather that premature conclusions formed after consultation with the childs father only. I totally understand how the judge could have formed the decision he did, but. I’m at a loss to understand, the logic of only letting me see them 3 hours a week.To be frank after reading abut Richard Gardener, PAS syndrome, social work text books, laws on childrens human rights and various other research that really criticises the way allegations are investigated and the conduct of local authorities and Judges. I’m not sure what to believe, but as a former lawyer, it doesn’t seen fair to my children.” . Please help me . Thanks .

    Comment by angeleyes — September 8, 2012 @ 1:03 am | Reply

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