The Family Court system in America is a disaster area. My personal experience has been on the Family Court battlefield in the State of Maryland, but I know Maryland is not alone in its level of chaos. It is certainly not alone in the number of children who are abused and die as a result of decisions made in these courts. While I understand that not every case ends as poorly as mine did (with the unnecessary and brutal murder of a child), the courts as they stand are breeding grounds for sociopathic people to terrorize both their children and their former partners. Since the murder of my son, many desperate parents have sent me letters asking me for advice. I have also gotten letters from fellow Children’s Rights advocates who seek my input on how to best change the system. In my best attempt to remain as positive as possible, given the dire realities that we face, my best advice for the change that needs to happen on a systemic level is as follows:
NUKE AND PAVE
(Note: I don’t mean literally “nuke”. I am not a violent person, and would never suggest blowing something up. By “nuke”, I mean “get rid of the failures and start with a new foundation”.)
This might appear pessimistic, however, it is my strong opinion that an institution that fails so many children to the degree of sanctioning murder – needs to be completely overhauled. A friend of mine, and follow advocate for Children, recently sent me the following link:
To spare those of you with only a mild interest (or not a ton of time to read legislative crap) the time it takes to go through this lengthy document, I will summarize: The State of Maryland is creating a “Commission on Child Custody Decision Making.” This sounds great right? On the surface it sounds like progress; however, it could also serve as a temporary bandage on a system that needs open-heart surgery.
The commission has 14 areas it is going to be reviewing. Five public forums will be held (The county where my son’s murder was sanctioned has been left off of this list) so that the commission can take under advisement public opinion on these issues. Below are the issues the commission is set to address where I will focus my attention:
1) To ensure custody orders are more uniform, fair, and equitable.
My comments: This statement screams “parental rights”. It shouldn’t be about what is equal for the parents. It should be about what is the best environment for the child. If one or both of the parents is unstable, and shows a history of abuse and poor decision making, why should that parent be entitled to equal access to the child?
2) Study and consider the adverse effects of child custody litigation and ways the court system can minimize those effects.
My comments: It should be common knowledge in the legal community that the cases that make it to court most certainly involve at least one parent who suffers from a personality disorder. If the court wanted to minimize the effects that litigation has on the child, it should focus on how the parents got to court in the first place. Just trying to get the parents out of court is not going to save the child from the negative impact of dealing with a sociopathic parent.
3) Study how to promote and ensure that children have ongoing relationships with each parent.
My comments: This is similar to point number one. In a perfect world where sociopathic people didn’t have children, both point number one and this point would be a non-issue. Instead of “ongoing relationships”, how about focusing on “healthy and safe relationships”? Many children have ongoing relationships with abusive parents. Many of these children either require extensive therapy to try and reverse the damage or become abusers themselves.
4) Study how to maximize the involvement of both parents in each child’s life.
My comments: It continues to baffle me how the government often believes that it’s in the child’s best interest to try and get a deadbeat parent involved in his/her child’s life. I have seen so many odd cases where the court will try and “encourage” a parent to spend more time with their child, even if it should be clear that the person’s involvement is not in the child’s best interest. It is better to have one good parent than one good one and one abusive one. News flash: Good parents don’t need to be encouraged to be involved with their child.
5) Study whether or not there is any gender discrimination in custody decisions in Maryland and, if so, how to address such discrimination.
My comments: While many times it appears as though currently there is a war on motherhood, in this back bending attempt to promote Father’s Rights, gender discrimination should be irrelevant if we are focusing on Children’s Rights. Shouldn’t it?
6) Make recommendations regarding the most effective manner in which to facilitate cooperative decision- making by parents involved in child custody proceedings as it relates to their children.
My comments: Going back to an earlier point, most cases that end up in court include at least one sociopath. The sooner the courts realize that it is impossible to negotiate or “facilitate cooperative decision-making” with a terrorist, the sooner they will realize this point is ludicrous. During my custody case, both Luc and I were ordered to go to a two- day co-parenting class (6 hours total). I attended this course at the expense of leaving my boob diva of a breast fed child (who was not yet used to taking the bottle and cried with Grandma for six hours straight); however, Luc chose not to attend at all. Those are six hours I will never get back with my son.
7) Study how to ensure that child custody determinations involving parents with mental health issues are handled in a fair and even manner based on actual evidence and not presumed limitations.
My comment: Now this one is an interesting point and scratches the surface of a major problem. The issue with this point, however, is that it assumes that mental health assessments are done appropriately. The judge in my case suspected that Luc had a serious mental health issue based on a preponderance of evidence; however, given that the judge was not a mental health professional, he ordered Luc to get a forensic psychological assessment. Luc found a school psychologist, who specialized in child autism and was friends and co-workers with his older son’s therapist, and paid for what appeared to be a one-sided and negligent custody evaluation from a woman with no experience in adult forensic testing. This test was the evidence the judge needed to protect my son. Even after it became clear that Luc was disordered (when he drowned his own child for life insurance money), this therapist continued to practice and likely still appears in court potentially ruining the lives of other children and families.
After going through all 14 (yes, I excluded some of the ones that focused on cultural sensitivity issues and other periphery issues that I don’t believe are at the root of the problem), I didn’t see one point that talked about a review of the cases that went terribly wrong. Wouldn’t the commission benefit from local case studies that are right at their fingertips and a part of public record? In addition to my own horrific case, they could review Amy Castillo’s case. After begging a judge to pay attention to the deterioration of her husband’s mental health, Amy’s protection order was denied. Her husband then went on to do exactly what he told Amy he would do – he drowned all three children to death in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room.
Children have no rights in America. Looking at the Family Court System, it often reminds me of slave times. Laws were made that directly impacted the slaves, yet they had no voice in the process. Slaves were treated like property, killed, and “owner’s rights” always came first. Children are treated much in the same way. Our laws are designed so that parents are given “the right” to do what they wish to their children. It is only after the child is murdered when that parent faces any sort of loss in their rights, but by then it is too late for the child.
When I am asked what I think about this commission or the state of Family Law in general, I always think about Prince. Prince never had a chance in this system because his father intended on killing him. His father wanted access, would cry on cue on the stand when talking about how much he missed his son, and his father effectively gamed our broken system. Prince should have had a right to live. He should have had a right to be happy, healthy, and safe. Prince didn’t have those rights, but the court succeeded in making sure that Luc’s rights were never in jeopardy.
Nuke and pave Maryland. If you want to fix it, start over and make Children’s Rights your foundation.