Gender Wars In Family Court Undermine Child Safety
“There is no accountability or oversight in Family Court today. There is no integrity. Who is looking out for our children while everyone is getting rich at their expense?” – Kelly Rutherford, Actress and Co-Founder of The Children’s Justice Campaign
Last week, The Good Men Project posted an article about non-custodial fathers. The article discussed how a man named Marc Hudson was creating a documentary about how non-custodial fathers face terrible stereotypes and an unfair system of custody. While I found Mr. Hudson’s brief video both interesting and important, one of first things I noticed about what these men was that none of what they said needed to be painted as gender specific. Many of the things that these fathers talked about, I have also heard from women when they are discussing the terrors of the Family Court system.
This week, I raise this issue because I would like to challenge those of us who have been touched by this broken system to break down gender barriers. A person could walk into any given court and see a father who is being mistreated and stereotyped. Then, that same person could walk into a courtroom down the hall or even in another state, and see a mother being stereotyped and mistreated as well. Even though these two courtrooms might have very different gender politics occurring, they both have one thing in common – a complete and utter disregard for the civil rights of the child.
We often get so hung up on which gender is being mistreated on a given day in court (trust me when I tell you that Family Court does not discriminate when it comes to the poor treatment of men and women alike), that we completely miss the point. Getting caught in gender wars and trying to argue about which gender is treated worse, is the same as throwing those small circle bandaids at a huge gaping wound. It might make you feel better to peel open the package, and stick that useless bandaid to your terrible cut; however, almost as soon as you stick it on, it is going to fall off and continue to bleed.
Real Life Examples:
Many of you are likely still reading this post thinking, ‘This Cappuccino Queen has no clue what she is talking about! I am in the middle of some crazy sh*t and I know my gender is treated worse when it comes to Family Court.’ To you folks, hang in there. I have compiled the list of below anecdotes and quotes, and I have intentionally withheld the gender of the individual this happened to. As you read through this list, I ask that you try and guess the gender of the person speaking before you look at the reveal beneath each quote.
1) “My son told the social worker that “Daddy” sexually abused him. I need to get him out of that house. I am afraid he is going to be hurt, but I don’t have custody. I am living pay check to pay check just to make sure I don’t fall behind on child support. I can’t afford a lawyer.”
Reveal: This quote came from a non-custodial father. His son’s mother had asked the child to call his step father “Daddy”. So when the child reported that “Daddy” abused him, everyone initially thought it was the child’s biological father. When this father found out that his son was being abused by his ex’s new husband, he fought many years in court trying to protect his son. In addition to fighting for his family attorney, he was placed under investigation for sexual abuse before the authorities were able to clear up that it was the stepfather and not the biological father who had abused the child.
2) “I now have supervised visits because the family court system would not protect my children. One evening, I called my son, and he was ordered by father to get off the phone. The phone was never hung up and I sat there on the other end of the line listening to my son getting beat up, my ex screaming, my son crying.”
Reveal: This story comes from a woman who was placed on supervised visits for eight years. Her children sadly endured years and years of abuse before she was able to regain custody of them.
4) “I don’t have primary custody of my children, even though my ex frequently has to be hospitalized for mental breakdowns and tries to hurt herself. When my ex has a breakdown, Social Services takes my children from the house…then they call me. I have fought to get custody, but have run out of money and now just try and do the best I can for my children.”
Reveal: This story came from a father. Even though his ex-wife had a clear history of being a danger to herself and potentially her children, the court refused to protect the children by putting them in the custody of their father.
5) The final story is an anecdotal one: Two parents had shared custody when one parent began to act erratically and started to speak about committing suicide and killing the children. The healthy parent pleaded with the court to get a protective order against the parent who continued to make threats. The court stated that a protective order could not be issued until the threatening parent proved that he/she posed a threat to the children by actually physically hurting them. After the protective order was denied, the threatening parent brought the three children to a hotel, and drowned them one by one.
Reveal: This happened to a woman named Amy Castillo. Her ex-husband is now serving multiple life sentences in prison for the murder of their three children.
I have heard many people throw out amazingly ridiculous comments like, “99 percent of women who come to court lie about abuse” or “most men are deadbeat fathers”. Outlandish comments like these ones are sexist propaganda. When dealing with the health and safety of children, such statements undermines child safety.
Throwing around those types of stereotypes are dangerous, especially when mentally healthy fathers and mothers have to then face those very stereotypes playing out in their personal custody case.
While I can certainly understand how one can become bitter after a terrible experience in Family Court, it is dangerous to try and paint an entire gender or an entire system based on your individual experience. If I did that, I would assume that all men killed their children just because my ex has been charged with drowning my son. Even though my experience was unimaginably terrible, I understand that it was just that – my experience.
Finally, Family Court Judges are people too. Given that there is little to no oversight in our flawed system, many families are at risk of terrible court decisions at the hands of biased judges. I have spent many hours thinking about how to reform the Family Court system in America. One of the first things I wish for is that good parents could come together for reform, and recognize that these gender wars cloud the issues and stop real progress from happening.
I want to talk about a value that is important to me faith, family and friends but first I would like to share with you some things about me. First, I have 2 children Rachel and Jesse. Second, I came to this country with my parents from Ukraine to seek religious freedom in 1989. My faith has been more important since I had my children.. Third, I have been a domestic violence survivor of a 20 year marriage since I was 16 years old. Fourth, Eleven years ago, when I was 7 months pregnant with, Rachel, my ex-husband threw scissors at me and they hit my wrist. I was left me bleeding and my ex-husband ran away for fear of arrest… I had right hand medial nerve injury and had to have urgent surgery shortly before Rachel’s birth The scar on my hand is evidence. It is evidence of pain that I experienced for 5 long weeks .Every time I tried to leave my abusive partner, I was told that “if you leave, I will take the kids away from you” The pain I experienced 11 years ago form my hand injury does not compare to the emotional pain I felt this year . I finally left a year and a half ago and I had primary custody of my children at the time of separation… On February 6th 2013 because my ex filed an ex parte or emergency motion with the court, his threats of taking the children away became a horrific reality. On February 6thThat day my abuser gained primary custody of my children in a matter of 10 minutes. This last year has been tough but I want to share with you what I learned about domestic violence and child custody. This year I learned that this is reality for many battered mothers in this country. I learned that I was not alone. This year I connected with almost 500 others like me.
My speech today is not about Mothers rights or Fathers rights. It’s about children’s rights. Every child in America deserves to be safe. Raise your hand if you agree with this statement. . This year, I learned that 58,000 children a year are sent to live with their abusive fathers . This year I met Lori Salinas Lori, Salinas, my teacher, and domestic violence advocate taught me about domestic violence and child custody . Here is the problem 95 percent of family law cases are settled amicably 3.8 Percent of cases are labeled “high conflict” cases are actual Domestic violence and child abuse cases. 70 percent of the time the custody is given to the abuser because the allegations of domestic and child abuse are believed to be false. I met Lori shortly after I lost custody in February on 2013. Lori is the owner of Crockett Counseling Center, she is a professor at Argosy University teaching domestic violence, and in 2012 received an award from Contra Costa District attorney office for aiding domestic violence victims. She teaches lawyers, judges about domestic violence. I interviewed Lori, a domestic violence expert and officer of the court for this project. I talk to her every day since February 6th, 2013.
Since that day , I have used every day and every minute of my existence to fight for my children .Being a nurse and being action oriented, I called legislators , wrote letters , supported fellow mothers locally and went to their hearings. As a nurse I have applied my skills of documentation to help me in my custody case. I also have spoken to over 500 battered mothers across the US . I wish I had the time here to share all of their stories. Statistics are another way to tell a story
According to a study done by California Parents Association , 7 out of 10 times abusive men will request full custody . Here is a small sample of participants of this study. Now multiply this by 500 per year. It has been going on for 20 years , so that equates to a million children so far. Batterers almost always ask for a custody evaluation done by a psychologist to look for mental illness in the mother. Let’s get something clear here. Domestic violence is not a mental illness. It is a pattern of coercive control. When batterers are handed custody they use access to children as a weapons against the mother. However, I assure you that from comparing notes with other battered mothers and Lori, batterers may be diagnosed as having a narcissist or antisocial personality disorder, otherwise known as sociopaths ,Goreman( pg. 108)
Custody evaluators and judges are not educated on the behavior of batterers or dynamics of domestic violence . They are trained not to believe these women and children . Outcomes for battered mothers and children can be extreme such as no contact orders or supervised visitation for simply disclosing physical, sexual abuse and /or neglect, which is also common in these cases.
Solution: The culture of custody evaluators and judges on domestic violence needs to change NOW because the outcomes for battered mothers and children can be devastating. Custody cases involving domestic violence should be handled by domestic violence experts like Lori Salinas not custody evaluators. Some battered mothers do not get to see their children at all. Even on Mother’s day!!! So what are they going to do ? They are marching in Washington and have been since 2003. This was formed by 2 mothers at that time. This year it will sponsored by the National Coalition for Domestic violence and will have media and many expert speakers and trainers for advocates, including Barry Goldstein. Barry Goldstein is a 40 year attorney and he is also the most nationally recognized author , domestic violence expert and author of many books. I may not be lucky to go to Washington to join my fellow moms. THANK GOD , to Lori, my families , friends and fellow Mothers , I am lucky to spend Mother’s day with my children this year. I am urging you to help mothers and children across the US who are not able to see their children this Mothers day. Please help us restore liberty and justice for battered mothers and children in our country.
I suffer PTSD as a result of ‘Battered CPS Abuse Syndrome’ and ‘Battered Legal Abuse Syndrome’.
I agree 200 %
Jill (chris’ friend)
California Protective Parents Association (which accepts stories from both parents) has confirmed that out of over 5,000 cases submitted to them of children being given to abusers and molesters, only a handful were protective fathers. My experience with Safe Kids International is the same. Even though giving kids to abusers is a gendered issue, that does not mean it is a gender war. We need all good men to fight with protective mothers to end the epidemic. Protective moms can sympathize with protective fathers but should acknowledge that it is happening to them for different reasons. And it is not all about the money. I am writing an article on this and should be posted soon at http://www.facebook.com/SafeKidsInternational. Hoping we can all get together on this and fight the REAL war together.
Cindy, I think a lot of people use their personal experiences in court and like to believe it must be the norm. Luckily, most child custody cases don’t even reach court. When they do, however, they are really scary and just the type you mention. While men might be molesting at a higher rate, I suspect that a protective father might be treated just as poorly as a protective mother when trying to stand up against this type of abuse.
I know this woman gratefulness. She is an abusive sociopath and has put her children and her ex through hell and continues to do so. She has been arrested for abusing her children as well. It is important to realize that a lot of those claiming abuse by the other parent are in fact the abusers them selves. This is likely the case more often than not as an abuser tends to project blame to others as those who are abused tend to slip into depression and ptsd.
Truth Seeker, it sounds like you are making a sweeping judgement based on your experience. While I do believe that abusers often project, there are also many many situations where children (those old enough to report) have tried to get away from the abusive parent. The protective parent tries to get the child out of the abusive situation, but that parent is often punished for this. I have seen protective parents who are both men and women. I have seen abusers who are men, as well as those who are female. When the family court takes the opinion that parents who claim the other is abusive are lying, this is extremely dangerous for children.
Arming these abusers with warped statistics to fuel their already distorted worldview is unethical, irresponsible, and quite simply lethal to children as it is empowering to the abuser, validating to their distorted view and creates tremendous stress on the stable parent often leading to ptsd and depression. All of which is counter to the best interest of the children. It is a fact that domestic violence, false accusations and custody disputes are almost always fueled by personality disorders and the disordered parent almost always projects their behavior on to the stable parent, often being able to gain advocates to accuse the stable parent as well.