Crisis in the Family Court System

familycourtsCrisis in the family court system was the topic of a Dr. Phil show that aired a couple of days ago. He wanted to know if the legal system was letting our children down, and according to the testimonies of his guests, it is! His guests stories were centered around domestic violence and the women who pleaded with the family court judges to order supervised visitation out of fear that their ex-husbands would harm or even kill their children. After several attempts, the judges assumed that the women were lying and denied their requests for supervised visits and/or restraining orders. As a result, the ex-husbands were able to follow through with their threats and ended up killing their own children, just so that their mother wouldn’t have them either. My heart ached for these women as I can imagine how they must feel knowing that they tried to stop such a horrific act from occurring, but couldn’t persuade a judge to listen to them.

My answer to the above-mentioned question; is the family court system failing our children, is a resounding yes! Having said that, there is some benefit to adhering to certain legal orders in family court. For example, visitation orders which indicate days and times of visitation prevent mom and dad from arguing over who gets the child, when and for how long. I have often expressed, however, that overall the courts rarely act in the best interest of the children for a few reasons:

The Most Persuasive Argument

Judges are taught and programmed to pay the most attention to the most persuasive argument and usually the most persuasive argument comes from the most experienced attorney or an extremely charismatic individual who is representing his or herself.  This does not mean that this argument is coming from or for the person who is actually acting in the best interest of the child. It simply means that he or she had the most money to hire an experienced, really good attorney or he or she is a damn good con artist. Judges are only concerned with the facts and not the emotion, so it’s best that you present your case and back it up with some concrete evidence (emails, text messages, saved voice mails, letters, witness statements…). Going to court and pleading your undying love for your children and/or saying that you fear for their lives, apparently and unfortunately, won’t cut it.  They will only assume that you are lying and will do anything so that he will rule in your favor.

Influenced by Societal Perception

We often forget that judges are not little forms of God; they are human and therefore are influenced by society as well as what they see in the media regarding divorce and remarriage. Some judges just automatically think that dad is a deadbeat because it is what society has believed and projected for so long. Whether it is through a movie, talk show, television show, magazine, etc. , they form their overall opinions from those types of mediums, especially if they haven’t experienced divorce or stepfamily life themselves.  That being said, recently society has created a new perception called the lying mother. No matter what she says, she’s just lying because she wants to keep her children away from their father. Judges will be persuaded to go with one of those two scenarios and unfortunately, most times they’ve already made up their minds based on the view they’ve received from the media instead of paying close attention to the individual case.

Lack of Knowledge

divorcedparentsMost judges have no personal experience regarding the dynamics of divorce, remarriage and stepfamily life and therefore rely on what they’ve heard (usually in the media as mentioned above) to give the final ruling in their cases. They also rely on parental liasons/advocates, individuals who are usually clinical psychologists whom are appointed to provide the judge with information (after talking to both parents and the child), solely based on the best interest of the child. They are appointed to give that unbiased view of the situation so the judge can make an unbiased decision. The problem is that most of these individuals have no or very little knowledge regarding they complex dynamics of divorce, remarriage and stepfamily life either. As such, you just get a bunch of people making a bunch of generalized decisions for children who are caught in the middle.

As a result of the above-mentioned we end up with children who are alienated from their fathers because the judge assumes he’s a deadbeat and their mother is the victim. We end up with children who are awarded custody to abusers because the judge assumes the mother is lying and the father isn’t a deadbeat. And all these generalized decisions definitely aren’t in the best interest of the children. The question that remains, however, is how do we attempt to fix a broken family court system. In my personal and professional opinion, blogs, magazines, books, etc., written by people who are actually or have experienced divorce, remarriage and stepfamily life, will help to shed some light on the different types of issues that these modern families face. In my professional opinion, we need more advocates (stepfamily therapists) in the system who are really knowledgeable on the issues of the stepfamily, divorce and remarriage and those individuals are people who are living or have lived it.

Overall, judges in the family court system need to realize that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to ruling in these types of cases. Not all dads are deadbeats. Some mothers do purposely alienate their children from their fathers out of nothing but spite. BUT, not all mothers alienate their children without good reason. Some mothers have been abused, know that their ex-husbands aren’t stable and fear for their children’s lives. As such, it’s important to pay close attention to the facts and in some cases, where extreme allegations are made (he said he would kill my children), to err on the side of caution. If a mother approaches the court expressing that her ex-husband had made threats to, or she just feels like he will kill her children if supervised visitation isn’t granted, that judge has let those kids down if he doesn’t even take the appropriate steps to prove or disprove that allegation. She could be lying, but she also could be telling the truth, and if she is, I certainly wouldn’t want that on my conscious! Finally, judges need to pay more attention to the children and not the war between the parents. If a child has to be carried away, kicking and screaming, for visitation with the non-custodial or custodial parent, that speaks volumes so listen! Children are good indicators as to what’s going on in the home. Don’t be so quick to assume that the other parent must be brainwashing the child as this isn’t always the case. And in most cases, even if one parent is brainwashing the child, it wouldn’t result in the child being forced to visit the parent kicking and screaming. That child may be more disrespectful toward the parent and/or a step-parent, but he or she wouldn’t fear going to visit.

The above mentioned scenarios are the types of situations that warrant a qualified stepfamily coach, counselor or therapist to aid the court system with determining what’s best for the children. The family court system has let our children down in one way or another and it shouldn’t continue to happen. Parents approach the court when they can’t work it out on their own and they shouldn’t feel even more discouraged after leaving court. Doing so, causes and motivates them to take matters into their own hands, and in most cases, that is never a good thing.

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Comments

  1. Kela, in my opinion, this is one of the best, most informative and thought provoking posts you have written to date. I totally agree. Having a professional background in the legal system for the past 16 years, I can say that the system has failed our children. Not only have they failed children of parents who are getting divorced, they have failed the children who have been taken away from abusive parents and who are in foster care as well. Another touchy issue is the issue of molestation. As of late, there is a stigma against women who are divorcing they bring this issue to light, they are just “spitefully” accusing their ex-spouse when in fact this issue is something that in all cases should be explored further. If she is lying, there should be consequences, but the idea that a judge would automatically ASSUME that someone is lying either about being abused whether that be sexually or physically is ludicrious and definitely doing a disservice to the commmunities who appoint and elect them.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post, seriously, this needed to be addressed.

    Di

  2. I agree, Di. If a woman or a man, for that matter, brings an accusation of abuse to the court, it should ALWAYS be explored further. That accusing parent just might be lying, but just what if they aren’t? In my opinion, that is a risk that judges should NEVER take because the only losing party is the child! Judges need to start ruling in the best interest of the child, on an individual case by case basis, instead making generalizations based on which high priced attorney presented the evidence the best. These are children’s lives we are talking about, not a competition between high priced attorneys and bitter, childish parents.

    *Kela*

  3. My sentiments exactly!

    Di

  4. susan cotton sanford says:

    I am in total couldn’t agree more! When a child is taken away from it’s mother due to “who knows who” game, that is when I take a stand! I thought it was just LA courts, but it’s happening all over the country. My ex, an attorney, was awarded temp custody of a our two year old son due to the fact that I went to get help due to issues of trauma and abuse. Now, this man does not have custody of his kids from a previous marriage due to issues related to domestic violence and family violence. Something is wrong with this picture! After 10 months of not seeing my son on a consistent basis and being controlled by the abusive father, I am hopeful that the situation in the ct system here in LA will finally realize the best interest of a child!

  5. Susan,

    I am so sorry about your circumstances. I must admit that initially, when I heard of cases in which the mother would lose custody I thought to myself “how does a MOTHER lose custody of her children?” After hearing more and more stories and doing more research and even speaking with a few of my attorney friends, I now know how it happens. As I stated in the article, judges get wrapped up in generalizations just to get you in and out of court. In the past, the “deadbeat” dad was the trend, so many dads who were making every attempt to be part of their child’s life were defeated by the poor, “victimized” mother. Now, we are seeing more cases that are favoring the father because judges now think that the mother isn’t being victimized, but she’s actually the victimizer. And to be honest, this does happen in A LOT of cases (moms using their children as pawns and keeping them away from their father), however; ALL mothers aren’t like that, and again, judges need to stop generalizing and start really examining the facts in EVERY single case prior to making a ruling.

    Good Luck!

    ~Kela

  6. I take a bit of offense to this post because it comes from a position that discusses mainly the probability that it’s the man who’s been the abuser in custody cases. I’m personally witnessing the dragging out of a case where the mother has been physically, mentally, verbally, and emotionally abusive to her daughter – who abandoned the family home and her daughter, while the husband was away on work travel – and who now is lying to the courts and to her daughter’s court appointed lawyer and therapist. (these were appointed after Child Protective Services were called on the mother when her daughter told the principal of her elementary school that she was afraid to be alone with her mom and was having nightmares of her mom stealing her and taking her out of state).

    If it were the father who’d had CPS called on him, and who’d been the one to abuse the child, there wouldd be no question about what would be going on in the custody battle. He wouldn’t be allowed private time with her, it would be supervised visits only, if he got to see her at all. Instead, the child is subjected to having to speak to her mother EVERY DAY by phone and meet with her at a therapist office – and has nightmares every night about being kidnapped by her mother or about the punishment she will receive when she is forced to spend time alone with her. The mother has always lied to people outside of the family and this is no different, down to calling her daughter a liar in front of the therapist when the child confronts her mom on To say that to watch this “legal process” is frustrating, is to put it very mildly.

    Personally I am completely appalled at how much the court system favors the mother simply because “a child needs it’s mother” – a child needs parents – gender not withstanding – that are actually capable of having a healthy, loving relationship with that child and our courts are incapable of determining just who it is that offers this when the parents lie so well that the “experts” who are hired can be bamboozled by the abusers.

    Our court system is so over burdened in general, but the injustice towards good fathers who are divorcing abusive mothers is so blatant as to be almost unbelievable. Yes, there are cases that fail the good mothers in favor of abusive fathers but those are in a minority by far. If one were to try to find blogs or citings relating to cases where the mother was the abuser and the father the caring, loving, parent, they are extremely rare, as most people talk about the same things as this blogger, over and over.

  7. Arly,

    I’m sorry you take offense to this post. Using these types of mediums (blogging, online magazines, etc) gives us the freedom and access to be able to express ourselves to the masses, however, it’s still not like having a direct conversation with that individual and much is left to the interpretation of the reader. I purposely did not write this post from a gender specific position ( my introduction was just giving one example of our flawed justice system) because I know firsthand that the man isn’t always the abuser in these types of custody cases. As a matter of fact, my husband has experienced years of parental alienation, an ex-wife who follows her own rules and does not abide by court orders and is an emotionally abusive parent to her son. You are right, the injustice towards good fathers who are divorcing abusive mothers is completely blatant, for the most part. However, there have been more and more cases in which the mother loses custody for violating court orders. That being said, as in my introduction, there are several mothers who have experienced what those mothers experienced and I couldn’t discount those experiences either. Your truth and my truth, however might be different from somebody’s else’s. Just because you personally haven’t experienced or know someone who has experienced an abusive ex-husband doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.The point of the post was to show that there are indeed flaws in our court system and truly depends on which judge you end up with and his or her predetermined opinions.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I can relate to your story!

    ~Kela

  8. The court system is horribly flawed! My children are victims. Tomorrow I will be picking up my son from a behavioral health center where he spent the last week in for feeling suicidal. He was discharged from a chemical dependency rehab to the behavioral health center. His father (my ex) is extremely manipulative, mentally and verbally abusive. He trashed me in the court room. He represents himself and I’ve had to retain lawyers to fight the false accusations; I’ve had very little success. He does this for spite and so that he does not have to pay child support. He has basically “warehouses” our children.
    I finally have the documentation (positive drug screens, failing grades, drug paraphernalia belonging to my ex that our son used and a police report from our daughter for child porn found on his computer) all of this while in his “care”. This has been an eight year nightmare. He accused me of the very things he was doing; without proof, and the court acquiesced to his demands.
    Presently the ex is denying that our son was suicidal…he believes it was his attempt to get attention and his drug use was “experimental”… he’s always minimizing and trivializing..now it’s come to this, our son is ill and our daughter traumatized by the garbage he’s brought into his home. Oh, the half dressed 4-6 year old girls were pictures of “bathing suits” he was looking at for our daughter(she’s 13) for Christmas…Sick Sick Sick.

    The court system in my area does not support mothers and children. I know of others who have had similar horrendous experiences. I have vowed to become an advocate for mothers/fathers and children who have been victimized by this cruel system.

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