Crisis 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
Most 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.