Title: (Opinion) Child abuse: when family courts get it wrong  

Author: Kathleen Russell, cofounder and staff consultant to the Center for Judicial Excellence in Marin County, CA

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Retrieved: 12/30/2009 http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2009/1014/p09s02-coop.html

Summary: Family Courts are awarding custody to dangerous, abusive parents, “according to one conservative estimate, more than 58,000 children per year are ordered by family courts into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States…”. Victims of domestic violence seeking protection for their children in Family Court are often punished for speaking out against abuse, the effects of this are devastating–especially for vulnerable children placed in the custody of alleged abusers.

The injustice and bias victims of domestic violence face in Family Court can seem beyond belief–we want to believe the courts uphold the laws, that everyone is guaranteed equal justice. Sadly, that is not the case. Some of the most horrendous stories of abuse and injustice come from Family Court. In her article “Child abuse, when family courts get it wrong”, Kathleen Russell provides an overview about the breakdown of justice in Family Court, when abuse victims are ignored or punished for seeking help and children are placed in the custody of abusers.

Russell also discusses the infamous Parental Alienation Syndrome “PAS” which is used to take children from protective parents by claiming the allegations of abuser are not valid, but are signs the parent is attempting to “alienate” the child from the other parent. The court’s attention then moves away from abuse and instead begins to focus on the “uncooperative” parent, who is causing distraction to avoid sharing custody. Actual statistics prove the opposite, “Though rare, false allegations of abuse do occur. Research on child sexual abuse indicates that close to 98 percent of children who claim sexual abuse in the context of a high conflict divorce are telling the truth, yet family courts routinely proceed as if the opposite were true…” And yet, protective parents are losing custody at alarming numbers, and for many have their contact with children is limited to costly supervised visitation centers, monitored phone calls or other types of brief exchanges.

Russell emphasizes there is a real need for Family Court reform, and highlights some of the initiatives to do so. This was a very informative article, and a great place to start for those new to the topic. Russell takes a difficult subject and breaks it down in an easy to read format.


Center for Judicial Excellence Online: http://www.centerforjudicialexcellence.org