The outcome of my custody case was based solely on the party who had the money to afford an attorney. — An attorney who was familiar with the county and befriended the court officers. An attorney who knew the laws well enough to find loopholes and create legal manipulations. An attorney who was adept at character assasination, and could laugh at an abused women because she “acts like she is afraid he will kill her!”. An attorney who could portray the ugliest things about his client in the limelight of an errant rockstar (maybe flawed but still likeable, even trustworthy). That is to say telling the truth and hoping for justice does not get you far in Family Court, especially when proceedings are complicated and can drag on for years–an abuser will use every opportunity to make things even more complicated in an effort to exhaust or manipulate the system to his advantage. If the abuser has an attorney he is likely to win custody over a protective mom who is facing multiple challenges in an already biased court system, and may not have the resources to obtain proper legal assistance.

 I went to court alone. I could not afford legal help. I was ignorant of my rights.  I didn’t know how to wage an effective legal strategy, let alone understand the laws being used against me were actually designed to protect me. And I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress after years of abuse. I fought valiantly for my children: I presented evidence, I cited laws at statutes when relevant, I pointed out patterns of behavior that endangered my children in the care of their father and I petitioned for a new Guardian ad Litem (was denied). I was a Mom with a “squeaky clean” background, I taught Sunday school and volunteered in my community. I held steady employment and after being homeless (due to abuse), I secured housing in a good neighborhood. Again, none of that seemed to matter.

The court even ignored glaring red flags with my ex–his criminal history and outstanding arrest warrants, his association  with a man convicted of a sexual assault against a child (my children refer to him as “Uncle”), that my child had attempted to run away from dad’s home several times–and my ex’s refusal to get help for my son (who was disclosing abuse in therapy) until crisis ensued. The Guardian ad Litem refused to speak to witnesses or look into multiple allegations of abuse.  The judge BFF the GAL and during the hearings, praised her work while rejecting my valid, documented concerns. After escaping abuse to seek a better life for my family, I lost custody of my children to an abuser and was allowed only supervised visitation (without no evidence to show I had done anything to hurt or endanger my children).

The one, strange comfort I have is that despite this, I was able to confront the man who raped me, threatened me, attacked me and made my life a living hell without tears, without breaking down. I made it through the worst day of my life while somehow being able to keep my head up. I saved the tears for later, and the nightmares and flashbacks would come in the days to follow.

But for one moment my abuser saw me as strongI take comfort in knowing that one day my children will know the whole story of what has happened. More important than the abuse or the horror of family court we endured, my children will see that their mother, though vulnerable and unarmed, was stronger than anything against me because I spoke the truth, and never gave up on fighting to give them a better life.

~ EJ Perth, November 2010

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Protective Moms who go to Family Court without legal representation are likely to lose custody:

“…because most assessment tools used in custody evaluations were never developed to take into account the effects of domestic violence on victims, the tools distort the results to incorrectly show that most frightened victims have psychiatric disorders..Without experts able to refute the faulty diagnoses (and few battered women have the money to pay for such experts, even if any are available who are willing to criticize their colleagues), battered women and mothers of children who have been abused risk being assessed as incompetent mothers, and so lose custody…” Batterer Manipulation and Retaliation: Denial and Complicity In the Family Courts by by Joan Zorza, Esq. http://www.stopfamilyviolence.org/info/custody-abuse/overview/batterer-manipulation-and-retaliation-denial-and-complicity-in-the-family-courts

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May 2010: “Battered women who have lost custody of children to spouses pleaded for legal help at a demonstration Friday in front of the Passaic County Courthouse…

A nearby demonstrator, Kelly DePaola of West Milford, ‘A lot of us are [legally] untrained; they leave you without alimony, evicted from where you live,’ she said. ‘You are desolate and completely vulnerable and homeless. You don’t have an attorney, but your ex does and they can say anything about you and get custody. You can’t win.’

..Administrators of social and legal agencies confirm it’s almost impossible for a woman without resources to get publicly provided legal representation in a custody case. And now, with major budget cuts to state-funded Legal Services, the chance is even more remote.

John Fitzgerald, director of Northeast New Jersey Legal Services programs in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, said custody cases can be ‘very complicated.’  ‘You can go to court, file on your own without an attorney for custody and visitation, but often one side is in a better financial position, usually the man, to hire an attorney,’ he said. ‘Men are the people with access to funds as well as higher-paying jobs. Women are at a definite disadvantage.’” Battered women call for legal aid in custody battles. Friday, May 7, 2010 BY ELAINE D’AURIZIO, The Record, STAFF WRITE. Retrieved 11/19/2010, NorthJersey.com: http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/050710_Battered_women_call_for_legal_aid_in_custody_battles.html?c=y&page=1

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“Yes, there has been a tragic trend in our family court system to take parental rights away from good mothers and give it to sociopathic abusive fathers…There are several reasons good Mothers lose custody and the top of the list is the unfortunate reality of financial status. Fathers that have the money to take a custody battle into the family court system for several years, usually (approximately 80% of the time), wins full custody and the Mother, not only loses her 50% physical custody, but loses her parental rights, as well. This is a devastating and difficult situation for the mother as well as the children…If the father wants to fight and has the financial resources to do so, if you cannot meet or exceed his financial resources, the likelihood of the father getting custody and the mother losing parental rights is extremely high…this is the very real and very sad reality of our nation’s family court system.” Tragic Discrimination by our Family Court System of Good Mothers while our Children Pay the Price by Irene Watson, M.A.:
 
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2008: “…In a report released  by the (New York-based) Voices of Women Organizing Project, family courts retraumatize battered women by forcing them to confront men they fear and granting custody to abusers 37 percent of the time despite the women’s roles as primary caregivers…All the women interviewed for the report identified themselves as victims of abuse and were involved in family court cases in 2005 or 2006. ..Nearly a quarter, 23 percent, of the women did not have attorneys, and 90 percent of those who did had court-appointed lawyers. (The authors did not report how many male counterparties had attorneys.) Sixty-seven percent of the women could not afford copies of court transcripts, leaving them unsure of how accurately the official records reflected the proceedings. About 15 percent said transcripts were not accurate. Women were advised, sometimes by lawyers, not to mention domestic violence in one-quarter of cases, and not to challenge custody for fear of worsening the situation...When they appear in court, battered mothers, still fearful of their abusers and suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, often provide a weak portrait to courts of how they juggle stresses, the report concluded.” Dangerous Trends, Innovative Responses Pt. 20, “Report: Abused Women See Danger in Family Court”. By Alison Bowen, WeNews, May 8, 2008:

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