Georgia: Guardian ad Litem exposed, improperly billing and driving families into financial ruin, “In Augusta’s Judicial Circuit, bills are not collected or audited; there are no rules requiring Superior Court judges to assign cases on a rotation; and guardians have the power to hold clients in contempt to recover unpaid fees, an action that many parents say they’re threatened with if bills are not paid in five to 10 days, as requested. ..” (Wesley Brown, Augusta Chronicle, 11/29/2014: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2014-11-29/guardian-ad-litem-program-faces-scrutiny)

amississippimom

GUARDIAN AD LITEM SYSTEM IN AUGUSTA EXPOSED

DECEMBER 2, 2014 BY DEB BEACHAM

Cases and complaints have been pouring in for months from the Augusta judicial district after we first investigated and reported on cases where evidence was being suppressed and children harmed.

Good parents and grandparents have been undermined and even blocked from seeing children, even when there was no justification for this.

Billing records are now being reviewed and are showing discrepancies that explain why parents are failing financially as they can’t keep up with the financial burden, let alone understand what they are being charged for to see that things don’t add up.

This article by the Augusta Chronicle is based on very compelling research that enlightens citizens and leadership about how certain bad actors on this stage are able to control outcomes of cases while lining their pockets.

One of the bad actors in the Guardian ad…

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Covert manipulation is a tactic used in corrupt family courts…

Are you involved in a family custody issue, and it seems your divorce or child custody issue got ten times worse since the litigation began? Do you feel that you aren’t being heard, perhaps your words are being twisted and used against you? Has a Guardian ad Litem, Mediator, Evaluator, Judge or other court personnel taken sides and seems biased against you, that no matter what you do or say, they always side against you? As a result of the court proceedings do you feel overwhelmed, yet unable to talk about what is happening in fear that what you say may be used against you in court, that you may lose custody or parenting time with your children? Do you feel abused, have high levels of anxiety, fear for the safety and well-being of your children?

So what is happening? Are these thoughts and feelings all in your head OR is something more going on…

Covert means secret, a hidden agenda. Manipulation is using words, gestures, behavior to provoke a reaction, get a particular response or send a message (usually a threatening message).

Covert Manipulation is using and taking advantage of people through deceptive, implied or subtle methods; the perpetrator is usually in a position of power over the victim. Covert manipulation is a direct attack against your judgement, thoughts and personal identity.The intent of covert manipulation is to gain power and control over a targeted person, and to get that person to do things they would normally object to by breaking down their will. Covert Manipulation is so underhanded that the victim may not initially detect that they are being played, and may feel they are the cause of the problems–or may even feel that they are going crazy!

According to Dr. Simon, “Covert-aggression is at the heart of most interpersonal manipulation. What the artful, subtle fighter knows is that if they can get you to doubt yourself, feel like you have to explain yourself, and question your perceptions and judgment, there’s a good chance they can get you to back down, back-off, or better still, cave-in…”

Used in family court, covert manipulation can be used to force the targeted parent to agree to a custody or legal issue they would not normally agree to (which happens under extreme duress or pressure). Covert manipulation may be used to threaten a person into silence–to back down from filing complaints against court officers, to remain silent about abuse, to stop questioning the actions of the court. Covert manipulation may be used to influence rulings. Or gain the sympathy or support of professionals and experts involved in your case so they take one side or play into the agenda of the manipulator. Covert manipulation may even be used to turn your children against you.

Common Tactics of Manipulators in Family Court Include:

#1 Turn on the Charm aka “Love Bombing”
How this works: At your first meeting with the Manipulator, they appear to be extremely pleasant, sympathetic, interested in what you have to say, encouraging you to come forward with information. They work to get you talking, and take notes on everything you say. They show fake sympathy for you and your children. They may try to impress you talking about their professional experience or background.
The Intent: To win your trust, and get you to divulge information. Sociopathic manipulators enjoy the “hunt” — preying on people to win their trust, and having the power to destroy their victims by using their trust against them.
How You Can Protect Yourself: Understand that anything you say or do to Court Personnel can be used against you. Consult with a legal professional, advocate or other professional to prepare for any meeting with a family court officer. If you don’t have a lawyer, speak with someone you trust. Prepare an outline or notes of what you plan to discuss, and possible responses to tough questions. Remain neutral, as the Manipulator may use emotion against you. Do not disparage your ex, and if you have concerns, try to get as much evidence or proof as possible to validate your concerns, reference that evidence or collateral contact in your comments. You may also consider have a witness come with you to any meeting.
Important** You are the best advocate for your family–you may also consider sharing brief information about the strengths of your family, the things you enjoy, and other positive attributes.
As human beings, we have a natural need to talk about our feelings, and the issues affecting our lives. I cannot state strongly enough– DO NOT vent, confide or seek the confidence of anyone in family court working on your case! You must remain professional at ALL times. If you need to talk, seek the counsel of someone you trust–friend, family, religious support, support group etc. Also discuss confidentiality with your counselor, and how your records are protected from family court litigation, what would be released and why etc.

#2 Lying, Manipulating or Twisting Evidence to Make You Look Unfit, Crazy, Like an Abuser or to Portray You as Being the Sole Source of ALL the Problems in the Family (Which justifies the actions later taken against you.. this is commonly done when a parent is labelled with Parental Alienation Syndrome, a Malicious Mom etc)

How this works:After the target parent has confided in the Manipulator or shared sensitive information, they will be ambushed when the Manipulator twists the information in such a way that the targeted parent did not intend. The parent becomes the target–falsely accused of being mentally ill, an unfit parent, making up abuse allegations, etc The Manipulator may used information shared to shock or silence a parent so they can be easily controlled. The trust you had in this person is totally shattered as their agenda begins to unfold and they work against you–inventing evidence, violating the law, refusing to communicate, and other actions where their sole pursuit and interest is about their own agenda, not the well-being of your child or your family.
The Intent: Manipulators fight dirty. They will break the law and ethical rules of their profession. They will lie. Accept bribes. Use political connections against you. Threaten you. Impose financial sanctions. Impose gag orders. Force you into mental health treatment you do not need.
How You Can Protect Yourself: There is nothing you alone can do to appease the corrupt Court Officer. You cannot fix things. You cannot impose justice in the Court. It does no good to play their games. It is better to detach, and focus on your goals and stay true to what you are fighting for.

#3 Provoke a Reaction, Provoke Strong Emotions then use those reactions against you
How this works: These expert manipulators use the appearance of power over you to push buttons, provoke a reaction and even use your children as pawns in an attempt to get you to lose control. If you are emotional and unguarded, you are not only vulnerable to their manipulation but unable to protect yourself (those without legal representation are especially vulnerable). Threats are common–including threats of loss of custody, threats to limit access to the children, threats to send your children into state care. Other times, the Court will not allow you to speak or allow you to present evidence.
The Intent: If the Manipulator cannot prove their false allegations against you, or is called to produce evidence, and none exists their only hope is to make you look bad so you give them the material they need. Others enjoy watching people suffer. Prejudice and bias may also shape their behaviors.
How You Can Protect Yourself: Document everything, and keep your paperwork organized so it is easy to refer to. Bring witnesses to meetings or court appearances if possible. Bring comfort items to court to help you deal with stressors. Comfort items should be routine items, not detectable, but whose significance is known to you. Examples: a photo of your children taped to a folder, essential oils dabbed on the wrists, wearing religious or spiritual jewelry, taking a deep breath as needed, saying a Bible verse or positive afir
Trust your instincts. Take the time to repair your self-confidence, and participate in activities or surround yourself with people that boost your self-esteem. These are important to developing your instincts, and developing a strong resistance–both need to protect yourself from Manipulators.

#4 Controlling How You Think and Feel
How this works: The Manipulator is hypersensitive to everything you say and do, followed by an implied threat or real harm if you do not comply or meet their expectations. Harm can take many forms– financial sanctions, loss of custody, loss of visitation with children, jail time, loss of your reputation..not to mention the emotional battering, trauma, and real injustice/violation of the law that also occurs. Abuse victims forced to interact with their abusers often suffer further abuse, some are even murdered. In turn, you become hypervigilant, anxious, self-critical and unable to think without judging yourself against their standard; your thoughts and emotions are being controlled.

Another tactic: A seemingly innocent action or word will be exaggerated or result in harsh consequences so, to protect yourself, you avoid that action, thought, behavior or others like it. Example: A parent is told their religious or cultural beliefs are evidence that they are “crazy” so that person stops participating or avoids normal activities for their religion or culture.
The Intent: To gain control. To break down your resistance. To normalize, and get you to accept the abuse and injustice perpetrated against you. To avoid responsibility, and trick you into thinking you actually did or said something wrong.
How You Can Protect Yourself: Stop blaming yourself! When you feel guilty, overwhelmed, anxious or want to blame yourself…STOP. First, take a moment to ground yourself--go for a walk, call a friend, exercise, listen to music, read a book, etc. This will move you from hypervigilant to a calmer, more rational state of mind. Then ask yourself what are you blaming yourself for–does it make sense? Are these actions a normal human being could accomplish? What were your intentions? How did the other person make you feel? Was the other person treating you fairly, with respect? Asking questions generates critical thinking, it sparks judgment. With judgment, you will be better equipped to see the manipulation, and protect yourself from it. If there is something you did, of course deal with that. But if you are blaming yourself for irrational things, totally out of control, or things based on lies–recognize the manipulation for what it is, and put the blame where it belongs–on the abuser. If you find yourself going into self protection mode, or retreating to tactics you used while in an abusive relationship, that is a huge red flag that you are being mistreated.

FOR MORE INFO:

“Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics” by ‘Psychopaths and Love’: http://psychopathsandlove.com/covert-emotional-manipulation-tactics/

“Eight Easy Ways to Spot an Emotional Manipulator” by Fiona McColl & Heartless Bitches International (heartless-bitches.com): http://www.heartless-bitches.com/rants/manipulator/eighteasyways.shtml

“Throwing You on the Defensive: The Covert Art of Coercive Manipulation” by Dr. George Simon, Jan 24, 2014:

“23 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics” by Psychopaths & Love: http://psychopathsandlove.com/covert-emotional-manipulation-tactics/

Title: “Exposing Child Advocates/Best interest Attorneys/Guardian Ad Litem”
By: CBSAtlanta.com, Reporter Jeff Chirico
Read the Story At: http://www.cbs46.com/story/22258017/investigation-exposes-little-oversight-of-child-advocates
Posted By: Moms Fighting Howard County Court Corruption, http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjUgwKeAfgfnLnXT7RslhBw
Date: May 15, 2013

CBS Atlanta investigates problems with the court appointed advocates known as the “Guardian ad Litems”, who are sworn to look out for the best interest of children, and be their advocate in court. The report investigates complaints from parents whose families have been harmed by failures within the GAL program and the corrupt, biased and unprofessional actions of the Guardians themselves.

Problems Reported Include:

*Poor training
*Lack of training or education in child development
*Guardian ad Litems lying to further their own personal agenda
*Bias (GAL favoring the parent who generates the most business. GAL working to further their own agenda over that of the child.)
*Parents can be fined by the Court to pay GAL fees–sometimes these fees can cost tens of thousands of dollars
*Collusion or Other Influences that are not based on fact, evidence or law
*Lack of oversight in the GAL program. There is no real agency that licenses a GAL. And no agency that oversees the GAL. There is no tracking or public disclosure of complaints against a GAL. And no effective means to report problems with a GAL, let alone to have your complaint heard.
*Verbal abuse, intimidation and trying to pressure witnesses and parents
*Children are being harmed due to the failures of a GAL
*Parents are unfairly being deprived of custody with no recourse to regain custody
*GAL talking to a Judge, influencing the Judge, socializing with the Judge or other Court Officers outside of work
*GAL refuses to accept evidence, interview witnesses, review documentation or conduct home visits
*Once a judge rules against you, there is no real oversight for parents

Georgia State Child Advocate Tanya Boga argues that the system is fair, most GAL are doing their jobs properly and if there is a problem “the judge can remove the Guardian ad Litem”.

Does that make sense to you? You are in court, having problems with a GAL and have to file a complaint with the same Judge who is hearing your case, and who has a long history of working with this Guardian. There is no investigation of your complaint. No record of the complaint being filed. And no advocate or mediator to ensure the parents is part of the complaint process, and that their complaint is actually being heard. Further, the GAL is often appointed, at tax payer’s expense, an attorney to represent their interests while the parent may not have the resources to get legal help. And similarly, the child victim is not appointed an attorney to represent their interests of protect them from Guardian abuse. How can you say the system is Fair when it works against parents and creates victims, who have been abused and traumatized by the Court process?

The guardians protect the judges, and judges protect the guardians ad litem“, Dr. Monty Weinstein, a psychologist and paid expert witness.

Any of this sound familiar??? Stories like this are just one example of the systematic failures within the Family Court system that is destroying families, and putting the lives of vulnerable children at risk. I encourage other news agencies, media outlets, bloggers, watchdog groups etc to investigate and report stories of failures within the Family Court system. By exposing the problems, we can demand justice, and fight for real reform.

 

I am posting this article to give hope for the Readers, and concerned Parents who have left comments on PAK, complaining about corrupt and unprofessional behavior from a judge, guardian ad litem (GAL) or unjust family court system. When the family court system fails, there seems to be no justice…but sometimes the corruption is exposed with such a blinding light that the need for reform cannot be denied.

April 16, 2014: Danielle Ross was sentenced to 12 months in prison and must pay restitution of $63,000. Ross was greeted at the Federal Court by angry Protestors; who bravely came forward to show they will not be intimidated by the corrupt family court. Ross has only been charged with attempted tax evasion, and has not been charged with any misconduct related to family court. Ross says she is sorry but at the same time laments that her doctorate studies will be put on hold while she is in jail, and is hopeful she will practice law again one day.
Source:
“Family Court Lawyer Sentenced to Prison” by Lara Greenberg, WNEP.com, 4/16/14: http://wnep.com/2014/04/16/family-court-lawyer-sentenced-to-prison/

Former Lackawanna County Attorney and Family Court Guardian ad Litem (GAL), Danielle M. Ross (Pietralczyk), of Jermyn Pennsylvania has been under investigation due to numerous complaints about the GAL program and her conduct as a guardian. In Feb 2014, Ross pled guilty to charges of tax evasion, her husband is also to be sentenced soon.

Danielle M. Ross (WNEP News)

As Ross’ charges become public, concerned parents are stepping forward with complaints about how their cases have been handled in Lackawanna County. Several parents complained that Ross presented biased recommendations to the court and double billed for her services. Another complaint is that reports and investigations are being conducted by insiders—not an independent, outside agency. The 2012 Lackawanna County Guardian ad Litem Program Review determined that the judges were not biased towards Ms. Ross, but the secrecy, lack of oversight and court’s pattern of intimidating witnesses who complain suggests otherwise.

The attorney for Ross defends his client, stating she is a victim of an over burdened family court system, bursting at the seams with cases that has caused Ross to become “over worked” and “stretched in all directions” (2012 Lackawanna County Guardian ad Litem Program Review).

Danielle M. Ross (The Times Tribune)


The Wilkes/Barre Scranton Independent Gazette has been investigating the story now called Custody4Cash and has been interviewing victims. The Independent Gazette uncovered the Lackawanna family court system overrun with greed, lack of accountability and secrecy, “Theirs is a legal system run afoul, where justice is often based not on facts, but on “who you know,” and delivered only to a select few, it would seem.”
Read More from the Independent Gazette: http://wilkesbarrescrantonig.com/2014/03/01/testimonials-flood-in-on-custody4cash-scandal/

For more details on corruption in Lackawanna family courts, watch this controversial video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jlDyN0i7IQ

HERE’S THE RUN DOWN…

March 2012: A federal lawsuit is filed against Lackawanna guardian ad litem, Danielle M. Ross for misconduct and abusing her position for personal gain. alleging that Ross acted “… with the knowledge, consent, assistance and/or ratification of the [Court] set out to create…a system in which the [family court] would use a guardian ad litem in all or in virtually all custody proceedings and she would be the only guardian ad litem…”

July 2012: The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts issued a 113-page report on the Lackawanna guardian ad litem program; findings show failures in the lack of oversight and financial accountability in the GAL program. The report offered 51 suggestions for improvement, and further stated that it is not wise to appoint the majority of cases to just one guardian ad litem.


Lackawanna County President Judge Thomas J. Munley commissioned the report due to a number of complaints filed against Danielle M. Ross, the GAL assigned to a majority of cases since 2008. Following the findings of the report. Judge Munley appointed Judge Trish Corbett to oversee the family court program, and implement all the recommendations in the report.

Lackawanna County Guardian ad Litem Program Review:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/files/setting-812/file-2846.pdf?cb=7e9abe

Dec 2013: Former Lackawanna County Attorney and Family Court Guardian ad Litem (GAL), Danielle M. Ross (Pietralczyk), of Jermyn, plead guilty to Attempted Tax Evasion. For 10 months, Ross insisted she was innocent then pled guilty in a plea deal. Also pleading guilty to tax fraud midemeanor is Walter Pietralczyk Jr., her husband.

As a GAL, Ross was paid by Lackawanna County to represent “the best interests of the child” in custody cases and make recommendations to family court. Ross received a base salary of $38,000 (working as an independent contractor) plus an additional $50 per hour to be paid by the parents, or to be paid by the County if the parents could not afford the services these are private pay services). What typically happens if a parent cannot afford to pay the GAL, a judge will order a reduced rate or eliminate the fees altogether, in which the County picks up the tab.

Federal prosecutors say that Ross did not report her hourly earnings for her private pay clients on her 2009 and 2010 tax returns—totalling more than $200,000. For the last two years, a federal grand jury has been investigating the Lackawanna Family Court; so far Ross has been the only one charged.

Ross is being charged only for tax evasion, however, several parents who had Ross on their case as a GAL are coming forward with complaints that Ross is biased, corrupt and failed in her duties as GAL; as of yet Ross has not been charged with anything related to her duties as a GAL.

Feb 2013: After federal investigators indicted Ross for tax fraud, she is suspended without pay from the GAL program. A statement was issued from the Lackawanna County Court that, “Her contract to provide and all services has been suspended and she is to refrain from any further contact with existing or new gal (Guardian ad Litem) clients.”

Feb. 2014: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court temporarily suspends the law license of Danielle Ross as part of a plea deal where Ross plead guilty to one count of attempted income tax evasion for her 2009 return, and a second charge for 2010 is dropped. Her husband will also be sentenced soon.

The investigation into corruption and abuses of power in the Lackawanna family court continues.. please feel free to post your comments and any updates below.

Read More:

“Former Family Court Attorney Pleads Guilty” by Dave Bohman, 12/16/2013. WNEP News: http://wnep.com/2013/12/16/former-family-court-attorney-pleads-guilty/

“Guardian Suspended without Pay” by Dave Bohman, 02/13/2013. WNEP News: http://wnep.com/2013/02/13/guardian-suspended-without-pay/

“Report on Lackawanna County Guardian ad Litem System Released” by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, 07/12/2012: http://pmconline.org/node/652

“Spouse of Former Lackawanna County Guardian ad Litem Pleads Guilty to Federal Income Tax Fraud Misdemeanor” by The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, 12/04/2013. FBI: http://www.fbi.gov/philadelphia/press-releases/2013/spouse-of-former-lackawanna-county-guardian-ad-litem-pleads-guilty-to-federal-income-tax-fraud-misdemeanor

“Supreme Court temporarily suspends Ross’ law license” by Peter Cameron, 02/06/2014. the times tribune: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/supreme-court-temporarily-suspends-ross-law-license-1.1629831

“Testimonials Flood in on Custody4Cash scandal” by Louis R Jasikoff and Staff, 03/01/2014. Wilkes-Barre Scranton Independent Review: http://wilkesbarrescrantonig.com/2014/03/01/testimonials-flood-in-on-custody4cash-scandal/

Talking to a “Protective Mother” Who Lost Custody of Children Due to an Unjust Court Ruling: 10 Comments to Avoid & Why

PART ONE: COMMENTS 10-6

These tips are for family, friends, community supports, professionals and others who are in a position to help or support a “Protective Mother”. It is devastating for a Mother to lose custody of her children—especially in a family court proceeding where she may feel victimized, violated and abused (and there no recourse for justice). Those closest to the Mother often struggle with what to say or how to help. Sometimes comments made to help actually hurt the Mother. Other times, those making comments struggle with their own emotions and/or grief and their actions and behavior causes hurt or harm because they are also struggling or don’t know what to say. Some just don’t believe that a court of law would make a mistake, and believe the Mother must have done something wrong to lose custody.

These 10 Comments are commonly reported among Protective Mothers to be hurtful, and traumatic. I am sharing these comments to raise awareness, and offer tips on how to better offer emotional support to Protective Mothers.

What is a “Protective Mom”?: A Protective Mother fights to protect her child(ren) from domestic abuse that occurred in their relationship with an ex spouse/partner. After the Mother escapes the abuse, an abusive ex often uses legal proceedings to intimidate, control, or retaliate against her. Protective Mothers raise concerns about abuse in family court only to lose custody, parenting time and/or rights to her child(ren) due to corruption and systematic failures in family court. Children are then vulnerable to further abuse, and forcibly separated from a fit, loving mother.

These comments are not meant to generalize all custody situations but to explore how domestic violence and controlling behavior does not simply end with the relationship but continues, and even escalates, after the victim has left—and how family members and friends struggle with how to best support the Mother, who is further devastated when an abusive ex gains custody of her children.

10 Comments to Avoid & Why

10. Do Not make a “deal with the devil” to gain access to or contact with the children, who are now in the custody and control of the ex.

An abusive ex may engage the support of a concerned friend or family member—he may lie, manipulate or use the children as pawns to win their trust and gain an “ally”. Why? Once the abuser has won the support of someone closest to the Mother, he will use that person for his own reasons—which may include isolating the mother, gaining an “ally” to fight against the mother, getting information about the mother or otherwise escalating the control and abuse. An abuser will never see these people as a friend or family member, they are just serving his own needs.

Do NOT negotiate with an abuser to gain access or visitation with the children; this may pose a safety risk to both Mother and Child, and may damage her custody case/situation. This includes: Giving emotional, financial or other support to the ex to gain access or visitation with the children. Testifying in court or providing statements to professionals on behalf of the ex. Violating court orders (which often jeopardizes the Mother’s case and/or custody arrangement). Not respecting the wishes or preferences of the Mother. Criticizing, bullying or pressuring the Mother into unsafe situations so you can gain access to the children. Offering support or help to the Mother than taking it away in order to compel her to do what you want. Not being understanding or supportive of a Mother’s custody arrangement or time with her children (putting your needs and wants first). Etc

The Reality: You may feel justified to take these actions because you want to continue your relationship with the children but what you are doing is causing more harm to the family, and showing the children that abuse is acceptable. A child who has been a victim of domestic violence or witnessed it, knows something is not right in the home. A child also knows something is wrong when their Mother is taken away, suddenly and without explanation. To see a loved one make deals and become allies with an abuser enforces to that child that they cannot trust adults, and that coping with abuse involves appeasing the abuser. This will only cause more pain and hurt in the child’s life. Especially if your actions contribute to the child becoming alienated from their Mother, or result in the Court restricting her parenting time.

Instead, take a stand against abuse. Model healthy, appropriate behavior in your words and actions. Be a source of support to Mother and Child. A safe haven. Someone they can trust or rely on.

If you are a friend or family member who is hurting or grieving because an unjust court order forcibly took a child from your life, and gave custody to an abuser, the answer is NOT seeking an alliance with the abuser. There are other ways to maintain the bond that has been broken (although that will be different from the relationship you once shared), and also receive the support you may need. Ideas include: come together as a family, as a community to seek support or comfort in each other. To share special memories. To grieve, and heal. Go to court with the Mother to offer support. Start a fundraiser to help with legal costs. Pray. Seek a support group. Volunteer to fill the void, and use those same energies in a positive way. Find ways within the Court order to maintain contact with the child (regular phone calls, e-mail, letters, spending holidays together, etc.) Most important- do not accept, appease or tolerate abuse.

9. Comments that the Mother just needs to “move on with your life”, “get over it” or “forgive/make peace” etc
The Reality: For a Mother, her children are an inseparable part of who she is, what her life is—she carried them in your body for nine months and nurtured their life. She nursed them through sickness. Prayed over them. Poured her love, energy and soul into her children. A child can never truly be separated from their mother—she will always carry a part of her children with her. A Mother does not move on, or forget or make peace after the loss of a child. Her world is totally shattered, never to be put together in the same way again. The Mother may experience nightmares, fits of crying, depression, anxiety and physical illness and other physical or emotional symptoms because of the loss and grief. The loss of children due to an unjust court situation is made even worse when the Mother believes her children are not safe, when a dangerous abuser wins custody.

To tell a Mother to just “move on” or “get over it” implies that she needs to accept the abuse and injustice and just go back to life as normal; this is extremely damaging. It is better to just to be honest about what you are thinking and feeling. If you hear a Mother’s story and just don’t know what to say or how to comfort her, admit that you don’t have the answers or you don’t understand or you don’t know what to say; that is understandable.

If you struggle with what to say to a grieving Mother, try another approach. After I lost my children, I had a friend who never had children, and didn’t really know what to say or how to approach the subject of abuse with my ex, and losing custody of my children. He would offer to take me to a coffee shop, where we would hang out playing checkers, or sometimes we just sat at a park, in silence. Knowing I had a friend to just be there gave so much comfort. It was nice to have the presence of a caring friend who didn’t judge or ask questions or pressure me to do anything. When I felt comfortable I would talk. Other times I just needed a distraction.

Just being present, offering a shoulder to cry on, or welcoming a Mother into your are good ways to show support—open displays of support and affection can are as important as words. If you don’t have the words, try giving your support with loving actions or demonstrations of care (and respect her choice whether to participate or not).

8. Comments that it must be nice having “a break from your kids”.
The Reality: See #9. Protective Mothers who are forcibly separated from children due to unjust family court rulings experience considerable trauma and grief—they may not see their children for weeks, months, years and some lose all contact with their children. Other Mothers are subjected to further abuse, intimidation, humiliation and controlling behavior from their abusive ex partner when attempting to see or contact children. It is important to offer emotional support to a Mother based on where she is, do not project your own feelings or ideas onto her—and do not vent your own frustrations about your children onto her. Be there to listen, offer a hug, pray or whatever else the Mother is comfortable with. Let the Mother express what is needed, and respect her boundaries. Most important, understand this is a significant loss, very painful to endure.

7. Comments that involve spiritual or religious advice based on opinion, judgment or assumption. Examples: This is “God’s will”, “If God wants you to have your kids back, He will make a way”, You are being “punished” for a sin or other wrong, “God hates divorce”, and “You are being tested” etc.

It is normal to question why bad things happen in this world—why there is abuse or injustice, why bad things happen to good people. It is normal to wrestle with faith at times, to struggle with thoughts or emotions; especially at times you are struggling with or dealing with situations beyond your control. But it is not okay to vent your frustrations, emotions, or other personal issues onto another person—especially some who is vulnerable, and struggling, like a Protective Mother. When someone is struggling or hurting, they need compassion not judgment, shame or religious clichés. If you cannot offer that support, it is better to be honest, and set a boundary rather than say or do something that will negatively impact someone else. Seek help from a church leader or other community resource as an alternative but be open to what you can help with, or how you are able to give.

Similarly, churches and congregations are supposed to be places of refuge and support for needy people. If you find someone hurting, crying, or reacting poorly to advise you have given, it may be time to examine your message, and what you are offering. If you cannot offer the support that is needed, be honest, and help find another resource. And be open to growth in yourself, and in your church as a whole—which may involve further education, support from another church/organization or working together as a whole to meet a need. You also may want to work with a faith based organization that is working with abuse victims.

6. Comments that, “I knew all along”…Remarks that you knew the relationship was troubled or you could foresee problems, or you would have done things differently. Those who make these remarks usually stayed silent during the course of the relationship and then pounce with comments when it is over, the comments often sound harsh, critical or judgmental.
The Reality: Abusers are often charming and/or manipulative, they know how to win people to their side, it is difficult to predict the outcome. Even after a woman has left the abuse, there may still be a lot of unanswered questions—she may never have the answers.

Part of healing is letting go of “should’s” and being able to feel empowered over your life, your body, your choices in the present. Healing also includes finding healthy ways to deal with mistakes without living in regret or dwelling on the past—which will only make you feel victimized. Domestic Violence agencies and organizations may offer help in the way of classes/education, support groups, family support, counseling and advocacy services to help process what has happened, receive support from professionals, and receive feedback from other woman who have also survived abuse. You are not alone!

Twin siblings Georgia and Walker “Patterson” Inman III, heirs to a multi-million dollar estate, survived a horrific life of abuse at the hands of their father, Walker Inman Jr. Georgia stated she didn’t think she would survive the abuse. The family court ruling did not serve the best interest of the Inman children and in fact, endangered their lives and subjected them to 10 years of abuse.

Walker is accused of squandering their fortune and inflicting brutal mental and physical abuse on the children. His fifth wife, Daralee Inman, was also accused of abuse–and found to have committed physical abuse on the children by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (in 2011). Friends and associates connected to Walker are also accused of abuse and stealing from the estate. The children were also subjected to severe parental alienation, and led to believe their mother abandoned them–and made to fear Daisha Inamn. After the death of Walker, Daisha, was finally able to regain custody of her children. Freed from years of abuse, the children have been reunited with their mother and are working to rebuild their lives as a family, together.

Marriage Ending in Custody Nightmare

In 1996, Walker married his 4th wife, model Daisha Lorraine Williams, the twins were born a year later. The marriage was troubled, and didn’t last long. Daisha claims that Walker took off the children in 1999, while they were on vacation, leaving Daisha behind, then went into hiding. Daisha did not her children for several months then was served with a notice to appear in family court–Walker was seeking a divorce and sole custody of the twins. In 2000, the Court awarded sole custody of the twins to Walker, both were just 2 years old. Daisha alleges that Walker bribed court officials to get a favorable custody ruling. In the heated custody battle Walker claims that Daisha was a mentally unstable topless dancer unfit for custody. Walker was found, with evidence, to be a heroin addict who went through women like kleenex, marrying and divorcing a total of 5 women. With a record like that, you have to wonder how anyone would take seriously Walker’s judgment of women??

According to the Post & Courier, “A court-appointed guardian in Platte County, Wyo., concluded that the children would be better off with Inman despite his history of “multiple marriages for short durations; his drug, alcohol and cigarette use; limited parenting experience and prior parenting mistakes; and his unusual, perhaps dysfunctional, upbringing,” court records show.

Note all of these risk factors mentioned by the Guardian (multiple marriages, substance abuse, lack of parenting experience, parenting mistakes, history of family dysfunction) would and should justify no custody, and supervised visitation, until Walker could prove that he is drug free and could provide a safe, and stable environment for the children. There are laws a court has to follow to protect children from abuse, and parents who may endanger them. When a parent is found to be that dysfunctional, and poses a safety risk to the children, the Court usually recommends a course of action for the parent, and there is usually some monitoring by an involved professionals. In those cases, parents are referred to supervised visitation in a safety center. The court can revisit custody at a later time by issuing a temporary order, or may order sole custody to the other parent. This court ruling does not make sense–unless you assume that the court is corrupt, and not acting on the best interest of the children.

Daisha continued to battle for custody and visitation time with her children, in 2009, her case reached the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Allegations of Abuse Walker Inman Jr.

Walker Inman Jr. was an eccentric figure–he was gourmet chef, a world traveller and collector of weapons (knives, guns, grenades–many are highly collectible and valuable). Walker was also an expert in explosives. In happier memories, Walker enjoyed showing his son how to blow things up (cars, trailers, fireworks etc.), this became a hobby for them. Walker was also said to have brought grenades and guns to school, to show the other children in “show and tell”. The family also enjoyed exotic pets (a lion, an alligator, a camel), and going on luxury vacations. But the good times were few and far between.

Supporters of Walker and Daralee Inman claim abuse never happened, and that the children were well cared for.

Walker was known to be heavy into drugs–heroin, methadone and strong narcotic pain pills were favorites.

After Walker won sole custody, there were several calls to the police and social services on behalf of the battered twins but the system failed to take any real action to protect the children from their abusive father and stepmother–who were never brought up on charges.

The Department of Social Service (DSS) in South Carolina had 3 separate complaints about Walker’s abusive treatment towards his children, and they also failed to take any actions to keep these children safe. In the summer of 2008, the manager of the Greenfield Plantation, Mike Todd called DSS because he felt the children were not being properly supervised, and were playing in an area home to a 12 foot alligator.Todd said he saw nothing to indicate that DSS investigated the case. The children claim they saw their father paying off officials to close the case, to not investigate.

Later that summer, police were called when a woman reported that she saw Walker screaming at his daughter and hitting her in the head. Walker admitted to hitting his daughter to the police. The police were called but there was no investigation, no intervene, nothing to assure the safety of the children.

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The State of Wyoming also failed to investigate or file charges on behalf of the children. Their home life was so terrible that the children considered suicide as a way to escape.

The children grew up in luxurious plantation estates, but spent time locked in a dark basement covered in feces and filth. Alternately, the children were locked into their rooms with a deadbolt. With no access to a bathroom, the children were forced to relieve themselves in the corner, and the room reeked of excrement. At times the children were starved. Nannies in charge of their care came and went–an estimated 57 nannies were hired to care for the children, some could not stand the conditions in the home and left as little as a day later. Other nannies were accused of abusing the children, including one who is alleged to have forced the children to play a game of Russian Roulette with a loaded weapon.

The daughter also recalled being dunked in a bath of boiling hot water by her father, and feeling her “skin melting away”.

In another incident, Walker set off a teargas grenade in his house to teach his frightened children a “safety lesson”. “I never asked to be born into any of this,” Georgia said during an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, “Sometimes I wish I was never born.”

These children should have been protected by the Court, Police, or Social Services and placed into a safe home environment. In separate statements, both Daisha and the twins claim that Walker paid these people to look the other way to the abuse that was happening to the children. Indeed, you have to wonder why so many failed to intervene, and rescue these children.

Allegations of Abuse: Daralee Inman

Walker married a 5th wife, Daralee in 2001. Daralee has been convicted of felony drug charges in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. In June 2007, Daralee was pulled over by a state trooper in Wyoming for driving erratically, both children were in the car with her. Daralee told the trooper she had smoked marijuana; the trooper found pot, crystal meth and hash in the car. Daralee pled guilty to drug possession and was ordered into drug treatment.It is unclear why child protective services did not intervene and investigate.

Daralee is also accused of abusing the twins. In April 2011, the South Carolina Department of Social Services found that Daralee had physically abused her step-children.

After Walker died in 2010, Daralee petitioned the court to become guardians of the twins. Her petition was denied and in August 2010, Daisha finally won custody of her children.

Daralee has refused to publicly comment on these allegations but has said she thinks Daisha is coercing the children to make up stories about the abuse. She did file a slander lawsuit against Daisha due to her allegations that Daralee abused her children, that suit was withdrawn.

The twins are looking into the possibility of criminally prosecuting Daralee for the abuse they endured at her hand. Complaints were filed with the police but as of yet, there has not been enough evidence to move forward with charges. However, DSS is investigating the claims.

Just a Thought: When a parent is alleged to be negligent in the care of the children, to be abusive or to provide an unsafe home environment,the court would and should intervene to protect the children. Daisha was already involved in the court process–once she alleges there is abuse in the home, a drug addicted parent or any other risk of physical or mental harm to the children, the court has an obligation to remove the children from the home, changing custody if necessary. Child protective services should also have been involved. So what happened? I believe an investigation on the Inman case is necessary to examine the records and allegations to determine if how the court (and child protective services) responded was appropriate, and legal. Even though the children are now with their mother–if this court acted improperly, if officials were bribed, if there was injustice present that means other children and families are at risk. This should not be allowed to continue.

The Death of Walker Inman Jr.

Walker was found dead of a methadone overdose on Feb. 24, 2010, in a Colorado hotel (no one knows why he was in Colorado). Daralee fought to obtain guardianship of the the twins and lost. In August 2010, Daisha finally won custody.

Daisha went to rescue her children, sending ambulances to the home, because they were so resistant to her yet desperately in need of help. The children were deeply affected by parental alienation, and had to be hospitalized for 3 months in the Wyoming Behavioral Institute to re-stabilize them from years of abuse and neglect, and work on healing their relationship with their mother. The children were told by Walker that their mother abandoned them for the street life–that was was a druggie and a prostitute. Upon reunification, the children were extremely hostile towards Daisha–at times aggressive or swearing at her. Daisha worked to regain their trust through therapy and slow, gradual visits. Daisha says that when her daughter saw that she keeps pictures of the children in her purse, from the time they were babies, it helped break the walls keeping them apart–her daughter say her mother’s love and became less resistant. A social worker stays with the family 10 days a month to continue the therapy. The family has participated in counseling to cope with the abuse the children have experienced, and to help transition into home life with their mother.

The Struggle to Rebuild

Certainly, Daisha has struggled in the past. If she worked as a stripper in the past, that should not be used against her because Walker married her anyways, and chose to make a family with her. The Guardian’s report from her court cases states (South Strand News) concerns that Daisha was paranoid and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress. Put that in context–most women involved in an abusive relationship, whose husband has run off with the children and she has not been able to see them, will present with emotional distress. These types of symptoms do not mean a mother should lose custody, and in fact signal that the home environment should be further investigated for evidence of abuse or other risk factors that could harm the children.

There are more recent allegations, that Daisha has left the children at home alone for days while she went on trips with a “friend”. Daisha is said to have married a convicted sex offender named Randy Williams in 2003, and although they divorced, they allegedly remain romantically involved. Williams was convicted of sexually abusing his step daughters from a previous marriage. Williams is also prohibited from having any contact with his son, who he was found to have sexually abused.

According to DNAinfo New York: “JPMorgan also claims a court recently entered a restraining order barring Williams from communicating with the Duke heirs — Walker Patterson Inman III and Georgia Inman — because of the threat he poses to them. The filing doesn’t specify where and when the restraining order was filed, or if it has been lifted…”

In another incident, Daisha was been charged with public drunkeness in May 2012, she claims her water was poisoned. The judge deferred sentencing for 6 months and likely will not convict Daisha if she stays out of trouble. Daisha is seeking therapy for the family, and stated she has a social service working living at her home for 10 days a month. This is a positive indicator that she is seeking help, and seeking to improve her situation. Clearly, someone needs to investigate the truthfulness of these claims (especially if there is a sex offender in the home), and if there is a safety risk to the children– but that does not take away from the suffering this family endured. The family court ruling did not serve the best interest of the Inman children and in fact, endangered their lives and subjected them to 10 years of abuse.

Certainly, Daisha has endured a struggle–surviving an abusive marriage that robbed her of her children, the grief of being separated from your children, and spending years fighting for custody in a system that seemed unresponsive, and enabled the abuse of her children to continue. I sincerely hope she gets support, and can heal from past so she can move forward to a positive, healthy relationship with her children–a happy future for herself.

The twins report that they now share a good relationship with their mother, and feel a close, loving bond with her. They are adjusting to a new private school and optimistic about the future.

Parenting Abused Children wishes the best for the twins, we are sorry to hear of your ordeal–and hope and pray you are safe, loved and able to have a fresh start at life. You have our love and support. xoxo
Hope
_______________________

NOTE: My emphasis on this article is family court failures, I did not want to take attention away from the abuse or suffering of these children by talking about their inheritance, but as it is an important part of the story, that information is included below.

The Inheritance:

Daisha claims Walker fought so hard for custody because he needed an heir to his estate. As wealthy as the children are, they hardly realized it–and were severely deprived due to the abuse, neglect and forcible separation from their mother they found little joy in the rare comforts they were offered. A legal battled has ensued over this inheritance, and use of the trust fund, and is currently ongoing.

Twin siblings Georgia and Walker “Patterson” Inman III are surviving heirs to an inheritance connected to the tobacco fortune of American Tobacco Co., whose proceeding heir was Doris Duke. Their grandfather Walker P. Inman aka “Skippy” came from a family of successful Atlanta cotton merchants.

James B. Duke aka “Buck” was the founder and president of American Tobacco Co., makers of Lucky Strikes cigarettes. Buck married the paternal great-grandmother of the twins, Nanaline Holt Inman Duke, but they did not have children together. Buck’s only heir, was daughter Doris Duke, who inherited part of the fortune at age 13, when her father died. Though Doris Duke was next in line to receive the inheritance of her father, Buck, he did not trust women to run the business. Doris did receive a sizeable inheritance but the bulk of the estate was passed onto professional managers.

Buck’s second wife was Nanaline Holt Inman Duke, she came into the marriage with a son named Walker P. Inman. Buck never accepted Walker P. Inman as a legitimate heir but did pass on some money to Nanaline Duke, who then passed her inheritance onto her son. Walker bought a plantation in South Carolina, complete with a 10,000 square foot house. His heir was Walker Inman Jr. aka “Skippy”. In her will, Doris Duke set aside $7 million for a trustee to invest, with 5% of the balance going to Walker every year. After Walker died, the trust ended and is co-mingled in some charitable trusts Doris Duke established before her death.

Reports vary on the worth of the inheritance or trust fund that will passed to the Inman twins, its estimated worth is in the millions. Some reports say that the twins could inherit $14.5 million, each, when they turn 21. Others say the inheritance is worth $60 million. Still, others says the fortune is as high as a billion dollars. The bulk of the trust fund money is tied up in two properties, some valuables (jewelry, guns, antiques), sacks of hold and bars of silver. One of the properties is being used to host weddings as a way to generate funds for its upkeep.

Money Mayhem:

After the death of Walker, am intense legal battle ensued over the remaining estate, and the handling of the twin’s trust fund; this battle is ongoing.

Everyone involved in this case from the trust managers, to Daralee, to Daisha, to the attorneys and others has a vested interest–and has accused someone else of mishandling the estate.

Daisha has been accused of wasting away the trust, and spending money on excessive luxuries. Daisha vehemently denies these allegations, and claims she is keeping receipts to prove how every penny has been spent. Daisha is currently involved in a legal battle with JP Morgan Chase over the administration of the twins’ trust fund.

Randy Williams, convicted child molester and alleged romantic interest of Daisha, has also been accused of trying to get money from the trust fund. JP Morgan said it was so concerned about account activity, and how close Williams was getting to the twins that it placed funds in a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act account, which offers court oversight. JP Morgan also filed a motion with the court in 2013 asking that the court bar Williams from benefiting from the trust, and ban him from being able to access or manage funds.

There are allegations that people close to Walker are raiding the trust and stealing the inheritance of the twins. Daralee is accused of selling off valuable items belonging to the estate, and pocketing the proceeds.

There is also a battle over how the twins are being represented in court, with allegations that they are not receiving proper legal representation.

As of yet, these disputes have not been settled.

For More Info:

“Billionaire Twins Abused Like Slaves by Dad”, by Susan Donaldson James, Good Morning America. August 5, 2013. : http://abcnews.go.com/Health/billionaire-twins-abused-slaves-doris-duke-heir-father/story?id=19853671&singlePage=true

“Dr. Phil.com – Shows – The Darkness of Riches: From Victims to Victors”. Aired Jan 30 & Jan 31, 2014: http://drphil.com/shows/show/2160/

“Duke heirs claim stepmom sold off family heirlooms”, by Julia Marsh, New York Post. Sept. 27, 2013. : http://nypost.com/2013/09/27/duke-heirs-claim-stepmom-sold-off-family-heirlooms/

“Locked in feces-smeared basement, eating scraps and given scalding baths: Twins set to inherit billion-dollar Doris Duke fortune tell of their horrific childhood abuse”, by Daily Mail Reporter. August 2, 2013. : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2383194/Doris-Duke-descendants-Treated-worse-dogs-Twins-set-inherit-fortune-tell-child-abuse.html

“Mother of Doris Duke’s twin heirs, 15, used ‘SWAT team’ and bodyguards to stop bank from serving her with legal papers demanding to know how she is spending their $30million trust fund” by Daily Mail Reporter. July 9, 2013: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2359120/Doris-Duke-heirs-Mother-Daisha-Inman-used-SWAT-team-prevent-served-legal-papers.html

“Mother of twins, 16, set to inherit billion dollar Doris Duke estate insists she needs their money to pay for their mental health care after ‘they suffered years of abuse at the hands of drug-addicted father'” by Daily Mail Reporter. Jan, 31, 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2549832/Mother-twins-16-set-inherit-billion-dollar-Doris-Duke-fortune-insists-needs-money-pay-mental-health-care-suffered-years-abuse-hands-drug-addict-father.html

“Sex Offender May Be Trying to Get Doris Duke Heirs’ Cash, Court Doc Says” by James Fanelli, DNAinfo New York. April 9, 2013: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130409/new-york-city/child-molester-may-be-trying-get-doris-duke-heirs-cash-court-doc-says#ixzz2QrFbFzoq

“The story of 15 year old twins, a big trust fund from Mrs. Duke, and a squabble between her grandson’s 4th and 5th wives” by Duke Check. March 7, 2013: http://dukecheck.com/?p=11645

“Trouble in paradise: Death of heir to Duke fortune ignites flames of already heated family discord” by Glen Smith, The Post & Courier. August 19, 2012:
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20120819/PC16/120819047

“Video: Duke heirs talk about years of abuse, Charlotte Observer.http://dukecheck.com/?p=11645 : http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/01/29/4648978/video-duke-heirs-talk-about-years.html#.UulJiPZRaYc

A Review: “Reforming Family Court: Getting It Right between Rhetoric and Reality”
Author: Prof. Jane M. Spinak, Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
Journal of Law & Policy: Reforming Family Court: Getting It Right between Rhetoric and Reality

“Reforming Family Court” is a in depth article that insists reform should move from the idea that Family Court is needed to “help” a family, or use it’s power to fix a family, but instead, should begin with “What value does a Family Court Add When it Intervenes in a Family’s Life?”

This article began with inner conflict–loyalty vs. the harsh reality. Jane M Spinak, a respected law professor, was asked to write a commentary on family court reforms initiated by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye (New York) at her retirement. Spinak was torn because as hard as the Chief Justice worked during her career to reform family court, much work still needs to be done: “On the one hand, I wanted to give Judge Kaye credit for her deep commitment to reforming family court; on the other hand, I had to ask myself who was to blame—including perhaps Judge Kaye herself —for failing to achieve significant reform despite enormous effort.”

“Reforming Family Court” is a fearless launch into the history of Family Court, its failures and what can be done to initiate meaningful reforms while preserving the rights of families.

1) The History of Family Court – Why Failures Persist

 

Family Court was created at the turn of the 20th century by social reformers to address a variety of social and family issues. The creators imagined compassionate, experienced public servants and judges would work together to help solve the problems of children and families. The role of the judge in this era was of a kindly, paternal figure guiding wayward or troubled families (it was assumed everyone in family court had fallen short of societal norms in some way) into a better life.

By mid century, a new generation of reformers was exposing corruption and abuses of power in family court that was damaging children and families–to such an extent that family court was doing more harm than good.
Many of the problems Spinak mentioned as occurring during this time seem to be unresolved, they are the complaints of many in Family Court today: “..inappropriate state intervention into family decision making, inadequate services to support families, untrained and under resourced social service
systems, children placed in dangerous and inappropriate institutions,and court proceedings that failed to provide even a semblance of due process…”

State and Federal Courts then began to define the rights of children and families to create procedural rules for the court, to establish the rights of litigants and set stricter evidenciary standards in child welfare cases. Family Court was still looked on as a place to solve problems but now viewed not as a kindly intervener but more as an authority reaching into the private lives of families, and the future of children.

Spinak disagrees that the Court is a place for families to get “help” (as it was created to be) and believes that the Court is, in reality, a last resort for struggling families to resolve complex issues. Rarely are these issues solved in a manner that actually empowers families,But whether families come for general help or a legally binding decision, they currently get neither. Throughout the country, family courts have become clogged with cases that take months or years to reach resolution..”
I personally believe… If Ever! Sometimes the damage Family Court creates lasts a life time or permanently severs families.

The power of “Reforming Family Court” begins with Spinak asking the following questions that turn Family Court upside down by asking us to consider:

Why are these cases in court at all?
Why do child protective agencies and juvenile prosecutors flood courts with cases?
Why do we use courts as ongoing arbiters in family disputes?

Spinak believes that current reforms in Family Court are creating more problems, and beliefs behind these reforms are equally as damaging. Modern reforms driven by the belief that Family Court should have the power to solve family conflicts, and is the authority on what that help should be creates challenges that sabotages families. Specifically, reforms give Courts and judges too much power over individuals and families, and often put the judge in the role as a leader or expert instead of encouraging families to seek help and support from experienced professionals who may be able to resolve the issues with less intrusion on their lives, and their parental rights.

Spinak states the Court must do more than assume the role of an authority or helper to families but must also protect the due process rights of parents, “The court‘s role is to protect both parents right to raise their children as they choose and children‘s right to grow up with their families. The United States Constitution prohibits states from intervening in family life without establishing that a family is unable to protect a child from harm,neglect, abuse, or trouble. If the family affirmatively seeks the assistance of the court, these requests must not automatically trigger additional court intervention without clear proof of harm…unless a legally defined harm can be established, the courtcannot function as a problem solver no matter what positive consequence results“.

Spinak is very clear that families should be able to seek help elsewhere, not from the courts alone, and that Family Court should use its “coercive power” over families only as a last resort. Other sources of help a family may utilize could include: education, faith based support, social welfare, community resources, etc

2) The Myth of Family Court – Why Meaningful Reform is Obscured

Spinak believes that stories, rhetoric and myths surrounding Family Court, and its role in society contribute to inability to pass needed reform or make real change, (Spinak) “.. we need to be very careful about heralding courts as problem solvers without sufficient proof of their problem solving abilities.”

I would even assert that these stories are passed on by those working within family court, or holding positions of power who need to perpetuate these myths to keep their own power or privilege. I have also seen a Court covering up its mistakes or corruption by asserting its power, using intimidation or silencing the litigants.

Spinak says we need systematic analysis–not stories–to determine the success of court reforms, and address the real issues involved, “We must be willing to subjectour ideas and models to rigorous analysis rather than relying on anecdotal stories. We must commit to collecting information and analyzing it.”

Emotional attachment to the myth of family court is another reason why reforms fail. The idea of a problem solving court that uses its power to help people generates strong emotion that often prevents people from seeing the reality of the courts challenges and failures.

I would like to go one step further and state those who point out problems in the Court or blow the whistle with their own stories of being victimized by the court are often not believed, not taken seriously because those holding onto these strong emotions cannot face reality. So they simply blame the victims, who often experience retaliation or are forced into silence either by social pressure or judicial order (gag orders, jail time, fines, threats of punishment etc).

Further, reforms in family court are also limited by the way they are framed. A common notion is that family court can be fixed with more money or more judges, more lawyers, “more everything”. This framework keeps people from seeing alternative solutions, and insists the Court can fix its own problems. If the resources disappear, reform does not happen.

I would also like to add that limited framework happens when those initiating reform work withing family court or legal circles, and when there is no accountability or measure for punishing corrupt officials. Meaningful reform can only happen when the Court is held accountable to the community, its litigants and society as a whole. There has to be assurance, and trust that reform is really taking place. This can only happen when an outside authority working together with those invested in the Court (the community/people) participate in reform, and are able to give input without fear of retaliation.

3) Accountability

According to Spinak, accountability is when we can accept responsibility for the success or failure for the reforms. Spinak says current accountability in the court fails because it lacks “systematic knowledge” which gives an explanation that more than one person can witness, and that explanation appeals to logic, and can apply correctly “from one situation to another”.

Or, in a nutshell (Spinak), “In the realm of family court reform, common sense, lack of skepticism, and traditional framing have limited the ability to objectively examine the effectiveness of
our reform efforts. For fifteen years we have been engaged in a nationwide effort to reform
family court without bringing to that reform a critical eye.”


Spinak then analyzes the various efforts at reform, which was a bit lengthy so I did not cover it here but you can read more at: http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/30-years-family-advocacy/files/Spinak-Rhetoric-Reality.pdf

An Idea for Reform – Limiting the Court’s Power, Strengthening Families

Spinak argues that limiting the Court’s power is better for the family.

A Court that guarantees due process of litigants would better balance the needs of the family and the role of the Court. Parents have a fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of their children. Giving more power to the Court to make those decisions, ultimately, takes away from the power–and legal rights–of the parent. Reforms that enforce the notion the the Court or the Judge is a helper or a needed authority, and expand its power often create more problems because the family is stripped of these inherent rights (and such help or support could be better met through alternate resources, relying on the Court only in this manner as a last result).

Two models for reform are analyzed. In one, Spinak proposes that providing more lawyers in family court would help–not just any lawyer but a lawyer willing to work as a team in shared offices with social workers and parent advocates. In Spinak’s theory, the team would assist the family outside of court, and if problem could not be solved, they would go to court together–with the goal of resolution (not as adversaries). The parent would have confidentiality working with this team through all phases of the legal process–filing to appeal. In this way the family is not relying on the court to solve problems but is using an experienced team of professionals to address the issues by using skills in “law, social services, and life”. This model would be tested by comparing outcomes using this model to those who did not; if the outcomes were better, the program could be expanded.


CONCLUSION – Failed Courts Fail Families

In conclusion, Family Court is in desperate need of reform, its failures greatly impact the families and children, often with devastating results.

Spinak has outlined the history of Family Court and its attempts at reform, and effectively outlined the reasons why reform has failed. She has also given ideas for testing the reforms, and possible measures that may help. Her experience in the legal profession, and as a law professor, offer valuable insight..and demand action. Attempts at Family Court reform should not stop with the hope that things will work but should be met with rigorous testing and analysis to determine that these reforms actually work. The Court should not be relied on a sole source of authority and help, but rather other resources and professionals should be employed so that the families involved so that the families involved maintain their rights to the control and care of their children. Efforts need to continue until families are fairly represented in Court, and given the protection they deserve.

Efforts to reform Family Court have been hindered by beliefs about the role of the Court that has proven to be damaging to families, and by emotional ties that deflect the idea of change. Attempts for reform that expand the Courts power, infringe on the rights on parents, or simply throw money at the Court for more resources, staff, etc have also been tried–but never formally examined or tested to determine their success. Society has largely been placated by the idea of “reform” without actually accomplishing anything. The voice of the victims of Family Court failures are drown out in the cry for reform, or used to pass ineffective measures–without any real steps taken to making improvements, or holding the Court accountable when its actions hurt those it should be protecting. There is no justice in failed reforms, failed policies, and failed courts.

Thank you Jane M Spinak for your sharing your experiences and insight. I also hope we can work towards meaningful reform in Family Court, and a system that better protects families while safeguarding the rights of parents and children. — EJ