It is important to refuse to be intimidated. That refusal must not be based simply on a calculation of the odds of succeeding.

At times, in my case, multiple lawsuits and an ethics charge seemed overwhelming, and the fact that I knew my work to be accurate and responsible was only partial solace. l was well aware that court, like the National Football League, is an arena in which, on any given Sunday, anybody can win.

The refusal to be intimidated must come, in the end, not from a sureness of succeeding but from a knowledge of the cost of scurrying for shelter through fake retractions and disowned truths. It is a question, in the end of self-respect.

Who among us could, in good faith, ever face a survivor of childhood abuse again were we to run for cover when pressed ourselves? Children are not permitted that choice, and the adults who choose to work with them and with the survivors they become cannot afford to make it. It would be a choice to become. Through betrayal and deceit, that to which we object. Our alternative, then, is not to hide. not to refuse to treat adult survivors, not to refuse to go to court in their defense, not to apologize and retract statements we know are true, but to cultivate endurance and tenacity as carefully as we read the research.”

“Confessions of a Whistle-Blower: Lessons Learned by Dr. Anna C. Salter. Ethics & Behavior, Volume 8, Issue 2 June 1998”

I highly recommend “Confessions of a Whistleblower”: In 1988 Dr. Salter began a report on the accuracy of expert testimony in child sexual abuse cases utilizing experts Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield as a case study. In response, Underwager and Wakefield began a campaign of harassment and intimidation, which included multiple lawsuits; an ethics charge; phony (and secretly taped) phone calls; and ad hominem attacks, including one that Dr, Salter was laundering federal grant monies. The harassment and intimidation failed as the Dr. Salter refused demands to retract. In addition, the lawsuits and ethics charges were dismissed. Lessons learned from the experience are discussed.

About: Dr. Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard University and obtained a Masters Degree in Child Study from Tufts. She was a Teaching Fellow at both Universities. Dr. Salter has lived in Madison Wisconsin since 1996 and consults half time to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In addition, she lectures and consults on sex offenders and victims throughout the United States and abroad. She has keynoted conferences on sexual abuse in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and England. In all, she has conducted trainings in 50 states and 10 countries. Dr. Salter also evaluates sex offenders for civil commitment proceedings and other purposes.

Some thoughts on how the loss of my children due to an unjust family court order has motivated me to fight for family court reform. This post give you a glimpse into my family, and what the loss of my children means for us.

I dropped my youngest child (not involved in this custody dispute) off at preschool, he gave me the biggest hug and said “Love you Mommy… see ‘ya!” then ran off into the classroom. I remember the tight squeeze of my son’s arms wrapped around his neck. The softness of his hair under my chin. How he smells like bubblegum toothpaste and the crisp, wintery air that dusted snowflakes on his coat. I remember the sound of my child’s sneakers slapping across the linoleum floor when he ran into the classroom. And when the day is done, I will pick my child up from school, we will share our life together, as family.

I treasure each moment with my youngest child because I know the deep pain of being forced to live without your children.

My two oldest children have been unjustly taken from me and sole custody was given to an alleged abuser, with over a dozen child abuse allegations against him. As a result of the abuse, both children have suffered from anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, problems socializing, problems communicating and more. My daughter has been diagnosed with “adjustment disorder” for almost her entire life…I think it is a sign that she has never truly “adjusted” being forced to live an abuser. My son has clear memories of abuse, and when he was younger he would bang his head on the wall or hit himself in the head because physical pain was the only way to drown out the memories. My son now lives a “double life”. He has learned to project an image to the outside world, what he wants people to see…and hides who he really is. My son says that he on purpose blocks things out as a way to cope.

The abuser is using sole custody to totally exclude me from the life of my children. I do not get basic updates about their care or schooling. I wake up each morning with a tremendous emptiness. I do not get the chatter at the table as we eat breakfast. I do not get the hugs. I do not know what my children do during the day, or if they remember to say their bedtime prayers at night. I do not get to see my little girl grow up, and cringe at the thought of an abuser, who has shown no respect for women, is now guiding my little girl as she grows into a teen…all those important questions and conversations a mother and daughter share, will never happen for us. My oldest son spends all of his time on the internet; he has a new family in video games and Skype.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel the incredible grief for my children… the place where my children once nestled in my womb, safe beneath my heart, is empty.

The future for my family is a frame with no photograph.

It was my dream to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to be on the PTA, and attend play groups. I wanted to take my daughter to dance class, and play dress up with her. I wanted to encourage my son to develop his interest in science, and do crazy experiments together… Now I am the Mom involved in never-ending court proceedings. The Mom studying legal blogs, court rulings and rules of procedure—to fight a legal battle just so I can have a place in my children’s lives. I escaped the abuse to give my kids a better life, and now the Court is telling me their life is better with the abuser. Horrific.

I am the Mom who attends meetings, speaks out and takes every opportunity to advocate for my kids…and others like them… families negatively impacted by the failures and injustice within the family court system.

I will never stop fighting to keep my kids safe and to bring them home.

— “EJ”

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:




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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New changes in Connecticut’s Guardian ad Litem program, improving family court for families…

The Guardian ad Litem system in Connecticut has faced public reprise for its lack of accountability, abuses of power, and the high fees incurred by Guardians. Many parents reported being financially destitute and even bankrupted by excessive fees because in the former system in CT, Guardians are billed by the hour with no cap on fees. The parents are billed directly for the fees, and the Judges serve as the collection agency and can throw a parent in jail if unable to pay.

“We have been harmed and taken advantage of by attorneys for minor children and guardian ad litems who enjoy immunity, are deemed infallible, and who have played God, judge and jury with our families and our children, while trampling our basic rights to due process, our civil rights, and our rights to be parents for our children,” the Connecticut Coalition for Family Court Reform said in public hearing testimony in March 2014. (The CT Mirror)

Counter arguments state that conflicts between parents during custody/divorce disputes create major hurdles to overcome, and that parents need increased opportunities for education and resources to settle disputes outside of court. Some of the Connecticut state task force report and recommendations includes recommendations for parents involved in divorce/custody disputes. Other arguments state the family court system does need some change but Guardians are being unfairly targeted as the cause of the problems.

“We’ve got to start talking about collaboration. Nobody’s in disagreement here — the system needs some change.”says Elizabeth Thayer, who was a member on the task force.

Concerned parents have gathered to sign petitions urging reform, to raise public complaints and urge the legislators to act. The Legislators have heard the complaints and worked diligently to change aspects of the current Guardian ad Litem system in CT.

Here is a brief overview of the new laws to reform the Connecticut GAL system:

January 31, 2014: A Connecticut state task forces issues a report and recommendations on the care and custody of children involved in legal disputes. The task forced studied the roles and responsibility of Guardian ad Litems involved in custody disputes, studied issues related to the ability of parents to co-parent after divorce/separation and what to do about noncompliance (CG46b-56) and whether the state should adopt a presumption of shared custody as being in the best interest of children. The task force held 13 meetings, including a 15 hour public meeting during the 4 month course of developing this report.
Read the report here:

April 2014: Connecticut passes law to reform Guardian ad Litem system, legislation passed unanimously in the House and Senate, “The bill seeks to address the broken divorce court system,” said Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford).

The new law requires the courts to give families a choice of 15 lawyers to serve as Guardians; this gives parents more say in the selection of a Guardian. The law also instructs judges to consider issues like financial circumstances, language barriers, transportation and how close a Guardian’s office is to the residence of each parent in the selection. There are an estimated 1,000 Guardians registered in Connecticut, they are not required to be an attorney but many are.

May 8, 2014 – this law goes into effect October 1, 2014: Bill 494 now Public Act No. 14-3 concerning Guardians Ad Litem (“GAL”) and Attorneys for Minor Children (“AMC”):

This bill includes:
(Sec. 1) When a Guardian is to be appointed, the Court will provide the parents with a list of 5 prospective Guardians to choose from. If the parents cannot agree on a Guardian, the Court will decide. If the parents mutually agree on a Guardian that is not on the list, they can submit a written agreement to the Court to appoint that person.
(Sec. 1c) After the appointment of a Guardian, the Court will enter an order that includes the following information: the specific duties of the Guardian, the date which the appointment of the Guardian is to expire (can be extended with good cause), the deadline for reports or work to be turned in, the fee schedule for services, the retainer, the hourly rate to be charged, the appointment of fees to be paid by each party, and a schedule for court review of the work done by the Guardian and the fees charged. Periodic review to occur not less than 6 months from the date of appointment unless there is a written agreement from both parties, and filed with the court.
(Sec 2) The Court may appoint counsel for the child at any time if it is in the best interest of the child. Counsel shall be related to issues if care, custody, support, visitation and education of a minor child.
(Sec 3) Allows for a third party to intervene by motion, and counsel to be appointed for the child if appropriate. The court will be guided by the best interest factors, and the wishes of the child (if appropriate) in determining this motion.
(Sec 4) The Judicial Branch will outline procedures for those seeking removal of a Guardian or counsel for a child. Prior to hearing the motion, the Court may refer parties to mediation. If the allegations cannot be resolved, a hearing will be held. The presiding judge will appoint the judge who is assigned to hear the motion.
(Sec 5) A court can order parents to pay fees related to court services appointed for a child, however those fees cannot be court ordered to be paid from a child’s college savings fund. If a child is receiving public assistance, their fees may be paid through the public defender program.
(Sec 5) If warranted, a parent may given a sliding-scale fee to pay for the services of a Guardian. The Judicial Branch will develop and implement the sliding scale system.
(Sec 6) The Judicial Branch will create and publicize a document to give information to the public about the roles, responsibilities and general statutes regulating Guardians

June 2014: Gov. Dannel Malloy signed Public Act 14-3. an Act Concerning Guardian ad Litems and Public Attorneys for Minor Children in Family Relations Matters into law.

Note: Public Act 14-3 expands on SB 484 by outlining the 16 Best Interest factors used when determining a child custody/visitation motion. It also establishes a professional code of conduct for a Guardian or counsel for a minor. You will find these changes listed in the Public Act, not in the Bill.

The above list from SB 494 and Public Act 14-3 is not meant to be all-inclusive and only reflects some of general areas of reform, please read the law in its entirety for complete information:

SB 494:

Public Act 14-3:

Critics believe the new laws do not go far enough to reform the GAL system because it does not offer a system to investigate and take disciplinary action against a Guardian who is breaking the law or violating the codes of conduct.

This is a serious issue, as demonstrated in a comment Peter Szymonik made in a petition to the Judiciary, Connecticut Guardian ad Litem Reform, “Rather than working to resolve problems, the Court has instead became a source of further harm and abuse due to the complete lack of oversight of any kind over the GAL system.”

Further, parents are often punished or retaliated against for voicing complaints against Guardians, judges and other judicial officers. Parents deserve protection and a fair system to file complaints; with disbarment for attorneys and other disciplinary measures for those who violate the laws or the codes of conduct. These are valid arguments, and I hope they will be resolved with continued efforts to improve the system.

Connecticut, assisted by the tears and courageous work of concerned parents, family members and advocacy groups, has taken strides towards reforming the Guardian ad Litem system. This is an important step in protecting the rights and welfare of parents and children…and an encouragement for other states to consider, and implement reform. I hope that Connecticut, and other states, will continue to work to make the system more fair, transparent and responsive to all parents, and families, involved in family court and in the Guardian ad Litem program.



Other ideas for GAL reform:

*Create an independent commission to evaluate and approve the appointment of a GAL. GALs are then subject to appointment and if necessary, removal—a similar process as used by judicial selection. Norman Pattis:

*Improved training, for Guardians to include improved education and skill building.

*Continued enhancement of systems and coordination within the Judicial branch.

*Improved accountability with enforced, regulation and monitored disciplinary action for those Guardians who step outside of the statutes regulating them.

*Parties should be allowed to obtain discovery from a Guardian like any other witness, including the ability to receive a copy of their own file and information created and gathered by the Guardian (redacting information as needed for privacy or for the protection of a victim of domestic violence).


*Standardized billing procedures for Guardians

*Specify rates and fees for a Guardian, with a cap on fees. Any additional fees incurred above the cap must be approved by a judge. If both parents are indigent, the state shall bear the costs. (The CT Task force capped fees at $10,000).


Connecticut Family Court Reform:

Connecticut Guardian ad Litem Reform (Founded by Peter Szymonik):!about_us/csgz

“General Assembly unanimously passes family-court reform” by Mark Pazniokas, The CT Mirror, 4/25/2014:

Petitioning the State of Connecticut Judiciary Committee, “Reform the State’s Corrupt and Broken Guardian ad Litem System” by Peter Szymonik:

Petition to Reform Connecticut’s Broken Family Court and Guardian ad Litem System, presented to the State of Connecticut, Judiciary Committee, March 2014 (includes 700 electronic signatures and comments from signers):

Task Force Public Hearing (Connecticut Family Court Reform):

Testimony of Michael Nowacki to the Connecticut Task Force:

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.


“Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics” by ‘Psychopaths and Love’:

“Eight Easy Ways to Spot an Emotional Manipulator” by Fiona McColl & Heartless Bitches International (

“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:

Title: “Exposing Child Advocates/Best interest Attorneys/Guardian Ad Litem”
By:, Reporter Jeff Chirico
Read the Story At:
Posted By: Moms Fighting Howard County Court Corruption,
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.


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:

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