Today is the day of reckoning for my friend in her fight to keep full custody of her child. My husband dropped me off at my her house this morning. When I knocked on the door she reminded me of a squirrel chasing another squirrel up and down a tree. Except the squirrel she was chasing was invisible.
She was bouncing around from room to room, shuffling paperwork, printing off last minute copies, looking for photographs of injuries inflicted on her child and other items associated with her case – and she wasn’t dressed yet. She was geared up and going nowhere fast. She was driving us to the courthouse in downtown traffic in this state of mind. It made me pause, and that became the cause for me to pray for her, the drive and the day. I stopped her long enough to give her a hug. She was scared to death of loosing her only child to her abuser.
It’s 9:00 o’clock a.m. when we were actually walking into the court room. A few others came to give her the moral support she needed and to be a witness on her behalf. She was frantic, carrying a cardboard box of paperwork while her opponents dressed accordingly toting their own in stylish crates on wheels.
We did the best we could, in the short window of time that we had, to pull together as much information as we could, so she could defend her right to retain custody of her abused child. To do so, she would have to stand up and state her case, then prove the ‘abuse’ really existed.
The Plaintiff, (her abuser) and his attorney sit at a table to her right. On her left are two other attorneys, each representing a State agency that had a variety of interactions with the Defendant. My friend, has been relegated to sitting in very the center of the room, directly in front of the judge. I felt an overwhelming sense of the imbalance of things.
Over the years, this woman had no choice but to send her child or leave him with his abuser. A court order took the choice right out of her hands. She even went to jail for 30 days and was slammed with a year of probation by withholding her son from his abuser.
My friend had sought out help from the resources available within the system in her region, and she was referred to other programs in the process. A Guardian Ad Litem had been appointed to her son by a previous court order, and an attorney with that agency was present in court today.
My friend fulfilled her obligations of attending all court ordered programs including co-parenting classes with her abuser and jumped through all the hoops they required.
Today, it looked as if they were all taking a definitive stance against her. Both agencies appeared to be contact with her abuser’s attorney from the glances, smirks and verbal exchanges within the courtroom. All the people involved in this case over the span of years have given their opinions. Some have assessed, evaluated and judged their position on the custody of this child. Judgments that may have been colored by their personal interactions with my friend along the way.
There is a great deal of research available to show us what few know, acknowledge or even talk about when it comes to “the abuse of power in the system” on the people who are up to their neck and treading water in it.
“As in many other professional contexts, detection of abuse has been a major problem in the context of custody evaluations. In many custody-visitation proceedings, professionals fail to detect.” In addition, Daniel G. Saunders states “When evaluators are taught that women are the primary victims, they may produce biased evaluation outcomes.“ Implicit bias in the courtroom. UCLA Law Review, 59(5), 1124–1186.
“Recommendations for custody and visitation in cases involving intimate partner violence (IPV) need to be developed with extreme care. Victims and their children risk serious harm if sole or joint custody is awarded to a violent parent, or if that parent is not awarded custody but has poorly supervised visits” Evaluation Practices and Policies in Cases of Intimate Partner Violence, Journal of Child Custody, 12:1, 71-92, DOI: 10.1080/15379418.2015.1037052 – (Research Based Recommendations for Child Custody); Kang, J., Bennett, M., Carbado, D., Casey, P., Dasgupta, N., Faigman, D., & Mnookin, J. (2012).
“Research also shows that victims of domestic violence are greatly disadvantaged in mediation that that mediators failed to recognize and report domestic violence cases.” “This review focuses primarily on male-to-female violence because….women are more severely injured physically and psychologically than men.” Ref: Daniel G. Saunders, PhD.
“Mediation of child custody disputes is mandated in several states. Investigators have averred that victims of domestic violence (DV) are greatly disadvantaged in mediation. The present study empirically evaluated outcomes and found that mediators failed to recognize and report DV in 56.9% of the DV cases. The court’s screening form failed to indicate DV in at least 14.7% of the violent cases. Mediation resulted in poor outcomes for DV victims in terms of protections, such as supervised visitation and protected child exchanges. Mediator capacity to focus on the child’s best interest was called into question. Child custody mediation should not be mandated in cases of DV.” Child custody mediation in cases of domestic violence: Empirical evidence of a failure to protect. Violence Against Women, 11(8), 1022–1053. doi:10.1177=1077801205278043 –
We all know that interactions from some women facing the system and those within the system is traumatic in and of itself. My friend has been diagnosed with PTSD was being cornered by not one attorney, but a total of three attorneys. She is overwhelming stressed and is “shaking” as she speaks after 10 years of having to encounter her abuser by court order and having no choice than to leave her child with her known abuser.
The thought of her abuser having full custodial rights and being the primary caretaker of her son, after 10 years of fighting for her sanity and her son, was almost too much for her to bear. These attorneys “knew” exactly what they were doing by placing her in the middle of the room between them and directly in front of the judge. They knew she would not be able to communicate efficiently.
My friend waved me up front to sit with her at the table, not only for support but a sense that she wasn’t standing alone. All three attorney’s approached the judge and I was removed from sitting with her “because I was not an attorney.” She was visibly stricken and started shaking a bit more, knowing she would have to be up there on her own. The process was slow. The Plaintiff’s’ attorney, an attorney for DSS and the court designated attorney that was appointed as Guardian Ad Litem for her son, all took their time to state their case.
Meanwhile, the subtle interactions between all three attorney’s across the aisle did not go unnoticed by those of us in the gallery, nor did the judge miss a thing. It was not only unprofessional from all of them, including their witnesses, it was childish. The fact that the judge didn’t miss a thing made me smile.
When my friend got to question the witnesses for the State and the Plaintiff, she did her best. She was clearly not an attorney. The judge knew this. She was confused and unfocused, but she held herself up and didn’t break down. Her questions led nowhere and in fact there were many times she forgot to ask a question at all. The blessing was that the judge was patient and tolerant (to the dismay of the State and the Plaintiff’s attorney). He saw her condition and he saw the smirks and chuckles of the “professionals” who were attempting to break her down fly across the tables in front of him.
It wasn’t until well after a late lunch break that my friend was able to “state her case.” Her defining moment was when she held up her timeline with backup copies of the original planners to submit it into evidence and spoke up loud and proud – “This is MY VOICE!” “This document IS My Voice your honor!” This is a historical account of the abuse over the past 10 years that both I and my son have endured.
All three attorneys “objected” it as evidence. All three, especially the Plaintiff’s attorney voicing it as being “highly objected” as evidence. My friend’s questioning of her abuser already revealed her client’s arrest records which unseated her considerably and undermined the case that he was a “good man.” The document in question provided additional proof, and was complete with doctor’s names, hospital records and even a handwritten letter from her deceased mother that my friend found after her mother passed a few months ago. In addition, she had a recorded statement from her deceased mother in the Social-Emotional Evaluation of her son by one of the State agencies.
I truly feel her mother was present at her side during this last phase of this hearing session. She had very little time to pull it all together. The judge “accepted” her documents into evidence despite ALL of their objections. I bowed my head in gratitude for that defining moment.
The hearing lasted right up till 6:00 p.m. last Tuesday. The Plaintiff’s attorney thought she had the case nailed, as did the other two attorneys for the State. She pushed “twice” for a ruling at the close, and requested that the child be removed immediately and placed into the father’s care. She also had the audacity to request surveillance on my friend citing her “mental state” and the potential that she would flee the State. Really???
The judge shook his head at her callousness and denied her a ruling on the spot, stating that he would have to look at “ALL” of the evidence presented and that he would “email” his ruling to her, the other attorneys present and to the mother “when he was done.” You would think an attorney would not have a temper tantrum like a two year old. It was quite funny watching her twist her lip and make faces as if no one was looking. I swear she stomped one foot in the process. I believe the Plaintiff’s attorney was beside herself. In fact, all three of them were all stunned.
At the writing of this post, there has still been no word of the judges ruling. It looks like we will have to wait a little longer.
What do you think will happen?