Allow reporters access to family courts

Afua Hirsch reports in the Guardian (Family courts must let reporters report) that family courts should allow reporters in to report on matters. I heartedly agree.

As a member of the Family Court Reform Coalition, family court has a crisis going on. (See also: Protesters say NJ court denies justice to women) Battered women often lose custody to abusive ex-husbands. Batterers are highly likely to abuse their children, too. These guys often end up with unsupervised visitation or even custody. Why? The battered woman often presents poorly. She’s depressed, afraid, nervous, or even hostile. The latter does not bode well in today’s family courts that have “friendly parent policies,” where they reward parents likely to share responsibilities with the other parent. Guess who appears more “friendly”? You got it, the batterer – the one who often has a likeable, even charming exterior. As most batterers are major control freaks, can you even imagine for one second that they’d let their ex walk out of court with the children?

Moreover, family courts allow nonscientific theories like parental alienation syndrome (PAS), which is not accepted by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Medical Association (AMA). PAS was created by a scientist many consider pro-pedophilia. He used the term to defend child molesters. In this theory, he blames mothers for “alienating” or poisoning the minds of children against their fathers. (PAS is used almost exclusively by men.) Research from Harvard suggests men who abused their children often used PAS in their defense…and got away with it. This is what happens in a typical case: The mother alleges child abuse or child sexual abuse. The child shows fear of the father and perhaps hostility. The father counters that the mother alienated the child against him. For this reason PAS is referred as the “abuse excuse.” Unfortunately, PAS is often accepted in court and results in the protective parent being punished with fines or jail time and loss of custody.

It should be noted that most (~85%) couples decide their own parenting plans. Those that cannot go to family court. The American Bar Association estimates that up to 50% (and I’ve seen estimates up to 75%) of these couples have had high conflict and violence. Despite this, research has found that many divorce files didn’t even record domestic violence that was documented and substantiated. Domestic violence is given little to no weight in family court. Judges seem to believe that when a woman makes a claim of abuse she is doing so to manipulate the court. She may even be punished for making a so-called false allegation. These punishments, it should be mentioned, deter reporting. For all these reasons, family courts are in dire need of reform. It would be a step in the right direction, then, to allow reporters access to family courts.

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