Family court, the place we are forced to contend with when matrimonial bliss goes bust, has become the demolition derby for troubled families. It’s a shooting gallery, where children and fathers are driven past women and lawyers like pop-up targets, not for the sake of justice, but because the carnage is a cash cow for all the wrong people.
This is not just a scenario endemic to divorce. It is not just the best we can do with a system that means well. It is a bad system that does bad things for all the wrong reasons, the most common being money.
The family law system has evolved, or devolved, depending on how you look at it, into an adversarial theater of the damned, where turpitude and mendaciousness are considered good breeding; where children, fathers and families are exploited as a matter of routine.
Court officials are quick to tell anyone interested that they act in “the best interest of the children.” They even practice saying it in a haughty, sanctimonious tone.
Don’t buy it. The courts are about only two things. Money and winning, in that order. They even have it rigged so that we usually know who the winner is before the gavel ever hits the wood. The only real mystery is the final tab.
And children? Their best interest is the first thing to go, disposable as Kleenex. That’s what happens when you turn them into property and use them as bargaining chips along with houses, cars and bank accounts, and when you put them at the mercy of judges and lawyers that see them not as children being traumatized by the unraveling of their families, but as marks in a carnival side show.
The money game goes much deeper than the bottom of the average pocket. Carol Rhodes, author of the highly recommended “Friend of the Court, Enemy of the Family,” was involved in the family courts for 20 years. She is a former enforcement officer and investigator for the 37th circuit family court in Michigan
Her considerable experience in a system touted to be in the best interest of the child, was quite actually the opposite.
“It was all about money,” she says.
“How to get the federal and state dollars that were allotted each case for enforcement. In fact,” she continues, “our director would say regularly, ‘we are not the friend of the family, we are the friend of the court.’”
In her book she goes on to describe how caseworkers were encouraged to robotically push through increases in child support, with rubber stamping from the judge, because it meant increases in revenue to the court. She details how her offices were managed with a philosophy of deception and a focus on increased revenue rather than the interests of families.
It was a system, she maintains, that regularly buried complaints over visitation because there was no money in enforcing the rights of the visiting parent, or in acting in the interest of the children from which those parents were severed.
Ultimately the 37th Circuit became such a success at generating revenue for the court that they became a model of training for other counties and states that were only too happy to emulate their practices.
Gathering up the cash from broken families isn’t limited to the courtrooms and the lawyers.
Dr. Stephen Baskerville, in his enlightening book, “Taken into Custody,” also exposes the rampant corruption in the entire system. Baskerville points out that psychotherapists, social workers and various social agencies are also in the game.
He cautions us to remember and consider, and I quote, that “Involuntary divorce involves government agents forcibly removing innocent people from their homes, seizing their property, and separating them from their children. It requires long term supervision over private life by state functionaries, including police and jails.”
It is evident, both from sound research and common sense, that it would be in the best interest of the child to maintain a close, loving relationship with both parents regardless of the marriages collapse; to let the parenting continue, to insist on it, even as the marriage ends. Courts could make that the objective if they were interested in childrens welfare. Instead what usually happens early in the process is the first strike by the court on the core of the family, the restraining order, almost always on the father. They issue them without proof or corroboration, not to protect children, but to take the family down the road to child support orders and the money the courts make from enforcing them.
Read Roades and Baskerville. It’s all there.
Fighting the process is treacherous. Rhodes informs us that when men who knew their rights or fathers rights activists came to the court, the word was passed around beforehand and they were targeted for all the punitive wrath at the judges considerable disposal.
It’s all part of protecting the game; in the best interest of the court, as it were.
And the bias toward women as better guardians of children from earlier days fits in quite well with the schemes of modern courts. All the better and easier for the fixed fight to have a designated winner. No one has to take a dive when the judges hold the scoring cards and have them marked before the opening round.
Best interest of the child? Indeed.
If it stopped there, at the money, it would still be bad enough. But that is the problem. The courts set up Mom and Dad as lifetime adversaries. They often continue their battles after the divorce with the dedication of Palestinians and Israelis, their children (remember them?) ever caught in the crossfire.
Let’s be really clear about what child custody means. It translates quite literally to ownership. It isn’t just the ability to control when and where Dad and children see each other and how much he will pay Mom and the courts for the privilege of doing so. Managing conservators have the unilateral power to undermine visitation and the father-child bond with impunity. The courts give it to them.
They have the daily opportunity, and quite frequently the desire, to assassinate the character of the absent father; to twist the child’s memory and perceptions to fit with those of the embittered mother.
Over time, fathers go from being Daddy to being a visitor to being estranged to being a memory, and probably not a good one. It’s not uncommon. You know people to which this, or something like it, has happened.
And the next time you hear someone bemoan that Dad doesn’t even try to spend time with the kids since the divorce, consider what he might be dealing with when he does.
Sara Jane: “Daddy, did you beat mommy up?”
Dad: “No, sweetie, I never did anything like that!”
Sara Jane: “Mommy said you did and that is why you had to leave.”
Dad: “Well, honey, I never did.”
Sara Jane: “Daddy?”
Dad: “Yes, sweetie?”
Sara Jane: “Are you going to beat me up, too?”
He can’t fight this. He doesn’t have enough parenting time to give the needed, corrective balance to his daughters life. The courts have made sure of it. The ex knows it and uses it.
It is easy to tell Dad that he just needs to man up and rough it through seeing the minds of his children poisoned with lies and hatred against him. But of course, if we do that then we are no more really concerned with the best interest of the child than the courts or some of the mothers. For in the conversation you just read, it is the child who suffers most. She is being condemned to a worldview of men and fathers that will stain each and every relationship she has for the rest of her life.
Restructuring a family is a delicate and difficult matter. But it will remain much more difficult than is necessary until we restructure or eliminate the corrupt, arrogant and destructive family courts that currently have the responsibility for doing so.
There is no panacea, though getting government out of marriage and divorce would be a good idea. In the absence of that, removing incentives for courts to exploit broken families would be a start. False allegations in family court to obtain restraining orders should result in prison terms. And judges should be removed from the bench and prosecuted themselves for severing a parent-child relationship without a proven reason.
It’s child abuse, pure and simple, and sadly illustrates that while what we need desperately are judges with integrity and a passion for justice, what we have in reality are legions of Tony Soprano’s in black robes.