How To Stay Sane In Family Court

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In a perfect world, two people who have a child together would stay together forever living happily ever after with their children.  In a next to perfect world, couples who divorced would both me mentally healthy people, who were both great parents, and they could work out a perfect schedule where the children would have access to both parents without having to uproot their lives every few days.  Sadly, there are many families out there for whom these utopia type worlds don’t exist.  There are many families where one, or both, parents are not mentally well – and the children are caught in a war that is fueled by a corrupt and broken justice system.

Every so often, I get an email from a parent in despair – a parent who is caught in a vicious cycle of legal abuse.  Our current Family Court System is designed in such a way that abusers are able to run rampant over their victims like spoiled children throwing colossal temper tantrums.  The children caught in the middle of these legal wars suffer for years, many never establishing an emotionally healthy situation.  For the parent who is being stomped all over by the tantrum throwing co-parents (who most likely has a personality disorder of some sort), the trauma can become overwhelming.  In the best cases, these parents become numb to the continued abuse.  In the worst cases, parents are driven to the point of even taking their own life out of complete despair.

Given that so many parents seem to be stuck in this endless cycle of abuse, I thought I would take some time this week to share some of the things I tell people when they reach out to me asking for advice.  I am not a lawyer, or a psychologist – I am just a mother who knows what it is like to live through legal abuse at the hands of a psychopath.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD):  When I was in the middle of my Custody War, I felt like I was losing my mind.  I felt trapped in a hell that I can’t even begin to describe in writing.  I remember laughing out loud when my therapist told me that I was suffering from PTSD.  “What,” I asking laughing. “I don’t think you heard me correctly.  I am in a legal battle.  I am not a veteran of war.”  My therapist explained, however, that while I didn’t suffer from what is often reported in the media as causing PTSD, I was suffering from a form of repeated trauma.  One of the first things I tell parents in this situation is that they need to identify that they are under extreme stress, and they need to get help for that.  One of the worst things you can do in a situation like this is assume that you can handle this alone.  Not seeking therapy for PTSD is like deciding not to put a caste on a broken leg and then wondering why you can never seem to walk right again.

Find A Good Lawyer:  Now, in my book, what you look for in a Family Attorney needs to be different from any other types of attorneys.  For example, your business attorney doesn’t need to understand emotions or have experience with children.  While your Family Attorney is not your therapist, your attorney needs to understand how to deal with this highly emotional situation.  He/she needs to be the type of person who can deal with drama without adding their own layer of drama.  If your case has an element of Domestic Violence, reach out to local advocacy groups and get referrals for attorneys who have handled these types of cases before.  Never ever waste your money with a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in Family Law.  I made the huge mistake of dumping butt loads of money into an attorney who had no business handling Family Court cases.  By the time I realized he was a fraud, I had spent thousands of dollars and had to hire new attorneys to pick up the pieces.  Finally, lawyers will waste your money if you let them.  You need to be in the driver seat in this relationship, and don’t be afraid to assert yourself – you are the client after all.

Find What Makes You Happy:  Find activities that make you feel happy and calm.  There may come a time when you have to turn your child over to the other parent, and you do not want to be sitting at home crying the entire day.  If your situation is even half as scary as mine was, you are going to need to do some things to distract yourself so that you can be as calm as possible when the child comes home.  During the first unsupervised visit that my son had with his eventual killer, some of my friends took me for a spa day.  While I was still a bag of stress, I really appreciated that I was actively trying to relax with friends instead of sitting at home watching the clock.  Use this time to do things that you can’t do with your children.

Don’t Stress About Things You Cannot Control:  This was the hardest point for me to follow when I was going through the custody war.  I would worry about everything from what my son would be eating to whether he would have regular diaper changes, etc.  I would also spend hours worrying about what the judge would do.  One of the toughest things about Family Court is that there are so many things do don’t have control over.  Spending time stressing about those things, is time wasted.  Instead, try to focus on things you can change – like your mental health, your own finances, etc.

Focus On The Most Important Thing – Your Child:  I don’t have many regrets about what I did in my son’s life, because I know that I was the best Mom that I could be given the circumstances that I was dealt.  That said, I do have one really big regret that continues to haunt me.  For the majority of the 15 months my son lived, I was actively trying to save his life by making sure his father was never alone with him.  The fact that I couldn’t stop unsupervised access haunts me, but more importantly, I am pained by the quality time I missed with my son while I was on the phone with lawyers or stressing about the case.  While I am not sure there is anything I could have done differently, as I couldn’t have ever imagined it would end the way it did, I will never ever get back those moments.  When I would come home from work, my son would routinely hide my phone in one of his trucks.  He wanted me to pay attention to him, instead of spending my evening screaming on the phone trying to get someone to help us.  Spend quality time with your children.  Try to make the time when you have your children all about them.  Don’t wake up when they are 18 and realize that you spent their entire childhood fixated on the custody war.

In closing, know that you are not alone.  Millions of parents around the world are forced to parent in tremendously terrible situations.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, step back, and count your blessings.  Even after suffering the worst case scenario with the death of my son, I often have to step back and realize that I have a lot to be thankful for.  In the midst of the worst abuse of my life, I had the chance to be the mother to a beautiful little angel.  I will forever be thankful for every single second I had with him.  Hang in there Mamas and Papas.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

 

 

The Parallels between Family Court and the Tobacco Industry: What We Can Do as a Nation to Protect Innocent Lives

Protest Photo of Grandparents 10-21-13

This week’s post comes from a my friend and fellow child advocate, Patrice Lenowitz.  Patrice is the founder and co-facilitator of The Nurtured Parent Support Group for survivors of domestic abuse. She is also the co-playwright of FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT, a three year play project written with author and dv expert Lundy Bancroft. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is a theatrical production that tells the true stories of family court victims, and raises questions about the improper court response to domestic violence and child abuse. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is expected to open to audiences in the fall of 2014. Most recently, Patrice and actress Kelly Rutherford co-founded the CHILDRENS JUSTICE CAMPAIGN, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public through the media about the injustices occurring to innocent children in the U.S. family court system.


In January of this year, Liz Szabo wrote an article in USA TODAY entitled U.S. smoking warning made history, saved lives. The article was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking and Health. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that with the Surgeon General’s report, “this was the first time that the government was saying, no, there is no doubt that smoking causes cancer.” Although the tobacco industry has extreme economic and political might, America quickly began to question the health related risks of smoking due to the new research being presented. Responding to public concern, Congress was forced to take action. Although it took another six years to implement, in 1971 Congress passed legislation requiring a “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING” be placed on all cigarette packages. The tobacco industry responded in kind by switching up their advertising tactics, and began targeting women, children, and minorities.

Fortunately throughout the years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health have continued doing research, and have been responsible for 29 reports on the numerous health consequences of smoking. It was research that inspired the Surgeon General’s 1986 report determining that secondhand smoke was dangerous to non-smokers and smokers alike, and because of which, more life-saving measures were set in motion by public outrage. In 1989, Congress banned smoking on domestic flights, which lead to restaurants, offices, and most public spaces being declared non-smoking. Despite the powerful economic and lobbying influence of the tobacco industry to promote something that not only makes the public sick, but kills, the public’s anti-smoking campaigns have continued to take a stand to protect innocent lives by educating the public about the health risks of smoking. As Szabo’s article states, the U.S. smoking “WARNING” did make history, and because of which, it has saved countless lives.

So what does this have to do with Family Court?

1n 1998, the first Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study, led by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, is the largest study of its kind ever conducted to examine the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan. What they discovered is that adverse childhood experiences will represent medical and social problems of national importance. A child being exposed to certain traumas, such as an alcohol or drug-addicted parent, domestic violence in the home, being sexual abused, or being separated from a primary attachment parent, are strong predictors of childhood illnesses and injuries, later health risks, disease, and premature death. Similar to the harm caused by smoking tobacco, adverse childhood experiences will determine the likelihood of the 10 most common causes of death in the United States. The good news? Just like with tobacco related illnesses, adverse childhood experiences are preventable.

Beginning in the late 1990’s however, a most catastrophic trend began to emerge. Family court judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, parenting evaluators/coordinators, therapists and child protective service organizations began to ignore the health and safety of children in divorce and custody litigation. Comparable to the tobacco industry who knowingly concealed evidence that demonstrated how harmful nicotine was, family court vendors began to take children away from safe loving protective parents, and placed them with parents that pose a risk to their short and long-term health and safety – for money.And they continue to get away with it today due to a complete lack of transparency and accountability within our courts.

Is family court really a “kids for cash” business?

An estimated 58,000 children a year are court-ordered for custody or unsupervised visitation with reported abusers. That means in many cases, children are being ordered to live with their rapists. Child custody courts are generating approximately $50 billion dollars a year from the business of exploiting families in crisis and putting children in direct harm’s way. Adverse childhood experiences are the most basic cause of health risk behaviors, morbidity, disability, mortality, and health care costs. In fact, it costs taxpayers $500 billion dollars a year in health care related costs due to adverse childhood experiences.

In Jane Ellen Stevens article entitled, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest most important public health study you never heard of…, she references a subsequent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2012 that estimates just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment costs $124 billion over the lifetimes of the traumatized children. She states that the researchers based their calculations on only confirmed cases of physical, sexual and verbal abuse and neglect, which child maltreatment experts say is a small percentage of what actually occurs. Stevens remarks that the breakdown per child looks like this:

•       $32,648 in childhood health care costs

•       $10,530 in adult medical costs

•       $144,360 in productivity losses

•       $7,728 in child welfare costs

•       $6,747 in criminal justice costs

•       $7,999 in special education costs

“You’d think the overwhelming amount of money spent on the fallout of adverse childhood experiences would have inspired the medical community, the public health community, and federal, state and local governments to integrate this knowledge and fund programs that have been proven to prevent ACEs. But adoption of concepts from the ACE Study and the brain research has been remarkably slow and uneven,” said Stevens.

 

So what can we do as a nation to protect innocent lives?

The public cannot protest what it does not know, so let’s tell them! It is time to stand up and speak out America! We need to educate and inspire the unsuspecting public to take action. Reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ACE’s study to start the conversation. Hold family court rallies and protests. Write to your local newspapers, policy makers, medical community, and contact the media demanding that they begin to expose and address one of the greatest social injustices of our time. Eventually, our outrage will inspire Congress to hold our governors responsible for their respective judicial branches of government partaking in dirty deeds. The research is indisputable, and as such, illuminates what our hearts and minds already know to be true. It is our duty to honor the precious life and spirit of a child, and because of which, we must do everything we can to ensure that our courts will protect them from adverse childhood experiences.

Mr. Boris Lushniak, Surgeon General of the United States of America, we call upon you to issue your first WARNING on the U.S. family court system. It will make history, and save countless lives.

 

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Children exposed to the U.S. Family Court System (i.e. judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem), and their vendors (i.e. parenting evaluators/coordinators, social workers from Child Protective Services and Mental Health professionals not properly trained in domestic violence and/or trauma), will likely suffer childhood injuries and illnesses, later health risks, disease, and PREMATURE DEATH.

 

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children's Justice Campaign.  (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children’s Justice Campaign. (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)

 

 

 

 

Chris Mackney – A Casualty of Family Court

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“In hindsight, I recognize that my reactions to being bullied, abused and denied access to my children gave my ex- wife’s attorney the ammunition they were looking for to bring me into Court…

The love that my daughter and I shared was truly special… I am so sorry that I will not be there to see her grow into a beautiful woman.  My son Jack was just entering Kindergarten, when I lost access to him… It absolutely breaks my heart that I will not be able to help him grow into a man. I love you to, Jack. I miss you both so much.

Truth, facts, evidence or even the best interest of my children had no affect on the outcome. The family court system is broken, but from my experience, it is not the laws, it’s the lawyers. They feed off of the conflict. They are not hired to reduce conflict or protect the best interest of children.

I took my own life because I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do or say to end the abuse. Every time I got up off my knees, I would get knocked back down. They were not going to let me be the father I wanted to be to my children. People may think I am a coward for giving up on my children, but I didn’t see how I was going to heal from this. I have no money for an attorney, therapy or medication. I have lost 4 jobs because of this process. I was going to be at their mercy for the rest of my life and they had shown me none.”

           - Excerpts from Chris Mackney’s suicide letter

On December 29, 2013, a man named Chris Mackney took his own life after spending years in Family Court fighting for his children.  While it has been months since his death, I only just learned of it this past weekend when I was notified by a reporter who plans to cover the case.  When I first read the email, I was stunned and speechless.  I am no stranger to stories that demonstrate the devastating impact that Family Court has on the lives of many.  Chris’ story, however, has hit close to home.  It has hit me because Chris was one of my readers, and he had reached out to me only a few short months before his death.

Upon googling Chris’ name to find out the details of his death, I noticed many websites that have attempted to exploit and twist his story in an attempt to make it appear as though it was something that it was not.  The very fact that Chris had asked to work with me shows that he was not a man trying to tie himself with an anti-women’s movement or speak out against mothers.  From what I knew of Chris through our conversations, he was a man who was trying to survive the horrible legal abuse he was enduring.  He was trying to find a way to get back into his children’s lives.  He was trying to navigate a broken system.

Initial Contact:

12/31/2012 – “My name is Chris Mackney.  I post on your site as madmacks…my case is so bad it’s incredible. I want to call for an investigation because there is so much corruption.  The pattern is so clear and they pretend it’s not there.  I wanted to see if we might work together to expose the courts failures in our cases.”

I was initially skeptical of Chris because I receive loads of letters from all sorts of people – some of them don’t appear to be psychologically sound.  I asked Chris to tell me a bit about his story.  Chris responded with a long email explaining his belief that his ex-wife and her father were both psychopaths.  He claimed that he had proof that his ex father in law was a murderer and heroin trafficker.  Chris went on to explain that his ex in-laws were very wealthy, and that his ex-father in law was extremely litigious (sadly, a strong characteristic of psychopathology).

While Chris wanted to stay out of court, and was willing to give custody to his ex-wife to just have access to the children, his ex’s family was determined to eliminate him.  Chris believed that he was being targeted by his ex wife’s family for uncovering the truth about their criminal behavior.  He also believed that if he went public about his case, he would get to see his children.

1/28/2013:  Psychopathy seems to be the problem.  No one wants to touch it.  Even the Father’s Rights groups…On one hand, it is absolutely the single source of conflict in my case, so I want to have it addressed by the court.  On the other hand, I almost do not want to bring it up, because I know they don’t know how to deal with it.  Dealing with psychopaths in court is hopeless.

This was one of the last times that I heard from Chris.

My reaction:

Many people likely read about my story and wonder if there is something wrong with me too for falling for such a sick and twisted person like Luc. Even though I have seen corruption at its worst drive the justice system into the ground, I still read Chris’ story with a skeptical eye.  I wondered if he had been the abuser.  I wondered about the other side of the story.

 Chris’ story haunts me because many things he said were absolutely true.  The claims he made, while seemingly outlandish, could have absolutely taken place given our broken system.  I was never able to help Chris.  I am not sure what I would have been able to do; however, I still feel sadness that I could not help him see that taking his life was not the answer.

The Ending:

In August 2013, a friend of Chris’ reached out to me to tell me that Chris had been arrested.  She claimed that his ex’s family had orchestrated this arrest, and that she feared Chris would kill himself in jail.  In December 2013 – he did kill himself.

I believe that Chris suffered from Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the legal abuse that he endured.  Psychopaths are bullies.  They enjoy litigation and have a strong need to win.  In Family Court, you will always find a lawyer who is willing to take your money.  Sadly, these cases that involve a disordered person can go on for years leaving people completely penniless and emotionally wrecked.

Some people have looked at what Chris did and thought, ‘he must not have loved his children if he was willing to just give up and kill himself.’  Anyone who has been a victim of this sort of vicious cycle of abuse, however, can understand exactly how Chris felt.  Many of the words he wrote in his suicide letter are not rational, and his final behavior doesn’t seem all that sane.  I would argue, though, that what Chris endured as a result of trying to be a father would drive any sane person crazy.

Currently, Chris’ ex wife is trying to erase Chris’ message from the Internet.  She claims that she owns the right to his final words through some sort of copyright.  I wish Chris had stayed and continued to fight here on earth for his children, and for those children who would come next.   I pray that beyond all the rhetoric not he Internet, that his children one day know that their father loved them.  I also hope and pray that after this tragic situation, we can come together and discuss the real issues apparent in Family Court and stop clouding the issue with gender politics.

Rest in peace Madmacks.

In Memory Of Eric K. Barrow – A Protective Father

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Eric K. Barrow – Rest In Peace

 

“Fighting fires, you can do something about what’s going on, and you’re trained to. There’s always the possibility of bringing something terrible to an end. But the fact that my child was hurt . . . it’s like being handcuffed and made to watch it. ”  -  Eric Barrow

I never got the opportunity to meet Eric Barrow.  He passed away before I had the chance.  A good friend (and fellow child advocate), Eileen King, had the chance to get to know him through her work with The Center For Judicial Excellence and Child Justice.  When I read about Eric’s story through Eileen, I automatically felt a connection to him.  I have no doubt that Prince is up in heaven hanging out with this good man.  I write from the perspective of a protective mother, but I want to share Eric’s story so that we all don’t lose sight that fighting for children should be gender blind.  Sadly, dangerous parents can come in either gender.  Eric is an example of a protective father.

Below is a summary of Eric’s case that was prepared by The Center For Judicial Excellence back in 2008:


Eric and his son’s mother never married, but he willingly gave her child support, bought clothes for his son and visited him often during his first year. When the boy was around one, she began refusing to let Eric visit him, so he was forced to file for custody, since the Maryland courts won’t allow parents to file just for visitation. The court granted him three and four day visits in alternating weeks.

After the boy’s mother married another man, Eric knew that something was wrong. His two-year-old son would cry, kick and scream, and try to run away when Eric returned him to his mother and stepfather’s house. It got so bad that Eric reportedly had to give him candy to get him to go back. A few months later, the boy told Eric, “he keeps beating me, Daddy . . . make him stop.” Eric called Child Protective Services (CPS), but without photos or evidence of bruises or cuts, he was told that he was required to turn the child back over to his mother.

When the boy was about three years old, he disclosed to Eric that his stepfather was molesting him. Eric was dressing his son after a bath, and the boy said, “[Stepfather] kisses my penis, Daddy. I don’t want you to kiss my penis.” This time, CPS agreed to investigate, but they informed the boy’s mother first, and about three days later, Eric was charged by the boy’s mother with child abuse. The investigation found that the molestation claims were substantiated, but they couldn’t determine who the perpetrator was. The boy’s mother made him call his stepfather “Daddy,” which complicated the investigation. CPS and the court ordered the mother to take the boy to therapy, and the boy was eventually sent to live with his grandmother on his mother’s side.

A Guardian Ad Litum was appointed by the court to evaluate the custody situation, but Eric says he “acted more like the mother’s attorney and had an attitude.” The court then placed Eric’s son back into custody with his mother and stepfather. A few months later, the boy disclosed more physical and sexual abuse. Eric let his son tell the police about it, but they called his mother and sent him back with her. Three days later, the police followed up to investigate, but by then, the boy had changed his story. Eric later learned that the boy’s mother had threatened to beat him if he ever told anyone about the abuse.

Eric was forced into court many times to urge the court to enforce its order that the mother find therapy for their son. She eventually complied, but the therapist she found apparently informed the boy’s mother each time he disclosed about his abuse. After each disclosure, he was allegedly beaten by his mother and/or stepfather, and his therapist never reported the disclosures to the authorities, as the law requires. Needless to say, Eric’s son soon stopped talking about the abuse altogether.

Eric was forced into court to get a new therapist appointed to work with his son. After a year and a half, the therapist determined that their seven-year-old son was suicidal, and that he was vulnerable to gang violence, drug abuse and alcoholism. The therapist then blamed Eric for going to court to try to get the boy into appropriate therapy, saying that those court appearances about therapy were a big part of the boy’s problem.

Eric faults the whole system, including the police, who repeatedly placed his son in harm’s way. Eric knows that he “can’t give him back his innocence. I can’t make him see the world the way he saw it before.” Now he sees his son every other weekend, and they have a good relationship, despite their seven-year ordeal in the family court system.


What the above story doesn’t capture is that Eric was an American hero.  On September 11, 2001, when a plane flew into the Pentagon, Eric was one of the firefighters whose unit put out the fire.  A year later, on September 11, 2002, Eric’s his unit was at the Pentagon being honored for their incredible work to putting out the fire at the pentagon.  Eric, however, couldn’t attend the event because he was stuck in family court, feeling helpless, unable to protect his son.In March 2013, Eric passed away from a heart attack.  He died in the arms of his son, now a young man – the same some he fought so hard to protect.

There are many reasons that this story struck me when I read it.  Beyond the obvious bond that I have with this man whom I have never met, his story is another example that no matter what sort of life you lead, Family Court remains senseless and humbling.  Here is a man who showed incredible courage in the face of a terrorist attack that shook our nation to its core, and he so elequently explained how nothing was as terrifying as not being able to protect the very person he loved the most – his son.

Many people involved in Family Court reform often get bogged down in gender wars.  They spend hours upon hours arguing which gender has the advantage when it comes to Family Court.  What I have realized, however, is that there are cases across this nation where you see terrible things happening to parents and families of all kind.  At the core of this movement, however, is what is most important – children.

My fellow warriors –  please stand with me to protect our future – our children.

 

Some Important Tips To Survive A Custody War

This past weekend, I took Stela for a walk after we went to church.  My church is located relatively close to the courthouse that I describe as ground zero of the Custody War that was fought against Lucifer.  Until recently, I wasn’t even able to drive through that area without breaking down into tears and shaking hysterically due to the painful memories of the things that took place in that courthouse.  This past Sunday, however, I decided it was time to come face to face with some of the memories that I had been avoiding.

As I walked past the courthouse, I noticed that it had almost doubled in size since the custody war.  My stomach twisted in knots as I looked at the millions of dollars of taxpaying dollars that had been pumped into this broken institution.  While I didn’t break into tears, I don’t think I will ever be able to walk past that place without thinking of the pain that I associate with that time.  I know I will never be able to look at Family Court as a place that cares about the protection of children as it should.

As I reflected on this broken system, and Stela sang her made up baby songs in sheer blissful unawareness, I thought about how my thoughts on Family Court have changed since I have had some time and distance from the legal abuse.  In the past year and a half since my son was murdered, I have spoken to many parents who are in the throws of chaos.  They are enduring their own personal hell in Family Court.  Here are some things I have learned, that you won’t hear from your attorney.  These tips won’t help me anymore, but I wish that I had heard them when I was in the trenches.

You are allowed to fire your attorney:  Legal counsel is expensive, and it’s important.  Bad attorneys don’t have angels on their shoulders telling them not to waste your money.  If you find yourself in one of the below situations with your attorney, run out the door as soon as possible and do not look back.

1)  A Jerk:  If your attorney speaks to you like you are a moron, and get’s mad at you when you get emotional – this will only get worse.  While your attorney shouldn’t be your therapist, a good family attorney will understand what is at stake and be experienced in dealing with emotional parents.  You should never feel like you have to apologize to your attorney for crying or being frustrated with the situation.

(Note:  While crying is completely fair during times of great distress, try and save these emotions for your therapist.  You want your attorney to be able to focus on the legal issues, and not your emotions.)

2) Distrustful:  Your attorney is your advocate.  I recently spoke to someone who made the grave mistake of employing the same attorney who represented Lucifer.  She noted that she was confused as to why her attorney was pushing for her to roll over, and allow her ex more unsupervised access when the man hadn’t established himself in the child’s life (by his own choice).  She wondered why iy seemed like her attorney was working for her ex husband. Sometimes when it appears as though your attorney has an agenda that doesn’t jive with your child’s best interest, it is because they do.  Bottom line – if you don’t trust the person, you shouldn’t give them a dime of your money.

3)  Inexperienced:  My first attorney was a disaster.  He was a business attorney who had a previous relationship with my parents.  When I initially realized that I needed an attorney, I didn’t know who to turn to.  Having never been in a situation like this before, I had no idea how specialized law really was.  While this unethical business attorney claimed he knew family law, he entered the courtroom like a five year old who just stepped through the doors of a University.  Sadly, before I realized that he had no clue what he was doing, he had already spent 30 thousand of my hard earned dollars.  Mistakes like this will cost you.  Before choosing an attorney, ask around for recommendations and go see them in action on another case.

Work to be the best version of yourself:  I will be the first to say that going through Family Court can make a sane person feel crazy.  It is an emotional experience that really cannot be compared to anything else.  Many of us feel as though we are being asked to send our children across a battlefield completely unarmed, while we watch him/her try and dodge the land mines in the field.  Just as you would go to the doctor to get a cast if you broke a foot, you must get counseling if you are going through a Custody War.  When you walk into the courtroom, you need to be the best version of yourself.  You need to be as calm and put together as possible, and you need to think clearly.  This is the fight of your life.  Your children need you to be sane for it.

In addition to going to a therapist, find a good friend you can talk to.  Go for walks, go to the gym, and do things that help to relieve stress.  So many people talk about being too busy to take care of themselves.  Realize that you are not helping your children if you are constantly stressed out.  If Mama ain’t happy – ain’t nobody happy.  (Note: this can apply to Dad’s too.)

Work on things you can control:  One of the hardest things for people to do in Family Court is accept that you have a very limited amount of control.  You cannot stop your ex from lying.  You cannot stop him/her from paying professionals to lie for him/her or from channeling their inner actor and crying on cue.  And ultimately, as painful as it is, you cannot control what the courts decide.  You can appeal your butt off and spend your entire life savings, but most people leave Family Court unhappy.  I would never advocate for giving up on your child.  NEVER give up fighting for your child’s best interest.  That said, for the time you have with your child, make it count.  Even if you only get every other weekend to see your children, make that time special and let them know how much you love them.  Enjoy those moments with your child because you really never know when they could be your last.  And even if your children have the long life my son never had the chance to have, you don’t want to look back at their childhood and realize you never enjoyed any moments with them due to the custody war.

I had 15.5 months with my son Prince.  While he spent 99.9 percent of his life with me, it wasn’t enough.  Now that I have to live with the fact that his father chose to end his life, it makes those times when I had to leave him for only three hours much harder to think about.  I can never get more time with my son now, but the memories that I have of him keep me strong.  I am thankful that, even though much of his life was spent in the horror of Family Court, I took the time to make his life wonderful.

Two days before Prince had his first birthday, we were in court.  I was a horrible day, and I left afraid of what would happen to my son.  For hours after the hearing, I felt like I was living in a complete fog that I couldn’t see through.  I was paralyzed with fear.  Even though I had planned a weekend at the beach, we almost didn’t go because I was so upset.

Luckily, my family was able to help me through that hard time.  They forced me to come to the beach to celebrate Prince’s birthday.  This was the last birthday Prince would ever have.  I am so thankful I was able to take him in the sand, and spoil him that weekend.  If I hadn’t gone that weekend, it would have haunted me to this day.

I will never know what it is like to be stuck in Family Court for 18 years.  I can only imagine what that kind of sustained terror can do to a person.  In my short experience, however, I have learned that the best thing you can do is be the rock that your children need.  Don’t let the terror ruin your ability to make your child’s life wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

Bode Miller’s All-American Fantasy – Family Court Style

This past week, I was reading through US Weekly while in the pumping room at work.  Typically, there isn’t enough time to actually read the articles so most of the time I just browse and look at the pictures.  When I saw the above picture, however, I nearly spilled breast milk all over myself.  Upon first glance, and if you don’t know the back story here, this just looks like a picture of a happy couple with their happy little baby.  The man is Bode Miller.  He is with his new wife, who is holding his son “Nate”.  What this picture doesn’t show, however, is that Nate’s name is actually Sam (Miller decided he didn’t like the name the child’s mother gave him, so he started calling him something else) and the chic holding him isn’t his mom.  Sam’s mom, ex-Marine Sara McKenna, is the woman who Miller describes as a “fling”.  A woman he treated like dirt upon finding out she was pregnant (see text message quotes below), and a woman he appears to be attempting to ignore as a permanent part of his son’s life.

Many American’s cheered for Miller during the Olympics – he was an alpine skier trying to set world records.  This  US weekly article paints Miller as a loving father who is fighting for custody to his son.  What it doesn’t mention, however, is what this man said to the mother of his child before he decided he wanted to take her to court.

“I’m not going to do this with u Sara. U made this choice against my wish and gave me no say. U are going to do this on your own.” Miller told the child’s mother, ex-marine Sara McKenna.

“Having a once a month Dad is not something he deserves, and you should take the chance to walk away while I am still agreeing to it.” Miller continued.

After the above text messages, McKenna decided to move to New York in order to pursue her degree.  Given what Miller said that he didn’t want to be a father, she went ahead and moved while she was pregnant.  After she moved, however, Miller changed his mind.  McKenna was then slammed by a New York judge for moving while pregnant.  The custody battle continues, but what is concerning to me is the dangerous precedent that appears to have been set in this case.  Now, in addition to women having to fight to protect their children, we are going to be told when and where we can travel while pregnant.  McKenna was essentially treated by the courts, and by Miller, as an incubator.  As soon as she had the baby, Miller started to call the child something else and flaunted his new wife as if she was the child’s biological mother.

What This Means:

As I looked at this picture, I tried to understand why it made me so damn angry.  It wasn’t the fact that Miller seemed happy with his new wife, or even that the new wife was holding the child (in an ideal world this child’s step mom should love him).  It was the fact that I can imagine how McKenna must have felt when she saw this picture.  So many women are seen by the court system as “scorned”, but instead of sloshing all of us off as scorned, try and imagine how it would feel to have the person you love most in life taken from you by someone who views you the way Miller obviously views the mother of his child.

Here is a man who basically told his ex to abort the child, and when he changes his mind – our courts hand him access on a silver platter.  Should he have contact with his child?  Of course he should.  He is his father, and by all indications he doesn’t appear to be dangerous.  That said, he should be encouraged by the courts (if not out right forced) to at least pretend to respect the child’s mother.  If he cannot even acknowledge the name the mother picked for the child (when he was mysteriously absent from the birth), this is clearly a problem.

When I was in court, I was terrified.  I was terrified that my son would be hurt (given the fact that people around my ex kept getting killed).  The other day, I tried to imagine how I would have felt if I hadn’t been as concerned about Prince’s safety.  How would I have felt if I just didn’t like Luc as a person, and didn’t think he would be a good influence on Prince.  How would I have felt if after treating me as someone he had just used and abused, he had thrown me aside as he moved in a new woman (and took family pictures with my son as if to show that I had been replaced).  I would like to believe that I would have been strong enough to just be happy that he loved my son, but I think the truth is – that might be asking too much of most of us.

Impossible Super Human Strength:

The courts continuously ask parents to lay their humanity at the doors of the court before entering the court room.  When we act human by crying or expressing fears, we are punished.  When we leave relationships where we are treated poorly, and then have to hand our children over to an abuser, we are scared.  When woman (and men) have to turn their children over to someone they cannot stand to even look at, it is going to cause tremendous pain – even if you know that your child should have access.  The courts do not punish parents for behavior that is not conducive to raise a child.  So most of the time, the co-parent is left in a position to just bite their tongue and try not to show the very raw human emotion that all of us would feel if put in the same situation.

This picture made me sad for all of the men and women who have safety concerns about the person with whom they are forced to co-parent.  It is sad and scary because Family Court is a place where emotions run high.  It is scary because even without a security concern, most people who have gone through Family Court would not be able to look at this photo and not get heated about it.

Looking at this picture made me terribly sad for this little boy.  He deserves to have his mother and his father.  Even if the two of them are not together, he deserves to have parents who can respect each other.  He deserves to be called by his birth name.

 

 

 

Courage To Change The Things You Can

In the past few weeks, I have gotten several emails from women who are going through scary custody situations.  Many of them reach out to ask me what they should do.  They tell me how scared they are because Luc reminds them of their ex, and they fear that something terrible will happen to their children.  I have written on this topic before, but this is a topic that I think anyone who is going through a rough time can benefit from.

Let me first say this:  People have asked me how I am able to still continue to live after my son was brutally murdered.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but one thing I can assure you of is that I am NOT the strongest woman who has ever lived.  Every person has the capacity to make the best of their lives despite their circumstances.  I made the choice to keep living, but that is not to say that I didn’t have days where I wondered how I would survive.  I lived through many of those traumatic days while Prince was still living.

If you find yourself enduring legal abuse in the middle of a Custody War (or if you are living through another form of terrible trauma like the loss of a loved one), here are some tips that could help.  While these are things I wished I had heard, there is no rule book for this sort of trauma.  You have to do what works for you, and it might take a few tries at different things to get it right.

Find Your People:  When something devastating happens in your life, it helps to surround yourself by people who love you and have your best interest at heart.  For me this was family and a few close friends.  For some people, family might not be the first group of people you turn to.  Be wary of people who crawl out of their troll villas to make your pain worse.  There are many unhappy people out there who enjoy feeding off of the pain of others.  If you sense that you are connected to one of these people, remove yourself from their presence quickly and don’t look back.

Find Your Spirit:  For me, this involved going to church, and talking to my priest.  If church isn’t your thing, find a place where you can tap into your spirit and find some peace.  Praying helped me to remember that there were things that were out of my hands and that I was doing the best I could.

Take Care Of Your Mental Health:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  Most parents who are in the midst of custody hell, try and focus on the children all the time.  They don’t realize that by not taking care of themselves, they are not doing the best they can for their children.  Children are like emotional sponges.  When you are anxious, your baby is anxious.  A terrible custody case can drive even the most sane individual mad.  Everyone who has traveled on a commercial airline has heard that if the air pressure in the plane changes, you are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to put one on your child.  This is clearly so that you don’t pass out before you have the chance to help your child.  The same concept applies to mental health.  You cannot emotionally support your children through a stressful situation if you are an emotional wreck.

Enjoy Every Second With Your Child As If It’s Your Last:  What happened to my son was the worst case scenario.  I would never tell parents to expect the worst.  That said, don’t take the time you have with your child for granted.  When your children are around, enjoy the time you spend with them and try not to focus on worrying about the time when they will be with the other parent.  I distinctly remember spending hours on the phone with lawyers when I should have been spending that time with my son.  I cannot get those hours back now.

Lawyers Will Take All Of Your Money If You Let Them:  When I was going through the custody war, I always thought that if I could just make a little more money maybe I could protect my son.  There was a time when I was feeling guilty for spending money on food when I could be paying my attorneys.  One night, my attorney called and told me that if I didn’t pay them 5k by the end of the week, they would stop working on my case.  I cried on the phone telling them that I didn’t have anymore money, and his reply was that maybe I should ask friends or “rob a bank”.  I racked up credit card debt and drained my bank account because I believed this would save my son.  At the end of the day, it clearly didn’t save my son.  Lawyers will continue to take your money if you let them.  Try to find advocacy groups to help suggest pro bono help, and think about ways you can cut down on some of the unnecessary litigation.  Money doesn’t fix a broken system.  Don’t let your custody battle drive you to a financial place that negatively impacts the quality of your child’s life.

Finally, on my worst days, I read this prayer over and over:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

I know these words make many of us think of an AA meeting, but there are not many truer prayers you can say.  Unfortunately, shit happens – bad shit happens – and when bad shit happens…it sometimes gets worse.  Many times, there are a lot of things that are out of your control.  Handle the things you can handle, and let go of the things you cannot.

For months after my son died, I went over and over in my head about what I could have done to save him.  What I had to realize is that I couldn’t save him.  I also had to realize that no matter how much I obsessed about what happened, it wasn’t going to bring him back to life.  I could, however, change the way I lived my future.  I could choose happiness, and put one foot in front of the other.  Do I have days when I cry and don’t want to get out of bed?  Absolutely.

There are many things in my life that I regret, but I am so thankful that I was able to enjoy many moments with my son despite the terror that my entire family was living through when he was alive.  During these dark moments, hang onto the joy.  There is always joy – you just might need to dig a bit to find it.

 

 

A Miscarriage Of Justice

A couple of months before my son Prince was murdered, another little boy was killed just miles away from where Prince died in Manassas, VA.  His name was Elijah Nealey.  Elijah was only 23 months old when his monster of a babysitter, Jessica Fraraccio, killed him.  Fraraccio had been frustrated because Elijah was crying.  So frustrated that she pulled a chair out from under him, causing him to hit his head on the table and floor.  Elijah cried harder in pain, and Fraraccio carried him around the house upside down, hitting his head on the metal stair rail and other objects.  She then covered his mouth and nose with her hand and suffocated him to death.

I have never been subtle about my desire to fight for children’s rights.  Little Elijah, sadly, has suffered a miscarriage of justice in addition to his brutal murder.  Elijah never lived long enough to celebrate even his second birthday.  The 22 year old babysitter who killed him, however, will only serve 5 years in jail.  She will likely go on to have children, and if she doesn’t kill them she will have the opportunity to enjoy the many firsts that Elijah’s parents will miss.  In a decision that shocks the hell out of me, and likely just about anybody with a soul, Judge J. Howe Brown sentenced Fraraccio to 50 years but suspended 45 and required that she send a check of at least a dollar to a charity of her choosing on the date of Elijah’s death every year after her release.  So when the she devil is writing a check for a dollar to the charity of her choosing, Elijah’s parents will have to live with the fact that not only was their son brutally murdered, but that the woman who killed him is allowed to live a full life.

This shocking sentence had me thinking about the value our system puts on the lives of children.  Had this woman murdered an adult, I suspect she would have had a longer sentence.  What will this judge think when this monster gets into a bar fight and kills someone else, or maybe even goes on to kill another child someday.  I didn’t read any part of this sentence that ordered the woman to have her ovaries removed, so I suspect that she will have children and they, too, will cry.  Someone who is evil enough to suffocate a child to death because she cannot handle their cry cannot be rehabilitated and should not be let out amongst the general population after serving a mere 5 years.  This reckless decision, however, does not appear to be an isolated move.  Poor Elijah seems to be yet another victim of our broken system – more evidence that children in our country do not have the right to live.

Virginia is not the only state that is lenient on child abusers.  Back in 2007, a Prince George’s County, MD judge sentenced a man to only 18 months in jail after he shook his month old son to death.  Both Judge Brown and Judge Ronald D. Schiff cited that harsher sentences wouldn’t bring the children back, as if this fact made giving their killers light sentences make any more sense.  It is true that nothing can bring a murdered child back, but there are several reasons for sentencing a child murder to the full extent of the law.  (Note:  I recognize that the below points don’t take a rocket scientist to recognize, but clearly there are some in our justice system who need a reminder.)

1)  Once A Killer, Always A Killer:  Someone who is capable of murder has more than just a few screws loose.  The two murders I described above were not unfortunate accidents.  They were the result of two people who snapped and killed children merely because the children were crying.  Now think about this for a moment.  Even if these people never went on to take care of another child, would you feel safe even standing next to this person in the grocery store?  I sure as hell wouldn’t.  A few months in jail is not going to give this person those extra screws they need to be not dangerous!  In case you still don’t believe that some time in jail makes these killers remorseful, check out this story.  Daron Davis, another one of these child killing monsters, spent 11 years in jail for beating his daughter to death just a month before her first birthday.  After he was released, he killed a second daughter.

2)  Justice:  These children who were murdered by people who should have been caring for them took away lives.  Having to spend a short amount of time in prison does not bring justice to the victims, and it certainly doesn’t bring justice to the families of the victims either.  How would you feel if someone killed your child, and then a few years later you had to run into them in the grocery store laughing and chatting with their friend about how great their life is?  Possibly more insulting might be having to celebrate the birthday of your dead child, and wondering what charity his killer would be sending her one dollar check to that year.

3)  The Message:  Part of what is important about our criminal justice system is the message sentences send to the community.  In the cases I have highlighted here, it seems the message is that the life of a child doesn’t hold as much value as that of an adult.  Those who kill children are allowed a second chance at life because we assume that they feel the remorse they should feel after committing such a vile act.  (News Flash:  A psychopath does not feel remorse.  They often know what goes against society norms or is immoral, but they don’t care.  These people don’t have souls like the rest of us.)

Finally, these examples can shed an interesting light on what is happening to children in the Family Court system as well.  Decisions are made on a daily basis that negatively impact children for the purpose of parental rights.  How do we expect that judges are going to hold the best interest of our children in any sort of priority when even those who kill children have their rights respected at the expense of their victims.  America is in crisis.  We are having what appears to be a war on children.  Children are being physically and emotionally abused, and children are being killed.  When children are supposed to be seen as the future of a country, I ask you – what is to become of our future when we don’t protect our nation’s children?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Incredibly High Threshold

In this past Sunday’s edition of The Washington Post, there was an excellent article that highlighted a case where the safety of a child seemed to merely be an after thought (if it was a thought at all).  I commend the Washington Post for continuing to expose the ugly realities of Family Court, particularly those in my former home State of Maryland (the same State that endorsed the murder of my son).  This particular piece shined a light on a custody war that is currently ongoing where a mother is trying to protect her four year old son from his father.  While the courts admit that the child’s father (Andrew Monjica) has been convicted of sexually abusing a female minor (and is currently listed on the sex offender registry), he has been granted unsupervised, overnight visits with his son.  The court defends its decision to expose this child to a known sexual predator because it believes all parents have “a constitutional right to raise their children.”

According to the Washington Post, the mother of the child, Gloria Faulkner, says, “the court has taken away my power to protect my son.”  While I normally try to stay away from gender wars in Family Court (as I feel that the Child’s Rights should always come first), I find it curious that in this case the court focuses on a constitutional right that appears only relevant when it comes to the father.  If a parent has a constitutional right to raise his/her child, doesn’t that also include having the right to protect that child from harm?  Why is it that the court is only focusing on the right of this father?  What about the child’s right to be kept safe from a sexual abuser?  What about the mother’s right to protect her child?

Gloria Faulkner continues to fight to try and protect her son from his abusive father.  (Yes, I believe someone who is a convicted sex offender of this nature should always be classified as a child abuser.)  Despite clear and convincing evidence that this man is capable of sexually abusing a child (he did actually get convicted beyond a reasonable doubt), the court does not think the mother’s argument for supervised visitation meets “the threshold”.  Maryland law requires that in situations where there has been a finding of abuse or neglect, the court should determine whether future abuse or neglect is likely and, unless there is no likelihood, deny access or require supervision.  There have been several studies that show 90% of sex offenders will re-offend, and they are four times more likely to commit the crime again.  So given this known statistic, a rational person would realize that future abuse is likely and make a motion to protect the child – despite the “rights” of the parent.  If this case doesn’t meet that threshold, I question if any case really would meet this incredibly high threshold.

Two weeks before my son’s murder, I vividly remember sitting down with my attorneys and pleading with them to file an emergency order to keep visits supervised.  As I begged my attorneys to help me protect my son, Prince sat sleeping peacefully in his stroller.  My attorneys refused and told me that my concerns did not meet the threshold of the court for a change in the existing order.  Luc had been “cleared” by a psychologist and deemed “safe” to be around Prince without supervision.  They warned that if I didn’t stop trying to fight my son’s father, I would end up losing custody.  They were right about several things.  They were correct that my complaints didn’t meet threshold (because the threshold was simply a statement on paper which couldn’t be met no matter what the circumstances).  They were also correct that I would eventually lose my son – though not the way they thought I would.

As I cried and screamed at them that day.  Before leaving in a pool of tears, I asked them something that I am sure haunts them to this day.  I asked them, “what is it going to take?  What is the threshold?  Am I going to have to bring my son to you in a body bag after Luc has killed him for the courts to believe that access should be restricted?”  One of my attorneys smirked and commented that I was over-reacting.  The next time I spoke to them I called from the hospital.  At that time, I wasn’t aware that my son wouldn’t survive what he had been through.  I asked the lawyer what I should do.  His response was, “we will file that emergency motion on Monday.”  Later that same evening, I called my attorney back and said, “Don’t bother filing that motion – it’s too late…he’s dead.”  That Monday my attorney had planned to file the motion was the day of my son’s autopsy.  It was too late for Prince, but the threshold had been met.

I don’t know Gloria Faulkner personally, but I feel connected to her because of the pain I know she is enduring at this moment.  She is not being permitted to be her son’s mother, despite the fact that she has been granted sole legal and primary physical custody of him.  I, too, never felt as though I was allowed to be my son’s mother.  My constitutional right to protect my child and my son’s constitutional right to live didn’t matter when we walked into Family Court.  All that mattered was that my son had access to both of his biological parents – even if that meant playing Russian Roulette with his life.

When it comes to cases where there are founded allegations of previous child abuse, or other behavior that would pose a clear danger to a child, the  offending parent’s “constitutional right” to raise their child should not be the court’s primary concern – it should, in fact, be void.  The primary concern needs to be the safety of the child.  Until the courts realize that current laws, which are supposed to protect children from an abusive parent, are meant to be enforced vice liberally interpreted – children will continue to be abused, children will continue to be murdered, and the basic civil rights of these children will continue to be trampled on by a system that has been charged with their protection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Court – Nuke And Pave

The Family Court system in America is a disaster area.  My personal experience has been on the Family Court battlefield in the State of Maryland, but I know Maryland is not alone in its level of chaos.  It is certainly not alone in the number of children who are abused and die as a result of decisions made in these courts.  While I understand that not every case ends as poorly as mine did (with the unnecessary and brutal murder of a child), the courts as they stand are breeding grounds for sociopathic people to terrorize both their children and their former partners.  Since the murder of my son, many desperate parents have sent me letters asking me for advice.  I have also gotten letters from fellow Children’s Rights advocates who seek my input on how to best change the system.  In my best attempt to remain as positive as possible, given the dire realities that we face, my best advice for the change that needs to happen on a systemic level is as follows:

NUKE AND PAVE

(Note:  I don’t mean literally “nuke”.  I am not a violent person, and would never suggest blowing something up.  By “nuke”, I mean “get rid of the failures and start with a new foundation”.)

This might appear pessimistic, however, it is my strong opinion that an institution that fails so many children to the degree of sanctioning murder – needs to be completely overhauled.  A friend of mine, and follow advocate for Children, recently sent me the following link:

MD Commission on Child Custody Decision Making

To spare those of you with only a mild interest (or not a ton of time to read legislative crap) the time it takes to go through this lengthy document, I will summarize:  The State of Maryland is creating a “Commission on Child Custody Decision Making.”  This sounds great right?  On the surface it sounds like progress; however, it could also serve as a temporary bandage on a system that needs open-heart surgery.

 

The Commission:

The commission has 14 areas it is going to be reviewing.  Five public forums will be held (The county where my son’s murder was sanctioned has been left off of this list) so that the commission can take under advisement public opinion on these issues.  Below are the issues the commission is set to address where I will focus my attention:

1)   To ensure custody orders are more uniform, fair, and equitable.

My comments:  This statement screams “parental rights”.  It shouldn’t be about what is equal for the parents.  It should be about what is the best environment for the child.  If one or both of the parents is unstable, and shows a history of abuse and poor decision making, why should that parent be entitled to equal access to the child?

2)   Study and consider the adverse effects of child custody litigation and ways the court system can minimize those effects.

My comments:  It should be common knowledge in the legal community that the cases that make it to court most certainly involve at least one parent who suffers from a personality disorder.  If the court wanted to minimize the effects that litigation has on the child, it should focus on how the parents got to court in the first place.  Just trying to get the parents out of court is not going to save the child from the negative impact of dealing with a sociopathic parent.

3)   Study how to promote and ensure that children have ongoing relationships with each parent.

My comments:  This is similar to point number one.  In a perfect world where sociopathic people didn’t have children, both point number one and this point would be a non-issue.  Instead of “ongoing relationships”, how about focusing on “healthy and safe relationships”?  Many children have ongoing relationships with abusive parents.  Many of these children either require extensive therapy to try and reverse the damage or become abusers themselves.

4)   Study how to maximize the involvement of both parents in each child’s life.

My comments:  It continues to baffle me how the government often believes that it’s in the child’s best interest to try and get a deadbeat parent involved in his/her child’s life.  I have seen so many odd cases where the court will try and “encourage” a parent to spend more time with their child, even if it should be clear that the person’s involvement is not in the child’s best interest.  It is better to have one good parent than one good one and one abusive one.  News flash:  Good parents don’t need to be encouraged to be involved with their child.

5)   Study whether or not there is any gender discrimination in custody decisions in Maryland and, if so, how to address such discrimination.

My comments:  While many times it appears as though currently there is a war on motherhood, in this back bending attempt to promote Father’s Rights, gender discrimination should be irrelevant if we are focusing on Children’s Rights.  Shouldn’t it?

6)   Make recommendations regarding the most effective manner in which to facilitate cooperative decision- making by parents involved in child custody proceedings as it relates to their children.

My comments:  Going back to an earlier point, most cases that end up in court include at least one sociopath.  The sooner the courts realize that it is impossible to negotiate or “facilitate cooperative decision-making” with a terrorist, the sooner they will realize this point is ludicrous.  During my custody case, both Luc and I were ordered to go to a two- day co-parenting class (6 hours total).  I attended this course at the expense of leaving my boob diva of a breast fed child (who was not yet used to taking the bottle and cried with Grandma for six hours straight); however, Luc chose not to attend at all. Those are six hours I will never get back with my son.

7)   Study how to ensure that child custody determinations involving parents with mental health issues are handled in a fair and even manner based on actual evidence and not presumed limitations.

My comment:  Now this one is an interesting point and scratches the surface of a major problem.  The issue with this point, however, is that it assumes that mental health assessments are done appropriately.  The judge in my case suspected that Luc had a serious mental health issue based on a preponderance of evidence; however, given that the judge was not a mental health professional, he ordered Luc to get a forensic psychological assessment.  Luc found a school psychologist, who specialized in child autism and was friends and co-workers with his older son’s therapist, and paid for what appeared to be a one-sided and negligent custody evaluation from a woman with no experience in adult forensic testing.  This test was the evidence the judge needed to protect my son.  Even after it became clear that Luc was disordered (when he drowned his own child for life insurance money), this therapist continued to practice and likely still appears in court potentially ruining the lives of other children and families.

 

What’s Missing?

After going through all 14 (yes, I excluded some of the ones that focused on cultural sensitivity issues and other periphery issues that I don’t believe are at the root of the problem), I didn’t see one point that talked about a review of the cases that went terribly wrong. Wouldn’t the commission benefit from local case studies that are right at their fingertips and a part of public record?  In addition to my own horrific case, they could review Amy Castillo’s case.  After begging a judge to pay attention to the deterioration of her husband’s mental health, Amy’s protection order was denied.  Her husband then went on to do exactly what he told Amy he would do – he drowned all three children to death in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room.

 

Children’s Rights:

 

Children have no rights in America.  Looking at the Family Court System, it often reminds me of slave times.  Laws were made that directly impacted the slaves, yet they had no voice in the process.  Slaves were treated like property, killed, and “owner’s rights” always came first.  Children are treated much in the same way.  Our laws are designed so that parents are given “the right” to do what they wish to their children.  It is only after the child is murdered when that parent faces any sort of loss in their rights, but by then it is too late for the child.

When I am asked what I think about this commission or the state of Family Law in general, I always think about Prince.  Prince never had a chance in this system because his father intended on killing him.  His father wanted access, would cry on cue on the stand when talking about how much he missed his son, and his father effectively gamed our broken system.  Prince should have had a right to live.  He should have had a right to be happy, healthy, and safe.  Prince didn’t have those rights, but the court succeeded in making sure that Luc’s rights were never in jeopardy.

 

Nuke and pave Maryland.  If you want to fix it, start over and make Children’s Rights your foundation.