Mothers Against Court Custody Abuse
FATHERHOOD PROGRAMS FUND CUSTODY FOR ABUSIVE DADS
PROBLEM: Custody is given to abusive fathers because fatherhood programs mandate increasing non- custodial parents (NCP) custody regardless of abuse. A hidden agenda of fatherhood initiatives legislation was the intentional overriding of State rebuttable presumption custody laws resulting in approximately 58,000 children living with sexual, physical and emotional abusers per year.
FACT: 58,000 children/year ordered to abusers. http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/med/PR3.html How Many Children Are Court-Ordered Ito Unsupervised Contact With an Abusive Parent After Divorce?, By Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D., Executive Vice President, The Leadership Council, Press Release, Sept. 22, 2008.
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Taxpayer Money Harms Women & Children
In Pennsylvania, a full-time mother decides her husband’s demeaning mistreatment has eroded her self-esteem so seriously that her only opportunity to feel comfortable in her environment lies in filing for divorce. A psychologist ordered by the court is paid by father to call her mentally ill. With the help of a father’s rights lawyer, Dad commits perjury. An eight and nine year-old lose their primary attachment parent, extended maternal family, dog, toys, and personal belongings while sitting on a bench outside the courtroom. The psychologist, whose sole intent was to award himself court-ordered counseling fees, receives seven ethical charges which are later dropped because he gets training. Trial and appeal courts never correct the fraud and instead opine denied cross-examination is mother’s fault since she “filed an ethical complaint.”
In Florida, a young mother’s face is fractured by her two daughter’s fathers’ assault. Mom and daughters hide out in a domestic violence shelter while Dad is charged with assault. Child Protective Services investigates mom because victims of abuse are deemed unfit parents. After a few supervised visits, Dad is considered safe, his violent nature is cured. Because Mom and kids are scared of this volatile man, not knowing opening an investigation gives CPS custody, they flee to another State, where family resides. Mom is charged with kidnapping and Dad receives full custody. Since he doesn’t want the day-to-day responsibility of raising children, he leaves them to live in his parents’ home. Mom recovers and creates a happy, healthy life but her daughters are never permitted to leave their grandparents and live with their mother until they turn 18.
In Massachusetts, a four-year-old says “Daddy has a big banana and wants me to suck it.” He comes home from visits with Dad complaining “My poopy hurts from Daddy sticking things in it.” Dad is ordered to supervised visits for two months. Back in court, Mom continues to object to Dad being alone with their son. She is called a parental alienator, Dad is given sole custody, Mom is told she can only see her son during supervised visits where the child’s expression of Dad’s sexual abuse is ignored by the center’s staff. Dad retains full custody of the sexualized now teenage boy.
In Maine, a Dad pleads guilty of beating a man to death because he believed that man threw a snow ball. A few years later he is given sole custody of his young son. According to court records, mom is emotionally abusive, too dangerous to parent her young child but safe for her teenage son who has a different father.
In Connecticut, while under court order to co-parent, a son’s karate class changes from Mom’s day to Dad’s day. Mom is deemed to have intentionally tried to limit Dad’s access and Mom is only permitted to see her children under supervised conditions. Dad’s new wife becomes the primary caregiver. Mom learns the law, files numerous legal documents, all the while her pleas go ignored. Court administration tells Mom government access services are not mandatory.
Outside Chicago, a Judge yells at a distraught mother “I don’t want to hear about the blood in the toilet. This is about you trying to deny father access to his children!” After enduring years of father’s molestation of his girl and boy child, spending hundreds of thousands on litigation, a CPS investigator confronts the pedophile father. He agrees not to pursue his parental rights if charges are dropped. Mom and the kids are free to leave Illinois to go live with the maternal grandparents in California. After three years of safety, Dad decides to reclaim the kids. Mother is arrested and ordered to jail for ten years. The judge writes his opinion: “Alienation is a bigger crime than incest.”
In Tarrant County, Texas, home of the Affluenza defense, where mothers claiming abuse are routinely labeled alienators, barriers to father’s access, after enduring years of litigation, forced co-parenting and mandated counseling, a mother leaps from a cliff leaving a note “I cannot take the legal abuse any longer.”
Are these cases an anomaly? Or are government endorsed and funded special interests at work? Unbeknownst to average parents, supremacy groups, a family court trade association, and federal funds collided to make these cases the norm when couples with under-age children dissolve their relationship, especially for families where there is physical, psychological, financial, and/or sexual abuse. Federal money acts as the conduit in an industry of profit generated off the tragedies and traumas of dysfunctional family life.
Special Interests Create the Problem
Federal Funding of Patriarchy
Welfare reform programs called Fatherhood Initiatives, Marriage Promotion and Access/Visitation (AV), operate alongside family court, for the purpose of keeping men’s dominant position in the family. Tax-payer money incentivizes family court insiders to act as proxy for abusive dads and perpetrate boundless harm on their mates and offspring.
Welfare reform allows States to transfer TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) funds, the federal welfare block grant, to family court functions under the guise of attaining fatherhood goals: keeping father involved. Fatherhood programs partner with support courts to help dads pay support by offering custody litigation assistance, a tactic guaranteed to reduce dad’s support obligation. Encouraging court orders to increase custody for low-income, criminal fathers helps advance the goals of higher-income, divorcing, father’s rights leaning men: male parenting is crucial regardless of its quality.
States are free to use federally-reimbursed Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) funds to pay for internal court functions that administer mid-level hearings, assign court affiliates and issue court orders. Federal, state and community programs (catholic charities, legal aid, prisons and probation offices) round out this transformation of government paying for direct, individual poverty alleviation toward creating a culture that rewards custody awards to men under the guise of condoning mediation and shared parenting. The total amount of federal funds shifted to industry insiders who ignore and minimize child maltreatment remains uncalculated.
The reigning source of funding, OCSEs Access/Visitation grant, is calculated based on the percentage of single-parent families residing within a state. In 2008, California received a federal grant of $957,600, matched by state funds of $106,400; Texas received $687,405, with a state match of $76,378; Connecticut received the minimum grant guarantee of $100,000, matched at $11,111. (Connecticut uses TANF to subsidize court and fatherhood programs.) Access/visitation grants motivate family courts to design internal structures which impose services on parents. A wide array of fee-driven court services are mandated under interchangeable labels: mediation; parent education; counseling; development of parenting plans (custody orders); visitation enforcement; and, supervised visits. As litigation continues, services are piled on. Parents who are trying to leave impaired partners are helpless to reverse the intrusion cascade.
While the AV program alludes to exist for the benefit of low-income, minority males who have no contact with their children yet are ordered to pay support, in actuality, AV services are fee-driven: parents pay premium prices, the frequency of appointment is in direct proportion to wealth. Grant amounts are small and fill administrative coffers, rather than pay for one-on-one services. Knowing the payment structure makes it apparent that considerable financial resources are needed to maintain the level of involvement of court affiliates required to prevail in contentious custody litigation. Parents will initially be ordered to attend a mediation or parent education session with a fee range of $50 - $100/hour. Parents, who do not sign a custody agreement after preliminary services, are ordered to an evaluator, usually a mental health practitioner, or they are assigned a lawyer for the children, termed a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Both of these court appointees will charge thousands of dollars to determine custody. Mediation is the “heart” of court services, parents must conciliate. Women, who refuse unfettered male control, are seen as troublemakers. Deleted from this formula is the simple fact that many parents are splitting due to severe behavior and character flaws; including serious danger. A parent who advocates for their child’s safety and needs gets called a “gatekeeper” because they attempt to put restrictions on the harmful parent’s influence and interaction.
States have complete discretion to design AV program specifics: which parents to target; who to assign; how much and when to increase custody. The federal OCSE merely offers “guidance” as it is hinted at in two early reports written by Jessica Pearson, a father’s rights and AFCC associate: Promising Practices and Strategic Planning Guide. Promising Practices illuminates the methods used to increase father’s custody; shifting legal determinations to reliance on mediation with no provision for unfit and harmful dads. Strategic Planning Guide informs states to implement planning groups composed of court insiders and special interests to oversee the shift to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), regardless of custody law. Planning groups could be commissions, task forces, or internal groups that write court rules and processes.
The Profit Motive Commandeers Fatherhood Family Court
The lack of federal parameters and accountability left a vacuum filled by two special interest groups: the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and Father’s Rights groups. AFCC is, at its core, a trade association, interested in advancing business opportunity and profit for members. In a relationship scenario where abuse and control are tantamount to father’s nature, and the cause of mother’s anxiety and disagreement, AFCC benefits by ignoring and minimizing any harm inflicted on mother and child, forcing conciliation and punishing dissent. In economic formula: abuse generates income. Expedient and final resolution of the legal dispute, where security, stability and continuation of primary care foster healing and recovery, generates zero profit. Instead, permitting and encouraging fathers’ dominance and superiority results in continual orders for court-related services, necessitating legal representation, shifting financial resources away from families to court industry insiders.
Promising Practices and Strategic Planning Guide adhere to fatherhood, AFCC and father’s rights dogma: claims that children without a father are more likely to commit crimes, abuse alcohol and drugs, live in poverty, have inadequate education, and become teenage parents. These three groups minimize male acts of maltreatment, they promote the idea that women are as violent as men and make false allegations of abuse to “win” in litigation; and, most alarmingly, they encourage psychological labeling of mothers, including the debunked Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). These groups heavily market their ideology, drawing strength from conservative organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council and private endowments such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Promising Practices contains the first statement that father’s rights groups and their agenda of joint parenting is supported by AV funding. “Supplementing federal activities have been efforts at the state and federal level” including “supportive services from parent advocate groups, which have lobbied for joint custody legislation, federal acknowledgement of custody and visitation issues and direct services for fathers seeking to strengthen ties with their children.”
Joint or shared custody works well when men do not feel entitled to dominate; when there is an environment of equality, mutual respect, and financial independence. Shared custody is appropriate for parents who mutually parented before dissolution. Stay-at-home and primary care mothers should be disqualified from an automatic shared parenting model unless she initiates an agreement. Men who concede childcare responsibility during marriage and then pursue primary or shared custody when being divorced are suspect; their motivation can be to minimize child support obligation and use custody to dominate, punish and control both mother and child. Not only is there no history of his ability to parent, how he treats the children and prioritizes their needs, this level of change of caregiving is damaging to children, creating high amounts of trauma, uncertainty, and disruption of the routine and comfort required during familial change. These negatives are compounded when the break-up is due to abuse. Increasing the woes is the fact that men who mistreat partners have a high probability of mistreating their children.
Should federal dollars sanction the push for shared parenting, a legal precedent preferred by father’s rights membership? Father’s rights groups have been compared to White supremacist groups because they are concerned with keeping white male identity and privilege; their constituency is men who feel vulnerable, victimized and uncertain about masculinity in contemporary society; and, they both feel entitled to power and authority over those they feel are beneath them. Men, who oppose women’s empowerment, feel threatened by the loss of power, resources and authority that divorce entails, seek out father’s rights literature, websites, and attorneys for litigation strategies that ensure they prevail. Strategies found in books and websites range from prolonging litigation in order to wear down the opponent, hiring a psychologist favorable to fathers, and, committing perjury since it is rarely prosecuted.
One of the largest selling father’s rights playbooks, “Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing” outlines the use of psychological labels to gain custody, commonplace for AFCC and father’s rights mental health practitioners. Author Richard Warshak advocates labeling mothers who complain about father’s sexual abuse of a child with “Parental Alienation Syndrome.” Parental Alienation has no grounding in reality; in fact, it is not included in current or past, editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of mental illness. Yet, father’s rights groups and family court affiliates are rife with allegations and judicial opinions that alienation exists and the only way to treat it is to forbid mother contact with her children and reprogram the children through threat therapy sessions (analogous to conversion therapy imposed on LGBTQ teens).
Family Court Trade Association
Federal funding, father’s rights and AFCC intersection is connoted in conference workshops, attendees and featured speakers. In 2011, Richard Warshak was the keynote speaker at the AFCC conference “Parental Alienation: Not Just Another Custody Case” held in Massachusetts. Federal funding and conferences help AFCC train an insider network of judges, court employees, lawyers and mental health affiliates, to move family court away from reliance on judicial process, rule of evidence and law, towards the dispute/conciliation model. AFCC insiders call the shift the “velvet revolution.” Holding a monopoly on industry propaganda positioned AFCC members to author internal court processes such as “Changing the Culture of Custody in Pennsylvania” and “Triage Intake Screen”; two documents that illuminate the system of appointment, minimization of abuse and negative parenting traits and forcing co-parenting.
In 2007, Jessica Pearson, (author of Promising Practices and Strategic Planning Guide), Debra Pontisso, (Federal OCSE Project Officer), and Anita Stuckey, (Texas AV Grant Coordinator), jointly conducted an AFCC conference workshop “Integrating Custody Into Child Support” promoting federal endorsement of fatherhood custody awards as a vehicle to reduce support obligation. Debra Pontisso disseminated the AV Guidance Survey reporting form which admonishes court appointees to increase non-custodial parent (NCP) custody and not focus on sexual abuse of the child, domestic violence, battering, alcohol and drug abuse, and anger. Since program inception, non-custodial parents have been defined as mostly fathers, as mothers have historically been the primary caregiving parent at the onset of litigation.
Decisions of level to increase, point in the litigation process at which an increase occurs, and the methods used to achieve the increase are left solely to the discretion of federal grantees, court employees and appointees. Obfuscation, fraud, violation of professional ethics, coercion, intimidation, threats, denial of due process protections are frequently employed in order to achieve results which are published in Jurisdictional Profiles. The AV program affects an ever-increasing amount of parents each year, from a reported 68,000 in 2005 to 104,000 in 2013. States are not required to disclose litigation identifiers such as names and docket numbers. Simple algebra necessitate the opposing parent receive a decrease, yet, Jurisdictional Profiles do not denote the impact of the custody switch on legal status; primary legal and physical custody, and subsequent support obligation. Parents are unaware that they have been selected for a pre-determined custody outcome, called “the custody switch.”
In conversations with Dr. Leora Rosen, author of “The Hostage Child: Sex Abuse Allegations in Custody Disputes” and “Beyond The Hostage Child: Towards Empowering Protective Parents,” Federal OCSE employee Michael Hayes confirmed the AV program was built by father’s rights adherents without attention to protection for abused women and children. Hayes claims the Federal OCSE is ready to overhaul the program, however, he feels incorporating current research would require legislative reform since the original language of fatherhood program funding omitted consideration of domestic violence. While protection from abuse was included by the House and Senate, it was dropped from the final act, having been taken out during committee by House Ways and Means staff member, Ron Haskins, a proponent of the advantages of patriarchy and male-dominated families. Ironically, at the 2007 AFCC conference Haskins presented “Children, Marriage, Separation and Divorce: The Politics of Policy, Practice and Parenting” promoting conservative patriarchal ideology. Haskins is currently a senior consultant at Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private endowment that funds the creation and dissemination of fatherhood material.
Patriarchy Causes Abuse
Patriarchy is inherently abusive because it assumes a right to preside over women and children. Resistance to male will and behavior is viewed as challenging his authority; insubordination. Fatherhood programs and courts call abuse and resistance to it “high conflict” even though the conflict is created when women and children demand self-worth, humane treatment and limited contact. Websters defines conflict as a psychological state resulting from opposition between incompatible desires, needs, drives or impulses. The more women and children oppose control and maltreatment, the greater the conflict. Family court has been designed to break-down this resistance rather than ensure safety, security, and recovery. Federal funding of structures that promote male importance without adjustments for men who over-step normal boundaries of respectful and proper treatment of family members sanction Patriarchy. Court procedures that force mediation, cooperation and open access to children while overlooking the cause of opposition permanently damage an increasing number of families.
Child Maltreatment – A Public Health Issue
Is not having a father really the cause of low achievement, crime and substance abuse? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child maltreatment as a significant public health problem affecting broader health outcomes, mental health, social development, and risk-taking behavior into adulthood. Maltreatment takes form as neglect, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. To stop the extreme harm to individuals and society created by child maltreatment, the CDC disseminates the booklet “Essentials for Childhood: Steps to Create Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships and Environments” offering solutions for communities that want to prevent child abuse and neglect. The CDC defines safety as being free from fear and secure from physical and psychological harm. Stability is the degree of predictability and consistency in the child’s social, emotional and physical environment. Nurturing is the ability of a caregiver to be sensitive and consistent (and appropriate) in meeting the child’s needs. According to the CDC, gender and family formation are unnecessary to assuring safe, stable, nurtured, healthy child outcomes.
In contrast, federal sponsored fatherhood programs, father’s rights groups, and AFCC claim primary factors of harm to children arise from parent conflict, poor co-parenting, and a lack of father involvement.Dissimilar to the CDC’s focus on child maltreatment, AFCC proposes classifying divorce as a public health issue. In “Taking Stock of Parent Education in the Family Courts: Envisioning a Public Health Model” AFCC suggests solving issues arising from child maltreatment with parent education; three levels of family court intervention. The idea, originally put forward by Blaisure and Geasler in an AFCC newsletter article, assigns court services to contested custody litigants. Level 1, an introductory step, educates parents that harm is caused when they fail to cooperate. In Level 2 family court serves as a conduit to private practitioners providing co-parenting skill-building tools. Parents would abide by a strict custody order and use a calendar, notebook, or web-based communication system all systems which tolerate no divergence or individual decision-making. Level 3 amps up intrusion and litigation. Couples are mandated to court service providers in order to change behavior, that behavior being cooperation, not child maltreatment. To understand the harm endorsed (by policy and court affiliates) during Level 3 education, revert to the OCSE AV guidance survey reporting form admonishing counselors to increase custody while, in essence, ignoring maltreatment; AFCC promotion of PAS therapy; and, Texas’s contractual approval of PAS therapy as a method to increase fatherhood.
Couples ordered to level 2 and 3 education are likely to have serious abuse and control dynamics within the family, yet, those behaviors are not addressed in AFCC’s education model. Instead there exists a predilection to psychologically label women and children who resist father’s maltreatment, often as easy as providing the court with a report or assessment concluding that mother is mentally ill (submitted as evidence without due process protections). This common practice results in “educational” services being forced on “supposedly” mentally ill mothers. Yet court affiliates administering educational services do not adhere to ADA accommodations. In an educational environment, given ADA protections, teachers are not permitted to yell at, threaten, intimate, and coerce students. Yet, judges and court affiliates frequently yell, coerce, badget, threaten and harass battered mothers and children in order to force cooperation and acceptance of the offending parent.
In AFCC’s public health parent education model, abuse and neglect do not exist; creating a safe, stable, nurturing environment and relationships is not a priority, instead, a perpetual unstable, harmful, abusive environment is created and maintained. In two books, “Legal Abuse Syndrome” and “Unlocking Justice” author Dr. Karen Huffer explains the secondary abuse inflicted upon litigants and how the ADA requires protection and accommodations such as recording and advocate assistance during court processes.
ORGANIZATION TO COMBAT
In an updated edition of “Beyond The Hostage Child: Towards Empowering Protective Parents” Dr. Rosen asserts the “friendly parent mystique” exploits protective parents because courts prioritize [male] “access” over protection against maltreatment. Dr. Rosen proposes the creation of a federal office that would give visibility to child maltreatment that is often a by-product of Child Protective Services and Family Court litigation. This office would centralize research dissemination and education, collect and analyze evidence- and outcome-based data, require judges and court affiliates to adhere to ethical and due process standards, generate standards and policies for implementation and emulation with a goal of providing the tools required to protect our most vulnerable citizens, children, in keeping with the CDC’s vision of creating safe, stable, nurturing environments and relationships for children. Quintessentially, women and children require a federal agency to combat and reverse decades of fatherhood, father’s rights, and AFCC infiltration of family court policy and decisions.
The Future Under a Trump Presidency
The future does not bode well for mothers and children who try to leave child maltreatment. Since it is unlikely that a Trump Presidency will fund truthful research, the private, non-profit sector MUST begin to fill the gap. Doreen Ludwig and Mother’s Against Court Custody Abuse (MACCAbuse) plans to move forward. Change can be accomplished faster with YOUR assistance!A donation will provide the resources to combat some very bad men (and a few women).
“Access/Visitation Programs: Promising Practices,” Pearson, 2001/2002. (Herein referred to as Promising Practices.) This report gives a special thanks to Debra Pontisso, federal OCSE employee with connections to AFCC and AV Guidance form/Jurisdictional Profiles. Motherless America, page 235, Program Reports, cites Promising Practices as proof programs are for fathers only and advise the use of TANF funds to support litigation.
“A Collaboration and Strategic Planning Guide for States: Child Access and Visitation Programs,” Pearson, 2006. (Herein referred to as Strategic Planning Guide.)
“Forging Effective Responsible Fatherhood Partnerships: A Research to Practice Brief” Mathematica
2007 AFCC Conference brochure“Children of Separation and Divorce: The Politics of Policy, Practice and Parenting” an AFCC conference which occurred on May 30-June 2, 2007
2011 Massachusetts AFCC conference “Parental Alienation: Not Just Another Custody Case”