Just before Christmas when I was 7 years old, I was torn from my loving mother’s arms and handed over kicking and screaming to the father who was abusing my brother and me. My Dad had fractured my brother's skull by repeatedly slamming him into a wall. He had testified in court that he had broken my Mother's nose three times and dislocated her shoulder while my brother and I watched in horror. To make it even worse, we were denied all contact with our mother- no visits, no calls, not even letters. We loved our Mom so much and suddenly she was just gone. A family court judge had ordered a change in custody for me and my brother Zachary, based largely on the junk science of Parental Alienation Syndrome. The judge never spoke with me or my brother, yet his decision ruined our lives. This judge and the therapists he forced us to see even went so far as to tell us that we were not allowed to even talk about the abuse we continued to suffer at the hands of our father. If we did, or if we tried to show anyone our bruises, then they threatened that we would no longer be allowed to see our mother at all.
It's sad, but Jennifer's story is all too common in America's family courts. Across the country, family and divorce court judges are making decisions that are not in the best interests of the children they are sworn to serve.
Contested custody cases - which make up 15% of all divorce cases in the U.S. - are often mishandled, with the worst cases resulting in harmful outcomes for children of divorce.
Today, many court professionals have been mistrained to be highly skeptical of reports of domestic violence and child abuse in divorce cases. As a result, children are being taken from safe parents and forced by courts to live in the homes where they report being beaten and raped.
Research shows that when batterers request custody, 7 times out of 10 they receive it*. Even more alarming, research shows that when children report sexual abuse in custody cases, more than 9 out of 10 of them are placed in the partial or full custody of their identified perpetrators**.
Billions of our taxpayer dollars are wasted needlessly every year through this broken system. The outcome is always great suffering for the children, but as we all know, in the most dire cases, it can also lead to their deaths. In fact, a research project tracking custody-related child deaths between 2009 and 2010 identified that a total of 175 news reports were published about children being killed by their abusers during that brief two year period.
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence estimates that 58,000 children each year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States.
After hearing testimony at a Congressional briefing about the abject failure of family and divorce courts to keep our children safe, Congressman John Conyers was appalled. He later wrote:
"At the Congressional briefing, as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, I, John Conyers, called for an oversight hearing to assess where we are in our work on the impact of domestic violence on children, and what more can be done."
Click here to read Congressman Conyers complete opinion, "Preventing domestic violence must begin with the children."
The United States must be proactive in ensuring the physical and sexual safety of abused children of divorce. It is imperative that our nation's leaders fix this broken system to ensure that children like Jennifer are protected in the family courts. We demand that Congress hold oversight hearings on the need to reform the U.S. family courts.
Please sign this petition and share it with your friends. Our children are counting on us.
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*American Judges Association, Domestic Violence and the Court House: Understanding the Problem...Knowing the Victim, 2012
**Neustein & Goetting, Judicial Responses to the Protective Parent's Complaint of Child Sexual Abuse, 1999